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Friday, March 12, 2004
  Madrigal: Il bianco e dolce cigno
Jacob Arcadelt (ca. 1505-ca. 1568)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 2 Tracks 51-52

Attentive listeners of Mr. Arcadelt’s madrigal will die a thousand deaths in forty-six bars. Incidentally, most of these deaths will occur in the last twelve bars. Madrigals like this one are carefully constructed around the text, using all of the meanings the poet implies to guide the music. And thus, every sonority, imitation, and rest potentially points to the meaning of a word.

What Gregorian Chant did for musical line, we find the sixteenth century motet does for musical symbolism. It is a delicate symbolism, almost more for the performers than the listeners. Without knowing the poem a listener will only hear pretty music. This madrigal is easy to overlook. But when we hear it a second time, after considering the text, we realize that the understated character of the piece allows the text to carry more than one meaning. And the impact of those meanings is greater since they have been presented so artfully.

What I like about this piece is the way the voices gradually become less homophonic. Because the voices are so blended initially, when they start to take small solos we are able to appreciate the sensuousness of those moments. When the voices reach the last twelve bars, well…. 

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In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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