The Italian Madrigals of Palestrina
Madonna, io v’am’e taccio Costanzo Festa (ca. 1485/90–1545)
Che parlo, o dove son’ Festa
Dolor sta sempre meco Festa
Con lagrime Philippe Verdelot (ca. 1480/85–?1530/32, before 1552)
Passer mai solitari’in alcun Verdelot
Se ben il duol Cipriano de Rore (1515/16–1565)
O sonno de Rore
Del più leggiadro viso Jacques Arcadelt (ca. 1507–1568)
Solo e pensoso Arcadelt
Il bianco e dolce cigno Arcadelt
Io son ferito Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525/1526–1594)
Gioia m’abond’al cor Palestrina
Già fu chi m’ebbe cara Palestrina
I vaghi fiori Palestrina
Alla riva del Tebro Palestrina
Placide l’acque Palestrina
Anzi, se fòco Palestrina
Vergine saggia Palestrina
E quella certa speme Palestrina
Non fu mai cervo sì veloce al corso Luca Marenzio (?1553–1599)
Vestiva i colli Palestrina
Shannon Canavin, soprano
Martin Near, countertenor
Owen McIntosh & Jason McStoots, tenor
Paul Guttry, bass-baritone
Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 8pm
University Lutheran Church in Cambridge
Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 3pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston
Notes on the Program
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525/1526–1594) is today known primarily for his outstanding oeuvre of sacred music, fabled to have saved liturgical music during the sixteenth century. And despite having disavowed himself of such worldly poetry, Palestrina composed some wonderful secular madrigals. Our program focuses on the madrigals of this great sixteenth-century Italian composer in the context of the early madrigal, with music by the so-called “fathers of the Italian madrigal” Costanzo Festa and Philippe Verdelot; works by the Flemish composer Jacques Arcadelt, who worked in Rome at the same time as Palestrina and whose straightforward works are quite similar to Palestrina’s early madrigals; pieces by Cipriano de Rore, whose more adventurous compositions are thought to have influenced Palestrina’s later madrigals; and a spiritual madrigal cycle by fellow Roman composer Luca Marenzio.
The early madrigal, once thought to have evolved from the Italian frottola, developed in Florence in the 1520s, arising out of the chanson, then popular in Florence and Rome. Before then, the first print to use the word “madrigal” in the title page did not appear until 1530; madrigals were often referred to by the name of the poetic form—canzoni, capitol, sonetti, etc.—and circulated in manuscript form. The first generation of madrigal composers primarily had strong northern connections—Verdelot and Arcadelt were both Franco-Flemish and Costanzo Festa, though born in Italy, actually worked at the French court before returning to participate in the creation of the madrigal—which may seem ironic since we associate the form so much with Italy. However, Franco-Flemish composers were not new to Italy; they had been coming since Ciconia in the late fourteenth century, and DuFay, Josquin, Isaac, Obrecht, Brumel, and numerous others in the fifteenth century.
Though he was not as prolific as many of his fellow madrigalists, Costanzo Festa (ca. 1485/90–1545) was an important figure in the development of the Italian madrigal. Probably born in Piedmont, Festa was apparently a cleric in Turin and at some point between 1510 and 1517, he lived on the island of Ischia in the Neapolitan bay serving as a music teacher for a powerful Neapolitan princely family. He then became one of the few Italian members of the Papal Choir in Rome from 1517 until his death in 1545, where he composed a good deal of liturgical music as well as many madrigals. He appears also to have had connections to Florence, having served two Medici popes (Leo X and Clement VII) and contributing music to the Medici wedding of 1539. By the late 1530s, Festa apparently contemplated publishing all or most of his music, and in 1538 received a Venetian privilege; however, the only volume to be published was a book of madrigals in 1538, and the only other music to be printed under his name was a set of three-voice madrigals a year earlier. A staple of the publishing world in the 1530s and 1540s, these graceful and unassuming works were clearly popular and had a strong influence on Palestrina’s early works.
