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The madrigal

From popular ballads to solemn church music and the sophisticated music of the court, Elizabethan music was varied and inventive, delightful and moving.

By Shakespeare's time the music of the Church, the Court, and the stage had become sophisticated and varied, capable of communicating many moods. Virtually all plays--comedies and tragedies--used music to heighten the drama.

The part song had reached a superb peak in the madrigal. If the medieval "Agincourt Carol" announced smugly that God was on the side of the English, the Elizabethan poets and musicians were more subtle. They merely suggested in allegory that Elizabeth was herself a goddess*. A madrigal by Thomas Weelkes, "As Vesta Was from Latmos Hill Descending," is an elaborate compliment to Elizabeth: Vesta was descending the hill while Elizabeth was climbing up; the vestal virgins all deserted their goddess in order to join the "maiden queen."

Listen to "As Vesta Was from Latmos Hill Descending"*.

Footnotes

  1. The Elizabeth cult

    Go to a discussion of the cult of the "Virgin Queen" in the period.

  2. "As Vesta Was from Latmos Hill Descending"

    The part writing is sophisticated and varied (it is written for six voices). And the song delights in elegant and witty musical puns: the words "descending" and "ascending" are set to musical phrases which descend and ascend; "running down" is a rapidly moving, downward passage; "two by two" is sung by two voices, "three by three" by three, "all alone" by one, and so on.

    Listen to the madrigal:

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    As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending,
    She spied a maiden queen the same ascending,
    Attended on by all the shepherds swain,
    To whom Diana's darlings came running down amain,
    First two by two, then three by three together,
    Leaving their goddess all alone, hasted thither;
    And mingling with the shepherds of her train,
    With mirthful tunes her presence entertain.
    Then sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana,
    Long live fair Oriana!