Madrigal, in music, a vocal composition in from three to eight parts, set commonly to words of an amatory or pastoral character, and intended to be sung by several voices on a part and without instrumental accompaniment. It took its rise in Italy about the commencement of the 16th century, whence it soon made its way over the civilized world. The Netherlander were the first to adopt the new form. Although cultivated to some extent both in France and Germany, it did not supplant the chanson in the one nor the folk song in the other. In England it took firm root, and there madrigal singing continues to be practised to the present time. Richard Edwards, probably the earliest of English madrigal writers, was musician to Henry VIII. The best English madrigals were written within the century succeeding his death. The practice of such music during that period formed a considerable part of the entertainment of persons of education, and sight singing was then more common than now. At first madrigals were sung in England with Italian words.
William Byrd was the first to publish a collection of them with translated text, entitled "Musica Transalpina, Madri-gales translated, of four, five, and six partes, chose out of divers excellent authors, by Master Byrd " (1588). The music of the madrigal is usually constructed of short and simple phrases, treated freely and with every resource of florid counterpoint. The fundamental musical form is imitation, and in this, and in the canon and fugued passages with which it abounds, it is distinguished from the strictly harmonized folk song. Among the most distinguished of the Italian madrigal writers were Marenzio, Gastoldi, Vacchi, and Festa; while Wilbye, Weelkes, Morley, Gibbons, and Ford held equal rank in England. Madrigal societies are still maintained in England, and within a few years several have been formed in the United States. Henry Leslie in England and Caryl Florio in America have recently made admirable compositions in this form.