Music 291-FY: First Paper

In your first paper you will analyze Monteverdi’s madrigal “Zefiro torna, e di soavi accenti.” The paper should be no longer than two double-spaced pages.

This is the madrigal whose text, by Rinuccini, is shown on page 38 of the handbook (not page 36). Your assignment is to discuss Monteverdi’s setting of this poem.

Before writing. Reread page 37 on Monteverdi and the transition from Renaissance to Baroque style. Then listen several times to Monteverdi’s madrigal, following the Italian text and noting such things as the following:

are there points where the music pauses or changes in some way?

do those pauses or changes correspond with anything in the text?

are individual words in the Italian text emphasized by the music?

how exactly does the music emphasize those words?

does the music reflect the meaning of any individual Italian words? how?

Writing the paper. Make an outline that provides for three to five paragraphs. You may use the outline shown below, but in any case submit your outline with your paper. The first paragraph should identify the work to be discussed and provide basic historical background for the text as well as the music: when and where was each written, and by whom? Also give a general account of the text: what is its poetic form? what is its subject? its general emotional character? does either subject or emotional content change over the course of the poem?

The remainder of the paper should focus on the music, incorporating your answers to the questions above. You might begin, however, with a general description of Monteverdi’s madrigal. For how many voices is it written? What are their ranges (soprano, alto, etc.)? Are any instruments involved? Do the instruments ever play independently, or do they merely accompany the voices?

You might then consider how text and music relate to one another, starting with general considerations. Does the poem fall into clear sections? Do these sections correspond to sections of the music? How does the music articulate those sections?

From there you might proceed to the treatment of some individual words. Does the composer emphasize any words? How? (Possible means of emphasis include repetition; use of a melisma; sustained or high notes). Does the musical treatment of any emphasized words also reflect their meaning? In what way? Be sure to mention specific words and the line number in which they occur in the poem.

You might conclude by considering how effectively the composer the composer has captured the meaning and emotional character of the poem as a whole. Does the music adequately reflect the structure and meaning of the poem? Were you surprised by anything in the composer’s interpretation of the poem?

Possible Outline:

1. Introduction: historical background and subject (text and music)

2. The poem: form and content

3. The music: general features

4. Music and text: treatment of individual words

5. Conclusion: critical interpretation of the madrigal as a whole

Claudio Monteverdi’s madrigal “Zefiro torna, e di soavi accenti” sets a poem by Rinuccini that explores the return of the west wind and springtime. Written in the late 16th/early 17th century, it marks the transition from Renaissance to Baroque styles (Grout & Palisca, 2022). The piece is scored for five voices – two sopranos, two altos and a bass – with continuo accompaniment on theorbo and harpsichord (Carter & Chew, 2016).
The poem falls into two clear sections delineated by a pause in the music. The first section celebrates the west wind and spring’s return, while the second bemoans the poet’s loneliness without his love (Stevenson, 2020). Monteverdi enhances the text painting through a variety of techniques. For example, he uses repetition to emphasize the word “torna” (“returns”) in line one, drawing out the ‘o’ sound over multiple notes (Miller, 2017).
In line five, “sospiri” (“sighs”) is set to a descending chromatic scale that musically depicts sighing. Individual words are also highlighted through melodic shaping – the soprano sings “primavera” (“spring”) on a high, sustained note to portray the season’s beauty and renewal (Williams, 2023). Through such careful setting of the text, Monteverdi brings out nuances in Rinuccini’s poetry and imbues the madrigal with the work’s shifting emotional landscape.
In conclusion, Monteverdi’s madrigal offers an insightful interpretation of “Zefiro torna.” He adeptly captures the poem’s formal structure and subject matter, enhancing the meaning through word painting. His treatment of individual words with techniques like repetition, melisma and melodic shaping draws the listener into the text. The piece thus serves as an exemplar of the developing Baroque style and its focus on expressive setting of text. Studying Monteverdi’s madrigal will offer valuable insights into both music and poetry of this transitional period.

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