Some Forerunners of Italian Opera
by William James Henderson
Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The residence of Josquin des Pres in Italy doubtless had an immense influence on the development of the Italian madrigal, but at a period later than that of Poliziano's "Orfeo" and of the best of the frottole. Josquin was a singer in the Sistine Chapel in 1484 and his first successes as a composer were obtained in Rome. Later he went to Ferrara where he wrote for the Duke Ercole d'Este his famous mass, "Hercules Dux Ferrariae." But these activities of Josquin had little relation to the frottola.

The point to be made here is that, at the time when Poliziano's "Orfeo" was produced at Mantua, the Italian madrigal was in its infancy, while its plebian parent, the frottola was in the lusty vigor of its maturity. At the same time the popularity of part song was established in Italy and music of this type was employed even for the most convivial occasions. This is proved by the position which the variety of frottola, called "carnival song," occupied in the joyous festivities of the Italians. Note the narrative (not wholly inexact) of Burney:

"Historians relate that Lorenzo il Magnifico in carnival time used to go out in the evening, followed by a numerous company of persons on horseback, masked and richly dressed, amounting sometimes to upwards of three hundred, and the same number on foot with wax tapers burning in their hands. In this manner they marched through the city till three or four o'clock in the morning, singing songs, ballads, madrigals, catches or songs of humor upon subjects then in vogue, with musical harmony, in four, eight, twelve, and even fifteen parts, accompanied with various instruments; and these, from being performed in carnival time, were called Canti Carnascialesci."[23]

[Footnote 23: "The Present State of Music in France and Italy," by Charles Burney. London, 1773.]

Burney errs in supposing that these songs were written in so many parts. Three and four parts were the rule; five parts were extremely rare. The actual words of Il Lasca, who wrote the introduction to the collection of Triumphs and Carnival Songs published in Florence, 1559, are: "Thus they traversed the city, singing to the accompaniment of music arranged for four, eight, twelve or even fifteen voices, supported by various instruments." This would not necessarily mean what musicians call "fifteen real parts." The subject has been exhaustively and learnedly studied by Ambros,[24] who has examined the frottola in all its varieties. He has given several examples and among them he calls attention to a particularly beautiful number (without text) for five voices. This, he is certain, is one of the carnival songs which Heinrich Isaak was wont to write at the pleasure of Lorenzo.

[Footnote 24: "Geschichte der Musik" von August Wilhelm Ambros. Leipsic, 1880.]

The source of our knowledge of the frottola music is nine volumes of these songs, averaging sixty-four to the volume, published by Petrucci at Venice between 1504 and 1509, and a book of twenty-two published at Rome by Junta in 1526. Ambros's study of these works convinced him that the composers "while not having actually sat in the school of the Netherlanders, had occasionally listened at the door." The composers of the frottole showed sound knowledge of the ancient rules of ligature and the correct use of accidentals; on the other hand it is always held by the writers of the early periods that an elaborately made frottola is no longer a frottola, but a madrigal. Thus Cerone[25] in the twelfth book of his "Melopeo" gives an account of the manner of composing frottole. He demands for this species of song a simple and easily comprehended harmony, such as appears only in common melodies. So we see that a frottola is practically a folk song artistically treated.

[Footnote 25: "El Melopeo y Maestro," by Dominic Pierre Cerone. Naples, 1613. (Quoted here from Ambros.)]

"He who puts into a frottola fugues, imitations, etc., is like one who sets a worthless stone in gold. A frottola thus ennobled would become a madrigal, while a madrigal, all too scantily treated, would sink to a frottola." A typical frottola by Scotus shows observance of Cerone's requirements.

[Musical Notation]

These compositions are what we would call part songs and they are usually constructed in simple four-part harmony, without fugato passages or imitations. When imitations do appear, they are secondary and do not deal with the fundamental melodic ideas of the song. Nothing corresponding to subject and answer is found in these works. If we turn from a frottola to a motet by the same composer, we meet at once the device of canonic imitation and with it a clearly different artistic purpose. These composers evidently did not expect the people to be such accomplished musicians as the singers of the trained choirs.

"Indeed, the frottola descended by an extremely easy transition to the villanelle, a still more popular form of composition and one marked by even less relationship to the counterpoint of the low countries. At the time of the full development of the madrigal the serious and humorous elements which dwelt together in the frottola separated completely. The purely sentimental and idealistic frottola became the madrigal; the clearly humorous frottola became the villanelle. When these two clearly differentiated species were firmly established, the frottola disappeared.

"The madrigal existed as early as the fourteenth century, but its general spread dates from the time of Adrian Willaert (1480-1562). The madrigal was originally a pastoral song, but the form came to be utilized for the expression of varied sentiments and it was treated with a musicianship which advanced it toward the more stately condition of the 'durchcomponirt' motet. In the villanelle the influence of the strophic folk song is clearly perceptible. The frottola to a certain extent stood in the middle. It is sung verse by verse, but its musical scheme is almost always conceived in a much broader spirit than that of the villanelle and gives to it almost the appearance of a durchcomponirt work. But the systematic repetition of certain couplets in the manner of a refrain occasions the recurrence of whole musical periods. Thus does the frottola acquire from its text that architectural shape which places it in marked contrast to the swift-paced and fluid contrapuntal chanson of the Netherlanders. Its rhythm and accents are arranged not by the needs of contrapuntal development, but by the meter of the line and the accent of the Italian tongue. This appears most prominently in the upper voice part, where often the controlling melody seems ready to break quite through in pure song style, but only partly succeeds. In the texture of the voices all kinds of imitations appear, but only subordinated and in very modest setting.

"All this was a part of the steady progress toward monody, the final goal of Italian musical art, where, in extreme contrast to the Netherlandish subordination to school, the emergence and domination of individuality, the special and significant distinction of the Renaissance, were taking shape. Hence Castiglione in his 'Cortegiano' gives preference to the one-voiced song ('recitar alla lira') and it was quite natural that we find in the Petrucci collection frottole originally composed for four voices now appearing as soprano solos with lute accompaniment, the latter being arranged from the other three voices."[26]

[Footnote 26: This passage is not a literal quotation, but partly a paraphrase and partly a condensation of the text of Ambros.]

Castiglione (1478-1529) wrote somewhat later than the period of Poliziano. The "Cortegiano" dates from 1514, though it was not published till a few years later, and the frottola was at the zenith of its excellence in the time of Bernado Tromboncino, who belongs to the latter half of the fifteenth century. But the frottola was well established before the date of Poliziano's "Orfeo," for minor Italian composers had poured forth a mass of small lyrics for which they found their models in the polyphonic secular songs of Antoine de Busnois (1440-1482) and others of the Netherlands school, especially such writers as Loyset Compere, of St. Quentin, who died in 1518. Two of his frottole appear in the Petrucci collection, showing that he was acquainted with this Italian form, and that his productions in it were known and admired in Italy. His frottole are distinguished by uncommon grace and gaiety, for the frottola was generally rather passionate and melancholy, and full of what Castiglione called "flebile dolcezza."

In view, then, of the state of part song composition in Italy at the time when Poliziano's "Orfeo" was written we are safe in assuming that its two choral numbers were set to music of the frottola type. The use of the refrains, "l'aria di pianti" in the first, and "Ciascun segua, O Bacco, te," in the second, is an additional influence in moving us toward this conclusion because we know that it was the employment of the refrain which helped to lead the frottola toward the strophic form of the song. We are, moreover, justified in concluding from the character of the final chorus that it was a ballata or dance song and hence a frottola of the carnival song variety. No student of classic literature will need any demonstration of the probability that the Maenads in their Bacchic invocation danced; and here we have in all likelihood the origin of that fashion of concluding operas with a chorus and a dance which survived as late as Mozart's "Die Zauberfloete."


The Solos of the "Orfeo"

The failure of the vocal solo in the field of artistic music of Europe might be traced to the establishment of the unisonal chant in the service of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet in defining such ground we should easily be led to exaggerate the importance of the solo. In the infancy of modern music the solo existed only in the folk song, in the rhapsodies of religious ecstatics and in the uncertain lyrics of the minnesingers and troubadours. Of these the folk song, and the troubadour lyrics had some musical figure, out of which a clear form might have been developed. But, as all students of musical history know, the study of the art originated among the fathers of the church and in their pursuit of principles of structure they chose a path which led them directly away from the rhythmic and strophic basis of the song and into the realm of polyphonic imitation. The vocal solo had no place in their system and hence it never appears in the art music of their time.

Consequently the advent of the dramatic recitative introduced by Peri, Caccini and Cavaliere appears to be a striking phenomenon in the growth of music, and we are easily induced to believe that this new species burst upon the artistic firmament like a meteor. The truth is, however, that the vague desire for solo expression had made itself felt in music for centuries before the Florentine movement. The real significance of the Florentine invention was its destruction of the musical shackles which had so long hampered the advance toward truthful utterance.

We read frequently that the first instance of solo singing was the delivery of a madrigal of Corteccia in a play of 1539. The character Sileno sang the upper part and accompanied himself on the violone, while the lower parts were given to other instruments. But this was nothing new. This kind of solo was considerably older than Sileno and the performance of Baccio Ugolino in Poliziano's "Orfeo" was unquestionably of the same type. And this manner of delivering a solo, which Castiglione called "recitar alla lira," was a descendant of the art of singing with lute accompaniment which was well known in the fourteenth century.

