« Hecla, whose sulfurious fire Doth melt the frozen clime and thaw the sky »: Musical Representations of Extreme Natural Phenomena in Early Modern English Madrigals and Lute-songs

Climate-based metaphors are far from being unusual in Renaissance love poetry and lyrics, but just like the Petrarchan similes that took Europe by storm, they soon became relatively stale and lost their unexpectedness: the flames of love and volcanic passions, the storms of unrequited affections and the bolts of lightning struck by lovers’ eyes often come over as sterile or artificial. Musical figuralism and word-painting however often have the ability to give them life, as in the case of the famous madrigal by Thomas Weelkes, « Thule, the Period of Cosmography », in which  the musical lines match the extremes of hot and cold spewed forth by the Icelandic volcano Hekla, at the time often referred to as the « Gate of Hell ». This paper will examine the musical realizations of natural disasters both in the intimate settings favoured by the Elizabethan and Jacobean period, and in some court Masques where the violent contrasts suggested by such extreme phenomena could be used to great dramatic effect.

Chantal Schütz (École Polytechnique)


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