A-to-Z Challenge: Madrigal

It’s a wonderful time when you sit down around the table for dinner and discuss life. No matter where you are, it gives the semblance of normalcy to my crazy world.

Melina Kanakaredes

I have been blessed to have experienced a madrigal dinner twice in my life. The first time was in high school. It was a beautiful night. I created a burnt orange Renaissance gown for myself to prepare for the occasion. It was a marvelous sight to see my high school English teacher dub me lady as she took a Styrofoam sword and tapped me on either side of my shoulders. We drank wassail and clinked our glasses as we wished each other a great year ahead. The warm cider tasted wonderful as we chatted with one another about our plans after graduation.

Photo Credit: Tiny New York Kitchen

The second time was during college when I quietly served as a waitress during my college’s annual madrigal dinner in the ballroom. Various directors have primed the students for various roles throughout this interactive dinner. As I helped out in the background, I enjoyed the student thespians dancing between the tables, listening to the choir’s melodies, cheering on the fencing entertainment, and embracing the poetry that was recited.

The Texas Union Ballroom was transformed into a medieval world where magic and dragons exist for the 33rd annual Madrigal Dinner. Joanna Lyles gives us a glimpse into one of UT’s oldest traditions.

What is a Madrigal?

Source: Translation Directory

“A madrigal is a type of secular vocal music composition, written during the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Throughout most of its history it was polyphonic and unaccompanied by instruments, with the number of voices varying from two to eight, but most frequently three to six.

Elizabethan musicians
Image Credit: Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog

The earliest examples of the genre date from Italy in the 1520s, and while the center of madrigal production remained in Italy, madrigals were also written in England and Germany, especially late in the 16th and early in the 17th centuries. Unlike many strophic forms of the time, most madrigals are through-composed, with music being written to best express the sentiment of each line of a poetic text.

The madrigal originated in part from the frottola, in part from the resurgence in interest in vernacular Italian poetry, and also from the influence of the French chanson and polyphonic style of the motet as written by the Franco-Flemish composers who had naturalized in Italy during the period. A frottola generally would consist of music set to stanzas of text, while madrigals were through-composed.

However, some of the same poems were used for both frottola and madrigals. The poetry of Petrarch in particular shows up in a wide variety of genres. The madrigal is related mostly by name alone to the Italian trecento madrigal of the late 13th and 14th centuries.

The madrigal was the most important secular form of music of its time. It reached its fullest development in the second half of the 16th century, losing its importance in the early 17th century, when forms such as the solo song became more popular. After the 1630s it merged with the cantata and the dialogue, and the solo madrigal was replaced by the aria because of the rise of opera as an important genre.”

Johnston High School, Johnston, Iowa. 22nd Annual Madrigal Dinner, December 13, 2001.

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