Jacques Arcadelt

Jacques Arcadelt or Joseph Arcadelt was probably born in what we now call Belgium, though his origins and early life are uncertain.

It is said he was talented as a child, and loved to sing.

Although very little is known about his early life, being of Flemish origin, with a French upbringing has led to the various spellings and pronunciations of his name.

Through this, historians derived that he may have been born in Leige (modern day Belgium).

Arcadelt’s first known compositions were published in Germany in 1531.

These were a group of motets, written in Florentine style, although, these works have not survived to date.

Following his motets, Arcadelt composed a wide range of madrigals and published his first set of madrigals in 1538, which are also lost today.

The same set of madrigals was republished in 1539.

The popularity and influence of his techniques also showed in the work of Monteverdi and Palestrina.

Following the success of his works, he was appointed at the Papal choir at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

It is even believed by many of his successive composers that Arcadelt served as a singer in the St. Peter’s choir before turning into a full-fledged composer.

In the following years, sources state that Arcadelt registered with the Julian Chapel and the Sistine Chapel where he was chosen as the ‘magister madrigrals’, and where his initial madrigal works gained immense success after 45 republished editions.

Out of the four books of his madrigals that he composed during this period, the first of these collections, “Il primo libro di madrigali’ was the most successful.

Paul died in 1549, and two years later Arcadelt moved to France.

In the early 1550s he entered the service of Charles de Lorraine, 2nd cardinal de Lorraine.

Apparently following the taste of his patron, after moving to France Arcadelt virtually stopped writing madrigals and concentrated instead on the writing of chansons.

He is credited with having written some 126 pieces in this form.

In 1555 he moved to France, where he served Charles, the Duke of Guise, as chapel master, and also served in the royal court.

Following the French tastes, he wrote chansons rather than madrigals.

During this period, the two styles were fairly closely linked, as many madrigals were more or less harmonic enrichments of the top vocal line.

Most of Arcadelt’s chansons are chordal, with the occasional polyphonic piece, such as Souvent amour.

He often used rhythmic changes to emphasize the structure of a chord or a critical word in the text.

In 1557 he was choirmaster of the French royal chapel. Arcadelt’s reputation rests largely on the work he produced early in his career, his more than 200 madrigals.

With two of his contemporaries, Costanzo Festa and Philippe Verdelot, Arcadelt set the style for a generation of madrigal composers.

He favored four-voiced composition, and his secular music owes much to the simple declaration and tuneful treble melody of the frottola, a popular Italian song genre.

The simple clarity of his style influenced composers Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Cipriano de Rore.