The First Opera & The Beginning of Baroque

This is a slide-show introduction, based on lecture given to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Theatre Natalya Satz, Moscow (the original home of Peter and the Wolf), following the 45th performance of the theatre’s award-winning production of Anima & Corpo. Nevertheless, this post draws on the latest research findings, and there may be some surprises, even for seasoned baroque fans!


Emilio de Cavalieri's 'Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo' (1600) is indeed the 'first opera'. Jacopo Peri, whose 'Euridice' was performed later the same year, acknowledges Cavalieri's role as originator of the style. (Earlier music-dramas by these two composers, notably Peri's 'Dafne', have not survived.) So why would Cavalieri and his contemporaries seek to develop a new theatrical genre of fully-sung plays?

Emilio de Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo (1600) is indeed the ‘first opera’. Jacopo Peri, whose Euridice was performed later the same year, acknowledges Cavalieri’s role as originator of the style. (Earlier music-dramas by these two composers, notably Peri’s Dafne, have not survived.) So why would Cavalieri and his contemporaries seek to develop a new theatrical genre of fully-sung plays?

What are the three secrets of great performance

17th-century writers were still re-telling a story going back via Quintilian and Cicero to Demosthenes (4th cent. BC). The question was posed:


What are the three secrets of great performance?

Action Action Action


Demosthenes’ first answer was “Action!”. And his second answer was “Action!”, And his third answer was also “Action”.

Greek Drama

Meanwhile, in the decades before the year 1600, philosophers of performance were impressed by the emotional power of the ancient Greek and Roman dramas, which (they believed) had been fully sung. So Cavalieri and his colleagues wanted Action in their music, and Music in their dramas: fully-sung music-drama was the epitome of their beliefs in the power of performance.

The modern label 'first opera' encourages us to consider all that came after Cavalieri. But to understand his work, we need to view it in its own historical context. And we should be cautious: even though this is sophisticated, dramatically powerful, fully-sung music-theatre, Cavalieri did not call it 'opera'. It is a 'Rappresentatione', a 'show'. It is not 'primitive', but it certainly is different from our modern expectations.

The modern label ‘first opera’ encourages us to consider all that came after Cavalieri. But to understand his work, we need to view it in its own historical context. And we should be cautious: even though this is sophisticated, dramatically powerful, fully-sung music-theatre, Cavalieri did not call it ‘opera’. It is a Rappresentatione, a ‘show’. It is not ‘primitive’, but it certainly is different from our modern expectations.


Not ‘primitive’ but DIFFERENT…

… might well be our motto, as we climb into our time-machine in order to explore Planet Earth, circa 1600.


Architecture and Art

This was an age of impressive architecture: as assistant to Michelangelo, Cavalieri’s father Tommaso was closely involved with the building of St Peter’s Rome. Painting became ever more dramatic, culminating in the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio. Even religious subjects were depicted with theatrical bravura: Tommaso de Cavalieri was the model for Adam in Michelangelo’s frescos for the Sistine Chapel.

Exploration and Science

The exploration of the Americas continued, charted by sophisticated world maps. Galileo trained his telescope on the moons of Jupiter, and also experimented with gravity at the tower of Pisa.

Music Dance Swordsmanship

Italian ladies and gentleman at court would spend much of their time making music in madrigal groups or consorts of viols. Several hours each day would be spent learning and performing new social dances. And a couple more hours daily were devoted to practising swordsmanship, with the fashionable rapier, well over 1 metre long, with a needle point and razor-sharp edges.

Circa 1600

There was plenty of new music. Cavalieri’s opera was quickly followed by Caccini’s Le nuove musiche (1601/2), the first collection of songs with continuo-bass  accompaniment, which includes the famous Amarilli, mia bella. In 1607, Monteverdi’s ‘story in music’ Orfeo was performed: Aggazzari’s treatise from that year, Del sonare sopra’ l basso explains how many different kinds of instrument could improvise accompaniments from the same continuo-bass notation. In 1610, Monteverdi’s magnificent Vespers mixed old-style polyphony with the new techniques of continuo-song; Capo Ferro’s survey of rapier swordsmanship is from the same year. In England, this was the age of Shakespeare’s plays (full of music, of course) and Dowland’s melancholic lute-music.


In 1609 Dowland also translated into English an influential book on singing, Ornithoparcus’ Micrologus, in which he emphasises the particular importance of rhythm.





Violin family

Violin-family instruments from the late 16th century are still regarded today as the finest ever made. Praetorius’ 1619 diagram shows violin, viola, cello and related instruments, together with a surviving cello by Amati. Nowadays, these wonderful instruments have been altered, by changing the angle of the fingerboard to increase the string tension. But around 1600, violins were held in a relaxed way on the shoulder, were strung more lightly, and were not encumbered by chin-rests, tuning screws and shoulder rests. With its original set-up, the instrument is not as loud as a modern violin, but is more direct and responsive. If a modern violin is like a big, luxurious limousine, then a baroque violin is like a sports-car: lighter, more manoeuvrable, and (I would say), more fun to drive!

Shawms and Dulcians

The early-17th-century predecessor of the oboe was the Shawm, which was made in various sizes from soprano to bass. The double-reed is surrounded by a wooden ‘pirouette’ to support the player’s lips. The Dulcian is the ancestor of the bassoon, and also came in various sizes from bass to soprano. Whereas nowadays we consider oboes to be the high register and bassoons the low register of a single ‘family’ of instruments, in Cavalieri’s time they were two distinct consorts, each with a complete range from treble to bass.

Cornetts and Sackbuts

Baroque trombones, known in English as Sackbuts, have a narrower bore than their modern descendants. Like baroque strings, they are not as loud as modern instruments, but more precise and flexible in their sound. Praetorius shows the trombone family from bass to alto. The upper register of this consort is represented by the Cornetto, made from wood, with leather wrapped around it. It has a wooden mouth-piece similar to a trumpet’s, and finger-holes in the tube similar to a flute. The sound is somewhere in-between a trumpet and a flute, and was considered in this period to be the closest to the sound of the human voice. That gives us a clue to the sound-world of circa-1600 singing: not as loud as modern opera singers, but clear, precise and very flexible.

Trumpets and Drums

Trumpets and drums were originally military instruments, and are still today associated with royalty. Baroque trumpets have no valves; the different pitches, including extreme high notes, are created with sophisticated lip-technique.


Divided Choirs


We can recognise the descendants of these early baroque consorts in the various sections of a modern orchestra. But around 1600, large groups of instruments were not formed into a single ensemble, but were rather distributed around the available space in groups of 4 to 7. Each group was considered to be a ‘choir’, that might mix instruments and voices, or might be homogenous, e.g. contrasting a string ‘choir’ with a wind ‘choir’.





You can view and download for free a full-size version of this poster here.


The most important instrumental section in the first operas has no equivalent in a modern orchestra. The Continuo section brings together a variety of instruments with the common purpose of providing harmonic support and rhythmic direction, guiding the entire company of instruments and voices. Like the rhythm section of a jazz-band, Continuo-players define the rhythmic structure, respond to the various soloists and add decorative touches of their own. Agazzari’s 1607 treatise Del Sonare sopra’l  basso here explains how each type of instrument contributes to the Continuo.

renaissance organ

The organo di legno, or chamber Organ, has wooden pipes, and plays sustained harmonies in the low register, to support the voices and melodic instruments.


The Harpsichord has metal strings; when you press a key, a wooden jack rises past the string, so that a small plectrum (shaped from a bird-quill) can pluck the string upwards. As you release the key, the jack descends and a piece of felt is lowered onto the string to stop the sound. The sound is not as loud as a modern piano, but is clear and rhythmically precise. In this style, the Harpsichord also plays simple harmonies in the low register, defining the essential harmonic and rhythmic foundation.



The Regal, or reed-organ, has metal pipes; when air enters the pipe, a metal tongue vibrates against a metal half-tube, and this vibration is amplified by the metal resonator. The sound is strong and rather nasal. If the wooden Organ suits scenes of heaven, or pastoral idylls on earth, then the Regal is ‘the organ from Hell’!


The most essential instrument in an early Italian continuo-section is the Theorbo, also known as Chitarrone. This is the double-bass instrument of the lute family, with two necks. The strings on the first neck run over a fingerboard, and produce a strong melodic bass, with chords in the tenor/alto register. The second neck is much longer, and these strings have no fingerboard; they give another octave of sub-bass notes, that provide a powerful rhythmic impulse and a long sustain that supports the harmonic arpeggio of the upper strings.

Arpa doppia

Around 1600, the harp doubled in size in order to create a strong sub-bass register comparable to the Theorbo’s. The Italian arpa doppia (double harp) has multiple rows of strings, arranged like the black and white notes of a keyboard, so that all harmonies and chromatic changes are available, just as on the harpsichord or organ.

The harp also has a full soprano register, so that it plays a unique role in the continuo section, defining fundamental structure alongside keyboards and theorbo, and also providing decorative touches in the higher register.

Baroque guitar

The baroque guitar has a plucking technique for solo repertoire, but in the Continuo section it usually provides rhythmic energy and decorative colour by strumming.

Read more about Agazzari’s categories of fundamental and decorative instruments here.

Theorbo + Organ


The combination of harpsichord and cello is typical of 18th-century music. In the early 17th-century, the usual pair is theorbo and organ.


Realising the Continuo

All the different instruments of the Continuo section play from the same bass-line, which may (or may not) have additional information about the harmonies indicated by figures above or below each note. But whilst they read from the same part, each player improvises the harmonies and any decorative touches according to the role and capabilities of each instrument: this is referred to as ‘realising’ the continuo.


No conducting!

No Conducting

One prominent figure in modern opera, the conductor who moulds the rhythm and guides the orchestra with his hand or baton, was not seen in the 17th century. Early Music was not conducted. The role of guiding the rhythm belonged to the Continuo section, as Agazzari tells us.

Of course, there would be someone to coordinate the rehearsals and make whatever decisions were needed. This job was done by Il Corago, who was usually the Artistic Director of the entire production, responsible not only for musical coordination, but also for guiding the actors, dancers, scene-builders, lighting technicians (sophisticated lighting effects were obtained from massed candles), and stuntmen (acrobats and sword-fighters). Cavalieri himself was a Corago, with a working knowledge of all of these disciplines, so that he could co-ordinate the contributions of each specialist.

When there was a large musical ensemble, it would be spatially divided into several groups, each of which would have a time-beater to synchronise the rhythm within the group and between one group and the others. The frontispiece of Praetorius’ Theatre of Instruments shows this practice in action, with a large ensemble divided into three ‘choirs’ of instruments and voices. Each choir has its own time-beater, and the three time-beaters watch each other to synchronise the beat.


Modern Topics

Today, discussions about Early Music often focus on the question of Vibrato. Period diagrams show the typical shape of long notes: a ‘plain note’ begins softly and then swells out (there is no vibrato); a ‘waved note’ similarly begins softly, and adds vibrato as the sound swells out.

Another topic of modern debate is the question of pitch. Around 1600, in the south of Italy, the pitch was lower than today’s standard of A440; in the north it was higher. In central Italy, it was somewhere in between. Bruce Haynes’ The Story of A here tells the History of Performing Pitch in great detail.

Subtle choices of precisely how to tune each note of a keyboard instrument or harp are studied as Temperament. Whereas on the modern piano, Eb and D# sound the same and are played from the same key, in historical Temperaments these are two subtly different pitches. Some keyboards have double keys for the black notes, baroque harps have extra strings, in order to facilitate this fine distinction. The typical Temperament circa 1600 is known as Quarter-Comma Meantone: it produces beautifully pure major thirds, making consonances sweeter and dissonances sharper.

These are the hot topics amongst many of todays’ Early Music practitioners. But what were the priorities for musicians and singers performing Anima & Corpo in the year 1600? The original print is here, and Caccini’s Le Nuove Musiche tells us how to approach it:

The Interpretation of Early Music

Music is Text + Rhythm, and sound last of all.

“And not the other way around”, Caccini emphasises.

Text and Rhythm

These historical priorities guided my international research program into Text, Rhythm, Action! over the last five years, reported here, and I apply them in all my practical work, training musicians and directing performances for audiences today.



Period sources insist on the importance of communicating the text to the audience, so for the production at Theatre Natalya Satz, we wanted to speak to the audience directly in their own Russian language. Great care was taken to synchronise the translation with the ‘word-painting’ of Cavalieri’s music, in which every single word is individually set to music. Poet Alexey Parin worked together with specialist musicians Ivan Velikanov, Katerina Antonenko and myself, to preserve the close links between text and music.

Word Painting

At the beginning of the drama, the first notes are immediately repeated – not because a series of repeated Fs makes a wonderful melody, but in order to repeat the word for emphasis, just as a fine orator would do: “Time… Time”.

In this period, the term Aria has a different meaning; it signifies any repeated structure in words, rhythm, harmony or melody. The metric patterning of the verses Hoggi vien fore, Doman si more, Hoggi n’appare, Doman dispare [Today Life comes forth, tomorrow it dies; today it appears, tomorrow it disappears] is matched by similar patterns in the melodic contours, rhythms and harmonies of Cavalieri’s music. This, in early-17th-century terms, is another Aria, just like the repetition of the single word Tempo, along with its carefully set music.

If the text refers to Heaven above, ciel soprano, the singer will pitch his voice high. If the text mentions a party, festa, the music swings into fast triple-time. Just as an actor in a spoken play will raise his voice to indicate a question, so Cavalieri sets questions on rising pitches.

Text and music are so closely linked that many musical features are not Cavalieri’s compositorial choices, but rather his sensitive responses to the demands of the poetry. Similarly, many performance practices are not the performers’ artistic inspiration, but rather their sensitive responses to the demands of the text and the historical expectations of this musical style.


Many explanatory texts survive to inform us of those historical expectations, including a Preface with Cavalieri’s own indications how to perform this kind of music-drama, Agazzari’s treatise on Continuo already mentioned, and the anonymous c1630 guide for a music-theatre’s artistic director, Il Corago.



Although there were no conductors in this period, musicians, whether soloists,or in duet, trio and larger ensembles, would beat time with their hand, palm downwards, down for about one second, up for one second. This slow, steady beat was known as the Tactus. Read more about Tactus here.

What is music

Music itself was understood to be the Music of the Spheres – mysteriously produced by the perfect motion of the stars and planets; the harmonious nature of the human body; and – last of all – actual sounds sung and played on earth. So musical rhythm represents that perfect heavenly movement, rhythm is life itself.



Just as clockwork produces various speeds of rotation from one fundamental movement, so 17th-century musicians perceived the different orbits of the planets to be meshed together and turned by the hand of God. This philosophy is imitated in musical Proportions, by which the constant slow Tactus beat is divided into 2, 3 or 6, to create duple, tripla and sestupla metres. A Proportion of 3:2 creates Sesquialtera metre.

What is Time

Time, like Music, was celestial and embodied, measured by the cosmos and the human pulse, better than by clocks. The sun shows the time of day and fixes the moment of noon, the stars show the changes of the seasons. Our pulse measures shorter time-spans, of the order of seconds.

Galileo Pendulum


Galileo discovered the pendulum effect in 1582, observing a chandelier in Pisa cathedral, but the first pendulum clock was not built until 1656. So Galileo’s observations were timed against his own pulse – there was no more accurate clock.

Galileo Inclined Plane

For his experiments on gravity in 1607, Galileo had to time a ball rolling down an inclined plane to an accuracy of fractions of a second. This was far beyond the capabilities of any period clock, and required finer gradations than a pulse-beat. The solution was found in the precision of musical rhythm – if a minim is about one second, then semi-quavers define an eighth of a second.

You can try for yourself an on-line simulation of Galileo’s experiment, precision-timed by lute-music, here.

Newton and Aristotle

For most of us, our intuitive understanding of Time is based on Newton’s model of Absolute Time: Time itself continues ever-onward, independent of other variables. We we can measure the accuracy of a clock, or the daily changes in the precise time of solar noon, against the fixed scale of Newton’s Time. But Newton published in 1687, and it was many decades before his concepts gained general acceptance. In the year 1600, the accepted model of Time was Aristotle’s:

Time is a number of change/movement, in respect of before and after.

Without an Absolute scale to measure by, without the assurance that Time would march independently onwards, “change/movement” was required to create a “before and after” that would allow Time to be numbered. So musical Time, i.e. rhythm, was not only indicated by the hand-movement of the Tactus, it required such movement (at least as a concept) in order to exist at all. The movement of the cosmos, driven by the hand of God, not only measured time, but created it. Just as the heart-beat sustains life, so the steadiness of the musical Tactus was necessary for human health and indeed, for the preservation of the entire universe.

Read more about the philosophy of Time and musical Rhythm here.


Plato Kronos Kairos

The first character to appear in the first opera is Old Father Time, and his first words (repeated) are Il Tempo. Time is a crucial topic in this drama, understood within Platonic philosophy. The fleeting present moment is a moving image of Eternity, the point of contact between human life and infinite destiny, between earthly actions and the eternal struggle of Good and Evil.

There are two Greek words that we translate as ‘Time’ or in Italian, tempo. Chronological time, clock time, is Greek kronos, whereas kairos signifies the moment of opportunity. For a swordsman, kairos is the crucial instant of time when you must defend yourself to save your life, or when you might safely attack your opponent.

The Art of the Sword


Monteverdi wrote a one-act opera entitled Combattimento, a music-drama of sword-fighting. Opera-singer Julie d’Aubigny, known as La Maupin, was the best duellist of her age. Many dancing-masters were also fencing instructors, and the anonymous sword-master of Bologna declared that swordsmen needed the same precision timing as singers!

Capo Ferro’s 1610 Gran Simulacrum teaches the Art of the Sword, as applied to the long, needle-point, razor-sharp Italian rapier. If your opponent points his sword at your heart, you turn your (right) sword-hand palm-up and leftwards, so that your sword crosses his and protects you. His likely response is to dip his sword-point underneath your blade, and threaten your right shoulder instead. Now you will have to turn your sword-hand palm down and rightwards, pushing his sword aside so that you can lunge forwards and strike with the point of your sword.

Act with the hand, act with the heart!

Act with the heart, act with the hand


As we are told in the first scene of Anima & Corpo, historical acting linked emotional force to expressive hand-gestures. All the Action is founded on the poetic text, of course, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet instructs the Players:

Suit the Action to the Word

Bulwer Gestures


John Bulwer’s Chironomia (1644) shows gestures for Attention, for stylish Action, and for Antitheses (opposites): ‘on one hand…. on the other hand…’. Another way to Distinguish Contraries rotates the right hand palm-up and leftwards, then palm-down and out to the right.

To be or not to be


We could imagine such gestures being performed in Shakespeare’s most famous line from Hamlet:

To be or not to be, that’s the question

First we Distinguish Contraries  (to be, or not to be), and then we direct the audience’s Attention (the question). So To be (right hand palm-up and leftwards), or not to be (palm-down and out to the right), that’s (with index finger raised and the hand sent forwards, step forward to command the audience’s attention) the question.

If you try it for yourself, this sequence of movements might seem familiar to you: it is very similar to the sequence that we studied as a sword-drill, opposing to the left, turning the hand to close the line on the right, and then lunging forwards to strike.

Sword talk

Both Hamlet and Anima & Corpo are full of the language of sword-play. In Cavalieri’s masterpiece, the Guardian Angel would traditionally carry a sword, and the composer provides suitably martial music with G major harmonies and battle rhythms – the same harmonies and rhythms encountered a quarter-century later in Monteverdi’s Combattimento.

Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Cavalieri’s Anima & Corpo explores timeless questions of life and death by means of a fashionable vocabulary of sword-action. The English Play and the Italian Rappresentatione are each monuments of cultural achievement and artistic innovation: certainly not ‘primitive’, but endlessly fascinating and thought-provokingly different.

Anima e Corpo Golden Mask

Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites and www.TheFlow.Zone


Text, Rhythm, Action! Research, Training & Performance

In the field of Early Opera, do you think it might be good to integrate academic research with continuing professional development,  advanced training and international-level performance?

Read more…

Jacopo Peri


Amongst all the myriad details of performance that have fascinated actors, musicians and audiences over the ages, in the 17th century, the age of Shakespeare, Dowland & Purcell, of Monteverdi and the first Italian operas, what were the highest priorities?
Caccini (1601) defines Music as:

Text and Rhythm, with Sound last of all. And not the other way around!

Text, Rhythm and Sound

Bulwer (1644), via Quintilian and Cicero, cites Demosthenes’ three points of Eloquence:

Action! Action! Action!

Demosthenes Cicero Quintilian

These historical priorities guided Andrew Lawrence-King’s 5-year investigation of Text, Rhythm, Action! at the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and with Il Corago, the production company for historical staging. You can download a full illustrated report from the Il Corago website, here.

In this post, scroll down for Research, Training, Performance, Publications  & (lots of) Links.


With a unique combination of academic rigour, unified focus, practitioner expertise and international scope, this program applied historical research to the development of new training methods for modern performers in some 2 dozen award-winning staged productions of Early Modern music-dramas and Historical Action worldwide.


Lawrence-King’s musical direction of the ‘first opera’, Cavalieri’s Anima & Corpo, won Russia’s highest theatrical award, the Golden Mask. During the period of this investigation, he also received the U.S. Grammy, Australian Helpmann and two Spanish Premios de la Música for collaborations with Jordi Savall.

Two documentary-films, a mini-documentary and many video clips have already been released. Research insights are debated on the TRA blog here at Now Professor Lawrence-King has begun to write up his findings formally in book chapters, articles for academic journals and in several forthcoming books.

Golden Mask


Our initial Question was almost naïve: how can baroque gesture be convincing for modern audiences? This opened up two paths, which both led back to the dramatic Text via investigations of Rhythm (in poetry, music and movement) and of Embodiment (posture, gesture, mind/body interactions). Whereas the romantic tradition glorifies performers’ genius, 17th-century philosophy respects the poetic text (which, nevertheless, is realised with improvised creativity) and privileges the audience.



Musical Rhythm is understood within period concepts of Time itself. As an element of Rhetoric, the Art of Gesture is embedded in the Science of Historical Action. In this ancient, intuitive model of how poetry, music & drama induce psychological and physiological changes amongst performers and audiences, Enargeia (the emotional power of detail) creates imaginary Visions that use the mind-body force of Pneuma to stir up the Four Humours.

Our research Aim is to develop rehearsal methodologies that empower modern-day performers to Use the historical principles of the 17th-century Art of Rhetoric within the framework of period Science. Andrew Lawrence-King’s Method is grounded on close reading of such key historical sources as
Cavalieri & Peri (1600), Bonifacio (1616) & Bulwer (1644), the anonymous Il Corago (c1630). These well-known texts are re-evaluated in the light of period Philosophy, in which Time, Pneuma & Music all exhibit a complex, threefold structure that connects mondana – the heavenly & mysterious, with humana – the human & embodied, and instrumentalis – the practical and interactive.

New understandings were debated in seminars and conferences, applied in workshops and rehearsals, and tested in the real world of live performance with a wide range of modern audiences. Interim Findings – on Pre-Newtonian Time, Musical Tactus, No Conducting!, Medieval music-drama, Commencing Continuo, Redefining Recitative, Pepys’ Shakespeare Speech, Pneuma, Enargeia, Music & Consciousness, 17th-century Hypnosis, Baroque Gesture:
What’s the Point? – have been reported at conferences & public lectures at Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, Vienna, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Singapore, Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Ghent, Basel, Helsinki, Galway, Kilkenny, Budapest, London etc.


Alessandro Turchi 'Bacchus & Ariadne' (c1630). Historical Action is more than just Baroque Gesture.

Alessandro Turchi ‘Bacchus & Ariadne’ (c1630). Historical Action is more than just Baroque Gesture.



17th-century writers present Art as a set of principles, a coherent collection of rules which we can study and apply to today’s Historically Informed Performance. The period concept of Use refers to the nitty-gritty of practical experience: a key element of Andrew Lawrence-King’s work is to devise new
training methodologies that facilitate modern-day performers’ acquiring the skill-sets needed to apply rules of historical Art. The study of profoundly spiritual, cosmic matters beyond the everyday and mundane, the mysterious power of emotions, the magic of the theatre, is the realm of renaissance

The training focus is historical expertise rather than romantic character analysis or the 20th-century search for motivation: first acquire Thomas Betterton’s (or La Florinda’s) skill-set, then play Hamlet (or Arianna)! Accordingly, we do not rehearse a particular interpretation; rather we teach principles that empower performers to improvise collectively a stylish realisation of text, music & action. Participants do not just memorise a production; we help them develop baroque skills which they can re-apply throughout their careers.

We practice what we preach. The priorities established by historical research are put into effect in professional training: Text – for each hour of rehearsal, 50 minutes are devoted to detailed text-work; Tactus – every performer shares responsibility for maintaining the rhythmic pulse; there is, of course, no conductor; Gesture – supported by period posture and the force of Pneuma; the emotional power of Enargeia – detailed visual description; Visions – mindful attention to the Text creates imagined visions that stir up emotions for performers and spectators; Deictics – the fundamental importance of ‘pointing words’; Ut pictura – how to make historical gesture ‘work’ for modern audiences.

Professional standards – well-structured rehearsals, directorial competence, clarity and consistency of coaching, respect for participants and audiences; state-of-the-art Early Music, Historical Dance and period Swordsmanship; cutting-edge modern understandings of the mind/body interactions of Flow, the Zone, Feldenkrais Method and Neuro-Learning – brain plasticity, myelination, hypnosis; the Structure of Magic – Neuro-linguistic Programming and 17th-century Rhetoric, the modern & historical arts of persuasive language.

Lasciate i monti


Scroll down for Publications  & (lots of) Links.


Monteverdi Orfeo (1607) ALK (stage & music), SP (movement), JD, KA (assistants); Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen Christianskerke: Tactus, Art of Gesture. New edition. Handbook on Baroque Gesture. Conference Ghent Orpheus Centre, Full-length documentary film.


Cavalieri Anima & Corpo (1600) GI (modern staging), ALK (music), KA, IV (assistants); Natalya Satz Theatre, Moscow. Word-painting, Tactus, Continuo. New edition (Russian translation AP, KA, ALK). First staged performance in Russia. Golden Mask Award. 42 performances (continues in repertoire). TV and radio interviews.


Purcell Dido & Aeneas (1689) ALK (stage & music), SP (dance), KA (assistant); Concerto Copenhagen, Copenhagen Town Hall. Dance & Gesture, training methodologies. New edition (dances & incidental music)


Landi La Morte d’Orfeo (1619) ALK (stage & music), XDL (music), KA (stage), DV (designer) EMS (dance) AS (swordsmanship); International Baroque Opera Studio, St Petersburg Philharmonic. First staged performance in modern times. Tactus, Art of Gesture, Enargeia, Visions, Historical scenery/lighting, Ut Pictura. New edition. Article Musicologial Journal of Moscow Conservatoire. Radio & TV interviews.



Ludus Danielis (c1200) ALK (stage & music), KA (assistant, gestures); The Harp Consort & Ars Nova Denmark, Copenhagen Marmorkirke: Medieval gesture, conductus (rhythm & improvised polyphony), pitch. New edition. Conference Budapest University, mini-documentary film.



Orgambide Oratorio del Nacimiento ALK (music & stage), KA (designer, stage) The Harp Consort, Ourense Cathedral, Festival Portico de Paraiso. First performance in Spain in modern times. Spanish recitado, Art of Gesture, Tactus, Enargeia. Public lecture by Dr Maria Teresa Ferrer. TV & radio interviews. New edition.



Monteverdi Combattimento (1624) ALK (music & stage), GW (swordsmanship consultant), DR (fight director), SP (dance), KA (stage) Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Wallace Collection. New edition. Public lectures, post-performance panel discussion with Prof John Sloboda. Conference Cambridge University with Prof John Sloboda. BBC Radio interview.



