The Big Bad Madrigal Throwdown

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What does the word "madrigal" bring to mind for you? Close harmony on charming texts? Italian chromaticism? A world of experimentation that pushed music from the Renaissance squarely into Baroque opera?

Surely the world of madrigals encompasses all this and more, and it is fascinating to note that this genre is still alive and well, with living composers offering their own unique stamp on an ancient form.

To usher in a glorious Spring in New York City, the Brothers Balliett offer a selection of contemporary madrigals on subjects serious and silly.

George Crumb eschews the idea that madrigals are a strictly choral affair, instead highlighting a solo soprano and small instrumental ensemble in a deeply felt and slightly-twisted composition. Gyorgy Ligeti keeps the choral conception intact, but heightens the humor and drama in a set of madrigals on texts ranging from Lewis Carroll to the alphabet.

Salvatore Sciarrino's first book of Madrigals is sensitive and quiet, with extreme Baroque-style word painting and gorgeously piquant harmonies. To place this new-canon-of-madrigals in context, what could be better than the wild ride provided by 16th-century master Luca Marenzio?

Get on yer Renaissance garb (with a 20th-century twist) and lean into these tunes!