Philippe Verdelot (ca. 1480/85–?1530/32, before 1552) was probably the first master of the Florentine madrigal, and certainly the greatest of his time; in fact, he probably dictated the formal and stylistic patterns of its music. He was so well respected and so famous that in 1544 the writer Antonfrancesco Doni has one of the characters of his Dialogo della musica, the composer Michele Novarese, say:
And there are those who can hardly perform Verdelot’s ‘Passera’ [his madrigal Passer mai solitario on Petrarch’s text, and sung on our current program]; in my time he who could sing that madrigal was considered a Josquin. When a singer was considered excellent, one would say of him: ‘he sings the Passera.’
Despite his importance, we know surprisingly little about Verdelot’s life and career. He was born in France, possibly during the decade of 1470–1480. From 1523 to 1527 he served as maestro di cappella at the cathedral and the baptistery in Florence. He may have died during the siege of Florence in 1529–30, when one-quarter of the population perished, but this is a matter of speculation; it is also possible that he fled Florence after the return of the Medici and lived in Venice during the 1530s, though no evidence, either from his music or from documents, indicates he was still alive after 1530. It appears he died by 1552 however, as Ortenzio Landi wrote in his Sette libri de cathologhi published that year that “Verdelot, the Frenchman, was singular in his time.”
Most of Verdelot’s madrigals became accessible to a wider audience during the 1530s through a series of publications that in essence constituted a collected edition. Between 1533 and 1538, three books of four-voice madrigals and two books of five-voice madrigals were published in Venice, several in multiple editions, with a sixth volume of six-voice madrigals appearing in 1541. Verdelot’s style balances homophonic with imitative textures and rarely employs word-painting, which was largely a later development (though a few interesting foreshadowings can be found).
One of the most influential musical figures of sixteenth-century Italy was the Flemish composer Cipriano de Rore (1515/16–1565), who in his short life served at both the courts of Ferrara and Parma. Unusually, during his own lifetime he was recognized as a master, not only by patrons and fellow musicians but by music theorists and scholars who drew on his works to illustrate their treatises. Born in the small town of Ronse in Flanders, de Rore is speculated to have been in the retinue of the young Margaret of Parma, possibly arriving in Italy as part of her entourage in 1533. In the 1540s, he seems to have sought employment at an Italian court and became the maestro di cappella at the court of Duke Ercole II d’Este in Ferrara in 1546, where he remained until 1558. More than half of the music he composed during his lifetime was published during these years and his reputation grew to extend beyond Italy. Following the death of Ercole II, de Rore returned to Flanders in 1559 to find his town burnt as a result of the Wars of Independence. The new Duke Alfonso chose Francesco dalla Viola to take up de Rore’s position at court, so in 1560 de Rore joined the Farnese court in Parma. This new post must have been disappointing, as the composer appears to have sought employment in Venice in 1563. He died in Parma in 1565 of unknown causes.
De Rore was first and foremost a composer of madrigals, writing some 107 of them that appeared in seven madrigal books and numerous anthologies. In contrast to the previous generation of madrigal composers, most of de Rore’s madrigals are for five instead of four voices. His 1542 volume of madrigals was one of the first single-composer publications of madrigals and presents a distinctively Venetian take on the genre, marked by a preference for setting sonnets, particularly those of Petrarch, and by the use of the lofty imitative polyphony which before had been associated with motet composition. The madrigal was thus imbued with a far different spirit than the chanson-like, largely homophonic style of Verdelot and Festa, and the influence of his adventurous chromatic and harmonic shifts can be heard in Palestrina’s later madrigals.
While little is known about Jacques Arcadelt’s early life (ca. 1507–1568), a Flemish origin along with a French upbringing has been suggested from variations on the spelling of his name, and he may originally have been from the vicinity of Liège or Namur, in present-day Belgium. He moved to Italy as a young man, and was present in Florence by the late 1520s, therefore having an opportunity to meet or work with Philippe Verdelot. In or immediately before 1538 he moved to Rome where he obtained an appointment with the Papal Choir at St. Peter’s Basilica; many composers from the Netherlands served as singers there throughout this era, and it is even possible that he went to Rome before coming to Florence. Still in Rome in January 1539, he probably was made a member of the Julian Chapel. After some months there he became a member of the Sistine Chapel, where he was appointed magister puerorum (director of the boys choir) and remained there until 1551. The same year saw the publication of no less than four books of his madrigals. The first of these collections went through 45 editions, becoming the most widely-reprinted collection of madrigals of the time. He left Italy in 1551 to return to France, where he spent the remainder of his life.