Ludus Danielis (c1200) ALK (stage & music), KA (designer & stage); The Harp Consort & St Michaels Schola Cantorum, Galway Early Music Festival. Emotions in Action, Medieval Gestures. Public lecture National University of Ireland, full-length documentary film. Radio interviews.


Orgambide Oratorio del Nacimiento ALK (music & stage), KA (designer) Insula Magica, Novosibirsk Philharmonic. First performance in Russia. Spanish recitado, Art of Gesture, Tactus, Enargeia. Public lecture. TV & radio interviews.



Orgambide Oratorio del Nacimiento ALK (music & stage), KA (designer) Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London. Spanish recitado, Art of Gesture, Tactus, Enargeia. Presentation by Dr Anthony Trippett.



Cavalieri Anima & Corpo (1600) ALK (music & stage); Durham University Opera Society, Durham Great Hall. Tactus, Continuo, Enargeia, Visions. New edition.


Purcell King Arthur (1691) ALK (music & stage), Poznan Academy of Music. New edition. Continuo, French violin bowing, Gesture, Speech/Song/Recitative, Ut Pictura. Radio interviews.


Hidalgo Celos aun del aire matan (1660) ALK (music) GI (stage) KA (translation) Moscow, Theatre Natalya Satz Text, Tactus, Spanish Continuo New edition (Russian translation).New edition. TV & radio interviews.


Medieval Kalevala ALK (music, stage, concept) KK (stage, text) The Harp Consort, Montalbane Festival Medieval storytelling & gesture


Carissimi Jeptha ALK (music, stage), MB (vocal coach), KA (assistant). St Petersburg. New edition. TV & radio interviews. Art of Gesture, Tactus.


Peri Euridice (1600) ALK (stage & music), SP (movement), KA (assistant); Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Lumen Centre. Continuo, Art of Gesture, Posture, Visions. New edition (version for 5 singers). Conference Cambridge University, mini-documentary film

Ourense Angel

Nicole Jordan as the Angel in Orgambide’s ‘Oratorio del Nacimiento’



Monteverdi Vespers (1610) ALK (music); Alta Capella, Moscow Lutheran Cathedral. Tactus, Continuo, Visions. Radio broadcast, radio & TV interviews. New synoptic edition. Public Lecture. First performance in Russia.

Gibbons, Dowland, Holborne, Morelli Shakespeare’s Music (17th cent) ALK (stage & music), Alta Capella, Moscow Conservatoire of Music. Text, Tactus, Pepys on Shakespeare.Public lecture. Radio & TV interviews.

Gibbons, Dowland, Lawes The Masque of Time (17th cent) ALK (artistic director, script & concept), EB (music), VN (stage) Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Canterbury St Gregory’s Centre and London. Tactus, Gesture, Dance, Philosophy of Music & Time.


Schutz, Schein In Friede (17th cent) ALK (music & gesture), Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen Chapel Royal Tactus, Art of Gesture New editions.


Lully, D’Anglebert Choregraphie (1700) ALK (music), KM (dance), The Harp Consort, Edinburgh International Harp Festival Tactus, Dance New editions.


Monteverdi, Peri, Caccini, Cavalieri Favola in Musica (c1600) ALK (artistic director, concept) MB (voice) XLD (continuo) SP (dance) The Harp Consort, St Petersburg Early Music Festival, Feldkirchen Festival, Hamburg Bucerius Kunst Forum The First Operas, Tactus, Continuo Radio interview & broadcast.


Dowland, Purcell The Dark Side (17th cent) ALK (music, stage, concept) SP (movement) The Harp Consort, Graz List Halle Text, Tactus, Art of Gesture


Vite e Voce (Vasari 500th anniversary )ALK (music, concept) Ensemble L’Homme Armé, Florence, Museo Sarto. Baroque gesture & Fine Art


Ars Musicae (Vasari 500th anniversary) ALK (music, concept) Florence, Museo Sarto Design & perspective in Art ~ form & proportion in Music


Hebro with head of Orfeo 2

Anton Varentsov as the River Hebro with the head of Orpheus in Landi’s ‘La morte d’Orfeo’



Monteverdi Lamento di Arianna (1614) (ensemble version) ALK (stage & music). Study project at Helsinki Metropolia. Conference London GSMD.


Monteverdi Lamento di Arianna (1608) (solo version) ALK (stage & music). Study project at Sibelius Academy, Finland. Conference Perth WA. Seminar Melbourne.


Monteverdi Madrigali Guerrieri & Amorosi (1638) ALK (music), Melbourne Early Music Studio. Tactus, Swordsmanship, Visions.


Dowland, Purcell, Morelli The Dark Side (17th cent) ALK (music): Melbourne Early Music Studio Melancholy, Speech/Song/Recitative Conference Sydney University


Malvezzi, Cavalieri, Gabrieli etc Rappresentationi (excerpts from 1589 Florentine Intermedi, etc)  St Petersburg. ALK (stage & music), MB (vocal coach), KA (assistant).


Monteverdi Lettera Amorosa (1619) ALK (stage & music). Study project at Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen. Paper for Letters2 conference, Lisbon; presentation at Books & Music Conference, Newcastle. Enargeia, gendered Gesture



Purcell Dido & Aeneas (1689) ALK & AM (stage & music); Sydney Conservatorium Redefining Recitative, Art of Gesture


Baroque Gesture: What’s the Point?

Workshop for advanced students and professorial staff at ESMUC, Barcelona

Workshop for theatre researchers, Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama & Performance Studies.
Workshop for movement researchers, Dalcroze Conference, Vienna.
Workshop, Edinburgh International Harp Festival
Workshop, Kilkenny


The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica hypnotises the Heroes

Workshop for advanced students and professorial staff at ESMUC, Barcelona.
Workshop for research students at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London.


Seminar on Historical Action ALK with Dionysios Kyropoulos at New College, Oxford


Redefining Recitative Workshop at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London.


Landi La Morte d’Orfeo (1619)

Workshop at Theatre Natalya Satz, Moscow.
Workshop at Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music, St Petersburg


Music & Rhetoric Public Lecture & Workshop, Moscow Conservatoire of Music. Radio/TV.


A Baroque History of Time

Public Lecture, St Petersburg Derzhavin Museum.
Public Lecture, University of Adelaide
Public Lecture, Kilkenny


Modes of Emotion Public Lecture, Kilkenny


Empfindsamkeit Workshop, Moscow Theatre Natalya Satz


Landi Sant’ Alessio (1631) ALK (stage, music), Basel Schola Cantorum, workshop performance. Tactus, Continuo



ALK Andrew Lawrence-King, AM Alan Maddox, AS Anton Semenov, DR Dave Rawlings, DV Danil Verdenikov, EB Emily Baines, EMS Ekaterina Mikhailova-Smolnyakova, GI Georgy Isaakian, GW Guy Windsor, JD Jane Davidson, KA Katerina Antonenko, KK Karoliina Kantolinen, KM Karin Modigh, KZ Klim Zhukov, IV Ivan Velikanov, MB Marco Beasley, SP Steven Player, SG Stephen Grant, VN Victoria Newman, XDL Xavier Diaz-Latorre

Marco Scavazza as the Devil in Orgambide's 'Oratorio del nacimiento'

Marco Scavazza as the Devil in Orgambide’s ‘Oratorio del nacimiento’


Book Chapters by Andrew Lawrence-King:

ALK Il palpitar del core: The Heart-Beat of the “First Opera” in Crispin & Gilmore Artistic Experimentation in Music (2015)


ALK ’Tis Master’s Voice: A Seventeenth-Century Shakespeare Recording? in White Shakespeare and Emotions (2015)

Journal Articles by Andrew Lawrence-King:

ALK (with Antonenko & O’Shea) The Irish Harp: Myths Demistified Celto-Slavica Journal (2015)


ALK The Theatre of Dreams: the Science of Historical Action ADSA (Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama & Performance Studies) Journal (2015)



ALK In vino veritas: wine, women & song in Landi’s ‘La Morte d’Orfeo’ Musicological Journal of Moscow Conservatoire (2015)

Historical Prefaces:

Cavalieri Anima e Corpo (1600)

Peri Euridice (1600)

Caccini Le Nuove Musiche (1601)

Gagliano Dafne (1608)

Frescobaldi Toccate (1615)



ALK Video: “What are the Three Secrets of Great Performance?

Anon. Il Corago (Biblioteca Estense, Modena: MS y.F.11, c1630) edited by Fabbri & Pompilio (1983)


Introduction to ALK’s research:!research/c1dp3

Index to ALK’s blog:!blog-index/cxm4

Time & Tactus

Grant Beating Time and Measuring Music (2015)

Houle Meter in Music 1600-1800 (1987)


ALK Video: “What is Time?

Redefining Recitative

Il Corago on ‘the three ways of acting’, Delle Tre Maniere di Recitare (Fabbri & Pompilio, 40)!research-findings-recitative/c1nz2

Sternfeld ‘A Note on Stile Recitativo’, RMA (1983-1984)


Agazzari Del Sonare sopra’l Basso (1607)


ALK Video “What is Continuo?”:


Introduction to Italian Continuo Video:

This is the first of a series of videos, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.

Historical Action


Bonifaccio L’Arte de’ Cenni (1616)

Bulwer Chirologia & Chironomia (1644)


Barnett The Art of Gesture: The Practices and Principles of 18th-century Acting (1987)

Roach The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (1985)


Introduction to Historical Action:!historical-action/c12q3


Flow & The Zone



ALK Video: “Accessing Super-Creativity” 


History of Irish Harp

ALK (with Antonenko & O’Shea) The Irish Harp: Myths Demistified Celto-Slavica Journal (2015)


History of Welsh Triple Harp

Hypnosis, Rhetoric & Neuro-Linguistic Programming

ALK The Theatre of Dreams: the Science of Historical Action ADSA Journal (2015)


Landi La Morte d’Orfeo

ALK In vino veritas: wine, women & song in Landi’s ‘La Morte d’Orfeo’ Musicological Journal of Moscow Conservatoire (2015)!la-morte-dorfeo/c4be

Monteverdi Vespers


Laudate Pueri Video:


Dixit Dominus Video:


Harp Technique

This is the first of a series of articles on this subject, all available on this blog. There is a video to accompany each article, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.


Introduction to Italian harp Video:

This is the first of a series of 4 videos, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.



Introduction to Early Irish harp Video:

This is the first in a series of 4 videos, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.


Early Irish harp ornaments Video:

This is the first in a series of 4 videos, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.


Monteverdi Orfeo


Documentary Film:


Ludus Danielis

Documentary Film:


Peri Euridice



Purcell Dido & Aneas

Dido’s Lament Video:


The Witches Video:



Kristin Mulders as the Sorceress (doubling Dido) and Leif Aruhn-Solén as the Tenor (doubling the Spirit of Mercury) with Leif Meyer (continuo) in Purcell’s ‘Dido & Aneas’


Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites and www.TheFlow.Zone


Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2010 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions.

Frescobaldi Rules, OK?



Frescobaldi’s Preface to his 1615 collection of Toccate & Partite, here, is often cited in discussions of rhythm and tempo in early 17th-century music, but one less often encounters more profound analysis of what he actually wrote. The flowery script of the original isn’t easy to read, but there is a most useful transcription here (along with many other interesting historical source materials). Since Frescobaldi compares his style to concerted vocal/instrumental music, his Rules are relevant to ensemble situations well beyond solo keyboard-playing. Nevertheless, we should be cautious: precisely where and when can we apply the Frescobaldi Rules? Just how do they work in practice?

Frescobaldi – NOT!

All too frequently, we are told that “Frescobaldi says you can change the Tactus, so you can do anything that you like”. This is not only an over-simplification, but a gross distortion: Frescobaldi specifies very particular genres, situations and ways in which the Tactus might be changed. More insidiously, it implies that we can ignore the context within which Frescobaldi offered his carefully worded advice. If we replace Frescobaldi’s underlying principles with an unexamined assumption of 20th-century rubato, it is highly likely that we will misconstrue his instructions.

Toccatas and Recitative

Some Historically Informed musicians have compared the Frescobaldian toccata to Recitative. This is a thoughtful contribution, that usefully reminds us of the importance of vocal music, and by implication, Text, to this instrumental genre. But sometimes the argument is presented thus: “Frescobaldi’s toccate are like recitatives. Recitative is the most expressive genre of music. Expression demands rhythmic freedom. Therefore both toccate and Recitatives are rhythmically free”.

Every step of that argument is problematic. Frescobaldi does not mention Recitative. Circa 1600, the word Recitative was rarely used to denote the new style that we know from the first ‘operas’. See F. W. Sternfeld, ‘A Note on Stile Recitativo’, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 110 (1983-1984) 41-44. [This article is not openly available online, but please contact me if you can’t find it via your library]. And when the word Recitative is used, it means something different.
Recitare means ‘to act’ whether in a spoken play, a sung opera, or in silent pantomime. See Il Corago, here.  Musica recitativa thus means ‘acted music’, dramatic music: it can include aria, which in this period means any repeated unit in text, rhythm of music. So the line ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!’ is, in 17th-century terms, an aria within a recitative. (See Il Corago again.)
What we (mistakenly) call ‘recitative’ today, speech-like melodic patterns over a slow-moving bass (as described by Peri in the Preface to Euridice, see my annotated translation here) was called modulatione by Il Corago. Even the solo-plus-accompaniment texture of monody is rarely seen in the ‘expressive’ sections of toccate, where there is usually melodic interest in two upper parts, if not throughout the entire polyphonic texture.
So much for Frescobaldi and Recitative. Meanwhile, the baroque aim is not to ‘express’ the performer’s emotions, but to move the audience‘s passions. A subtle, but vital distinction! And, contrary to received opinion, there is no assumption circa 1600 that recitative is free. See The truth about Caccini’s ‘sprezzatura’ here.

Toccata & Continuo

Keyboard players sometimes draw parallels between the toccate and continuo realisation. This is another well-intentioned suggestion, that can be of use, if taken with caution. Frescobaldi’s famous injunction “not to leave the instrument empty”, but rather to fill out the sound with a rich arpeggio, certainly encourages continuo players to make their realisations sonorous and supportive. But other aspects of toccata style are not applicable to continuo realisation. Re-striking sustained notes and dissonances “as often as you like” would be intrusive, and is specifically contradicted by Peri – it would “make the course of speech stumble”. Many of the chord positions in the arpeggio sections are too high for use as continuo (many sources specify low register for continuo with added low octaves in the bass, and the ‘tuning A’ A440, A460 – whatever pitch you are using, the A in this octave – is a good rule-of-thumb upper limit for continuo realisation in this period). And as noted above, there is more polyphonic action in the toccate than would be appropriate for continuo, especially on harpsichord. Agazzari specifies that organ and harpsichord should play a simple, fundamental accompaniment, leaving “fun and counterpoints” for other instruments. See What is continuo? here.

Frescobaldi’s terminology


Frescobaldi repeatedly refers to battuta. This does not mean ‘bar’, as it does today, nor ‘beat’ in the sense of ‘the note on the third beat of bar two is F#’. Rather it refers to the renaissance concept of beating time, with a slow, steady down-and-up movement of the hand. I therefore translate battuta as Tactus. See Rhythm, what really counts here. But this battuta = Tactus was a philosophical principle, as much as a practical technique. Indeed, since the harpsichordist would have both hands occupied playing, no-one actually ‘beats time’ in a Frescobaldi toccata. The practice of beating time with the hand becomes a symbol for an abstract concept of a slow, steady measure that defines Time itself.

In this pre-Newtonian age, the definition of Time is Aristotle’s: Time is a number of movement in respect of before and after. Time is not an Absolute, in the way that we today understand so well from Newton; rather it depends upon movement. The steadiness of the Tactus is therefore essential for the reliability of Time itself. The philosophy of musica mondana (the heavenly Music of the Spheres), musica humana (the harmonious nature of the human body) and musica instrumentalis (practical music-making, whether instrumental or vocal) implies that earthly music is a microcosm of the entire universe, moving in perfect steadiness by divine power, and that music-making is linked to human well-being. If the Tactus fails, the heavens may fall. If your pulse stops, the music also dies. The image of the cosmos being turned by the hand of God gave enormous authority to the concept of the Tactus-hand, beating time for music on earth.

See Roger Mathew Grant’s Beating Time and Measuring Music here, and A Baroque History of Time here.

Dowland Above all things original

Changing the Tactus therefore has huge philosophical, even religious, implications. Frescobaldi therefore approaches the subject with extreme caution. So should we!


Frescobaldi frequently mentions passi, referring to the contrasting sections of his toccate. The word passo means a step, e.g. a dance-step, or a metrical ‘foot’ in poetry, so a diversity of passi suggests contrasting rhythmic structures between one section and the next. This is the opposite of the early 17th-century meaning of aria: not a nice tune, but a regular structure, especially a consistent rhythmic structure. So whilst an aria maintains a particular rhythmic footprint, two different passi have two different musical ‘steps’. Combining the meaning of ‘step’ and ‘section’, I translate passo as ‘movement’.

Affetto means ’emotion’, or to use the 17th-century English term, passion. Characteristically, the passions (plural) are moved: there are changes from one affetto to another. In this period, the word was used almost interchangeably with effetto, literally ‘effect’, as in theatrical or film ‘special effects’. An effetto is an ‘effect’, a device that produces an emotional response, an affetto. See Caccini’s use of these interlinked words, here. I translate Frescobaldi’s affetti as ‘passionate effects’

Cantabile here means ‘vocal’, without any of the connotations of continuous legato, bad rhythm, vibrato, or anything else associated with the modern concept of ‘cantabile’.

passaggio is a run of fast notes – ‘passage-work’ in modern English. A partita is a set of variations – I leave this term, and toccata, itself untranslated.

The Frescobaldi Rules

La maniera di sonare con affetti cantabili e con diversità, di passi


The style of playing with passionate vocal effects and with a diversity of movements.

Si ageuolano per mezzo della battuta

Facilitated by means of the Tactus.
  1. First; that this way of playing should not be subject to the Tactus, as we see applied in modern Madrigals, which (although they are difficult) are facilitated by means of the Tactus, beating it sometimes languidly, sometimes quickly, and even sustaining it in the air, according to their [the Madrigals’] passions, or the sense of the words.

We should read ‘subject to’ in the context of renaissance politics. No democratic citizens here, but rather subjects of an autocratic Prince. Think Machiavelli (read him here). Think of the ‘divine right of Kings’. In 1615, Frescobaldi and his contemporaries consider the Tactus to be the hand of God, that directs human musicians as if they are mere pawns, obedient ‘subjects’.

Even in his toccate and the ‘modern madrigals’ he compares them to, Frescobaldi does not suggest anarchy, a revolution that overthrows the reign of the Tactus. On the contrary, he explains that the difficulties of these compositions are ‘facilitated by means of the Tactus’. This is perhaps the most important point for modern readers to understand: Frescobaldi requires there to be a Tactus at all times, even though he specifies certain ways in which that Tactus might sometimes be changed.

Modern Madrigals refers to the new style of concerted music for voices and instruments, accompanied with a basso continuo, which (like Frescobaldi’s toccate) feature contrasting sections. Like the songs of Caccini’s Nuove Musiche, they include sections for solo voice and continuo, in which a passionate style of singing, full of vocal special effects, is required. Monteverdi’s 5th Book, in 1608, includes both old-fashioned polyphonic partsongs and ‘modern’ concerted settings; his 6th Book in 1619 is entitled Concerto and consists entirely of ‘modern’ compositions. Frescobaldi published in 1615, just as the move to ‘modernism’ was underway.

Notice that Frescobaldi does not use the word Recitative, although one of the features of ‘modern madrigals’ is what we (anachronistically) call ‘recitative’. There is no suggestion from Frescobaldi (or elsewhere) that what we call Recitative should be performed in free rhythm.

Since the Tactus beat is down-up, sustaining it ‘in the air’ implies prolonging an upbeat, or hesitating before a downbeat. This already reduces the opportunities for hesitation by 50%: Frescobaldi does not sanction holding the Tactus-hand down at the bottom of the downbeat!

The affetti in ‘modern madrigals’ can be identified by ‘the sense of the words’. But Frescobaldi’s toccate have no text, of course, so understanding which affetto, which passion, is at play becomes a crucial question. Remember that the idea of ‘moving the Passions’ implies that the affetto changes frequently, often from one extreme to its opposite (as we read in the Preface to Cavalieri’s Anima e Corpo, here).

Different Movements

2. In the toccate I took care not only that they should be full of different movements and passionate effects: but also that each of these movements can be separated one from another, so that the player has no obligation to finish them all, but can stop wherever it seems convenient to him.

The sectional construction of the toccate is a significant topic in Frescobaldi’s advice for performers. The corollary is that other genres of music in the piece, which are not constructed in contrasted sections, should not have the Toccata Rules applied to them. These Rules apply only to the specific genre of Toccata, to the related genre of ‘modern Madrigal’, and (as Frescobaldi mentions later) to other genres that fall into well-defined sections. Otherwise, the default assumption, circa 1615, remains the conservative practice of constant Tactus.

Not to leave the instrument empty

3. The opening sections of the toccate should be performed adagio and arpeggiating; and similarly in the ligature (sections with suspensions ‘tied over’) or durezze (dissonances), also in the middle of the piece. [The tied-over suspended] are struck [again] together [with the new, dissonant harmony], so as noto leave the instrument empty. This restriking can be repeated ad lib by the player.

The opening sections are notated in long notes. If you take a slow Tactus, then they end up feeling very slow indeed. Certainly, you’ll need arpeggios ‘so as not to leave the instrument empty’. I recommend following Frescobaldi’s advice, and using the Tactus to ‘faciliate’ changes of tempo, which can be ‘difficult’. Play the transition between two sections first in constant Tactus; then apply Frescobaldi’s Rules to adjust the Tactus, and play the transition with the required adjustment.

It is not clear if the ad lib restriking of dissonances refers to the suspended note only, or to the entire dissonant chord. It is also not clear whether a bene placito (which I translate as ‘ad lib’) means ‘if you want’ or ‘as many times as you want’. I have been told that Piccinini recommends something similar for the lute, but I do not have a precise reference for this. [Lutenist readers, please comment!]

Transitions between movements

 4. On the last note, both of trills and of passage-work that moves by leaps or by step, you have to stop, even if that note is a quaver or semi-quaver, or dissimilar to the following note. This pausing will avoid any confusion between one passage and another.

It’s worth noting again the context, which is the assumption of regular Tactus. Frescobaldi’s readers do NOT expect to stop on a short note, and they recognise the need to maintain the Tactus (under normal circumstances) so that contrasts in notated note-values can be understood. However, in the special case of the transition between contrasting sections of a toccata, those 17th-century assumptions are contradicted.

Adagio (not rallentando)

5. The cadences, although they might be written fast, can appropriately be somewhat sustained; and as you approach the conclusion of passage-work or cadences you go sustaining the tempo more adagio. The separation and conclusion of movements is when you find a consonance in both hands together, written in minims.

A stylistic feature of this repertoire is the use of ever-smaller note values for decorated cadences: Frescobaldi says that you don’t have to take the note-values absolutely literally, but the Tactus can be ‘somewhat sustained’. This suggests the ‘sustaining’ of the Tactus hand ‘in the air’, on the upstroke. Approaching the conclusion of a section, the entire Tactus can be slower than normal. It is not clear whether piu adagio means only ‘slower than normal’ or also ‘getting slower and slower’: we should not assume that Frescobaldi is advocating a modern rallentando. My cautious opinion, based on close reading of other sources in this period, is that rallentando is probably not intended, rather it is a one-time shift in tempo. I advise my students to vary the tempo ‘with the gear-lever, not with the brakes or accelerator’.

The Trill challenge!

6. When you find a trill in the right hand, or the left, and simultaneously the other hand has passage-work, you should not synchronise these note by note, but just try to make the trill fast, and carry the passage-work less fast and passionately: otherwise there will be confusion.

Ideally, the trill should have an elegant, subtle ‘shaping’ from slow to fast (as Caccini recommends and many other sources support), rather than being literal. The moving part in the other hand should then be slower than the fast trill, and should be played ‘passionately’. We should not confuse 17th-century passion with 20th-century rubato: Caccini suggests many ways to vary the rhythm of notated quavers, in order to ‘move the passions’, within a steady minim tactus. The concepts here (steady tactus, shapely and fast trill, passionate presentation of the moving notes, independence of the two hands) are challenging for modern readers: the execution is not easy, either!

Harpists might note that this situation occurs in the final notes of the arpa doppia solo in Monteverdi’s Orfeo (Act III, the Aria Possente Spirto): trill in the right hand (with F#, which is a little inconvenient), passionate moving notes in the left hand (fragments of upward scale, each successive fragment is an octave lower, as we descend into the depths of Hell): it is, of course, the end of a passo. Go ahead and apply Frescobaldi Rule 6 – it’s not easy, but the effetto is certainly worth the effort.

Fun with two hands

7. When you find some movement with quavers and semiquavers together in the two hands, it shouldn’t be taken too fast: and the hand that plays the semiquavers must play them somewhat dotted, that is not the first, but the second [note] should be dotted, and so on all the way through, one no, the next yes.

Good practical advice to take these movements at a steady tempo (some modern performers treat them as a race for an Olympic speed record). So whilst one hand moves in quavers (taken normally, and in steady Tactus), the semiquavers in the other hand are given a gentle ‘reverse swing’ in ‘Lombard’ rhythm (short-long). Fun!

Attack resolutely!

8. Before you play a ‘double movement’ where both hands have semiquavers, you should stop on the previous note, even if it is ‘black’ (i.e. short: crotchet, quaver, semiquaver); then resolutely play the passage-work, so that the agility of the hand will be so much more apparent.

The advice to stop before beginning a new movement fits with what we have already been told in Rule 4, although the situation here might be slightly different. Frescobaldi’s care in spelling out the details of these two, apparently very similar, situations, is a warning to us not to apply his Rules without careful checking that the situation really is appropriate. There is no general licence to ‘change the Tactus whenever you want’!

Some modern players like to start such ‘double movement’ passage-work slowly, and accelerate. Frescobaldi rules this out: he tells you to begin ‘resolutely’. This word occurs also in sword-treatises, where spotting the correct moment (also called tempo in the sense of kairos or opportunity) to attack is a vital skill. But once the opportunity to strike is there, you don’t begin slowly, you attack ‘resolutely’! This is another situation where I advise my students “don’t use the brakes and accelerator, use the gear-shift’.


Driving Time

9. In the Partite (variations), when you find passage-work and passionate effects it will be good to take the tempo largo; you should observe this also in the toccate. The other [variations] without passage-work can be played with a somewhat allegro Tactus, leaving the good taste and fine judgement of the player to ‘drive the tempo; in this [driving the tempo] lies the spirit and perfection of this manner and style of playing.

We are reminded here that the Rules are not ‘how to play toccate‘, but ‘how to play with a diversity of movements and passionate vocal effects’. So variation-sets may well have a diversity of movements, and some variations may include passionate vocal effects.

The references to ‘good taste’ and ‘fine judgement’ suggest that the changes in Tactus between adagio, largo and allegro are subtle adjustments to the normal tempo (something around minim = 60 is the ‘default’ setting for this period). Note that Frescobaldi often qualifies words of tempo change with adverbs like ‘somewhat’, ‘slightly’.

To find the correct ‘spirit’ and ‘perfection’ in these small adjustments, we need to make good use of the Tactus to ‘facilitate’ such ‘difficult’ transitions. Especially when the Tactus is going to change somewhat, or even hesitate in the air, we need to have a good understanding of precisely what the Tactus is doing. Often, players change the Tactus in the opposite way from Frescobaldi’s rules, taking the opening arpeggios at a different tempo from, but faster than the succeeding movement. The remedy is to begin by studying the piece in a consistent Tactus, and to manage transitions by focussing on the Tactus, not on the general level of activity in smaller note-values.

