During the Renaissance, “word painting” became a popular musical technique. Composers attempted to use
music to depict words. For example, if singing about a mountain, the voice may go up and then come down,
just like the shape of a mountain. If singing about a valley, the voice would go down and then come up. If
singing about rabbits hopping in a field, every time the word “hop” is sung, the voice might jump to a high note,
then back down to where it was originally.
Chapter 3 in Connect, “Secular Music in the Renaissance,” features a listening guide to “As Vesta Was
Descending” by Thomas Weelkes. This madrigal is in English and the words being “painted” are in italics so
that you may both see and hear the word painting.
Find a piece of music on YouTube (popular and personally familiar music is acceptable) that employs word
painting, and share it with the class by embedding the video.
In your initial prompt, discuss what words are being “painted.” You may use the timer on YouTube to point out
where in the song these moments occur. Would the musical work have had the same effect if the composer
had not used word painting? Are there other sections of the song where word painting could have been used to
create a better effect? Did word painting affect the feelings expressed in this work, or was it unnecessary?