Thursday Seminar “Revisiting the origins of the madrigal”


Thursday, December 7, 2017, 6:00pm


Gould Hall


The origin of the madrigal is a recurring topic in musicology. Did it evolve out of the frottola (Einstein 1949), the chanson and motet (Fenlon and Haar 1988) or the carnival song (A. Cummings 2004)? The period in which the madrigal evolved, 1515 to 1525, coincided with the Questione della lingua, the debate about which type of Italian should be used for vernacular literature that could rival Latin. Machiavelli, Martelli, Trissino, and Lorenzo Strozzi were engaged in this debate, and they all wrote texts for the early madrigal. Using evidence derived from the organization and format of manuscripts and prints, musical style and formal structure, and the poetry and cultural context of the early madrigal, I propose that the madrigal was created as a high-style vernacular genre that aspired to the status of the Latin-texted sacred genre of the motet.

Julie E. Cumming is professor at the Schulich School of Music, McGill University. She received a BA in Music and Medieval Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University (1980), and a PhD (1987) in Music and Medieval Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Motet in the Age of Du Fay (Cambridge, 1999). Her current work looks at fifteenth- and sixteenth-century compositional process, historical improvisation, and computer-aided analysis. She was the principal investigator of a Digging into Data Challenge Grant, “Electronic Locator of Vertical Interval Successions (ELVIS): The first large data-driven research project on musical style” (2012-2014; She is the co-leader (with Ichiro Fujinaga, PI) of a Canadian Partnership Grant, “SIMSSA: Single Interface for Music Score Searching and Analysis” (, and co-investigator on “Early Modern Conversions” (Paul Yachnin, PI, She received the Schulich School of Music Full-Time Teaching Award (2007), McGill’s David Thomson Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Supervision (2015), and the Northeastern Association of Graduate School’s Graduate Teaching Award, Doctoral Level (2017).