The madrigal was the most important secular form of music of its time, it bloomed especially in the second half of the 16th century and lost its importance by the midst of the 17th century, when it vanished through the rise of newer secular forms as the opera and merged with the cantata and the dialogue.
Its rise started with the Primo libro di Madrigali of Philippe Verdelot, published in 1533 in Venice, which was the first book of madrigals at all. It was a great success and the form spread rapidly, first in Italy and up to the end of the century everywhere in Europe. Especially in England the madrigal was highly appreciated since the publication of Nicholas Yonge's Musica Transalpina in 1588, a collection of Italian madrigals with translated texts and started a madrigal-culture of its own.
Late madrigalists were particularly ingenious with so-called "madrigalisms" -- passages in which the music assigned to a particular word expresses its meaning, for example, setting riso (smile) to a passage of quick, running notes which imitate laughter, or sospiro (sigh) to a note which falls to the note below. The most important of them are certainly Carlo Gesualdo and Claudio Monteverdi, who integrated in 1605 the basso continuo into the form and composed the book Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (Madrigals of War and Love), probably the perfection of the form.
Composers of soon madrigals