Jacques Arcadelt


Born: 1505 Died: October 14, 1568
While the madrigal is thought of as an Italian and later an English style, it grew from Franco-Flemish polyphonic roots as much as from Italian chordal song styles such as the frottola. Arcadelt from the Netherlands, Philippe Verdelot from France, and Costanzo Festa from Italy are appropriately enough considered the three fathers of the form. Arcadelt's Il bianco e dolce cigno (The White and Sweet Swan) is considered by many to be the epitome of the early Italian four-part madrigal, with its rich harmonies, sophisticated details, and sensual textures. The madrigal was also viewed in Italy (much less so in England) as a way of joining text and music to enhance and illustrate the text, and like many of the Italian madrigalists, Arcadelt was particularly inspired by Petrarca's writing; almost half of his settings are to texts by Petrarca.

Very little is known about Arcadelt's early life in his homeland. In 1538 he left Li├Ęge for the musical courts of Florence, where his first book of madrigals was a great success. It was followed by his second, third, and fourth books, published in 1539, the year he moved to Rome. He wrote almost exclusively for four voices, but even after five-voice writing became dominant his madrigals still remained popular, with even his first book being reprinted over 30 times. The popularity and influence of his techniques also showed in the work of Monteverdi and Palestrina.

In 1555 he moved to France, where he served Charles, the Duke of Guise, as chapel master, and also served in the royal court. Following the French tastes he wrote chansons rather than madrigals. During this period, the two styles were fairly closely linked, as many madrigals were more or less harmonic enrichments of the top vocal line. Most of Arcadelt's chansons are chordal, with the occasional polyphonic piece, such as Souvent amour. He often used rhythmic changes to emphasize the structure of a chord or a critical word in the text.
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