The brief life of the madrigal comedy spans the forty-year period from 1590 to 1630. Coming at the end of the sixteenth century, the genre marked the decline of the polyphonic madrigal style and heralded the evolution of secular vocal music's emphasis on the dramatic. As a genre, the madrigal comedy is not well known, and its designation can lead to confusion, because the term refers to collections of compositions that need not consist of madrigals or by themselves form comedies. Nevertheless it is a term that retains some usefulness in isolating a body of works from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that share common elements. Not until the most recent edition of Grove's Dictionary was there an entry under the heading ‘Madrigal Comedy’; earlier editions had described such works as madrigal operas, clearly an even more problematic term. The brief life of the genre – from Orazio Vecchi's Selva di varia recreatione of 1590 to Banchieri's last publication, the Trattenimenti da villa of 1630 – as well as the variety of types of composition and of musical style to be found in these collections, and the fact that there are so few of them, make it particularly difficult to define more narrowly or more precisely.
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