Josquin Desprez (1440-1521)
was a master of the Renaissance motet (he wrote over 100). His style would
epitomize the Renaissance taste for naturalness without "affectations."
A purity of sound and a pious humanism comes through in his a cappella
works. His Ave Maria is just one of many works of the time dedicated
to Marian worship. This one, like most, was written in four parts and depending
on the choral resources would be sung by as few as four performers.
Ave Maria - Excerpt
John Farmer (16th century)
was one of the most noted English madrigal composers. Fast, fleeting, and
light... his style is typical of the English approach to the genre. Fair Phyllis
is a light-hearted poem which allows Farmer to playfully combine the polyphonic
texture into a series of engaging points of imitation. Listen closely and
the innocent text turns out to be less-so once all four parts get involved.
Fair Phyllis I saw sitting all along,
Feeding her flock near to the mountainside.
The shepherds knew not whither she was gone,
But after her lover Amyntas hied.
Up and down he wandered, whilst she was missing;
When he found her, o, then they fell a-kissing.
Arcadelt (1505-1560) was for a time the head of the
Pope's chapel, though this didn't stop him from writing madrigals. His madrigals
are like many in the Italian tradition with sentimental or erotic subjects supported
by complex polyphony and rich harmony. His madrigals would have been sung in
all types of courtly settings (not unlike the gathering Castiglione describes
in The Courtier). Between 1530 and 1600 over two thousand collections
of madrigals were published, Arcadelt's work being among them.
The sweet white swan dies while singing,
And I while weeping reach the end of my life.
What a strange and different fate,
For he dies comfortless,
While I die a blissful death,
A death which
Fills me with joy and desire.
If I feel no other pain than this in dying,
I should be content to die a thousands deaths a day.
Il Bianco e Dolce - The Sweet White Swan