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Bembo's literary influences on the Venetian madrigal?

1. Bembo’s theory started a literary trend (‘Bembism’) for Petrarchist poetry with a sonic focus

2. Bembism greatly influenced interpretation of Petrarch (Feldman 1989)

2.1 Especially in distinctly linguistic Venetian literary culture. First rules of Italian grammar published Venice 1510

2.2 Bembist approach therefore highly appealing to Venetian composers


Mace 1969

Mace linked Bembo to madrigal’s origins

1. Bembism initiated wave of madrigal writing and stimulated new mode of setting Petrarchan poetry

2. This replaced previous method, where poetic qualities were reflected through music’s form rather than affect

3. [Bembism not applicable to frottola: strophic form with refrain disables emphasising of sonic qualities]

4. Argues ‘impulse’ (Einstein) towards polyphony originated in response to Bembo’s theory of sound/rhythm in poetry, since it facilitated rhythm, harmony and melody to operate like Bembo’s numero, suono, and variazione

Mace critique:

1. Pescina: ‘attractive and plausible’ but spurious

2. Vested interests: seeking concrete evidence for Einstein’s master narrative
 Music historians crave tangible ideas from the period to help them understand the music



1. Variazione: alternation between gravita and piacevolezza

2. This was a radical aesthetic perspective

3. Petrarch uses variation within rigid sonnet structure

4. Variation enables Petrarch to explore entire affective potential within thematic boundary: each poem is unique

5. Unrequited love creates a structural dissonance (between love/grievance)

6. Variation preserved decorum
De Remediis: Petrarch’s self-help book that suggests going against emotional flow

7. Variation maintained stylistic interest


Piacevolezza: Numero & Suono

Gravita: Numero & Suono

P = Piacevolezza (grace, sweetness, charm, smoothness, playfulness, wit)

G = Gravita (modesty, dignity, majesty, magnificence, grandeur)

NP = Numero Piacevolezza
• Sdruccioli
• Shorter lines

NG = Numero Gravita
• Longer lines

SP = Suono Piacevolezza
• Bright vowels (e,y,a)
• Harsh/heavy consonants (fricatives, plosives, ‘ex’)

SG = Suono gravitas
• Dark vowels (o, u)
• Liquid consonants (l, r, n, m)


Pietro Bembo on Petrarch's sonnets

Bembo 1470- 1547

Made critical edition of Petrarch’s sonnets (1501)

1. Bembo espoused a linguistic theory in Prose della volgar lingua (1525) which ‘urged a new sensitivity to the sonic values of poetry

2. Petrarch’s drafts showed his changes were of phonic rather than semantic significance

3. Argued true poetry works on a merely sonic level: semantic level is merely an enhancement (knowledge of language unnecessary to appreciate poetry)

4. Argued poem’s meaning communicated affectively: phonics can carry emotions

5. Bembo's sonic focus of language is neatly applicable to music


Feldman 1989 Ch 1 Venice

City vs court: dichotomous environments

1. Court: exclusive, homogenous, quasi-absolutist.
Fixed hierarchy of single absolute power centre.
Cultural activity mirrors monolithic interests of prince and court

2. Venice (city): decentralised, egalitarian; prolific artistic/intellectual domestic life
• Broad-based system of rule and patronage
• Substantial presence of foreign exiles, travelers, businessmen, diplomats, and military men

3. Tension: Venetians flaunted city ideals while envying court’s characteristics. Bembo’s Prose encapsulates tension

3. Willaert’s Venice: culture of academie; brimming with literati

4. Venice: lots of affluent merchants who promoted arts/literature. No university education, but wanted to show their learnedness


2 key patrons of Venetian Madrigal (Feldman 1989)

2 key Patrons

1. Neri Capponi (migrated from Lyons 1538) established musical academy with top musicians, headed by Willaert. Gathered at Capponi’s house. Almost surely premiered much of Willaert’s Musica nova

2. Ruberto Strozzi (in and out of Venice.
Feldman speculates Rore patronage

Not exclusive/primary patrons, but Feldman argues they were central in cultivation. During their Florentine years they sustained long tradition vigorously promoting Italian vocal music


Mace's critiques of Bembism in 1969

Mace's critiques of Bembism

1. Pescina: ‘attractive and plausible’ but spurious

2. Vested interests: seeking concrete evidence for Einstein’s master narrative

3. Music historians crave tangible ideas from the period to help them understand the music


Feldman's critiques of Bembism in 1989

1. ‘countless documents attest [that] the Venetian academies that fostered the new madrigal style brimmed with literary discussions’ (1989)

2. C. 1540 change in style: Venetian madrigal began to use complex, motet-like polyphony and to scrupulously reflect verbal syntax rather than poetic form