Arcadelt’s several hundred madrigals, composed over a span of at least two decades, were usually for four voices, although he wrote a few for three, and a handful for five and six voices. Stylistically his madrigals are melodious and simple in structure, singable, and built on a clear harmonic basis, usually completely diatonic. The music is often syllabic, and while it sometimes uses repeated phrases, is almost always through-composed (as opposed to the contemporary chanson, which was often strophic). Arcadelt alternates homophonic and polyphonic textures, “in a state of delicate, labile equilibrium.” His madrigals best represent the “classic” phase of development of the form, with their clear outline, four-part writing, refinement, and balance.
Palestrina was the first major composer from Rome or its environs to achieve international success. Born in the town of Palestrina, he is first known to have been in Rome in 1537, when he is listed as a choirboy there. From 1544 to 1551 Palestrina was organist of the principal church of his native city (St. Agapito, Palestrina), and when he was appointed maestro di cappella at the Basilica of St. Pietro at the Vatican in 1551 at the age of 26, he was very much an exception: as well as being a local man, rather than a Franco-Fleming, he was also married; on the whole, Roman churches preferred their musicians to be celibate Northern European clerics during this period. The powerful patronage of Pope Julius III (previously bishop of Palestrina) ensured that neither of these formed an obstacle to has advancement. By 1555 he had achieved the highest and most lucrative position in Rome, that of singer in the Papal Chapel. However, when the newly elected Pope Paul IV decided to re-enforce the ban on married singers, Palestrina was dismissed. He soon found another position as maestro di cappella at the Basilica of St. Giovanni in Laterano, the next most important church in Rome after St. Pietro. However, his employers were reluctant to spend money on music, and Palestrina resigned after five years. His subsequent position brought him to the next most important Roman basilica, that of St. Maria Maggiore, in 1561.
It was during this time that a series of events dramatically changed Palestrina’s artistic life. The Council of Trent, which had been meeting sporadically to discuss reform of the church since 1545, finally turned its attention to liturgy and sacred music during its final session in 1562–3. Its recommendations were of a general nature: secular elements should be prohibited and the music should be such that the words were not obscured. It was left to individual dioceses to work out the details and in Rome, a commission of cardinals was set up which included influential and music-loving members. While the myth of Palestrina’s single-handedly saving polyphony by writing the Missa Papae Marcelli during the council’s 1565 commission for mass-settings is no longer tenable, he certainly played an important part in influencing the revised style of polyphony which ensued. In this, variety of texture and careful attention to word-setting largely replaced ingenuity of contrapuntal flow. Palestrina was to make this style his own for the next thirty or so years.
Despite his focus on sacred music, Palestrina was an important contributor to the early secular Italian madrigal, offering some of the finest examples of the genre. His first book of madrigals for four voices, published in 1555, was only Palestrina’s second published volume of music, and was reprinted eight times between 1568 and 1600. On the whole, these early madrigals continue the style set forward by Festa, Verdelot, and Arcadelt; they are somewhat motet-like in style with straightforward rhythms and formal counterpoint with a good deal of homophony. Following this first book, several madrigals by Palestrina appeared in anthologies, but he primarily focused on sacred music until the 1580s; he in fact renounced madrigal composers as “corrupters of youth” in the preface to his 1584 cycle of The Song of Songs and professed shame at having set such worldly poetry. However, this sentiment was likely meant simply to appease Pope Gregory XIII, to whom the volume was dedicated, since Palestrina published his second book of secular madrigals just two years later in 1586 (though many of the works in this volume were likely composed earlier). These works are lighter in texture with more rhythmic flexibility, sharper contrasts, and harmonic interest.