Theses Doctoral

Representation, Emotion, and the Madrigal in Sixteenth-Century Italy

O'Rourke, Russell Joseph

This dissertation questions the dominant role that analogies to painting have played in the critical reception of the Italian madrigal—especially its flagship technique, the madrigalism—and argues for a more historically sensitive approach to sixteenth-century discussions of music–text relations in that genre. This approach centers rhetoric, understood broadly to encompass theories of style and subject matter, emotional response, and fictional representation, as the primary field of study to which musicians turned in their efforts to theorize musical expression. In its final chapter, the dissertation suggests that this rhetorical saturation of discourse around madrigals also to some degree influenced the composing of madrigals.

Chapter 1 traces the outlines of what I call the “Galileian critical tradition” between the publication of Vincenzo Galilei’s 1581 "Dialogo della musica antica, et ella moderna" and the present. This tradition is characterized by a tendency among writers to dismiss the madrigalism on expressive grounds and, as time passes, increasingly in visual terms. Returning to the sixteenth century, chapter 2 argues that the phrase “imitating the words” (imitare le parole), which was adopted by Galilei, Gioseffo Zarlino, and others in the mid- to late Cinquecento to describe those novel techniques for the musical representation of text commonly seen in madrigals, acquires an affective connotation, in addition to its descriptive meaning, when placed in the context of contemporaneous literary studies of imitation (mimesis), especially those stemming from the recovery of Aristotle’s "Poetics." This affective dimension of the imitation principle, first theorized by Aristotle but creatively elaborated by his Renaissance commentators, highlights the cognitive pleasure that humans, because of a natural affinity for imitation, take from fiction—a species of pleasure, I suggest, relevant to the musical practice that “imitating the words” names. Turning from pleasure to passion, chapter 3 makes a case for the presence of a “two-stage model for emotional arousal” (as I call it) in sixteenth-century Italian music theory. Surveying this model’s foundation in physiological, rhetorical, and natural-philosophical texts, I show how Zarlino adapted its principles to musical purposes in his 1558 "Istitutioni harmoniche" and then trace the afterlife of Zarlino’s theory across a number of texts, including both music theory treatises and an epic poem. Chapter 4, finally, analyzes a late Cinquecento madrigal cycle—the three settings in Giaches de Wert’s "Ottavo libro de madrigali a cinque voci" (1586) from the “Armida” episode of Torquato Tasso’s "Gerusalemme liberata" (1581)—as a series of musical “stimuli” for listener responses patterned on the theoretical discussions studied in chapters 2 and 3. In its attention to the close-knit relationship between the expressive qualities of Wert’s music and the emotions they invite, this chapter follows the example of the ancient rhetorical tradition and its sixteenth-century inheritance, which emphasize the role of human psychology in determining the orator’s art.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Gerbino, Giuseppe
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 8, 2020