Characteristics of English Madrigals

Essay, 2015

5 Pages


The Phenomenon of Music in Renaissance and Baroque MUS2253

Lecture 4

a) Define ‘madrigal’.

Madrigal can refer to 14th century Italian Trecento madrigals, 16th century Italian renaissance madrigals or 16th century English madrigal. They are all secular songs based on poems.

14th century Italian Trecento madrigals

14th century Italian Trecento madrigals has no connection with 16th century Italian madrigals as the former passed out of fashion a century before the latter arose (von Fischer et al., 2004). 14th century Italian Trecento madrigal is a song for two or three voices without instrumental accompaniment (Burkholder, Grout & Palisca, 2010). Descriptions of madrigals found in da Tempo suggested different types of 14th century Italian Trecento madrigal – those with and without ritornello, and those of monody and polyphony (von Fischer et al., 2004).

However, surviving 14th century Italian Trecento madrigals mainly consists of a predominant upper voice that is accompanied by a lower voice which often moves by perfect consonances with the upper voice. Mainly, 14th century Italian Trecento madrigals have two or three three-line strophes, each having identical music, and known as a ‘copula’, and then followed by a one- or two-line terminating ritornello, usually with time signature change. Strophes normally have 7 or 11 syllables for each line and 11 syllables for the ritornello. (von Fischer et al., 2004)

From the 1360s onwards the number of 14th century Italian Trecento madrigals declined in favour of polyphonic ballata and has disappeared after about 1415 (von Fischer et al., 2004).

16th century Italian renaissance madrigals

16th century Italian renaissance madrigals is a through-composed piece for poetry. Initially they are for mixed groups or men and women to sing in social gatherings, but later as more women pursued professional career as singers in singing groups established by nobilities, 16th century Italian renaissance madrigals became more commonly written for performances at court, and so madrigals became more of virtuosity. (Burkholder et al., 2010)

Early madrigals from 1520 to 1550 were for four voices, and are more homophonic, while from the mid-sixteenth century madrigals are mainly for five voices and are more polyphonic (Burkholder et al., 2010). With the development of madrigal professionalism, a form of polyphonic madrigal called madrigale arioso appeared (Randel, 2003). Meaning madrigal in aria style, it in fact resembles monody (Randel, 2003).

Madrigal music is written to match the meanings conveyed by the text, and such technique is called word painting (Burkholder et al., 2010). These attempts to paint gave rise to the revival of Greek chromatic and enharmonic genera in the exploration of sentimental musical expression, and madrigals is further dramatized by Carlo Gesualdo by using dissonance, breaking up of poetic lines and isolation of striking words (Burkholder et al., 2010).

English madrigals

English madrigals are similar to 16th century Italian renaissance madrigals, but are sung in English. Italian madrigals were imported to England by Italian composers who worked at Elizabeth I's court, such as Alfonso Ferrabosco (Kennedy & Bourne, 2006b). Musica Transalpina was then published in England by Nicholas Yonge which contained 81 madrigals and had a great influence in England (Latham, 2011).

While Italian madrigals developed towards professionalism, English madrigals remained for amateurs (von Fischer et al., 2004). Despite the fact, the influence of madrigal is deep. For example, Byrd’s consort songs are heavily influenced by madrigals and some Dowland’s four-part ayres are more of madrigal style than that of ayre (Arnold & Wakelin, 2011; von Fischer et al., 2004). Generally, English madrigals is different to that of Italian madrigals in three ways: less polyphonic, less chromatic and more rhythmic (So, 2015).


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Characteristics of English Madrigals
Education University of Hong Kong  (Department of Cultural and Creative Arts)
MUS2253 The Phenomenon of Music in Renaissance and Baroque
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ISBN (eBook)
characteristics, english, madrigals
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Bachelor of Education (Music) Kwan Lung Chan (Author), 2015, Characteristics of English Madrigals, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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