Italian Madrigal and Carlo Gesualdo
- Italian Madrigal
- The madrigal was a form of poetry and music that fit into the music enjoyed in the Italian courts. Its topics included love, unfulfilled desire, politics, or humour. Words such as weeping or dying were expressed with emotional text. Instruments could accompany by doubling the voices or the madrigal could be enjoyed a capella. The Italian madrigal developed in three stages:
- (1525-1550) First Development Stage … This initial stage included music which was written to give pleasure to the performer. The amateur musicians of the time were not presented with madrigals demanding virtuosity.
- (1550-1580) Second Development Stage … This middle phase of development saw the music of the madrigal clearly reflect the meaning of the text; word painting became an essential part of the genre.
- (1580-1620) Third Development Stage … The final stage of development became a genre which clearly reflected the personality and emotions of the composer. Characteristics such as chromatic harmonies, virtuosity, text declamation, and illustration of the text in the music.
- Chromaticism was a characteristic of the final stage of development in the Italian madrigal. Gesualdo’s madrigal, “Moro Lasso, al mio Duolo” liberally applies chromatic harmonies
- Word painting
- Illustrating the text with the music was a common practise of the middle and final phases of Italian madrigals
Carlo Gesualdo (1561-1613)
Gesualdo, an Italian prince and composer, discovered his wife in the act of adultery. His madrigal “Moro lasso, al mio duolo” is evidently from the final stage of development as it reflects the composer’s own life. His music reveals advanced harmonies using complex contrapuntal textures, extreme uses of chromaticism, and vivid word painting.
“Moro Lasso, al mio Duolo” (“I die, alas, in my suffering”)
This Italian madrigal was written in 1610 and required five voices. It is a tragic lament about a neglected lover who is dying in his agony. It is sung in a capella and its rich diatonic passages which intermingle with the chromatic passages present a challenge for the performer. Gesualdo shifts the texture and the text settings of the piece throughout. The opening line “Moro lasso” is expressed in a homophonic texture with syllabic text setting. The harmonies and melody are presented in a descending chromatic line which illustrate the pain and suffering which he is enduring. The text setting shifts to melismatic on the word “vita”, meaning “life”, to illustrate the vivacity of life. The word “Ahi”, alas, is repeated as an expression.