Jacques Arcadelt, also called Jacob Arcadelt, was a popular Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance period. He was known for his madrigal works, and produced several volumes of this music form through his career. One of the pioneers of the madrigal styles, Arcadelt was inspired by the texts of various famous poets such as Jacopo Sannazzaro and Petrarch and combined this with his early styles of the sonorous homophony, that led him to consider ‘madrigals’, as a serious music form. Through his time, he composed madrigals, as well as a variety of motets, chansons, hymns and masses. Arcadelt’s reputation rested largely on his madrigal and motel career. Arcadelt set the music and the styles for generations of madrigal composers. He was equally adept at composing chansons, especially when he lived in Paris. Out of his numerous compositions, a large number of his works have been published, and used by various composers to date.
Childhood And Early Life
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). As a young man, Arcadelt moved to Florence in the 1520’s to study and work with Philippe Verdelot, who wrote and composed the earliest madrigals of the Renaissance period.
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. 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.
Arcadelt continued with the Sistine chapel till 1551 as a singer and composer, and left to France for a brief period. During this event, probably in 1552, it is believed that the composer was briefly acquainted with the famous Michelangelo, but the alliance between the two was received with triviality by both artists.
Once he returned back to the Sistine Chapel, Arcadelt wrote over 200 madrigals before he left for France, where he lived for the rest of his life. Following the successes of his madrigal works, Arcadelt changed styles and experimented with chansons, masses and motets, which were also received with the same amount of frenzied appreciation. In 1557, he wrote and published a book of masses, which he dedicated to his new employer, Charles de Guise. There have been various debates that have suggested that Arcadelt also briefly served both Charles IX and Henry II during the later phases of his career. Once he received tremendous success with his motets and chansons, he employed a publishing company in France (Le Roy and Ballard) to print his works in the same manner the Venetian printers had earlier printed his madrigals.
Through his productive career, Arcadelt published secular and sacred music and also composed a total of 125 chansons. More than 200 madrigals have been recorded, which survive namelessly in document sources. He experimented with various styles such as polyphonic styles and the ‘frottola’ styles. Most of his madrigals were syllabic and polyphonic in texture. According to his followers, his madrigal works best represented the ‘classical’ phase of music. He often involved word-painting, real-life situations, four-part writing and virtuosity in his music. After becoming immensely popular in Europe, he wrote countless intabulations for instruments such as the viol, guitar and the lute. To bring out the expressionist styles of music in his works, he was often inspired by classical poets such as Petrarch, Bembo and Sannazzaro, who often helped him set the tempo and the tone of his music.
Most of Arcadelt’s chansons were of madrigal styles and simple. It is said that most of his chansons were ‘contrafecta’ of his original madrigals, which meant that the same songs were reprinted with new words in a different language than the original one. In addition to his copious madrigal and chanson works, Arcadelt was also known for his sacred music. Most of his masses were in the settings of the ‘Magnificat’ and were written during his tenures at the Sistine Chapel and the papal Chapel in Rome.
Jacques Arcadelt passed away on October 14, 1568 in Paris. The reasons behind the composer’s death are unknown.
- ‘Il primo libro di madrigali – 1539’
- ‘Il secondo libro de madrigali – 1539’
- ‘Il Vero secondo libro di madrigali- 1539’
- ‘Il quarto libro di madrigali – 1539’
- ‘Primo libro di madrigali – 1542’
- ‘Lamentationes Jeremiae III – 1557’
- ‘Magnificat primi toni - 1557’
- Sisieme livre de chansons – 1569’
- ‘Tiers livres de chansons – 1567’
- ‘Missa tres – 1557’