Madrigal (music)

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The madrigal is a polyphonic vocal piece of mostly secular content and an important musical form of singing of the Renaissance and early Baroque .


The madrigal is originally a very free form of poetry that originated in Italy and served as the textual basis for a composition (song poem). In Italy in particular, this genre was very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, first as a polyphonic choral composition, then also as a solo vocal piece with instrumental accompaniment. The text mostly contains secular themes; the spiritual counterpart to the madrigal is the motet .

In the history of the madrigal its shape has changed several times, but at all times it has been a secular, usually four-, five- or six-part choir pieces in a chamber music setting.

They offered the composer the opportunity to develop freely and creatively independently of the dominant and strongly formalized sacred music . In contrast to what was customary for secular music at the time, the madrigal was composed in a complex manner and oriented towards emotional expression. In particular, the option of not just reproducing the text, but also allowing it to come to itself creatively through singing and instrumentation with onomatopoeic effects, allowed numerous new musical techniques to emerge in a very short time (such as tremolo and pizzicato ). Madrigals were also arranged for various musical instruments.

In the course of its development, the madrigal also became a nucleus of other secular, but also sacred forms of music, such as the cantata , oratorio or opera (with Claudio Monteverdi ).


The madrigal was created in the 1520s around the Medici popes Leo X and Clement VII and the Strozzi banking family, who competed with the Medici , first in Florence and then in Rome. It emerged from the “non-public” Florentine Ballata and Barzelletta settings by the older generation of Florentine composers ( Alessandro Coppini , Giovanni Serragli , Bartolomeo degli Organi , Bernardo Pisano ). They use the compositional techniques of the Latin motet and the French chansons of the Renaissance of the Franco-Flemish masters working in Italy such as Josquin Desprez , Loyset Compère , Antoine Busnois and Heinrich Isaac . Contrary to older research opinions, there is no overlap in the sources between the Florentine Barzelletta and the northern Italian Frottola .

The madrigal is not related to the Italian Trecento madrigal of the late 13th and early 14th centuries, mostly two-part, rarely three-part, unaccompanied vocal compositions of simple design. In the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, the term fell into disuse for musical purposes when these madrigals were only reflected as a literary form (see Madrigal (literature) ).

The origin of the name is unclear; a derivation of cantus matricalis , which means "song in the mother tongue", ie with secular text as a counterpart to the Latin of sacred works, as well as from mandra ("flock") is conceivable, since the earliest works were also referred to as "mandriale".


The madrigal was the most important secular form of music of its time. It had its heyday in the second half of the 16th century. By the middle of the 17th century, however, it gradually lost its importance.

Early madrigal (1520-1550)

Bernardo Pisano can be seen as a pioneer of the early madrigalists who prepared the ground for Philippe Verdelot , the two brothers Costanzo and Sebastiano Festa as well as Jacques Arcadelt , who developed their talent on his foundation. His musical print Musica di meser Bernardo pisano sopra le canzone del petrarca from 1520, the first individual print with compositions by a single composer in Italian, contains Petrarch texts and shows for the first time settings of the new literary currents Bembismus ( Pietro Bembo ) and Petrarkism , which only differ little from Verdelot's early madrigals.

1530 appeared in Rome with Madrigali de diversi musici ... primo libro de la Serena , the first printed music with the word Madrigal in the title. From now on, individual prints increased. The form was quickly adopted, for example by Costanzo Festa and Jacques Arcadelt in 1539. In its beginnings, the madrigal set classical Italian poetry to music, thus combining secular texts with music. At the beginning it is usually set in four parts (rarely five or even six parts) and is set homophonically ; the texts are single-verse with one or two pairs of rhymes in free sequence. The form was soon enriched by Adrian Willaert , who enforced the five-part voice, and who composed the first chromatic madrigals by his pupil Cyprian de Rore .

The early madrigal was still locally limited to Florence and Rome. It was not until the heyday that Willaert continued development in Venice and other parts of Italy.

Classical madrigal (1550–1580)

In this phase the madrigal gained in expression and formal diversity. Mostly in five voices, alternating homophonic and polyphonic , and with strong rhythmic and harmonic contrasts, means are used for the musical expression of the text, which lose formal rigor and thus allow the form to become more free. The most important representatives of this period are Orlando di Lasso , Luca Marenzio , Andrea Gabrieli , at times Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Philippe de Monte (at the Prague court with Rudolf II and at the Habsburg court with Maximilian II ). The latter also marks the beginning of the madrigal's triumphant advance in Europe.

Late madrigal (1580-1620)

Already in the 1560s and 1570s England came into contact with the new form through the activity of Alfonso Ferrabosco at the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Although the first imitations by English composers were already being written at that time, the flowering of the form in England did not begin until 1588 with the appearance of a madrigal collection called Musica Transalpina with texts translated into English , published by Nicholas Yonge. The extremely successful collection triggered the emergence of what is probably the richest madrigal culture outside of Italy with representatives such as Thomas Weelkes , John Wilbye , William Byrd , Orlando Gibbons , Thomas Morley , Thomas Tomkins and Thomas Bateson and left an independent type of madrigal, the Ayre , in the 1620s , which, with increasing popularity, made the madrigal forgotten.

The madrigal also spread in other countries, albeit less strongly. In Germany, the most important madrigalist was Hans Leo Hassler ( O head full of blood and wounds ), but Johann Hermann Schein and, at times, Heinrich Schütz also contributed significantly to the development of the German madrigal.

Audio sample ? / I ) Chromatics in Gesualdo's madrigal Dolcissima mia vitaAudio file / audio sample

In Italy, too, developments did not stand still. Full of chromatic experimentation (see audio and sheet music example) and with contrapuntal interweaving of the various voices, in particular Carlo Gesualdo's madrigal work and Claudio Monteverdi's first madrigal books, with their extreme increase in expression, already leave the equilibrium of Renaissance music behind them and herald the baroque. The text templates are also becoming more free: mostly six to thirteen seven- and eleven-syllable verses in free rhyming offer the music a lot of space. The intelligibility of the text is neglected in favor of the musical representation. As early as 1601 Giulio Caccini wrote in his Le nuove musiche arias and madrigals for a voice and basso continuo ; Monteverdi continued to develop this figured bass in his madrigal books from 1605 onwards. His eighth book Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi from 1638 is commonly regarded as the completion of the madrigal.

At the same time, the madrigal had reached the end of its development. Baroque monody replaced the polyphony of the Renaissance, and the emergence of new forms such as opera , recitative and oratorio opened up new horizons. The madrigal broke up in forms such as cantata and dialogue , and ceased to exist as an independent form. Examples that emerged later are usually pure recourse to a complete repertoire of forms. Even composers of the 20th century occasionally followed up on his tradition, but mostly without the formal rigor of the model, for example in the Black Madrigal by Mauricio Kagel or in the Three Madrigal Comedies by Péter Eötvös .

Major madrigalists

Early days Climax Late period

English school


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Vossler : The German Madrigal. History of its development until the middle of the XVIII. Century. Weimar 1898, pp. 1-12.