Madrigal is one of the musical forms I particularly love. This is due to the fact that it represents the first attempt to find an intimate connection between music and poetry, breaking the strophic structure that had previously dominated.
Jakob Arcadelt, a French-Flemish composer, was one such composer to whom we owe the development of polyphony. He is the author of “Il bianco e dolce cigno” [The white and sweet swan]. Unfortunately, we don’t know who wrote the poetry that accompanies Arcadelt´s music. Names such as Giovanni Guidiccioni and Alfonso d’Avalos have been suggested, but we can´t be certain.
The lyrics talk about a man at the end of his life, who, at first, faces this change crying. In the end he accepts this change of life calmly, even happily. Arcadelt plays wonderfully with these tensions by virtue of an also dying homophonic texture that eventually gives way to polyphony. Surely the composer was not thinking of this parallelism, but the truth is that this substitution of the dominant texture gave us one of the most brilliant eras in the history of purely vocal music.
Orazio Vecchi also composed a splendid madrigal using the same lyrics, with remarkable reminiscences of the former work, in my opinion. Acadelt’s piece came first, however, and I prefer it.