During the Renaissance era, secular vocal music became more and more popular. Throughout Europe, music was being set to poems. This was especially true in Italy, where the madrigal began.
Madrigal is defined as a piece for several solo voices set to a short poem (Music an Appreciation pg. 85). The poems usually had two or three stanzas of three lines and the form was “aba bcb dd, abb cdd ee” etc. (The New Harvard…Music pg. 462). The higher voices were the more decorated and important lines. The supporting voices were less decorated, but both voices still sang the same text.
In the 16th century, the madrigal was changed and had a different meaning to composers. At this time, a madrigal was defined as a “one stanza poem of free rhyme scheme, using a free alternation of seven- and eleven-syllable lines” (The New…Music pg. 462).
In the mid 1500’s, the madrigal began to take a new direction. They became more serious, the texture thickened, and five-voice writing became the standard way of writing. Though, two up to eight voice compositions were written. Through so many voices being written, it is clear that the madrigal was being experimented with. Chromaticism, less decoration in the rhythm, and cycles are examples of how the madrigal was being experimented with. (The New…Music pg. 463)
In the late 1500’s a new style began to appear. Poems were being written for composers to put to music. Composers started favoring “short, expressionistic texts that gave them occasion for extremes of melodic and tonal language” (The New…Music pg. 463). This would be later known as seconda prattica. (The New…Music pg. 463)
Starting in 1600, madrigals were being written with continuo. Pieces for solo or low number voices formed a new genre and madrigals with a variety of vocal and instrumental influences formed another. (The New…Music pg. 463)
The madrigal was very popular in Italy, but it also became popular all across Europe. It was especially popular in German speaking countries and in England. Though they were somewhat different from how the Italian composers were writing them.
Kamien, Roger. Music, an Appreciation. McGraw-Hill 1998 pg. 85.
Randel, Michael Don. The New Harvard Dictionary OF Music. The
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 1996 pg. 462-64.