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A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition of the Renaissance (15th–16th c.) and early Baroque (1600–1750) eras. The polyphonic madrigal is unaccompanied, and the number of voices varies from two to eight, but usually features three to six voices, whilst the metre of the madrigal varies between two or three tercets, followed by one or two couplets. Unlike the verse-repeating strophic forms sung to the same music, most madrigals are through-composed, featuring different music for each stanza of lyrics, whereby the composer expresses the emotions contained in each line and in single words of the poem being sung.

As written by Italianized Franco–Flemish composers in the 1520s, the madrigal partly originated from the three-to-four voice frottola (1470–1530); partly from composers’ renewed interest in poetry written in vernacular Italian; partly from the stylistic influence of the French chanson; and from the polyphony of the motet (13th–16th c.). The technical contrast between the musical forms is in the frottola consisting of music set to stanzas of text, whilst the madrigal is through-composed, a work with different music for different stanzas. As a composition, the madrigal of the Renaissance is unlike the two-to-three voice Italian Trecento madrigal (1300–1370) of the 14th-century, having in common only the name madrigal, which derives from the Latin matricalis (maternal) denoting musical work in service to the mother church.

Artistically, the madrigal was the most important form of secular music in Italy, and reached its formal and historical zenith in the later 16th century, when the madrigal also was taken up by German and English composers, such as John Wilbye (1574–1638), Thomas Weelkes (1576–1623), and Thomas Morley (1557–1602) of the English Madrigal School (1588–1627). Although of British temper, most English madrigals were a cappella compositions for three to six voices, which either copied or translated the musical styles of the original madrigals from Italy. By the mid 16th century, Italian composers began merging the madrigal into the composition of the cantata and the dialogue; and by the early 17th century, the aria replaced the madrigal in opera.

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