Sunday, April 05, 2009

I Fall I Fall O Stay Mee!

The following is for those of you out there who remember something about Madrigals, probably from your collegiate years. I remember singing some at that time, notably the Spanish carol 'Riu Riu Chiu.'

What is a Madrigal you might ask? The Madrigal has numerous definitions because it has numerous antecedents. Some definitions include: [1] 'a song for two or three unaccompanied voices, developed in Italy in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.' [2] 'A short poem, often about love, suitable for being set to music.' [3] 'A polyphonic song using a vernacular text and written for four to six voices, developed in Italy in the 16th century and popular in England in the 16th and early 17th centuries.'  

            Claudio Monteverdi c1640             

We're told that the earliest known Madrigals date from about 1320. The Madrigal form was fully developed by about 1340. We have 190 Madrigals extant from the above centuries.    


Some composers of these surviving Madrigals include: Giovanni da Cascia; Jacopo da Bologna; Philippe Verdelot; Jacques Arcadelt; Adrian  Willaert; Cipriano de Rore; Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina; Orlande de Lassus; Luca Marenzio; Luzzasco Luzzaschi; Carlo Gesualdo; Claudio Monteverdi; John Wilbye; Giulio Caccini; Antonio Scarlatti; Thomas Morley; and John Farmer. Yes, I don't recognize all the names either, but this may be one of the few places where you can find all their full names. I thought adding the flourishing years might be too much.

Madrigals, as popular as they, were went into decline early in the 15th century, nearing extinction around 1450. Because of the influence of Francesco Petrarca's [Petrarch] poetic style and imagery, after 1540 the Madrigal reappeared and was enthusiastically recognized as the artform we now know it was. As time progressed through the middle of the 16th century, the Madrigal form had absorbed some of the 'elements of the popular villanella [a form of light Italian secular vocal music] and showed some truely bold experimentation in chromaticism, word-painting and harmonic and rhythmic contrast.'

Among my favorites is 'Riu Riu Chiu', a 16th century anonymous carol 'arranged in a South American folkloric style:'  

 Riu, riu chiu, la guarda ribera,
 Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera.
 El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
 mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
 Quisole hazer que no pudiesse pecar,
 ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Holding a equally pleasurable place in my memory is 'The Silver Swan', from early in the 17th century and perhaps the most famous Madrigal from Orlando Gibbons. Although set in various voices, I remember singing it SATB [soprano, alto, tenor, base] in college. The madrigal is based on a legend that mute swans sing only just before death [thus the swan song.] Both the music and the words are probably from Gibbons' hand.

  'The silver Swan, who living had no Note,
  When Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
  Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,
  Thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
  'Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
  'More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise.'

Gibbons published the Madrigal in his 'First Set of Madrigals and Motets,' in 1612. Some say the last line is a reference to the loss of the late Elizabethan musical tradition that Gibbons wished to have continued.

Indian Hills Community College Iowa Madrigal Singers

A third example from my favorite list is 'Sing We and Chant It,' another 16th century work, this time from Thomas Morley.  

  Sing we and chant it
  while love doth grant it,
  fa la la, la, la, la, la
  fa la la, la, la, la, la
  Not long youth lasteth,
  And old age hasteth;
  Now is best leisure
  To take our pleasure,
  fa la la, la, la, la, la
  fa la la, la, la, la, la

Other Madrigals that I have easy access to [for this writing] are from John Wilbye, and published in 1598. He wrote such attractive works as 'Adew Sweet Amarillis', 'Fly Loue [love] Aloft,' 'I Fall I Fall, O Stay Mee,' and 'My Bonnie Lass She Smileth.'

  Adew, sweet Amarillis:
  For since to part your will is,
  O heauy tyding,
  Here is for mee no biding:
  Yet once againe ere that I part with you,
  Amarillis, sweet Adew.

From the title above:

  I fall, I fall, O stay mee,
  Deere loue with ioyes yee slay mee,
  Of life your lips depriue mee,
  Sweet, let your lips reuiue mee,
  O whether are you hasting,
  And leaue my life thus wasting?
  My health on you relyeing,
  'Twer sinne to leaue me dyeing. 

And my final choice of favorites is from Thomas Morley, 1594,

 April is in my mistress' face, 
 And July in her eyes hath place; 
 Within her bosom is September, 
 But in her heart a cold December.

A chilling thought for the Springtime, when lovers meet among the wafting blossoms.

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