Madrigali spirituali were almost always intended for an audience of cultivated, often aristocratic amateurs. They were performed at private houses, academies, and courts of noblemen in Italy and adjacent countries, but almost certainly were not used liturgically. The madrigale spirituale was an a cappella form, though instrumental accompaniment was used on occasion, especially after 1600.
During the Counter-Reformation, there was to some degree a reaction against the secularization of the art of music in Italy, Spain and the southern (Catholic) portion of Germany. While this did not stop the composition of secular music—indeed the explosion of forms and styles of secular music continued unabated—many composers began to adapt the most advanced secular compositional forms to religious usage. On occasion, existing madrigals were merely fitted with a religious text, usually in Latin, without any other change (such adaptations are called "contrafacta"). But some of the madrigali spirituali reached heights of expressive and emotional intensity at least equal to that of the finest madrigalists in their secular compositions.
Some famous examples of madrigali spirituali include Lassus's sublimely beautiful Lagrime di San Pietro (Munich, 1595); Guillaume Dufay's Vergine bella, (ca. 1470) setting a poem in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Petrarch; Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's First Book of Madrigals (1581), also setting Marian poems by Petrarch; Carlo Gesualdo's Tenebrae Responsories (1611); and the huge collection by Giovanni Francesco Anerio, Teatro armonico spirituale (Rome, 1619).
The Chansons of Orlando di Lasso and Their Protestant Listeners: Music, Piety, and Print in Sixteenth-Century France. (Reviews).(Book Review)
Sep 22, 2002; Richard Freedman, The Chansons of Orlando di Lasso and Their Protestant Listeners: Music, Piety, and Print in Sixteenth-Century...