For music to arouse the emotions, observes the sixteenth-century Venetian music theorist Gioseffo Zarlino, four ingredients are required: harmony, rhythm, text, and “a well-disposed subject [soggetto ben disposto] fit to receive some emotion [passione].” The last point—that listeners must be properly “disposed” toward an emotion before they can be moved—features in contemporaneous writings as diverse as Torquato Tasso’s epic Gerusalemme liberata (1581) and Bartolomeo Cavalcanti’s manual on oratory La retorica (1558). The present article unveils this neglected aspect of Cinquecento theories of music and emotion and explores its relevance to the Italian madrigal. Specifically, I propose the importance to sixteenth-century conversations about music and the affetti of what I call the two-stage model of emotional arousal, a paradigm according to which the onset of emotion in any listener takes place in two phases: first, a subtle inclination toward a given emotion; and second, the true “movement” of the soul that constitutes the emotion itself. Hitherto unidentified in both musicology and the humanities in general, this model stems, I show, from the ancient rhetorical tradition, with Aristotle’s Rhetoric its probable fons et origo. After tracing the model’s influence across a corpus of literary and theoretical texts, I study its implications for musical analysis in a madrigal cycle by Giaches de Wert on stanzas by Tasso: “Vezzosi augelli,” “Qual musico gentil,” and “Forsennata gridava,” all from the composer’s Ottavo libro de madrigali (1586). This case study invites reconsideration of staple text-setting devices of the genre, including declamatory homophony and the madrigalism.

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