The Complete Madrigal Book of 1536
Catherine King - mezzo-soprano
Charles Daniels - tenor
Jacob Heringman - lute
Brian Shelley - tenor
Robert Macdonald - bass
Philippe Verdelot: the complete madrigal book of 1536
If the origins of the madrigal as a genre are still in part obscure (the earliest examples appear in Italy around the third decade of the 16th century), so also is the life of the greatest composer of such early pieces, Philippe Verdelot. Einstein, in his ground-breaking study of the Italian Madrigal (Princeton, 1949), states that "only when his entire work has been scored shall we be able fully to estimate the importance, originality, and versatility of Verdelot, perhaps the first and certainly the most prolific master of the first great period of the madrigal".
The earliest sources to contain the new 16th century madrigal (unrelated to the 14th century genre of the same name) date from the 1520s in manuscripts, while the first printed volume of music to be called madrigali appeared in 1530 (Madrigali Nove de Diversi excellentissimi Musici Libro primo de la Serena, in which Verdelot's eight pieces are the greatest number by one composer). In its earliest stages the madrigal was mostly the work of Florentine composers, or composers with very strong Florentine connections. Verdelot was probably the first master of the Florentine madrigal, and certainly the greatest of his time. In fact, he probably dictated the formal and stylistic patterns of its music. He was so well respected and so famous that in 1544 the writer Antonfrancesco Doni has one of the characters of his Dialogo della musica, the composer Michele Novarese, say that "And there are those who can hardly perform Verdelot's ‘Passera' [his madrigal Passer mai solitario on Petrarch's text]; in my time he who could sing that madrigal was considered a Josquin. When a singer was considered excellent, one would say of him: ‘he sings the Passera'." The eminent editor and translator Cosimo Bartoli in his Ragionamenti accademici ... sopra alcuni luoghi difficili di Dante of 1564 writes: "And you already know that here in Florence Verdelot was a very good friend of mine, of whom I would dare say, were it not for the respect I have for our mutual friendship, that there were, as there are indeed, countless musical compositions [by Verdelot] that still today astonish the most discriminating composers there are. This is because they [the compositions] have ease, gravity, grace, compassion, fast movement, slow movement, goodness, rage, counterpoint, according to the character of the words to which he was composing music. And I heard many people who understand these matters say that since Josquin's time there has not been anyone who understood the true way of composing better than he did."
As respected and widely known as Verdelot was, his life is still one of the most vexing mysteries of music history. We know of him mainly through secondary sources, the reliability of which is sometimes questionable. The only documented evidence of his existence pertains to the years between 1521 and 1527 when he was in Florence, serving as Maestro di Cappella both at the Duomo and at the Battistero. His motets and madrigals were published repeatedly and his first book of madrigals of 1533, recorded here, was the first ever madrigal print dedicated to the works of one single composer. Clearly among the most famous musicians of the time, he seems to have come out of the mist, and gone back into it leaving hardly any trace.
Ortensio Landi in his Sette libri de' cathaloghi à varie cose appartenenti (Venice, 1552) provides us with the only terminus ante quem for Verdelot's death. He writes that "Verdelotto Francese fu ne' suoi giorni raro," ("the Frenchman Verdelotto was exceptional in his days") which means that by 1552 he had already been dead for a few years. However, Florence went through some rough times following the last mention of Verdelot. In 1527 the Medici were exiled from Florence and the forces of the Medici Pope Clement VII besieged the city in 1529-1530. In the years 1527-30 Florence was visited by the plague, which caused hundreds of deaths, and it is more than likely that Verdelot died anonymously together with so many of his fellow citizens of Florence. This explains also why he did not take part in the composition of the music for the wedding of Duke Cosimo and Eleonora of Toledo in August 1539. Had he been still alive he would have most certainly been asked to contribute to the festivities. This in turn means that all the music of his that was published in Venice and elsewhere starting in 1533 was posthumous.
‘Verdelot' is a toponymic, the name of the commune near Paris where the composer was probably born around 1485. As was common at the time (think, for example, of Palestrina) the composer adopted the toponymic to replace his last name (Deslouges). The date of his birth is based in large part on the study of a painting by Sebastiano del Piombo (c.1485-1547), formerly in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum of Berlin, destroyed by fire in 1945 (a black-and-white photograph remains) showing the composer with another man, and on Giorgio Vasari's history of the painting.
There are over a hundred madrigals currently ascribed to Verdelot, though many of them are of at best questionable attribution. The problem of attribution is a vexing one, for all we have are sources at least once removed from the composer's supervision. Besides, the stylistic characteristics of this music are not specific enough to allow for attribution on stylistic grounds. Thus, the most inclusive list of Verdelot's madrigals includes 145 pieces, while a conservative one, including only pieces certainly or almost certainly by him, includes only 84 of those, with another 34 probably by him. It should be noted that Madonna io sol vorrei, included here, is attributed to Da Silva in the first edition of the Primo libro de madrigali di Verdelot, and is probably by Da Silva. The misattribution comes from the fact that in the 1537 reprint the attributions on each piece were replaced by a running head ‘Verdelot' and from then on all the following prints perpetrated the misattribution.
