Analysis of a sixteenth century madrigal book


© Museo internazionale e biblioteca della musica di Bologna T. 58

August 2021 - August 2025

A single book of madrigals condenses a vast number of cultural and social practices: madrigalists took poetry from eminent authors to construct their own narratives, used music as a tool to interpret and criticize the texts, and dedicated their prints to powerful patrons to maintain social relationships. In addition, editorial work and performance added further layers of meaning to such publications. Recent trends in musicology (see Leach et al. 2015) show how research has shifted towards themes that were previously not considered, such as improvisational techniques, relationships between oral and written music traditions, performer-oriented studies, and analyses of the relationships between musical style and its material contexts. Following a multidisciplinary approach, this project interprets the first book of the Calabrian composer Giandomenico Martoretta in this way as a source for cultural history. Although currently overlooked by scholarly research, Martoretta was considered in his lifetime among the most prominent composers of his age: his madrigals appear in important collections and he is mentioned in the Libraria del Doni along with De Rore and Willaert.

The four main subdivisions of this research form an interrelated series of investigations into the main aspects involved in the conception, production and usage of the book, situating each aspect within the broader social, linguistic, and musical context of cinquecento Italy. Such an approach should return a comprehensive image of a complex and multifaceted phenomenon like the madrigal, undoubtedly one of the most original forms of expression of Renaissance culture.

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