The reference to ‘good taste and fine judgement’ does not imply that the player can do ‘whatever they want’. Rather, they are required to be careful in how much, and in which direction, to ‘drive the tempo‘, so that Time’s winged chariot does not crash and burn.

Phaeton van Eyck

Playing with Time can be dangerous: Phaeton tried to drive Apollo’s Sun-Chariot, but he crashed it.

The Passacaglias can be played separately, whatever best pleases you, with adjustments of the tempo between one variation and another, similarly for Ciacconas.


It is not clear whether ‘separately’ means that you can play an individual set of passacaglia variations as a ‘stand-alone’ piece, or if you can select variations from within a set, in the same way that you can select movements from within a toccata. Probably the latter. But note that the Tactus can be changed between one variation and another, according to the Rules already given.

Other Prefaces

In addition to the famous 9 Rules, Frescobaldi gives other summaries of his approach.


The beginnings of the toccate should be played adagio, and the block chords should be arpeggiated. As [the toccata] continues, pay attention to the distinction between movements, carrying them more or less rapidly according to the difference in their passionate effects, which will appear as you play. In the ‘double movements’ [semiquavers in both hands], similarly you go adagio, so that they are better articulated; and in descending leaps, the last note before the leap should always be resolute and fast. It’s appropriate to stop on the last note of a trill, or other passionate effects, such as a leap, or step, even if it is a semiquaver or demisemiquaver. And usually you somewhat sustain the cadences. In the partite you set tempo giusto and with Proportions, and because in some [variations] there are fast movements, start with a comfortable Tactus; it’s inappropriate to start presto and then continue languidly. But [partite] should be carried through entirely in the same tempo. And have no doubt, that the perfection of playing is in the understanding of tempi.

This summary also reminds us of the default assumptions of the early 17th century. There is the expectation of a standard Tactus – tempo giusto – around minim = 60, and triple-metre is managed by Proportions. The normal expectation is that pieces will be played entirely with a constant Tactus.

Nevertheless, the final sentence refers to tempi, in the plural. There can be changes in the Tactus, but ‘perfection’ is in understanding precisely where, when and how.

1624 Primo libro di capricci

These works … of various tempi and variations…

In these pieces, which might seem irregular in their use of counterpoint, you should first look for the passion of the movement in question and the intention of the Composer concerning the delight of the listener and the way one should try to play. In those pieces entitled Capricci, I have not kept such an easy style as in my Ricercari. But you shouldn’t judge their difficulty before putting them into practice at the instrument, where you will recognise by study the passion they should have…

You can choose whichever you like of these movements, and finish in any of them which end in the right tonality. The beginnings should start adagio to give greater spirit and beauty to the following movement; and in the cadences sustain somewhat before you start the next movement. And in tripla [fast triple] or sesquilatera [slow triple] metres, if they are maggiori you set off adagio, if they are minori somewhat more allegro; if they are three semi-minims, piu allegro; if they are 6/4 you give their tempo by making the battuta go allegro.

It is good in some dissonances to dwell on them and arpeggiate them, so that the following movement comes out with more spirit. All this is said with every modesty, and depending on the good judgement of studious performers.

This summary also gives us additional information. Genre distinctions (Ricercare or Capriccio) are significant. To understand difficult music, search for the passion of each movement, and consider the Composer’s intentions.

In the discussion of Proportions, I have left certain terms untranslated, because there is academic debate on their meaning. But my take on this is very straightforward: triple metres might be notated under 3/1 or 3/2, but either way, long notes (three semibreves) go slowly; short notes (three minims) go medium fast. Semi-minims are black with a stick – to a modern reader they look like crotchets: they go faster. If you have a 6/4 section, this goes very fast.

This user-friendly approach to Proportions can be applied to famously challenging situations, for example the ballo in Monteverdi’s Orfeo. See Tactus & Proportions in ‘Lasciate i monti’  here.  The difference between the (consistent) time-duration of particular note-values, and the (diverse) feelings of ‘speed’ in triple metres is explored in Quality Time: how does it feel? here. I set out in detail my take on Tactus and Proportions in Getting back to Monteverdi’s Time here.


I began by urging caution. We need to understand precisely where, when and how Frescobaldi allows departures from the 17th-century default setting of constant Tactus. But close reading reveals that his Rules can appropriately be applied not only to harpsichord solos but to any repertoires in this period that exhibit sectional construction with different rhythmic structures between movements, and/or passionate vocal effects. Certainly that includes the ‘modern’ style of Madrigals around 1615, but it would also seem relevant to vocal monody and – most intriguingly – to ‘opera’.

Whilst the default assumption is that an entire work (e.g. Monteverdi’s Orfeo) has the same, consistent Tactus, Frescobaldi’s Rules suggest particular circumstances where the Tactus might be somewhat faster or slower, or might even hesitate in the air. However, these Tactus changes are between movements (not within a movement), and (I would argue) of the ‘gear-shift’ type, rather than accelerando or rallentando. And the way to study these ‘difficult’ transitions is to identify the passion, apply the appropriate (subtle) adjustment of Tactus, and facilitate the performance by keeping a grip on the Tactus.

All this is very far from ‘rhythmic freedom’ in ‘recitative’, or any general licence to play around with Time. Rather, even when the Tactus is going to change or hesitate, you facilitate the adjustment by means of the Tactus. Don’t crash the Time-Chariot.

Tactus still rules, OK?


Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites and www.TheFlow.Zone

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2010 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions.









Monteverdi, Caccini & Jazz

The Rhythm Section by Suzanne Cerny

The Rhythm Section by Suzanne Cerny


Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) would find basic advice for today’s jazz singers rather familiar:

Your jazz singing voice should be a natural extension of your speaking voice.

In Le Nuove Musiche (1601), Caccini asks for una sorte di musica … quasi che in armonia favellare, usando … una certa nobile sprezzatura di canto. [A kind of music, almost like speaking in harmony, using a certain elegantly ‘cool’ vocal production.] Note that, contrary to received opinion, Caccini’s sprezzatura is not to do with rhythm, but with voice-production. See Play it again Sam, the truth about Caccini’s sprezzaturahere.  The complete original text of Le Nuove Musiche is here.

Your aim is to move an audience by conveying the lyrics of a song as if it were a poem.

The aim of music, and all the Rhetorical arts of the 17th century is muovere gli affetti [to move the emotions]. Caccini too searches for the forza di muovere l’affetto dell’animo [the force to move the emotions of the mind], noting that non potevano … muovere l’intelletto senza l’intelligenza delle parole [you can’t move feelings unless the words are understood]. Caccini proclaims la musica altro non essere che la favella e’l ritmo, & il suono per ultimo, e non per lo contrario. [Music is nothing other than Text and Rhythm, with sound last of all. And not the other way around!]

Now sing your song … exactly as it was originally written by the songwriter.

That should prevent you copying a particular interpretation off a recording by an admired artist: rather, you should create your own version of the song. This is very good advice for students of 17th-century song, too. It’s surprising how many interpretative touches have been passed through the Early Music movement, even when they are contradicted by well-known period sources. And all too often, Early Music singers begin introducing random rhythmic changes (in the name of ‘expressiveness’) before learning what the composer actually wrote!

Rhythmic displacement

Nevertheless, the subtle rhythmic displacement that is so important for Jazz is mentioned also by Caccini (but remember, this is not sprezzatura).

The freedom to loosen up the rhythm of a song spontaneously to add intensity is one of the joys of singing jazz. To practise rhythmic displacement, it is a good idea to begin by learning … the song. [Then], start subtly “loosening up” the timing of each phrase. The idea here is to sing the words rather like you might say them. Try shortening and lengthening different notes each time you sing a phrase and notice how playing about with the rhythm changes the emphasis on the words and can help you put your own stamp on a song. Your singing will also sound more like jazz if you leave a short space (about the length of a clap) before launching into every phrase.

For a few bars of one of his three example songs, Caccini applies senza misura [unmeasured, i.e. ‘loosened up’ timing], asking for this particular phrase to be quasi favellando in armonia con la suddetta sprezzatura [almost speaking in harmony with the above-mentioned sprezzatura]. The ‘above-mentioned sprezzatura‘ is a ‘cool’ vocal production.

The jazz citations above are from The Guardian’s online Jazz Singing Advice (2009), full text here, and having dealt with words, the anonymous columnist continues with a paragraph on Swing, paralleling Caccini’s priorities of Text and Rhythm.

Pamelia Phillips similarly mentions Rhythmic Displacement in Singing for Dummies 2nd Edition (2010). [You can read more of Phillips’ Training Requirements for Singing Jazz here.]

Jazz singers … usually change the notes and rhythms from the original music. Jazz singers create their style with rhythmic flexibility, and the singer and pianist don’t always have to be together note for note (called back phrasing).

But this rhythmic flexibility is certainly not anarchic or random. Like Caccini and the Guardian’s jazz expert, Phillips emphasises that

The jazz singer needs a great sense of rhythm.

Just as in renaissance Italy. The Anonymous swordmaster of Bologna writes in L’Arte della Spada [The Art of the Sword, MS Ravenna M-345 & M-346. There is a modern edition by Rubboli & Cesari, who date the treatise to the early 16th century, whilst the consensus view places it c1650] that swordsmen need the same sense of precision rhythm as a good singer!

L'Arte della Spada Anonimo Bolognese

The Hidden Assumption

But the Guardian, Phillips and Caccini all fail to mention (though Phillips hints at it) a vital, hidden assumption. Whilst the singer ‘loosens up the timing’ with rhythmic displacement, rhythmic flexibility or senza misura (whatever you want to call it), the accompaniment maintains a steady swing. We take this for granted in jazz, and the renaissance concept of Tactus similarly requires a steady slow pulse. (For Monteverdi, Caccini etc, evidence suggests a consensus Tactus speed of around minim = 60). The crucial point I’m making is that this concept of Tactus still pertains in the accompaniment, even when the singer is applying Caccini’s senza misura.

Monteverdi notates this practice, for example in the opening phrase of Orpheus’ aria in the underworld, Possente Spirto, from Act III of Orfeo (1607).

Possente Spirto incipit

Just as Phillips describes for jazz, singer and basso continuo are not always together.

Taking Monteverdi as a model, here is my realisation of Caccini’s example of senza misura from Le Nuove Musiche, showing how the singer might loosen up the timing, whilst the continuo maintain the Tactus.

Aure divine, ch'errate peregrine

Such a realisation fundamentally redefines the role of the continuo. Nowadays, continuo-players are asked to follow even the most random, rhythmically anarchic singers. It feels like that fairground game, where you wait, rifle (or theorbo) in hand, until a little yellow duck (the tenor) waddles into your sights, and then you fire off a chord, and hope to hit him in root position.

Duck shoot

But jazz singing, and Monteverdi’s notation of Caccini’s senza misura, require the accompaniment to maintain the swing, or Tactus. In jazz, those accompanists are called the Rhythm Section. In Monteverdi’s time, the continuo group are

Those who guide and sustain the whole body of singers and instruments of the ensemble.

quei, che guidano e sostengono tutto il corpo delle voci  e stromenti di detto concerto [Agazzari Del suonare sopra ‘l basso (1607)]. There is, of course, no conductor, so the continuo are indeed the Rhythm Section of seicento music.

None of this should be shocking to Early Music readers, except that the familiar role of the continuo as Rhythm Section, maintaining the swing of the Tactus, still pertains, even in what  Caccini calls lo nuovo stile [the new style] of what musicologists call early baroque Monody, and most performers (anachronistically) call Recitative.

[See Redefining Recitative here. Circa 1600, recitare just means ‘to act’, whether in spoken drama, opera, or silent pantomime. Musica recitativa is thus ‘acted music’, i.e. dramatic music. The period term for speech-like declamation over a slow-moving bass is modulazione. 18th-century Recitative is something else. In late 17th-century England, what Samuel Pepys calls ‘Recitative Music’ is rhythmically structured, Caccini-style. See Andrew Lawrence-King, ‘’Tis Master’s Voice: A Seventeenth-Century Shakespeare Recording?’ in R.S. White, Mark Houlahan & Katrina O’Loughlin, eds., Shakespeare and Emotions: Inheritances, Enactments, Legacies (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).]

Heavenly Tactus or Hellish Duckshoot?

At the foot of the title page of Agazzari’s treatise, there are two Latin mottos. One shows a diagram of the cosmos, a model of armonia [which in this period means not only harmony, but music in general, in particular well-ordered or ‘goodly’ music].

Armonia comes from movement.

Specifically, well-ordered music comes from the perfect movement of the stars and planets, imitated on earth by the regular swing of the Tactus-beater’s arm, conceptualised as the authority of the Tactus itself.

Ex motu armonia

All this refers to the idea of the Harmony of the Spheres, the notion that earthly music-making, musica instrumentalis, is an imitation of the perfect music of the heavens, musica mondana; both of these symbolise musica humana, the harmonious nature of the human body. Well-ordered music is related to healthy well-being. Steady rhythm is a reflection of cosmic perfection.  Thus Dowland, translating Ornithoparcus’ Micrologus, declares that steady Tactus, “Equality of Measure” is a moral imperative.

Dowland Above all things original

Agazzari’s second motto is placed ‘stage left’, rhetorically the ‘bad’ area in contrast to the cosmos diagram placed in the ‘good’ area. It captions an image of the serpent in the pit of hell, and warns ominously:

And they don’t mess up, either!


Nec tamen inficiunt


If we view Caccini’s invitation for singers to apply senza misura and Agazzari’s description of the continuo ‘guiding the voices’ through the lens of these two mottos, we see a practice that today’s jazz-musicians would recognise: a singer is free to sing before or after the beat, whilst (in the Rhythm Section) the continuo-players maintain the Tactus. “And they don’t mess up, either!”.



Modern advice about jazz cannot prove anything, either way, about Early Music. But the parallels I’ve drawn here show the vital significance of underlying assumptions. Today’s performers approach Caccini and Monteverdi with the anachronistic label ‘Recitative’, which encourages them to abandon the period assumption of steady Tactus. Instead, they assume that the way to ‘express emotions’ is to use 20th-century rubato. But jazz and Caccini are not ‘expressing’ what the performer feels, they seek to move the audience‘s passions. Jazz does this by allowing the singer subtle rhythmic flexibility whilst the Rhythm Section maintains the swing; Monteverdi notates precisely this; I suggest this is what Caccini meant by suggesting senza misura for singers.

The underlying assumptions about music in the early 17th century are that Rhythm is a high priority, that there is a steady Tactus, and that this Tactus is maintained by the continuo.

Agazzari frontispiece

Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites and www.TheFlow.Zone

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2010 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions.





Logical, Captain! The implications of Peri’s Preface

Logical Captain


Before I offer you, dear Readers, this analysis of mine, I think I ought to bring to your attention what has led me to re-examine this well-known Preface, for in all human operations logic should be the beginning and source…

Peri Euridice Preface incipit




Here is a statement of my own, about Jacopo Peri’s Preface to his setting of Euridice (1600), the earliest surviving secular ‘opera’.


I reduced the Preface to its essential point, so that the process of reading should not need (in a kind of way) to ‘plough through’ every sentence. That’s the principle of a summary, whereas the  complete Preface naturally requires detailed examination.


I modelled this statement on Peri’s sentence structures, but working logically through the 17th-century formulations, it should be clear that:


  • I am discussing a summary.
  • There are differences between a summary and the complete Preface.
  • I made the summary by reducing the Preface to its essential argument.
  • The idea is to avoid ‘ploughing’ by means of the reduction of the Preface.


There are two further implications:


  • Normally, with the complete Preface, the attentive reader will indeed ‘plough through’ every sentence.
  • Even in a summary, readers will follow me, though they don’t ‘plough through’.


Now here is a summary of Peri’s most famous statement about the composition of dramatic music, explaining how he imitates ‘the course of speech’ in song [his complete text is below]:


I reduced the Bass to its essential pulse, so that the course of speaking should not seem (in a kind of way) to ‘dance’ to the movement of the Bass. That’s the principle for sad or serious material, whereas happier texts naturally require more movement in the Bass.

Working logically through Peri’s 17th-century formulations, it should be clear that:


  • Peri is discussing music for sad or serious texts.
  • There are differences between sad or serious material, and happier texts.
  • Peri made his serious music by reducing the Bass to its essential pulse.
  • The idea is to remove ‘dancing’ by means of the reduction of the Bass.


There are two further implications:


  • Normally, in happier texts, stylish singing will indeed ‘dance’ to the movement of the Bass.
  • Even in sad or serious material, singers will follow the Bass, though they don’t ‘dance’.


Peri’s Preface has often been misunderstood as an appeal for ‘rhythmic liberty’, and its most famous statement mis-interpreted as ‘singers should not follow the Bass’. Those frequently repeated distortions fit comfortably with the 20th-century notion of rubato and free rhythm as the epitome of expressiveness, and with the modern convention that accompanists must follow the soloist. But period sources from Agazzari to CPE Bach and Leopold Mozart insist that the Bass lays down the Tactus, and that soloists follow this essential pulse (just as in today’s jazz). Sometimes the singing ‘dances’, sometimes it is sad or serious, but it always has the essential pulse of Tactus, led by the Bass. Before the year 1800, soloists follow the accompaniment, because accompanists have particular responsibility for maintaining the Tactus.


Meanwhile, the ‘liberties’ Peri asks for are not to do with rhythm, but relate to musical ‘grammar’ – the rules of dissonance, l’uso delle false. When he does talk about rhythm, he draws attention to the great variety of note values he employs, linked to the emotions of the text. Contrasts in note-values would be destroyed, if there was no underlying pulse to structure all that variety: indeed such destruction of notated contrasts is just what happens in many modern ‘free’ performances of early 17th-century monody.


Throughout  Peri’s Preface, there is nothing to contradict the general (historical) assumptions for all music of this period:


  • There is a regular Tactus pulse.
  • Soloists follow the Bass.

You can read more about Tactus here. And you can read about how Tactus structured early 17th-century music here.


One last observation: Peri never uses the word ‘recitative’. His topic is nuova maniera di canto (a new kind of song, a new way of singing) for Musica su le scene (Theatrical Music). And he refers to even the most poignant speeches of Orpheus, of the lamenting shepherd Arcetro and of Dafne (the Messaggiera) as arie. The word aria in this period does not necessarily mean a ‘tuneful melody’, but rather refers to elements of repeated structure, for example a ground bass, or any repeated rhythmic fragment.


Peri’s complete text with my translation and commentary are below.

Peri Euridice Preface vale

And may you live happily!



Annotated translation:

Jacopo Peri Preface to Euridice (Florence, 1600)

The original Italian text is here, along with the music of Euridice (mostly by Peri himself, but with some items contributed by Caccini).


Editorial procedure: I have tried to stay close to Peri’s word-order, and to use English cognates whenever possible, to help the reader follow the Italian text in parallel. Any serious discussion of this key text has to be made using the original Italian text, since translation (and the specific 17th-century meaning) of Peri’s terms is inevitably open to question.

Jacopo Peri 

Before I offer you, dear Readers, this Music of mine, I think I ought to bring to your attention to what has led me to invent this new manner of song, for in all human operations, reason should be the beginning and source; And he who cannot show reason easily leads one to believe that he worked by chance.


Peri offers a Scholastic defence for the Humanist project of creating a new kind of music. Ritrovare, which I have translated as ‘invent’, also means ‘to find out again, or to retrieve’ (Florio Dictionarie of the Italian and English tongues. London, 1611). Although Peri’s ‘manner of song; is ‘new’, the artistic endeavour was to re-discover Ancient music. This suggests interesting comparisons to today’s Early Music!


Although by Signor Emilio del Cavaliere, before any other that I know, with marvellous invention our Music was made to be heard on the Stage; nevertheless it pleased Signori Jacopo Corsi and Ottavio Rinuccini (at the end of the year 1594), that I should apply it [our music] in another guise, setting to notes the fable of Dafne, written by Signor Ottavio, to make a simple test of what singing could do in our era.


Peri properly acknowledges Cavalieri’s achievements, and presents his own previous experience. Corsi was a patron of ‘early opera’, Rinuccini one of the greatest libretto poets. Caccini is not mentioned, in spite of his strong claims to have invented the new style himself, but Peri quietly positions his 1594 Dafne well in advance of the rival settings of Euridice  and Caccini’s Le Nuove Musiche (1601/2). Peri’s Euridice, which includes some music by Caccini, was the first to be performed, but Caccini rushed his own complete setting into print before Peri’s was published.


From this it is seen that we were dealing with dramatic poetry, but if one should imitate in song how one speaks (and without doubt, no one ever actually spoke by singing), I esteem that the ancient Greeks and Romans (who according to the opinion of many sang entire Tragedies on the Stage) used a musical style, which going beyond that of ordinary speaking, descended so much from the melody of singing, that it took the form of something intermediate; And this is the reason by which we see in this Poetry there is a place for the Iambic, which is not exalted like the Hexameter, but merely is said to advance beyond the confines of everyday discourse.


There was no difficulty in setting to music diegetic songs and dances (theatrical scenes which represented the characters making music) and it was accepted as a convention that Prolouges, Choruses, Gods and similar other-worldly figures might sing. The question Peri grapples with here is the theatrical representation of speech. In the Platonic tradition, imitare implies also ‘artistic expression or representation’. Peri admits that people don’t normally sing when they speak, and looks to Ancient Greece and Rome for an intermediate form, something between speech and song. He compares this to blank verse, which is intermediate between prose and poetry..


Armonia can mean ‘harmony’, but often has a wider meaning as any kind of musical organisation, especially rhythmic, as well as melody: here, I translate it as ‘musical style’, for Peri is concerned with the melodic and rhythmic patterns of speech. Peri’s ‘something intermediate’ reminds us of Caccini’s sprezzatura, a nonchalant, ‘cool’  voice-production, something between singing and normal speech.


Contrary to received opinion. Caccini’s sprezzatura is NOT rhythmic freedom.  Read what Caccini actually wrote, here.      


And so, having rejected any other manner of song heard until now, I devoted myself totally to researching the representation needed for these Poems; and I consider that the sort of tones, which the Ancients assigned to singing, and which they called Diastematica (as if drawn out and suspended) could sometimes be taken faster, and take a moderate course between the movements of song (slow and suspended) and speech (speedy and fast), & be adapted to my proposition (as they [the Ancients] also adapted it [Diastematica] when reading Poetry and Epic verses) to approach that other [sort of tone] of speaking, which they called Continuous; This is what our modern people (although perhaps for another end) have already done in their music.


‘Researching’ translates Peri’s ricercare, which – like ritrovare – carries also the suggestion of rediscovering or searching again. The word reminds us of abstract polyphonic music designated ricercar, recalling the concept – of music being ‘found’ rather than invented – at the root of the word Troubador.  


‘Tones’ translates Peri’s voci: his word takes oin the concepts of ‘voice’, ‘note’, ‘syllable’, ‘vowel’.  Again, Peri proposes something ‘intermediate’ between slow singing and fast speech: he also suggests that that the syllable speed would vary.  He makes a parallel with different ways of reading lyric and epic verse. Around 1600, it was already customary, even in polyphonic music, to set text to varied note-values.    

Peri on Recitative

I know similarly that in our speaking some tones are pitched in such a way that there one could lay a musical foundation, and in the course of speech many other [tones] pass by, which are not pitched, until one returns to another [tone] suitable for movement of a new harmony, & having respect for those modes and those accents which are needed in lamenting and rejoicing & in similar matters, I made the Bass move in the time of these, sometimes more, sometimes less, according to the emotions, and kept it unmoving through the dissonances and through the correct consonances, until – running through various notes – the tone of the speaker arrives at that [syllable] which in ordinary speaking would be pitched: [this] opens the way to a new harmony;


Peri takes his inspiration from the sustained syllables of declamatory speech, for which a musical pitch can be assigned, and/or a harmonious accompaniment created. Again, the word ‘tones’ should be read to  include also the concepts of ‘the voice’, ‘syllables’ and ‘vowels’. The word accenti carries the meanings of  ‘expressive words’ and ‘expressive notes’: in this period it also means a particular expressive ornament. Armonia can mean the pitch of the sung note, or a harmony in the accompaniment.


Peri constructs a bass-line according to the musical requirements of varying emotions .Those emotions dictate the rhythm of the bass, which moves ‘sometimes more, sometimes less’. Sometimes he keeps the bass fixed in spite of some dissonances in the voice-part. After many quick, light, ‘unpitched’ syllables, the bass plays a new harmony with the next sustained, pitched syllable.     

Peri Euridice Preface 'dance' to the bass

And this is not only so that the course of speaking should not wound the ear (as if stumbling as it encounters the repeated strings of more frequent harmonies) or that [the course of speaking] should not seem in a kind of way to dance to the movement of the Bass, principally in matters  either sad or serious, other happier [matters] naturally requiring more frequent rhythms:


Peri’s word corde, ‘strings’ implies the notes played by the continuo-bass. The bass should not play too often, because this  would disrupt the proper course of speech. Here I think Peri refers to the pitch-level of the ‘course of speaking’ which would ‘stumble’ upon the dissonances created with an unchanging bass-note, if that note were repeated. It is significant that he associates the continuo-bass with the plucked string of a theorbo, harpsichord or harp (bowed strings and organ can sustain, they would not need to repeat their notes). Nevertheless, the word corda can also refer to a note played on the organ. This first sub-clause refers to problems of harmony, rather than rhythm. 


In the next sub-clause, Peri turns to the question of rhythm. His famous, and oft-quoted phrase that the course of speech should not ‘dance’ to the movement of the Bass needs to be read very closely. The implication is that the singer does follow the bass, and even ‘dances’ in other, happier, music. The singer still follows the bass in ‘sad and serious’ music, but the bass moves less and the singer does not ‘dance’. 


It is precisely because the singer expects to follow the bass that Peri has to reduce the amount of activity in that bass for ‘sad or serious’ music. The effect of ‘dancing’ is avoided, if the singer only has to coincide with the bass on those significant syllables that are properly pitched and accompanied with a new harmony, and when the bass only moves in long notes, i.e. at the Tactus level of minims and semibreves. In happy music, the bass is more active, the Tactus pulse is rhythmically sub-divided, leading to the effect of ‘dancing’.


But also, because the [correct] use of dissonances would either reduce or cover up the advantage we gain from the necessity of pitching every note, which perhaps the ancient Music did not need to do.


Peri’s phrase uso delle false carries the meaning of ‘the correct procedures of dissonance’. Peri knows that his proposed infrequent movement of the bass is contrary to the normal rules of counterpoint. Since, in the voice part, he has to set even light & quick syllables to some specific note, there are passing dissonances between voice and bass that are not properly prepared and resolved. He wonders if ‘ancient music’ didn’t actually pitch every single note!


But (although I do not dare to assert this to have been the song used in Greek and Roman fables), so I believe it to be the only [song] that can be given from our Music to accommodate to our speech.




In this famous description of his composing method, Peri presents several fundamental concepts of early 17th-century music, familiar to academics, but contrary to the standard operating procedures of many today’s early music performers:


  • The voice normally follows the rhythm of the bass
  • The voice follows the rhythm of the bass even in ‘sad or serious’ music
  • The emotion is built into the rhythm of the bass, as well as into harmonies and melodic figures
  • In sad, serious ‘recitative’ the fixed rhythmic points of the bass occur less frequently
  • In light, happy music the fixed rhythmic points of the bass occur more frequently
  • Between these fixed rhythmic points, the ‘song’ follows the ‘natural course of speaking’
  • The  ‘course of speech’ refers to the poetic metre of the syllables, & the approximate pitch of the speaking voice
  • The ‘in-between’ syllables should be passed over quickly and lightly, almost without musical pitch 
  • The ‘freedom Peri asks for in his speech-like music is the freedom to ignore the normal rules of counterpoint.


Peri’s ‘new style for theatrical music’ is ‘intermediate’ in several ways:

  • The syllabic speed is intermediate between normal speech (which is faster) and normal singing (which is slower).

This is exactly what results, if one performs the ‘new style’ music with a consistent Tactus at approximately minim = 60. Many modern performances are too slow, too ‘sung’.

