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1580s, from French villanelle, from Italian villanella "ballad, rural song," from fem. of villanello "rustic," from Medieval Latin villanus (see villain). As a poetic form, five 3-lined stanzas and a final quatrain, with only two rhymes throughout, usually of pastoral or lyric nature.
rustic song in Italy, where the term originated (Italian villanella from villano: "peasant"); the term was used in France to designate a short poem of popular character favoured by poets in the late 16th century. Du Bellay's "Vanneur de Ble" and Philippe Desportes' "Rozette" are examples of this early type, unrestricted in form. Jean Passerat (died 1602) left several villanelles, one so popular that it set the pattern for later poets and, accidentally, imposed a rigorous and somewhat monotonous form: seven-syllable lines using two rhymes, distributed in (normally) five tercets and a final quatrain with line repetitions.
16th-century Italian rustic part-song, usually for three unaccompanied voices, having no set form other than the presence of a refrain. The villanella was most often written in chordal style with clear, simple rhythm. Traditional rules of composition were sometimes broken; for instance, the normally forbidden movement of voices in parallel fifths was common in the villanella. The villanella was not a folk form but a reaction against the more refined madrigal, often parodying well-known madrigal texts and music.