Doubtless Casella, who was born in 1300 and set to music Dante's sonnet "Amor che nella mente," was one of the cantori a liuto. Minuccio d'Arezzo, mentioned by Boccaccio, was another. Here again we must recur to the observations of Burney and the examinations of Ambros. The former records that in the Vatican there is a poem by Lemmo of Pistoja, with the note "Casella diede il suono." It is likely that this musician was well known in Italy and that he would not have had to rely for his immortality upon the passing mention of a poet if the art of notation had been more advanced in his day.

The story of Minuccio, as told by Boccaccio, is this. A young maiden of Palermo, seized with violent love for the King, begged Minuccio to help her. Not being a verse-maker himself, he hastened to the poet Mico of Siena, who wrote a poem setting forth the maiden's woes. This Minuccio set at once to exquisite and heart-moving music and sang it for the King to the accompaniment of his own viol. The poem is in the main strophic and the melody is of similar nature. Whether Boccaccio or Mico wrote the poem matters not in the historical sense. The important facts are that such a poem exists and that a hint as to its music has come down to us.

In the "Decameron" we are told often how some one or other of the personages sings to the company. Sometimes it is a dance song, as for example the "Io son si vaga della mia bellezza." To this all the others spontaneously dance while singing the refrain in chorus. Another time the queen of the day, Emilia, invites Dioneo to sing a canzona. There is much pretty banter, while Dioneo teases the women by making false starts at several then familiar songs. In another place Dioneo with lute and Fiametta with viol play a dance. Again one sings while Dioneo accompanies her on the lute.

Thus Boccaccio in his marvelous portraiture of the social life of his time has casually handed down to us invaluable facts about vocal and instrumental music. There is no question that Ambros is fully justified in his conclusion that the cantori a liuto were a well-marked class of musicians. They were vocal soloists and often improvisatori, clearly differentiated from the cantori a libro, who were "singers by book and note" and who sang the polyphonic art music of the time.

It is pretty well established that the songs of Dante were everywhere known and sung. We have reason to believe that many of those of Boccaccio were also familiar to the people. We may also feel confident that when most of the Italian lute singers of the time had acquired sufficient skill to make their own poems as well as their own melodies, they followed the models provided in the verses of the great masters. What is still more important for us to note is that these lyrics were strophical and that they were no further removed from the folk song of the era than the frottola was. Indeed they bore a closer resemblance to the frottola. They differed in that they were solos with instrumental accompaniment instead of being part songs unaccompanied.

But this difference is not so important as it appears. The part song method was at the basis of all these old lute songs. This is well proved by the fact that before the end of the century the device of turning part songs into solo pieces with lute accompaniment had become quite familiar. It was so common that we are driven to something more substantial than a mere suspicion that Casella and Minuccio employed a similar method and that the domination of polyphonic thought in music had spread from the regions occupied by the church compositions of Dufay and his contemporaries downward into the secular fancies of people whose daily thought was influenced by the authority of the church.

Furthermore this method of turning part songs into solos survived until the era of the full fledged madrigal dramas of Vecchi in the latter part of the sixteenth century, and at what may be called the golden era of the frottola was generally and successfully applied to that species of composition. Whatever the troubadours and minnesingers may have done toward establishing a metrical melodic form of monophonic character was soon obliterated by the swift popularity of part singing and the immense vogue of the secular songs of the polyphonic composers. When the desire for the vocal solo made itself felt in the exquisitely sensuous life of medieval Italy, it found its only gratification in the easy art of adaptation. In such scenes as those described by Boccaccio and much later by Castiglione there was no incentive to artistic reform, no impulse to creative activity.

We find ourselves, then, equipped with these significant facts: first, that the composition of secular music in polyphonic forms was at least as old as the thirteenth century; that part singing was practised in Italy as far back as the fourteenth century; that songs for one voice were made with Italian texts at least as early as the time of Dante and Boccaccio; that the art of arranging polyphonic compositions as vocal solos by giving the secondary parts to the accompanying instrument was known in the time of Minuccio and Casella; that at the time of Poliziano's "Orfeo" the frottola was the reigning form of part song, and that then and for years afterward it was customary to arrange frottole as solos by giving the polyphony to the lute or other accompanying instrument.

It seems, then, that we shall not be far astray if we conclude that the solo parts of Poliziano's lyric drama consisted of music of the better frottola type and that the moving appeals of his hero were accompanied on a "lyre" of the period in precisely the same manner as frottole transformed into vocal solos were accompanied on the lute. For these reasons an example of the method of arranging a frottola for voice and lute will give us some idea of the character of the music sung by Baccio Ugolino in the "Orfeo." The examples here offered are those given in the great history of Ambros. The first is a fragment of a frottola (composed by Tromboncino) in its original shape. The second shows the same music as arranged for solo voice and lute by Franciscus Bossinensis as found in a collection published by Petrucci in 1509.

[Musical Notation: two excerpts]

How far removed this species of lyric solo was from the dramatic recitative of Peri and Caccini is apparent at a single glance. But on the other hand it is impossible to be blind to its relationship to the more metrical arioso of Monteverde's earlier work or perhaps to the canzone of Caccini's "Nuove Musiche." The line of development or progress is distinctly traceable. At this point it is not essential that we should satisfy ourselves that the solo songs of Caccini were descendants of the lyrics of the cantori a liuto, for when the two species are placed in juxtaposition the lineage is almost unmistakable. What we do need to remember here is that the method of the lute singers entered fully into the construction of the score—if it may be so called—of Poliziano's "Orfeo" and passed from that to the madrigal drama and was there brought under the reformatory experiments of Galilei and his contemporaries. This subject must be discussed more fully in a later chapter.

The first lyric number of the "Orfeo," that sung by Aristaeus, is plainly labeled "canzona," and was, therefore, without doubt a song made after the manner of the lutenists. The words "forth from thy wallet take thy pipe" indicate that a wind instrument figured in this number. What sort of instrument we shall inquire in the next chapter. At present we may content ourselves with assuming that no highly developed solo part was assigned to it. The existence of such a part would imply the co-existence of considerable musicianship on the part of the pipe player and of an advanced technic in the composition of instrumental obbligati. It might also presuppose the existence of a system of notation much better than that of the fifteenth century. But this is a point about which we cannot be too sure.

The decision must be sought in the general state of music at the time. The learned masters cultivated only a capella choral music, and the unlearned imitated them. There was no systematic study of instrumental composition. Even the organ had as yet acquired no independent office, but simply supported voices by doubling their notes. It seems unlikely, then, that the pipe in "Orfeo" could have had a real part. What it probably did was to repeat as a sort of ritornello the clearly marked refrain of the song. This would have been thoroughly in keeping with the growing tendency of the frottola to use refrains and advance toward strophical form.

The lyre, with which Baccio Ugolino as Orfeo accompanied himself, may have been a cithara, but the probabilities are that it was not. As late as the time of Praetorius's great work (Syntagma Musicum) the word "lyra" was used to designate certain instruments of close relationship to the viol family. Praetorius tells us that there were two kinds of Italian lyres. The large lyre, called lirone perfetto, or arce violyra, was in structure like the bass of the viola da gamba, but that the body and the neck on account of the numerous strings were somewhat wider. Some had twelve, some fourteen and some even sixteen strings, so that madrigals and compositions both chromatic and diatonic could be performed and a fine harmony produced. The small lyre was like the tenor viola di braccio and was called the lyra di braccio. It had seven strings, two of them outside the finger board and the other five over it. Upon this instrument also certain harmonized compositions could be played. The pictures of these two lyres show that they looked much like viols and were played with bows.[27] An eighth century manuscript shows an instrument with a body like a mandolin, a neck without frets and a small bow. This instrument is entitled "lyra" in the manuscript. If now we come down to the period when the modern opera was taking form we learn that Galilei sang his own "Ugolino" monody and accompanied himself on the viola. Various pictures show us that small instruments of the bowed varieties were used by the minnesingers, and again by jongleurs in the fifteenth century. Early Italian painters put such instruments into the hands of angels and carvers left them for us to see, as in the cathedral of Amiens. In fact there is every reason to believe that the wandering poets and minstrels of the Middle Ages used the small vielle, rebek or lyre for their accompaniments much oftener than the harp, which was more cumbersome and a greater impediment in traveling.

[Footnote 27: Michael Praetorius, "Syntagma Musicum," vol. ii, Organographia. Wolfenbuettel, 1619-20.]

The instruments used to support song, that of the troubadour or that of a Casella, or later still that of a Galilei, being of the same lineage, the only novelty was the adaptation to them of the lutenist's method of arranging polyphonic music for one voice with accompaniment. That this offered no large difficulties is proved by the account of Praetorius. If at the close of the sixteenth century chromatic compositions, which were then making much progress, could be performed on a bowed lyre, there is no reason to think that in Poliziano's time there would have been much labor in arranging frottola melodies for voice and lyra di braccio. It is safe to assume that the instrument to which Baccio Ugolino was wont to improvise and which was therefore utilized in "Orfeo" was the lyra di braccio and that del Lungo's imaginative picture must be corrected by the substitution of the bow for the plectrum. We have not even recourse to the supposition that Ugolino may have employed the pizzicato since that was not invented till after his day by Monteverde.

