Some Forerunners of Italian Opera
by William James Henderson
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This, he declares, can only extort applause of the "crowd" and such music can only result in mere tickling of the ear, because when the text is not intelligible there can be no appeal to the understanding.

"The idea came to me to introduce a style of music which makes it possible in a certain manner to speak musically by employing, as already said, a certain noble subordination of the song, with now and then some dissonances, while however holding the chord by means of the sustained bass, except when I follow the already common custom of assigning the middle voices to the accompanying instrument for the purpose of increasing the effect, for which purpose alone they are, in my opinion, appropriate."

He now tells us that, after he found that his principle stood the tests of practice and he was satisfied that in the new style lay a power to touch hearts far beyond that possessed by polyphony, he wrote certain madrigals for the solo voice in the manner described, which manner "I hereafter used for the representations in Florence." Then he went to Rome where the dilettanti, particularly Lione Strozzi, gathered at the house of Nero Neri, expressed themselves enthusiastically about the new revelation of the power of solo song to move the heart. These amateurs became convinced that there was no longer any satisfaction to be drawn from the old way of singing the soprano part of madrigals and turning the other parts into an instrumental accompaniment.

Caccini went back to Florence and continued to set canzonettas. He says that in these compositions he tried continually to give the meaning of the words and so to touch responsive chords of feeling. He endeavored to compose in a pleasing style by hiding all contrapuntal effects as much as possible. He set long syllables to consonances and let passing notes go with short syllables. He applied similar considerations to the introduction of passages "although sometimes as a certain ornamentation I have used a few broken notes to the value of a quarter, or at most a half note, on a short syllable, something one can endure, because they quickly slip by and are not really passages, but only add to the pleasant effect."

Caccini continues his preface with reiterated objections to vocal passages used merely for display, and says that he has striven to show how they can be turned to artistic uses. He deprecates the employment of contrapuntal device for its own sake, and says that he employs it only infrequently and to fill out middle voices. He forcefully condemns all haphazard use of vocal resources and says that the singer should labor to penetrate the meaning and passion of that which he sings and to convey it to the hearer. This he asserts can never be accomplished by the delivery of passages.

Here, then, we have a clear statement of the artistic ideals cherished by Caccini, and these, we may take it, were shared by the other members of the camerata who were engaged in the pursuit of a method of direct, eloquent, dramatic solo expression. The opening measures of one of the numbers in the "Nuove Musiche" will serve to show in what manner Caccini developed his theories in practice and equally what close relation this style had to that of the new dramatic recitative.

[Musical Notation]

In the preface to his score of "Euridice" Peri has set forth his ideas about recitative. He has told us how he tried to base its movement upon that of ordinary speech, using few tones and calm movements for quiet conversation and more extended intervals and animated movement for the delineation of emotion. This was founded upon the same basis as the theory of Caccini, which condemned emphatically the indiscriminate employment of swelled tones, exclamatory emphases and other vocal devices. Caccini desired that the employment of all these factors in song should be regulated by the significance of the text. In other words these reformers were fighting a fight not unlike that of Wagner. They deplored the making of vocal ornaments and the display of ingenuity in the interweaving of parts for their own sakes, just as Wagner decried the writing of tune for tune's sake, and on one of the same grounds, namely, that nothing could result but a tickling of the ear. Yet these young reformers had no intention of throwing overboard all the charms of floridity in song. Here are two examples of their treatment of passionate utterance in recitative. The first is by Peri and the second by Caccini. Both are settings of the same text in the "Euridice."

[Musical Notation: two excerpts]

Caccini was somewhat more liberal than Peri in the use of floridity and always showed taste and judgement therein. Here is a sample of his style taken from a solo by one of the nymphs in "Euridice":

[Musical Notation]

Caccini also showed that he was not averse to the lascivious allurements of two female voices moving in elementary harmonies. Here is a passage from a scene between two nymphs upon which rest many hundreds of pages in later Italian operas.

[Musical Notation]

This was the immediate predecessor of the well-known "Saliam cantando" in Monteverde's "Orfeo."

