In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Canzonetta

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Musical Centers
  • Performance Practice
  • The Canzonetta in the 18th Century

Music Canzonetta
Emiliano Ricciardi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0152


The canzonetta is a genre of secular vocal music that flourished in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The first known appearance of the term in musical sources was on the title page of Orazio Vecchi’s Primo libro delle canzonette a quattro voci, likely published in the late 1570s—the first edition has not survived, but the earliest extant reprint dates from 1580. The pieces in this publication are hybrids between the rustic three-voice villanella and the more elevated madrigal. The poems in Vecchi’s canzonettas are similar to villanella texts in that they are short and strophic, but dissimilar in that they lack refrains and connecting rhymes between strophes. In addition, the poems in Vecchi’s canzonettas tend to replace the rustic vocabulary of the villanella with the Petrarchan idiom of the madrigal. Musically, Vecchi’s canzonettas retain the stanza forms of the villanella, AABB or AABCC, and the homophony and lively rhythms typical of that genre, but occasionally they employ techniques derived from the madrigal, such as word painting and imitation. The canzonetta style launched by Vecchi rapidly became widespread. The 1580s and 1590s saw the publication of numerous books of canzonettas, typically scored for three or four voices. Compositions for three voices were often labeled as villanellas, even though they were in the newer canzonetta style. The canzonetta also spread beyond the Alps, especially in German-speaking lands and in England, where Italian compositions often circulated with new texts in German and English, respectively. In the early 17th century, the canzonetta underwent significant changes. Poetic texts were often made of short and parisyllabic lines, as opposed to the seven- and eleven-syllable lines of the 16th-century repertoire. In addition, scorings for one or two voices with continuo gradually replaced the three- and four-voice unaccompanied textures of previous decades, making the canzonetta akin to the aria. Pieces in this new canzonetta style frequently appeared in early operas. In the second half of the 17th century the canzonetta declined, but vestiges of the genre persisted in later centuries. In 18th-century England, solo songs on English texts with keyboard accompaniment were commonly named canzonettas. In 18th-century Continental Europe, “canzonetta” was a synonym for duetto notturno (nocturnal duet), a short piece for two voices and keyboard or orchestra, but it could also denote simple solo songs with instrumental accompaniment. This article examines primarily bibliography on the late-16th- and early-17th-century canzonetta, with a final section on the 18th-century repertoire.

General Overviews

Assenza 1997 is the most comprehensive study of the genre and is an indispensable tool for scholars of secular vocal music from the Early Modern period. Ruth DeFord’s entry (Canzonetta) in Grove Music Online offers a concise overview of the main features of the canzonetta and of its history even beyond the 17th century. Einstein 1949 briefly discusses the canzonetta within an overview of lighter genres from the second half of the 16th century.

  • Assenza, Concetta. La canzonetta dal 1570 al 1615. Quaderni di Musica/Realtà 34. Lucca, Italy: Libreria musicale italiana, 1997.

    To date, the only monograph on the canzonetta. Includes large sections on the poetic repertoire and on the genre’s musical features from its origins to the first two decades of the 17th century. It does not discuss monodic canzonettas from the early 17th century.

  • DeFord, Ruth I. “Canzonetta.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Laura Macy. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Dictionary entry outlining the origins of the genre, its poetic and musical characteristics, and its relation to other genres of secular polyphony, such as the madrigal. Discusses also the history of the genre after the 17th century. Available online through subscription.

  • Einstein, Alfred. “The New Canzonetta.” In The Italian Madrigal. Vol. 2. By Alfred Einstein, 576–607. Translated by Alexander H. Krappe, Roger H. Sessions, and Oliver Strunk. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1949.

    Survey of lighter genres that emerged in the second half of the 16th century. The genres are grouped together under the umbrella term of “new canzonetta,” but the actual canzonetta is discussed only in some passages of the chapter.

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