3. Stylistic change concomitant with ‘increased emphasis on verbal syntax in the writings of Venetian music theorists’, namely del Lago (1540) and Zarlino (Institutioni, 1558)

4. Del Lago and Zarlino both show concern for dual principles of decorum (matching of style to material; avoidance of stylistic excess) and variazione espoused by the rhetoricians (Classicist literary theorists like Bembo)


Feldman 1997

1. Feldman shows Musica nova was commissioned by and for a cluster of Florentine exiles living in Venice, and that the madrigal genre served to cement cultural memory and to guarantee the continuation of the version of Florentine ideals

2. Ch5: Consolidation of Poetry and Rhetoric
‘Reads Bembo as espousing a program for Italian verse that blended Ciceronian oratory and Horatian poetics in a way that stressed rhetorical elements, always subservient to a sense of decorum. In this amalgam Venetian followers of Bembo grasped above all the importance of style; content was already more or less fixed by Petrarchan themes.’ (Haar)

3. Venetians made ‘style’ (outward effects, not inner content) central to broad aesthetic interests. ‘this meant explicating old works and inventing new ones within the framework of rhetoric, where concerns about locution and gesture dominated both exegesis and compositional process’ (123-4)

4. Bembo codified language through rhetoric

5. After Mace, scholars have concentrated on how Bembo’s views on sound and prosody translate to music (125)

6. Feldman instead focuses on Prose’s overarching theme of ‘decorum’

7. Bembist dogma propagated/popularised by various Venetian writers

8. Bembo appropriates Cicero’s 3 stylistic levels (plain/middle/grand)


James Haar 1997

1. Bifurcation of private/public style not as strong as Feldman would have us believe

2. Due to secrecy of academie, Feldman relies on observations of those such as Doni, who are not necessarily reliable

3. Venetian madrigal can be viewed as tangential in overall development of madrigal
o [Counter-argument:

4. On Ch5 (Bembo):
o Accademia Fiorentina surely pursued similar goals to Venetian academies: not uniquely Venetian
o Equating Bembist theory with Willaert’s music is problematic, since the latter derives from ‘northern polyphony that was fundamentally sacred, austere, hieratic and complex’ (Feldman 155) (323)

5. On Ch7 (Willaert):
o Tracing gradual development away from Florentine madrigal seems strained; it is not clear that in these works Willaert departed much more from Verdelot than did Arcadelt’ (323)
o Argues Willaert’s Piu di vago, which Feldman focuses on, ‘could alternatively be discussed as a transformative expansion of a typical Florentine madrigal’ (325)
 6 not 4 voices: naturally leads to overlapping phrases and considerable text repetition
 Declamatory rhythmic patterns in individual voices: also evident in Verdelot/Arcadelt
 Willaert’s ability to vary harmony is new
 Willaert’s madrigals are performative readings, not literary critiques or explications

6. Feldman ‘tries too hard to make Willaert and, to a lesser extent, his colleagues into literary theorists as well as composers’ (327)
 Feldman acknowledges influence of new musicology in introduction: does it force her into interdisciplinary connections?


Feldman 1989

1. Use of complex, motet-like polyphony

2. Scrupulous attention to verbal syntax: phrasing is grammatical rather than line-by-line

3. Musical variazione: Fragmentary/recitational melodic motives echoed repeatedly in continual alteration


Basic differences between Arcadelt and Willaert.

1. (Florence 1530s)
2. Alternates imitative/homophonic textures
3. Graceful melodies
4. Consistently aligns textual and musical accents
5. Evenly spaced succession of phrases

1. (Venice, probably 1540)
2. Dense polyphony
3. Fragmented line
4. Steadily changing succession of textures/motives/metrical stresses
5. Demarcates grammatical structure rather than following line structure


Timothy McKinney 2010

1. Demonstrates significant parallels between Willaert’s use of intervals to portray affective words and Zarlino’s codification of interval affect

2. Extant madrigals of Vicento and Zarlino (pupils of Willaert known as theorists) show shared affective conventions with Musica nova


Critical comparison of Arcadelt and Willaert

1. McClary credits Willaert’s Aspro core with creating musical topos for depicting harshness

2. Arcadelt also uses maj sixths/suspensions/parallel maj thirds to set ‘acerba e durba’ in madrigal from widely disseminated Primo libro (1538)

However, Arcadelt ‘does not restrict the use of such devices to similar textual situations, and major sixths are likely to break out even in “sweet” passages…Willaert’s practice in Musica nova is much more systematic and consistent’.
Uses maj 6th on ‘dolcezza’

3. Feldman argues that the madrigals of Willaert represent a seismic shift in style from the work of early madrigalists such as Verdelot and Arcadelt. His madrigals are intellectual, privileging large-scale syntactical, structural and rhetorical expression over a strict adherence to poetic meter and rhyme schemes. (Feldman p206)

