Essay on Social Context of Italian Madrigals

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Social Context of 16th-century Italian Madrigals

In the 16th-century, Italy influenced the Renaissance music throughout Western Europe.

The most influential musical genre was the Italian madrigal, and “about 1,200 madrigal

volumes. . . were printed between 1520 and 1630”.1

of the madrigal, but the genre contains elements of the frottola, ballata, chanson, and

Musicologists debate about the exact origins

Madrigals were mostly secular songs that were primarily intended to be performed by

amateur musicians.3

the singers' own enjoyment. There were four primary performance settings. The most prominent

setting was social gatherings for the upper middle class and nobility where the guests performed

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17 Haar, “Madrigal”, 227.

between 'characters'”.20

real sense of conversation, as in opera.21

development and were connected by common subject and/or title only. Their subjects were

humanistic and reflected Italy's politics, economics, and society.22

characters often followed the stock characters of the French commedia dell'arte, and Orazio

Vecchi's “L'Amfiparnaso” is credited as being the first commedia dell'arte play.23

One of the most popular madrigal composers was Luca Marenzio, who combined old

techniques and texts with contemporary poetry and compositional style to create new methods of

These characters, however, were fluid between voices, and there was no

Very few dramatic madrigals had character and plot

Dramatic madrigals'

His early madrigals were light/pastoral in subject, while his later madrigals

referenced those of the early 16th-century and were more serious.25

epitomized the late madrigal and his use of chromaticism, complex contrapuntal motion, and

pairing of pastoral verse with serious poetry was particularly influential.26

The most important aspect of 16th-century Italian madrigals was text-setting. Madrigal

composers employed the word-painting technique