This week’s featured madrigal is something we’ve been working on in rehearsal for the past two weeks. “Mia Benigna Fortuna” is a four part piece by Cipriano de Rore. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Have a listen, and then read about it, in these very informative notes provided by a member of the Arbor Consort.
Mia benigna fortuna e il viver lieto
I chiari giorni e le tranquille notti
E i soavi sospiri, e il dolce stile
Che solea resonare in versi e in rime
Volti subitamente in doglia e in pianto
Odiar vita mi fanno, e bramar morte.
Crudele, acerba inesorabil morte
Cagion mi dai di mai non esser lieto
Ma di menar tutta mia vita in pianto
E i giorni oscuri e le dogliose notti;
I miei gravi sospir non vanno in rime
E il mio duro martir vince ogni stile.
Raw (word-by-word) Translation:
My kind fortune and happy life,
the clear days and tranquil nights
and gentle sighs, and the sweet style
that alone sounded in my verse and rhyme,
changed suddenly to grief and weeping,
making me my life hate, and long for death.
Cruel, bitter, inexorable Death,
reason you give me never to be happy,
but to live all my life in weeping,
in darkened days, and saddened nights.
My heavy sighs will not go into rhyme,
and my harsh pain defeats every style.
The sestina used as the lyrics for the piece has been written by Petrarch himself, after his idolized literary female symbol, Laura, died in the plague of 1348. The work of that famous humanist poet seems to have resonated with composers of the high Renaissance: it was put to music more frequently than almost any other poem. This is one of the best settings, and was considered astonishingly progressive in its time (indeed, Rore was the personal music instructor to many later composers who represented styles that were outside the mainstream, like de Wert).
The music has two main sections | one for each stanza of the sestina. Notice the stark difference between parts that describe tranquil, joyful moods and the ones that are dark and sorrowful, as well as the transitions between them (e.g. in measure 24). Measure 29 starts from an F#, a sudden change of key after the A minor chord immediately preceding– again, it is supposed to express anguish and pain. The word ‘crudele’ (cruel) has a subject whose first two notes involve a major sixth jump. This was considered overly harsh and was avoided by composers in Rore’s time. Clearly, he felt that the harshness of the text can only be conveyed in music by similarly harsh expressive tools. Listen to the music set to the final lines of both stanzas, and the remarkable harmonies accompanying to the words ‘death’ and ‘pain’.