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This module represents a discussion of the madrigal as a small ensemble whose members are taken from a larger ensemble or are chosen separately. The madrigal ensemble has a unique repertoire which is also expanded by may fine pieces that are appropriate for a small, select group of singers. Madirgals should be small in size with a more diverse group of voices than would be likely be perfect for a larger choral ensemble. Members can be more soloistic but still be capable of sounding as an ensemble. Capabilities of singers to read at sight or be able to learn music rapidly and have excellent intonation as singers are vital characteristics. Use of instruments is encouraged with the singers or in place of certain voice parts as other voice parts are represented by voices. One can be imaginative about voices and light instrument usage.

The madrigal

A most popular ensemble and one with a ready-made repertoire is the madrigal. Although the madrigal does not have to be limited to the music of the Madrigal period, it should include these pieces as a staple part of its repertoire. A madrigal may also perform chamber vocal music from any period. One must be extremely careful regarding the choice of choral music, however, to be sure that it is adaptable to a small number of voices.

Number of singers

How many voices should there be in a madrigal ensemble? This is a question most often heard and discussed regarding madrigals. The answer to this depends on the talent and on the types of voices that are available.

There are a number of so-called madrigals performing in the United States with sixteen to twenty singers and occasionally more. Ensembles of this size, though they may be well trained, often sound more like a choir than a madrigal group.

Madrigals and other repertoire of a similar nature are best performed with two and, no more than, three to a part. Some of the finest madrigal ensembles number between nine and fourteen. This size is large enough to develop a full tone and small enough to be adaptable, and somewhat soloistic when necessary. In this ensemble, one may have two to a part for up to seven parts.

This size of ensemble (and many other groups) should contain several floating voices; that is, voices that are capable of singing two parts. A first alto that can sing lower soprano parts or a baritone that can sing some of the tenor parts will be valuable in a madrigal. The repertoire for madrigal ensembles contains many different scorings. If a director has several people who can switch parts at almost any time he will find it much easier to properly balance the ensemble.


A most important requirement for voices in a madrigal group is that they should be flexible. One often hears that light voices are best for madrigal singing. This is not as important as flexibility. Madrigal voices need to be able to sing a ringing forte as well as an intense piano. A small ensemble that does not have a wide dynamic range can be at least as boring as a choir with the same deficiency. An entire ensemble of light voices will not have dramatic capabilities.

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Source:  OpenStax, Choral techniques. OpenStax CNX. Mar 08, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11191/1.1
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