We are, however, compelled to conclude that Baccio Ugolino preceded Corteccia in this manner of solo, afterwards called "recitar alla lira." We may now reconstruct for ourselves the classic scene with Orpheus "singing on the hill to his lyre" the verses "O meos longum modulata lusus." The music was the half melancholy, half passionate melody of some wandering Italian frottola which readily fitted itself to the sonorous Sapphics. The accompaniment on the mellow lyra di braccio, one of the tender sisters of the viola, was a simplified version of the subordinate voice parts of the frottola. And perchance there were even other instruments, an embryonic orchestra. Here, indeed, we must pause lest reconstructive ardor carry us too far. We must content ourselves with the conclusion that the vocal music of the entire drama was simple in melodic structure, for such was the character of the part music out of which it was made. It was certainly well fitted to be one of the parents of the recitative of Peri and Caccini with the church chant as the other.


The Orchestra of the "Orfeo"

That there was some sort of an orchestra in the "Orfeo" is probable, though it is not wholly certain. The letter of the Envoy Pauluzo on the performance of Ariosto's "Suppositi" at the Vatican in March, 1518, has already been quoted. From this we learn that there was an orchestra containing fifes, bag-pipes, two cornets, some viols and lutes and a small organ. It is a pity that Pauluzzo did not record the number of stringed instruments in order that we might have some idea of the balance of this orchestra. On the other hand, as there was no system of orchestration at that time, we might not learn much from the enumeration. Rolland, in commenting on this letter, says, as we have already noted, that this was the type of musical plays performed in Italy at least as far back as the time of Poliziano. There is no imperative demand that Rolland's statement on this point should be accepted as authoritative, for his admirable book is without evidence that the author gave this matter any special attention. On the other hand it is almost certain that his assertion contains the truth. All the instruments mentioned by him were in use long before the date of the "Orfeo." Furthermore assemblies of instruments played together, as we well know. But we are without data as to what they played, and are driven to the conclusion that since there was no separate composition for instruments till near the close of the sixteenth century, the performance of the early assemblies of instruments must have been devoted to popular songs or dances of the time. A little examination into the character of these early "orchestras" may serve to throw light on the nature of the instrumental accompaniments in Poliziano's "Orfeo."

Symonds's description of the performance of Cecchi's "Esaltazione della Croce," already quoted in Chapter III, shows us that in 1589 a sacred representation had an orchestra of viols, lutes, horns and organ, that it played an interlude with special music composed by Luca Bati, and that it also accompanied a solo allotted to the Deity. Another interlude showed David dancing to lute, viol, trombone and harp. It is evident, therefore, that at a period a century after that of the "Orfeo" there was a certain sort of orchestra. But this period was somewhat later than that of Striggio, who had already employed orchestras of considerable variety. In his "La Cofanaria" (1566) he used two gravicembali, four viols, two trombones, two straight flutes, one cornet, one traverso and two lutes, and in a motet composed in 1569 he had eight viols, eight trombones, eight flutes, an instrument of the spinet family and a large lute, together with voices. To delve backward from this point is not so easy as it looks, yet however far back we may choose to go we cannot fail to find evidences that assemblies of instruments were employed, sometimes to accompany voices and again to play independently.

The antiquity of music at banquets, for example, is attested by sayings as old as Solomon, by bitter comments of Plato, by the account of Xenophon and by passages in the comedies of Aristophanes. The instrumental music at banquets in Plato's time was that of Greek girl flute players and harpers. Early in the Middle Ages the banquet music consisted of any collection of instruments that chanced to be at hand. In an ancient manuscript in the National Library of Paris there is a picture of Heinrich of Meissen, the minnesinger (born 1260), conducting a choir of singers and instrumental performers. The instruments are viols and wooden wind instruments of the schalmei family. A bas relief in the church of St. Gregory at Boscherville in Normandy shows an orchestra of several players. This relief is of the twelfth century. It presents first on the left a king who plays a three-stringed gamba, which he holds between his knees, like a violoncello. A woman performer handles an organistrum, a sort of large hurdy-gurdy, sometimes (as apparently in this case) requiring two players, one for the crank and another for the stops. Then comes a man with a pandean pipe, next another with a semicircular harp and then one with a portable organ. Next comes a performer on a round-bodied fiddle (the usual form of the instrument at that time). Next to him is a harper, using a plectrum, and at the right end of the group is a pair of players, man and woman, performing on a glockenspiel. This orchestra was probably playing for dancing, as no singers are in sight.

In a fifteenth century breviary reposing in the library of Brussels there is a representation of a similar orchestra, and this brings us nearer to the era of Poliziano's "Orfeo." The instruments are harp, lute, dulcimer, hurdy-gurdy, double flute, pommer (an ancient oboe form), bag-pipe, trombone, portable organ, triangle and a straight flute with its accompanying little tambour. One of the musicians did not play, but beat time as a director. It is interesting to make a brief comparison between the two representations, for this shows the novelties which entered between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries. The lute, the trombone, the pommer and the triangle were new acquisitions. If now we refer again to the orchestra of 1518 mentioned by Pauluzo we shall seem to have gone backward. But the truth must be clear to all students that these orchestras were not brought together with any definite musical design. They consisted of the players who chanced to be at hand. Even the letter of the Duke of Milan in 1473 (see Chapter III), in which he announces his intention of engaging a good orchestra from Rome, can hardly mean anything more than a purpose to get as many good instrumentalists as he could.[28]

[Footnote 28: "Although the existence of 'Orfeo' as an opera appears to me to be problematical, there would be nothing impossible about the construction of a tragedy accompanied by music, because instruments were cultivated in Italy more than in France. Before that epoch the Medici had given concerts at Florence. Giovanni de Medici died in 1429, and Cosimo, who succeeded him and reigned till 1464, gave at the Pitti Palace concerts where there were as many as four hundred musicians. Under his successors and before the death of Alexander de' Medici in 1537, the violinists Pietro Caldara and Antonio Mazzini were often the objects of veritable ovations, and about the same time, 1536, at Venice, was played a piece called 'Il Sacrificio,' in which violins sustained the principal parts."—"Les Origines de l'Opera et le Ballet de la Reine," par Ludovic Celler. Paris, 1868.]

While, then, it must be confessed that no conclusive evidence can be produced that an orchestra was employed in the "Orfeo," the indications are strong that there was one. We may assume without much fear of error that it was used only to accompany the choral numbers and the dance and that in fulfilling the last mentioned function it was heard to the best advantage. Years after the period of the "Orfeo" of Poliziano independent instrumental forms had not yet been developed. Fully a century later compositions "da cantare e sonare" betray to us the fact that bodies of instruments performing without voices merely played the madrigals which at other times were sung. Such compositions were not conceived in the instrumental idiom and must have floated in an exceedingly thin atmosphere when separated from text and the expressive nuances of the human tone. But the music of the dance was centuries old and it had in all eras been sung by instruments, as well as by voices. The invasion of the realm of popular melody by crude imitations of the polyphonic devices of the Netherlanders could not have crushed out the melodic and rhythmic basis of dance music and this had fitted itself to the utterance of instruments. We are therefore justified in believing that if the accompaniment of the first chorus in the "Orfeo" was superfluous and vague that of the final ballata must have been clearer in character and better suited to the nature of the scene. The dance following the ballata must have been effective. The instruments were most probably lutes, viols, flute, oboe, and possibly bag-pipe, hurdy-gurdy and little organ.

We have already inquired into the nature of the instrument which Baccio Ugolino carried on the stage and with which after the manner of the minstrels of his time he accompanied himself. It remains now only to ask what was the pipe which the shepherd Aristaeus mentions in the first scene. It was probably not a flageolet, though that instrument suggests itself as particularly appropriate to the episode. But the good Dr. Burney says that the flageolet was invented by the Sieur Juvigny, who played it in the "Ballet Comique de la Royne," the first French pastoral opera, in 1581. It could have been a recorder, the ancestor of the flageolet, which was probably in use in the fourteenth and surely in the fifteenth century. But more probably it was one of the older reed instruments of the oboe family, the pommer or possibly a schalmei. The schalmei is mentioned as far back as Sebastian Virdung's "Musica getuscht und ausgezogen" (1511). Its ancestor was probably the zamr-el-kebyr, an Oriental reed instrument. The schalmei was developed into a whole family, enumerated by Praetorius in the work already mentioned. The highest of these, the little schalmei, was seldom used, but the "soprano schalmei is the primitive type of the modern oboe."[29]

[Footnote 29: See "A Note on Oboes," by Philip Hale. Programme Books of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, season of 1905-06, p. 644.]

It is thus tolerably certain that the instrumental tone used to voice the pastoral character of the scene was the same as that which Beethoven used in his "Pastoral" symphony, as Berlioz used in his "Fantastic," as Gounod used in his "Faust," and that thus at least one element of the instrumental embodiment of Poliziano's story has come down to us.


