English Madrigal and John Farmer
- Musica transalpina
- (“Music from beyond the Alps”) The first publication of Italian madrigals, completed in 1588 in England, which contains “Englished” madrigals. The Italian text had been translated into English for this collection
- English madrigal
- The English adopted the madrigal just as Shakespeare had adopted the sonnet. The English made their own madrigals with simpler texts, humorous topics and nonsense syllables such as “fa la la” for refrain text
- Nonsense syllables
- An adaption that the English made to the Italian madrigal when assimilating the genre to Britain was to add nonsense syllables such as “fa la la”
John Farmer (fl. 1591-1601)
Farmer was active in Dublin at a church where he was employed as master of the choir boys. From there he relocated to London where he published his only collection of four part English madrigals. As a composer, Farmer applied word painting with liberty and preferred pastoral themes. His madrigals have the underlying meter that many English madrigals had and his lines of contrapuntal texture which overlap in a playful manner.
“Fair Phyllis I saw Sitting all Alone”
This charming English madrigal was written in 1599 for four voices and was about a shepherdess who wanders from the other shepherds and found by her lover in joy expressed by a tumble of kisses. The underlying meter and cadences on the weak beat are characteristic of the English madrigal. The word painting applied was a feature adopted from the Italian madrigal. The texture varies throughout, facilitating word painting. The opening line “Fair Phyllis I saw sitting all alone” is sung in a solo voice, illustrating Phyllis in her solitude. The next line “Feeding her flock” is sung in homophonic texture by all four voices, illustrating the size of her flock. The line “up and down” is sung in an imitative texture which leaps up and down in register, mirroring the meaning of the words. The line “Fell a kissing” gaily leaps up and down in register, illustrating the lovers’ joy in finding each other.