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The relationship between text and music in the late 16th century

The relationship between text and music in the late 16th century

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My essay describes the relationship between the text and music in the music of the late 16th century composer Gesualdo. In particular it explores his unusual treatment of dissonances and other devices of music rhetoric of the time within his pieces.
My essay describes the relationship between the text and music in the music of the late 16th century composer Gesualdo. In particular it explores his unusual treatment of dissonances and other devices of music rhetoric of the time within his pieces.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
The relationship between text and music in the late 16th century
b
y Aisling O ‘Leary
 
The apparent relationship between text and music in the 16th century can first be seenin the madrigals and motets of both Palestrina and Lassus. Both composers exercised the useof intricate musical rhetoric devices, for example
early uses of this include Lassus’s
 implementation of cross relations. It was these relations between the text and music thatinspired composers such as Gesualdo and Gibbons to enhance their compositions, bothsecular and sacred by further increasing the link between that of the text and music in the latesixteenth century. Such relations between the text and music can be seen in madrigals of Gesualdo, for example in
 Beltà, poi che t’assenti
 
where a heavy use of chromaticism isemployed
 
and indeed in
Gibbons’s
 
 Ne’er let 
the Sun
(although a later composition of theBaroque Era) where
‘word
-
setting’ is highly visible
.
1
 
Gesualdo’s Beltà,poi che t’assenti
 Don Carlo Gesualdo,Prince of Venosa was born in 1561, was a wealthy landowner and spentmuch of his time at the northern Italian court of Ferrara, a centre of musical innovation andexperimentation during the late sixteenth century
2
. It was here that he composed a number of works for the singing ladies of Ferrara and it was in such compositons that he exercised andmade great use of the close relationship between the text and music of his works. Hisextensive use of chromaticism was ahead of its time and text-music correlation also becamehighly evolved in his music.
3
 
Gesualdo’s
 Beltà, poi che t’assenti
was published in his Sixthbook of Five- Part Madrigals which were published in 1611 but were probably composed a
1
John Harley,
Orlando Gibbons and the Gibbons Family of Musicians
(England: Ashgate Publishing Limited,1988), 139.
2
 
David Schulenberg,
 Music of the Baroque Era
, (2nd edn), (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 35
 
3
 
Daniel Shanahan, Lecture of 20 October 2008.
 
 
lot earlier
and it was in this sixth book that he ‘extended the expressive devices of sixteenth
century music to the most extreme point ever reached.
4
The text translates as:Beauty, since you have consentedAs you carry off my heart take also my torments.For a tormented heart can well feelThe pain of dying,But a soul without a heartCannot feel sadness.Indeed he puts many devices of musical rhetoric to great use in this piece. A hugelystriking feature of the piece is its chromaticism; what Gesualdo was most famous for duringthe late sixteenth century, which is established from the outset ; the use of the G sharp whichgives rise to the movement of a G minor chord in the beginning to an E major chord. It is agreat surprise that this chromaticism falls on the word
beltà
meaning beauty which wouldmost normally be treated with a much more diatonic backdrop. The use of this chromaticismis suggestive of the idea that the beauty that Gesualdo is referring to is not a conventionalbeauty but rather that the work is a comment of the deceit and dishonesty of superificialbeauty. This is further interpreted by the beautiful effect that is created from what wouldconventionally be regarded as ugly or unatural sounds.
5
 Indeed the word
beltà
is emphasised and accentuated with the use of long notes(semibrieves) which gives both syllables the same measure of accents and length, thussuggesting the word to be pivotal to the piece, which it is. From the first bar it can be seenthat there is an inextricable link between the music and text of the madrigal. Follwing this,Gesuado then went on to employ many of the same music-rhetoric devices used by Palestrinaand Lassus, such as a homophomic texture to emphasise words and expressions. For example,line one and the first half of line two are set homophonically however in great contrast, the
4
David Schulenberg,
 Music of the Baroque Era
, (2nd edn), (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 35
5
Ibid 
.,36
 
 
texture of the second half of line two is undoubtedly polyphonic as there is imitation betweenthe voices. Therefore line one is emphasised through this homophonic texture creating a clearimage of the text ;
beauty since
 
 you have consented 
and is severly diffrentiated from thesecond line of which the subject is torment ;
tormenti
. This line is also highly chromaticisedfor example, the movement from an E flat to an F and then to an F sharp in the alto voicewhich suggests and evokes the image of torments and indeed torture expressed by thecomposer, in conjunction with the implementation of a polphonic texture. A subsequentpassage which follows a similar pattern of alternating between homophony and imititivecounterpoint is the begining of line five which begins in a homophonic setting and becomespolyphonic at the begining of the final line, again painting a picture of the text and conveying
the ‘sadness’ of which the composer speaks about. Gesua
ldo creates a strong sense of conclusion in the piece by ending it in a similar fashion as to how the piece commenced interms of texture. However he uses chromaticism at the end of the repeated section on the finalword
dolore
which is in keepoing with what was viewed as the
 
radical way that Gesualdotreated chromaticism. It would have been considered somewhat strange to end a madrigal indissonance, however the connection between the text is again very strong as the emotion of sadness is palpable in the music and so reflects the meaning of the word referred to as wordpainting.We also see a strong declamation of the text in line three where Gesualdo conveys the
image of a ‘tormented heart’ through the use of shorter note values (crochets) ; a seemingly
sustained line is interrupted by these shorter valued notes. Once again Gesualdo heightens theeffect with his clever use of chromaticism; the E flat in the canto line and the movement of Enatural to E flat in the quinto line on these shorter notes. This is further enhanced by thedownward contour of the melody suggesting a negative image. All these effects combined

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