The innovations of the Florentine reformers included also the invention of thorough bass, or the basso continuo, as the Italians call it. Ludovico Grossi, called Viadana from the place of his birth, seems to have been the first to use the term basso continuo and on the authority of Praetorius and other writers was long credited with the invention of the thing itself. But it was in 1602 that he published his "Cento concerti ecclesiastici a 1, a 2, a 3, e a 4 voci, con il basso continuo per sonar nell' organo." The basso continuo had been in use for some time before this. It appears in the score of Peri's Euridice as well as in the "Nuove Musiche" of Caccini. It was employed in Cavaliere's "Anima e Corpo" and was doubtless utilized in some of the camerata's earlier attempts which have not come down to us.

Just which one of the Florentines devised this method of noting the chords arranged for the support of the voice in the new style matters little. The fact remains that the fundamental principle of related chord harmonies, as distinguished from incidental accords arising in the interweavings of voice parts melodic in themselves, had been recognized and the basis of modern melodic composition established. This, indeed, was not the achievement of the young innovators, but the result of a slow and steady development in the art of composition. The introduction of thorough bass shows us that the reformers had found it essential to the success of their experiments that, in their effort to pack away in solid chords the tangle of parts which had so offended them in the old counterpoint, they should codify to some extent the relations of fundamental chords and contrive a simple method of indicating their sequence in the new and elementary kind of accompaniments. They at any rate perceived that the vital fact concerning the new monophonic style was that the melody alone demanded individual independence, while the other parts could not, as in polyphony, ask for equal suffrage, but must sink themselves in the solid and concrete structure of the supporting chord. Thorough bass was in later periods utilized in such music as Bach's and Handel's, but its original nature always stood forth most clearly when it was employed in the support of vocal music approaching the recitative type.

Here, then, we may permit the entire matter to rest. It ought now to be manifest that in their experiments at the resuscitation of the Greek manner of declamation the ardent young Florentines were impelled first of all by the feeling that the obliteration of the text by musical device was a crying evil and that by it dramatic expression was rendered impossible. Doubtless they felt that their art lacked a medium for the publication of the individual, but it is by no means likely that they realized the full significance of this deficiency or of their own efforts to supply it. Nevertheless, what they did under the incentive of a genuine artistic impulse was in direct line with the whole intellectual progress of the Renaissance. The thing that was patent to them was the importance of studying the models of antiquity to find out how dramatic delineation was to be accomplished; but in doing so they discovered the one element which had been wanting in the Italian lyric drama since its birth in the Mantuan court, namely, the way to set speeches for one actor to music having communicative potency and capable of preserving the intelligibility of the text.

So they completed a cycle of the art of dramatic music, and, having found the link that was missing in the musical chain of Poliziano's "Orfeo," reincarnated Italy's Arcadian prophet, and built the gates through which Monteverde ushered lyric composition to the broad highway of modern opera.


Agility, vocal, 214 Alemannia, Rudolfo de, 41 Alessandro, Gian Andrea di, 46 Ambros, August Wilhelm, 107 "Amfiparnaso," 191 et seq. "Apollo and the Python," spectacular intermezzo, 174 Arcadia, the Italian, 62 et seq. Archilei, Vittoria, 216, 218 Argyropoulos, John, 69 "Arion," spectacular intermezzo, 175 Ariosto, performance of his "Suppositi," 90, 136

Ballata, 76, 116, 144 "Ballet Comique de la Reine," 178 Banchieri, Adriano, 198 Banquets, music at, 139 Basso continuo, 232 Bati, Luca, 30 Beccari, 170 Bembo, Pietro, 61 Boccaccio, 59 Botta, Bergonzo, festal play by, 161 Busnois, Antoine, 115

Caccini, Giulio, 172 "Nuove Musiche," its aim, 221 et seq. "Calandra," performance of, 96 Cantori a liuto, 119, 121 et seq. Carnival Song (canto carnascialesco), 76, 105, 116 Casella, 119 Castiglione, 61, 114 performance of his "Tirsi," 164 Cavaliere, Emilio del, first recitatives written by, 177 Chant, music of liturgical drama, 11 disappearance from "Sacre Rappresentazioni," 24 Chartreux, Jean le, 40 Chorus, in first secular drama, 89, 116 Comedy, influence on lyric drama, 179 et seq. Vecchi's theories, 192 Compere, Loyset, 115 Concerts, early, 142 Corteccia, 119 Costumes in early lyric plays, 92

