Free «Music History» Essay Sample

Composers are free to make whatever musical choices they like when writing music. A composer makes choices ranging from tonal center to tempo to use of instruments. A piece of music does not entail amalgamating different ideas. A good piece of music builds structure from a main idea aiding to give order to the music. This concept was mainly common in madrigals composed in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. A madrigal was considered as vocal, chamber music and was commonly based on a pre-written text (Haar, 1986). Nevertheless, the main idea of a madrigal was not simply to display melody in at text.

A madrigalist would also go beyond this extent and employs the music to aurally portray the text at any given time. He would literally paint a scene out of music, giving attention to the music in order for it to lay emphasis on the text. This style is permitted for drastically different interpretations of a similar text. The technique became a defining feature of the Renaissance madrigal. It also served as a main motivation for the composer in a certain musical elucidation of a text. This paper compares and contrasts three settings of Guarani’s Quel augellin che chanta, which were composed by three different composers, Luca Marenzio, Claudio Monteverdi and Sigismondo d’India.

The madrigal, as the 16th Century form of music, evolved in three phases. The early phase began from 1525 to 1560, while the middle phase started from 1560 to 1590 (Atlas, 1998). The late phase began from 1590 to 1620. The madrigals of the early phase were basically written for four voices. The melody was in the highest part. As the early phase came to an end, the emotional variety of the poetry designated for use in the madrigals widened. The same scenario was witnessed in the compositional techniques that matched the music with the texts. Madrigals composed in the middle period tended to be more polyphonic, as well as being more expressive. In addition, they described human sounds and sounds of nature. As the period progressed, composers began to increase their preference for richer texts. These texts were made up of five and six-voice parts. One of the greatest Italian composers of the middle phase was Luca Marenzio. He composed more than 500 madrigals, as well as no less than 80 villanellas. Marenzio spent much of his life in Rome. As such, Rome provided a blossoming center for his amateur madrigal singing (Marenzio, 1996).

Rome also offered a ready market for the steady supply of madrigal books. Marenzio began to publish these books from 1580. From the beginning, Marenzio demonstrated complete fluency and mastery as he set light pastoral verse to music (Haar, 1986). This technique combines a close response to the words with skillful counterpoint and amiably diverse rhythms and texts. Later in his career, he preferred more serious, even morose texts. He also came to favor writing in a technique that was immediately strict and strong, employing discordant and chromatic harmonies, although it did not abandon chaste and flow (Marenzio, 1996).

The majority of Marenzio’s madrigals are for five voices although some have six with few having four. Quell’augellin is from Marenzio’s Seventh Book of madrigals which he published in 1595. In this composition, Marenzio uses five voices. However, throughout the madrigal, he increasingly uses the top two voices, soprano and alto as equal high voices in a more or less concerted manner (Atlas, 1998). Marenzio uses text painting in the composition to convey the meaning of the madrigal as different from the other two composers. In just two measures the text makes mention of the bird singing. Marenzio uses the tenor voice which jumps into an eighth note pattern (Marenzio, 1996). Apparently, this stands for birdsong.

The eight note pattern is evident in only one voice. This gives it a sense of smallness, perfectly befitting ‘the little bird that sings’. Another example is found in measures nine and ten. In these measures the note duration is made short to appropriately give emphasis on the ‘sprightly’ flight of the bird. The next example is measure eleven. In this measure, the text talks of the bird hopping from tree to tree. Marenzio represent this musically by employing hocket in between the alto and soprano voices. By using the hopping between these two voices, Marenzio hopes to provide a representation of the bird hopping from a tree branch to a tree branch (Marenzio, 1996).

Another composer that will be used to show how composers interpret a text different in their settings is Claudio Monteverdi. The first instance is found in the second measure. In this measure, Monteverdi employs the same technique as Marenzio by using successive running eight notes (Fabbri, 1994). Nonetheless, Monteverdi decides to make use of the two upper voices to depict the ‘singing bird’, sacrificing the ‘small’ factor for voice timbres closer in range to the birds themselves. Monteverdi then makes a combination of the bird’s sprightly flight and the bird flying from tree to tree though the use of different patterns of slow and quick groupings (Monteverdi, 1974).

Another composer who provides a different interpretation of this text in his composition is Sigismondo d’India. As in the case with the other composers, starting from measure two, there is an evidence of the eighth note pattern. This pattern represents a birdsong in the upper two voices. However, contrary to the previous settings by Monteverdi and Marenzio, the pattern repeats in the lower two voices (Monteverdi, 1974). D’India is also different from the other two composers in that he does not appear to emphasize on the words ‘sprightly flies’. His setting merely sings the words on repeated eighth notes. Although d’India tends to drift away from the style of the other two composers, he, however, makes use of several descending eighth note patterns to represent the bird as it hops back and forth on the tree branches.

After examining the way the three texts interpret the same text, a number of similarities and differences can be drawn. One of the similarities is that all three composers have written the music in very similar ways. This is evident from the string of eighth notes that end up representing the birdsong in all three settings. In two of the settings, some type of faster movement is used to represent lively, fast flight. It is used to represent the hopping of the bird from a tree branch to a tree branch (Haar, 1986). Although none of the three interpretations is original in its concept, all of them are different musically. Nevertheless, they share similar ideas on what the musical character of a bird’s behavior is like while still being conspicuously dissimilar musical phrases.

As the text moves from the description of the bird flight to the message of love it embodies, the instances of text painting became less explicit. Nevertheless, the technique remains just as important. Going back to the settings, Marenzio’s measure sixteen has musical correspondence with the text ‘if he had a human spirit’ (Marenzio, 1996). In response to the text, the music is almost abruptly becomes homophonous. It takes on an almost somber quality as it somehow romanticizes the bird as a spirited being longing for love. This technique is replicated in the other two settings by Monteverdi and D’India. In the former case, the text is set to homophony while in the later case it is made a single-voice solo (Monteverdi, 1974). In the two cases the music phrase remains very somber, setting up the idea that the bird is a human-like and is able to crave for love.

Marenzio and D’India further depict a text painting as the text progresses. In measure twenty eight of Marenzio’s setting, the text states ‘and speaks in his own language’ regarding the bird. This is then depicted in the music through the use of syncopation between voices. This is used to produce the desired effect of imitating the chirping of birds. In D’India’s setting the composer repeats the line ‘so his sweet object of desire understands him’. This confirms and re-emphasizes that the bird is stating its love to the one it desires. Marenzio and D’India also make use of repetition near the end of their texts. In measure forty the phrase ‘and hear precisely’ is repeated in Marenzio’s setting (Marenzio, 1996). This is done so that the listener can do just that. D’India also uses repetition in the last line of the text ‘which answers him’. The line is repeated several times for dramatic build up before breaking up into a joyful repletion of ‘I, too, am burning with love’.

In conclusion, all the three composers took relatively the same text, but by using the style of text painting and emphasis, they manage to produce remarkably similar madrigals in their thematic concerns. The three settings paint the physical behavior of birds in a summer, with a major focus been laid on the birds’ singing and flying. The three composers focus on the idea that the bird is human-like regarding to love and desire. The three composers through the use of repetition, emphasize the bird’s confession of his love to his object of desire, and the object’s response. All three settings show a great variance in actual musical mechanics depicting disparities in pitches, rhythms, tempos and the like. Nevertheless, they possess an inherent similarity, originating from the composer’s choice to lay emphasis on the poem by the use of text painting.


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