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madrigal, name for two different forms of Italian music, one related to the poetic madrigal in the 14th cent., the other the most common form of secular vocal music in the 16th cent. The poetic madrigal is a lyric consisting of one to four strophes of three lines followed by a two-line strophe called a ritornello. The most important 14th-century madrigal composers were Giovanni da Cascia (also known as Giovanni da Florentia) and Jacopo da Bologna (both fl. c.1350). Their madrigals are usually for two voices in long and florid melodic lines. The 16th-century madrigal is poetically a free imitation of its earlier counterpart; musically, it is unrelated. The earliest of these madrigals were usually homophonic in four and sometimes three parts, emotionally restrained, and lyric in spirit. The classic madrigals of Cipriano da Rore (1516–65), Andrea Gabrieli, Orlando di Lasso, and Filippo da Monte (1521–1603) were usually for five voices in a polyphonic and imitative style, the expression closely allied to the text. In the last part of the 16th cent. composers such as Luca Marenzio, Carlo Gesualdo (c.1560–1613), and Monteverdi intensified the expression of the text by the use of chromaticism, word painting, and declamatory effects. In the 17th cent. madrigal was used to designate certain expressive solo songs. In England the polyphonic madrigal had a late flowering in the Elizabethan era. Celebrated English madrigal composers include Byrd, Morley, Orlando Gibbons, Weelkes, and Wilbye.


See A. Einstein, The Italian Madrigal (3 vol., 1949); J. Kerman, The Elizabethan Madrigal (1962); J. Roche, The Madrigal (1972).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Italian madrigale, from the medieval Latin matricale [from Latin mater, “mother”], a song in the mother tongue in contrast to Latin songs), a poetic and musical genre of the Renaissance. It originated in folk poetry, in old Italian pastoral songs. In the 14th century the madrigal appeared in Italian poetry as a lyric on idyllic themes and immediately attracted the attention of composers. Between the 14th and 16th centuries madrigal poems were generally written for a musical setting. The early musical-poetic madrigals were vocal and instrumental works for two or three voices consisting of several stanzas and a refrain. The subject matter was generally amorous, humorous, or mythological. Important composers included G. da Firenze and F. Landini.

After a period of decline the madrigal was revived in the 16th century as a piece for four or five voices, unaccompanied and usually lyrical. The principal composers in this form were A. Willaert, C. Festa, J. Arcadelt, Palestrina, and O. Lasso, and the texts were often verses by Petrarch, Boccaccio, Tasso, and Guarini. The madrigal was also popular in England (T. Morley, J. Wilbye) and Germany (H. L. Hassler, H. Schiitz). The late 16th-century madrigals of L. Marenzio, C. Gesualdo, and C. Monteverdi were characterized by a greater expressiveness of thought and feeling, abundant imagery, bold dissonances, chromaticism, and vivid rhythmic and stylistic contrasts. In the late 16th century and early 17th, madrigals fused with theatrical genres, becoming the basis for the madrigal comedy.

In later times madrigals were not musical compositions but rather “compliment” poems addressed to a lady. The madrigals of the 18th and early 19th centuries were salon and album verses. In Russia they were written by K. N. Batiushkov and A. S. Pushkin. A classic example is M. Iu. Lermontov’s poem:

Spirit incarnate! You boldly convince all;
I’ll agree, breathing love:
Your most beautiful body
Is but spirit!


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Music a type of 16th- or 17th-century part song for unaccompanied voices with an amatory or pastoral text
2. a 14th-century Italian song, related to a pastoral stanzaic verse form
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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