The madrigal is a song with 3-5 vocal parts, without instruments. Its heighdays were between 1580 and 1620. Secular polyphonic music had been popular for decades; singing was a popular pastime among the middle and higher classes in the 16th century. The madrigal represented a new style: more direct, with less emphasis on the interweaving of voices or on bringing out the popular nature of the original song, and more on direct emotional appeal through daring harmonies and sequences.

Italian masters of this genre were Luca di Marenzio, Giovanni Gabrieli, Don Carlo Gesualdo, Orazio Vecchi and many others. The madrigal also became very succesful in Britain, where such masters as Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Thomas Weelkes and Anthony Holborne produced music to the same standard.

Some of these madrigals are among my very favourite music; if you are not familiar with at least some of them, you are depriving yourself of a great source of pleasure, consolation, and sheer beauty. Catalogues and MIDI files (which of course do not do any justice to the music) are easy to come by on the net.

Mad"ri*gal (?), n. [It. madrigale, OIt. madriale, mandriale (cf. LL. matriale); of uncertain origin, possibly fr. It mandra flock, L. mandra stall, herd of cattle, Gr. fold, stable; hence, madrigal, originally, a pastoral song.]

1.

A little amorous poem, sometimes called a pastoral poem, containing some tender and delicate, though simple, thought.

Whose artful strains have oft delayed The huddling brook to hear his madrigal. Milton.

2. Mus.

An unaccompanied polyphonic song, in four, five, or more parts, set to secular words, but full of counterpoint and imitation, and adhering to the old church modes. Unlike the freer glee, it is best sung with several voices on a part. See Glee.

 

© Webster 1913.

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