  • The voice production is intermediate between normal speech (which is not pitched) and normal singing (which is fully pitched)

Most modern performances are fully sung: it is hard to re-create this voice production, but try lightening up the unaccented syllables, maintaining the Tactus, and not singing too loud! The early operas were sung softly, compared to contemporary church music.

  • The coordination with the bass is intermediate between normal speech (which has no Tactus) and normal singing (which might even ‘dance’ to the bass-line’s subdivision of the Tactus).

Peri’s ‘reduced’ bass typically moves in semibreves and minims,  corresponding to Tactus and semi-Tactus. So in ‘sad or serious’ music the singer fits ‘the course of speech’ within the framework of steady Tactus, in happy music, the singer ‘dances’ to the more active movement of the Bass.   

Peri describes a kind of music in which the bass moves infrequently, whilst the voice sustains significant syllables, and then passes lightly and rapidly over several less important syllables. We see this kind of music in his setting of Euridice, which follows this Preface. Today, we call this Recitative, but Peri does not use the words recitativo or musica recitativa. According to the anonymous (c1630) MS, Il Corago, what we nowadays call ‘Recitative’ was known as modulazione, and music with any kind of repeating structure (rhythmic, harmonic or melodic) was called aria.  Musica recitativa meant ‘dramatic music’ and it included both modulazione and aria. Recitare meant ‘to act’, whether in spoken drama, music-theatre, or even silent pantomime.


These differences in historical nomenclature remind us that we cannot apply our modern assumptions about ‘Recitative’, nor performance practice for 18th-century recitative, to Peri’s theatrical music. There is nothing to suggest that Peri’s ‘sad or serious’ music was rhythmically free. Rather, it is built on the foundation (Peri’s word is fondare) of a slow-moving bass, whereas happy music ‘dances’ to a fast-moving bass.


Having explained how he composed his modulazione, in the second part of the Preface Peri discusses how it was performed. I’ll translate and comment on that in another post.


Until then, “may you live happily!”

Peri Euridice Prologo

Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites and www.TheFlow.Zone

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2010 to 2o15 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.


Flow (The Oxford papers) Part 1: What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet (1597) Act II Scene ii

The Shakespeare Rose

The Shakespeare Rose


This is the first in a series of posts reporting on the recent Music & Consciousness 2 Conference at Oxford University. Here I present the first part of my own paper. The second part and discussion of other papers will appear in subsequent posts.

Flow, an optimal state for study, training and creativity, is often linked with the concept of The Zone, an ideal state for elite performance. Are these two states identical, or how might they differ?  Does it matter, which name we use? See more at TheFlow.Zone


See also May the Flow be with you! here.


In this first of two parts, I’m considering the similarities between Flow and The Zone, as two of the many different manifestations of Hypnotic trance. I’m arguing for very careful use of language, but not for the sake of a more rigorous theoretical discussion. The narrow definitions of some terms are highly contentious, so I’m deliberately accepting broad definitions in order to sidestep those theoretical debates. But I suggest that precise choice of terminology is vital, for utterly practical reasons.

As you read this paper, imagine it being presented aloud at a conference, with the words in bold emphasised by subtle changes in vocal tone.


My approach to this subject is Experiential, Phenomenological, individual and practical. I draw on my personal experiences as an international musician, as a professionally qualified sailor (sailing is one of Csikszentmihalyi’s favourite examples of Flow) and as an elementary student of Feldenkrais Method, Tai Chi, modern Epée and historical Rapier. I’m also privileged with many opportunities to compare notes with fellow performers and advanced music students, as well as with highly experienced teachers and some of the world’s most insightful sports trainers and martial artists. The theoretical background to my approach is Joe Griffin’s Expectation Theory of Dreams. Griffin speaks about his theory on video:


I discuss the implications of Griffin’s theory for Flow and for music & drama here.


For a moment, let’s leave aside the much-debated theoretical question of whether or not Flow can strictly be termed an Altered State of Consciousness, although later I’m going to place great importance on nomenclature for practical reasons. We can agree, can’t we, that sometimes we feel in the mood to work, ready to practise; or we feel the coffee-break coming on, or even “I’m in a right state”;  or we experience that je-ne-sais-quoi as we walk out on stage in front of a packed auditorium, or line-up to compete in a major sports event.

Our expectations and habits, our deliberate preparation and conditioned reflexes, Anchors in NLP-speak, set up mind/body responses which can be positive or negative for desired outcomes in specific situations. Those responses can be optimised through mental and physical training: music lessons, practising and rehearsals; sports training and coaching sessions.


Those responses are most effectively optimised through combined mind/body training in which physical processes and neural changes are programmed by specific use of language.

It matters – a lot – what you say in a music-lesson, rehearsal or coaching session. It matters – perhaps even more – what you say to yourself, your inner dialogue, whilst practising. My choice of words as director differs depending on whether I’m rehearsing baroque specialists or a modern chamber orchestra. And each individual has their own inner dialogue and primary sensory modality. “I see what you mean.” (Visual).  “I hear what you’re saying.” (Auditory) “I’ve got a hold on that idea.” (Kinaesthetic) “That feels right.” (Somatic) “Sweet!” (Gustatory).


I began my research with two huge assumptions. I won’t call them hypotheses, because they probably can’t be proved. It may well even be impossible to falsify them. But thus far, they are producing meaningful questions and plausible answers.

My first assumption is that this phenomenon of Flow has some essential common features across a wide range of activities: study, creative work, music-making, sports, martial arts, flying aeroplanes etc. Csikszentmihalyi has observed the outward signs of Flow in many different situations, but it remains an unproven assumption that the inner reality is somehow ‘the same’.

The second assumption is that Flow is an ‘altered state of consciousness’ similar to ‘hypnosis’. Just as there is debate about the notion of ‘altered states of consciousness’, there is no universal agreement about what Hypnosis is. The ‘first and perhaps most important’ theme of ‘dialogue and debate’ in the 2008 Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis is of definition: what is Hypnosis? However, the neural correlates of Hypnosis have been identified:

‘Now, numerous experimentally controlled investigations have produced consistent and converging findings demonstrating physiological responses associated with hypnotic conditions … these markers directly reflect the alterations in consciousness that correspond to participant’s subjective experiences of perceptual alteration’ [Barabasz and Watkins 2005].

What is Hypnosis?

What is Flow?



Whilst there are many unanswered questions in Hypnosis Research, linking Flow to Hypnosis invites us to consider all the work that has already been done for Hypnosis for possible relevance to Flow. For example, neurological patterns whilst hallucinating a certain action in Hypnosis closely resemble the patterns for that activity when carried out for real. Similarly, we can expect that the brain activity of a musician playing in Flow will resemble that of another musician not in Flow, more than that of Flowing Kung Fu fighter. Any specific neurological markers for Flow are likely to be subtle, but Hypnosis studies might suggest where to look. [There were tentative suggestions of neural correlates for Flow in other papers at the Oxford Conference].

Researchers tend to adopt a narrow definition of Hypnosis, requiring a formal induction and specified tests. Experimental work begins by testing subjects for hypnotisability, using a Standardised Induction.  Most practitioners work with a broad definition, using a great variety of inductions, formal and informal. The guru of modern hypnotism was Milton H Erikson, who viewed trance as a natural phenomenon, a state we all go in and out of several times a day.


What is Hypnosis?

What is Hypnosis?


Have you ever made a familiar journey, and found yourself at your destination with no clear memory of how you got there, because your mind was on something else? You were in a travel trance. Have you ever been in a lecture-room and found yourself off in a little daydream, with no idea what the speaker just said? You were in a conference trance!

Erikson’s mantra was to Accept and Utilise his clients’ reactions. So if you have already drifted off, wonderful! I can get my suggestions over so much more effectively, if you are in trance. Erikson’s approach was client-centred, tailored to each individual, whereas Research pre-supposes that the Hypnotist has his own agenda. There are ethical considerations here. In the Eriksonian understanding of Hypnosis, self-hypnosis is quite possible, and most practioners consider it highly beneficial, teach it, and give Suggestions during sessions of guided hypnosis to facilitate self-hypnosis later.

What is NLP?

What is NLP?


Neuro-Linguistic Programming largely derives from Eriksonian Hypnosis, analysing precise use of language to maximise the speed and efficacy of Suggestions. NLP is ‘take no prisoners’ Hypnosis: it does not beat about the bush, but cuts straight to the chase. Consequently, before embarking on any therapeutic procedures, NLP practitioners spend some time establishing whether the client really wants and is ready for the requested change.

Practitioners recognise that individuals respond to Hypnotism in different ways, and that an Induction that works for one person may not work for another. In the Eriksonian approach, the Hypnotist does not try to force through against ‘client resistance’. Rather, one accepts that a certain Induction or Suggestion isn’t working, and one tries to utilise that knowledge to indicate a more promising alternative.

In my favourite Erikson story , the famous therapist was struggling with a difficult case: he couldn’t find an effective therapeutic approach. So he hypnotised the client, and brought him (whilst in trance) forwards in time to a date after the successful conclusion of his treatment. He then asked him what the therapy was, that had succeeded, and having obtained the answer directed the still hypnotised client to forget this conversation. He then brought the client back to the present, re-oriented him out of trance, and applied the therapy as described. It worked a treat.

The point is that the unconscious mind is a rich resource, full of knowledge and skills that may not be available to us in normal consciousness. In music teaching and sports coaching, the 19th and 20th-century trend was towards analysis and scientific teaching of step by step processes. But sometimes it can be more effective to reverse-engineer: focus on the end-result, and let the student’s unconscious figure out the required process. Fencers are taught to imagine the target attracting the point of the sword towards it.


In principle, NLP does not accept the concept of hypnotisability. If your client cannot be  hypnotised, you are using the wrong induction. Conversely, many people enter Hypnosis without formal induction. If this is true, as most practitioners believe, then some of the most rigorous Hypnosis Research is called into question. Standard practice compares the responses to Suggestions of hypnotised subjects and of a control group who did not receive an Induction and are therefore taken to be in a normal state of consciousness. But in the NLP view, there is no guarantee that the control group are not also in trance, especially if you start making hypnotic Suggestions to them. Indeed, in NLP, the very concept of ‘normal consciousness’ is questioned.


One of the most inspiring applications of Hypnosis is for control of pain during surgery, for example for patients who are are allergic to conventional anaesthetics. I’m acquainted with a Hypnotist who provides hypnotic anaesthesia for major dental surgery – if anyone still thinks of Hypnotism as a party-trick or a new-age fad, this clinical application is undeniably the real thing.  Some clinical psychotherapists use Hypnotism alongside other talking therapies.

Then there is a huge Hypnotism industry worldwide, offering Hypnosis in face-to-face sessions, on CDs and DVDs, or for download from the internet. Help with losing weight, giving up smoking, relationship problems, phobias and anxiety is much in demand. Alongside these, and also in sports- and music-guru websites, Flow and other performance-enhancing concepts are marketed similarly. In these circles, it is taken for granted that Flow or ‘being in the Zone’ is the secret of elite performance, and that Hypnotism can help you achieve it. The most frequently asked questions are How can I get into Flow? How can I keep Flowing in difficult circumstances? How can I cope with Performance Anxiety?

Flow FAQs

Flow FAQs


Griffin’s theory of Dreams offers an explanation for the link, often remarked on, between high creativity and susceptibility to mental illness. Recent studies have highlighted the incidence of mental health problems and alcohol dependency amongst professional musicians; performance anxiety afflicts not only students but many established performers. Beta-blockers and other drugs are frequently needed, to say nothing of dangerous levels of caffeine. Mental illness causes untold suffering not only to the patient, but to their families and to society as a whole: the recent airplane crash in the Alps is tragic example. See Griffin & Tyrell How to lift Depression […fast] here.

Many people find that trance itself – for example, in Meditation – is a beneficial experience, even without any deliberate input of therapeutic Suggestions. Flow for music-making, for study, creativity and for life in general, is highly conducive to mental health.

How to lift depression ... Fast


Csikszentmihalyi associated Flow with a particular personality type, the Autotelic, from auto ~ self & telos ~ purpose. Autotelics are strongly self-motivated, ready to do something for its own sake, ‘because it’s there’. If you feel that the task at hand is interesting and worth doing, you are more likely to be in Flow whilst you are doing it. If you can find this motivation for yourself in many activities, you can live much of your life in Flow.

This is all very well, but it does not answer the most frequently asked question: How can I get into Flow, now? Re-building your entire personality might be a long-term project. Can we find a short-cut, a magic portal, a hidden gateway into Flow?


How can I get into Flow?

How can I get into Flow?


The idea I’m putting forward here, that Flow might simply be a phenomenon of Self-Hypnosis, seems to be a new contribution to the field. The implication is that techniques for entering Flow would resemble hypnotic Inductions.


Hypnosis 1: Pre-talk

Hypnosis 1: Pre-talk

So let’s look at a typical experience for a Client who visits a modern Hypnotist. There will be some introductory chat, which the experienced Hypnotist will utilise to build rapport, to find out what’s important to his Client, to explain the procedures of the session and to instill confidence. This phase is called the Pre-Talk, and a fine Hypnotist will be able to do a lot of effective work, before taking the Client into trance. An NLP practitioner might not draw any hard boundary between pre-talk and trance, regarding shifts of state as a natural process that is happening anyway.

Hypnosis 2: Induction

Hypnosis 2: Induction


There are many possible approaches to Induction (for example, there’s a list of over 30 different Inductions here), but most of them mimic the results of Hypnosis, slow deep breathing, fluttering eyelids, etc. so that the unconscious mind reverse-engineers trance as a cause. Suggestions for relaxation and concentration, whilst seeking an inner focus, are very often employed, using a gentle tone of voice… drifting easily from one suggestion to the next … smoothly avoiding full stops … timing suggestions with the Client’s outbreath…

Alternatively, one can overload the conscious mind with shock, excessively confusing language, or too many simultaneous demands, so that the unconscious is forced to step into the gap. Fencing coaches deliberately employ such Stack Overload, maintaining the complexity of swordplay just beyond the pupil’s comfort zone, in order to keep the unconscious mind positively engaged whilst under the stress of combat.

Ericksonian Hypnotists use the mnemonic SOLER for techniques that facilitate rapport:

Erikson's SOLER mnemonic

Erikson’s SOLER mnemonic


  • Sit (be comfortable, and on the same level with your client)
  • Have an Open posture
  • Lean forwards (and concentrate closely on the client)
  • Make Eye contact
  • Relax


With such rapport, and with the Hypnotist also enjoined to sit comfortably, concentrate and relax, it is hardly surprising that one can all too easily end up hypotising oneself. In the NLP view, mutual trance is inevitable and no bad thing: Hypnotist and Client find themselves in complementary states of consciousness, similar but not identical. So too performers and audiences: see The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica hypnotises the Heroes here.


Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Neuro-Linguistic Programming


NLP practitioners use indirect language, so-called Sleight of Mouth, to smuggle suggestions past the conscious mind in order to influence the unconscious. Conjunctions – as, while – can link a truism to a desired response: As you breathe out, you can feel your shoulders relaxing. Whilst you sit in this room, you’re unconscious mind can access new learnings. Clearly, you are sitting in this room and breathing; the implication is that the second half of each sentence is also true. Emphasising certain words allows the Hypnotist to hide an Embedded Command within an apparently innocuous statement: “your Unconscious” sounds like “you’re unconscious”.  Deliberately vague language, Nominalisations in NLP-speak, access new learnings rather than learn something new directs the mind inwards in the search for meaning (a Trans-Derivational Search).

Whilst you sit in this room, you’re unconscious mind can access new learnings.

So it’s no wonder that the abstract, nominalisation-rich language of academia puts people to sleep!

There are many, many more NLP techniques, subtle use of language that works directly on your Unconscious mind, to get the results you want. Read more here.

Hypnosis 3: Suggestion

Hypnosis 3: Suggestion


With the Client in trance, there may be a two-way conversation, or the Hypnotist may ask for non-verbal responses – raise your hand when you’re ready to continue . Typically, the Hypnotist gives Suggestions for desired responses to specific situations in the future. As you walk out on stage, and you take a deep breath, you will feel your shoulders relax, and your whole body feels warm and relaxed. with a pleasant sensation of calm confidence. Suggestions work without trance, especially if you use NLP techniques to aim the Suggestion direct at the Unconscious mind. But Suggestions work better with trance, and best of all with a combination of trance and NLP’s clever use of language.

And of course, your own internal dialogue, the way you talk to yourself (perhaps mostly imagined, sometimes out loud) is a powerful form of Suggestion. It’s worth becoming aware of this ‘self-talk’, and learning to direct it the way you choose to. If your internal dialogue is over-critical, negative and in a harsh tone of voice, you are are imparting powerful negative Suggestions at point-blank range. Adjust the tone-settings, and re-record the announcements with a new script, so that you speak to yourself with gentle encouragement, some firm guidance to follow your chosen path, whatever would help you most. Your internal dialogue is like having a personal trainer whispering in your ear 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Make sure this “personal trainer” shares your agenda and speaks to you with warm encouragement.

Most people can take charge of their internal dialogue, and improve its quality, with a bit of work. But if you realise that your self-talk is highly negative, and you are unable to change it yourself, then seek help. An NLP or hypno-therapist can fix this for you, easily and quickly. I would recommend a therapist using the Human Givens approach, see here.

A wily Hypnotist will Suggest that next time, the Client will find it easier and quicker to go into trance.

Hypnosis 4: Re-orientation

Hypnosis 4: Re-orientation


Then the Client is gently re-oriented back to normal consciousness: the classic procedure is a 3, 2, 1 countdown, Suggesting a pleasant experience as you emerge from trance.

Learning as a post-hypnotic process


If we now look at a sports coaching session, there are obvious similarities. In the pre-talk, the team are brought together, rapport is established, the program for the session is announced, the vocabulary shifts from everyday to specifics. Warm-up exercises aim for a certain combination of concentration and relaxation, there may even be a formal ritual for achieving the desired state of mind and body (e.g. the New Zealand ruby team’s Haka). With the athletes in the Zone, the coach gives Suggestions to improve performance. The session ends with a warm-down, and a good coach sends everyone home feeling good.

Sports Coaching compared to Hypnosis

Sports Coaching compared to Hypnosis


Similarly, a typical music lesson begins with a pre-talk which establishes rapport, eases the student from everyday life into a suitable state of mind for high-level music-making. A good teacher will calm an agitated student, energise one who is lethargic, and try to find out how best to fit the lesson to the student’s current needs. Many lessons begin with exercises for relaxation, physical and mental ‘centering’, almost a formal ritual for entering the desired state. During the lesson, the teacher offers Suggestions to improve technical execution, or to help the student engage more fully in musical emotions. Finally, the teacher makes Suggestions for the forthcoming performance, and/or for the next week’s practising, and re-orients the student back into everyday life with some concluding chat.

Music Lesson compared to Hypnosis

Music Lesson compared to Hypnosis


The working definition of Hypnosis put forward by Kihlstrom fits Music rather well.


Definition: is this Music, Sports, or Hypnosis?

Definition: is this Music, Sports-coaching, or Hypnosis?


A process in which one person … offers Suggestions to another … for imaginative experiences entailing alterations in perception, memory and action. In the classic case, these experiences are associated with a degree of subjective conviction…and an experienced involuntariness…As such, the phenomena … reflect alterations in consciousness that take place in the context of a social interaction.

Of course, a good teacher will offer Suggestions for imaginative experiences, and will try to improve the student’s perception, memory and action. Good musicians develop a ‘feel’ for the music, a strong sense of subjective conviction:

When I played through the whole piece, it just seemed that this passage had to be loud.

And when you are playing especially well, you can ‘let your fingers do the hard work’:

If you just close your eyes, relax, and focus your intention on that octave leap, your fingers will find their way to the right note all by themselves. 

Music and sports coaching closely resemble hypnosis sessions, especially if they are done well. If there is good rapport, good concentration and the right kind of relaxation, good coaching takes both participants into a special state, in which there is communication and learning via the unconscious mind, facilitating powerful Suggestions for future action.


Mind/Body Awareness

Mind/Body Awareness


Many music conservatoires offer classes in Mindfulness, Yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method. Tai Chi and other disciplines teaching mind/body awareness. These are highly effective in improving concentration and relaxation, and instilling an effortless way to use the body that gradually becomes ‘second nature’, ‘automatic’. These outcomes help students enter the music-making trance more easily, and the teaching methods are also highly hypnotic.

Mindfulness teaches breathing exercises and control of one’s own attention, for example by intense focus on small movements.  Feldenkrais directs the mind inwards with such questions as As you rest your feet on the floor, can you feel more weight on your right foot, or on your left? Or are they the same? Don’t change anything, just notice. This is a well-known technique of hypnotic induction. Feldenkrais also normalises and accepts the student’s experiences, in a similar way to Eriksonian hypnosis: ‘that’s right‘, ‘good‘.  Making small changes to habitual actions calls the unconscious mind to attention:

Clasp your hands and interlace your fingers, then re-clasp them with the other hand on top … very good.

Similarly, Tai Chi and other martial arts use breathing, visualisation exercises, unfamiliar postures and exotic names – Nominalisations – to alter the state of consciousness of the student, in order to maximise the mind/body effectiveness of training. Stand in Wuji stance, with the head suspended from above, hollow the chest, relax the waist, open the Bubbling Spring points at the centre of each foot, let your hands rise of their own volition to hold a ball of green energy at eye level, breathe slowly, feel the Chi descend to the Dan-Tien.

This makes a perfect hypnotic induction, and the best teachers use a gentle, slow tone of voice, and linking conjunctions as recommended in NLP. AS you transfer the weight to the front foot … your right hand moves outward … PENG! See Michael Gilman’s Tai Chi videos, here.

But it’s not all gentle meditation. There is also inner power, the strength of spirit that we look for from a great musician or a dedicated athlete. Good martial arts require that same combination of relaxation and concentration that is induced in hypnosis. See Ian Sinclair’s approach to the Wuji Stance, perfectly characterised by his motto “Relax Harder”,  here.

As all good teachers do, Sinclair uses humour to get across some of his most serious advice. A corny joke makes the lesson more memorable, of course, but it is also a NLP technique for disarming the conscious mind, so that the Suggestion goes direct to your Unconscious mind, where it is even more effective.

There are further connections here. Moshe Feldenkrais was himself a Judo black belt, and one of the first to bring Judo to the West. He contributed several books on Judo, which emphasise the deeper elements on the art, offering mental and spiritual development as well as physical skills. His first book on his Method for teaching Awareness through Movement links Body and Mature Behavior: A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation and Learning.

Hypnosis-aided Learning

Hypnosis-aided Learning


One of the particular benefits of hypnosis-aided learning is that your Unconscious is given more opportunity to integrate newly acquired skills and knowledge with previous expertise. Relaxation, combined with enhanced access to the unconscious mind, promotes the establishing of new neural connections, and even allows the brain itself to grow, increasing neural capacity for the skill being practised – neural plasticity. Concentration encourages the growth of myelin around those neurones, leading to faster, surer responses.


If the NLP view (shared by many practising Hypnotists and Psychologists in this field) that trance is natural event is accepted, if we even admit the possibility that teaching can be a hypnotic process, then we should consider seriously questions of Ethics. If I’m giving a harp lesson, informed consent to Hypnosis has not been given. Nevertheless, good teaching should change the student’s state and help them access deep levels of the mind-body link. I would argue that good teaching cannot help but be hypnotic. So how can we ethically employ NLP techniques in teaching?

My personal response to this question of ethics could be described as “What does it say on the tin?”. If someone comes for a harp-lesson, I teach them harp-playing. If I’m asked for a lesson on Flow, or on Hypnosis, I’ll work on those topics. If someone comes for a harp-lesson, but it emerges that direct work on finding Flow or managing Performance Anxiety is needed, then I’ll seek agreement before changing the approach of the lesson. I introduce Feldenkrais Method in the same terms of “Awareness through Movement” that are standard vocabulary amongst Feldenkrais practitioners, using pre-recorded lessons prepared by licensed teachers. (I am not myself qualified as a Feldenkrais teacher. More about Feldenkrais Method here)

The Bottles Exercise

But here is an example of a ‘straight’ teaching technique that works by appealing to the student’s unconscious mind. I use this exercise to teach relaxation of the hands for Early Harp playing and also for Baroque Gesture.

water bottles

1. Hold you hands out, palm upwards, and imagine that you are holding two large, 1-litre, plastic bottles, full of water. As the bottles lie horizontally in your hands, wrap your fingers gently around the bottles. Feel the cool touch of the plastic… are there drops of water on it? Use just enough strength to support the bottles.

2. Now pour out half of the water, and then hold the bottles again. Notice how much less effort is needed, now.

3. Now pour out the rest of the water, and hold just the empty bottles. Notice how your hands feel, now.

[Read more about applications of this Bottles Exercise for Early Harps and Baroque Gesture here]

Whenever I use the bottles exercise in routine teaching, I’ll explain that doing it imaginatively, without the actual bottles, is actually more effective, because it requires more concentration and engages the unconscious mind. I’ll use the vocabulary of concentration, relaxation, conscious attention and unconscious mind; but in a regular lesson, I would avoid the word Hypnosis.

How to Practise

I might explain how to practise an ornament slowly, with conscious attention, and then to relax, let go, and let your fingers fly ‘by themselves’. To help the student get the notion of conscious control and fingers that work ‘by themselves’, I often use the image of a little bird learning to fly, closely watched by its attentive parents. At a certain point, the bird just has to jump out of the nest and fly by itself. I help the student change back and forth between conscious control and ‘flying’, by teaching how to change the head-position and gaze, how to use breathing and posture. Sometimes it can help to distract the student’s conscious mind at the moment of ‘take-off’. See How to Practise here.


Baby Owl learning to fly

Baby Owl learning to fly


The interlinked themes of artistic intention, strength of purpose, emotional commitment, physical movement and emotional communication often emerge in music lessons. One needs a vocabulary for discussions of that emotional sensation of a dissonance, that is understood in the mind, felt in the body and mysteriously communicated to the listener; or for analysing the communication of musical effects that cannot actually be created on certain instruments. When you pluck a harp string, the sound then decays, you can’t make a crescendo. But I have to teach students how to make an audience believe there was a crescendo. Although there are technical tricks with sound-quality, timing, articulation and the dynamic relationship to preceding and following notes, the most effective strategy is to imagine the desired crescendo, as vividly as you can, and project that idea with all the force of your powers of imagination.

Similarly, in the Prologue to Henry V, Shakespeare asks the audience to work with their imaginary forces and to Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them / Printing their proud hoofs i’ th’ receiving earth. This entire speech, with its famous opening line O, for a Muse of fire, is a hypnotic induction that entrances the audience, encouraging them to suspend their (conscious) disbelief, to allow the actors to Suggest with their words far more than could ever actually appear on stage, and to receive those words into their Unconscious, in order to heighten their emotional response to the drama that follows.

Imaginary Puissance

Imaginary Puissance


NLP recognises that each individual has their own way of seeing the world, a preferred mode of representation. Erikson was always ready to change his vocabulary to suit his clients’ needs.

I vary my vocabulary, according to the student’s background. One can be scientific, and talk about intention and imagination; arty, with talk of magic and mystery; historical, with the 17th-century concept of Pneuma. Some students appreciate the computer-analogy; you sit at the keyboard, loading sub-routines into the computer, and then you hit RUN and leave the machine to operate at maximum efficiency without further keyboard input. Hungarian Flow-researcher Lazlo Stacho employs the vocabulary of Magic, recalling ancient connections between music and shamanism; there are still folk practices of hypnotism in Eastern Europe today. I find the Stars Wars idea of The Force helps some students find their own way to an understanding of these unconscious processes, that are hard to describe or measure.