From Frottola Drama to Madrigal

With such a simple and dignified beginning as that of the "Orfeo" how came the lyric drama of the next century to wander into such sensuous luxuriance, such spectacular extravagance of both action and music? In the drama of Poliziano the means employed, as well as the ends sought, were artistic and full of suggestions as to possible methods of development. But whereas the opera in the seventeenth century suffered from contact with the public, the lyric drama of the sixteenth was led into paths of dalliance by the dominant taste of splendor-loving courts. The character of this taste encouraged the development of the musical apparatus of the lyric drama toward opulent complexity, and the medium for this was found in the rapidly growing madrigal, which soon ruled the realm of secular music. In it the frottola, raised to an art form and equipped with the wealth of contrapuntal device, passed almost insensibly into a new life. Berlioz says that it takes a long time to discover musical Mediterraneans and still longer to learn to navigate them. The madrigal was a musical Mediterranean. It was the song of the people touched by the culture of the church. It was the priestly art of cathedral music transferred to the service of human emotion.

The Italian madrigal had a specifically Italian character. It followed the path of sensuous dalliance trod by the people of Boccaccio's tales. It differentiated itself from the secular song of the northern musicians as clearly as the architecture of Venice distinguished itself from all other Gothic art. Even in that era those characteristics which subsequently defined the racial and temperamental differences between the musical art of northern Europe and that of Italy were fully perceptible. The north moved steadily toward instrumental polyphony, Italy toward the individual utterance of the solo voice. That her first experiments were made in the popular madrigal form was to be expected. The "Orfeo" of Poliziano and his unknown musical associates set the model for a century. In the course of that century the irresistible drift of Italian art feeling, retarded as it was by the supreme vogue of musicians trained in the northern schools, moved steadily toward its destination, the solo melody, yet the end was not reached till the madrigal had worked itself to its logical conclusion, to wit, a demonstration of its own inherent weakness. We must not be blind to the fact that while the Netherland art at first powerfully affected that of Italy, the latter in the end reacted on the former, and these two influences crossed and recrossed in ways that demand the closest scrutiny of the analytical historian. But at this particular period that which immediately concerns us is the manner in which Italian musical art defined itself. The secret of the differentiation already mentioned must be sought in the powerful feeling of Gothic art for organization. Gothic architecture is above all things organic and Teutonic music has the same character. Its most Gothic form, the North German fugue, which is the instrumental descendant of the Netherlands church music, is the most closely organized of musical types. The Italian architecture, on the other hand, displayed an aversion for the infinite detail of Gothic methods and found its individual expression in the grand and patent relations of noble mass effects. This same feeling speedily found its way into Italian music, even that composed by the Netherland masters who had settled in Italy.

Adrian Willaert, who is often called the father of the madrigal (despite the fact that madrigals were written before he was born), became chapel master of St. Mark's, Venice, in 1527. He seized with avidity the suggestion offered by the existence of two organs in the cathedral and wrote great works "for two choruses of four voices each, so that the choruses could answer each other across the church. He paid much less attention to rigid canonic style than his predecessors had done because it was not suited to the kind of music which he felt was fitting for his church. He sought for grand, broad mass effects, which he learned could be obtained only by the employment of frequent passages in chords. So he began trying to write his counterpoint in such a way that the voice parts should often come together in successions of chords. In order to do this he was compelled to adopt the kind of formations still in use and the fundamental chord relations of modern music—the tonic, dominant and subdominant."[30]

[Footnote 30: From the present author's "How Music Developed." New York, 1898.]

In music of this kind there was no longer a field for the intricate working of canonically constructed voice parts. It must seek its chief results in the opposition of one choir against the other, not in multiplicity of voice parts, but in imposing contrasts as of "deep answering unto deep." The development of fundamental chord harmonies was inevitable and from them in the fullness of time was bound to spring the pure harmonic style. Chord successions without any melodic union cannot be long sustained, and the Italians, with the tentative achievements of the frottolists before them, were not long blind to this fact. Leone Battista Alberti, father of Renaissance architecture, in writing of his church of St. Francis at Rimini uses the expression "tutta questa musica." One understands him to mean the harmonious disposition of the parts of his design so that all "sound" together, as it were, for the artistic perception.

It was feeling of this same kind that led the apostles of the Netherlands school and their Italian pupils to follow the physical trend of all Italian art rather than struggle to impose upon it the shackles of an uncongenial intellectuality forged in the canonic shops of Ockeghem and his disciples. The seed of beauty had been sown by the mighty Josquin des Pres what time he was a Roman singer and a Mantuan composer. The fruit blossomed in the Renaissance music of Willaert, Cyprian de Rore and others and came to its perfection in the later works of Palestrina and Lasso. The resistless operation of the tendencies of the school was such that at the close of the sixteenth century we are suddenly confronted with the knowledge that all the details of polyphony so studiously cultivated by the northern schools have in Italy suddenly been packed away in a thorough bass supporting one voice which is permitted to proclaim itself in a proud individuality.

Yet if we permit ourselves to believe that the lyric solo made but a single spasmodic appearance in the "Orfeo" and had to be born again in the artistic conversion brought about by the labors of Galilei and Caccini, we shall be deceived. The fashion set by Poliziano's production was not wholly abandoned and throughout the remainder of the fifteenth and the whole of the sixteenth centuries there were productions closely related to it in style and construction. Not only is the slow assimilation of the mass of heterogeneous elements thrown together in these dramas not astonishing, but to the thoughtful student it must appear to be inevitable. On the one hand was the insatiable desire for voluptuous spectacle, for the lascivious pseudo-classicism of the pictorial dance, for the bewildering richness of movement which had originated in the earlier triumphal processions, and for the stupendous scenic apparatus made possible in the open air sacred plays. On the other was the widespread taste for part singing and the constantly growing skill of composers in adapting to secular ideas the polyphonic science of the church. Added to these elements was the imperative need of some method of imparting individuality of utterance to the principal characters in a play while at the same time strengthening their charm by the use of song.

For nearly a century, then, we find the lyric drama continuing to utilize the materials of the sacra rappresentazione as adapted to secular purposes by Poliziano, but with the natural results of the improvement in artistic device in music. It is not necessary here to enter into a detailed account of the growth of musical expression. Every student of the history of the art knows that many centuries were required to build up a technical praxis sufficient to enable composers to shape compositions in such a large form as the Roman Catholic mass. When the basic laws of contrapuntal technic had been codified, Josquin des Pres led the way to the production of music possessing a beauty purely musical. Then followed the next logical step, namely, the attempt to imitate externals. Such pieces as Jannequin's "Chant des Oiseaux" and Gombert's "Chasse du Lievre" are examples of what was achieved in this direction. Finally, Palestrina demonstrated the scope of polyphonic music in the expression of religious emotions at times bordering upon the dramatic in their poignancy.

We cannot well doubt that the Italians of the late sixteenth century felt the failure of their secular music to meet the demands of secular poetry as religious music was meeting those of the canticles of the church. The festal entertainments which had graced the marriages of princes had most of the machinery of opera, but they lacked the vital principle. They failed to become living art entities solely because they wanted the medium for the adequate publication of individuality. They made their march of a century on the very verge of the promised land, but they had to lose themselves in the bewitching wilderness of the madrigal drama before they found their Moses. It was the gradual growth of skill in musical expression that brought the way into sight, and that growth had to be effected by natural and logical processes, not by the discovery or by the world-moving genius of any one composer.

The Doric architecture of the frottola had to be developed into the Italian Renaissance style of the madrigal by the ripening of the craft of composers in adapting the music of ecclesiastical polyphony to the communication of worldly thought. Then the Renaissance style had to lose itself in the baroque struggles of the final period of the madrigal drama—struggles of artistic impulse against an impossible style of structure and the uncultivated taste of the auditors. Then and then only was the time for revolt and the revolt came.

In the meanwhile we may remark that the intense theatricalism of opera ought never to be a source of astonishment to any one who has studied the history of its origins. The supreme trait of the lyric drama of the fifteenth and sixteenth century was its spectacular quality. The reforms of Galilei and Caccini were, as we shall see, aimed at this condition. Their endeavors to escape the contrapuntal music of the madrigal drama were the labors of men consciously confronting conditions which had been surely, if not boldly, moving toward their own rectification. The madrigal opera was intrinsically operatic, but it was not yet freed from the restrictions of impersonality from which its parent, the polyphony of the church, could not logically rid itself even with the aid of a Palestrina's genius. We must then follow this line of later development.


The Predominance of the Spectacular

Throughout the fifteenth century the lyric drama of Italy continued to be a denizen of courts and to be saturated with what has been called the "passionate sensualism" of the Italian genius. The rivalry of lords, spiritual and temporal, of popes, of dukes and princes, in the luxury of their fetes was a salient phenomenon of the time. The lyric drama became a field for gorgeous display and its pomp and circumstance included not only elegant song, but considerable assemblies of instruments, dazzling ballets, pantomimic exhibitions, elaborate stage machinery, imported singers and instrumentalists. As the painters had represented popes and potentates mingling with the holy family at the sacred manger, so the lyric dramatists assembled the gods and heroes of classic fable to do honor to Lorenzo and others of that glittering era.

