The frottola is the predominant type of Italian popular, secular song of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century. It is the most important and widespread predecessor to the madrigal. The peak of activity in composition of frottolas was the period from 1470 to 1530, at which time the form was replaced by the madrigal.
While "frottola" is a generic term, several subcategories can be recognized, as would be expected of a musical form which was used for approximately a hundred years, maintaining immense popularity for more than half of that time. Most typically, a frottola is a composition for three or four voices (more towards the end of the period), with the uppermost voice containing the melody: instrumental accompaniments may have been used. The poem usually has a rhyme scheme of abba for a ripresa (reprise), and a stanza of cdcdda or cdcddeea, though there is much variation between subtypes of frottola. Most likely the poetic forms are descended from the fourteenth-century ballata, though the music shows a startling simplification from late fourteenth-century practice.
Musically, the frottola avoids contrapuntal complexity, preferring homophonic textures, clear and repetitive rhythms, and a narrow melodic range. It was an important predecessor not only to the madrigal, but to much later practices in the Baroque era such as monody, since it anticipates chordal accompaniment, has the melody in the highest voice, and shows an early feeling for what later developed into functional harmony.
Very little is known about performance practice. Contemporary editions are sometimes for multiple voices, with or without lute tablature; occasionally keyboard scores survive. Frottolas may have been performed as solo voice with lute accompaniment--certainly Marchetto Cara may have performed them this way at the Gonzaga court, as is implied by his renown as lutenist, singer, and composer of frottolas--and they also may have been performed by other combinations of singers and instruments as well.
The most famous composers of frottola were Bartolomeo Tromboncino and Marchetto Cara, although some of the popular secular compositions of Josquin (for example Scaramella and El Grillo) are stylistically frottolas, though not in name.
Composers of frottolas include:
- Bartolomeo Tromboncino
- Marchetto Cara
- Filippo de Lurano
- Michele Pesenti
- Michele Vicentino
- Giovanni Brocco
- Antonio Caprioli
- Francesco d'Ana
- Lodovico Fogliano
- Giacomo Fogliano
- Erasmus Lapicida
Except for Tromboncino and Cara, who were extremely famous, very little is known about most of these composers; in many cases only their names survive, and those because Petrucci, the prominent Venetian publisher, included their names in collections containing their music.
- Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. (ISBN 0393095304)
- The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. (ISBN 1561591742)
- The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Randel. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0674615255