Choice of vocabulary affects not only the processes of building rapport and trance induction but also the post-hypnotic end-result. In experiments on the use of Hypnosis for pain reduction, some Subjects were given the Suggestion You will not feel any pain; others were told You will notice the sensation of pain but it will not trouble you. Both Suggestions were effective, but Subjects described the results differently, and neurological measurements showed corresponding activation of different areas of the brain. The unconscious mind is capable of distinguishing between subtly different means of controlling physiological phenomena that are beyond our conscious control.

For this reason, whilst in theoretical discussion I adopt broad definitions of such technical terms as Hypnosis, Altered States of Conscious, Trance, Flow etc., I believe that in practical sessions one should take enormous care with the choice of particular words. It’s vital that teachers adapt their vocabulary to suit their students. In the spirit of Erikson’s Accept and Utilise, one should acknowledge the student’s viewpoint of these topics, and use the corresponding vocabulary. It may be effective to introduce some mysterious word, such as Oriental Chi  or historical Pneuma, which can function as a Nominalisation and facilitate access to the Unconscious. But for teaching purposes, there is nothing to be gained by insisting on your own preferred vocabulary, your model of the whole process, even if (academically or scientifically) it is more correct. In this situation, your aim is to help students find (via the Unconscious mind) their own way into the desired state (whatever they want to call it, however they believe it works), not to engage their conscious minds in a debate over what the best name and most scientific explanation for that state might be.

Choice of Vocabulary matters for practical, not theoretical, reasons.

Choice of Vocabulary matters for practical, not theoretical, reasons.


Chunking and Dissociation


One essential part of the learning process is chunking. For a beginner, playing a single note on baroque harp is a challenge: rest your hand on the harp with the fingers gently curved, relax the elbow, align the structure of your whole body behind and underneath your fingers, place your thumb on (not behind) the string, move your thumb slowly into the hollow of your hand allowing it to slip over the string whilst applying steady firm pressure, keep moving your thumb for the duration of the note. With practice, all of that is chunked-up into “Play a Good note”.


A sequence of Good and Bad notes (Good/Bad is a technical concept in Early Music, derived from accented and unaccented syllables in poetry: read more here) is chunked into a phrase. Phrases are chunked into sections, movements, pieces, entire programs. Effective performance depends on the unconscious mind doing the detailed work inside each chunk, whilst the conscious attention is at a higher-chunked level. You think about the phrase, your fingers play the notes ‘by themselves’.

In Hypnosis studies, this is a phenomenon of Dissociation: the conscious attention is dissociated away from on-going physical processes. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of arriving upstairs, but being unaware of what you came up for….

Dissociation is perhaps the most significant marker of Hypnosis, and can be of two types. With dissociated Control, your conscious mind is unaware of a command given to your fingers, so that they seem to move ‘by themselves’; with dissociated Monitoring, your conscious mind is unaware that your fingers have moved, until you notice that ‘somebody moved them’.  With careful use of language, it should be possible to give Suggestions for the particular type of Dissociation required for a certain application.

There are subtleties in precisely how to apply dissociation at different levels of chunking. It can be utterly disruptive to divert the attention suddenly to a lower level of chunking. This is what happens if a tennis player is serving wonderfully, until you ask them “Exactly how do you throw the ball up in preparation for your serve?”  The balance between conscious and unconscious processes is upset, and the player’s game may collapse entirely. Paralysis by analysis! But contrariwise, it can be very helpful to suggest to a violinist that they engage their mind more with the sensual grain of the experience of drawing the bow across the string. The wrong kind of focus on technique can be counter-productive, the right kind of focus on detailed perception can be inspiring.

A teacher demonstrating often has to dissociate in order for the conscious mind to direct a running commentary on the actions being demonstrated, whilst the actions themselves remain under unconscious control. One learns a lot, by teaching in this way, and it makes an interesting exercise for students to attempt. A similar dissociation allows advanced performers to analyse their own technique with sharp focus but a certain detachment that keeps one relaxed.


Chunking & Dissociation

Chunking & Dissociation



The NLP concept of an Anchor is rather like the bell Pavlov rang for his dogs. In training, ideally in hypnosis, the student programs himself for success by linking a certain stimulus to a desired response. As you walk out on stage, you take a deep breath, you feel your shoulders relax, and your whole body feels warm and relaxed, with a pleasant sensation of calm, confidence and concentration. Many performers have warm-up routines and pre-show rituals that function as Anchors to confident performance.

If the response is required only when called for in special situations, you can Anchor it to a highly specific trigger – when you clasp your hands that other way and breathe out slowly, you will relax and go into Flow. If the response is required automatically, you can Anchor it to an unavoidable trigger – as you walk out on stage, you enter The Zone.

NLP has methods for de-activating unhelpful triggers, typically by re-Anchoring them to a better response. It’s very difficult to inhibit an Anchored response, once it has been Triggered, so these methods rely on getting the Trigger to fire the new response first, before the old, unhelpful response can kick in.

Memory itself is an Anchored response, which functions best if the environment at the time of memorising matches the conditions at the time of recall. Hypnotists use small signals to Anchor key words: Flow, Relax, Concentrate. Language-teaching programs using hand signals, and baroque gesture (stylised signs linked to the text) work the same way. For musicians, the score itself (being read or performed from memory) provides a series of Anchors, whether deliberately created for positive results, or unconsciously built through anxiety or mistakes in the practice-room, causing negative responses.

Careful choice of vocabulary (in teaching, and in the self-talk of inner dialogue) ensures that the correct Anchor is Triggered, and unhelpful responses are avoided. If there is a command vocabulary that you associate with a bad response, then avoid using those instructions. For example. sometimes the word “Relax” only makes people more tense!

On the positive side, if you find your way into Flow by imagining the Star Wars ‘Force’, then continue to use ‘The Force’. But if the words ‘Magic’ or ‘Altered State of Consciousness’ work better, use them. Whatever works for you! Set the Anchor you can believe in, and reinforce it with constant repetition in easy circumstances: then it will work for you when you need it the most. The best situation for setting an Anchor is trance. Then use that Anchor, deliberately, even when the circumstances are so undemanding that it’s hardly required: then the Anchor will be strong enough to keep you safe in difficult situations.

To be continued…

In the second part of this paper, I’ll discuss in more detail what Flow is, how to get into it, and how to avoid losing it. You can also read more at TheFlow.Zone, here.

And the next time you read one of my blog posts, you’ll find it even easier to enter Flow.

Coming back to normal consciousness now …. 3: becoming more aware of your surroundings … 2: feeling wonderful …. 1: fully alert, now!

May the FLOW be with you

The Flow Zone


Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites and www.TheFlow.Zone

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

Tempus putationis – Getting back to Monteverdi’s Time

tempus putationis


Monteverdi fans will recognise this snippet as part of the tenor solo, Nigra sum, from the 1610 Vespers. The text is usually given in English as ‘the time of the singing of birds is come’, translating direct from the original Hebrew of the Song of Solomon. Monteverdi’s setting creates a musical picture of the word tempus (time) with a succession of semibreves.

Cranes flock to Israel in early spring

Cranes in Israel in early spring


Around the year 1600, the semibreve is the note-value where Time as musical notation and Time in the real world meet. That meeting is governed by the Tactus, the physical movement of the hand, down-and-up. Down and up again corresponds to a semibreve, and lasts about 2 seconds. [Read more about how 17th-century notation was calibrated against real time in Quality Time, here]. So Monteverdi’s semibreves for tempus putationis are a musical picture of Time itself.

However, the Latin word putatio actually means ‘pruning’, so Monteverdi’s text actually refers to the early spring pruning of the vines [the Song of Solomon has more to say about the ‘vine with the tender grape’]. That might encourage some pruning of any bird-song ornaments from this phrase! And it inspires me to cut away all the excess foliage to show what I believe to be the essential structure of Time, in Monteverdi’s period.


pruning vines

For this ‘pruned down’ post, instead of arguing from original sources towards my personal conclusions, I’m going to begin by setting out (my take on) the starting assumptions of Monteverdi’s generation. Starting from these period assumptions (very different to those of today’s musicians), we’ll see what kind of music-making might grow, as buds from these particular shoots.




This post is also inspired by Bill Hunt’s comments and challenges to my article on Proportions in Monteverdi’s Ballo, here. Thank you, Bill for your thought-provoking remarks: my replies and ripostes are below!

So let’s start at the very beginning, with the ut re mi  of seicento Time. But keep in mind: this is not simply a matter of practical music-making. We are dealing here with renaissance ‘Science’, that is to say the Philosophy of splendid, cosmic, divinely-ordained things, the knowledge of what really counts.


Splendidora explicat


  1. Monteverdi understood Time (as a philosophical concept) in Aristotelian terms, as defined by motus (movement, or change). This is very different from Newton’s concept of Absolute Time (1687) that still today underpins our intuitive grasp of Time.
  2. Time in the real world was defined by the heavenly clock of the cosmos. Each day, the sun reaches its zenith and defines noon.
  3. The best clocks of Monteverdi’s period could indicate the passing seconds, but could not measure seconds accurately. They were only accurate to about 15 minutes a day.
  4. Smaller intervals of time could be measured by the human pulse, the heartbeat. Although the heart-beat varies from person to person, and according to the physical state of the individual, it offered higher precision than the best clocks. But there was no means of calibrating this accurately to clock-time, since clock-time itself was insufficiently precise.
  5. Even smaller intervals of time could be measured by musical rhythm, subdividing to, say, 1/8th of a second. This was the highest precision timing known in this period (renaissance swordfighters wished to emulate singers’ sense of precision timing). Again, there was no means of calibrating this accurately to clock-time, since clocks themselves were inadequate.
  6. There was a strong belief in the existence of a single, divinely ordained, correct Time, defined by the cosmos, e.g. by the noon-day sun.


  1. Music itself was cosmic [musica mondana, the Music of the Spheres], and human [musica humana, the harmonious nature of the human body], as well as sound [musica instrumentalis, music sung and played here on earth].
  2. Musical Time was measured by the Aristotelean motus of the perfect movement of the cosmos, of the steady beat of the human heart, by the down-and-up movement of the Tactus hand.
  3. Just as citizens tried to regulate their clocks to run steadily (for practical convenience, and as faithful microcosms of solar time), so musicians tried to keep Time as steadily as humanly possible.  This regulation was at the level of about one second of clock-time; in music, it was at the level of the Tactus beat.
  4. Smaller intervals of Musical Time were measured by sub-dividing the Tactus beat.
  5. Just as citizens tried to calibrate their clocks to agree with each other, and with Solar Time, so musicians tried to agree with each other about Musical Time. The various members of a musical ensemble needed to agree on Time, in order to play together, just as citizens had to agree on a time of day, in order to meet each other. From one day to another, from one place to another, citizens and musicians alike tried to keep a consistent sense of Time. However, they had no means of precise calibration: they could only make their best human estimate. Consistent Time was what felt consistent.
  6. There was a strong assumption of a single, heavenly-inspired, correct Musical Time. A musician’s job was to get it right, not to have a personal clock that ran unsteadily, or differently from everyone else’s.


  1. All this philosophy was put into practice using the Tactus, the down-up movement of the hand, which calibrated musical notation to real-world Time. The Tactus could be physically enacted, or just kept in mind as an organising concept: either way, it was compared to the heartbeat.
  2. Under mensuration symbol C, the complete Tactus cycle (down-up) corresponds to a semibreve. Down for a minim; up for a minim.
  3.  In Tripla Proportion, down corresponds to three minims, up to another three minims. The Tactus-beat is maintained without change.
  4. In Sestupla Proportion, down corresponds to six semi-minims (these look like crotchets in 6/4); up to another six semi-minims. The Tactus-beat is maintained without change.
  5. In Sesquialtera Proportion, down corresponds to two semibreves; up to one semibreve. The duration of the complete Tactus-cycle does not change, but now the down is longer than the up, the beat is ‘unequal’.


  1. Like the Cosmos, like a clock (but better!), like the heartbeat (but slower), the Tactus beats steadily and slowly.
  2. A musician’s job is to get it right, to keep it steady, to make it consistent from day to day and with everyone else’s.
  3. Like the stars in heaven, like a clock at the back of the room, the Tactus (as a concept) existed before the music started, will persist after the music stops, and continues across silences within the music. This Tactus-as-concept directs the music. The Tactus itself is the director, not the human who waves the Tactus-hand.


  1. Music was calibrated to the Tactus at the level of semibreve (complete cycle) and minim (down alone, or up alone).
  2. The Tactus shared many vital qualities with the heartbeat, but was not calibrated to it (the heartbeat was generally faster).
  3. The Tactus felt slow and steady, as perceived in the human arm. This sets some limits (a finger could wag faster, the entire body might sway slower), but does not offer precise calibration.
  4. There was no means to calibrate the Tactus accurately to clock-time. The best approximation was about 1 beat (down, or up) per second for minims, i.e. about 2 seconds for the complete down-up cycle, for the semibreve. Tactus was calibrated not by clocks, but by a feeling of consistency.
  5. The Tactus felt the same, whatever the circumstances. We can imagine that in a large resonant building, the Tactus might actually proceed a little slower, in order to get the same feeling as in a small rehearsal room. We can imagine that, at moments of great excitement, or deep, genuine emotion, musicians might feel their Tactus to be consistent with the rehearsal, but this subjective impression would be altered by their human emotions.


  1. Like the Cosmos, like the heartbeat, the Tactus has a conceptual existence and an authority that mere humans should not try to mess with. It is better than any clock, not in the sense of being ‘less mechanical’, but in the quality of being more accurate, more steady.
  2. A musician’s job is to maintain the Tactus steadily, consistently and in agreement with all colleagues.
  3. Within these assumptions, as a daring challenge to the stability of the Cosmos, and at the risk of upsetting one’s own heartbeat, performers began to flirt with the notion that the authority of the Tactus might not be wholly Absolute. In certain, strictly limited, situations, a human musician might intervene to alter (momentarily, minutely, infrequently) the way in which Tactus directs music.
  4. Caccini describes (and Monteverdi notates) a senza misura (out of measure) in which the singer temporarily ignores the Tactus. The Tactus continues as a concept, and in the continuo accompaniment. This is like a jazz singer floating elegantly around a steady beat in the rhythm section. This is a special effect, not to be over-used.
  5. Caccini and Frescobaldi describe (and Frescobaldi links to Monteverdi-type madrigals) ways to guidare il tempo (drive Time), in which the Tactus beats sometimes faster, sometimes slower, and even hesitates (momentarily) on the up-stroke. These changes are between sections (passi, movements), at the boundary of contrasting rhythmic structures and emotional content, not within one section. The alteration is a ‘step-change’, rather than a smooth acceleration/deceleration; it’s like changing gears, rather than using the accelerator/brake; it’s like the way a horse changes pace by changing gait (from walk to trot, canter and gallop), not the smooth acceleration of  jet-plane. This is a special effect, not to be over-used.
  6. When ‘driving the Time’ any change to the Tactus itself is small. The purpose is that the listener should perceive a change of emotion, not simply to turn the speed-dial up or down. When a noticeable change in the speed of the notes is wanted, the composer can notate this with changes in note-values, or changes in Proportion.


Golden Hand

Source references for these period assumptions can be found in many of my previous postings on Tactus, Time and Rhythm (use the Search button and Tags elsewhere on this page) and in Citations and Sources, below. There’ll be more in future posts, too. Tactus and the Philosophy of Time are discussed in great detail in Roger Matthew Grant Beating Time and Measuring Music in the Early Modern Era, hot off the Oxford University Press, and highly recommended, here.

But since this posting is pruned back to the essentials, I’m now going to apply these starting assumptions to Bill Hunt’s excellent list of  questions.

Galileo and the Philosophers

Galileo challenged by the Philosophers


In the discussion that follows, the challenges come from the eminent English viola-player, William Hunt, profile here. Three articles about the Ballo in Monteverdi’s Orfeo are under discussion: Roger Bowers on proportions here, Virginia Lamothe on dance here, ALK on tactus, proportions and dance here.

WH: I’d like to propose a contrary view. Part of the problem with Andrew’s fascinating discussion is that he sets up a number of straw men in order to arrive at his conclusions. Principal amongst these, in referring to the articles by Lamothe and Bowers on L’Orfeo, is the assertion “Their suggested metronome mark of approximately 50/60 as the Tactus Aequalis is certainly highly plausible. And Bowers agrees that the notation implies the same Tactus for the whole opera”. Bowers makes no such claim. 

ALK: (See ‘Citations and Sources’ below). I should first state clearly that I have great respect for Prof Bowers, and I agree with his points of principle. Indeed, I wish to go even further in the same direction of consistency that he recommends. I set up the assumption of  single Tactus for the whole opera, not as a ‘straw man’ to be cast away, but as a strong principle that I thoroughly agree with. Indeed, I believe that a particular notation implies the same Tactus wherever it is encountered in this entire repertoire (to the limits of subjective, human ability to maintain a single Tactus without any clock to confirm it).

For Orfeo, Bowers argues that the original notation conveys precise information that should be respected in performance. I agree. He argues that proportions are mathematically precise, and I agree. I disagree only on the detail of which mathematical ratio applies in certain instances.

In the Ballo, Bowers argues that there is no change in the meaning of note-values between the two triple-metre sections [3/2 and 6/4]. I agree. I go further to argue for equivalence of note-values between all triple-metre sections within the work [3/2 and 6/4 are the only triple-metre ‘time-signatures’ that occur in the whole of Orfeo]. I go further again, and argue for equivalence of note-values between sections in duple-metre too. Therefore, note-values only change, when the Proportion changes between duple and triple.

Bowers notes that all ‘time-signatures’ are governed by C throughout the whole work. He argues for a consistent Tactus from Sinfonia at the end of Act I to the entrance of the Messagiera. I agree, and I go further: I argue for a consistent Tactus throughout the whole work. I see no indication for a great increase of speed at the end of Act I, as the Sinfonia starts (Bowers’ argument requires a three-fold increase in speed at this moment). I see no evidence for doubling the speed (or more) between a “recitative” in C and the ballo also in C.

Bowers seems to be inconsistent about when he applies the principle of constant tactus, and when he does not. He wishes to apply it during the Ballo and through the Act I-Act II sequence, through many changes of ‘time-signature’, coloration etc. I agree. I go futher, I wish to apply it consistently throughout the work. But Bowers rejects the argument for constant tactus in general (see Bowers ‘footnote 33), without careful argument. Does he mean to say “Tactus is constant when I want it to be, and otherwise not”?

I say that Tactus is always constant, with only small and infrequent exceptions. I note Frescobaldi’s and Caccini’s discussions of when and how to change the tactus. They describe very restricted circumstances when tactus may be changed. And those changes should be small – if a composer wants double speed, he writes shorter note-values or switches to C-slash. [Some sources indicate that even C-slash is less than twice as fast as C]. If a composer wants a gear-shift of 3:2 or 3:1, proportional notation is available.

So I conclude that a performer’s personal choice of tempo-change would be within a small speed-range. And this personal choice would be exercised very infrequently. In his example madrigal, Caccini changes the Tactus only once (in response to an obvious cue from the words). Frescobaldi similarly sets specific conditions for change of Tactus: break between sections, change of rhythmic structure, change of affetto. Since they follow the affetto, these changes in tactus exaggerate what the composer has already notated: long note-values (for a sad affetto, say) are played in slower Tactus, short note-values (for a happy affetto) in faster Tactus. The affetto is determined on the short-scale, “line by line, even word by word” [Il Corago, Monteverdi and many other sources], but the Tactus only changes between sections, if at all.

Finally, when one considers the audience – it is after all their ‘affetti‘ we want to ‘muovere‘ – one realises that doubling or halving the speed has no effect. The listener perceives the same pulse, with different levels of activity. But a small increase in speed, in the context of precisely regular Tactus, has a strong emotional effect. It may even entrain the listener’s heartbeat, which was previously aligned with the regular, slow tactus, and increase it. As Renaissance theory of emotions describes, a performer might move the listener’s ‘affetto‘ and even create physiological changes in the body and blood (the doctrine of the Four Humours).

A fine example of this is Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” which accelerates between sections (within the general context, throughout pop music of that period, of steady tactus). There is some fascinating interview material with the performers, where they discuss the general context (“getting faster was absolutely prohibited”) and the emotional effect of a few small, but perceptible changes, in this song. I hear echoes of Caccini and Frescobaldi….




WH: I do firmly believe, as Andrew clearly does, that tactus was an essential structural constant that could unite consecutive and contrasting passages in logically proportionate tempi. On the face of it, the section which Bowers identifies, running from the Sinfonia to Act 2 up to the entrance of Messaggiera, is exactly such an instance, because of the succession of mensural signatures and the absence of intervening double barlines or fermata (the same is not true of the passage from “Lasciate i monti” up to the end of Act 1). Here, if one follows through Bowers’ notational logic, one ends up with a pretty fast tempo for “Vi ricordi boschi ombrosi”, as he says. Personally, I find that persuasive both musically and dramatically, but I have yet to experience it in performance, due to directorial intervention.

ALK: The entire opera (indeed this whole repertoire) offers ‘a succession of mensural signatures’. And I know of no period evidence that a fermata or a double-bar implies a change of Tactus. In Orfeo, Monteverdi sometimes places a fermata in one voice, when simultaneously another voice has no fermata: the fermata sign simply indicates ‘the end of something’, and cannot imply any alteration in the motus of the Tactus. Double-bars are often used to seperate consecutive strains of a single dance-movement, where a change of Tactus would be most implausible.

I don’t accept the argument that the passage from Lasciate i monti up to the end of Act I is somehow ‘different’.. It too has a ‘succession of mensural signatures’. Sure, it has some fermatas and double bar-lines, but so what? If Tactus is ‘an essential structural constant that could unite consecutive and contrasting passages in logically proportionate tempi’ [and it surely is!], then why not for the passage after the Ballo, as well as for the Ballo itself? Why not for the end of Act I, as well as for the bridge from Act I into Act II?

Does WH wish to say that “Tactus is constant when I want it to be, and can be changed when I want”? Or does he know of evidence of a fermata or double-bar as an instruction to change Tactus?

I believe that Tactus is constant, with only small and infrequent changes. Frescobaldi and Caccini list the circumstances in which the Tactus might be changed: neither of them mention fermata or double-bar.

WH: Bowers … analysis of the notation is that … semibreve of the C equates to dotted semibreve of the 3/2.  I suggest a tempo of something like semibreve = 52 for the opening (not a minim tactus, for reasons which I am coming to) becoming dotted semibreve = 52 for the 3/2, and finally bar = 52 (i.e. the ‘new’ semibreve = 52) for the 6/4: in other words a constant tactus.

ALK: I agree with the principle of a pulse that is maintained, and I have no objection to approximately MM52 for that pulse. And this interpretation of the proportions works too, in this place, starting from semibreve = 52 at the beginning of the ballo. But how do we find this tempo at the beginning of the ballo? Semibreve = 52 cannot apply to the whole opera – just try it for the beginning of the opera, for the Toccata or the Ritornello to La Musica or for any recitative: it is about twice as fast as possible. Why pick this fast tempo for this place notated in C, and not for another, also notated in C?

According to modern assumptions, directors can choose their own tempo, whenever there is a reasonable excuse (a fermata, a double-bar, personal inspiration, whatever). But according to period assumptions, the Tactus itself directs the tempo, and that Tactus is as constant as we humans can make it. (Caccini and Frescobaldi list limited circumstances where small and infrequent changes of Tactus might occur). My approach is to take that Tactus (somewhere around minim = 60), apply it at the beginning of the work, and maintain it, as best I can, until the end. And I’ll try to establish and maintain the same Tactus tomorrow, to the limits of my subjective perceptions of musical tempo.

The movement of the hand in beating Tactus is specified in period sources: in C, down for a minim, up for a minim. I find semibreve = MM52, i.e. minim = MM104 inconveniently fast for this mode of time-beating. I also find the resultant motus incompatible with the qualities of slow, steadiness that are associated with Tactus. I’m more convinced by the motus of minim around 60.

My approach starts from a broad principle, of a constant tactus. I apply this general principle first, before I look for solutions to particular problems of Proportions. I then apply the same solution to parallel situations. Following the Ballo under discussion, the next Proportional change in Orfeo is between the recitative (C) Ma se il nostro goir and the Ritornello (3/2), which moves in dotted semibreves and minims. My solution to the Ballo is  C: minim = 60 leads to 3/2: dotted semibreve = 60. My solution to the following, parallel situation is the same.

Bill’s solution to the Ballo [C: semibreve = 52 leads to 3/2: dotted semibreve = 52] does work there. But it does not work for the parallel situation of Recitative & Ritornello. Either the 52 pulse or the proportional relationship (or both) have to be abandoned. Is it Bill’s argument that although the notation is parallel, the second situation allows a personal choice, whereas the first situation indicates the composer’s tempo intentions? Why?

My belief is that the entire concept of personal choice of tempo is foreign to this period and its repertoire. Mensural notation indicates the composer’s intentions.

WH. … treating the central section of the first “Lasciate” as not being repeated. (No repeat is marked, of course, but a second verse of text is underlayed. I subscribe to Andrew Parrott’s view that this is a printer’s error, and that the second text should have been printed in the second “Lasciate”, instead of the repeated underlay of “Qui miri il sole”. This would result in an ABC form for each chorus, though, as Andrew (LK rather than P) points out, the uninformed listener would hear it as AABCC, because of the written-out repeats in the outer sections. This has a perfectly satisfactory symmetry. What is hard to believe is the format as it is printed).

ALK: I agree that the sequence of movements in the Orfeo Ballo is ambiguous – Lamothe has much to say on this. Andrew Parrot’s suggestion of a printing error in the 1609 edition is plausible, though one might have expected the editor of the 1615 edition to have fixed the problem, since much smaller errors were corrected (albeit at the cost of introducing some new errors too!). Lamothe makes a good point that the opening section (with the associated choreography of reverences and passi gravi, slow steps on the ground) would not be repeated in a court social dance. My point is that a similar opening section (which is not danced) is repeated in Cavalieri’s theatrical ballo for Anima & Corpo. We do not know which sections of the Orfeo ballo were danced, though it is sure that the singers themselves could not have danced a galliard, with all its jumps, whilst singing. Consideration of the repeat scheme for the Orfeo ballo has include all these points, together with scholarship on the total number of singers (between 7 and 9), the possibility that dancing masters might have participated (as is specified by Cavalieri), and the prohibition against women acting on stage, still in force in Mantua in 1607.

Good arguments can be made to support several possible solutions.

WH: Having read many of the linked sites here with great interest, particularly the one on “Text, Rhythm, Action / Rhythm: what really counts?”, I am curious to know what Andrew thinks about the semibreve, which so many theorists describe as the fundamental unit of time. There is so much emphasis throughout all his articles on the minim and the fixing to it of a constant tempo, viz “Around 1600, typically the Tactus will be on minims (half-notes), somewhere around MM60. Down for one second, Up for the next second”

Leaving aside the massive nature of this generalisation (is this really supposed to be typical of all music around 1600?), what about the concepts of Thesis and Arsis? It seems to me that these are essential to an understanding of musical structure in this period, especially the setting of text. Unless the semibreve is the unit on which one is principally focussed, not the minim, a whole vocabulary of subtlety is missed, to my mind. But that is a huge subject for another occasion!

ALK: Bill is absolutely right to draw attention to the fundamental significance of the semibreve. The complete Tactus-cycle (down-up) corresponds to a semibreve. I could equally well, perhaps better, express my view as “The Tactus-cycle will last for a semibreve, approximately two seconds, i.e. somewhere around MM30 for the complete down-up.” In duple time, this results in the same “Down for one second, Up for the next second”.

But an advantage of the focus on the semibreve is that it allows you to negotiate the tricky change into Sesquialtera more easily. The complete Tactus-cycle (down-up) still lasts  two seconds, but the Down lasts longer than the Up. This is why triple time is described as ‘unequal’ in this period. I agree with Bill that there are interesting and beautiful subtleties to be found in a heightened focus on the semibreve.

