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Italian and English Madrigals of the 16th century

Learn about the Italian and English madrigals. As poetry set to twelve lines, the madrigal was a popular Renaissance music form that was emotional, yet refined.

Early madrigal music dates back to 14th century Italy as a developed two- or three-line verse supported by identical music. The form evolved over the years and by the 16th century came under the influence of the Italian poet Petrarch. His work became the inspiration for Italian madrigal texts.

The Italian madrigal of the 16th century consisted of a refined four to six parts, offering twelve lines of lyric verse with love, desire, humor, satire, politics, or pastoral scenes as the theme. Madrigals were Renaissance in thought and feeling, a secular expression of an aristocratic age. In some instances, the top part was sung while contrasting parts were played on instruments. Other performances gave all the lines to singers. Italian madrigal form was partial to overlapping cadences and one-time through performances with no repeats.

Early Italian madrigal composers of note include Phillippe Verdelot, Cipriano de Rore, and Costaneo Festa. In 1542, Cipriano de Rore published the first book of five-voice madrigals. Initially, madrigals were composed for the performers` enjoyment. Notes and cadences were emphasized in the music, but audiences were kept unaware of the intricacies of the scores. As the madrigal grew in popularity, composers changed in their intent, more conscious of virtuoso performance and the audience`s pleasure. In the 1560`s, madrigal composers experimented with chromatics, building harmonies based on all twelve semitones of the octave (utilizing whole and half steps of the scale). Nicola Vincentino, Luca Marenzio, Carlo Gesualdo, and Clauio Monteverdi introduced madrigals rich in these chromatic harmonies. Madrigals of the late Renaissance period were dramatic with emotional overtones displayed both through the music and the lyrics. Italian madrigals were recognized as the beginning of "word painting," the combin ing of text and music to create a feeling.

English composers adopted the Italian madrigal and developed it into a style that was reflective of the Elizabethan age. The English preferred simplistic lyrics and translated Italian madrigals to less complicated text versions, but the English wholly incorporated the word painting techniques created by the Italian composers. English madrigal composers include Thomas Morley, John Wilbye, John Farmer, Thomas Weelkes, and Orlando Gibbons. Original madrigals from these English composers were more upbeat than the Italian madrigals, festive and often humorous. The English madrigal introduced nonsensical syllables such as "fa la la." English madrigals repeated sections, changed from homophonic to polyphonic texture, and typically set the last line to chords.

In both the Italian and the English madrigal, word painting became an art form, utilizing style and technique. For instance, in John Farmer`s "Fair Phyllis," the opening line is "Fair Phyllis I saw sitting alone." It is sung by a single female voice, emphasizing the lonely state of the heroine. When a line in the text indicates that Phyllis`s love "wanders up and down," the movement of the notes is downward on the scale, repeating the phrase at different pitch levels. Both of these examples demonstrate the compelling pairing of lyrics with musical dynamics to illustrate or magnify an emotion, action, or setting.

Composers of Italian and English madrigals published works that provide music historians with explanations of the transitions of the time as well as examples of the music. In 1597, English composer Thomas Morley published "A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practical Musicke," a summation of Renaissance music. Adrian Willaert, founder of the Venetian School and a strong proponent of madrigals using instruments, published "Musica Nova," a collection definitive of the form.

Both the Italian and English madrigals fostered new techniques in combining poetic texts and harmonic melody. These elements of style paved the way to the Baroque Period of music, during which time the polychoral opera took word painting, emotion, and drama through music to even greater heights.

Written by Elaine Schneider -

Maurice ravel

A biography and discussion of Maurice Ravel`s life and compositions.

Maurice Ravel was born on March 7th, 1875 in Ciboure, France which is located in the heart of the Basque country in southwestern France. His mother, a Basque woman named Marie Deluart came from a family of fisherman and sailors. His father, Joseph Ravel, was of Franco-Swiss descent, and an engineer by trade. The Ravel family lived in a 17th century Hollandaise styled house built by a Dutch architect that faced the harbour of St. Jean de Luz, until Maurice was

about three or four month old, before moving to Montmartre. He was christened Joseph Maurice Ravel in a tiny 16th century church called St. Vincent s just behind their house in Ciboure, several weeks after his birth.

