that conveyed by Master Morley's quaint expressions.
The most antient specimen of saecular Polyphonic Music now known to exist is the famous Canon, 'Sumer is i cumen in,' preserved, among the Harleian MSS., in the British Museum. No clue can be obtained as to the authorship of this ingenious composition; nor has its exact date ever been satisfactorily demonstrated, though Dr. Burney—who, in the second volume of his Musical History, has printed it, not only in its original notation, but, also, in the form of a detailed solution, scored for six voices—ventures to say that he 'can hardly imagine it to be much more modern' than the 13th or 14th century. Its extreme antiquity is, indeed, indisputable: but it can scarcely be called a Madrigal, notwithstanding the rustic character of its words. The true Madrigal is unquestionably the offspring of the great Flemish School. We hear of it, in the Low Countries, as early, at least, as the middle of the 15th century, when it was already well known to the Netherlanders, in the form of a Polyphonic Song, often of very elaborate construction, and always written in strict conformity with the laws of the old Church Modes. These characteristics—which it retained, to the last, in all countries, and through all scholastic changes—are umnistakeable signs of its close relationship to the Motet, of which we have also ample proof, in the certainty that it originated in Counterpoint on a Canto fermo. As a general rule, this Canto fermo was naturally supplied by the melody of some popular Chanson: but, just as we sometimes find a popular melody intruding itself into the Mass, so, in these early Madrigals, we are occasionally startled by the apparition of some well-known fragment of severe Ecclesiastical Plain Chaunt; as in Agricola's Belle sur toutes, in which the lighter theme is almost profanely contrasted with that of Tota pulchra es, Maria—a combination which Ambros naïvely compares to the Song of a pair of Lovers, who quietly carry on their discourse, in the two upper parts, while a holy Monk lectures them in the Bass.
For the earliest published copies of these interesting works, we are indebted to Ottaviano dei Petrucci—the inventor of the process by which music was first printed from movable types—whose three collections, entitled 'Harmonice musices Odhecaton. A.' (Venice 1501), 'Canti B numero Cinquanta B' (ib. 1501), and 'Canti C no. cento cinquanta C' (ib. 1503), were long supposed to be lost, and now only exist in the form of unique copies of the first, and second, preserved in the Library of the Liceo Filannonico, at Bologna, and a splendidly bound exemplar of the third, in the Hofbibliothek at Vienna. In these precious volumes we find a copious selection from the sæcular works of Busnois, Okenheim, Johannes Tinctor, Hobrecht, Regis, Caron, Josquin des Prés, Alexander Agricola, Brumel, Pierre de la Rue, and twenty-nine other writers, whose Chansons illustrate the First Period in the history of the Flemish Madrigal—a period no less interesting than instructive to the critical student, for it is here that we first find Science, and Popular Melody, working together for a common end.
The Second Period, though its printed records date only thirty-five years later, shews an immense advance in Art. Its leading spirits, Jacques Archadelt, Philipp Verdelot, Giaches de Wert, Huberto Waelrant, and some other writers of their School, were not only accomplished contrapuntists, but had all learned the difficult art of restraining their ingenuity within due bounds, when simplicity of treatment was demanded by the character of the words they selected for their theme. Hence, they have left us works, which, for purity of style, and graceful flow of melody, can scarcely be exceeded. Archadelt, though a true Fleming by taste and education, as well as by birth, spent much of his time in Italy; and published his First Book of Madrigals at Venice, in 1538, with such success, that, within eighty years it ran through no less than sixteen editions. Five other books followed, containing, besides his own works, a number by other celebrated writers, among whom, however, he stands his ground nobly. From a copy of the fourth edition of the First Book, preserved in the British Museum, we transcribe a few bars of one of the loveliest Madrigals he ever wrote—Il bianco e dolce cigno—which, we should imagine, needs only publication in an attainable form, in order to become a favourite with every Madrigal Society in England.
- The only modern edition with which we are acquainted is transposed a third, and adapted to English words in which no translation of the original Italian is attempted; consequently, the Music, and the Poetry, are at cross purposes, from beginning to end.