In 1488 Bergonzo Botta, of Tortoni, prepared a festal play for the marriage of Galeazzo Sforza and Isabella of Arragon. Arteaga[31] quotes from Tristan Chalco, a Milanese historiographer, an account of this production. The entertainment took place in a great hall, which had a gallery holding many instrumental players. In the center of the hall was a bare table. As soon as the prince and princess had entered the spectacle began with the return of Jason and his companions who deposited the golden fleece on the table as a present. Mercury then appeared and related some of his adventures in Thessaly with Apollo. Next came Diana with her nymphs dragging a handsome stag. She gave the stag to the bridal pair and told a pretty story about his being the one into which she had changed the incautious Acteon. After Diana had retired the orchestra became silent and the tones of a lyre were heard. Then entered Orpheus who began his tale with the words, "I bewailed on the spires of the Apennines the untimely death of my Euridice." But, as he explained, his song had changed as his heart had changed, and since Euridice was no more, he wished now to lay his homage at the feet of the most amiable Princess in the world. Orpheus was interrupted by the entrance of Atalanta and Theseus and a party of hunters, who brought the first part to an end in an animated dance.

[Footnote 31: "Le Rivoluzioni del Teatro Musicale Italiano della sua Origine fino al Presente," by Stefano Arteaga. Venice, 1785.]

The second part introduced Iris, Hebe, Pomona, Vertumnus, and choruses of Arcadians and others. This part concluded with a dance by gods of the sea and the Lombardian rivers. The third part began with the appearance of Orpheus leading Hymen, to whom he sang praises, accompanying himself on the lyre. Behind him were the Graces, in the midst of whom came "Marital Fidelity" and presented herself to the princess. After some other minor incidents of the same kind the spectacle came to an end with a ballet in which Bacchus, Silenus, Pan and a chorus of satyrs were principal figures. This lively and comic dance, says Chalco, "brought to an end the most splendid and astonishing spectacle that Italy had witnessed."

In 1487 Nicolo de Corregio Visconti produced at Ferrara his fable "Cephale et l'Aurore." In this there were choruses of nymphs, vows to Diana, dialogues between Corydon and Thyrsis and other pastoral dainties. At the carnival of 1506 at Urbino, Castiglione and his friend Cesare Gonzaga, of the great Mantuan family, recited the former's "Tirsi," dialogues in verse. The two interpreters wore pastoral costumes. The dialogue was couched in the customary pastoral phrase, but it was made plain that fulsome flattery of living personages was intended.[32] The musical numbers of which we can be certain were one solo, sung by Iola, a chorus of shepherds and a morris dance.

[Footnote 32: "Poesie Volgari e Latine del Conte B. Castiglione." Rome, 1760.]

The impulse which brought the "Orfeo" into being had not yet exhausted itself and the Italians continued to feast their souls on a visionary Arcadia with which they vainly strove to mingle their own present. But love of luxurious display slowly transformed their pastorals into glittering spectacles. As for the music, we may be certain that in the beginning it followed the lines laid down in the "Orfeo." It rested first on the basis of the frottola, but when the elegant and gracious madrigal provided an art form better suited to the opulence of the decorative features of the embryonic lyric drama, the madrigal became the dominating element in the music. Together with it we find in time the dance slowly assuming that shape which eventually became the foundation of the suite.

Adrian Willaert became chapel master of St. Mark's in 1527 and his influence in spreading the madrigal through Italy was so great that he has been called, as we have already noted, the father of that form of composition. Certain it is that, despite the earlier publications of Petrucci, the madrigal became dominant in Italy after the advent of Willaert. But we must not lose sight of the influence of Constanzo Festa, the earliest great Italian writer of madrigals, whose first book of these compositions (for three voices) was published in 1537. We are therefore to understand that in the plays about to be mentioned the madrigal style prevailed in the music.

In 1539 at the marriage of Cosimo I and Eleanora of Toledo there were two spectacular performances. In the first Apollo appeared in company with the muses. He sang stanzas glorifying the bride and her husband, and the muses responded with a canzona in nine parts. Now the cities of Tuscany entered, each accompanied by a symbolical procession, and sang their praises to the bride. The second entertainment was a prose comedy of Landi, preceded by a prologue and provided with five intermezzi. In the first intermezzo Aurora, in a blazing chariot, awakened all nature by her song. Then the Sun rose and by his position in the sky informed the audience what was the hour of each succeeding episode. In the final intermezzo Night brought back Sleep, who had banished Aurora, and the spectacle concluded with a dance of bacchantes and satyrs to instrumental music. The accounts which have come down to us note that the song of Aurora was accompanied by a gravicembalo, an organ, a flute, a harp and a large viol. For the song of Night four trombones were used to produce a grave and melancholy support. The music for this entertainment was composed by Francesco Corteccia, Constanzo Festa, Mattio Rampollini, Petrus Masaconus and Baccio Moschini. All these musicians were composers of madrigals, and Corteccia was at the time Cosimo's chapel master. In this spectacle was heard the solo madrigal for Sileno already mentioned. Here is the opening of this piece; the upper voice was sung and the other voice parts were played as an accompaniment.

[Musical Notation]

In 1554 Beccari of Ferrara (1510-1590) produced his "Il Sagrifizio," a genuine pastoral drama, in which the actors were Arcadian shepherds with Roman manners. The dialogues were connected by a series of dramatic actions, and the music was composed by Alfonso della Viola, a pupil of Willaert. Among the personages was a high priest who sang, like Poliziano's Orpheus, to the accompaniment of his own lyre. The same composer wrote choruses for Alberto Lollio's pastoral, "Aretusa" (1563) and several musical numbers for "Lo Sfortunato" by Agostino Argenti, of Ferrara (1571).

In 1574 on the occasion of the visit of Henri III to Venice, the doge ordered a performance of a piece called simply "Tragedia," which had choruses and some other music by the great Claudio Merulo, composer of the first definitely designed instrumental works. For the wedding festivities attendant upon the marriage of Francesco de Medicis and Bianca Capella in 1579 Gualterotti arranged a grand tournee in the interior court of the Pitti Palace at Florence. This entertainment was of a nature similar to that of 1539 above described. It was composed of mythologic episodes spectacularly treated. The verse was by Giovanni Rucellai, the distinguished author of "Rosamunda" and the "Api," and the music by Pietro Strozzi. One of the singers was a certain young Giulio Caccini, who lived to be famous.

Torquato Tasso's pastoral play "Aminta" (1573) had choruses though we cannot say who composed the music. It is known that Luzzasco Luzzaschi, pupil of Cyprian di Rore, master of Frescobaldi, and composer of madrigals and organ toccatas, wrote the chorals in madrigal style for Guarini's famous "Pastor Fido." There were choruses to separate the acts and two introduced in the action. These two, which had a kind of refrain, were the chorus of hunters in Act IV, scene sixth, and the chorus of priests and shepherds in Act V, scene third. There was also an episode in which a dance was executed to the music of a chorus sung behind the scenes.

In 1589, on the occasion of the marriage in Florence of the Grand Duke Ferdinand with Princess Christine of Loraine, there was a festal entertainment under the general direction of Giovanni Bardi, Count of Vernio, at whose palace afterward met the founders of modern opera. Indeed, the members of the young Florentine coterie were generally concerned in this fete and doubtless found much to move them toward their new conception. The Count of Vernio's comedy "Amico Fido" was played and was accompanied by six spectacular intermezzi with music. The first of these was by Ottavio Rinuccini, author of "Dafne" and "Euridice," usually called the first operas. It was named the "Harmony of the Spheres," and its music was composed by Emilio del Cavaliere (originator of the modern oratorio) and the chapel master Cristoforo Malvezzi. The second intermezzo dealt with a contest in song between the daughters of Pierus and the muses. The judges were hamadryads and the defeated mortals were punished for their presumption. The text was by Rinuccini and the music by Luca Marenzio, the famous madrigalist. The contesting singers were accompanied by lutes and viols, while their judges had the support of harps, lyres, viols and other instruments of the same family.

Bardi himself devised the third intermezzo, Rinuccini wrote the verse and Bardi and Marenzio the music. It had some of the essential features of both ballet and opera and represented the victory of Apollo over the python. The god descended from the skies to the music of viols, flutes and trombones. Later when he celebrated his victory and the acclaiming Greeks surrounded him, lutes, trombones, harps, viols and a horn united with the voices. Strozzi wrote the fourth intermezzo with music by Caccini. This carried the audience into both supernal and infernal regions and its music, somber and imposing, called for an orchestra of viols, lutes, lyres of all forms, double harps, trombones and organ.

The fifth intermezzo must have rivaled the glories of the ancient sacred plays in the public squares. Rinuccini arranged it from the story of Arion. The theater, so we are told, represented a sea dotted with rocks and from many of these spouted springs of living water. At the foot of the mountains in the background floated little ships. Amphitrite entered in a car drawn by two dolphins and accompanied by fourteen tritons and fourteen naiads. Arion arrived in a ship with a crew of forty. When he had precipitated himself into the sea he sang a solo accompanied by a harp, not by a lyre as in the ancient fable. When the avaricious sailors thought him engulfed forever, they sang a chorus of rejoicing, accompanied by oboes, bassoons, cornets and trombones. The music of this intermezzo was by Malvezzi, who was a distinguished madrigalist. The last intermezzo was also arranged by Rinuccini and its music was by Cavaliere. In this the poet divided the muses into three groups, in order to give antiphonal effect to their songs. He combined the episodes so as to furnish the musician with the motives for a dance and in a manner permit of the use of numerous and varied instruments, from the organ to the Spanish guitar. Probably this ballet morceau was one of the first of many medleys of national character dances so familiar now to the operatic stage.[33]

[Footnote 33: This account is taken from Bastiano de' Rossi's "Descrizione dell' apparato e degli intermedi fatti per la commedia rappresentata in Firenze nello nozze del serenissimo D. Ferdinando Medici," etc. Firenze, 1589. This work is not in any of the great libraries and is here quoted from the previously mentioned history of M. Chouquet, who had access to it in the private library of an Italian scholar. The voice and instrumental partbooks were edited by Malvezzi, and published at Venice in 1591 under the title "Intermedii e concerti, fatti per la commedia rappresentata in Firenze nelle nozze del Ferdinando Medici e Madama Cristiana di Lorena." Malvezzi's edition contains valuable notes and an instructive preface.]

