Around 1587 the Brescian nobleman Count Marc’Antonio Martinengo di Villachiara, who was renowned for his political and military experience as well as competence in both music and poetry, wrote a madrigal text, set it to music, and sent it to seventeen composers in different parts of Italy. Published under the title of L’amorosa Ero (Brescia, 1588), the collection gives the opportunity to compare some of the most influential composers such as Marenzio, Luzzaschi, Ingegneri, Striggio, and many others. The first part of the article focuses on the historical background to this collection, with special attention given to the musical activities in Brescia and in other cities (Cremona, Verona, Parma, Turin, and Rome). Martinengo’s political and military career and the music patronage of his family are discussed in detail, followed by an in-depth survey of most of the composers of L’amorosa Ero (particularly Alfonso Ferabosco, Claudio Merulo, Marc’Antonio Ingegneri, and Antonio Morsolino) to unveil their personal relationships with Martinengo. The hierarchy of composers represented in the madrigal collection turns out to be quite elaborate and reflects their political relevance in their time. The second part of the article is dedicated to the musical content of the collection. Given that L’amorosa Ero consists of the compositional responses of multiple composers to the same text—which, moreover, they all set in the same mode—the collection offers a unique opportunity to compare composers’ styles. Starting with a close examination of Martinengo’s poem, including its formal and emotional aspects, we follow with a comparative analysis, restricted to the first section of eight emblematic madrigals by Martinengo, Fiorino, Bertani, Ingegneri, Marenzio, Zoilo, Giovannelli, and Luzzaschi. The main analytical tool is the definition of tonal space, that is to say a dynamic articulation of mode that emerges through the interaction of such elements as melodic contour and cadences. Our analysis shows that, despite the limitations of mode and text, the music of the collection is strikingly diverse, ranging from traditional to more innovative styles.
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