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A madrigal is a setting for 4–6 voices of a secular text, often in Italian. The madrigal has its origins in the frottola, and was also influenced by the motet and the French chanson of the Renaissance. It is related mostly by name alone to the Italian trecento-madrigal of the late 13th and 14th centuries; those madrigals were simple settings for 2 or 3 voices with no instrumental accompaniment.
The madrigal was the most important secular form of music of its time. It bloomed especially in the second half of the 16th century, losing its importance by the third decade of the 17th century, when it vanished through the rise of newer secular forms as the opera and merged with the cantata and the dialogue.
Its rise started with the Primo libro di Madrigali of Philippe Verdelot, published in 1533 in Venice, which was the first book of identifiable madrigals. This publication was a great success and the form spread rapidly, first in Italy and up to the end of the century to several other countries in Europe. Especially in England the madrigal was highly appreciated since the publication of Nicholas Yonge's Musica Transalpina in 1588, a collection of Italian madrigals with translated texts which started a madrigal-culture of its own. The madrigal had a much longer life in England than in the rest of Europe: composers continued to produce works of astonishing quality even after the form had gone out of fashion on the Continent (see English Madrigal School).
Late madrigalists were particularly ingenious with so-called "madrigalisms" — passages in which the music assigned to a particular word expresses its meaning, for example, setting riso (smile) to a passage of quick, running notes which imitate laughter, or sospiro (sigh) to a note which falls to the note below. This technique is also known as "word-painting " and can be found not only in madrigals but in other vocal music of the period. The most important of the late madrigalists are certainly Luca Marenzio, Carlo Gesualdo, and Claudio Monteverdi, who integrated in 1605 the basso continuo into the form and later composed the book Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (1638) (Madrigals of War and Love), which is, however, an example of the early Baroque madrigal; some of the compositions in this book bear little relation to the a cappella madrigals of the previous century.
Composers of early madrigals
The classic madrigal composers
The late madrigalists
Composers of Baroque "concerted" madrigals (with instruments)
English madrigal school
- William Byrd
- John Dowland
- John Farmer
- Orlando Gibbons
- Thomas Morley
- Thomas Tomkins
- Thomas Weelkes
- John Wilbye
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