A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six.

Madrigals originated in Italy during the 1520s. Unlike many strophic forms of the time, most madrigals were through-composed. In the madrigal, the composer attempted to express the emotion contained in each line, and sometimes individual words, of a celebrated poem.

The madrigal originated in part from the frottola, in part from the resurgence in interest in vernacular Italian poetry, and also from the influence of the French chanson and polyphonic style of the motet as written by the Franco-Flemish composers who had naturalized in Italy during the period. A frottola generally would consist of music set to stanzas of text, while madrigals were through-composed. However, some of the same poems were used for both frottola and madrigals. The poetry of Petrarch in particular shows up in a wide variety of genres. The madrigal is related mostly by name alone to the Italian trecento madrigal of the late 13th and 14th centuries.

In Italy, the madrigal was the most important secular form of music of its time. The madrigal reached its formal and historical zenith by the second half of the 16th century. English and German composers, too, took up the madrigal in its heyday. After the 1630s, the madrigal began to merge with the cantata and the dialogue. With the rise of opera in the early 17th century, the aria gradually displaced the madrigal.

Read more about Madrigali:  Musical Examples

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