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 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.

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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?  


 In responding to your peers, state whether or not you agree with their assessment of the work they chose, and explain why. Answer the same questions you answered about your own chosen work: Would the musical work have had the same effect had the composer 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?  

Also discuss whether the techniques used today for word painting are similar to “As Vesta Was Descending” from the Renaissance.



The United State national anthem has some words that are painted with music to depict word.

It’s noticeable at 0:19-0:22″At the twilight’s last gleaming” where the tone seems to begin dying down downwards.

It’s also a similar case at 0:34-0:37 “were so gallantly streaming”

But then it jumps heavily up high at 0:38-0:45 “And the rocket red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Where the pitch just jumps a step higher.

At 1:01, “banner yet wave” seems as though it was dragged out and altering pitches to simulate a flag waving in the air.

It’s also the same case at 1:07 “Land of the free”

I think the musical work for this song would not have the same effect if the composer had not attempted to implement word painting based on Francis Scott Key’s lyrics’ star spangled banner in 1814. But in terms of whether if there are other sections of the song where word painting could have been used to create a better effect is hard to say. While do I think the word painting did affect the feelings expressed in this work. I think it’s important to mention that Key’s star spangled banner is more of a poem rather than a musical lyric and therefore didn’t have any musical implementation. into it. It’s wasn’t adopted as the U.S. national anthem until 1931. And when it did become the national anthem, the associated music was actually entirely based (or copied) from a song called “To Anacreon in heaven”, a British drinking song in the early 1770’s by a man named John Stafford Smith; a man that was part of a drinking group. So if judgment about whether if word painting could be used better in parts of the U.S. anthem, then it would be based on this song first I think.


 For this week’s discussion, I chose one of my all time favorite songs. Though written, and beautifully performed originally by Leonard Cohen, the cover that I was first exposed to and fell in love with is the one by Rufus Wainwright. (Yes, the one from Shrek.) This song is one of my favorites to perform at my singing gigs and has some great word painting in it. During the first verse, the melody matches the lyrics which outline the chord progression: “It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift”. The lyrics paint the rise and fall of the music and the changes in the chords throughout the first verse that follow for each of the remaining verses. Also, each corresponding line in the following verses seems to reach an emotional climax before the melody drops again for the last line, which always ends in the word Hallelujah, and signifies the contradiction to the happiness or exuberance that Hallelujah usually represents. The result is a hauntingly emotional piece that impacts the melancholy message in the song. Again, I am entirely biased because I absolutely love this song, but I think the use of word painting transcends the music into something far more emotionally powerful than it would have been without it.

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