Background information[edit | edit source]

Madalena Casulana (c. 1540 – c.1590), born in Casula, near Siena, and trained in Florence, was the first female composer to have her music published in the history of European music. Aware of the rare and exceptional position she has in the era, Casulana also asserted that she is the first woman to regard herself as a professional composer. Records indicate that she played the lute and was a talented singer. 

Morir non puo il mio cuore

Link to Video:

Link to Score:

Poets such as Serafino Aquilano, (a friend of Jacopo Peri whose texts had been set to music beginning earlier in the century ) testifies to her uncommon literary interests. Also from her three known published books of madrigals, Casulana seems to have been attracted to the dramatic form of the dialogue and the topic of death and perpetual dying.

“Morir non può il mio cuore” first appeared in the anthology, Il desiderio, published in 1566, and

then again in Il primo libro di madrigali a quattro voci in 1568. Based on a poem by Jacobo Sannazaro.

The translation of the text.

Morir non può il mio cuore: ucciderlo vorrei, 

Poi che vi piace, 

Ma trar no si può fuore dal petto 

Vostr’ove gran tempo giace; 

Et uccidendol’io, come desio, 

So che morreste voi, 

Morrend’ anch’io.

My heart cannot die: I would like to kill it, 

since that would please you, 

but it cannot be pulled out of your breast, 

where it has been dwelling for a long time; 

and if I killed it, as I wish, 

I know that you would die, and I would die too

 Analysis[edit | edit source]

By the mid-16th century, most madrigals were written for 4, 5 or 6 voices, with frequent changes in texture where homophony, imitation and free polyphony were employed freely.

This madrigal is an example of such textural change.

The first phrase opens polyphonically and cadences on the downbeat of measure 4. Immediately following the unison cadence is the second phrase in strict homophonic texture until the downbeat of measure 6. Such alternation continues until measure 16. It is worthwhile to observe that the unison of the voices in measure 4, on the word “cuore” - (hearts) depicts the unity of hearts.

The climax of the piece is in the third phrase, where the highest pitch of the piece is in the canto, in D in measure 8. Besides aurally suggesting the climax, the heightened pitch register in the canto and the quickened rhythmic passage in the bass also directs the ear to the drawn out syllables on the word “fuore”  -(out- the pulling out of hearts) in the cantor on measures 8 and 9, another effective device of text-painting by Casulana.

The cadences throughout the madrigal are relaxed. Following the climax, the immediate cadence does not linger in measure 10. From the second half of the piece onwards, there are direct chromatic motions in each voice on the word “morreste” (to die). From measure 15 onwards in the inner voices, they appear on repeated imitative passages to create relaxed cadences. “Morreste” translates to death, which again adds to Casulana’s text-painting intentions. This is carried on until the end of the madrigal.

Comparison to Arcadelt’s il blanco e docle cigno 1538[edit | edit source]

Link to the video with score:

Link to the score on IMSLP:

One of the earlier Madrigals is Jacques Arcadelt’s Il bianco e dolce cigno.
Composed about 30 years earlier, the Franco-Flemish composer’s setting of the madrigal is about a graceful white swan’s death. The traditional belief is that swans sing only when they die and that sexual climax resembles a “little death”, which Renaissance poets often employ as a euphemism.

The common subject of death and perpetual dying in both madrigals. Regardless of the extent of the attention to be drawn to the Renaissance euphemism, the musical setting of both madrigal on the topic of “death” is tinged with much graceful longing.

In Casulana’s setting, “so che moreste voi” (I know that you would die) is repeated 9 times in each voice, with much tension and release in the relaxed cadence as seen in the direct chromaticisms. This makes up the majority of the 2nd half of the piece.

In Arcadelt’s setting, “mille mort il di” (a thousand deaths a day) from measure 35 onwards, twelve entries sing the lilting motive of multiple imitative entries. The movement of each entries follow a rising and falling contour.

Arcadelt’s setting is a larger proportion of homophonic setting with occasional imitation.The rhythmic setting is also more strictly homophonic than Casulana’s. There are also less chromatic harmonies. The cadences are of a longer duration. The lines are mostly in 7 syllables. Casulana had a more linearly-conceived musical setting, owing to the more frequent polyphonic passages.

Observations[edit | edit source]

This madrigal was chosen because I was interested in the madrigals from the mid-16th century with contemporary lyric poetry. I sought to bring the spotlight to the rare female composers of that era and was not disappointed by Casulana’s inventive use of idioms of that era and her unique voice in the setting of the madrigal.
As discussed in Morir non puo, by manipulating the following musical devices: the climactic climbs, sections of homophony against sections of imitation, and overlapping half-step movement, Casulana carefully depicts the pleasure and pain of two lovers, torn between the desire to “die” and part, or to remain united in love.  

Also evident in her other 65 madrigals, she skillyfully adopts and reapply the sexual metaphors of madrigal literature- a male dominated genre not to denounce or attack men but by asserting equality with men by showing that women can similarly possess the gift of intellect and produce great works of art.

Sources[edit | edit source]

“Arcadelt Il bianco e dolce cigno The King's Singers YouTube.” YouTube Video. Posted by “Ma Àngels Lorés Otzet,” Uploaded July 29, 2011.

Benita V. Rivera. "The Two-Voice Framework and Its Harmonization in Arcadelt's First Book of Madrigals." Musical Analysis. 6, No. 1/2 (Mar. - Jul., 1987): pp. 59-88,

Bridges, Thomas W. “Casulana, Madalena.”Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 22,

Heere-Beyer, S. E. n.p. (2009) Claiming Voice: Madalena Casulana and the Sixteenth-Century Italian Madrigal. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh.. Master's Thesis. University of Pittsburg.

"Maddalena Casulano - Madrigals." YouTube Video, Posted by "caoamarelo," Uploaded Feb 22, 2008.

Zwart, Piet. Score Exchange, "Morir non può il mio cuore (Casulana) Madrigal." Accessed February 24, 2014.

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