Renaissance Madrigals

Thomas Morley: Now is the month of maying

This is a merry and light hearted song written as two eight bar sections. Each section has a four bar verse followed by a refrain using the words ‘fa la la’. The verses are homophonic in texture and the refrains are polyphonic, particularly the second one which has each part singing an independent melody:


This alternating of textures seems quite characteristic of Renaissance madrigals. In keeping with the theme of the song, it is in a major key and maintains a similar mood throughout, with just a few minor chords at the beginning of the second verse. The harmonies and rhythms are quite simple.

Claudio Monteverdi: Ah, Dolente Partita

In contrast to the previous madrigal which has all parts singing throughout, this one starts with just the top two parts for the first seven bars, with the remaining parts entering one by one. It is in a minor key and has a very sombre mood; the suspensions near the beginning create a feeling of tension:


Like Morley’s song, this one also has a mix of homophonic and polyphonic textures. It has some quite unusual harmonies: it begins in A minor, but in bar 37 the bass part unexpectedly moves up to a Bb, precipitating chords in D minor and then F major. The contrapuntal sections are ended with all the parts coming together for the final word, sometimes using a tierce de Picardie as seen here (the C# in the fourth bar of the top line creates a major third):


I found this a very atmospheric piece of music – I like the way tension is created and resolved through the suspensions, and I also like the way the harmonies move quite fluidly between major and minor, for example landing quite firmly in C major in bar 11 but then immediately moving away.


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