Dance, dramatic, in church ritual, 2, 3 in open-air plays, 16 orchestral music for, 144 executed to concealed chorus, 172 characteristic national, 176 Dante, 58 Della Viola, Alfonso, 170 Della Viola, Gian Pietro, 45 Des Pres, Josquin, 104 Disciplinati di Gesu Cristo, 22 "Divozione," 25 et seq. Drama, lyric, sources, 4 open-air religious, 13 at Florence, 19 revival in Europe, 54 causes of disappearance, 53 Dramatic dialogue, in madrigal drama, 184 Dramatic element, in early church music, 2 in ceremonials, 4, 5

"Esaltazione della Croce," sacred play, 29 orchestra in, 138 "Euridice," Peri's, 219

Feltre, Vittorino da, 37, 41 Ferrara, musical relations with Mantua, 46 Festa, Constanzo, 165 Fete of the Ass, 14 Ficino, Marsilio, 70 Florence, reform of dramatic music, 220, 234 Florid element, in early church music, 1 its disappearance, 2 in madrigal, 214 in early operas, 231 Frottola, 76, 101, 102, 104 et seq., 122 distinguished from madrigal, 108, 112 arranged for solo voice, 124 et seq.

Gaffori, Franchino, 43 Gonzaga, house of, 35 et seq. Gian Francesco, 37 Ludovico, 38 Grecian ideals in Italian literature, 54, 58 et seq., 62 et seq. Gualterotti, spectacular festal play, 171

"Harmony of the Spheres," intermezzo by Cavaliere, 173 Harmony, modern begun, 233

Individuality, medium of expression sought, 155, 157 found, 220 et seq. Intermezzi, spectacular in 1589, 173 Intermezzo, 91 Isaak, Heinrich, 107 Italian, Latin preferred to, 59 Poliziano's use of, 72 Italian music, defining its character, 149 Italian thought, state of in sixteenth century, 181, 209, 210, 211 Italy, lack of national unity, 60

Kallistos, Andronicus, 69

Landino, 61, 69 Lauds, 21 et seq. music of, 23 development of, 25 Lavagnolo, Lorenzo, teacher of dance at Mantua, 45 Lighting in early plays, 95 Liturgical drama, 1 et seq. early examples, 6 et seq. its longevity, 9 character of music, 5, 6, 10 French as related to opera, 12 costumes, etc., 26 stage used, 26 Luzzaschi, music to "Pastor Fido," 172 Lyra di braccio, 134 Lyre, 130

Madrigal, 102, 104, 105, 112 Italian, 148 solo, 168, 216, 217, 218, 219, 223 florid element in, 214 ornamented by singer, 217, 218 Madrigal drama, transition to from frottola, 147 et seq. in maturity, 191 et seq. Madrigal dramas, 166 comedy in, 179 et seq. dialogue in, 181, 198 et seq., 201, 203 instruments in, 185, 199 manner of performance, 198 et seq. voices in, 200 solo in, 201 unintelligibility of text, 213 Mantegna, 38, 39, 40 Mantua, birthplace of secular drama, 35 sketch of the marquisate, 35 et seq. literary and artistic importance, 36 music at, 40 et seq. musical relations with Ferrara, 46 Marenzio, Luca, 50 "Marienklage, die," liturgical drama, 9 "Mary Magdalen," sacred play, 33 Masques, 32, 33 Medici, Lorenzo de, writer of sacred plays, 29 Merulo, Claudio, his "Tragedia," 171 Minuccio, 119, 120 Monody, movement toward, 149 Caccini's, 222, 225 Music, in sixteenth century lyric dramas, 164

[Transcriber's Note: The letter "N" is absent from the Index. Possible entries include: Namur, Naples, Narcissus, Naumann, Nero Neri, Netherlands, Noirville, Novellara, Nuremberg.]

