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madrigals

madrigals. A term originating in 14th-cent. Italy but later applied to Italian and English secular vocal music of the 16th and 17th cents. The 16th-cent. Italian madrigal grew up around 1520, reaching England through Italian-trained court musicians and imported manuscripts. Anthologies of Italian madrigals with English translations, such as Nicholas Yonge's Musica transalpina (1588) and Thomas Watson's Italian Madrigalls Englished (1590), provided a model for the native English madrigal, which began with Thomas Morley's Canzonets or Little Short Songs to Three Voyces (1593) and flourished briefly until c.1620.

Morley, the most prolific English madrigalist, favoured a light-hearted style and frivolous pastoral verse, writing canzonets and strophic balletts (the latter modelled on works by Gastoldi with their ‘fa-la’ refrains) as well as true madrigals. He also edited The Triumphes of Oriana (1601), a collection of madrigals by 21 Englishmen in praise of Elizabeth I; each ends with the phrase ‘Long live fair Oriana’, although in fact both Elizabeth and Morley died soon afterwards. Other composers, such as Gibbons, Wilbye, Weelkes, and Ward, wrote in a more serious vein, expressive Italianate chromaticisms and dissonances reflecting imagery in the text. After 1600 the madrigal lost ground to the lute ayre, and many publications blur the boundary between the madrigal and other genres. Its popularity with amateur singers has continued until the present day.

Eric Cross

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