Text Painting, or Coincidence? Treatment of Height-Related Imagery in the Madrigals of Luca Marenzio





text painting, madrigal, Marenzio, corpus, word painting


Text painting is a defining characteristic of the sixteenth-century madrigal style, especially in association with references to height. Whereas composers cannot have given musical illustration to every such reference contained within the text of a madrigal, the question of whether or not the music that accompanies a particular reference to height constitutes an actual example of text painting is sometimes unclear. To explore this problem empirically, the frequency with which musical excerpts from a corpus of 201 madrigals composed by the Italian composer Luca Marenzio satisfied three proposed definitions of height-related text painting was measured. The three definitions required a vocal part to contain either a large leap, stepwise motion, or an extreme of pitch. Positive correlations were observed between the appearance of music conforming to each of the respective definitions and the presence of height-related imagery in the text, yet only in passages that satisfied more than one definition. The research suggests that no single definition is a reliable indicator of height-related text painting, and that most legitimate examples rely on multiple compositional devices.


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