Oboe, 145 Opera buffa, germs of, 188 Orchestra, in "Sacre Rappresentazioni," 30, 31 at Mantua, 44 in first secular drama, 89, 136 et seq. Striggio's, 138, 185, 186 in other early lyric plays, 161, 162, 174, 175, 177, 199 "Orfeo," performed at Mantua, 52, 55, 68 Italian estimates of, 55, 56 importance of its production, 57, 66 its lyric character, 66, 77, 79 description of poem, 76 et seq. how written, 72 Sismondi's comments on, 73 Symonds on, 74 editions compared, 75, 79, 80 how performed, 85 et seq. examination of its music, 98 et seq. choruses, 101, 116 solo parts, 101, 117 et seq. solo parts, frottola as basis of, 124 instrumental parts, 101, 129, 136 et seq., 144 Orpheus, embodiment of Arcadian ideal, 63, 65

Paganism, Italian medieval, 62 Pageant of St. John's Day, Florence, 28 Pageants, relation to "Sacre Rappresentazioni," 27 Part singing, its popularity in fifteenth century, 103 Passion, early performances of, 17 French fourteenth century version, 17 Pastoral drama, 170 Peri, Jacopo, 216, 219 Petrarch, 59 Philosophy, its effect on medieval literature, 64 Poliziano, Angelo, 52, 55 sketch of career, 68 et seq. Procession, succeeds dance, 3 Prompter, 200

Realism, Italian, 61 "Recitar alla lira," 114, 170 Recitative, in liturgical drama, 10 in first secular plays, 114 Florentine, 118, 212, 224 beginnings, 177 in comic opera, 181 impulses leading to modern, 207 et seq. Caccini's, 224, 225, 229 Peri's, 227, 229 Romano, Giulio, 39

"Sacre Rappresentazioni," 13, 21 et seq. music of, 24 time of origin, 27 sources of, 27 their construction and performance, 29 scenic effects, 30 as forerunners of opera, 32 "Saint Uliva," sacred play, 29 Sannazzaro, Jacopo, his "Arcadia," 62 Scene painting, in early plays, 93 Scenic effects, in "Sacre Rappresentazioni," 30 in Poliziano's "Orfeo," 86, 93 Schalmei, 145 Sensualism, esthetic in Italy, 61 Singing, development of technic, 214, 215 Solo, superseded by part song, 117 in madrigal drama, 198, 205 vocal, 114, 119, 222 et seq., 227 adapted from part songs, 119 et seq. florid element abused, 222 Songs, arranged for lute accompaniment, 121 Spectacular, element in early plays, 93, 155, 166 in early dramatic music, 158 predominance of the, 160 et seq. in music of sixteenth century, 207 et seq. in music of sixteenth century, revolt against, 212 Striggio, Alessandro, 51, 185 his art work, 185

Table music, 139 Tasso, "Aminto," music of, 172 Technic, vocal, 214 Thoroughbass, 154, 232 Todi, Jacopone da, 23 Tromboncino, Bartolomeo, 46, 115

Ugolino, Baccio, original Orfeo, 79, 87

Vecchi, Orazio, 190 et seq. artistic theories, 192 Viadana, Ludovico, 232 "Vierges sages et Vierges folles," 6 et seq. Villanelle, 112 Violinists, early, 142 Virgil, Italian worship of, 59 Visconti, Nicolo de Corregio, his "Cephale et Aurore," 163 Voices, in madrigal plays, 200, 203 Voice, technic in early music, 215

Wert, Jacques de, 49 Willaert, Adrian, 104, 112, 151, 165

* * * * *


Translated by WILLIAM MARCHANT. 5th printing.

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* * * * *

Transcriber's notes:

Errors and Anomalies:

Pauluzo : Pauluzzo (envoy from Ferrara) spelling not regularized name also recorded in other sources as "Paolucci" Monteverde this spelling is used throughout the text

"machine representing hell was fixed upon the boats, and that the subject of the drama was the perennially popular tale of 'Dives and Lazarus'." original punctuation: "machine representing hell ... tale of "Dives and Lazarus." scholars and dilettanti text reads "dilletanti" and believed that in the pastoral kingdom text reads "belived" Lorenzo passed away and Poliziano wrote text reads "Poliliziano" Buccolics appeared to them spelling unchanged there were two obligato instruments spelling unchanged The teachings and practice of the Netherlands masters text reads "Nethererlands" its plebian parent spelling unchanged the frottola was in the lusty vigor of its maturity text reads "frottole" (plural) Dioneo teases the women text reads "Dineo" The large lyre, called lirone perfetto text reads "lironi" (plural) small instruments of the bowed varieties text reads "varities" arranging frottola melodies text reads "aranging" racial and temperamental differences between text reads "betwen" the untimely death of my Euridice text reads "unitmely" "Before the music begins .... instrumentalists and reciters" text has close quote after first and third paragraph— but not second— of inset quotation the four voices unite / in singing text reads "unit"


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