The published text of these creations shows that they contain much that rests on the traditions of the lyric drama as it had been known in Italy for a century, while there is also a little that approaches the new style then in process of development. This is not strange, indeed, since several of the men most deeply interested in the search after the ancient Greek declamation were active in the preparation of this entertainment. Nevertheless we learn from Malvezzi's publication that the pieces were all written in the madrigal style, frequently in numerous voice parts. The entire orchestra was employed in company with the voices only in the heavier numbers.

It is plain that in these musical plays there was no attempt at complete setting of the text. There was no union of the lyrics by any sort of recitative. The first Italian to write anything of this kind in a play seems to have been Cavaliere, but unfortunately his "Il Satiro" (1590) and "La Disperazione di Sileno" (1595) are known to us only through a comment of Doni, who censures them for pedantic affectations and artificialities of style, inimical to the truth of dramatic music. The dates of the production of these works show us that they were not as old as the movement toward real monodic song, and it is certain that in France, at any rate, the Italian Balthazarini had already brought out in 1581 a ballet-opera, "Le Ballet Comique de la Reine," which contained real vocal solos. At the same time the evidence is conclusive that the madrigal was acquiring general popularity as a form of dramatic music, and the madrigal drama reached the zenith of its glory at the very moment when its fate was preparing in the experiments of Galilei and others in the new monodic style destined to become the basis of modern Italian opera.


Influence of the Taste for Comedy

An illuminative fact in the history of the madrigal drama is the growth of the comic element. Poliziano's dream of Arcadia was perhaps neither deep nor passionate, but it was at any rate serious and for some time after its production the lyric drama aspired to the utterance of high sentiments. But the incongruous mingling of Arcadian shepherds and shepherdesses with the gods and heroes of the classic literature in a series of musical actions, conceived with the desire to gratify that passionate sensuality which governed Italian thought, was sure in time to lead the typical insincerity and satiric view-point of the Italian mind to the delights of physical realism, and the free publication of mocking comment. Photographic musical imitations of the noises of battles, the songs of birds and the cries of a great city were certain to be succeeded by the adaptation to the uses of dramatic action of the musical means developed in these and this adaptation led the way directly into the realm of the comic lyric drama.

The pomp and circumstance of the gorgeous spectacles which we examined in the preceding chapter were cherished by the traditions of the Italian court stage and were not obliterated even in the new species of lyric comedy. But there was far less to dazzle the eye in the comic performances, and even in this they offered a certain novelty to the consideration of Italian audiences. The court spectacles, to be sure, did not go out of existence. We meet them in all their brilliancy in the early years of the seventeenth century, and at the same time we find them copied in a somewhat modified form in the spectacular productions of the young Italian opera houses. On the other hand, when the Florentine coterie created dramatic recitative, it was to use it in a drama wholly serious and poetic in purpose. It was not till some years later that recitative acquired sufficient flexibility to fit itself into the plan of the rapidly growing opera buffa. Yet even in this lyric species we discern something of the large influence of the humorous madrigal play, for in time the comic opera and the ballet spectacle both found homes after public opera houses had been thrown open to an eager public. Physical realism, the humors of the streets and satiric assaults upon the life of the courts made excellent materials for the entertainment of the Italian mind, especially at such a time as the close of the sixteenth century, when the country had reached the completion of that state described by Symonds:

"The intellectual and social life of the Italians, though much reduced in vigor, was therefore still, as formerly, concentrated in cities marked by distinct local qualities and boastful of their ancient glories. The courts of Ferrara and Urbino continued to form centers for literary and artistic coteries. Venice remained the stronghold of mental unrestraint and moral license, where thinkers uttered their thoughts with tolerable freedom and libertines indulged their tastes unhindered. Rome early assumed novel airs of piety, and external conformity to austere patterns became the fashion here. Yet the Papal capital did not wholly cease to be the resort of students and artists. The universities maintained themselves in a respectable position—far different, indeed, from that which they had held in the last century, yet not ignoble. Much was being learned on many lines of study divergent from those prescribed by earlier humanists. Padua, in particular, distinguished itself for medical researches. This was the flourishing time, moreover, of Academies in which, notwithstanding nonsense talked and foolish tastes indulged, some solid work was done for literature and science. The names of the Cimento, Delia Crusca and Palazzo Vernio at Florence remind us of not unimportant labors in physics, in the analysis of language, and in the formation of a new dramatic style of music. At the same time the resurgence of popular literature and the creation of popular theatrical types deserved to be particularly noticed. It is as though the Italian nation at this epoch, suffocated by Spanish etiquette and poisoned by Jesuitical hypocrisy, sought to expand healthy lungs in free spaces of open air, indulging in dialectical niceties and immortalizing street jokes by the genius of masked comedy."

We shall perceive, then, in the productions of some representative masters of the madrigal drama in the latter half of the sixteenth century, an expression of this Italian eagerness to abandon even the external attitude of serious contemplation, which the spectacular delights of the intermezzi and the serious lyric drama had made at least tolerable, and to turn to the uses of pure amusement the materials of a clearly defined form of art. We shall find the dramatization of the chatter of the street and the apparition of types familiar to the farcical comedies and operas bouffes of later days. In the washerwomen of Striggio we are not far from Madame Angot, and some of the personages whom Vecchi humorously treated in his "Amfiparnaso" are treading the stage of to-day. In these madrigal dramas, as we shall see, the attempts to overcome the musical unsuitability of polyphonic music to the purposes of dramatic dialogue led composers further and further from the truth which had stood at the elbows of Poliziano's contemporaries and immediate successors. Musicians went forward with the madrigal till they found themselves in Vecchi's day confronted with a genuine reductio ad absurdum. It was only at this time that the experiments of the Florentines uncovered the profound musical law that the true dramatic dialogue is to be carried on by single-voiced melodies resting on a basis of chord harmony.

In the meantime, we must delay our approach to the golden era of the madrigal drama (when indeed it faced that reductio) to look for a moment at the representative work of a Mantuan master of the lyric comedy. Alessandro Striggio, born in Mantua, about 1535, died in the same city in 1587, was for a time in the service of Cosimo, but for at least fifteen years of his life was known simply as a "gentleman of Mantua." Striggio was one of the most active and talented of the composers of his time, and his creations are found in both religious and secular fields. He utilized instruments freely in connection with voices and his works give an excellent insight into the general condition of vocal composition in Italy in his day. He became prominent as one of the early composers of intermezzi and he was employed also to write church music for wedding festivals. One of his motets calls for an orchestra of eight trombones, eight violas, eight large flutes, a spinet and a large lute. Without doubt his most significant work in the domain of the lyric drama was "Il Calamento delle Donne al Bucato," published at Florence in 1584.

This is a series of rustic scenes, of which the first begins with an introductory recitation by the poet, set for four voices: "In the gentle month of May I found myself by chance near a clear stream where some troops of women in various poses washed their white linen, and when they had spread it to the sun on the grass, they chattered thus in lively repartee, laughing." Then begin the action and the dialogue. The scenario may be set forth in this wise: boisterous salutations, hilarious talk and accounts of flirtations; tittle tattle about neighbors and lively scandals; exchange of commiserations on the insupportable humor of masters and the fatigue of service; cessation of laughing, kissing and shouting, the day being ended; quick change of scene to a levee of washing mallets; one of the women steals a trinket from another, and a general riot ensues, after which there is a reconciliation as the sun goes down and the women disperse with embraces, tender words and cries of adieu.[34]

[Footnote 34: Something suggestive of a similar train of musical thought is found in some reflections of George Moore on Zola: "I had read the 'Assomoir,' and had been much impressed by its pyramid size, strength, height and decorative grandeur, and also by the immense harmonic development of the idea; and the fugal treatment of the different scenes had seemed to me astonishingly new—the washhouse, for example: the fight motive is indicated, then follows the development of side issues, then comes the fight motive explained; it is broken off short, it flutters through a web of progressive detail, the fight motive is again taken up, and now it is worked out in all its fulness; it is worked up to crescendo, another side issue is introduced, and again the theme is given forth." ("Confessions of a Young Man.")]

One can have no difficulty in imagining how this story, furnished as it must have been, with some very free action, was set to music in the madrigal style. The contrast of moods provides an excellent background for variety of musical movement and for a generous exercise of the expressional skill which the composers of that period had acquired. Lovers of the ballet of action will perceive that the scenario of Striggio's musical comedy could also serve perfectly for that of a suite of pantomimic dances.