However, period sources specify that the mode of beating time for Tactus is that the semibreve corresponds to the complete down-up cycle. There is no suggestion of beating Down for one semibreve, Up for the next: the Down and Up are on successive minims.  Thus a heightened focus on the semibreve implies a heightened focus on the complete cycle, as opposed to the individual down/up movements: it does not imply a different mode of beating time. The concept of Thesis and Arsis (Down and Up) is therefore located in the alternation of minims (under mensural sign C). See my discussion of ‘The Hobbit problem’ in Quality Time, here.

Of course, there are duple (or other) symmetries at semibreve and longer durations too. It’s very good to be aware of these.


Returning to the fundamental assumptions with which I began, I agree that it is a massive generalisation to state that musical tempo was consistent throughout the whole repertoire in circa-1600 Italy, to the limits of human perception. It is a generalisation that is hard for us post-Romantics to comprehend. But it fits well with the evidence, not only of musical treatises, but of period philosophy in general. And we can observe the gradual change through the later 17th and 18th centuries; the persistence of notions of tempo giusto or tempo ordinario as late as Beethoven; the developing presumption of personal choice that comes to characterise the 19th-century; the glorification of Rubato circa 1910 that is taken by some today as a musical absolute. Those changes in musical practice follow changes in the scientific and philosophical understanding of Time itself, from Aristotle and Plato via Galileo and then Newton to Einstein and then Hawking.

It helps to keep in mind the 17th-century identification of musical tempo with Time itself, alluded to in Monteverdi’s setting of the word tempus at the beginning of this post. The ideal is to keep Time. A musician does not seek to develop a personal opinion about tempo, just as he does not seek to acquire a clock that runs differently from everyone else’s.

The difficulty is that we tend to read historical treatises on Music in the light of our modern assumptions of Science and Philosophy. If we start by assuming period philosophy, musical treatises reveal new, quite surprising details. To do this, we must be ready to abandon some modern assumptions so familiar that we hardly even notice them.

Most modern directors assume they have the right to choose their own tempo, movement by movement, through a baroque opera:  most of those directors fail even to notice the anachronism of conducting, as a means of imposing those choices. But period sources tell us that music is directed by Tactus itself: not by the whim of a Tactus-beater!. And Il Corago tells us that operas are not conducted.


No conducting



At the opening of my article on the Orfeo Ballo, I tacitly linked up citations of Bowers and Lamothe with my own assumptions. So here are the individual elements:

Lamothe quotes Bowers on MM 50/60 (but identifies this with the semibreve, which  would not work for the whole opera. I  identify this sort of pulse with the minim). Bowers states that the notation implies the same Tactus for the lengthy excerpt from the end of Act I until the entrance of the Messaggiera halfway through Act II. Bowers remarks that the notation is the same throughout the rest of the opera too. I take the logical step that the same Tactus is implied for the whole opera.

George Houle’s (brief) discussion of constant tactus throughout the repertoire is on pages 3-5 of ‘Metre in Music’, citing Heyden, Mersenne and secondary sources. On page 2, Houle mentions (all too briefly) ‘degrees of change intermediate to those determined by diminution or proportion.’

Constant Tactus for the whole repertoire is supported by Il Corago, page 47 (see future postings on this blog).

Houle cites Dowland’s explanation of Tactus and Semi-Tactus on page 4. This is the ‘Hobbit Question’, aka ‘there and back again’: the semibreve corresponds to the complete down-up cycle. See Quality Time here.

Bowers cites Banchieri’s ‘Conclusioni’ chapter 14 “when there is no numerical sign”, in support of his Sesquialtera interpretation of proportional change. Of course, in Orfeo, there are numerical signs [3/2 and 6/4]. Banchieri addresses this situation in chapter 15, at the end of which he describes the Tripla interpretation that I propose.

I admit that Banchieri describes two interpretations, and does not discuss how to decide between them. But my general point is that we can approach such decisions by requiring consistency, not only of interpretations of Proportional relationships, but also in constancy of the underlying Tactus. If we consistently interpret the same notation the same way, if we apply a consistent tactus (perhaps allowing SMALL changes, but not doubling/halving the speed), we can rule out certain interpretations as impossible. [I try to distinguish carefully between ‘unfamiliar’ and ‘impossible’]. When – as in Orfeo and the Vespers – we have many proportions at work, the accumulated constraints of ‘impossibilities’ gradually reduce the number of possible solutions – ideally to a single answer.


Galileo Pendulum


Please join me on Facebook and visit our website . Further details of original sources are on the website, click on “New Priorities in Historically Informed Performance”

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

Play it again, Sam! The truth about Caccini’s ‘sprezzatura’

Casablanca Poster


Play it again, Sam!

As the well-informed readership of this blog will know already, in the 1942 film Casablanca, nobody ever says that most famous phrase “Play it again, Sam”. They use similar words, but somehow, the whole world has picked up the wrong version. In this post, I’m looking again at what Caccini actually wrote in his famous Preface to Le Nuove Musiche (Florence 1601/2), separating the facts from popular myths.

So let’s be clear from the outset that Caccini never mentions

sprezzatura di ritmo

Actually, he only mentions sprezzatura twice, in the whole Preface. He only uses it once, in all his extensive music examples. Sprezzatura was not his priority. Sprezzatura was applied only to whatever did not matter. In contrast, he talks much more about divisions and   exclamations, and he uses these much more in his example songs. His priorities were text and rhythm.

But there is one other concept that he discusses far more than any other. [You can see my summary of what Caccini did say, at the end of this post.]

If you perform early seicento music, don’t trust what your teacher once told you his teacher told him, don’t even accept what I write here without proper scientific scepticism: you will want to read Caccini for yourself. The standard modern edition (Giulio Caccini, edited by H. Wiley Hitchcock, Le Nuove Musiche, A-R editions, 1970, second edition 2009) is widely available, and includes an English translation of the Preface. That translation has a few questionable moments, but it includes well-researched additional notes. But be careful with Hitchcock’s transcriptions of the songs themselves: not all the printed time-signatures – vital for establishing Proportions – are original.

English translations from the Preface have been printed in many source-book anthologies, beginning with an excerpt in John Playford Introduction to the Skill of Music 1664. This is available free online in the 1683 reprint here. (See Directions for singing after the Italian manner, pages 34-39)

Probably the most influential English translation is Oliver Strunk (editor) Source Readings in Music History (1950), page 370. The 1942 translation by Alfred Ashfield Finch has many editorial additions, and cannot be trusted: I mention it only because it is available online. The extract translated by Zachariah Victor is better (though he mistranslates sprezzatura di canto), it can be downloaded free here.

But best of all, the original print can be downloaded free, with the full Italian text of the Preface, Caccini’s worked examples (in which he applies his own advice to three sample songs), and all the songs themselves, including his greatest hit, Amarilli mia bella. It’s all here.

Caccini Nuove Musiche title page


Re-assessing Le Nuove Musiche

In Baroque Music 1.0, we all learnt that Caccini’s Le Nuove Musiche represents the paradigm-shift that brought about a musical revolution, defined Basso Continuo, ushered in the Baroque Age, and led to the Development of Opera. That over-simplistic view has been re-assessed: Caccini was a clever self-promoter, and in this book as in his hasty publication of his music for the ‘first opera’ Euridice (1602), he was deliberately positioning himself as the hero of a new style. Caccini’s Musiche are not really so nuove (new); in many ways, he was less innovative than his rival, Jacopo Peri, principal composer of the first-performed version Euridice (1600). Similarly, Caccini’s advice on performance practice is a summary of developments over the last decades, rather than an ‘epoch-making’ breakthrough. Again, Peri is more daring, in the Preface to his Euridice, which I will discuss in a future post.


The songs of Le Nuove Musiche include 12 strophic Arias which Caccini calls  canzonette a aria, ‘Canzonets’, and plenty of ‘old-fashioned’ diminutions, even in the 12, supposedly more modern, ‘Madrigals’. These madrigals look very much like the ornamented solo versions of four-voice part-songs heard in the Florentine Intermedi (1589). Indeed, it’s so simple an exercise to construct a four-voice madrigal from the solo and figured bass of Amarilli mia bella, that I suspect Caccini originally wrote the piece as a part-song. As Victor Coelho writes, “we know now through the work of Claude Palisca, Tim Carter, John Walter Hill, Howard Brown, and others, that Caccini’s works were closely connected to earlier and long-standing musical traditions”. Coelho’s article in the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music here places Le Nuove Musiche in the context of the previous century and of a manuscript containing intabulated accompaniments of works by Caccini, Peri, and Rasi .


Sprezzatura in the 16th century


Caccini’s sprezzatura is also a 16th-century concept, discussed in Baldassare Castiglione’s Libro del Cortegiano (1528), transcribed into modern Italian here Castiglione was translated into English by Sir Thomas Hoby in 1561 as The Courtyer here. It’s known in English today as The Book of the Courtier. In Chapter XXVI, Castiglione introduces the idea:

per dir forse una nova parola, usar in ogni cosa una certa sprezzatura, che nasconda l’arte e dimostri cio che si fa e dice venir senza fatica e quasi senza pensarvi. Da questo credo io che derivi assai la grazia

Here is Hoby’s 1561 translation:

(to speak a new word) to use in every thyng a certain Reckelessness, to cover art withall, and seeme whatsoever he doth and sayeth to do it wythout pain, and (as it were) not myndyng it. And of thys do I beleve grace is muche deryved 

In modern editions, sprezzatura is translated as ‘disdain’ [which is literal, but unhelpful] or ‘nonchalance’ [better]. I like the translation ‘cool’. Castiglione links sprezzatura to grazia (grace, elegance), a word so evocative of the qualities of an ideal Courtier that it occurs 150 times. Sprezzatura occurs a further 8 times, in connection with dancing, as not to be overdone, as praiseworthy in itself, in contrast to attillatura (neatness of dress, also seen as praiseworthy in itself), in contrast to affectation (seen as highly negative), in contrast to ‘pestiferous affectation’ and linked to the ‘extreme grace of simplicity’, and in the context of playing a character role in costume.

This last mention is not often cited in the secondary literature, but it seems especially relevant to Caccini’s use of sprezzatura in the musical context of singing in the period of the first operas, so here it is in full, from Book II Chapter XI:

esser travestito porta seco una certa liberta e licenzia, la quale tra l’altre cose fa che l’omo po piglare forma di quella in che si sente valere, ed usar diligenzia ed attillatura circa la principal intenzione della cosa in che mostrar si vole, ed una certa sprezzatura circa quello che non importa, il che accresce molto la grazia:

Hoby translates this section in 1561 as:

To be in a maske bringeth with it a certaine libertie and lycence, that a man may emong other thinges take uppon him the fourme of that he hath best skill in, and use bente studye and preciseness about the principall drift of the matter wherin he will shewe himselfe, and a certaine Reckelesness aboute that is not of importaunce, whiche augmenteth the grace of the thinge

Hoby’s translation of valere as ‘to have skill’ is doubtful in this context: the principal meaning according to Florio’s 1598 dictionary here reprinted and extended in 1611 is ‘to be worth, to be of value, to be much or greatly esteemed’. So here is my translation:

To wear a character costume brings with it a certain liberty and licence. Amongst other things, it allows a man to take the form of something that he feels to be of great worth, and to exercise careful attention and preciseness about the principal purpose of the event in which he wants to appear, but a certain ‘cool’ about whatever doesn’t matter. This greatly increases his elegance.

Attillatura usually refers to preciseness in dressing, but it seems that Castiglione intends this example to illustrate a more general concept: even when you are doing something very important, you can be attentive and precise about the important things, and show a certain ‘cool’ in whatever does not matter.

Il Cortegiano frontispiece 1562


Caccini’s Preface


Returning to the 17th century and Le Nuove Musiche, we can hear echoes of Castiglione in Caccini’s use of such words as sprezzatura, grazia and nobil (noble, which with its derivatives occurs 122 times in Il Cortegiano). But which words and phrases does Caccini use most often, what is his ‘principal purpose’?

[Square brackets like this separate my commentary from excerpts of Caccini’s text, which I report in the third person, and shorten to focus on Caccini’s discussion of style. My summary is at the end of this post]

Good Style


Caccini calls his practice la nobile maniera di cantare (the noble manner of singing), and says he learnt it from Scipione del Palla, who was active in Naples at the time of Caccini’s birth, 50 years earlier.

He claims for himself the development of lunghi giri di voci semplici, e doppie, cioe raddoppiate, intrecciate l’una nell l’altra (long turns of notes, simple and double, i.e. re-doubled, interwoven one with another). He positions these as the modern alternative to quella antica maniera di passaggi (that old-fashioned manner of divisions), which he considers more suitable for wind or string instruments than for voices.

He associates la buona maniera di cantare (the good way of singing) with crescere e scemare della voce, l’esclamazione, trilli e gruppi (crescendo and diminuendo of the note, exclamation, single-note trills, two-note trills with final turn). As the Preface continues and in the example songs, it becomes clear that crescendo and diminuendo are on one note, not throughout a whole phrase, and precisely what is meant by trillo and gruppo.

He now discusses the advantages of canto per una voce sola (solo songs, as opposed to polyphonic part-songs). He claims that recent times (moderni tempi passati) were not accustomed to musiche da quella intera grazia (music of that complete grace) that he himself hears nel mio animo resonare (resonating in his spirit). Grazia has connotations of divine, spiritual qualities as well as of artistic beauty and sweetness. Animo is the mind or spirit, as opposed to anima (the spirit or soul, in the religious sense), core (heart, fount of emotions), and the lower body, vita. 

Caccini values what he learnt at Bardi’s Florentine Camerata, with its membership of noble amateurs, musicians, intellectuals, poets and philosophers, above his long training in counterpoint. These intendentissimi gentilhuomini (gentlemen of great understanding) convinced him not to prize that kind of music which does not allow the words to be understood well (non lasciando bene intendersi le parole), because it spoilt the meaning and the poetry and distorted the Long and Short syllables. [Long and Short syllables correspond to Good and Bad notes; more about Good and Bad here].

Caccini and the Camerata follow a Platonic, philosophical ideal that:

La musica altro non essere che la favella e’l rithmo, & il suono per ultimo, e non per lo contrario.

Music is text and rhythm, & sound last of all, and not the other way around.

[Hitchcock’s translation is misleading here, ignoring the effect of seicento conventions of punctuation, and disregarding that ultimo is singular. His ‘speech’ is a reasonable translation of favella but since Caccini wishes to distinguish this favella from sound, ‘text’ is probably better. His mangled version –  ‘speech, with rhythm and tone coming after’  – seems to me symptomatic of 20th-century musicians’ refusal to accept the possibility that rhythm could be noble, another mistake resulting from the unquestioning assumption that expression must be linked to 20th-century rubato.]

[Caccini’s bold statement of priorities – text and rhythm – backed up with the full authority of the Florentine Camerata, has received little attention from performance practice scholars, especially compared to all the ink spilled over discussions (often skewed) of sprezzatura. But I find these priorities inspiring and noble, a breath of fresh air amongst all the arguments over vibrato, pitch and temperament that clog today’s Early Music. Caccini’s priorities (combined with the Rhetorical priority of Action, i.e. persuasive, fully embodied delivery with gestures, facial expressions, contrasts of timbre) gave the title and rehearsal methodology for my three-year project Text, Rhythm, Action! within the Performance program of the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions, with 20 staged productions of historical music-dramas, and master-classes, lectures & workshops all over the world.]   

Caccini and the Camerata want music to penetrare nell’ altrui intelletto e fare quei mirabili effetti (penetrate the listener’s mind and create those marvellous effects) described by Classical writers, i.e. moving audiences to tears and laughter. This cannot be done by polyphonic music, not even by solo songs to a string instrument if there are too many diminutions, moltitudine di passaggi, applied indiscriminately to Bad as well as Good syllables [the normal rule is to ornament only the Good syllables]. According to Caccini, only plebs admire such empty vocal display (passaggi … della plebe esaltati). Such music can do no more than titilate the ears. It’s impossible to move the mind, muovere l’intelletto, without an understanding of the words, senza l’intelligenza delle parole.

So Caccini had the idea [he writes, boldly claiming the territory] to introduce a kind of music in which performers could quasi che in armonia favellare – almost speak in harmonies. [This is paralleled in Peri’s more detailed description, in his Preface to Euridice, of taking the pitches of syllables that would be sustained in declamatory speech, and accompanying those pitches with suitable harmonies.] In this music, Caccini uses a certain noble sprezzatura of song, a ‘cool’ way of singing.

una certa nobile sprezzatura di canto

[Musicologists and musicians have leapt to the conclusion that this sprezzatura is some kind of rhythmic freedom. But Caccini does not say this, not at all. Rather, it is canto song itself, that is treated with sprezzatura. We can combine Castiglione’s dictum  – that one should be precise about the priorities, and apply sprezzatura to whatever is less important – with the musical priorities of Caccini and the Camerata – text and rhythm, with sound last of all. The result confirms that we should apply sprezzatura to the sound, to song itself, to the sonic qualities of singing. We should be precise about text and rhythm, and cool about vocal sound-production. As Caccini writes, we should hardly sing, we should ‘almost speak in harmonies’.]

Caccini describes how the voice-part passes through various dissonances whilst the bass stays on the same note – what we today call recitative. [This is a kind of sprezzatura  of composing, a nonchalant way of dealing with the normal rules of counterpoint. These dissonances are not prepared and resolved, as would normally be required.] Sometimes Caccini does use dissonance in the conventional manner, with the polyphonic ‘inner voices’ played on an instrument, to express some emotion, per esprimere qualche affetto.

[I take Caccini’s somewhat ambiguous final clause non essendo buone per altro to mean that the ‘inner voices’ are not useful for anything else, i.e. as another negative comment about polyphony. ‘Dissonances are not good for another kind of emotion’ and other readings are also possible.]

According to Caccini, this was the origin of those modern solo songs which have more power to delight and move, piu forza per dilettare e muovere, than many voices together. [‘Delight and move’ recalls the Rhetorical aims of docere, delectare, muovere in Cicero’s De Oratore.] Caccini gives examples of his work – Perfidissimo volto, Vedro’l mio Sol, and  Dovro dunque morire. [The first of these makes considerable use of the ‘recitative’ technique of a static bass, the second has one brief moment of ‘recitative’: in the third, the bass often moves fast under a sustained note in the voice. The common element of modernity seems to be reduced polyphony, rather than ‘recitative’ as such.] Caccini picks out his setting of the eclogue of Sannazaro [now lost] in particular as in the style of his music for the first Florentine ‘operas’, quello stile proprio … per le favole … rappresentate cantando.

Caccini now name-checks various nobles who had never before heard music for solo voice accompanied by a simple string instrument, which had such force to move the emotions of the spirit tanta forza di muovere l’affetto dell’ animo. He attributes his success to his new style, lo nuovo stile, and also to the superiority of his specially composed solos over arrangements for solo voice of part-songs. By 1601, everyone who writes for solo voice uses this style, especially in Florence, where Caccini claims to have worked for the Medici for 37 years.

In both Madrigals and Arias, Caccini always tries to imitate the ideas of the words,  concetti delle parole, searching out notes that would be more or less emotional according to the sentiments of the words quelle corde piu e meno affettuose secondo i sentimenti. In particular, there will be grazia because he has hidden as much as possible the art of counterpoint. [Here Caccini brings together Castiglione’s idea of the elegance of hidden art with the Camerata’s ideal of reducing polyphony.]



Caccini again mentions the proper distinction between Good and Bad syllables, observed in his harmonies and his ornamentation. When he does ornament a Bad syllable, this doesn’t last long, and can be considered not as a passaggio (which would be inappropriate) but as un certo accrescimento di grazia si possono permettere (a certain increase of grace, that can be permitted). But since he has already complained about the misuse of long turns of notes, malamente adoperati quei lunghi giri di voci he advises that the passaggi are not strictly necessary for the good manner of singing necessarii per la buona maniera di cantare. Rather, they titillate the ears of those who understand less about passionate singing, una certa titillatione a gli orecchi di quelli che meno intendono che cosa sia cantare con affetto. For those who understand, passaggi are hateful, abborriti, there is nothing more contrary to emotion, non essendo cosa piu contraria di loro all’ affetto.

This is why Caccini spoke about ‘misuse’: his own ornaments are introduced only in music that is less passionate, meno affettuose, on the Good syllables not on the Bad, and at final cadences. For these lunghi giri the vowel u is better for sopranos than for tenors; the vowel i is better for tenors. Other vowels are in common use, but open vowels are more sonorous than closed, and therefore more suitable for exercising such vocal agility esercitare la disposizione. Again Caccini tells us to use these giri di voci according to his rules and not just anyhow, e non a caso. 

Whilst others who want to sing solos stylishly, cantar solo e fare maniera think first about the practice of counterpoint, Caccini has better advice about the good manner of composing and singing in this style, la buona maniera di comporre e cantare in questo stile. [This distinction between comporre and cantare supports the interpretation of his sprezzatura di canto as a performance practice of ‘almost speaking’, not as the compositional technique of ‘recitative’.] What is needed much more is l’intelligenza del concetto, e delle parole il gusto (the understanding of the meaning, and the flavour of the words). This flavour should be imitated in passionate notes and also expressed by singing with passion, l’imitazione di esso cosi nelle corde affettuose, come nello esprimerlo con affetto cantando. [Again, Caccini distinguishes between the work of composer and performer].

So counterpoint is not much use, Caccini uses it only to coordinate the two parts, to avoid obvious errors, and to create some dissonances, durezze, more to support the emotion than to employ artistry, piu per accompagnamento dello affetto che per usar arte. Composing according to the gusto del concetto delle parole (flavour of the meaning of the words) and singing with good style, buona maniera di cantare, are more effective and delightful than all the art of counterpoint. This is what brought Caccini to this way of singing maniera di canto for solo voice, and where to use the lunghi giri di voce.

The Passionate style


Now he discusses the use of  crescere e scemare della voce, l’esclamazioni, trilli, gruppi (crescendo and diminuendo on one note, exclamations, single-note and two-note trills).  These are often used indiscriminately, indifferentemente, in passionate music, musiche affettuose, where they are required more, and in light dance-songs canzonette a ballo [where they would be inappropriate]. Some people create an ultra-passionate manner of singing, una maniera di cantare … tutta affettuosa, and with the general rule that crescere e scemare della voce  and esclamazioni are the foundation of that passion (affetto), they apply them in all kinds of music, without noticing whether the words require such passion, se le parole il richieggiono. Those who understand well the meanings and sentiments of the words, che bene intendono i concetti e i sentimenti delle parole, can distinguish where such passion is more necessary or less required, ove piu o meno si richieggia esso affetto.   

[This is excellent advice, which I will summarise as : Don’t pour a rich sauce of fake emotion over an innocent text! Such down-to-earth honesty is all the more necessary, as we approach Caccini’s next quotable quote]

Quest’ arte non patisce la mediocrita

This Art does not admit mediocrity. The more exquisite details there are that are required for excellence in this Art, the more hard work and diligence we who profess the Art must find in all our studies.  [So, stick with it, even if Caccini’s sentences sometimes seem endless!] From written sources [the Italian word scritti  hints at holy scriptures] we receive the light of Science [this word has cosmic, divine significance in the 17th century], and all the Arts. So we need Love too, the kind of love that inspired Caccini to leave a glimmer of light in his music and discussion of the art of singing solo above the harmony of the Chitarrone or other stringed instrument.

For singers, the first and most important fundamental is to be to start the phrase on any note l’intonazione della voce in tutte le cordi , neither too low nor too high, and in good style, la buona maniera. Caccini discusses the ornamental start from a third below, which should be not be sustained but scarcely hinted at, a pena essere accennata. This does not always fit the harmony, and is often over-used. Many singers consider starting with a steady crescendo to be the good style of putting forth the voice with elegance, la buona maniera per mettere la voce con grazia. Caccini prefers this crescere la voce, but he is always seeking novel means to attain the goal of the musician, il fine della musico, cioe dilettare e muovere l’affetto dell’animo.

A musician’s goal is to delight and move the passions of the mind & spirit.

 So Caccini claims that he invented a more passionate way, maniera piu affettuosa, starting the note with the contrary effect of a decrescendo, intonare la prima voce scemandola. [In all this discussion, we have to understand voce as ‘voice’ and/or ‘sung note’, sometimes even as ‘a word’. Similarly, corda can be ‘string’ and/or ‘note’, whether sung or played.]

But the most principal means of moving the passion, mezzo piu principale per muovere l’affetto, is the Exclamation, esclamazione. As you make the decrescendo, nel lassare della voce [this could also mean ‘just before you leave the note’], make a bit of a crescendo, rinforzarla alquanto. Caccini notes that this crescendo can become unbearably harsh in the high part, especially with falsettists. But without doubt, as a passionate ornament (affetto) to move the emotions (per muovere), the effect (effetto) is better starting the note with decrescendo, intonare la voce scemandola, than with crescendo. [Note that Caccini here uses affetto to mean not only a passion, but also an ornament that moves the passions.] Crescendo la voce per far l’esclamazione (crescendo on a note as an Exclamation) requires a further crescendo as you relax/leave (lassar) the note, and this seems forced and harsh, sforzata e cruda. But contrariwise, with decrescendo on a note (scemarla), as you relax/leave it (lassarla) giving it a bit more spirit, il darle un poco piu spirto, makes it more and more passionate, sempre piu affettuosa.

You can also vary one or other intonazione. Variety is most necessary in this art, as long as it is used for the purpose [of delighting and moving the passions].

This is the greatest part of elegance in singing in order to move the passions of the spirit, maggior parte della grazia nel cantare atta a poter muovere l’affetto dell’ animo. It applies to those subjects in the text (concetti) that are more suitable for such passions, ove piu si conviene usare tali affetti. You can learn this most necessary elegance, quella grazia piu necessaria, from written sources, but after studying the theory and the rules, perfection is attained through practice.

This leads Caccini to his music examples, demonstrating two Exclamations, languida (languid) and piu viva (more lively). You can experiment to see which way of starting the note (intonato) produces more or less elegance, maggiore o minor grazia. On the word cor, start (intonare) the first note, make a decrescendo little by little (scemandola a poco a poco), and on the second note crescere la voce con un poco piu spirito (crescendo on the note with a little more spirit). This is the esclamazione assai affettuosa (moderately passionate) for a note descending by step.     

Caccini Nuove Musiche Exclamazione


On the word deh, the exclamation is much more spirited, molto piu spiritosa, because it does not continue by step, but very sweetly with the fall through a sixth. With this Caccini demonstrates the esclamazione, which can be of two qualities, one more passionate (piu affettuosa) than the other.The way the note is started (intonate) is an imitation of the word, imitazione della parole, as long as that word has significant meaning, significato con il concetto

Otherwise, as a general rule esclamationi can be used in any passionate music (tutte le musiche affettuose) on every occurrence of dotted minim plus crotchet [this is my reading of Caccini’s ambiguous phrase, tutte le minime e semiminime col punto]. They will be more passionate (affettuose) if the following note runs fast (corre). Don’t do them on semibreves, where there is more space for crescendo and diminuendo on the note (crescere e scemare della voce) without esclamazioni.

In light music (musiche ariose) or little dance-songs (canzonette a ballo), instead of these passionate ornaments (affetti), just use the liveliness of the voice (vivezza di canto), which usually comes from the rhythm of the song itself [aria in this period has a wide range of meaning: a repeating rhythmic unit, a tuneful song that includes such repeating rhythmic units, or a tuneful strophic song over a repeating ground bass].  If there are some esclamazioni, they should leave the same liveliness (vivezza) and not bring in any languid emotion, affetto alcuno … languido.


Musicians need to exercise their own judgement, beyond the rules of Art. In the example above, there is more elegance, maggior grazia,  in the first setting of the word languire with the second quaver dotted, than in the second setting with all four quavers equal. There are many elements which create maggior grazia  in the good manner of singing la buona maniera di cantare. Although they are written in one way, they make a different effect (effetto) in another way, so some are said to sing with more grace, others with less, cantare con piu grazia o meno grazia.

