• Martin Dalby
  • Almost a Madrigal (1977)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the University of Glasgow under the terms of the McEwen Bequest

  • 100012112perc
  • 20 min

Programme Note

Martin Dalby: Almost a Madrigal (1977)
for flute, percussion and brass

First performance - commissioned by the University Court in 1976)

Almost a Madrigal takes its title from Quasi un Madrigale by the Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo. The poem talks about human relationships. Almost a Madrigal then is a gentle piece, very simply conceived (although in its simplicity it contains musical complexities) and in this simplicity the writing is truly devoid of the effects and procedures usually found in modern scores. The music is almost entirely laid out in 4/4 and except for introducing a little colour through the use of a variety of brass mutes and some flutter-tonguing, nothing is asked of the solo flute, two trumpets, horn, trombone, tuba, vibraphone and marimba other than conventional playing.

The intention is towards a purity of style; that purity found in the music of Palestrina, for example. Indeed, the music derives from the language of Palestrina and in particular one motet: Quam pulchra es.

Quam pulchra es, et quam decora,
charissima, in deliciis. Statura
tua assimilata est palmae, et ubera
tua botris. Dixi: ascendum in
palmam, et apprehendam fructus eius,
et erunt ubera tua sicut botri vineae:
et odor eris tui sicut odor malorum. How beautiful thou art, O dearest one, how graceful and lovely. Thy stature rivals that of the palm-tree, and thy breasts the clustering vine. I say that I shall climb up into the palm-tree, and pick its fruit. Your breasts will be like the fruit of the vine, your breath as sweet as apples.

Quam pulchra es is one of twenty-nine settings from the Song of Songs. If one accepts either of two allegories, the Jewish one that the Song of Songs represents God's love for Israel, or the Christian one where the Song of Songs represents Christ's love for his bride, the Church, then it is appropriate to call Palestrina's settings motets. If you prefer a simpler interpretation that the Song of Songs tells of the adoration of a man for a woman, then Quam pulchra es is in itself almost a madrigal.

There are notes from Quam pulchra es in Almost a Madrigal but the taste of the music is drawn more from Palestrina's general style and language, as well as the language of earlier music. You may also perceive echoes of other composers associated with lovers - Messaien, Wagner, Strauss and towards the end there is the beginnings of a love song, well, almost a love song.

© Martin Dalby