The Primo libro de madrigali di Verdelotto, for four voices, was published by Antico in Venice in 1533 (RISM 15332) and reprinted in 1537 (RISM 15379). No complete copy of the first edition survives (a single bass partbook is extant). The Secondo libro was published in 1534 and reprinted twice (RISM 153415, 15367 and 153710). A third was published in 1537. Two books of five-voice madrigals and one of six-voice ones followed shortly. In 1540 Scotto issued a compilation of the madrigals of the first two volumes (Di Verdelotto tutti li madrigali del primo et secondo libro a quattro voci), which was then reprinted by different publishers 11 times in 26 years (RISM 154020, 154118, 154418, 154519, 154933, 155226, 155533, 155627, 155726, 156520, 156622).
In 1536 Scotto issued the Intavolatura de li madrigali di Verdelotto da cantare et sonare nel lauto, intavolati per Messer Adriano, a volume of intabulations for lute and voice of the first book of madrigals. The lute song versions of 1536 make up most of this CD, with five of the songs (tracks 7, 10, 16, 18, and 23) performed a capella from the original madrigal book of 1533, and a further two songs (1 and 28) combining four voices and lute.
It has always been assumed that ‘messer Adriano', mentioned in the title was none other than the Venetian maestro Adriano Willaert. However, some scholars have raised doubts as to the authorship of the intabulations on the grounds that they are too simple (there is no compositional activity involved other than supplying implied accidentals in the lower parts), and that it seems rather more likely that the publisher capitalized on Willaert's fame by implying his name.
Verdelot's madrigals are not unlike those by his contemporaries. The four-voice ones tend to be more often homophonic than those for more voices, though they do also include quite a few moments of polyphony and imitation. The early madrigal, however, had an aesthetic goal and musical means different from the more famous later madrigal, that of Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Marenzio and so forth. For example, the early madrigal did not usually exploit chromaticism as an expressive device. In fact, in the first half of the 16th century the notation of accidentals was still embryonic, most chromatic alterations being implied and dependent on the performer. Thus it is interesting for us to compare the early partbooks to instrumental intabulations, for the editor had to supply such accidentals when reducing vocal lines to instrumental lines. The lute intabulations of 1536, most of which are on the present recording, include the accidentals in the three lower parts, allotted to the lute, while leaving out those for the singer. Even more interestingly, the composer Claudio da Correggio (a.k.a. Claudio Merulo) published the 1566 edition of the collected first and second books, adding a lavish quantity of accidentals, an amount more suited to the chromatic madrigal of his time than to Verdelot. In the preface Merulo justifies his changes (including voice-leading and others) and claims that the madrigals had been corrupted and were now "revolting to any musician" ("ad ogni mediocre Musico facevano stomaco"). He also states that since today's singers don't know the rules for singing anymore, and they "flat and sharp" in the wrong places, he is helping them.
Even though the early madrigal was guided by the goal of a close relationship between music and text, it was a prima prattica technique, one in which the relationship was at a ‘macroscopic' level, rather than at a ‘microscopic' one, as will be the later madrigal, where each individual word might get its own depiction. The early madrigalists sought to illustrate the general mood of the text and to suit the music to the individual thoughts, rather than the single words. Traditional word-painting does occasionally appear. For example, in S'io pensasse madonna the strictly homophonic movement is broken by flourishes at ‘gioco' (play), in Madonna il tuo bel viso, at ‘morta' (dead), the rhythm of the words slows and the notes get longer, and in Quanto sia lieto il giorno the word ‘cantando' (singing) gets a melismatic setting, as does ‘riso' (laughter) in Con l'angelico riso. There are far more depictions of greater, more general scope, such as, for example, a drop from four to three voices in Se lieta e grata morte when the heart dies, or in Madonna io sol vorrei, where the lover begs the lady to share his wishes and the entire madrigal is composed with the soprano rhythmically offset from the bottom three parts, as if to signify that she will not. Similarly, in Quanto sia lieto il giorno, the words ‘Io nympha, et noi pastori' (I, a nymph, and we shepherds) is set as a call and response between the soprano and the lower three parts. There are also some instances of images only for the performer, such as when the word ‘lasso' (poor, unfortunate) is set to the notes ‘la-sol' (in Amor se d'hor in hor and in Vita de la mia vita).
The early madrigal was no different from the late madrigal in its choice of texts, but the later ones tend to be more extreme and full of deeper emotion. Typically, the poems are about unhappy, unrequited, ardent love, and are spoken by a man ‘against' his cruel madonna. In this book of madrigals there are at least ten texts that are directed to madonna/donna. There is only one (unusual) text, spoken by madonna herself - Gloriar mi poss'io donne. The texts are rife with the favourite images of the madrigalists - day and night, pain and suffering and immense joy, sighs and tears, and the customary (recognized by all and somewhat expected) metaphors for sexual climax, such as birth and death (no wonder the poets talked so often about wanting death!). About half of the texts are by great poets, such as Machiavelli, Aretino, and Petrarch; the others are anonymous.
© Alexandra Amati-Camperi