Trillo & Gruppo

Caccini Trillo & Gruppo

The Trillo is on one note. Caccini taught it this way to his two wives and daughters. It starts with a crotchet, and beats with the throat (ribattere …con la gola) until the final breve. [Note that the trillo gets faster, not slower, and flows directly into the final breve]. Similarly with the Gruppo. Listeners could report how exquisitely, in quanta squisitezza, these were performed by Caccini’s second wife.

Learning the Trillo and Gruppo is a necessary first step towards many things described here, that are effects of that elegance that is most sought after in good singing, effetti di quella grazia, che piu si ricerca per ben cantare. They are written one way, and performed another to make a different effect (contrario effetto) than the usual. Here are all these effects (effetti) written in the same note-values, so that from written examples combined with practice one can learn all the subtleties (squisitezze) of this Art.

Caccini rhythmic alteration examples  

In the examples above, the second version has piu grazia.


Three Sample Songs


The next examples (below) have the words underlayed, a bass for the Chitarrone, and all the most passionate movements, tutti passi affettuosissimi. By practising them you can acquire ever greater perfection, ogni maggior perfezzione.


Caccini Nuove Musiche example 1




Caccini Nuove Musiche example 2


Caccini Nuove Musiche example 3


[It’s worth doing some simple counting. In the three examples immediately above, there are 13 mentions of esclamazione, 11 of trillo, the word gruppi occurs once and the ornament is written out 4 times. Sprezzatura occurs only once.

Senza misura (without measure) also occurs only once, in response to a strong cue from the words errate peregrine (you wander afar, erratically). Punctuation separates that instruction from quasi favellando in armonia con la suddetta sprezzatura (almost speaking in harmonies with the nonchalance mentioned above). In the passage above, that nonchalance applied to voice-production, ‘almost speaking’, and not to rhythm. Text and Rhythm are described above as the two highest priorities, the elements that, according to Castiglione, would receive Attention and Precision.

Monteverdi and others notate how such senza misura works in practice, with the singer floating in a cool way, over a regular bass. There are many descriptions of this practice throughout the baroque period and even as late as Chopin. In the Aria Possente Spirto from Monteverdi’s Orfeo, the singer’s ornaments do not coincide with the tactus beats, nor with the movement of the harmony from G to D.

Possente Spirto incipit

Here is one possible realisation of Caccini’s senza misura, according to Monteverdi’s model, and following Caccini’s instruction (below) to make some notes just half their written length.

Aure divine, ch'errate peregrine

The important points are that this senza misura applies to the voice-part, whilst the continuo continues in measure; that this special effect is used only once in all the examples; that this is not the sprezzatura that Caccini mentions in the next clause.

There is one mention only (in the whole Preface) of con misura piu larga (in rhythm, but with a slower pulse). Again, this is in response to a strong cue from the words ch’io me ne moro (for from this I am dying). The change to a slower Tactus imitates the slower heart-beat of the dying singer.]


Caccini’s commentary on the examples above is that they show all the best passionate ornaments, tutti i migliori affetti, which can be used within the nobility of this way of singing, la nobilita di questa maniera di canti. They show where to crescendo and diminuendo the note, crescere e scemare la voce; where to do esclamazioni, trilli and gruppi, and to sum up, all the treasures of this art, tesori di quest’ arte. These ‘treasures’ are not written into the songs that follow, but the examples above are models to be followed, according to the passions of the words, gli affetti delle parole.

[Now follows Caccini’s only discussion of rhythmic freedom.] The noble way (nobile maniera) is not dominated by strict measure, often reducing the value of notes by half according to the ideas of the words, facendo molte volte il valor delle note la meta meno secondo i concetti delle parole. [See my realisation of Caccini’s example 3, above].

The noble way then gives birth to a song (canto) that’s cool, in sprezzatura as it’s called. There you can use all the effects (effetti) for the excellence of this art, l’eccelenza di essa arte: a good voice (la buona voce), and effective breathing (la respirazione del fiato).  Sing solos to the Chitarrone or other string instrument. Since there are no other singers, choose the pitch that suits you so that you can sing full, natural voice (in voce piena e naturale) and avoid falsetto (isfuggire le voci finti). You waste a lot of breath faking or forcing, trying to ‘cover’ the tone. Rather, you need the breath to give more spirit to the crescendo and diminuendo on the note, per dar maggiore spirito al crescere e scemare della voce, to esclamazioni and all the other effects (effetti). Don’t run out of breath when you need it!

There is no nobility of good singing in falsetto notes. Dalle voci finte non puo nascere nobilita di buon canto. It comes from a natural voice, at ease in all the notes (una voce naturale, comoda per tutte le corde). Use the breath only to show yourself as master of all the best passionate ornaments, padrone di tutti gli affetti migliori, which pertain to this most noble way of singing (nobilissima maniera di cantare).

The love of this style and of all music burns in me by nature, and from years of study. This art is most beautiful (bellissima) and naturally delightful (dilettando naturalmente). By practising and teaching it, it becomes a true semblance of that perpetual motion of the celestial harmony, sembianza vera di quelle inarrestabili armonie celesti, from which all earthly good derives, awakening the minds of listeners to contemplation of the infinite delights of Heaven.

[Notice that in this conventional comparison of fine earthly music to the Harmony of the Spheres, the rhythm of the celestial harmony is unstoppable, inarrestabili.]

In the bass part, where there is a tie, re-strike the harmony but do not restrike the bass note. [This applies particularly to cadences, where the change of harmonies 4 3 on the dominant is notated over tied notes in the bass]. The Chitarrone is especially suitable for accompanying the voice, especially the tenor voice. Use good judgement about where to repeat the bass note in other places. Antonio Naldi, ‘il Bardella’, is credited for inventing this style of accompanying and as the finest Chitarrone-player. Caccini’s final paragraph complains that many people are not prepared to give others due credit for their inventions. [Is he hinting that he himself should receive more credit for his invention of the good manner of singing?]



Caccini’s text is dominated by the interlinked concepts of affetto (passion, or a passionate ornament) and effetto (a passionate ornament or the effect of such an ornament on the listener’s passions). He mentions affetto and its derivatives 32 times: include the 8 occurrences of effetto, and this interlinked concept has 40 hits. There is also an exclamatione affettuosa in the first of the three example songs.

This suggests that what is really ‘new’ about the nuove musiche is Caccini’s focus on passion (affetto), combined with the linking of such passion to a particular class of ornaments (affetti/effetti) and to the emotional effect on the listener (effetto).

Moving beyond that principal focus, other concepts grazia (14), nobilita (8)buona maniera (7),  crescere (8), scemare (6) esclamazione (12),  trilli (9), giri and passaggi (5) are all mentioned far more often than sprezzatura (2).

In his examples, Caccini has 13 esclamazioni, 11 trilli, 4 gruppi. Sprezzatura occurs only once. Senza misura only once. Con misura piu larga also only once.

Caccini does not equate sprezzatura with free rhythm.

The priorities for Caccini and the Camerata are Text & Rhythm. Sound is the lowest priority. Castiglione indicates that sprezzatura is applied to low-priority elements, suggesting that Caccini’s sprezzatura should be applied to Sound. Caccini’s phrases are sprezzatura di canto and canto in sprezzatura. He associates sprezzatura with ‘almost speaking’.

Caccini’s sprezzatura is a nonchalant voice-production that is ‘almost speaking’.

Caccini emphasises that although plebs might delight in flashy singing, the noble art depends on deep understanding of the words.

The fundamental things apply…

  1. Prioritise text and rhythm.
  2. Don’t sing so much, almost speak.
  3. Move the listener’s passions.


Play it again Sam


Please join me on Facebook and visit our website . Further details of original sources are on the website, click on “New Priorities in Historically Informed Performance”

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

Quality Time: how does it feel?

During a workshop on 18th-century music that I taught in Moscow recently, there was what diplomats call ‘a frank exchange of views’ [i.e. a heated argument]. I stated that mid-18th century musicians did not use mechanical clocks to measure musical time. A historian there objected strongly: suitably high-precision clocks had been invented in the 17th century already. I managed to restore peace, on the basis that we were both correct.



Galileo Pendulum

According to the Galileo Project [directed by Prof Albert Van Helden at Rice University] here, Galileo observed this chandelier in Pisa cathedral in 1582, and made notes on the pendulum effect in 1588. His serious experiments on the subject were begun in 1602. Around 1641, he designed a pendulum clock, but it was not built. The best clocks during the first half of the 17th-century marked the seconds, but did not measure them accurately: their best accuracy was plus/minus 15 minutes per day.

Galileo Pendulum Clock

Around 1636, Mersenne and Descartes further investigated the pendulum effect. Mersenne defined the Tactus as one beat per second, and in 1644 he  measured the length of a 1-second pendulum as a little less than 1 metre. Christian Huygens was the first actually to build a pendulum clock, in 1656. The accuracy of the best clocks was greatly improved, to within about 15 seconds per day.

Huygens first pendulum clock

In 1696, Etienne Loulié published Élements in which he described his chronomètre, which was essentially a variable-length pendulum combined with a ruler for measuring the pendulum-length, gradated in inches. The machine was 72 inches (almost 2 metres) tall, giving a slowest possible beat around 44 beats per minute. The middle of its range (i.e.  a pendulum length a little less than 1m) was about 60 beats per minute (corresponding to Mersenne’s one-second Tactus).

Loulie Chronometre 1696

18th-century devices were also very large, measuring slow beats in the range 40-60 beats per minute. The more compact, double-weighted metronome was invented by Winkel and first manufactured by Maezel in 1816.

So during the 18th century, mechanical devices for measuring musical time did exist, and were reasonably precise – good enough for all practical purposes, one would think. Their inconveniently large size is evidence of the importance of a slow count (Tactus) throughout this period. The one-second pendulum, i.e. 60 beats per minute, had a particular significance, in scientific studies.

Nevertheless, in spite of the availability of precision machines for measuring time, 18th-century musicians did not make much use of this technology. They continued to describe Tactus in the old ways. For example, Quantz  Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (1752) here mentions Loulié and his chronomètre, but says (XVII -vii – 46) that nobody uses it, in spite of its reliability and precision. Instead (47), he describes musical Tempi in terms of the human Pulse, and for each different type of movement (Allegro, Adagio etc) relates this Pulse to a particular note-value.

So it seems that increasing precision about Time itself did not tell baroque musicians what they needed to know about musical Time. Musicians were not so interested in the absolute Quantitative measurement of Time, they were concerned with the subjective Qualitative nature of musical Time. Their question was not, “how fast does it go?”, but rather:

What is the Quality of Time? How does it feel?


This question places the investigation of Time within the study of the History of Emotions. [Read more about the Australian Research Council’s Centre for the History of Emotions, here.]

The Galileo Project characterises the slow change in concepts of Time from Aristotle via Galileo and Newton to the modern era as the shift from the ‘qualitative and verbal’ to the ‘quantitative and mathematical’. You can read more about Philosophies of Time, ancient, baroque, our own everyday assumptions, Einstein’s 20th-century revolution and Hawking’s 21st-century paradoxes, in A Baroque History of Time here, where I too emphasise the continuing importance circa 1600 of Aristotle’s idea of Time as ‘a number of motion’ [some translations have ‘a number of change’] circa 1600.

You can also watch a video discussion of What is Time? here 

For the Metaphysics of Quality, be sure to read Robert M Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974).

Quality (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)


In this post, I’d like to consider how historical philosophy affects practical music-making, in terms of Quality. What was the Quality of baroque Time? How did it feel?

In Ars Cantandi (1696), Carissimi makes it clear that 17th-century musicians appreciated the difference between Quantity and Quality of Time.

The triple-metres all agree with regard to quantity, division and proportion, as is easily understood, but in the slow or fast quality, known by the Italians as tempo and by the French as mouvement, they are utterly different.

So in the various triple-metres, the relationships between note-values agree: a semi-breve in 3/1 has the same duration as a semi-breve in 3/2.  Whatever the proportion sign, a semibreve can be divided into two minims, a minim can be divided into two semi-minims. As Carissimi says, the Quantities all agree.

But the Quality, how it feels, is very different, depending on whether the music proceeds as Sesquialtera (feeling groups of three semibreves); as Tripla 3/2 (feeling groups of three minims); or as Sestupla 6/4 (feeling groups of two dotted minims). Sesquialtera feels slow, Tripla feels medium-fast, Sestupla feels fast, even though the Quantities agree, each note-value has its true, consistent worth, the same value in all three triple-metres.

We can acquire a feeling for the Quality of early 17th-century musical Time by reminding ourselves what Music itself is, in this period. As we read in many sources, for example Dowland’s Micrologus (1609) here [translating probably the 1535 edition of Ornithoparcus: the almost-indentical 1519 edition is here], what we think of today as “music”, music as sound, practical music-making, was the least important meaning. [Read more about What is Music? here]

  1. Music is firstly Mondana, Dowland’s ‘musicke of the world’, the heavenly Music of the Spheres created by ‘the very wheeling of the Orbes.. the motion of the starres and the violence of the Spheares’.
  2. Next, music is Humana, Dowland’s ‘humane musicke’, the harmonious nature of the human body, ‘by which the spirituall nature is ioyned with the body…that Musicke which euery man that descends into himselfe finds in himselfe’
  3. In third place, music is Instrumentalis, Dowland;s ‘instrumentall musicke’, the actual music that we play and sing here on earth.

Three kinds of Music

Music was also divided into Practical (what Dowland calls Active or Pracktick) and Theoretical or Inspective:


Inspectiue Musicke, is a knowledge censuring and pondering the Sounds formed with naturall instruments, not by the eares, whose iudgement is dull, but by wit and reason.
 Such Speculative Music included many kinds of intellectual investigations, for example such contrapuntal brain-teasers as the Puzzle Canons that were popular in the 16th century.
So we end up with four types of music. The three types placed higher in the hierarchy can tell us a lot about the Quality of Time for the lowest-placed type, that is to say, for actual practical music played or sung here on earth.
What is Time
Like Music itself, the Quality of Time is Cosmic. It is a slow beat, reliable, perfect (think of the circular orbits that period science insisted upon), it is divinely-ordered. Mere mortals should not trifle with it.
The Quality of Time is like the human Heartbeat. It has a double-beat, it is live-giving, essential, not to be stopped. It may in certain circumstances beat faster or slower. It is very scary to suspend it even for a tiny moment.
The Quality of Time is seen Instrumentally by beating time with your hand, tapping your foot, waving the end of your theorbo, walking, or with a long (1 to 2 metres) pendulum. This beat is known as Tactus, Dowland’s ‘Tact’.
Tact is a successiue motion in singing, directing the equalitie of the measure: Or it is a certaine motion, made by the hand of the chiefe singer, according to the nature of the marks, which directs a Song according to Measure.
Notice that Tactus is ‘motion’ [recalling Aristotle’s definition of Time as a ‘number of motion’, discussed here], that Tactus ‘directs’, that Tactus maintains ‘equalitie’ ‘according to Measure’. Tactus is not just a tool with which a performer controls time, according to his own arbitrary conceit; Tactus itself maintains the equality of measure. Dowland again:
Above all things, keep the equality of measure!
Dowland Above all things




[See also Rhythm: what really counts here.]
Tactus is vitally important for us practising musicians – it is the practical means by which musical time operates. Tactus is “How to Do Rhythm” for Early Music. To employ a modern conductor, or to add rubato and other modern means of managing time, is a gross anachronism, like putting a modern piano into the Monteverdi Vespers. You can do it, of course, but if you do, you can’t pretend that it’s HIP.
Tactus, the visible sign of musical Time, brings together the same set of hierarchical categories as Music itself – heavenly & human, practical & theoretical. Tactus is the Divine Hand that turns the cosmos, Tactus is the Human Hand that keeps earthly musica instrumentalis in equality of measure, Tactus is related to the heart-beat. Considering musica speculativa, Tactus is where real Time for practical music (cosmic, human and actual sound) intersects with the theory of musical Time (as written in musical notation). Specifically, around the year 1600, Tactus calibrates the notational system against real time at the level of the semibreve.
Beating Tactus in duple metre, the semibreve is divided, down-up, into two minims. This is perhaps a good moment to consider what one might call the ‘Hobbit Question’,  aka ‘There and Back Again’.
The Hobbit or There and Back Again
The Tactus Hand goes ‘there and back again’, down and up. Similarly, a pendulum goes to and fro, and a semibreve is divided into two minims. When today’s musicians think about a metronome beat, they think of the click in each direction. But when mathematicians and physicists consider a pendulum, they define the Period as the time taken to swing there and back again. Strictly, we ought to use Tactus to mean a semibreve, the movement of the hand down and up again; each beat (down only, or up only) is properly called ‘semi-tactus’. But today, and also in 17th-century sources, musicians tend to use the word Tactus more generally to mean “the beat”, without always being specific about whether a minim (down only, or up only) or a semibreve (down and back up again) is meant.
So in my discussion above (and in many discussions by modern historians and musicologists), the pendulum ‘beat’ refers to the movement in one direction only, the same way musicians define a metronome beat today. In this sense, a 1-metre pendulum gives a beat of approximately MM 60 – this is Mersenne’s ‘one- second pendulum’, and he equates this 1 second to the minim. Strictly, this should be called semi-tactus.
Strictly speaking, the modern scientific definition of the Period of a pendulum, and the academic definition of Tactus around the year 1600 refer to “there and back again”. Mersenne’s approximately-one-metre pendulum goes there and back again in 2 seconds, which he would equate to the semibreve. Dowland agrees, clarifying the concept of ‘there and back again’ as ‘reciprocal motion’:
The greater [Tactus] is a Measure made by a slow, and as it were reciprocall motion. The writers call this Tact the whole, or totall Tact. And, because it is the true Tact of all Songs, it comprehends in his motion a Semibreefe.
Ornithoparcus, Dowland’s source from almost a century earlier, has an academic’s scorn for the habit amongst practical musicians of framing discussions in terms of Semi-Tactus:
The lesser Tact, is the halfe of the greater, which they call a Semitact. Because it measures by it motion a Semibreefe, diminished in a duple [i.e. a minim]: this is allowed of onely by the vnlearned.
Well, plenty of learnéd 17th-century musicians did discuss rhythm in terms of minim and semitactus! The insistence on the semibreve is already old-fashioned and theoretical, by Dowland’s time. For practical purposes today, it is a sufficient challenge for most conservatoire-trained musicians to get used to thinking in the slow beat of minim = approx 60. They (and many early music specialists too!) might find it very hard to work with the ultra-slow beat of semibreve = approx 30. Nevertheless, it’s worth keeping in mind that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that 17th-century musicians did indeed manage to work with this long beat, the whole Tactus. Certainly, an awareness of the very big, ultra-slow, count of semibreve = approx 30 is a big help when it comes to Sesquialtera proportion.
[More about Proportions – in search of a practical theory here, with discussion of proportions for the ballo in Monteverdi’s Orfeo here]
For the rest of this post, I will continue as I started, with the more practical, less ‘learnéd’ nomenclature, discussing what is strictly called Semi-Tactus, a minim beat (down only, or up only; not there and back again).



So, having dealt with the Hobbit Question, we can now consider how to calibrate our Tactus: to line-up the musical notation of note-values against Time in the real world of early 17th-century Italian music.   We have plenty of sources to put us ‘in the right ball-park’. The double heart-beat of the Tactus semibreve is divided into two minims, down-up, with each beat at minim = approximately 60, i.e. one minim beat per second. And around the year 1600, this was as accurate as they could get, they had no way to measure it more exactly.
Try to estimate a second, without looking at any kind of modern watch, clock, mobile phone etc. To help, try imagining a 1-metre pendulum, or think about your relaxed heart-beat. Did you make your estimate? That’s how long a minim is.
In Quantitative terms, circa 1600, we cannot know any more exactly. The minim was somewhere around one second, whatever you feel one second to be. It could be slower, for practical reasons, in certain circumstance, e.g. when there is lots of complex ornamentation. (In his 1610 Vespers, Monteverdi specifies a slower Tactus for Et exultavit, because the tenors have lots of fast notes. He also warns performers not to take his Ballo Tirsi & Clori  too fast, because the ensemble music is complex). How music feels depends on the size of the ensemble and the acoustic of the venue. To get the same feeling in a more resonant acoustic, it’s plausible that you might count your seconds a bit slower.
This calibration of a notated minim as a real Time second is inevitably subjective. Although a minim, or a second, are in principle fixed units, individuals will differ in how they estimate them. I remember being told as a child to estimate an English yard (a bit less than a metre, about the length of a one-second pendulum) as the distance from the tip of my nose to the end of my arm, and realised even then that not everyone’s arms are the same length (not to mention noses!). Of course, highly trained musicians could be expected to remember the duration of a minim better than the average person, just as some musicians today can remember the pitch of a tuning fork, or of the organ in a particular church. But, in the absence of a precision measurement of time, it’s your memory against mine. And if I trained with a maestro di capella who had a slower idea of one second than your teacher, we would probably continue that difference into our adult careers. So each individual will perceive Tactus slightly differently.
Tactus is also subjective in that it depends on one’s emotional state. Although I fondly imagine that I am keeping the ‘equalitie of measure’ , my sense of a one-second beat might well be a little faster when I am under stress, excited or angry; a little slower when I am especially relaxed or even drowsy.
Note that these subjective differences are not individual choices. Nor are they expressive interpretation. It’s just that my best, humanly fallible guess of the duration of one second  might be different from your guess, and might also vary according to my emotional state. Long training and repeated experience of the ‘equalitie of measure’ would have helped 17th-century musicians make consistent estimates.


Since performers’ emotional state can alter their perception of an ‘equal measure’, a singing-actor representing a character’s strong passions might act out the affetto in dramatic music (in genere rappresentativo) by letting that passion alter the speed slightly. Of course, this only works, if the audience don’t notice the trick: if they become aware that you are just going faster, the illusion is gone.

In the early 17th century, such writers as Caccini and Frescobaldi suggest subtle changes to the Tactus, according to the affetto of the sung text. Frescobaldi suggests imitating this vocal practice (which he derives from dramatic madrigals) even in instrumental music, with subtly different tempi for the various movements of a Toccata. Early violin sonatas have markings of tarde and velociter etc to show such subtle changes of Tactus, corresponding to changes in affetto. We can understand this as a performer acting out a change of Passion, as if his own heart began to beat slower or faster, in response to a poetic text, or to the affetti of such poetry imitated in instrumental music.
With such changes, the desired result is that the audience’s passions are moved. The audience should notice a change of affetto, in fact they should feel that emotional change themselves. If they simply notice a change of speed, the performance has failed. With such changes, the alteration in Tactus is small. If the composer wants double-speed, he can show that with shorter note-values. If he wants one-third faster, he can show that with Sesquialtera proportion. As George Houle writes in Metre in Music 1600-1800 (1987):
 In the early seventeenth century, tarde, velociter, adagio and presto distinguished between fast and slow, that is degrees of change intermediate to those determined by diminution (2:1) or proportion (usually 2:1, 3:1 or 3:2).
(My added emphasis)
So these changes for the sake of the affetto are subtle changes. In particular, a gross change to double-speed may not be perceived at all by your audience. They will still feel the same Tactus, and just assume that the note-values have been halved.
Jazz suggests a good model for the Quality of these subtle changes. Whatever the actual, Quantitative tempo, jazz musicians recognise that one can play “on the front” of the tempo or “laid back”. What is essentially the same Quantitative speed can feel different, more urgent or more languid; its Quality can be varied.
In early 17th-century music, a change of Tactus according to the affetto will tend to reinforce whatever changes of note-values the composer has written. If the affetto is urgent, the composer will write short note-values. And then the performer takes a slightly faster Tactus, making those short notes even quicker. And the converse for languid affetti.
Another important point is that these changes are not gradual acceleration or rallentando, but a step-change in time. In what Frescobaldi calls ‘driving the time’, guidare il tempo, you don’t use the accelerator and the brakes, you use the gear-shift! Such gear-changes, even when by subtle amounts, are very strong medicine, all the more so in the context of ‘equality of measure’ throughout the rest of the performance.
Finally, even when the Tactus changes, there is still Tactus. Frescobaldi explains that although Tactus no longer rules absolutely in his toccatas, the performance is still facilitated by means of Tactus, a Tactus which now can be slightly faster or slower, changing at the intersection between movements and according to the affetto. I will discuss Caccini’s, Peri’s and Frescobaldi’s specific comments about Tactus in future posts.
Perhaps the most important Quality of early 17th-century musical time is that musicians are striving to make it as constant and consistent as they can. Although its precise Quantity is subjective, and might even be deliberately adjusted to take account of particular circumstances, or to create a subtle illusion for the audience, time is supposed to be stable, otherwise the heavens will fall. If your heart stops beating, the music also dies.
The myth of Phaeton tells of an ill-fated attempt to ‘drive time’. Phaeton grabbed the reins of Apollo’s sun-chariot, but could not control the time-horses, He crashed and burned.
Sun Chariot



In the second half of the 17th century, in France, the quality of Time was linked to how it felt to perform the movements of a particular dance. Each dance had its own vrai mouvement (as Muffat calls it, in Florilegium 1698) – ‘true movement’. This deceptively simple phrase has many meanings: the particular steps of each dance, a speed-range within which those steps ‘feel right’, a particular metre (duple or triple), and also what a modern musician might call a particular ‘groove’, a regular pattern of Good and Bad beats, a tendency towards certain characteristic rhythms. Time itself ‘moves’ truly, but differently, for each dance. And of course, each dance-type is associated with a certain range of emotions. In short, each dance-type has its own feeling, its own Quality.

Modern musicologists and dance historians have worked hard to understand the precise Quantity, the actual speed for each dance-type. Commonly encountered speeds around 84 beats per minute for some dances look rather like a proportion of the earlier Italian Tactus =  a bit less than 60. But perhaps too much focus on Quantity is again the wrong approach to the whole question. We might better seek to understand the Quality of each mouvement, learn how it feels. We can find a typical range of feelings, in the sense of emotions, affetti, by examining texts sung to each dance-type. We can try to discover the right groove within the Tactus, the appropriate swing of inégalité in the shorter notes,  and – most importantly – we can learn how it feels, physically, to dance its characteristic steps.

When I first started playing the harp, I studied renaissance and baroque dance and spent a lot of time playing for dancers. I count this a most valuable part of my Early Music education. I quickly discovered that dancers are very sensitive to the precise speed of each dance, so as a dutiful young professional musician, I would measure their ideal speed in rehearsal with a metronome, and then use a silent metronome to reproduce this speed in performance. This was Quantitatively accurate, but it didn’t work at all.  Dancers’ appreciation of speed is highly subjective – it depends on the nature of the floor surface, on the size and shape of the available floor area, on their physical condition and mood at the moment of performance. It’s not a question to be answered with a metronome; it’s a matter of How does it feel?

My solution, as an instrumentalist playing for dancers, was to learn the dance-steps so that I could watch whilst playing and allow the dancer to set the tempo in the opening bars. Of course, the ‘ball-park’ tempo was known from rehearsal, but the ‘fine-tuning’ of speed was left to the performer, in the moment. Once set, this speed, the rhythmic ‘groove’, the inégal swing, the complete vrai mouvement  is maintained until the very end of the dance, just as Muffat says.

Because each dance has its own vrai mouvement, its own Time, the Quality of musical time in late 17th-century France is complex and multifarious. Time is still cosmic and divine. Indeed, dance itself is a metaphor for the perfect movement of the heavens, as well as for a perfectly organised society with Louis XIV himself as the divinely appointed principal dancer around whom everyone else must orbit. Melody, harmony and vrai mouvement (in all its meanings) work together as the head, heart and soul  of the human body. Tactus is still shown by an up and down movement of the hand, or of the big stick that led to Lully’s death. Muffat recommends that dance-musicians should tap their feet in Tactus (on the downbeat of each bar). Meanwhile, the dancers’ feet strike out faster-moving beats within the Tactus, moving with the groove of the music as they step, rise and sink, turn and balance.

