Rhyme and Reason in Cipriano de Rore's Canon Madrigals

Benjamin Dobbs, Independent Scholar

Cipriano de Rore's madrigals are repeatedly cited as exemplars of the genre by both contemporaneous and modern writers. Giovanni Bardi noted Rore's attention in crafting a musical style that reflects the subtleties of the text, a characteristic for which Giulio Cesare Monteverdi credits the composer as one of the founders of the seconda prattica. More recently, James Haar posits that Rore's madrigali cromatici served as textbook examples for later composers, and Don Harrán observes the textural ingenuity that Rore achieves in writing for five voices at a time when most madrigals were written for four voices. Three of Rore's madrigals stand out for the balance that he attains between inventive flexibility and strict contrapuntal technique through the medium of the canon.

Rore's canon madrigals (Alcun non può saper (1557), Come la notte (1557), and Convien ch'ovunque sia (1566)) are set for five voices: one voice contains a canon, one presents the resolution, and three flow between free and imitative counterpoint. Ludovico Ariosto's epic Orlando furioso (1516), written in ottava rima, provides the text for each madrigal. Analysis of the pieces individually and as a unified subset of Rore's output reveals that, while the nuanced canonic techniques and refined formal strategies found in these three madrigals reflect the intricate relationship of musical and poetic conventions surrounding the form of the ottava rima, the individuality of each madrigal is maintained through Rore's careful reading of each text.