Madrigal: Solo e penoso
Luca Marenzio (1553-1599)
Luca was not interested in a tune you could hum. Even though this piece has no event that might scare a fragile listener, there is little enough repetition to give anyone a melody to take home. This is typical, I think, of this style. But it is a sharp feature of this masterpiece because this madrigal never settles down. From the incredibly serene opening to the chatty conclusion, Mr. Marenzio has explored the potential of five voices with an ear focused on mood.
The mood changes more frequently in Marenzio's music than it does in Petrarca's poem. For instance, the narrator is moving steadily, ready to split at the first sign of company. From the text we have one mood: tense. Mr. Marenzio, however, takes advantage of what our narrator might do and we have two moods: tense as well as running away. The madrigal continues through the text elaborating each memory and thought . As a result, the poem is filled with abstractions of our narrator's past as well as his fear of the future.
What I like about the madrigal is the way Mr. Marenzio is able to move from one mood to the other seamlessly. He takes full advantage of the five voices, at times using one group to finish a mood while a different group starts a contrasting section. This piece covers a remarkable range of emotions in a short time. And it moves from one issue to the other like the unsettled mind of one alone and pensive.