French dance-Time still has the Quality of being ‘true’, rather than arbitrarily chosen according to the whim of performers. But now there are many truths, as many different types of vrai mouvement as their are types of dance. The significance of individual dance-steps within the slow count of the Tactus encouraged French musicians to think more about the ‘equalitie of measure’ beat-by-beat in crotchets. The actual speed was determined according to the Quality of each dance, rather than by the Quantity of mathematical proportions. As Houle observed in 1987, these different ways of thinking were essentially incompatible, and the attempts to reconcile them make for confusing reading in late 17th-century sources.

Logical extensions of mensural principles were sometimes in conflict.

Just as the 17th century saw opposed national styles of Music (French and Italian), so each national style had its own approach to questions of musical Time. When the musical tastes were re-united, gradually and not always completely, during the 18th century, so attitudes to Time were also gradually brought closer into alignment.

Tomlinson  dance a 2



Today, when we think about beating time, we may be reminded of the Qualities of a metronome, or of a modern conductor. Experiments we carried out at Scoil na gCláirseach (2013) and at the Royal Danish Academy of Music (2014) demonstrated that a long, slow-beating pendulum (about one metre long, at a Tactus speed of around one beat per second in each direction) has quite different Qualities.

A metronome gives a sharp click, and conductors are taught to make the precise moment of the beat as sharply defined as possible. But a pendulum slows down and stops momentarily as it turns, so that the actual moment is not sharply defined. This allows a musician to ‘place’ the beat subtly, communicating the particular feeling of this note, this harmony, the quality of this moment of time, letting the audience enjoy the moment of ‘smelling the roses’ as they walk steadily along the path of the music.

Valentini’s Trattato della battuta musicale (1643) allows the downward movement of the Tactus hand to last one quaver (approximately 1/4 sec) after which the hand remains down for three quavers (3/4 sec); similarly for the upward movement. Try this for yourself: it looks very different from modern conducting, and (like a pendulum) leaves the subtle ‘placing’ to the musician, within limits of the order of magnitude of a 1/4 sec.

Within the steady Tactus, shorter note-values need not be precisely equal. Descriptions of the ‘intrinsic’ hierarchy of Good and Bad notes (buone & cattive) remind us that the concept of a ‘half’ in this period does not necessarily imply precisely 50%.  Muffat (Florilegium 1698) explains that

Good notes are those that seem naturally to give the ear a little repose. Such notes are longer, those that come on the beat or essential subdivisions of measures.

It is not easy to put this difference in Quality between Good and Bad notes into words. Rameau in his Traité de l’harmonie (1722) asks for a certain je ne sais quoi on the Good beats, which he contrasts with a ‘slight leaning’ (appuyer un peu) on the Bad beats.

To get a feeling for the Quality of Good and Bad sub-divisions of the Tactus, first establish steady one-second Tactus. Then try saying simple words like piano, forte, dolce, arpa, pasta, pizza in your best Italian accent, one word on the down-position, the next on the up-position of your steady Tactus. [Don’t ‘bang’ the initial consonants, savour the vowels]. Can you reconcile the result of this tactus-beating with Valentini’s instructions above?

This subtle difference between Good and Bad (not loud and soft, but something of Long and Short) on the principal divisions of the Tactus (the ‘groove’ of a dance-movement)  is not to be confused with the stylised inégalité on shorter note-values (the ‘swing’ of short notes in French music).  Read more about The Good, The Bad, & the Early Music Phrase here. Watch a video about Good & Bad notes here.

Whereas a modern conductor might struggle to control a wayward soloist, or a modern accompanist might struggle to follow, a pendulum just swings to and fro, maintaining the ‘equalitie of measure’ calmly and gently. This quality of calm steadiness is a vital skill for a baroque accompanist to acquire. As Agazzari writes in Del Sonare (1607), the continuo’s role is to ‘guide and support the entire ensemble’: the continuo maintain the Tactus, even if a soloist chooses to place a certain note before or after the beat. But this is not an aggressive power-struggle, the continuo can remain as calm as a perfect slow-swinging pendulum.

A jazz-band provides a good model for baroque continuo, with the rhythm section keeping a steady groove, whilst the soloists syncopate or drift elegantly around the beat, depending on the affetto. 

Like a pendulum or the classic swinging pocket-watch, the calm, slow, steady beat of Tactus can be powerfully hypnotic, taking musicians and audiences into a shared trance, a dream-world where the cosmic and the human are mysteriously connected, a magical space where emotions are felt more intensely, where music unites performers and audience in a shared spiritual experience.

Did Dowland perhaps refer to the inner focus of trance in his description of musica humana as ‘that Musicke which euery man that descends into himselfe finds in himselfe’? This spiritual quality of time is enhanced by calm steadiness – any random alteration would jar. One strand of my research investigates how ‘early opera’ made deliberate use of these hypnotic qualities in the first decades of the 17th century. Read more here.


swinging watch



The essential Quality of baroque Time emerges from the fact that 18th-century musicians did not use machines to determine time accurately, even when such machines became available. No matter how closely we investigate period sources, we cannot know the precise Quantity of baroque Time. And actually, we don’t want to, because to ask the question of Quantity doesn’t give us a useful answer. The objectively “right” metronome speed will still “feel wrong” if the subjective situation changes.

So we want Quality Time. Time that is calm, steady and deeply significant, like the movement of the heavens or the beating of our hearts. And we must work hard to maintain it. Here is my personal take on baroque Quality time:

If the Tactus breaks, the heavens will fall. If your pulse stops, the music also dies.

As we begin to appreciate the subtle Quality of baroque time, we can appreciate how period writers struggled to explain its mysteries, to define the ineffable. Here is my anonymous hero, Il Corago circa 1630:

Per lo che in quanto alla tardita e velocita de’ movimenti, o vogliamo dire brevita o lunghezza di tempo nel quale si pronunziano i suoni o voci musicali, i moderni reducono e et essaminano il tutto ad una certa misura, come a suo proprio paragone, la quale essi chiamano battuta et e quel tempo che si mette nell’ abbassare et elevato la mano o piede o altra cosa che sia in una determinata velocita che d’alcuni et in alcuni casi piu prestamente di altri et in particolari occasioni meno velocimente si muove, ma pero dentro una certa latitudine o determinazione di tempo, come piu l’esperienza s’impara che chiaramente si possa esporre con lo scrivere.

Concerning the slowness and speed of movements, or we might say brevity or length of time in which musical sounds, notes or words are pronounced, modern [i.e. early 17th-century] musicians examine the whole question and reduce it all to a certain measure, as if to its own bench-mark, which is called battuta [Tactus, or ‘beat’] and which is that time which is put into the lowering and raising of the hand, or foot, or other object, which should be at a specific speed which some people and in some situations goes faster than others, and in certain circumstances less rapidly, but however within a certain latitude or precision of time, which experience teachers more clearly than can be explained in writing.

Tactus is the seicento musician’s paragone, defined in Florio’s 1611 dictionary as ‘paragon (i.e. model/example of excellence), a touch-stone to try gold, or to distinguish good from bad.’ Tactus is the Champion of Time. Tactus is the ideal or bench-mark of Time, the gold standard.

Tactus is Quality Time.

Golden Hand 

Please join me on Facebook and visit our website . Further details of original sources are on the website, click on “New Priorities in Historically Informed Performance”

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica hypnotises the Heroes

La Musica Hypnotises the Heroes

The Theatre of Dreams is Joe Griffin’s metaphor for the REM-state, that part of the sleep pattern characterised by Rapid Eye Movement and associated with dreaming. See Such stuff as dreams are made on, here.

Griffin’s Theory of Dreams suggests that an evolutionary breakthrough gave humans access to the REM-state whilst waking, in day-dreams and in hypnotic trance. Griffin and his co-writer, Ivan Tyrrel characterise this development, ‘the Mind’s Big Bang’, as the origin of consciousness, language and creativity. Their work also explains the often-noted connection between high creativity and mental illness.

My OPERA research project studies Operatic Performance as an Early-modern REM-state Activator. I hypothesise that around the year 1600, the first operas and Shakespeare’s plays ‘moved the passions’ of their audience by means of what we would now call Hypnosis. More about Music & Consciousness research strands here.

Of course, every fine performer somehow ‘casts a spell’ over their audience, but my research explores exactly how that spell functions. The aim of early opera was muovere gli affetti, to move the audience’s passions. Although present-day researchers are properly sceptical about period reports of audiences ‘laughing and weeping’, we know that music and drama does sometimes produce such emotional responses, even today.

I argue that the emotional response to music-drama might be heightened by hypnosis. And I hope to show that performance practices circa-1600 were particularly closely aligned with trance-induction processes, in order to create the psychological conditions in which the audience’s passions could indeed be moved.

In this post, I analyse one of early opera’s most famous Arias, La Musica (the Prologue to Monteverdi’s Orfeo, 1607), in terms of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and as an Induction into Hypnotic Trance.

The Theatre of Dreams

There is still considerable debate amongst researchers as to what Hypnotism actually is, and there is no single accepted scientific definition. The traditional view (shared by many academics) considers someone to have been hypnotised only if they have received a formal induction including the word “Hypnosis” after which they pass specific tests, for example arm levitation.

The modern view (shared by most practitioners, and largely derived from the practice of Milton Erickson in the late 20th century) considers that trance is a naturally-occurring state that we all enter and leave many times every day. Different people can reach different levels of trance in a variety of circumstances.  In this view, self-hypnotism is easily achievable, and can be highly beneficial. Erickson’s methods were developed into the science of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which studies how subtle use of language can alter the listener’s mental processes.

In spite of the lack of a formal definition, there is general agreement that Hypnotism involves heightened attention, absorption (being so concentrated on the focus of attention as to be unaware of other stimuli), and an imaginative experience so vivid that the boundary between internally generated perceptions and external reality becomes blurred. Hypnotism is often (but not always) linked to deep relaxation and an experience of inner calm and well-being.

As reported in the Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis, neuro-scientific observation has confirmed activation of specific areas of the brain in Hypnosis, consistent with an increase in focussed attention, a decrease in automatic vigilance (i.e. less watching out in case a sabre-tooth tiger should suddenly attack), and dissociation of the brain’s control and/or monitoring systems. It is this dissociation that leads to the subjective experience of things happening ‘by themselves’.  Low-level unconscious processes instruct your arm to lift, and if those processes are dissociated from the normal conscious monitoring and/or control systems, you may have no conscious awareness of how or why your arm moved.

The intensification of inwardly generated experience together with reduced awareness of external stimuli outside a narrow focus of attention can lead to increased intensity of emotional reactions in Hypnosis.

Orfeus Party

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

There are many ways to induce Hypnosis, but most Inductions mimic one or more of the characteristics of trance, in order to facilitate some kind of dissociation and direct the mind inward. Ericksonian hypnotists would say that ‘Once upon a time…’  can be considered an Induction, since these words tend to relax the listener, dissociate attention from the present moment and invite an imaginative response to whatever story follows. Temporal and spatial dissociation – ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ – also encourages the mind to turn inwards and imagine whatever details are missing from the information stream of external reality.

Academic researchers are encouraged to use a Standard Induction, a prescribed script read in a monotone, often recorded so that the same Induction can be administered to a large group of experimental subjects. If the Induction is ineffective, the subject is presumed to be non-hypnotisable.

In contrast, most practitioners use different Inductions for different clients, observing that individuals vary greatly in what they respond to best. Someone whose primary sensory system is visual may respond very well to an Induction involving Guided Imagery, whereas someone more kinaesthetic might respond better to Progressive Relaxation. A logical thinker might readily dissociate when confronted with Confusing Language, a deep thinker might turn inwards to search for missing meaning in what he is told.

Many practitioners do not accept the validity of hypnotisability tests based on Standard Inductions. Richard Bandler, co-founder of NLP, is particularly scathing about such tests, which – he opines – only measure the ineffectiveness of the standard induction, and say nothing useful about the hypnotic abilities of the subject. Bandler believes that anyone can be hypnotised, if they permit it, and if the hypnotist has the necessary skills.

The core strategy of Ericksonian Hypnotism is ‘accept and utilise’. If at first the Induction does not work, then rather than labelling the failure as ‘Client Resistance’, the Hypnotist should accept the response as genuine, and utilise any information gathered to guide the choice of a new approach. For example, if the subject responds to an invitation to relax by getting more tense, the Hypnotist would be well advised to abandon an ineffective Progressive Relaxation Induction, and try something different, perhaps attention-locking and ‘sleight of mouth’ (see below).

Many Hypnotic Inductions have been published (there is an online selection here) and recorded on audio media. There is a large Hypnotism industry selling Inductions over the internet as mp3 files for download (I think Hypnotism Downloads are good, here). Once you understand the principles, you can easily write or improvise Inductions, for yourself or your friends. There is a list of books and links for further information, here.

In my research generally, and for this post in particular, I’m considering Hypnosis in practice, from the viewpoints of the Hypnotist and of the Subject, the person going into Trance. In academic language, this is a phenomenological and experiential approach: what happens, what is experienced? I take Trance to be an everyday, natural state. I consider that hypnosis is entered into willingly, as a collaborative process permitted, often actively encouraged by the Subject, within a safe environment created by a sense of mutual rapport. In NLP, it’s assumed that Hypnotist and Subject will both enter trance, each of them in a (subtly different) altered state of consciousness that optimises unconscious communication, deep learning, heightened emotions and hypnotic suggestibility.

In the special case of a performer entrancing an audience (or at least, those audience-members who are willing to ‘suspend their disbelief’ and become absorbed in the on-going drama), the performer’s altered state of consciousness is a particular type of Flow (also known as the ‘Zone’, an optimal state for elite, highly-skilled performance whether in the arts, sports or any other challenging situation). More about Flow here. More about connections between Flow and Hypnosis here.

Hypnotic Inductions are related to the typical phenomena experienced in Trance. Often, an Induction creates that characteristic blend of relaxation and concentration, or evokes specific physiological responses are evoked, so as to mimic the Trance state. Then the two-way nature of the mind-body link does the rest. [In a similar way, if you put a big smile on your face, you naturally feel happier and more relaxed. In fact, it’s sufficient to use electrodes to stimulate the smile-muscles, producing an utterly artificial smile on your face – you’ll still feel happier and more relaxed.]

So the traditional cliché of hypnosis, “follow the movement of this swinging pocket-watch” creates attention, focus, rapid eye movement and also a relaxing steady rhythm, all of which mimic the sensations of trance.

swinging watch

The rhythm of music circa-1600 is directed by Tactus, a slow beat at around one pulse per second. This steady pulse mimics the slow heart-beat of someone who is thoroughly relaxed. More about Tactus, here.

Now, as the Subject begins to slip into trance, it’s the moment for a Suggestion that encourages Dissociation , perhaps an invitation to imagine some far-away place. If that place is pleasantly dreamy, so much the better. ‘Imagine yourself lying on the beach, with the warm water lapping gently on the sand …’

Of course, TV adverts for tourist destinations use hypnotic techniques. And perhaps now you can appreciate why so many early operas are set in Arcadia.


According to NLP-guru, Richard Bandler, the most important elements of a successful Induction are:

  • Rate of speech
  • Timbre of voice
  • Intonation (the ‘melody’ of speech)
  • Breathing

Good Hypnotic speech employs a slower-than-normal rate of speaking, a soft tone of voice with downward inflections at the end of phrases. That downward inflection can transform the grammatical construction of a question – “You’d like to go into trance now, wouldn’t you?” – into a plausible statement. If the speaker emphasises certain words with an altered tone of voice, the phrase even becomes a command: “You’d like to go into trance now, wouldn’t you.”

Around the year 1600, the first opera-singers sang softly, in the intimate spaces where such court ‘operas’ as Monteverdi’s Orfeo were staged.

“One sings in one way in churches and public chapels and in another way in private chambers. In [church-music] one sings in a full voice … and in chamber-music one sings with a lower and gentler voice, without any shouting.”

Zarlino (Le institutioni harmoniche, Venice, 1558)

The pace of operatic Recitative varies with the drama of the moment, but (as we read in an anonymous c1630 guide for an opera theatre’s Artistic Director, Il Corago) in general it is somewhat slower than everyday speech. At the end of each short phrase, the last accented syllable is often considerably lengthened, and the most frequently used cadence has the melody descend to the final note. Il Corago and Jacopo Peri (in the preface to Euridice, 1600) agree that the modulazione of the voice, the melodic contour of recitative, is modelled on the ‘course of speech’ of a ‘fine speaking actor’.

Singers have to control the out-breath as they sing, and breathe in quickly between phrases. For audience members, exhaling more slowly than you inhale creates relaxation. For this reason, Hypnotists speak in short phrases, with frequent pauses in between, in a rhythm aligned with the Subject’s slow breathing.

These short phrases are chained together into long, flowing streams with few full stops. “Each time you breathe out … you feel more relaxed … and the more you relax… the more you feel… that you’d like to go into trance now… wouldn’t you.” We see the same structure in 17th-century sentence construction; many phrases are linked together; those phrases are separated by semi-colons; there are few full stops.

In operatic recitative, the composer similarly breaks up long sentences into short phrases: In questo lieto e fortunato giorno … ch’a posto fine a gl’amorosi affanni … del nostro semideo … cantiam, Pastori … in si soavi accenti … che sian degni d’Orfeo …. nostri concenti. [On this happy and lucky day …. which has put a stop to the relationship problems … of our godlike hero … lets sing, shepherds …. in such soft tones … that we honour Orfeo … with our music.] Notice again the ‘soft tones’. And by the end of this article, you’ll be able to recognise many more hypnotic techniques in this speech.

Monteverdi 'Orfeo' Act I

Monteverdi ‘Orfeo’ Act I


There are many Hypnotic techniques for obtaining compliance by means of subtle encouragement, as well as direct commands.

  • Universal Quantifiers

General statements that “People find that music takes them naturally into trance”, or “Every dramatic performance alters the spectator’s state of consciousness” normalise the expected response and reassure the Subject.

  • Implied Compliment

A more subtle approach informs that “intelligent and highly-creative people find it particularly easy to enter trance”. The implied compliment lowers resistance and encourages the Subject to align themselves with the complimented group.

A lot of advertising works on these hypnotic principles of implied compliments and universal statements. Buy this product and belong to the group of beautiful people shown in the advert. “Things go better with Coke”.

  • Double Bind

This seems to offer a choice, but any choice produces the desired result:

“You can go into trance immediately, or you can take a few moments to relax gently before you go into a deep trance”.

  • Embedded Commands

Subtle emphasis can create Embedded Commands, within such Generalities and Binds.  “You can go into trance immediately, or you can take a few moments to relax gently before you go into a deep trance”.

  • Analogue Marking

This emphasis, marked by changes in tone of voice, in the speaker’s gestures or position, can communicate directly to the unconscious mind by suggesting alternative meanings. “Now, your unconscious ( = now you’re unconscious) can deepen the transformation ( = deepen the trance)”

  • Confusing Language & Trans-Derivational Search (TDS)

Unfamiliar words or confusing constructions lead the Subject to turn the mind inwards, in a search for hidden or ambiguous meanings. The technical term for this is Trans-Derivational Search. Confusing language, or confused emotions, might be delivered with unusually fast rate of speaking, or a silence might be left after a strange word: either way, the conscious mind is baffled, so that the unconscious takes over the search for meaning.

Suggestions for relaxation are often effective, but it’s even more effective to direct the mind inwards with subtle questions. “Close your eyes, and focus your attention on your hands. Notice if the right hand is more relaxed than the left. Or is the left more relaxed?” And every time the Subject breathes out slowly, or when the Hypnotist observes some small reduction in tension, this can be reinforced with an encouraging “Good. That’s right”. Feldenkrais Method uses these hypnotic techniques to optimise the mind/body link for effective learning of posture and movement.

As the conscious mind begins to let go, you can mix all this up with Confusing Language: “If the relaxed hand is right, you only have the other hand left, right? So right now, with your eyes left closed right up, see if you can write with the left, so the right is left to relax, and the left is right because it’s already relaxed, right? What’s left now is to go right into trance, right now, that’s right, you’ve left it all right behind you.”

  • Silence

A good Hypnotist is not afraid of silence. Once there is relaxation and concentration, a long silence can be powerfully hypnotic.

  • Attention Fixing & Eye Rapid Movement

Many Inductions relying on Attention Fixing, and/or creation of Rapid Eye-Movement. Experts use such methods for Speed Induction, with impressive results. See Richard Nongard’s demonstrations of Speed Induction, here.

Transit of Venus

Sleight of Mouth

A conjurer’s sleight of hand focuses your attention in a certain way, whilst he carries out the trick right in front of your eyes. In NLP, ‘sleight of mouth’ similarly dissociates the mind’s conscious attention on the actual words, away from the unconscious attention on the underlying meaning. Whilst the conscious mind deals with the surface details, the Hypnotist’s underlying message goes direct to the Subject’s unconscious. We’ve already seen examples of sleight of mouth: Universals, Binds, Embedded Commands, Analogue Marking, Confusing Language.  Here is a quick check-list of some more techniques:

  • Cause & Effect

It helps if the statement of cause is plausible, but the link to effect does not have be genuine. “Because you are reading this …” [that much is obviously true] “you will find it easy to learn self-hypnosis” [since the conscious mind accepted the first part, the unconscious is primed to accept the second part too].

“Because music is so charming to the ear, it can entrance your unconscious mind.”

  • Links

Cause & Effect can be suggested more subtly, by replacing ‘because’ with another, less obvious link:

“Music usually charms your ears, and in that way it uses spiritual power to entrance your mind”

Whilst I am singing, nothing moves”

  • Sugar

A pleasant-sounding word works like the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

Happily, most people find it easy to relax into a gentle Trance.”

  • Pacing

This links an obvious statement about the Subject’s current experience to a Suggestion.

“Every time you breathe out, you become more relaxed”.

  • Presupposition

Rather than giving a command, the choice of words assumes the desired response:

“Whilst I am singing, nothing else will be heard.”

  • Guided imagery

The Subject is encouraged to imagine that they are in some especially peaceful place. The idyllic surroundings support relaxation; relaxation and imaginative dissociation bring about hypnosis. A good Hypnotist will be artfully vague with his guidance, to leave maximum space for the Subject’s imaginative response, and to avoid jarring the subject out of trance with an over-specific suggestion that conflicts with the Subject’s inner experience.

I prefer radio to TV, because the pictures are better.

Similarly, the bare stage of a Shakespearian theatre leaves space for the audience’s imaginative response.

“Think when we talk of horses, that you see them

Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;

For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings…”

 Shakespeare Henry V Prologue

Globe Theatre

  • Multi-Sensory Absorption

Guided imagining that involves all the senses offers a rich and absorbing experience for the Subject. Absorption encourages hypnosis. Appealing to several senses also allows for individual differences between Subjects: some people are more creative with images, others with sounds, others with taste, smell or physical sensations (touch, or the position of the body).

  • Sensory Confusion

Confusing sensory information and synaesthesia (crossed-over senses: a warm colour, a blue note) create a surreal, dream-like experience and direct the mind inwards in the search for meaning.

  • Emotional confusion

“I can calm every troubled heart, and now with noble anger, now with love, I can enflame even the most frozen mind”

  • Nominalisation

Nominalisation is an NLP term for replacing active verbs – to love, to understand – with abstract, semantically complex nouns – Love, Understandings. Abstraction, ambiguity and complexity send the mind inwards in a search for meaning.

Compare the active language of  ‘Many people know about you and praise you. But they still underestimate you, because you are so cool!’ with these nominalisations:

Fame narrates heavenly Praises about you, but does not reach the Truth, because the Sign is too high.”

  • Selectional restriction violation

This is the NLP-term for re-attributing the Hypnotist’s Suggestion to some abstract concept or inanimate object:

“Your chair wants you to go into trance”.

  • Now

This one word is very powerful. ‘Now’ focusses attention and suggests an immediate response.

“Now, you can identify these Induction techniques at work in La Musica’s Prologue.”

Prologo La Musica


In the first strophe, La Musica introduces mild spatial Dissociation with the mention of far-away Permesso (a river sacred to the Muses – a more thought-provoking name than the expected Parnassus, the sacred mountain-home of the Muses). The actor Relaxes the audience with generous compliments, and fixes their Attention with varied gestures. High gestures are particularly hypnotic: rolling the eyes upwards is itself a marker of trance, and fixing the gaze a little above the horizon is often used to begin an Induction.


La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 1

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 1


The Ritornello gives about 12 seconds pause, in which the listeners might come out of their developing trance. This is another hypnotic technique, known as Fractionation, in which letting the Subject come partially out of trance helps them go deeper in again, afterwards. Strophe 2 introduces Emotional Confusion and a Post-Hypnotic Suggestion: in the next hour or so, your emotions will be moved by a ‘story in music’.


La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 2

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 2


The next strophe Suggests much more profound influence, by means of a subtle Link and Selectional Restriction Violation: some special kind of musical instrument takes you into the deepest part of your unconscious. “The more…. the more” is another NLP technique: the more you listen to La Musica, the more you will go into trance.


La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 3

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 3


In the penultimate strophe, the intensity of the Induction is temporarily reduced (Fractionation), but the language of ‘desire spurs me’ holds the Attention. La Musica starts to tell a story (story-telling is a favourite method for hypnotherapists to deliver Suggestions) with vivid imagery, super-natural events and locations. Mention of far-off, idyllic places – the mountains of Pindus and Helicon, both homes of the Muses – Relaxes again, and encourages spatial Dissociation.


La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 4

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 4


The final strophe is the most powerfully hypnotic, taking the audience deep into trance just before the drama itself begins. Attention is fixed three times with ‘Now!’, several sleight of mouth techniques are interwoven, with a strong Embedded Command: “Don’t move!”, which creates the catalepsy characteristic of profound hypnotism. Pastoral imagery simultaneously suggests Relaxation.

The line “and it’s not heard” is particularly subtle. Italian ne (= and not) makes a confusing link. And once you are told “it’s not heard”, you strain your ears to listen for whatever it is (we are not told what it is, until after a hypnotic pause).

“Sounding wave” would have been more unusual, more synaesthetic, to a 17th-century audience than it is to us: we are accustomed to the scientific concept of Sound as a Wave, they were not. This strophe mixes sensory channels, imagery and emotion, and then suddenly …. stops!


La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe V

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe V


And as La Musica holds all the audience in trance with a commanding gesture, Monteverdi notates an 8-seconds silence before the orchestra plays again. The Prologue is ended, La Musica leaves, and the favola in musica (story in music) begins.

theatre-palais-cardinal Louis XIII

This kind of hypnotism is not authoritarian, it cannot be forced; it needs the listener to collaborate. It relies on the audience suspending their disbelief, engaging their imagination, and voluntarily relinquishing some control to La Musica. And if you let her ‘influence your soul’, her story of Orpheus can make you laugh and cry. You don’t make yourself cry, the drama does it. But you could have stopped yourself, if you had chosen to, especially if you had decided at the beginning of the show to resist becoming involved.

La Musica’s Induction is an invitation to participate deeply in an imaginative experience.

01 Mantua 1575

When this hypothesis of seicento hypnosis first came to me, I was concerned at the apparent anachronism: after all, the word ‘hypnosis’ was invented by James Braid around 1841. But the knowledge and practice of hypnosis is much older, of course; there is evidence of it in shamanic traditions and other ancient cultures. And there is a 17th-century word for the persuasive use of unusual, image-laden, semantically dense, sometimes confusing language, in order to sway the listeners’ emotions, the study that today we call NLP: Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the Neuro-Linguistic Programming of the Renaissance

Remember you are dreaming


Please join me on Facebook and visit our website . Further details of original sources are on the website, click on “New Priorities in Historically Informed Performance”

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.