4. Willaert doesn’t do juxtaposition


Verdelot's Madonnaio v'amo taccio

1. Word-painting:
o ‘madonna’ motive (D-Eb-D) used to describe her ‘honore’
o ‘Taccio’ (be quiet) illustrated by short declamation followed by rest
o Syncopation for ‘vivo’

2. Cadential differentiation between ‘foco’ (G) and ‘giaccio’ (D)

3. Parallel rhyme, line-length and affect reflected by musical repeat ‘Et s’io non oso dire / L’intenso mio martire

4. Variazione in poem matched in music
o Homophony for dramatic moments
o Texture significantly lightened for piacevolezza section governed by Bb cadences (‘alta speme, e gran desire’)

5. Ending
o ‘Vorrei senza parlare essere inteso’
 ‘Senza parlare’ inserted to signal impossibility of desire

o Frustration of desire reflected in failed G cadence
 Quintus’s F natural resolves downwards into inverted Madonna motive (Eb-D-Eb), preventing musica ficta being applied to Cantus’s simultaneous cadential F



McClary credits Willaert’s Aspro core with creating musical topos for depicting harshness


Feldman 1989 Chapter 2

1. Musical patronage of fuoriusciti: Florentine exiles (Feldman 1997 Ch2)

2. Feldman 1997 Ch2: ‘Venice must have worked a sea change on the musical scene in noblemen’s homes’

3. Courtly amateur was gradually becoming the ceremonial host (became commonplace in later 16thC). Courtly patrons went from performing to overseeing


Feldman: characteristics of patrons

Characteristics of patrons
1. Highly aristocratic and educated, well versed in music and letters, and eminently equipped to indulge expensive cultural habits

2. Self-assured cultural elitism

3. Letters show pursuit of rare and new, unknown, and decidedly private

4. Aggressively acquisitive patronage

5. Power and status through acquiring new music and performing it to select audience.
Same tactics as trade of arms


Rore Mia benigna fortuna / Crudele acerba (1544)

1. Petrarch 332

o ‘My grave sighs will not fit into rhymes, / My harsh martyrdom vanquishes all style’
 Acts as motto: ‘incompatability of conventional style and feeling, the aesthetic justification for what Monteverdi later calls the seconda prattica’

o Petrarch labours through formal scheme which requires recycling of same six epiphoric words

2. Modal innovation:
o Presenting and breaking modal order
o Hemmed in by Petrarch’s structure: same 6 words end each stanza
 Cyclical despair
o Split consciousness
o Eb bass key signature prevents closure


Willaert Io mi rivolgo (1559)

1. Musica nova: more esoteric than Arcadelt/Verdelot
o Was held in great esteem
o Now rarely performed because it is difficult for both players and listeners
o Avoids cadential finality/rests: full on
o Feldman: wash of sound

2. Not Bembist to the extent that he would shun word-painting
o Uses word-painting techniques strategically

3. Bembist elements

o First poetic line expresses extremes between brightest and darkest vowels e.g. ‘Io mi rivolgo’
 Willaert uses thick contrapuntal texture to highlight, through layering, the juxtaposition of bright and dark vowels
• Bembism key to understanding this

o ‘Aspro core’
 Clusters of consonants
 McClary credits it with creating musical topos for harshness
 Contrasting settings of lines 1-2
• 1: grave suono: dense piles of consonants flank full-breathed vowels ‘o’/ ‘a’
o Portrayed with maj6-5s, over parallel maj thirds (B-F false relation)
• Piacevole second line with minor
 Non e si duro cor

• Reflects sonic qualities of poem without using obvious musical techniques
• Willaert did not publish until patrons
o Suggests music was for esoteric scholarly purposes rather than general popularity

Leitmeir’s conclusion: Bembo is the elephant in the room, who remains even if you try to eliminate him (dead elephant)


Arcadelt Occhi miei lassi (1559)

1. Respects poetic line as unit: could be regarded as monotonous

2. Mace claims Arcadelt was acquainted with Bembist circles in Rome
o Arcadelt worked in Rome, Bembo was cardinal in Rome
o Bembo’s Prose was a sensation

3. Homophony enables clear enunciation of sonic qualities
o Harmony provides affective underpinning

4. Despite simple style, it could still be Bembist to the core
o No proof without evidence, but there are musical features that resonate with Bembo’s ideas
o You don’t need Bembo to read Petrarch’s poetry: composers are sensitive to musical properties of language


Arcadelt Io mi rivolgo (Secondo Libro, Florence 1530s)

Arcadelt (Florence 1530s)
1. Alternates imitative/homophonic textures
2. Graceful melodies
3. Consistently aligns textual and musical accents

Willaert (Venice, probably 1540)
1. Dense polyphony
2. Fragmented lines
3. Steadily changing succession of textures/motives/metrical stresses