Sixteenth-Century Polyphony

Gillis van Coninxloo, Mountain Landscape with River Valley and the Prophet Hosea (16th century).

Text Painting, or Coincidence?

Strykowski, Derek R. “Text Painting, or Coincidence? Treatment of Height-Related Imagery in the Madrigals of Luca Marenzio.” Empirical Musicology Review vol. 11, no. 2 (January 2017) [backdated to 2016]: 109–19. https://doi.org/10.18061/emr.v11i2.4903

The Empirical Musicology Review recently published a special issue on corpus studies to which I contributed “Text Painting, or Coincidence? Treatment of Height-Related Imagery in the Madrigals of Luca Marenzio.” The issue also includes a response to my article entitled “Suggestions for Future Corpus-Based Text Painting Analyses,” written by Craig Sapp of Stanford University.

Text painting is a defining characteristic of the sixteenth-century madrigal style, especially in association with references to height. Whereas composers cannot have given musical illustration to every such reference contained within the text of a madrigal, the question of whether or not the music that accompanies a particular reference to height constitutes an actual example of text painting is sometimes unclear. To explore this problem empirically, the frequency with which musical excerpts from a corpus of 201 madrigals composed by the Italian composer Luca Marenzio satisfied three proposed definitions of height-related text painting was measured. The three definitions required a vocal part to contain either a large leap, stepwise motion, or an extreme of pitch. Positive correlations were observed between the appearance of music conforming to each of the respective definitions and the presence of height-related imagery in the text, yet only in passages that satisfied more than one definition. The research suggests that no single definition is a reliable indicator of height-related text painting, and that most legitimate examples rely on multiple compositional devices.

Seth Coluzzi at Colgate University deserves credit for having introduced me to the study of Marenzio’s madrigals, while David Huron at the Ohio State University has provided me with the tools needed to analyze them through his wonderful workshop, “Methods in Empirical Music Research.” Additional thanks go to Lisa Zeidenberg at Brandeis University and to the staff of the Lewis Music Library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The canto voice in Luca Marenzio’s “Il suo vago gioioso e lieto manto” (second part, Fifth Book for Five Voices, 1685) employs stepwise scalar motion to reach an extreme of pitch at the words “alti” (heights) and “volar” (to fly) at the beginning of the second line.

Hearing the Interrogative

This study of Sigismondo d’India and his polyphonic madrigal style remains a work in progress. However, I am very pleased to have presented a portion of my research in the paper “Sounding the Interrogative: Cadential Attenuation as Syntactic Device in the Madrigals of Sigismondo d’India” on November 1, 2019, at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in Boston. The session, chaired by my friend and colleague Joel Schwindt (Boston Conservatory), was entitled “Rhetorical Devices” and also featured papers by Matthew Hall (Cornell University) and Russell O’Rourke (Columbia).

I presented a different portion of my research in 2018 at the Third Annual Conference on the Italian Madrigal, hosted by Seth Coluzzi at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. The highlight of the weekend was a live concert performance by the marvelous Blue Heron vocal ensemble.

“I discovered that one could compose in an authentic manner using extraordinary intervals, passing with as many novelties as possible from one consonance to the next, in accordance with the varied meanings of the words, and that by this means the songs would have greater emotion, and greater power to move the emotions of the soul, than they would have if they had been composed all in one style with ordinary progressions.”

– Sigismondo d’India, 1609.