The Madrigal Christmas

During the Renaissance (the early 16th century), the Madrigal, a part-song for several voices, developed as a result of an interest in the musical tones that Italian language and poetry encouraged from the human voice.  It was the sound, the music of language itself that offered the art of this expression.  Poets and musicians had long recognized this unique aspect of language, but the two merged during this time to form something completely unique and profoundly beautiful.

The Madrigal was usually arranged in elaborate counterpoint and without instrumental accompaniment.  The style now is free-form and the words move the song along without the need of sound other than the voices themselves.  The listeners’ attentions are drawn to the experience of the expression and not just to the foot taping melodies that instrumentation often lends to song.

In the mid-1960s, the Choral Department at the University of Detroit began offering Madrigal Dinner events.  The University of Detroit Chorus Collection, tells us a bit more about this in the introduction available on its event page for the Madrigal Dinner:

“In December of 1964, the Chorus started a Christmas tradition called the “Madrigal Dinner”. During this year they had four settings; each on a separate day. As one article noted “In addition to the traditional Yuletide meal of Old England, including wassail cup, roast sirloin of beef and plum pudding, the dinners will feature Madrigal Singers, who will entertain during and after the meal in authentic costumes of the period. The meal will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the UD Student Union Ballroom, with guests being heralded to the meal by trumpeters playing a fanfare and processional. The trumpeters will also be on hand to announce the arrival of the wassail bowl, boar’s head and plum pudding.

In 1965, the President’s Dinner for the Faculty became the second Madrigal Dinner. Two dinners were held with each consisting of approximately half of the full-time faculty and administrators, with their wives or husbands. According to documents within the Archives, the total attendance for both dinners was around 300 people.

In 1966 the Chorus went back to four settings, each on a separate day. The price went up from $4.00 in 1964 to $4.50. This was the last year this event took place at the university.”

This holiday season, why not spend some time with a bit of Christmas “Renaissance Style,” and explore the history of the University of Detroit Chorus Madrigal Dinners.  You can hear songs from a CD of the 1965-1966 event here.  This is bound to add to your holiday celebrations. While you’re there, check out the rest of our University of Detroit Chorus Collection.