Few Italian composers failed to publish a book or two
of madrigals early on in their careers. Nor was the demand for the songs limited to their country of origin:
Frescobaldi, Madrigals Book I, Title Page
(IMSLP) Frescobaldi’s Primo libro de madrigali a cinque voci appeared in Antwerp in 1608, published by Phalèse while the composer was there in the entourage of Guido Bentivoglio.
The collection remains essentially unique in Frescobaldi’s catalogue. Aside from his works for keyboard instruments, most of the vocal music he wrote was sacred, in keeping with his position in Rome. And, like the work of Kapsberger, the madrigals have sometimes been judged unfairly as unremarkable and unimaginative by those who should know better.
Halfway through the first book of madrigals is Perchè fuggi (“Why do you flee?”), a little pastoral vignette like hundreds of similar settings. The lyrics are taken from Giambattista Marino’s La lira (“The Lyre”).
Perchè fuggi tra salci
Why do you flee among the willows
ritrosetta ma bella
reluctant but beautiful one,
o cruda delle crude pastorella?
oh cruelest of the cruel, shepherdess?
Perchè un bacio ti tolsi?
Because I took a kiss from you?
Miser, più che felice
Misfortune more than happiness
corsi per sugger vita, et morte colsi.
appeared in guise of life, but I seized death.
Quel bacio che m’ha morto
That kiss that has killed me
tra le rose d’amor pungente spina
among the roses a sharp thorn
fu più vendetta tua che mia rapina.
was more your revenge than my little theft.
Frescobaldi sets the verse lightly and effortlessly, taking advantage of word stresses and cross–rhythms, and uses dissonance skillfully to point up the meaning where it is merited.
Toward the end, imitation among the voices drives toward the end of the piece until it veers into its melancholy conclusion. Like all of the numbers in the book, it was certainly not the work of an amateur. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, his madrigals have been overshadowed by Frescobaldi’s keyboard music.