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Madrigal (Trecento)

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Madrigal (Trecento)

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The Madrigal is an Italian musical form of the 14th century. The form flourished ca. 1300 – 1370 with a short revival near 1400. It was a composition for two (or rarely three) voices, sometimes on a pastoral subject. In its earliest development it was simple construction: Francesco da Barberino in 1300 called it a "raw and chaotic singalong".

Its origins are obscure, and debated, with one school of thought seeing it as a secular mutation of the conductus of the ars antiqua, and another seeing it as deriving from 13th century secular monophonic song with an improvised accompaniment. Little Italian music from the 13th century has survived, so links between medieval forms such as the conductus and troubador song and the music of the trecento are largely inferential.

The earliest stage in the development of the madrigal is seen in the Rossi Codex, a collection of music from ca. 1350 or earlier, compiled around 1370. It has been suggested that the ornamentation of the upper voices may be improvised above a skeletal structure. [1]

In the madrigal's later stages of development its uppermost voice was often highly elaborate, with the lower voice, the tenor, much less so. The form at this time was probably a development of connoisseurs, and sung by small groups of cognoscenti; there is no evidence of its widespread popularity, unlike the madrigal of the 16th century. By the end of the 14th century it had fallen out of favor, with other forms (in particular, the ballata and imported French music) taking precedence, some of which were even more highly refined and ornamented.

The text of the madrigal is divided into three sections: two strophes called terzetti set to the same music and a concluding section called the ritornello usually in a different meter.

By the beginning of 15th century the term was no longer used musically. The later 16th century madrigal is unrelated, although it often used texts written in the 14th century (for instance by Petrarch).

Important composers of the madrigal in the Trecento include:

Jacopo da Bologna
Giovanni da Cascia
Vincenzo da Rimini
Maestro Piero
Lorenzo da Firenze
Niccolò da Perugia
Francesco Landini
Donato da Cascia
Johannes Ciconia (later revivalist)

See also

References and further reading

  • Richard H. Hoppin, Medieval Music. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1978. ISBN 0393090906
  • Harold Gleason and Warren Becker, Music in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Music Literature Outlines Series I). Bloomington, Indiana. Frangipani Press, 1986. ISBN 089917034X


  1.   Brooks Toliver, “Improvisation in the Madrigals of the Rossi Codex,” Acta musicologica 64 (1992), pp. 165–76.

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