In Paris, Ravel grew up among many artists and musicians, and began his musical studies with piano lessons when he was seven years old. He would later write that his father, who had been educated in music, was the one who nurtured Ravel s interest in music, and helped develop his

musical tastes.

It was not long after he began piano lessons that he and his father were performing duets together. When he was fourteen he entered the Paris Conservatoire de Musique where he continued to study until he was thirty years old. In 1897, he studied under the tutelage of French composer Gabriel Faure.

In 1895 and 1898, Ravel had finished his first works, Menuet Antique and Les Sites Auriclaires, which were both written for the piano. During his first year at the conservatory, he met Eric Satie and was fascinated with his unorthodox harmonies and techniques. His first compositions were strongly influenced by Satie s style of music. However, he was to receive only minimal recognition for these two pieces. One of his teachers, Gedalge, was to later refer to him as the most remarkable counterpoint student he had ever had. His professors, it appears, were not too pleased though when he startled them one day by playing Satie s Gymnopedies. Then in 1901

he finally published Jeux D Eau (Water Games) followed by SHEHERAZADE in 1903, and STRING QUARTET IN F in 1904.

Strongly influenced by the works of Liszt, Mussorgsky, and Faure, Ravel, along with Claude Debussy created a style of music that was largely inspired by the Impressionist paintings of Claude Monet. Impressionistic music dealt largely with evoking images of moods and places.

In 1905, Ravel left the Paris Conservatoire, after having spent sixteen years of studying there. He then proceeded to compose numerous works including: Sonatine, and five Miroirs in 1905, Introduction and Allegro in 1906 , L Heure Espagnole in 1907, Rapsodie Espagnole in 1907, Gapspard de la Nuit in 1908, Ma Mere L Oye in 1908, Valeses Nobles et Sentimentales in 1911, and a ballet Daphnis et Chloe in 1912.

Ravel s style of music began to change around the time of Claude Debussy s death in 1918. His work became more abstract and closer to the neo-classical styles of Stravinsky, incorporating early jazz rhythms and harmonies. However, Ravel retained that quality of style which made all his music instantly recognizable as his own.

Stravinsky once referred to Ravel as the Swiss watchmaker because of his painstaking attention to detail. He would perfect small, self contained blocks of music before integrating them into a larger, more complex structure of his composition, much like the many moving parts of a watch.

Apparently, Ravel did not feel that composing music came easily to him. He wrote, "I am not one of the great composers. All the great have produced enormously. There is everything in their work - the best and the worst, but there is always quantity. But I have written relatively very little . . . and at that, I did it with a great deal of difficulty. I did my work slowly, drop by drop. I have torn all of it out of me by pieces. . . and now I cannot do any more, and it does not give me any pleasure."

In 1928, Ravel wrote his most famous piece of music, Bolero, while on holiday in his hometown, Ciboure. Each year, his whole family would return to visit Ciboure for their annual vacation, and he had continued to visit even after his parents deaths. Bolero is built upon two musical themes which is repeated eighteen times during the work. It is not an attempt of Spanish dance music, nor is it a bolero or folk dance at all. It is slower in tempo than a bolero dance, and is a combination of a polonaise, chaconne, and zarabande while throughout the piece the rhythm of a snare drum beats relentlessly. Most people either love or hate this piece. Many think it is repetitive and boring while others find it hypnotizing and fascinating. It is, in any event, the world`s longest musical crescendo.

In fact, on Sept 1, 1997, a British study published in `Psychiatric Bulletine` claims Ravel may have been in the early stages of Alzheimer s disease because of its repetitive melody. Dr. Eva Cybulska, the author of the study, suggests this possibility due to the fact that most people with this affliction suffer from an obsession with repeating words and gestures.

When Ravel was in his fifties, he traveled to America for the first time, for a four month tour and was deemed an immediate success. He was to meet many celebrities, including Gershwin, whom he very much admired.

In 1927 Ravel began to show signs of dementia, and suffered from muscle problems and aphasia. After a car crash in 1932, his symptoms worsened and he eventually lost all ability to communicate. In 1937 he underwent brain surgery due to a brain tumor, but died later that year, in Paris, at the age of sixty-two. He was buried in the cemetery of Levallois Perret with his parents.

Written by Lisa McAfee -

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