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• More than a thousand individual collections, each
containing about twenty madrigals, were published
between 1530 and 1620. Some Italian madrigals
were even printed with Italian texts outside of Italy,
specifically in German-speaking lands, England,
Denmark, and the Low Countries. Thus the
madrigal became the first genre of Italian music to
be exported around Europe, as opera and the
concerto would be during the seventeenth century.
• The northern Italian city-state of Ferrara was an
important center for music throughout the
Renaissance. During the sixteenth century two
northerners, Adrian Willaert and Cipiano de Rore,
and a native Italian, Nicola Vicentino, achieved
prominence there as composers and, in Vicentino’s
case, as a music theorist as well. All three
undertook far-reaching experiments in tonal
harmony, tuning, and temperaments.
The beginning of Cipriano de Rore’s motet Calami sonum ferentes
demonstrates the type of tonal experiments in which the Ferrarese
composers were engaged in the middle of the sixteenth century.
When the bass enters with the chromatically rising line (mm. 8-10) it
creates chords built on E, F F#, G and A in immediate succession—a
harmonically daring sequence.
Nicola Vicentino invented an instrument he called the arcicembalo which
possess not two rows of keys, as on all other keyboards, but six. This allowed
him to achieve slight microtonal differences between pitches and recreate the
three genera of ancient Greek music. Such experiments were typical of the
musical humanists of the Renaissance.
• The concerto delle donne (ensemble of ladies) that
appeared at the court of Ferrara in the last decades
of the sixteenth century was the first specifically
all-female vocal ensemble established at a court.
The concerto consisted of three and sometimes
four virtuosos who specialized in singing difficult
madrigals sometimes a cappella, sometimes with
the support of a male tenor or bass, and
sometimes to their own instrumental
accompaniment. The excellence of their singing
impressed visitors and soon similar all-female vocal
groups could be heard in Rome, Florence, and
Mantua, as well as Ferrara.
The beginning of Luzzasco Luzzaschi’s madrigal O docessze
amarissime d’amore (O sweet bitterness of love). Luzzaschi (c15451607) was a composer resident in Ferrara from the 1560s onward.
With its three demanding parts for soprano (and optional keyboard
accompaniment), this madrigal was a vocal showcase for the concerto
delle donne.
• The concerto delle donne did not perform for the
full court, but only for the ducal family and a very
few important guests. The music for such concerts
went by the name musica secreta (secret music).
At other courts this progressive private music was
called musica reservata (see Chapter 24). The
progressive compositions of Rore and Luzzaschi
(see Slides 28.3 and 28.5), with their sometimes
intense chromaticism and extremes of rhythmic
values, are representative of the musica secreta
performed at the court of Ferrara.
• Carlo Gesualdo (1561-1613), murderer and
megalomaniac, is one of the most bizarre
characters in the history of music. A member of
the nobility from the area of Naples, in 1590
Gesualdo put to death his wife and her lover. He
withdrew from the public eye and into a world of
music, only to resurface during the years 15941596 at the court of Ferrara. In all, Gesualdo
published seven volumes of madrigals, and three of
motets, as well as other religious works in Latin.
• Gesualdo’s is among the most progressive, even
radical, music of the late sixteenth century. He
employs extreme chromaticism, disjunct textures,
and widely disparate rhythmic values to create a
type of madrigal that is unsettling, sometimes
shocking. Gesualdo’s madrigals are not for the
average, amateur singer, for they place great
demands on the vocal skill and especially the ear of
the performer who must enter with just the right
pitch into a sea of dissonance or harmonic change.
So progressive is the harmony in some of
Gesualdo’s madrigals that they seem “atonal”—to
lack a clear tonal center.
• Mantua was a Renaissance city-state in northern
Italy roughly midway between Milan and Venice.
During the sixteenth century it was ruled by the
Gonzaga family, and the foremost artistic patron
among them was Isabella d’Este (1474-1539,
marquise of Mantua). Isabella was very much a
humanist. She studied classical Latin poetry,
collected Greek and Roman sculpture, and
commissioned paintings from Mantegna, Titan, and
da Vinci. She also wrote poetry, sang, and played
harpsichord, clavichord, lira da braccio, lute, viol,
and vihuela de mano (Spanish guitar).
Isabella d’Este in a portrait that she
commissioned from Leonardo da Vinci
Isabella was a great patron of both musicians and artists.
• Among the musicians employed at the court of
Mantua at the turn of the seventeenth century was
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). Monteverdi is
important in the history of music as a seminal
practitioner of the late madrigal, as one of the first
to compose operas, and as one of the leaders in
the formation of a late-style madrigal called the
concerted madrigal. He worked in Mantua from
1591-1613 and then in Venice from 1613 until his
death in 1643. In all, Monteverdi published nine
books of madrigals, the first in 1587 and the last,
posthumously, in 1651.
• Giovanni Maria Artusi (c1540-1613) was a
churchman and conservative music theorist. In a
publication of 1600, Delle imperfettioni della
moderna musica (On the Imperfections of Modern
Music), he criticized Monteverdi for the “mistakes”
and “errors” contained in his madrigal Cruda
Amaralli. Monteverdi replied to Artusi in 1605 and
again in 1607, declaring these “errors” to be
momentary diversions from commonplace
contrapuntal practice necessitated by an especially
vivid word or phrase of text.
• Monteverdi said that the “harmony (music) must be
the servant of the words”—musical considerations
must take a back seat to the emotional content of
the text. Monteverdi called this text-driven
approach to music the seconda pratica. He
distinguished it from the older, more conservative
prima pratica, in which composers often followed
the rules of counterpoint regardless of the text.
The preface to the fifth
book of madrigals by
Claudio Monteverdi, in
which the composer
defends his text-driven
approach to the
madrigal, referring to it
in capital letters as
Monteverdi places
Cruda Amarilli as the
first madrigal in the
collection, something of
an “in your face”
response to the music
theorist Artusi.
• Although it had been written and performed many
years earlier, Monteverdi’s five-voice Cruda Amarilla
appeared in his fifth book of madrigals printed in
1605. The score shows that all of Monteverdi’s
“errors” occur at particularly intense or biting words
in the text.
Two passages from Monteverdi’s Cruda Amarilli
In the first the soprano jumps in with a second against the bass on
the words “ahi lasso” (“ouch alas”) and in the second the top three
voices jump to a seventh above the bass on the word “Aspido”
(“wasp”). Both such jumps violate the commonly accepted rules of
Renaissance counterpoint.
• The increasing intense, personal expression of
the late madrigal, especially when it emphasized
solo singing prefigured the appearance of the aria
and recitative in seventeenth-century Baroque
opera. Toward the end of the sixteenth century
the progressive madrigal became so vocally
demanding that professional singers were needed
to perform it. This resulted in a separation
between highly skilled, solo performers and a
non-participating, generally aristocratic audience,
a division that set the stage for early Baroque