Nor can the reader fail to discern in this story some of the germs of the opera buffa. What is lacking here, to wit, the advancing of some individual characters from the choral mass to the center of the stage, was better accomplished in the earlier or more serious works. The Orpheus of Poliziano was doubtless a striking figure in the minds of the Mantuan audience of 1484. While perhaps there was a distinct decline in directness of expression in the attempts of later lyric dramatists, the departure was possibly not as large in the case of the serious writers as in that of the humorists. We shall in all likelihood better understand this after a survey of the labors of the dominant figure of the artistic period of the humorous madrigal drama.


Vecchi and the Matured Madrigal Drama

The fully developed madrigal drama of the latter years of the sixteenth century was an art form entirely dissimilar to anything known to the modern stage, and, as we shall presently see, it was in itself a frank confession of utter confusion in the search for a musical means of individual expression. If no other evidence were at hand, the works of Vecchi would be sufficient to prove that the logical progress of the medieval lyric drama in one direction had led it into the very mazes of the polyphonic wilderness. This new form lacked the spectacular glories of the really operatic shows described in Chapter XI and it abandoned even their ways of voicing the utterances of individual characters. Much misinformation concerning this madrigal drama has been disseminated by the comfortable process of repeating without scrutiny errors early fastened upon histories of music.

The master spirit of the madrigal drama was Orazio Vecchi, born about 1551 at Modena. He became a priest and was canon of Corregio in 1586 and in 1591 deacon. He became chapel master at the cathedral of Modena in 1596 and after numerous vicissitudes died in 1605. His most important work was "L'Amfiparnaso, commedia harmonica," performed at Modena in 1594. This has been preserved in its entirety, together with the author's preface, from which valuable information may be gathered. The work is an attempt to turn into a lyric form the "Commedia dell' Arte," enacted in early times at village fairs in northern Italy. The characters are Arlecchino, Pantalone, Doctor Graziano, Brighella, Isabella, Lelio and others. The story of the play, however, does not concern us so much as the author's artistic purposes and the methods by which he sought to achieve them. In the addresses to the reader prefixed to his scores Vecchi states some of his artistic beliefs. He says:

"The gross jests, which are found in the comedies of our time, and which are their meat rather than the spice, are the reasons why he who says 'Comedy' seems to speak of a buffoon's pastime. They wrong themselves who give to such gracious poesy a sense so unworthy. True comedy, properly regarded, has for its object the representation in divers personages of almost all the actions of familiar life. To hold the mirror up to human life it bestows attention no less upon the useful than upon the pleasing, and it does not suffice it to raise a laugh." ("Amfiparnaso.")

"It will be said that it is contrary to convention to mingle serious music with that which is merely pleasing and that one thus brings discredit on the profession. But the pleasing and the serious according to report have been mingled from father to son. Aristotle says so; Homer and Virgil give examples." ("Veglie di Siena," 1604.)

"I know full well that at first view some will be able to judge my artistic caprices low and flimsy, but they ought to know that it requires as much grace, art and nature to draw well a role of comedy as to represent a wise old grumbler." ("Selva di Varia Ricreatione," 1590.)

"Everything has a precise meaning, and the actor should try to find it; and, that done, to express it well and intelligently in such a way as to give life to the work." ("Amfiparnaso.")

"The moral intention of it will be less than that of the simple comedy, for music applies itself to the passion rather than to the reason, and hence I have been compelled to use reflective elements with moderation. Moreover, the action has less scope for development, spoken words being more rapid than song; so it is expedient to condense, to restrict, to suppress details, and to take only the capital situations. The imagination ought to supply the rest." ("Amfiparnaso.")

When we turn to the drama itself to ascertain how the composer embodied his artistic ideas, we find that the score shows a series of scenes containing speeches for single personages and dialogues for two or more. All of these are set to madrigal music in five parts. This music exhibits much variety of style and expressive power. The composer was undoubtedly a master of his material. How intricate and yet pictorial his style can become may be seen in these four measures from Act I, scene second, which contain words uttered by Lelio.

[Musical Notation]

That the composer sometimes employed skilfully the contrast of pure chord sequence is seen in his setting of the "tag" of the play spoken by Lelio and beginning thus:

[Musical Notation]

Interesting as this music is in itself, the temptation to enter upon a prolonged examination of the score must be resisted for the good reason that a more important matter demands our attention. It has often been stated that in the madrigal drama, when the musician wished a single personage to speak, that character sang his part in the madrigal while alone on the stage and the other parts were sung behind the scenes. This error has persistently clung to musical history, despite the fact that it was long ago exposed by European authors who ought to have commanded more consideration. The present writer is indebted to Romain Rolland for guidance in his examination into this matter.

Vecchi had an enthusiastic disciple in Adriano Banchieri, born at Bologna in 1567 and died in the same city in 1634. Although he was a pupil of Giuseppe Guami, organist of St. Mark's, himself an organist of St. Michele in Bologna, and a serious theoretician, he was none the less the author of several comedies and satires, which he wrote under the pseudonym of Camillo Scaligeri della Fratta. He states in the title page that his comedy, "Il Studio Dilettevole" (for three voices) produced in 1603, is after the manner of Vecchi's "Amfiparnaso." His "Saggezia Giovenile," produced somewhat later, is equipped with a preface containing full directions as the method of performing a madrigal drama. He says:

"Before the music begins one of the singers will read in a loud voice the title of the scene, the names of the personages and the argument.

"The place of the scene is a chamber of moderate size, as well closed as possible (for the quality of the sound). In an angle of the room are placed two pieces of carpet on the floor and a pleasing scene. Two chairs are placed, one at the right, the other at the left. Behind the scene are benches for the singers, which are turned toward the public and separated from one another by the breadth of a palm. Behind these is an orchestra of lutes, clavicembali, and other instruments, in tune with the voices. From above the scene falls a large curtain which shuts off the singers and instrumentalists; the rule of procedure will be according to the following order:

"The invisible singers read the music from their parts. They will be three at a time, or better, six, two sopranos, two tenors, one alto and one bass, singing or remaining silent according to the occasion, giving with spirit the lively words and with feeling the sentimental ones and pronouncing all with loud and intelligible voices according to the judgment of prudent singers.

"The actors alone on the scene, and reciting, should prepare their parts so as to know them by heart and in every detail of place and time follow the music with all care as to time. It will not be a bad idea to have a prompter to aid the singers, instrumentalists and reciters."

The words, carefully chosen by the writer, prove conclusively that the actors did not sing; they spoke. The only music was that which came from behind the curtain at the rear.

Further directions for the performance of a madrigal drama by Vecchi tell us that when a single person speaks on the stage, all the musical parts join in representing him. In the case of a dialogue between two actors the voices are to be divided into two groups situated so that the musical sounds shall seem to proceed from the actors. For example, when Lucio and Isabella converse, men's voices represent the former and women's voices the latter. The subjoined passage of dialogue between Frulla and Isabella, Act II, scene fifth, will show how two voices were represented:

[Musical Notation]

In the "Fidi Amanti" of Torelli there is a scene for two men, a satyr and a shepherd, and one woman, a nymph. In this the two men are represented always by the tenor and the bass, the latter having the chief burden of the delineation of the satyr. The soprano and alto voices are reserved for the nymph. Yet in this scene whenever the emotion becomes intense, whether sad or joyous, the four voices unite in singing the principal phrase.

Rolland, with his customary acumen, notes that in Vecchi's five part madrigals for the stage the employment of the odd voice is plainly governed by musical needs. It has to be common to both personages in a scene for two and hence it is always the least characteristic voice. Its chief business is to fill in the harmony.

It is not essential to the purpose of this work that the story of "L'Amfiparnaso" or any of the other important madrigal dramas should be told. The significant points are the disappearance of the more gorgeous elements of spectacle found in the older court shows, the rise to prominence of the comic element, and above all the entire obliteration of the tentative methods of solo song found in the earlier lyric drama. The old-fashioned cantori a liuti sank into obscurity as the madrigal grew in general favor in Italy, and in the latter years of the sixteenth century their art seems to have undergone alterations quite in keeping with the growing complexity of madrigal forms. The madrigal was now the solo form with an instrumental accompaniment made from the under voices, and this solo form was not used in the madrigal drama. Its musicians had laid aside the "recitar alla lira," so much praised by Castiglione in 1514, and were seeking for some new way of setting solo utterance to music. The method chosen by Vecchi must appear to us to be removed from possibilities of artistic success still further than the solo adaptations of frottole, yet the historical fact is that his "Amfiparnaso" had an extraordinary popularity and set a fashion.

Some of Vecchi's works were produced and met with favor even after the pseudo-Hellenic invention of the Bardi fraternity had burst upon Italy. Indeed the madrigal drama died hard and its final burial was not accomplished till the opera had begun to take shape more definite than that found in the experimental productions of its founders. With the declining years of this curious form we need not concern ourselves. We may now turn to a consideration of the experiments which led to the creation of dramatic recitative, the missing link in the primeval world of the lyric drama.


The Spectacular Element in Music

While the madrigal drama was in the ripeness of its glory the young Florentine coterie which brought the opera to birth was engaged in its experiments with monody. The history of its labors has been told in many books and need not be repeated here. But connected with it are certain important facts which are too often overlooked or at best denied their correct position in the story.

