Human Echoes of Divine Words: Spiritual Madrigals Based on Italian Poetic Paraphrases of Latin Sacred Texts

UoM administered thesis: Phd


The present thesis examines spiritual madrigals based on Italian poetic paraphrases of Latin sacred texts printed in the Italian States between the late 1530s and 1630. 'Spiritual madrigal' is the term used to label madrigals setting texts with explicit religious or moral content instead of secular love lyrics. Virtually ignored by musicologists until half a century ago, the spiritual madrigal finally found its way into scholarly discourse thanks to the works of Elena Ferrari Barassi (1969), Margaret Ann Rorke (1980) and Katherine Susan Powers (1997). Since then, the topic has become established in cultural and musicological historiography, not least due to the general surge of interest in questions surrounding early modern religious devotion. Many of the Italian poetic texts used for the spiritual madrigal are freely composed, but some of them are in fact paraphrases of Latin texts from Scripture or the Catholic liturgy. It is this sub-group of spiritual madrigals that the thesis focuses on. The musical analysis centers around four major case studies - spiritual madrigal cycles based on paraphrases of sacred Latin texts published in the decades surrounding the turn of the seventeenth century when the popularity of the spiritual madrigal had reached its peak. The cycles were composed by Giovanni Pellio, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Giovanni Croce and Flaminio Oddi. The thesis queries the role and the purpose of these spiritual madrigals in the religious and musical culture of late sixteenth-century Italy. The inquiry considers not only the style of the case studies and the biographies of their authors, but also the cultural and religious practices with which the case studies would have been associated by their audiences. It does this from the conviction that knowing on what cultural vocabulary a composition or a poem drew helps to infer what messages its author was trying to convey and what person or group of people could have been interested in that composition or poem. The inquiry has demonstrated that, despite their lyrics being paraphrases of Latin sacred texts, the musical style of the spiritual madrigals examined was without doubt that of the madrigal rather than that of sacred music. However, the setting of the closest paraphrase, Giovanni Croce's "Sette Sonetti penitentiali" (Venice: Giacomo Vincenzi, 1596/7), also contains some allusions to sacred music associated with the Penitential Psalms on which the texts of the madrigals are modelled. The works examined were most probably aimed at individuals who valued the poetic and musical sophistication of the madrigal genre but preferred spiritual texts with scriptural references to secular erotic texts: cultured members of the clergy, monks or nuns hailing from upper-class families and elite members of lay religious confraternities. In addition to their general orientation, at least three of the four cycles examined in detail were published with a specific agenda in mind on the part of their author or dedicatee. Although poetic paraphrases of Latin sacred texts and the spiritual madrigals based on them are just two of the many types of intertextual cultural outputs created during the sixteenth century, they provide valuable and, due to their nature, specific insights into the cultural reality of the period. The present thesis is the first larger-scale study on Italian devotional music since 2013 and the only study thus far focusing on spiritual madrigals based on paraphrases of sacred Latin texts. Due to the holistic methodological approach taken, the thesis not only provides an analysis and the first ever modern editions of several lesser-known musical works, but also shows how these works were embedded in early modern Italian Catholic culture.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2021