In the first place, then, let us remind ourselves that while the madrigal drama was utilizing in a novel manner the musical form from which it took its name, the method of adapting the madrigal to solo purposes had never been abandoned. The singular path of development followed by the musical drama had been leading away from its true goal, that of solo utterance, but the Italian salon still heard the charms of the madrigal arranged as a lyric for single voice.

The first secular drama, the "Orfeo" of Poliziano, was equipped with the elements from which might have been evolved quickly all the materials of the first experimental operas; but the rapid spread of the polyphonic music through Italy and the sudden and overwhelming popularity of part singing soon, as we have seen, relegated the first suggestions of a manner of setting vocal solos for the stage into a position of comparative obscurity and in the end this possibility was conquered by the cumbrous method of Vecchi. Perhaps the unsuitability of polyphonic composition might have made itself clear earlier than it did, had not the general state of Italian thought and taste moved in a direction making this impossible. The noble classic figure of Orpheus, with his flowing white robe, his simple fillet on his brow, and his lyre in his arm, standing before the iron gates and moving by his song the powers of hell, soon gave way to the gorgeous exhibitions in which the splendors of Night and Dawn were made the subjects of a series of glittering scenes enveloping a plan much like that of some modern ballet spectacle.

Throughout the sixteenth century, as we have seen, these court representations grew in complexity of pictorial detail, while the importance of the development of a medium for individual expression sank further and further out of notice. One reads of occasional uses of the old method of solo recitation to the lyre, but never as a controlling motive in the dramatic construction. It appears only as an incident in the general medley of sensuous allurements. So, too, the convocation of masses of singers, dancers and instrumentalists seems to have been nothing more than a natural demonstration of that growing appetite for luxury which characterized the approach of the feeble intellectual era of the Seicentisti, that era in which "ecclesiastical intolerance had rendered Italy nearly destitute of great men."

These quoted words are Symonds's; let him speak still further: "Bruno burned, Vanini burned, Carnescchi burned, Paleario burned, Bonfadio burned; Campanella banished after a quarter of a century's imprisonment with torture; the leaders of free religious thought in exile, scattered over northern Europe. Tasso, worn out with misery and madness, rested at length in his tomb on the Janiculan; Scarpi survived the stylus of the Roman curia with calm inscrutability at St. Fosca; Galileo meditated with closed lips in his watch tower behind Bello Squardo. With Michael Angelo in 1564, Palladio in 1580, Tintoretto in 1594, the godlike lineage of the Renaissance artists ended; and what children of the sixteenth century still survived to sustain the nation's prestige, to carry on its glorious traditions? The list is but a poor one. Marino, Tassoni, the younger Buonarotti, Boccalini and Chiabrera in literature. The Bolognese academy in painting. After these men expand arid wildernesses of the Sei Cento—barocco architecture, false taste, frivolity, grimace, affectation—Jesuitry translated into false culture."

Symonds is here speaking of the dawn of the seventeenth century, but the movement toward these conditions is quite clearly marked in the later years of the preceding cycle. Its influence on the lyric drama is manifest in the multiplication of luxurious accessories and superficial splendors, designed to appeal to the taste of nobles plunged in sensuous extravagances and easily mistaking delight in them for a lofty appreciation of the drama and art. The reform of the Florentine coterie conquered Italy for less than fifty years. The return to showy productions, to the congregation of purely theatric effects, scenic as well as musical, was swift, and the student of operatic art can to-day discern with facility that the invention of the Florentines was soon reduced to the state of a thread to bind together episodes of pictorial and vocal display. But in the beginning it was unquestionably the outcome of a hostility to these very things, or at any rate to their merely spectacular employment.

Peri, Caccini, Bardi and others of the Florentine "camerata" were engaged as composers, stage managers, actors and singers in many of the elaborate court spectacles, intermezzi and madrigal dramas produced toward the end of the sixteenth century. Peri and Caccini were professional singers, and their experiences were not only those of students, but also those of practitioners. Their revolt against the contrapuntal lyric drama was largely, though not wholly, based on deep-seated objection to the unintelligibility of the text. It does not require profound consideration to bring us to the opinion that the method of Vecchi was in part an attempt to overcome the innate defect of the polyphonic style in this matter of intelligibility. The resort to the spoken text on the stage while the music was sung behind the scenes appears on the face of it to have been compelled by a wish for some method of conveying the meaning of the poet to the audience.

Why, then, did not these young reformers find at hand in the madrigal arranged for solo voice the suggestion for their line of lyric reconstruction? Partly by reason of the confusion caused by obedience to old polyphonic customs in making the accompaniments, and partly because the madrigal had become a field for the display of vocal agility. Already the development of colorature singing had reached a high degree of perfection. Already the singer sought to astonish the hearer by covering an air with a bewildering variety of ornaments. The time was not far off when the opera prima donna was to become the incarnation of the artistic sensuousness which had beguiled Italy with a dream of Grecian resurrection. The way had been well built, for the attention of the fathers of the Roman church had been turned early to the necessity of system in the delivery of the liturgical chants. The study of a style had developed a technic and to the achievement of vocal feats this technic had been incited by the rapid rise of the act of descant.

Hand in hand the technic and the art of descant had come down the years. The sharp distinction early made between "contrapunctus a penna" and "contrapunctus a mente" showed that composers and singers to a certain degree actually stood in rivalry in their production of passage work for voices. The rapid expansion of the florid element in the polyphonic music of the composers indicates to us that the improvised descant of the singer had a sensible influence. We need not be astonished, then, to learn that long before the end of the sixteenth century a very considerable knowledge of what was later systematized as the so-called "Italian method" had been acquired. The registers of head and chest were understood, breathing was studied, the hygiene of the voice was not a stranger, and vocalizes on all the vowels and for all the voices had been written. Numerous singers had risen to note, and the records show that their distinction rested not only on the beauty of their voices and the elegance of their singing, but also on their ability to perform those instrumental feats which have from that time to this been dear to the colorature singer and to the operatic public.

In the closing years of the sixteenth century we find that the famous singers were heard not oftener in public entertainments than in private assemblies. Occasionally a madrigal arranged as a solo figured in a lyric play, but the singing of madrigals for one voice was a popular field for the exhibition of the powers of celebrated prima donnas such as Vittoria Archilei and eminent tenors like Jacopo Peri. Kiesewetter[35] gives a madrigal sung as a solo by Archilei. The supporting parts of the composition were transferred from voices to instruments apparently with little trouble. Mme. Archilei herself played the lute and her husband, Antonio Archilei, and Antonio Nalda played two chitarroni. The music of the madrigal was composed by Signor Archilei. Here are the opening measures of this lyric:

[Musical Notation]

[Footnote 35: "Schicksale und Beschaffenheit des Weltlichen Gesanges," by R. G. Kiesewetter. Leipsic, 1841.]

Here is the beginning of the composition as Mme. Archilei decorated it with her extraordinary skill in the vocal ornamentation of the period:

[Musical Notation]

We are told that despite the fine professions of the Florentines, Mme. Archilei was permitted to embroider Peri's Euridice in something like this fashion. But we must admit that even in those days a prima donna had power, and that something had to be conceded to popular taste. Furthermore, we shall see that the Florentines did not purpose to abolish floridity entirely.


The Medium for Individual Utterance

A closer examination of the musical reforms instituted by the camerata which met at the Vernio and Corsi palaces will convince us that they were directed toward two objects; first, the restoration of the Greek method of delivering the declamation of a drama, and second, the reduction of purely lyric forms to a rational musical basis on which could be built intelligible settings of texts. The revolt was not only against polyphonic music in which text was treated without regard for its communicative purpose, but also against the decorative manner of solo singing, which made words only backgrounds for arabesques of sound. On this point we have the conclusive evidence of Caccini's own words as found in the preface to his "Nuove Musiche."[36] He begins by giving the reasons why he had not earlier published his lyrics in the new style, though they had long been sung. He continues:

"But when I now see many of these pieces torn apart and altered in form, when I see to what evil uses the long runs are put, to wit, those consisting of single and double notes (repeated ones), as if both kinds were combined, and which were invented by me in order to do away with the former old fashion of introduced passages, which were for wind or stringed instruments rather than the human voice; when further I see how dynamic gradations of tone are used without discrimination, what enunciation now is, and how trills, gruppetti and other ornaments are introduced, I consider it necessary—and in this I am upheld by my friends—to have my music printed."

[Footnote 36: "Nuove Musiche di Giulio Caccini detto Romano." Florence, 1601.]

Furthermore he will explain in this preface the principles which led him to write in this manner for the solo voice. He says that for a long time he has been a member of the Florentine circle of cultivated men and that he has learned from them more than he acquired in thirty years in the schools of counterpoint.

"For these wise and noble personages have constantly strengthened me and with most lucid reasons determined me to place no value upon that music which makes it impossible to understand the words and thus to destroy the unity and meter, sometimes lengthening the syllables, sometimes shortening them in order to suit the counterpoint—a real mangling of the poetry—but to hold fast to that principle so greatly extolled by Plato and other philosophers: 'Let music be first of all language and rhythm and secondly tone,' but not vice versa, and moreover to strive to force music into the consciousness of the hearer and create there those impressions so admirable and so much praised by the ancients, and to produce which modern music through its counterpoint is impotent. Especially true is this of solo singing with the accompaniment of a stringed instrument when the words are not understood because of the immoderate introduction of passages."

Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse