Isabella Leonarda 400th anniversary

Isabella Leonarda:

the Soul of Music in Women’s Hands



This article celebrates the 400th anniversary of Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) – Ursuline nun, singer & composer – in connection with the Earthly Angels performance and recording project.
Listen to her music here.

An extended version of this article will be published on this blog soon.



 

The Soul of Music

 

In 1601, song-composer Caccini proclaimed the Baroque priorities of his ‘New Music’ as ‘Speech and Rhythm’.

Tempo


The first character to sing in the first opera (1600) was Tempo – the personification of Time – commanding: “Act with the hand, act with the heart!” For us today, tempo is the speed of music, but for Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) it was Time itself, defined by Aristotle as a ‘number of movement’ perceived by the Soul.

The up-and-down hand-beat of Tactus connected musical notation to real-world Time. Period iconography shows singers beating Tactus, even in solo songs.

 

 

Zacconi (1592) characterises Tactus as ‘regular, solid, stable, firm… clear, sure, fearless, and without any perturbation’. Mersenne (1636) calibrates Tactus as 1 second per minim, shown by a 1m pendulum. At the end of the century, Carissimi (1696) defines tempo as subjective ‘quality’, the way time feels.

 

17th-century ‘time-signatures’ are relics of much older Mensural notation. Long notes are divided by 2 or 3 to create short notes. Signs of Proportion recalibrate note-values in triple time. Within these fixed multiples, Leonarda employs modifying words to specify fine gradations of tempo.

 

Amidst ‘passionate vocal effects and contrasting movements’ Frescobaldi (1615) shows how to ‘guide Time’, using Tactus. Transitions between movements are made by keeping steady Tactus (no tempo change, or strict Proportion), or by 

suspending the Tactus-hand in the air momentarily, then starting the new movement with modified Tactus, steady time that now feels adagio (literally ‘easy’) or allegro (happy).

 

For Leonarda’s contemporaries, ‘Time is the Soul of Music.’ Read more here.  Zacconi explains that Time breathes life into dry notation: a minim is a dead symbol, until we animate it with the Divine Hand, symbolised by Tactus. Carissimi’s tempo is perceived as an Aristotelian ‘affection of the Soul’, an emotion. Leonarda’s precise notation contradicts 20th-century assumptions that performers choose their own tempo, or that expressiveness requires rubato.

 

Rhetoric

In Baroque speech and music, Rhetoric aims to ‘move the passions’. Read more about musical rhetoric here. Sensual love-lyrics arouse fervour that Leonarda’s music re-directs towards the Divine. Delightful hand-gestures explain the text and communicate passionate contrasts. Rhetorical Delivery combines Pronunciation of words and music with Action of gestures and facial expressions, to channel Enargeia, the emotional power of detailed description. Read more about Enargeia here

 

 

Poetic imagery brings a scene to life, as if the audience could see it with their own eyes. ‘Here’, ‘Now’, ‘Behold!’: Gesture directs the audience’s attention to significant details of the imagined vision. In baroque Madrigalism (word-painting), the music sounds like what the words mean. Fragments of melody create ‘passionate vocal effects’ corresponding to gestures of the hand.

 

Period Medical Science categorises emotion into Four Humours: warm Sanguine (love, hope), dry Choleric (anger, desire), dark Melancholy and cold, wet Phlegmatic.

 

In Leonarda’s Volo Jesum (1670), ‘you fly’ (volate) up a triple-proportion fast-note scale to ‘love God’ on a long high note. After a tempo change to happy allegro, a contrasting 64 movement cites the love-sick Melancholy harmonies and descending bass-line of an operatic lament: ‘the heart is burning’ amidst Choleric ignis et flamma  (fire and flame) with high notes and flickering vocal effects. A ‘happy mountain’ of Sanguine ‘joys’ rises boldly, Phlegmatic ‘rivers’ flow smoothly down, Paradisi has the highest note of all. Descending notes move Choleric passion to Sanguine Humour – et in flammis es dulcis spes – whilst Leonarda’s hand shows the Holy Spirit coming down to earth as Christ: ‘in flames, You are sweet hope’.

 

 

Poetic detail, moving passions, vocal effects, contrasts of tempo, expressive gestures: Leonarda does ‘act with the hand, act with the heart’. The composer’s hand notates subtle tempo changes, in which the serene movement of the Divine Hand is reflected in the diverse pulse-rates of a lover’s human heart. Violinists’ and continuo-players’ hands give life to instrumental music, a microcosm of heavenly perfection, yet swayed by the human passions of the Four Humours. All this is guided by Tactus and expressed by gestures.

 

 

Invisible music

 

Nevertheless, all Leonarda’s handiwork – composition, Tactus, instrumental-playing and rhetorical gestures – remained unseen. Hidden from the congregation by the grille that closed nuns off from the world, the woman who simultaneously embodied an ardent lover and a religious mystic communicated energia (the baroque spirit of performance), by the aural Enargeia of detailed text and precise tempo. Unlike an opera or court singer, she ‘moved the passions’ and warmed her listeners’ hearts to love by evoking ‘affections of the soul’ in sensual visions that were entirely imagined, not seen.

 

Invisible to her 17th-century listeners, almost unnoticed by musicologists until recently, women’s hands are the heart and soul of Leonarda’s music.


Listen here

 

 

Baroque FAQs for Modern Musicians

This is the last in a series of articles following up classes on Early Music on Modern Harps that I taught this semester for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London. Although our case-studies come from harp repertoire, the principles we explored are relevant for any Historically Informed performer. This article could make a useful introduction for any modern instrumentalist or singer.

Previous articles in the series discuss Historical Principles & Online ResourcesPrinciples & Practice, Ornamentation and Dance Music. Our focus was on the 18th century (specific works by J. S. Bach, Handel, C.P.E. Bach, Mozart) and the principal sources consulted were the three Versuch publications around the middle of the century (Quantz, CPE Bach, Leopold Mozart), the Essai for harp by Meyer, and (back in 1698) Muffat’s remarks on French dance-style in Florilegium Secundum. Links to all of these sources and more, in the previous posts.

The questions below were asked by students in the final class, and/or arose from work-in-progress recordings of their baroque pieces that they sent me for private comments. Whereas in previous articles, the agenda was set by the historical priorities of period sources, in this post the questions were posed by today’s students. This is a significant distinction: what we today think is a high priority may not have been so important back then. It’s always good to assess from historical sources how significant your question was, in the dialetic of the period.

 

What are Good & Bad notes, are they just loud & soft?

The concept of Good/Bad notes is fundamental to renaissance and baroque music, and is given a lot of attention in historical sources. The underlying principle is that instrumental music imitates the human voice, playing as if the music had a text. In vocal music, the sung text is of paramount importance. Caccini (1601) writes that Music is “text & rhythm, with sound last of all. And not the other way around”. The structure of each mid-18th-century Versuch is a short introduction to musical fundamentals, followed by a large section on what Early Musicians call “articulation”: how to start a note, how to join or separate notes into short groups. For flute, this articulation is done with tonguing syllables; string instruments do it with bow-strokes; keyboard and harp do it with fingering patterns. This is a high priority question for period writers. See Principles & Practice.

 

Good & Bad Syllables

Good/Bad notes in music correspond to Good/Bad syllables in speech. In music and in poetics, these syllables are sometimes called Long/Short: Good is Long, Bad is Short. In modern terms, we would say accented and unaccented syllables. In the mediterranean languages, the accented syllable is not hit suddenly on the intial consonant, but gets its accent from a sustained weight on the vowel: this corresponds to Leopold Mozart’s description of a slow start to the bow-stroke, even on a loud note.

Thus, baroque violin teachers will often coach modern string-players to use a slow bow-stroke where an “accent” is needed. Similarly on the low-tension strings of early harps, a Good note can have a slow finger-movement. This is not so easy to apply to modern harp, where the heavy strings need a certain amount of snap in the finger-action. But imagining that the note has a slow bloom, rather than a percussive attack is already very helpful.

Comparing Good/Bad to language gives us the clue that it does not have to be exaggerated: it just has to be the right way around. When we say the word “around”, we do not make a large, or conscious accent on the second syllable. But we would notice immediately if someone accented the first syllable instead. This is what is needed for our Good/Bad notes too.

Good & Bad Beats

During the 18th century, the idea developed of an intrinsic heirarchy of the bar. Today, we learn this in our elementary music education. In common time, beat 1 is strong, beat 2 is weak. Beat 3 is medium-strong, but less than beat 1. Beat 4 is weak, or could be energised as an upbeat. This is the basic shape of Time, although particular pieces will make artistic variations around this underlying structure. The principle extends to sub-divisions of the beats: ONE + two + THREE + four + And to the next level of subdivision:  ONE a + a two a + a THREE a + a four a + a. In 3/4 time: ONE a + a two a + a THREE a + a.

Good/Bad is definitely not forte/piano. But there is something of Long/Short about it, in two inter-related ways: how long is the note, and how long is the time-space it can occupy.

If we think about the repeated quavers in the Left Hand of CPE Bach’s Sonata, we could beat Tactus as quaver-down, quaver-up. These gives a pair-wise groove of Good-Bad. Time itself has this groove, so that ONE is imperceptibly longer than +. This intrinsic hierarchy of the bar gradually becomes the main focus of 18th-century discussions of Good/Bad, for example in Marpurg (1755).

Good & Bad Notes

Meanwhile, the notes we play into this grooved Time have a patterning of their own, the ONE is definitely a long note and the + is a short note. This relationship between notes was the focus of 17th-century discussion of Good/Bad, for example in Muffat  (1698).

These two effects combine so that ONE is a long note fully occupying a long space; whilst + is a short note only partially occupying what is anyway a shorter space.

Quantz gives two ways of counting a slow 3/4, in quavers or in crotchets. If we count in crotchets, the groove is ONE two THREE, or Long Passive Short. So the downbeat quaver is a long note in the longest space; beat two has a long passivity; beat three is a long note in a short, actively upbeat space. All the offbeat quavers are short/bad. We could pronounce as a mantra something like the words “PLAYer, Silence, BEATer” to get the feeling of the combination of pairwise quavers with triple-metre crotchets.

And we need to practise the Left Hand, with any continuo realisation we might add, until this fundamental rhythm is absolutely correct.

Whilst it’s easy to grasp the intellectual idea of Good/Bad, it needs lots of practice to acheive it effortlessly and without exaggeration. That practice is training the ears to listen for Good/Bad and to spot any wrong-way-around relationships; and training the fingers to execute the phrasing as if automatically, and at a very subtle level. Ears and fingers must be trained in partnership.

A particular case of Good/Bad, and similarly linked to the scansion of poetry, is the idea that the last Good note in a phrase has the Principal Accent. Usually, this is not the very last note of the phrase, one or more Bad notes follow. A useful general rule therefore, is that for almost every phrase, the Last note is short and un-accented.

 

How to create ‘mini-phrases’?

In Baroque music, long passages of semiquavers are not ‘moto perpetuo‘, but are built-up from many short phrases. CPE Bach calls these Figuren (figures) the most short-term units (say 3 to 5 notes), and Gedanken (thoughts, ideas), perhaps linking two or three Figuren. One passage of semiquavers may contain several Gedanken, each containing several Figuren. Just as in Rhetorical Speech, we need to join together what belongs together, and separate each group of notes from the next group. These words occur very frequently in the Versuch, this is an important concept in this period.

Typically, this joining and separating creates rhythmic patterns that are maintained until there is a clear change. But from one unit to the next, even whilst the basic pattern is maintained (i.e. the same number of notes starting with the same relation to the Tactus, on-beat, after the beat, or before the beat) the sequence often continues by contrasts. A legato group is followed by an arpeggio group, a staccato group etc. See Principles & Practice.

Useful guide-lines are: “Last note short“, “Breathe after the one“, “Stepwise motion ~ legato, jumps ~ staccato“. A jump can also show the place for a mini-break. The mini-phrases are defined by mini-breaks, often between two successive semiquavers: the Tactus beat in crotchets or minims continues without faltering.

If the notes are not whizzing by too quickly, it may be possible to shorten the last note of a mini-phrase by damping, create an actual silence, and start the next mini-phrase with the appropriate Bad or Good articulation.

In allegro semiquavers, there will not be time for this. But the separation between one mini-phrase and the next can be communicated with an unaccented last note of the old phrase, a sliver of time for a mini-breath (but without disturbing the Tactus), an energised re-start of the new phrase, and a clear sense of repeating a unit, and of any contrast between the previous unit and the new one.

 

What about historical fingering?

This is another crucial concept for this period. After a short introduction, CPE Bach’s Versuch devotes almost a third of the book, pages 15-50, to fingering.

For harps and keyboards, 18th-century fingerings often clarify join/separate: the principle is to move the hand only in the mini-breaks, and keep each mini-phrase ‘in the hand’. This principle is utterly different from the modern concept of fingering, which seeks to make a passage as safe and efficient as possible. On the contrary, historical fingerings introduce deliberate ‘inefficiencies’, in order to discourage smooth joining of what is supposed to be separate.

In the following examples of harp-fingerings, I apply the principles of historical fingerings (from Meyer 1763 – see Online Resources – and  – specially recommended, and now available free online – Cousineau 1784)  to examples from CPE Bach’s harp Sonata and Mozart’s flute & harp Concerto.

[My Cousineau link takes you to the second ‘imperial’ edition, c1803. The Fuzeau facsimile publication states 1784 for the first edition, the US Library of Congress (who have online images of each page) says ‘1786?’ The title pages are undated. At the time of writing, an original second edition was being sold for €1,000]

An efficient modern fingering for CPE Bach second movement facilitates joining the third note D to the next G, with a hand-movement before the B [as shown by the square brackets].

EXAMPLE 1 CPE Bach

 

The guideline “breathe after the one”  would suggest a separation after the D, making three upbeats to the middle of the bar. This is supported by the Figur in the LH, which has three upbeats at the end of the bar. So my historically informed fingering moves the hand “after the one”.

EXAMPLE 2 CPE Bach/Cousineau

 

In red, I show the Abzug (phrase-off, forte/piano, see below) in the Appoggiatura, recommended by many sources. CPE himself says that it is the most important element. Quantz gives detailed dynamic contrasts for each note within ornaments. Leopold Mozart instructs violinists to hineinschleifen (sneak into, slide into) the main note (piano).

After the second appoggiatura, we should also observe the good/bad relationship of F#-G, especially because the ornamented F# is the Principal Accent of the phrase, after which the guideline applies: “last note short, no accent”.

For a scale, Meyer gives two alternative fingerings. If there is nothing else afterwards, the standard fingering jumps the thumb to make the long note different from the run of short notes. Notice that within the scale, the hand jumps “after the one”. This is his default fingering. The alternative, more familiar to modern eyes, can be applied when the notes are very fast, but it lacks the detailed phrasing of the default option.

EXAMPLE 3 after Meyer & Cousineau

 

But the alternative becomes preferable, if the top note is not to be distinguished as ‘different’, but joined into the scale, with a break “after the one”. See Example 4.

In this passage from the first movement of the Mozart, the first note of the scale (treble C) is on the beat, so it is a Good. The next note D is also a good. For flautists (after Quantz): “Di diddle”, for – old fashioned – violinists (after Muffat): Down, down-up. (Leopold Mozart would probably apply some interesting slurred bowing). For harp, perhaps 4 4321321 encouraging a separation after the first note; rather than the ‘more efficient’  4 3214321, which would join irrevocably after the first note.

EXAMPLE 4 Mozart

 

 

 

I have adjusted the beaming. The fingering follows the smallest units of Figuren, and // marks the caesura between one Gedanke and the next.

The pattern of “breathe after the one” continues with a caesura after the high a, facilitated by fingering, and similarly after the g in the third bar. But the music imposes a new pattern, also clarified by my historically informed fingering,  at the beginning of the last bar. Red f_p shows two more examples of Abzug.

Between the 1760s and the 1780s, the standard Good/Bad descending fingering for harp 12323232 (familiar also from 17th-century Spanish harp technique) is gradually superseded by Join/Separate fingerings using all four fingers. You start with the thumb, and the last, lowest four notes get 1234. In between, you use as many fingers as needed for the number of notes you have. So a seven-note descent would be 123 1234.

The adjustment takes place at the upper end of the scale, so that the last, lowest notes use all four fingers 1234. This results in a distinctive fingering for a five-note descent, in which you hop the thumb: 1 1234. [Fully-fingered sources feature a LOT of repeated thumb-strokes in this period.]

 

EXAMPLE 5 Mozart/Cousineau

 

In Example 5, I apply Cousineau’s (1784) fingering principles to Mozart’s (1778) descending scales in parallel tenths: This fingering encourages “breathe after the one” between the two Figuren of the first bar, shown by my changes to the beaming. The octave leap indicates a stronger “breathe after the one” between two Gedanken, shown by my // caesura mark.

It would not be inappropriate to use ‘old-fashioned’ 32 descending fingerings. These would ensure correct Good/Bad relationships, but would leave the player to create Join/Separate between Figuren.

EXAMPLE 6 Mozart/Meyer

Contrariwise, ‘fashionable’ Cousineau-type fingerings (mentioned as an alternative by Meyer 20 years earlier, so certainly not excluded from Mozart’s Concerto) prioritise Join/Separate, and leave the player to take care of Good/Bad. As Leopold Mozart makes clear in his detailed instructions for varying the pressure from note to note, within a single bow-stroke, 18th-century music requires both Good/Bad and Join/Separate.

What about the Bass?

Period sources pay great atttention to the continuo bass. The second edition of CPE Bach’s Versuch has an additional and longer book, 355 pages entirely devoted to Generalbass, including a final chapter which extends realisation of a continuo-bass towards improvisation of a free Fantasia.

Modern harpists tend to focus on the right-hand melody, viewing the music from the top down. Baroque music is constructed from the bottom upwards: the bass is no mere accompaniment, but rather provides the fundamental framework of rhythm and harmony that defines the structure for the ornamental melody. The heritage of Renaissance polyphony is that music is woven from the strands of individual ‘voices’; each strand has its own integrity, character and logic. The typical texture of Baroque music is the polarisation of treble and bass, i.e. 2-voice polyphony with a continuo-realisation filling-in the mid-range.

From the beginning of the Baroque period (Agazzari 1607) to the transition into the Classical (Leopold Mozart 1756), period sources assign to the bass the role of maintaining Tactus.  The continuo does not follow the soloist, rather the bass creates a dependable rhythmic structure – like the rhythm section of a jazz-band. As with a jazz-band, it is acceptable for a baroque soloist not to be together with the bass, for the sake of elegant expressiveness around the steady groove: it is not acceptable for the groove to falter. See Monteverdi & Jazz. This is of course the opposite of today’s standard practice, even amongst most Early Music ensembles.

Harpists, lutenists and keyboard players must combine the roles of soloist and bass-section in one person. Modern players might need reminding to play the bass more strongly (as an equal partner), and to maintain the bass rhythm in Tactus (whatever technical challenges, complex ornaments, or expressive moments the melody might have).

Flow

My research in Consciousness Studies suggests that the optimal strategy could be to place one’s conscious attention on the bass, focussing on tight connection to the steady Tactus. Assuming sufficient advance practice, the melody can be better left to the unconscious mind, letting the fingers ‘do it for themselves’. Trills, for example, go better when you don’t think about them.  Like a hypnotist’s swinging pocket-watch, or a meditation mantra, the constant down-up of Tactus (physically enacted in rehearsal, or imagined in solo performance) entrains the mind into Flow.

The paradoxical instruction to “Listen more than you play” can help the mind find that state of consciousness where mindful Observing facilitates ‘personal best’ performance, without a conscious sense of Doing. In baroque music, you can achieve this by “being the continuo-player”, creating the rhythm whilst listening to the solo (even though, you are actually playing that solo yourself).

Imagining, or even physically beating, a complete Tactus (down-up) to start yourself off (i.e. give yourself “a bar for nothing”) is an excellent way to connect yourself to the power of Tactus, to the Music of the Spheres, as you start to play.

 

What to do with Long Trills?

In a word, practise. Long trills are described in detail in all the mid-18th-century sources under discussion here. Harp sources admit that they are difficult, and they are more difficult still on modern harp.

So practise. Practise trills non-metrically, with a long appoggiatura, and then repercussions accelerating from slow to fast and all the way into the final turn and last note.

Then practise this beautifully shaped trill, whilst playing a simple bass in crotchets. The bass maintains Tactus, the trill is not aligned note-for-note with the bass, but you find the last note simultaneously. If the trill is long enough, combine it with messa di voce. But don’t try to be super-loud whilst trilling, and don’t try for too many reiterations. Shapeliness in the trill, and Tactus in the bass, are the priorities.

 

Frederick the Great plays a flute concerto in Sans Souci Palace. CPE Bach accompanies at the harpsichord, Quantz looks on at his pupil’s performance.

 

 

What is Abzug?

This is another central concept in period discourse about ornamentation. Literally “pulling off”, Abzug is the forte/piano contrast between an appoggiatura and its main note.

Leopold Mozart describes it as sliding into, sneaking into the main note (see the music examples above). Quantz describes a slight swelling of the sound on the ornamental note (so not an aggressive attack, but a slow-blooming sound; for violin a slow bow-stroke), with a smooth, soft transition into the main note.

On lute, one could literally “pull-off” from the fingerboard with a left-hand finger, in order to play the main note without any plucking action of the right hand. On harp, we can imitate this with a slow but firm finger-movement on the ornamental note, and a very passive action on the main (second) note, avoiding any articulate start-noise whatsoever.

Practise it.

The same forte/piano effect is needed every time from dissonance to resolution, as well as for any melodic moment with a pair of notes that function like a written-out appoggiatura. In the first music example above, as well as the Abzüge marked in red for explicit appoggiaturas, a subtle version of the effect is needed in the second bar on the high c-b, a-g, and (especially) f#-e pairs, and on the b-a pair at the end of the previous bar.

You need Abzug again and again. CPE Bach considers this the most important element of ornamentation. Indeed, the entire repertoire of the Empfindsamkeit period is characterised by the sensitive gesture of Abzug: every piece is full of opportunities to apply it. A missed Abzug is like marching into San Souci Palace in your muddy boots – you have just trampled on what should have been an occasion for the most elegant sophistication.

 

Don’t forget to pull them off!

 

Appoggiatura onto a Triplet?

The standard rule is that the appoggiatura takes half of the value of the written note (two-thirds, if the written note is dotted). So the realisation of an appoggiatura onto a triplet divides the first note in half. But the more important element is – all together now: the Abzug. The appoggiatura itself needs a slow bloom, and the written note is soft; the remaining two notes of the triplet should be light, since they are Bad notes.  It should sound like “Play-a Trip-let”, not “Da doo-ron-ron”!

 

EXAMPLE 7 CPE Bach

 

The (appropriate) tendency to lengthen the appoggiatura results in a rhythm that approaches the sound of a quadruplet, though still with the first note louder and slurred to the second. Some sources recommend this quadruplet realisation, others condemn it. Best practice is probably to keep some semblance of a triplet, but with a nice long appoggiatura and plenty of Abzug.

 

How to play a Short Trill?

There are lots of short trills in this repertoire, and longer or turned trills can legimately be simplified into short trills. So it’s a significant element of the style and a most useful skill to acquire.

The historical fingering is 2311, and the Abzug requires a decrescendo from first note to last. CPE Bach recommends you to schnellern (quicken, enliven) the first note, to make the ornament crisp and light. It should sound like “Tickle my toes!” and not “before the beat“.

EXAMPLE 8 Short Trill

 

Short Trills in Mozart

Practise this until you can fire off a whole chain of ‘flying short trills’ as Genlis (1802) teaches and Mozart requires. [The link is to the second edition of 1811].

 

Genlis’ second example (above) is not a realisation of the first example, but a preliminary exercise for those ‘flying trills’, at half speed and with extra time between each Figur.

As Genlis explains: ‘the two slurred notes are done by sliding the thumb on these two strings’. What I deduce from the third thumb stroke that follows each time (where one might have expected finger 2), is that after the two slurred notes, the sliding thumb comes to rest against the next string (continuing the movement onto the next string helps the slide flow nicely). At this point the exercise takes extra time, to teach you to apply a caesura here, before starting the next Figur. When you do restart, your thumb is already placed on the string you are going to need.

For the real thing, the full speed ‘flying trills’, each Figur starts with an upbeat, continuing the pattern of the first two notes. As one would expect from Muffat and others, the trills are on the Good notes – this is confirmed at the end of the sequence.

EXAMPLE 9 Genlis/ALK

 

Mozart introduces his flying trills with a preliminary longer trill, turned so that its Figur ends on the second (crotchet) beat of the bar. The autograph staccato on this d indicates “Last note short”, allowing you to “Breathe after the one”. The staccato on the following c indicates it is an upbeat, and the Gedanke is now Genlis-style flying trills, each Figur having an upbeat to a Good-note trill.

EXAMPLE 10 Mozart/Genlis

This upbeat pattern continues into the next bar, which has rapid Alberti 64 harmonies in the left hand and bold downward leaps in the right (first you must “breathe after the one”), leading to a whole bar Long Trill over the same rapid Alberti pattern, now on the dominant seventh.

All these fireworks signal the end of the movement. After this comes the improvised cadenza (Quantz’s Easy and Fundamental Instructions show how 2 players can improvise together)  and final tutti.

 

Short Trills in Handel

There is a tricky short trill on a dotted note in the Handel Concerto. Although it is difficult to execute this correctly in the time available, it should start with upper auxiliary (not the main note) on the beat (not before), so that the complete Figur has the crisp sound of a demanding publisher: “Prrrint today!”  [the rolled r represents the repercussions of the trill] and not a lazy: “What about next week?”.

 

EXAMPLE 11 Handel

 

How should I damp?

This is a harp-specific question, and is discussed in several period Harp treatises, but with insufficient detail. The suggestions below are based on my personal experience.

For modern harpists, you might first consider threading a strip of felt through the very lowest strings – you don’t actually play these in Baroque pieces, and it might be better to lose the excessive resonance that they add.

Second, learn the Baroque way to damp by having your finger (and/or thumb) return to the string after playing (same finger, same string). This allows you to damp specific notes really quickly, rather than moving both hands to cuddle the strings and damp the whole instrument, which is very slow. You can damp individual notes or entire chords, in either hand.

Sometimes you can add rhythmic energy by damping where a rest is written on the beat. Damp crisply, precisely on the beat, even get some percussive noise from your fingers contacting the sounding strings.

 

EXAMPLE 12 Handel

 

Sometimes you need to damp to control bass resonance. If you damp between each note and the next, you produce a staccato effect: this would not be the optimum phrasing for movement by step.

But if you play, play the next note and then quickly damp the previous one, you produce a strong effect of legato.

You can mix these two ways to damp [legato, staccato] in order to create legato pairs, each pair separated from the next. This long-short sound is appropriate for Good/Bad.

EXAMPLE 13 Handel

The last note of any phrase could be damped, to make it short. If you play it without accent (as you nearly always should), the damping will be less abrupt, and might not even be necessary.

Any upbeat could be damped to create a “silence of articulation”, this throws the accent onto the next note.

Often you will need to damp to clarify a rising melody in the bass. This frequently applies at perfect cadences, if the dominant rises to the tonic; but it can also occur at the beginning of the phrase.

The bass cadence with an octave leap on the dominant implies staccati for that octave leap.

In every instance, you can adjust the damping [legato or staccato, and how much] to produce the most appropriate phrasing.

EXAMPLE 14 Handel

Combining all these techniques results in a LOT of damping, subtly adjusted, for various desired results. Such frequent damping is supported by the (limited) historical information available. The greater resonance of the modern instrument makes damping even more necessary than on baroque harp.

Damping with the left hand can establish the “groove” of a dance, or a dance-like movement. In the third movement of the Handel Concerto, the groove is the reverse triple metre, short-long, quaver-crotchet. You can make this energetic and clear by playing the downbeat strong and damping crisply, to produce a repeating groove effect that sounds like the words “Short Phrases”.

Notice how the semiquavers create a Figur across the bar-line, “breathe after the one”: both hands have a short note in the long space of the downbeat, but for different reasons.

EXAMPLE 15 Handel

All this takes practice. You need to train your ears and hands simultaneously, to hear the need for, and effect of damping, and to create the effects you want.

 

How to simplify Ornaments?

Period sources recognise that it is harder to play trills on harp, than on harpsichord. It’s even harder on modern harp than on baroque instruments. So it can be a great help to simplify ornaments. Certainly, it is better to simplify the composer’s ornament, than to omit it, to play it wrongly, to play the wrong type of ornament, or (heaven forbid!) to play an ornament without Abzug.

In place of a long trill with initial appoggiatura and final turn, you can make things easier for yourself with these three steps (in this order of application):

  1. Reduce the number of reiterations of the trill.
  2. Omit the final turn
  3. Omit the initial appoggiatura

If you needed to apply all three three steps, you will be left with a Short Trill, and you should have practised this sufficiently to be confident in it for any eventuality.

If you are really under pressure, you can convert a turned Trill into a simple Turn (upper auxilary, main-note, lower-auxiliary, main-note). Make the first (upper) note long and remember the Abzug.

It’s not so good to change a Short Trill into a simple Appoggiatura, because the Short Trill is meant to sound lively and brilliant, whereas the Appoggiatura should melt, languishing. A Turn could be a better solution: there are still four notes to play, but the fingers can manage them faster. For a fast Turn, try 1231, which should come out crisper than 1232.

 

How does Continuo-experience help one’s Solo-playing?

The great harpsichordists and composers of the baroque were also expert continuo-players: JS and CPE Bach lead the way!

The best way to progress rapidly as a harpist or keyboard-player studying baroque repertoire is first to acquire basic continuo skills. Playing in ensembles will inform your ears and mind, with the opportunity to hear the same fundamental principles applied in subtly different ways by different instruments and voices. Ensemble-playing also provides an energetic group dynamic and a supportive social group, and gives access to exciting large-scale projects. Don’t miss the chance to play in a baroque opera or orchestra.

As a continuo-player, you can adjust realisation to your (gradually increasing) level of skill, contributing something useful right from the start, without needing to be exposed as a soloist until you are ready.

For harpists, a single-action harp is likely to be accepted by HIP training-ensembles, even in 17th-century repertoire, and for a modern player presents less of a barrier to immediate gratification: double and triple harps are more challenging. It is to be hoped that an open-minded training ensemble would admit a keen student even on modern harp, either as a stepping stone towards baroque harp, or as a way to gather experience for solo-playing on the modern instrument.

The experience of playing continuo will transform your view of the role of your left hand. And the continuo-player’s view of ensemble music, from the bottom upwards, is the best approach to baroque solo-playing.

Familiarity with figured and un-figured basses will consolidate your understanding of baroque harmony, and help you recognise the character of dissonances and sequences: the excitement of rising 5 6, the subtleties 6 5 and 5b dissonances, the sweet melancholy of chains of 7s.

EXAMPLE 16 Handel

 

How can I give my performance more clarity and more character?

See above: Tactus, Good/Bad, Join/Separate.

For harpists: damping. For modern harpists, a basic position somewhat près de la table: for baroque harps, this position is standard.

For anyone: “Long notes long, short notes short”, and “Last note short, no-accent”. Ornaments on the beat. Contrast one Figur with the next.

 

How can I make my performance more expressive?

See above. Sensitise yourself to the flavour of each dissonance, and show the tension-release of each dissonance-resolution.

For harpists, move your fingers down, even more près de la table, for a dissonance, and up (higher than normal) for resolution. A basic position somewhat près de la table results in small changes down or up making a big difference to tone-colour.

Apply Abzug to appoggiaturas. Search for the particular character of each Figur.

 

Should I play marked Repeats?

Yes.

 

Should I add Rallentando?

No.

Muffat and Leopold Mozart clearly state that the same tempo should be maintained from beginning to end. There is historical evidence for rallentando, but not in dance-music, and perhaps only when it is specifically notated. It tends to occur where the note values get smaller and smaller at the end of a section; or where there is a final cadence after a silence (e.g. Hallelujah Chorus). Meanwhile, Leopold says simply, keep exactly the same tempo from beginning to end.

Remember, “what everyone does today” and “my favourite CD” are NOT historical evidence. Leopold Mozart is.

If you are keen to add rallentando, find a source to support your wish. [Student challenge!] But… also beware of the temptation to look into the sources to support a decision you have already taken. A better strategy is to read the sources with an open-mind, and then decide. If you read the whole of Leopold Mozart, you will have plenty to think about and apply, before you need to go looking for another source in order to explore exceptional cases and outlier opinions.

 

Summary

18th-century style calls for a enormous amount of short-term detail, many contrasted Figuren, many presentations of dissonance-resolution, and many, many Abzüge. All the while, you maintain the groove of steady Tactus in the bass.

Harpists: see my article on Empfindsamkeit and Single Action harp.

Historically Informed Performance is not what I say, not what Early Musicians do today, not what you hear on CDs, but performance based on historical information. Use IMSLP to get original scores, and use the mighty Versuch publications as reference books to answer your performance practice questions. Harpists: read Meyer, Cousineau and (for elite soloist-level skills) Genlis.

Try to establish a habit of checking what you are told (including what you have read here!), and checking your own assumptions. The state of knowlege advances when someone has the courage to question the status quo.

Dare to be different!

 

 

 

To beguile, or not to beguile: Purcell’s ‘Music for a while’

Music for a while is one of Purcell’s best-known and most loved songs, published posthumously in Orpheus Britannicus, Book 2 (1702). Listen here.

The tortured chromaticism of the ground bass and dark references to Alecto, the Fury from Hell with snakes for hair and a whip in her hand. indicate that there is more here than just a pretty melody.  So it comes as no surprise to discover that the song was written for a revival in 1692 of Dryden & Lee’s 1679 Tragedy Oedipus, loosely based on Sophocles.

But what was the function of this music in the play? What is happening on stage ‘for a while’? And what happens next, when Music can no longer ‘beguile’? Whose ‘cares’ and ‘pains were eas’d’?  The clue is that Alecto should indeed ‘free the dead from their eternal bands’.

At the time of writing, the best secondary sources freely available online were a couple of GCSE commentaries, which fail to address these questions and mislead on the placement of the song within the play, as well as by hinting that Alecto might even be a character in the drama. She is not, but the mythological reference to her is utterly appropriate for the dramatic situation.

 

 

A dark Grove

Fortunately, a primary source is only a click away. The library of the University of Michigan has made the full play-script of Oedipus, including the song-text (divided amongst several singers), available free online.

Purcell’s Music was composed for Act III, set in a dark Grove.

 

 

Following an argument and sword-duel between Creon and Adrastus, Haemon sets the scene:

Nor Tree, nor Plant

Grows here, but what is fed with Magick Juice,

All full of humane Souls; that cleave their barks

To dance at Midnight by the Moons pale beams:

At least two hundred years these reverened Shades

Have known no blood, but of black Sheep and Oxen,

Shed by the Priests own hand to Proserpine.

 

The blind prophet Tiresias enters with a group of aged Priests, all clothed in black habits. In rites “full of horrour” Tiresias invokes the ghost of Lajus (Oedipus’ father) to declare who it was who murdered him. A trench is dug near Lajus’ grave and a black, barren heifer is sacrificed. Blood and milk are boiled together.

And now a sudden darkness covers all,

True genuine Night: Night added to the Groves;

The Fogs are blown full in the face of Heav’n.”

Tiresias calls for “such sounds as Hell ne’re heard / Since Orpheus brib’d the Shades” and the Priests’ first song evokes tormenting demons:

 

Taskers of the dead,

You that boiling Cauldrons blow,

You that scum the molten Lead.

You that pinch with Red-hot Tongs;

You that drive the trembling hosts

Of poor, poor Ghosts,

With your Sharpen’d Prongs;

Music for a While itself is addressed to the rising ghosts, who are then ordered to “Come away… obey, while we play”. Sure enough, in a flash of lightning, ‘Ghosts are seen passing betwixt the trees‘.

The Priests and Tiresias call on Lajus to “hear and obey”, and ‘The Ghost of Lajus rises arm’d in his Chariot, as he was slain. And behind his Chariot sit the three who were murdered with him.’ Lajus refers to his “pains” in hell  (recalling the line from the song, ‘wondering how your pains were eas’d”), and accuses Oedipus of parricide.

 

 

The Ghost descends, as Oedipus enters asking “tell me why My hair stands bristling up, why my flesh trembles.

 

To beguile, or not to beguile

 

 

 

In this play and in this scene, there are many parallels to Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c1600). Dryden’s introduction make it clear that public taste insisted upon a Ghost and a Murder, and Oedipus was a great success.

In The Player’s Passion (1985) published by the same University of Michigan whose library makes Dryden’s play available online, Joseph Roach describes Shakespeare’s ‘most celebrated scene played by the greatest actor of his time, perhaps of all time’:

The name of Perkins, hair-dresser and wig-maker, enters into the history of the eighteenth-century stage on the strength of a technical contribution to David Garrick’s Hamlet… When other spectators marvelled that Hamlet’s hair actually seemed to stand on end as the ghost appeared, they testified to a fact. The ingenious Perkins had engineered a mechanical wig to simulate the precise physiognomy of mortal dread. On the line “Look, my lord, it comes”, the hairs of this remarkable appliance rose up obligingly at the actor’s command.

 

 

In Purcell’s semi-operas and incidental music for plays, incantation scenes are often the excuse for songs, and ‘priests’ with few or no spoken lines are brought on stage to do the singing. The first scene of King Arthur is a good example: “Woden, first to thee a milk-white steed in battle won, we have sacrificed“. And like the Ghost of Lajus, the Cold Genius similarly comes  “from below“, is made to “rise, unwillingly and slow’ in chromatic harmonies, and then allowed to “freeze again to death“.

 

The power of music to ‘beguile’ cares and ‘soothe the savage breast’ is part of the historical Science of the Four Humours. Music is Sanguine: the live-giving flow of warm blood, open-handed and generously offering love, courage and hope. Music frees us from the cold, dry grip of Melancholy cares and pains.

At least, for a while…

 

Listen here.

 

 

 

 

Vrai mouvement – Introduction to French Baroque dance-music

This is another in a series of posts following up a course on Early Music for Modern Harpists that I am teaching for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, but it should serve any performer as a first introduction to French baroque dance-music and the movements of the Suite. See also Introduction to 18th-century Ornamentation, Principles & Practice, and Online Resources.

 

To a great extent, Baroque dance-music is French, and French Baroque music is dances. French style is also associated with the delicate subtlety of ornamentation, so that the energy and physicality of the dance co-exists with the intricate sophistication of precise control. As Muffat writes for violinists in Florilegium Secundum (1698),

‘In spite of so many retakes and down-bows, one never hears anything harsh or crude, but on the contrary one finds a marvellous combination of great speed and long bow-strokes; of an admirable consistency of Tactus and a diversity of movements; and of a tender sweetness and vivacity of Play.’

Muffat’s essay, originally printed in French, Latin, Italian and German, is probably the best period Introduction to this style, which he associates with Lully’s violinists. In spite of the preference of modern opera houses and baroque orchestras for Rameau (1683-1764)  and Rebel (1666-1747), Lully’s music remained the reference in 18th-century France. And the instrument most associated with the noble style of French baroque dance was the violin: the dancing-master’s minature pochette or the 24-strong violin band (with all sizes of violin-family instruments).

Even if you are not a string player, consideration of the implications of Muffat’s rules for Lulliste bowing is a fast-track to creating appropriate short-term phrasing (what Early Music players call ‘articulation’) for French dance-music on any instrument.

Each dance-type has its own characteristics, and in performing this repertoire, getting a feel for the family resemblance between all Menuets (for example) is more important than trying to ‘interpret’ the particular minuet at hand. Muffat again:

Concerning the different dance-movements, three things are required. 1: To know well the true movement of each piece. 2: Having recognised it, knowing how to keep it as long as one plays the same piece, always with the same consistency, without change of slowing or accelerating. 3: To adjust and compensate for the value of certain notes, for greater beauty.

Muffat’s vrai mouvement is much more than just the speed, though finding a suitable speed is important. Quantz (see Online Resources) gives tempi based on a notional MM 80 ‘pulse’ for various dance-types in Versuch (1752) from page 268 , and Saint-Lambert (Lully’s father-in-law) calibrates his indications to an average walking pace, see Les Principes du Clavecin (1702).

The French term mouvement also implies the Affekt, the emotional character, and (as Muffat’s requirements indicate) this depends on finding rhythmic subtleties and maintaining them consistently all the way through each piece. So in addition to the regularity of Tactus, in dance-music we have additional consistency of patterning within the Tactus. And this patterning is subtle – every note is not the same, smaller-note values may be unequal within the beat – but it is maintained consistently from bar to bar. We can think of this as the rhythmic “groove” of each dance-type: the pattern is distinctive, possibly assymmetrical, often subtle, and this pattern is established from the outset and kept strongly throughout.

There are four levels of rhythmic patterning. Often the whole bar corresponds to the early 17th-century concept of Tactus, and you can beat time one bar down, one bar up. This beat is equal and regular, though with the subtlety of arsis/thesis, see The Practice of Tactus.

Phrases are nearly always symmetrically organised in 4-, 8-, 16-bar groups, with repeats of each section. Don’t omit repeats, and don’t vary them either. Rather play the whole dance a second time, with repeats again, but in a varied version – French sources call this a Double.

Within the bar, the individual beats (often crotchets) have a characteristic organisation of good/bad and join/separate. So in a Sarabande beats 1 and 2 are Good; in a Chaconne one links together beats  2-3-1. These beats usually correspond to dance-steps, and the connection between feet and beat in French music led to a concentration on this level of rhythmic organisation. So the Menuet can also be beaten with an unequal (but reguarly maintained beat), 1-2 down, 3 up.

At the next subsidiary level of rhythmic organisation (often quavers), equally-written note-values are performed unequally, pair-wise, usually long-short. The amount of swing in this inégalité is crucial for establishing (and maintaining) the character of each dance: robust country-dances get a vigorous swing, sad noble dances get a very subtle swing. The bible of baroque swing is Betty Bang Mather Dance Rhythms of the French Baroque (1997).

Muffat’s word mouvement also reminds us that Baroque dances were not just music: there was dancing, too! The best way to understand any dance-type is to learn to dance it, even if you think you have two left legs! I would regard an introduction to historical dancing as an essential element to any HIP musician’s training – and as great fun, too! The standard introduction to the physical embodiment of this music is Hilton Dance and Music of Court and Theatre (1997).

Court and Theatre were the principal milieux for the noble style of dancing, but many of these dances had their origins in the street or the countryside. Mattheson describes the contrasting characters of various dance-types. You can develop your own feeling for the area of emotions associated with each dance-type by reading song-texts set to particular dance-metres, and simply by playing many examples of the type you wish to study.

For each dance-type, you need to have a feeling for tempo, metre (duple or triple), groove, social milieu, area of Affekt and typical dance-steps. Some dances are essentially stylised walking, others are mostly leaps, others mix leaps, spins and held balances. The New Grove Dictionary entry on a particular dance-type can be a good jumping-off point for further reading.

Dance-music was often published and performed as chamber-music in Suites, linked by a common tonality. The core of the baroque suite is the AllemandeCouranteSarabande group, often with a Gigue afterwards. A Chaconne might be added at the end; a Prélude or Ouverture at the beginning; Bourée, Rigaudon and other country-dances towards the end; and theatrical or programmatic pieces were introduced for variety. For social dancing, long sets of a single dance-type (especially minuets) were often needed.

Handel’s first opera, Almira (1705), listen here has a ball-room scene, set at a French-style Assemblée, in which a sequence of dances is interspersed with conversational recitatives and arias, a theatrical presentation of social dancing at court.

Case-study: the Menuet

The Menuet was a court dance, each couple would have to dance their formal minuet in front of the judgemental gaze of their aristocratic superiors, as they entered the hall of an Assemblée. The step is a stylised walk, and the dancers’ paths trace out geometrical patterns on the floor. There are also many theatrical minuets, and many pieces that feel minuet-like, even though they are not actually dances: the slow movement of Handel’s Harp Concerto would be an example.

 

 

Muffat’s rules for violin-bowing can help us find the vrai mouvement, the ‘groove’ of this dance, and I take Christian Petzold’s well-known menuet copied into the Anna Magdalena Bach Notenbuch as a case-study.

 

 

Baroque violins have lower string-tension than modern instruments. And French baroque violins had even lower string-tension. French violins were significantly smaller, but had lighter strings and were tuned a tone or a minor-third lower than in Italy. All these differences combine to produce very low string tension: it’s like playing on rubber-bands!  And to coax these slack strings into sound, they had very short bows.

Long & Short notes

At this point, you can experiment for yourself, by using a pencil as an imaginary, short French-style violin bow. To sustain a long note, you will have to be very sparing with the bow, and the string will take some time to ‘speak’. The result is a very drawn-out messa di voce, with a lot of intensity and a sensation of tension waiting to be released as you hope that you can get through such a long note with such a short bow.

For a short note, you’ll have to move the bow with a sprightly action, to get the floppy string to speak promptly – it’s almost like a bowed pizzicato. So the first result is that long and short notes are utterly different from one another: a long note is not just a short note sustained, it’s a completely different animal!

Bowing and inégalité

Muffat’s detailed bowing rules can be summarised as

1. Down-bow on the down-beat;

2. Down/Up bows for Good/Bad notes, respectively.

So French violinists would take the first note of Petzold’s minuet with a down-bow (Italians would play it Up). The next note is a Good, so it also requires a Down-bow.  With a short bow, two successive Downs will require lifting the bow back Up again in-between (what violinists call a Retake), and this necessarily shortens the first note, creating a staccato effect. Nevertheless, this is acheived with elegant lightness, like a dancer leaping high but landing lightly.

The quavers that follow would be played pair-wise long/short, good/bad and down/up, quite legato within each pair, but with a small separation between one pair and the next. Within each pair, the second note is unaccented – the swing is gentle and elegant, not spiky!

Groove: le vrai mouvement

We  can beat Tactus bar by bar, down/up. This gives us the first level of equal movement, corresponding to the dotted minims that we find in the bass from bar 2 onwards. In general, we expect to find the fundamental rhythmic structure in the bass, and subdivisions in the treble.

We can also beat Tactus in crotchets, 1 2 down, 3 up. This gives us minim-crotchet unequal movement, that we see in the bass of the first bar and elsewhere.

The harmonic rhythm of bar 15 is the reverse of this: crotchet-minim. The mixture of these two patterns, long-short and short-long, is characteristic of the Minuet.

Baroque theorists linked these structural patterns, often heard in the bass-line of dance-music, with the metrical “feet” of poetic scansion. Long-short is Trochaic, and short-long is Iambic: the combination of these two creates the essential structure of the minuet’s vrai mouvement.

In the melody, Muffat’s bowing produces a crotchet-minim structure for the first bar, with the minim sub-divided into swung quavers. So in this bar, the bass has one of the two Minuet-typical structures, and the melody has the other.

In bar 2, the bowing would be Muffat’s standard: down-up push. This creates a joining between beats 1-2, and a seperation of beat 3. So the structure is minim-crotchet, in contrast to the previous bar.

Bars 3-4 have the same structure in the melody as the first two bars, and then the even-bar pattern is repeated every bar until bar 8.

In bar 8, Quantz’s rule for Appoggituras tells us to make the ornamental note two thirds of the length of the written note, and to resolve quietly and smoothly into the written note. The structure is therefore minim-crotchet, breaking the pattern of the previous 3 bars. There are couple of bars with swung quavers all the way through in the melody and a minim-crotchet structure in the bass, and the harmonies show the structure of the penultimate bar also to be minim-crotchet.

There are no other patterns in this minuet. Muffat’s strictly maintained mouvement can be understood by superimposing all the allowed patterns, and ‘weighting’ them according to how often each is heard. You can listen to the result here.

As you listen, imagine yourself dancing with elegant steps and graceful balances along the floor, in smoothly curved patterns, wearing 18th-century courtly dress, and with the assembled aristocracy looking on, and subdued conversation in polite French, with period pronunciation of course. By now you are well on the path towards developing a feel for the vrai mouvement of the menuet.

 

Beyond Versailles

 

We find French dances in English, German and even Italian music, and of course in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, see Jenne & Little Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach (1991/2009). Their first publication addressed works by Bach that bore the names of dances―a considerable corpus. In the second, expanded version they study also a great number of his works that use identifiable dance rhythms but do not bear dance-specific titles.

There is a glossy online Introduction to French Baroque Music presented in English by the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. Their view appropriately contrasts French and Italian approaches, but they seem unaware of the richness of Spanish dance-culture, which brought together Old and New World, even African music, popular and courtly styles.

Hispanic culture contributed one of the most famous dances of Baroque France, Les Folies d’Espagne as well as the Canaries dance-type. As in France, so in Spain, Portugal and the New World, standard dance-types and (more than in France) the ground basses associated with them defined the territory for much chamber, theatrical and (also more than in France) even sacred music. Ribayaz’s 1677 book Luz y Norte offers a ‘guiding light and North star by which to explore all Spanish music’ – listen here.

English late-17th-century Country Dances became well-known in the 20th-century folk music revival. With simple steps and formulaic group choreographies, they were much, much easier for amateur dancers than the technically demanding solo dances in which French aristocrats emulated professonal theatre dancers. Country dances became popular in France as contredansesLes manches vertes is Greensleeves.

This article can only be a brief Introduction. The next step is to become familiar with various dance-types, by reading more about them, and – even better – by playing and dancing them.

Movement & Baroque Music: Mind, Body & Spirit

MUSIC

In 17th-century philosophy, the movement of the stars creates a perfect Music of the Spheres, which is reflected in the harmonious nature of the Human body, and imitated in actual music, played or sung.

 

This is a hierarchical connection, with heaven at the highest level and performance at the lowest level: humans are in-between.

 

“Ex motu Armonia” – “The movement of the heavens creates Harmony” Detail from the frontispiece of Agazzari’s “Del sonare sopra ‘l basso” (1607).

Read more about Agazzari & continuo here.

TIME
The movement of the stars also defines Time, which is measured in musical notation, perceived as the feeling of tempo and the quality of movement, indicated in music-making by the Tactus-hand. [All of these were far more precise than period clocks.]

This connection is not hierarchical but one of identity: astronomical Time is the same as musical Measure, Tempo and the Tactus-Beat. (Zacconi 1596).

MOVEMENT & SOUL
Baroque Time is not Newton’s Absolute Time, “like an ever-rolling stream”, it is Aristotle’s “time as a number of motion”. In Aristotle’s Physics, this movement (and therefore, Time itself) can only be perceived by a Soul.

When Baroque writers call Time “the Soul of Music”, they mean that Time gives the dry numbers of musical-notation meaning in the real world, transforming them into living sound, what we would call ‘live Music’.

LIFE, MOVEMENT & PASSIONS
Music seeks to ‘move the Passions’, to sway emotions, which are ‘the affections of the Soul’, Affekt (German), affetti (Italian). The effects of soul-musical emotions are felt in the mind and in the body.

17th-century Pneuma, mystic breath, is the divine energy giving the breath of life (from heaven), and also the networked energy connecting mind, body and soul (human, rather like oriental Qi), and also the artistic Energia that communicates between musician and listener (in performance). This is the same hierarchy as in Music.

CAUSE & AFFEKT
Perfect heavenly Movement creates Time, which gives life to Music, which moves the Passions. Perfect heavenly Movement also creates Music. The heavens are turned, and the human soul created, by the Divine Hand. All these relations are causal: one creates another.

MIND, BODY & SPIRIT
If you keep this in mind, whilst you move your hand in the embodied time of Tactus, you may feel something of the baroque Spirit of Music, communicating Passions to listeners.

This connection is also causal. It’s not enough to think about it, you also have to beat Tactus, otherwise it won’t happen.

Prattica di Retorica in Musica – Dispositio

This is the second post inspired by an April Fools’ Day joke, for which I faked up the title page of an imaginary Baroque treatise on The Practice of Rhetoric in Music, starting several trains of thought: Why does such a book not exist? What might it have contained? What would we hope to learn from it? What is lacking in modern-day writing on Musical Rhetoric? And why shouldn’t I try writing it for myself?

 

 

The first post in this series,  Prattica di Retorica in Musica – Inventio, introduces the project by means of the Five Canons of Rhetoric and imagines the first pages of our Unicorn-Book, which might include an Address to the Reader and a Dedicatory Poem.

The next pages would probably consist of the Table of Contents, i.e. an ordered list of chapter-headings. For a book-printer, this table would only be assembled once the main body-text was complete. But for a rhetorical writer, these chapter-headings are advance planning of the structural organisation of the material: they present that second Canon of Rhetoric, the Dispositio (Arrangement).

 

 

Arranging the Dispositio

 

In an endlessly recursive process, the structuring of any writing on Rhetoric is itself a work of Rhetoric. My material for this project is the Practice of Rhetoric in Music, and the organisation of this material is inspired by the Modes of Rhetoric, in the style of a list of book-chapters, which I have considered – consciously and subconsciously – over the last month. Turning ideas over in your mind is linked to the processes of memory, which (as modern science tells us) is not merely the recall of fixed data, but a creative process of apprehending, reviewing, connecting and reassembling complex understandings. And now I deliver this structure to you…

In this blog-post, the Dispositio is now my material, which I have organised into two sections (this discursive article, and – below – the presentation of the list itself), in two contrasting styles (modern-day semi-formal prose and 17th-century formal list), carefully considered, and delivered in this blog-post.

The style – a list of chapters – has also become material to be discussed here, and functions as an organising device that delivers new thoughts.

The processes of memory and thought likewise are now material to be written about, functioning to organise themselves by thinking about thoughts, to refine style, and (by remembering memories) to deliver results.

Those results are the material that will be organised, stylised, considered and delivered as the output of the entire project.

And – just in case you didn’t notice – that 5-paragraph description of the nested processes of writing rhetorically about Rhetoric was itself rhetorically made: its material was the rhetoric of Rhetoric, its organisation was iteratively rhetorical, the style was as rhetorically clear as I could make it, it seemed to spring from my mind as if I were remembering something I already knew, and I delivered it in a happily spontaneous flow.

So now you have a rhetorical account of a rhetorically made description of the rhetorical process of writing about Rhetoric. And we could continue this all night, unless you counter with a refutatio or I reach a peroratio!

 

Digressio – an allegorical digression

 

One of the period delights of Rhetoric was the enjoyment of rhetorical discourse for its own sake, like an athlete enjoying the working of their own muscles during training, or a spectator watching that athlete. If the spectator is also an athlete, there is an opportunity to learn, or to sharpen ones analytical insight. Which muscle moved there, and what effect did it have? We can compare the trained and untrained body, we can notice the physical results and competetive benefits of particular training exercises for specific applications. If we are fans or practitioners of Rhetoric, we can observe its work whenever we encounter words.

 

Thesis – back to the underlying concepts

 

I will probably re-organise this Dispositio as I go along. But it is currently linked to these thoughts:

The ‘original book’ does not exist, perhaps because Rhetoric was so deeply internalised for musicians of this period that they applied it, without needing further instruction, to any means of expression. In another sense, every period treatise on music discusses the Practice of Rhetoric because music itself is a rhetorical art: to practise music is to practise rhetoric. My task is then not to invent new principles, but to identify (from amongst well-researched historical practices) instances where rhetoric is at work in music.

As musicians, we hope for clear practical advice, for tools that can be applied in the rehearsal room and in performance. As performers, we hope for ideas that will be effective with our audiences.

This is perhaps what is lacking in the modern literature on musical rhetoric. After reading some scholarly tome, we may think “how interesting, how beautiful!”, but we may not have a clear strategy of how to apply its ideas in our next rehearsal. At best, we might hope that it has given us some inspiration that will emerge in our musicking, by some mysterious process. I do believe in inspiration and mysterious processes, but in the rehearsal room (or as an individual’s pre-performance mantra), we usually need concise, precisely encapsulated suggestions, rather than yards of woffle and dollops of hope.

What period sources there are, and also much modern writing on musical rhetoric, tend to concentrate on Figures and Tropes. And whilst knowing stuff is fun, and knowing what anaphora is helps one notice when anaphora is at work, that doesn’t necessarily let you know what to do with anaphora, no matter how many times you see or hear anaphora in an aphorism, no, no! And even if you know that the use of adnominations and homophones is not strictly anaphora, this doesn’t necessarily help your audience. So although it is not wrong to define Rhetoric in terms of Figures and Tropes (and indeed, this definition becomes increasingly relevant during our period), it is not the most direct path towards practical application in music.

Since Rhetoric is directed outwards – to persuade the listener; to delight, teach and move the passions of the audience – and since we, as performers, want to put it into practice, the book we need must tell us how to apply Rhetoric to good effect. So my dispositio focuses on fundamentals of good Oratory in musicking, ideas that performers can apply in order to produce results that audiences will appreciate.

 

Hypothesis – focus on particular ideas

 

Words: Readers would expect the introduction to discuss what Rhetoric is. But we also need to consider what Music is – and what Science, Art and Practice are too – because our modern assumptions differ from period understandings.

Ethos: Rhetoric is delivered by one person to others: we must consider who does what.

Logos: The most important section of the book should link the performance of music to Good Delivery in Oratory. The more our musicking deals with words, the more eloquent its oratory will be.

Pathos: The most profound result we hope for is to move the passions of our listeners. This Part tells you how to do it.

Kairos: How does the moment of opportunity for Rhetoric present itself? Shifting the focus from historical practices to the ephemeral instant of performance, Plato’s eternal now, this Part attempts to reconcile period understandings of Rhetoric and Humours with 21st-century neuro-science. What is the structure of magic in music?

 

Peroratio

 

The vital heart of Rhetoric, which sends the life-giving Sanguinity of passion to the singer’s voice and the instrumentalist’s hands, is structure. How dry that might seem, how Melancholy! But this sturdy, earthborne structure supports a mighty tower, rising proudly as if with Choleric ambition to reach the highest heavens of eloquent beauty.

The achievement of our art must be to conceal the scaffolding and reveal the architecture. But the process of building begins with a well-wrought foundation. Dispositio precedes elocutio.

 

 


 

DISPOSITIO

 

The Introductory Part: on Words

 

What is Rhetoric?

What is Grammar?
What is Logic?
Eloquentia Perfecta

What is Music?

What is Practice?

What is Art?
What is Science?

What is the Practice of Rhetoric in Music?

What is the Art of Rhetoric in Music?
What is the Science of Rhetoric in Music?

 

The First Part: on Ethos

 

The Practice in Music of the Five Canons of Rhetoric

The Practice in Music of the Three Aims of Rhetoric

The Practice in Music of the Topics of Rhetoric

The Practice in Music of the Four Modes of Rhetoric

 

The Second Part: on Logos

 

The Practice in Music of the Decorum of Rhetoric

Of Oratory
Of Syllables
Of Consonants
Of Vowels
Of Joining & Separating
Of Meaning
Of Intention
Of Genres
Of Place
Of Time

 

The Third Part: on Pathos

 

The Practice in Music of the Four Humours of Rhetoric

The Practice in Music of the Gestures of Rhetoric

The Practice in Music of the Figures of Rhetoric

The Fourth Part: on Kairos

Of the Mind

Of  New Language of Persuasion

 

 


 

 

 

 

Rhetorical contrasts in Crisis: charm, communicate, console?

This article, published in shorter form as the introduction to a concert streamed online, discusses the current relevance of Baroque affetti [emotions] and the Rhetorical aims of delectare, docere, movere [to delight, to teach, to move the Passions]. 

Concert listings, song texts & translations

Online Concert

The link to the concert may become temporarily unavailable, whilst the recording goes through post-production. And new concerts in the series may appear at the top of the broadcaster’s list. I hope to provide a permanent, direct link, soon.

Scherzi Musicali

Italian Baroque Music: Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Corbetta, Handel

“That smile heals me…”

Monteverdi’s musical fun – scherzi musicali – and beautiful arias – ariose vaghezze – are offered to the public in music-books printed by Bartholomeo Magni in Venice almost four hundred years ago. These are not madrigals requiring an ensemble of singers, but solo songs with basso continuo accompaniment which could be realised on any instrument: harpsichord, lute, guitar, baroque harp. Composed during the time of the very first ‘operas’, these minatures appeal to the emotions as theatrical fragments, instantly recognisable dramatic scenes.

 

 

Affetti


But that emotionality is subtly different from the Romantic ideal of an artistic genius, expressing with ever-greater intensity a sublime feeling, that will impress and even overwhelm his audience. Rather, Baroque music contrasts ever-changing emotions and seeks to move your passions, as La Musica proclaims in Monteverdi’s Orfeo:


Accompanied by the golden harp, my singing
can always charm mortal ears for a while.
And in this way, with the sonorous harmony
Of the lyre of the cosmos, I can even move your souls.

Read more: The Philosophy of La Musica

Read more: contrasts of affetti in the ‘first opera’


The ‘lyre of the cosmos’ represents the mysterious power of music. In metaphors of Cupid’s love-arrows and stormy seas of passion, we see poetic images as depicting real emotions. And no doubt, listeners can find in these verses from Shakespeare’s time words that still speak to us today: sanatemi col riso…

Heal me with a smile…

The renaissance Science of emotions models the Senses (in this case, eyes and ears) taking in the energia (energetic spirit) of a performance (delivered by Rhetorical actio) and the coordinated affetti of music and text (delivered by Rhetorical pronuntiatio), to create ever-changing Visions in the mind. These Visions send energia down into the body, producing the physiological changes associated with changing pyschological emotion. Mind, Body and Spirit exchange energia, so that thoughts, (spiritual) emotions and (physical) feelings are interconnected – ideally, in Harmony.

 

 

Rhetoric: structure & contrasts…

For Monteverdi, an aria is not just a nice tune, it is a repeating structure of poetry, rhythm and harmony, on which words and music make elegant rhetorical variations. The dramatic situation is understood: the poet is in love, the beloved is ‘cruel’; the poet is wounded by the arrows of love, but the beloved’s smile can turn his prison into paradise. The rhetorical appeal is to the mind and the heart, as well as to the ears. The emotional power is embedded in contrasts: in Tempro la cetra the poet tunes his lyre to sing of War, but it only resounds with Love.

Tempro la cetra, e per cantar gli onori
di Marte alzo talor lo stil e i carmi.
Ma invan la tento e impossibil parmi
ch’ella già mai risoni altro ch’amore.

Così pur tra l’arene e pur tra’ fiori
note amorose Amor torna a dettarmi,
né vuol ch’io prend’ ancora a cantar d’armi,
se non di quelle, ond’egli impiaga i cori.

Or l’umil plettro e i rozzi accenti indegni,
musa, qual dianzi, accorda, in fin ch’al canto
de la tromba sublime il Ciel ti degni.

Riedi a i teneri scherzi, e dolce intanto
lo Dio guerrier, temprando i feri sdegni,
in grembo a Citerea dorma al tuo canto.

I tune the lyre, and to sing the honour
Of Mars, now I raise my style and my song.
But in vain I try, and it seems impossible
That it will ever resound except with love.

Thus in the arena itself and just amongst flowers
Amorous notes Love returns to dictate to me.
And does not want me to start to sing of arms again,
Unless of those, with which Cupid wounds hearts.

Now, the humble plectrum and the unworthy, broken accents
Muse, as before, tune them, so that to the song
Of the sublime trumpet Heaven honours you.

Come back to tender games, and sweetly for a while
The warrior God, tempering his fierce anger,
In the lap of Venus will be lulled to sleep by your song.

 

 

Contrasts of affetti were categorised by the renaissance concept of the Four Humours: Sanguine (love, courage, hope), Choleric (anger, desire), Melancholy (careful thought), Phlegmatic (unemotional). Throughout this poem, Sanguine love is contrasted with Choleric war. Ideally one’s humours would be balanced, tempered. Poetic and musical composition are usually characterised as works of the careful (and care-full) concentrated inward thought processes of Melancholy, whereas performance, directed outward, is often Sanguine. In this poem the Melancholy art conceals itself – ars celare artem – and in the lap of Sanguine Venus, Choleric Mars surrends to the power of music and is lost in Phlegmatic sleep.

This piece, and renaissance Philosophy in general, links period medical science (the Four Humours) with metaphysics (the Music of the Spheres), and to the artistic principle of contrasting affetti. The Science of the Music of the Spheres (musica mondana) connected that perfect movement of the heavens with the harmonious nature of the human being (musica humana) , and with actual music (musica instrumentalis) played or sung. The contrasts of the third stanza are of Earth and Heaven: the humble, unworthy accents of musica instrumentalis will finally find accord with the sublime song of the Last Trumpet – musica mondana.

Supported by this philosophy, classical mythology is made to work as a metaphor for Christian doctrine. The implication is that the poet/singer himself will also be redeemed, as his own nature (musica humana) ‘resounds’ to the music of the Spheres. 
  

 

…for mind (docere)

Ohimè, ch’io cado begins with a firmly constructed ‘walking bass’, but the singer crashes in with a downward plunge: the poet has fallen head-over-heels in love, just when everything seemed to be safe. Images and emotions are presented in clever contrasts: ‘the withered flower of fallen hope’ and ‘the water of fresh tears’; the ‘would-be warrior’ is ‘now a coward’ who cannot withstand ‘the gentle impact of a single glance’. The poet’s attempt at Choleric sdegno (anger) is easily diverted to a Sanguine love-paradise.

 

 

… heart (movere)

Over a descending bass-line, Si dolce ‘l tormento juxtaposes contrasts even more closely, to sway the listener’s emotions line by line: sweet torment, happy, cruel, beauty, ferocity, mercy, a wave-swept rock – all this in the first strophe alone!  As the momentary affetti swirl around, the minor mode, tender dissonances and descending bass communicate a pervasive sense of Melancholy.

 

 

…and ears (delectare)

That glance from the lover’s eyes – Quel sguardo sdegnosetto – is no real threat: we might paraphrase the first line as “You’re so cute when you’re angry!” And the bass-line variations on the ciacona dance reveals that the lovers are fooling around, playing risqué party-games: “When I die, your lips will quickly revive me”.

In this song, contrasts of affetti are perhaps less cerebral, less melancholic, but rather charming and delightful, and the pervasive mood is Sanguine. There is little doubt that the poet is confident that his hopes of love will be enjoyed!

 

 

Come Hell or High Water

 

Fury in the Fifth Circle of Dante’s Inferno

 

Baroque contrasts can be extreme: In the Ballo delle Ingrate women emerge from the ‘wild, hot prison’ of Hell, to take a brief respite in the ‘serene, pure air’ of the upper world.

The furore of divine anger provides an excuse for Vivaldi’s favourite seasonal storms, tempered by the calm of clemency, but returning with the delicious inevitability and ornamental surprises of the Da Capo Aria. A Recitative makes it personal: “Spare me, sad and languishing”. The central Aria, with its contrasts of fletus… laetus (weeping… happy), corresponds to the slow movement of a violin concerto, with an Alleluia as the virtuosic finale.

 


The instrumental compositions that follow are variations on descending bass-lines. The fun of Corbetta’s Caprice, played on a modern copy of the Stradivarius Harp (1681, the year of Corbetta’s death) more about Rainer Thurau’s Strad Harp here, lies in its contrast of the gentle nobility of the French chaconne with the more energetic celebrations of an Italian ciacona.

 

Handel’s Organ, Whitchurch; Bushey Museum and Art Gallery;

 

Handel’s Andante, with its variations on a walking-bass, was published posthumously as an Organ Concerto. A Baroque listener described how the composer would improvise an introduction to the concerto, with a polyphonic fantasia “which stole on the ear in a slow and solemn progression.”

A fine and delicate touch, a volant finger, and a ready delivery of passages the most difficult, are the praise of inferior artists: they were not noticed in Handel, whose excellencies were of a far superior kind; and his amazing command of the instrument, the fullness of his harmony, the grandeur and dignity of his style, the copiousness of his imagination, and the fertility of his invention were qualities that absorbed every inferior attainment.

When he gave a concerto, his method in general was to introduce it with a voluntary movement on the diapasons, which stole on the ear in a slow and solemn progression; the harmony close wrought, and as full as could possibly be expressed; the passage   s concatenated with stupendous art, the whole at the same time being perfectly intelligible, and carrying the appearance of great simplicity. This kind of prelude was succeeded by the concerto itself, which he executed with a degree of spirit and firmness that no one ever pretended to equal.

Sir John Hawkins General History of the Science and Practice of Music (1776)

 

Iconographical coding characterises Handel as composer (pen and scores), performer (keyboard) and – unmistakeably – as Melancholy (head leaning on left hand).



Handel’s Messiah and that glorious Aria of Sanguine hope, Rejoice greatly, need no introduction. But in Jennens’ carefully chosen biblical excerpts the characters of the Daughter of Sion and the Heathen are also coded symbols for the politics of the Hannoverian monarchy, of another King who “cometh unto thee”. So whether or not we can identify with the rejoicing daughter, the Messiah offers Peace for those who believe differently.

 

18th-century London

 

Rhetorical Structure: architecture & building blocks

 

From Monteverdi’s and Vivaldi’s Venice to Handel’s London, the grand architecture of Baroque music adopted a variety of fashions. But the building blocks remained similar: the sighing slurs of Vivaldi’s calms also create Handel’s peace; bass-lines still walk steadily; a jump in the melodic line always makes the heart leap, whether falling in love with Monteverdi, or rising to rejoice with Handel. And the ancient power of Music’s rhetoric still charms the ears, communicates between minds, and consoles your hearts.

 

17th-century Venice

Welcome to Spanish Baroque Opera

We have a tradition in our theatre…

 

 

For the last four years, Celos, aun del aire, matan the earliest surviving Spanish Baroque Opera has been running in repertoire at Moscow State Theatre Natalya Sats, with performances each month during the winter season. The performers are the soloists, chorus and orchestra of the Theatre, supported by members of Opera Omnia, the research, training and performance Academy for Baroque Opera and Dance. More about OPERA OMNIA here.

On the eve of the online broadcast – Friday 3rd April 2020, 19.00 Moscow time (5pm UK time: there is no summer time in Russia) on http://www.cultura.com and  direct link to the opera broadcast here – this post is a slightly expanded version of the introduction I have given to live audiences at each show. 

In most theatres, if someone walks on stage to speak before the show starts, it usually means bad news: a singer is indisposed, or whatever. But as a theatre for young people, we always welcome our audience with an informal greeting.

 

 

Introduction


We have a tradition in our theatre to say a few words before the show begins. And so tonight it’s my pleasure to welcome you, on behalf of our Director Georgy Isaakyan, to Theatre Sats and to this performance of Celos, aun del aire matan (1660) translated into Russian by Katerina Antonenko as любовь убиваетLove Kills! 

When we think of Baroque opera, we might first think of Handel and Vivaldi, but ‘opera’ began in Italy a hundred years earlier, and Monteverdi’s (1607) Orfeo and the very first opera, Cavalieri’s Anima & Corpo (1600) both run in regular repertoire in our Theatre – you will be very welcome at those shows too! 

Tonight’s performance is different again – the earliest surviving Spanish Opera.

 

 

Drama

 

Calderón’s verse-drama draws on the strengths of Spanish spoken theatre, with a fast-changing combination of exquisite poetry, complex plot, powerful emotions and hilarious comedy. As in a Shakespeare play, romantic and tragic scenes are parodied by the antics of the comic characters. who also interact with the principal protagonists. Calderón weaves together two mythological stories, which his audience would already have known: the spectators’ pleasure came from appreciating how cleverly, beautifully, passionately and entertainingly those familiar stories were unexpectedly brought together.

 

Diana



The plot is dominated by the powerful figure of Diana, goddess of hunting and of chastity. One of her nymphs, Aura, has broken the rules by falling in love with Eróstrato.

 

Erostrato & Chorus of Villagers

 

His mythological destiny is to burn down the temple of  Diana and – as a punishment – to have his name forgotten forever.

Nymphs of Diana



In the opening scene, another nymph, Pocris presents Aura to be judged and punished. 

Céfalo

 

The hero of the opera is Céfalo, who arrives in the nick of time to rescue the damsel in distress. His servant, Clarín, is the anti-hero: he would rather flirt with a pretty girl than assist in any rescues. 

 

Floreta (Pocris) Clarín



Diana wants to know who left the garden gate open, allowing Aura and Eróstrato to meet. She cross-examines her maid-servant, Floreta, who lets slip that it was her husband, the gardiner Rustico‘s fault. In revenge [and revenge becomes a theme in this drama], Diana transforms Rustico into various different animals.

 

Rustico



Aura escapes by being magically transformed into an airy spirit. And her revenge on Pocris is to make her fall in love (against Diana’s rules) with Céfalo. But Céfalo’s mythicological destiny is that he will kill his own wife.

Halfway through Act I, and again in Act II, Calderón helps and entertains his audience, by having a comic character – first Rustico, then Clarín – re-tell the story so far, each in their own comically-warped version. The interval in our show comes before Act III.

 

Diana with the green moon-stone

 

In that final Act, Diana takes three revenges for the burning down of her temple, despatching three Furies to destroy Eróstrato (who loses his humanity and runs like a hunted beast), Pocris (who loses her trust in Céfalo) and Céfalo (whose spear, stolen from Diana, kills Pocris).

 

Furies

 

But at the darkest moment, Aura reappears to avert Tragedy… And meanwhile, just as Rustico has come to understand that he is an animal, he regains human form, to his, Clarín’s and Floreta’s utter confusion, and for the audience’s gleeful delight!

 

Floreta



Watch out for the motto-refrains that punctuate the action and colour each scene – these were ‘take-home messages’ for the 1660 audience. These are just some of them:

Ah, alas for the girl who makes it true that someone dies of love!

The aura of love softly inspires… 

Hate does not erase love.

If the air causes jealousy, jealousy – even of the air – kills!

 

Aura


Music

 

Hidalgo’s music is also characteristically Spanish, with strophic songs and syncopated dance-rhythms. The most important instruments are the continuo section of harps, percussion, organ, regal and baroque guitars. The guitar ensemble of different sizes and pitches  – soprano, alto, tenor, bass – is the essential element of Spanish Baroque theatrical music, and the smallest and largest guitars (tuned an octave apart, in D) were specially built for this production at Theatre Sats. The Spanish Baroque harps are by master luthier Rainer Thurau.

The Theatre orchestra brings together modern strings, woodwind and trumpets with a consort of baroque sackbuts. 

Hidalgo’s score calls for two choruses, who represent the Nymphs of Diana and the local Villagers, respectively. 

 

 

Downloads


You can download the original Spanish text (in the version performed in our production) and an English translation. A detailed synopsis of the plot, in English is here. The Theatre’s English language information page is here.

I wish you all a very enjoyable, and very Spanish, Baroque evening! 



 

Recitative for Idiots (but don’t use that word): three types of Dramatic Monody

Giovanni Battista Doni (1593-1647), grand theoretician of Baroque Opera, loves Idiots – or so he says. And with a little digging, we can find out which particular Idiots he was referring to, and which Opera. So no-one need be offended by the title of this post.  But do be warned: the word Doni says we should not misuse is R*c*t*t*v*.

Recitative – NOT!

The word Recitative is problematic for today’s performers of early 17th-century music-drama, the ‘first operas’. Historically, it was not the preferred term. Nowadays, it evokes all kinds of unexamined assumptions, in particular the 20th-century imposition of free rhythm, instead of period Tactus.  See Frescobaldi for subtle details of the application of Tactus to ‘modern madrigals’ and other genres of ‘difficult’ music.

The period meaning of recitare is ‘to act’, and the anonymous author of Il Corago – The Opera Director – (c1630) discusses three genres of theatrical shows – rappresentationi: spoken plays, music-drama and silent pantomime, which in seicento practice all consist of ‘acting’ recitare. More on Il Corago here. The approach of Il Corago is highly pragmatic: he describes the meaning of the word in common parlance, and links that meaning to three categories of drama in current theatrical usage. Silent pantomime is rather out of fashion in Italian theatre, but dumbshows are a significant feature of English Elizabethan drama, e.g. the play within the play of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

In Doni’s Annotationi (1640) here, ‘Annotations’ to his Compendio del Trattato de’ generi e de’ modi della Musica (1635) here, there is a highly significant discussion [page 60-62] of different types of dramatic monody, sub-categories of what we nowadays call Recitative.

Doni addresses here ‘the musical style called recitativo‘, i,e. dramatic monody.  He too recognises that in normal usage the word recitare means ‘to act’, to ‘present a theatrical show’ rappresentare , even though – as a theorist – he would have liked to restrict the word to declamation of the text, as opposed to physical acting and embodiment of the role. Doni’s approach is that of a critical theorist and utopian: he rails against common parlance. tries to impose a ‘better’ terminology on current usage, and attempts to reassign the offending word to an idealised musical genre that is more-or-less a figment of his imagination.

At this point, the attentive reader might accuse me of being as impractical as Doni himself, as I rail in vain against modern misuse of the word Recitative. That would be a fair point, touché! But my practical purpose is not to stop today’s musicians using the word, since it is the obvious cognate of the seicento term recitativo. Rather, I hope to raise awareness that a 20th-century understanding of the English word ‘Recitative’ does not map onto the 17th-century understanding of the Italian word recitativo, and that this term was already problematic in Monteverdi’s time. Just as we need to add what Americans call “scare-quotes” around the word “Opera” in this period – Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione and Monteverdi’s favola in musica were not designated ‘opera’ and do not correspond to a later understanding of that term – so also for the word “Recitative”.

The take-home message is that the word “Recitative” is highly problematic, and should not be applied thoughtlessly. It’s Recitative, but not as we know it!

 

 

Doni & the first “operas”

Doni’s examples look back to the earliest surviving secular ‘opera’, Euridice. Ottavio Rinuccini’s verse-drama was staged – rappresentata – in 1600 in a musical setting by Jacopo Peri, with a few numbers contributed by his arch-rival Giulio Caccini. Caccini hastily set the rest of the libretto and rushed his composition into print in 1601, a few weeks before the publication of Peri’s version (now updated with his own settings replacing Caccini’s work). However, Caccini’s music-drama was not performed until 1602, and is usually considered to have been overshadowed by the prior success of Peri’s composition. More on Peri here.

Meanwhile, Cavalieri’s religious music-drama, Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo (1600) was performed and published even earlier, more on Cavalieri here.

In this post, I consider Doni’s remarks in the light of both settings of Euridice, and I add some comments of my own, related to Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1610), see The Orfeo Page.

In what follows, the translation of Doni’s remarks is in black, with my commentary in blue.

 

Songs for a single voice

ALK: On page 100 of the Compendio, Doni ends his criticism of Diminutione ne’ Contrapunti – singing divisions (improvised, ornamental passage-work) in polyphonic compositions – by blaming wayward singers of Church Music, since (in his opinion) the practice came later to Madrigals and other vernacular poetry.

GBD: In all this, I like to call it the Madrigalian style; because it is especially significant in Madrigals: under this name is included similarly musical settings of Sonnets, Canzonas, Masquerades etc; and perhaps also Villanelle [rustic Peasant Songs] even though they are closer to the simplicity of what are properly called Arias or Canzonets, and to the Ballate [Ballads] and Canzoni a ballo [Dance-Songs] that the Ancients called Hyporchemata

Then, very different and almost contrary to this is the Song for a single voice accompanied by the sound of some instrument; brought back, one might say, from death to life in this century especially by the work of Giulio Caccini, nicknamed Il Romano; but with the guidance and direction of those virtuosi  (noble amateurs) Florentine Academicians; as I have discussed at greater length in the Trattato della Musica Scenica [Treatise on Stage Music here] and he himself admits.

And although there has always been a practice of some kind of Melody for a single Voice with the accompaniment of instruments; there should not be included in this category those vulgar Tunes – Cantilene – which almost without any art or grace were formerly sung by simple persons and idiots, and by blind men, and even today are heard cheaply in every country.

The improvement that Music has made in this sort of Melody is most notable; because apart from the refinement of Composition (in which by the example of Caccini it has acheived more than ever before), there have been musical settings – modulate – of Dramatic Actions and unstaged Dialogues; which give great delight in the style called Dramatic [Recitativo]

ALK:  Doni’s remarks in the Annotationi are a commentary on this ‘style called Dramatic’, and I translate them below. But first here is the conclusion of the principal text from the Compendio.

GBD:  … and the quality of expression – a very important part of Musica operativa [practical music-making, or music with a practical function; this is too early for any reference to ‘opera’ as a musical genre] – has been greatly refined and the Decorum [a Rhetorical term – how the music fits with the text] increased by the drying-up of many of those [ornamented] Repeats; and the ornamentations of this Singing, which are accenti, passaggi, trilli, gorgheggiamenti etc, have been perfected, first by the effort of the same Caccini and then by the experience and good dispositione [technique, especially in singing fast ornamentation] of other singers, especially of this city [Rome] and in particular Giuseppe Cenci, nicknamed Giuseppino.

ALK: ‘Little Joe’ Cenci was a composer of artistic monodies and scandalous popular songs admitted into the Papal choir as a tenor in 1598 and praised alongside Caccini also by aristocratic art-collector and intellectual, Vincenzo Giustiani, for his contributions to ‘Recitative’.

Doni list combines two different classes of ornamentation associated with two distinct styles of solo singing. Accenti & trilli are so-called vocal Effects – Effetti – added especially at cadences to express and induce emotions – Affetti – and associated with expressive, dramatic monody (what we might today call “Recitative”). Passaggi & gorgheggiamenti are fast passage-work, divisions within the main body of the phrase, intended to charm the ear and associated with song-like melodies (what we might call “Arias”). Part of Doni’s purpose in the Annotation that follows is to distinguish more precisely between these different types of solo singing, within the broad category of Dramatic Music. See also Ornamenting Monteverdi: Add, alter or Divide?  

 

 

In the style called Dramatic…

[Annotationi pages 60-62]

GBD: There is a great diversity of Melodies, which I’ve discussed elsewhere [in the Compendio]However, out of love for the idiots here I want to declare in more detail what the Dramatic style really is.

ALK: Doni’s “idiots” are those ‘simple persons’ mentioned in the Compendio, singers of cheap, vulgar tunes.  This affectionate joke points out the contrast: here, Doni is making subtle intellectual distinctions within the high-art genre of Dramatic music for a single voice. His first categorisation, made explicit below, is to exclude song-like – canzonesco – styles. So he is not discussing diegetic songs (when a character sings a song ‘realistically’ within the staged story), nor what we might nowadays call ‘Arias’. And one attribute of modern Opera can perhaps be traced all the way back to the first fully-sung dramas in the early seicento: from the outset this genre was regarded as the highest form of music-theatre, satisfying not only the eye and ear with its sights and sounds, but also the mind and soul by its intellectual profundity and emotional power. In this, the first ‘operas’ sought to acheive all three aims of Rhetoric – docere, delectare, movere – to teach, to delight, and to move the passions. 

GBD: It’s commonly believed that any music is in this style, if it is composed for a single voice. But in truth it’s not like this, because  – leaving aside the inflections of ecclesiastical plain-chant, which is sung by a solo voice and nevertheless is not categorised as Dramatic – even more artistically complex music, including theatrical music, is of various types.

ALK: Nevertheless, some listeners to Peri’s (1600) Euridice compared the sound of the new style of dramatic monody to the chanting of the Passion-story in church during Holy Week. That comment is usually taken as negative, but it shows an attempt to place a genuinely new practice within a familiar context of existing sound-worlds and emotional experiences. It also suggests that the accompanying instruments might have been quieter, in relation to the voice, than we are accustomed to today.

GBD: Some people assign two types:  the Narrative style narrativo,  which others call Story-Telling raccontativo, and the Expressive style espressivo, which others call Theatrical rappresentativo. But I add as a third type, that which is more strictly called Dramatic recitativo, declaring that there are three styles of Monody in use onstage today (from which I exclude Choral and Song styles).

Narrative

First, the Narrative mentioned above, which is named thus for being used in Narrations and long re-telling of messages and suchlike. This is easily distinguished from the others by its restricting itself to a single note (the Greeks call it monotone), and almost always that of the fundamental tone, with fast pacing tempi veloci [short note values] similar to the pacing of speech. For example where in Euridice the death of Euridice is told.

 

Dafne’s Narration of the Death of Euridice, set by Peri

 

ALK: Doni gives only the text, no music, for this example. And as an enthusiastic admiror of Peri’s compositions, at first I blithely assumed that Doni was referring to this setting. But in the linked passage from the Compendio (above), Doni singles out Giulio Caccini for special praise as composer, singer and reformer of ornamentation, whereas Peri is not mentioned at all. So I also checked each example in Caccini’s setting. In this case, Peri’s version corresponds to Doni’s description of the Narrative style on a monotone, but Caccini’s does not.

 

Dafne’s Narration of the Death of Euridice, set by Caccini

Dramatic

GBD: The second style is the specially Dramatic recitativo, called this because it is particularly suitable for someone who acts/declaims recita [the common meaning is ‘acts’, even though Doni would prefer it to mean ‘declaims a text’] with music, as the Rhapsodes did in ancient times.  For presenting a show onstage rappresentare in scena people incorrectly say ‘acting’ recitare, [but] this [representing] is rather an imitation or embodiment atteggiare, which in Latin is called agere [acting].

ALK: The fifth Canon of Rhetoric, which we would nowadays call Performance, combines Pronuntatio (Delivery of the text) with Actio (Action, i.e. gestures, facial expressions, changes of posture etc). In addition, early 17th-century theatre was concerned with a new approach to Personation (the Embodiment of a character-role). These three elements – delivery of the text, physical action, portrayal of a role – are all contained within our modern concept of ‘acting’ and also within early 17th-century usage of the word recitare (as Il Corago confirms). However, Doni – grumpy theorist that he was – finds this ‘incorrect’, and he tries to draw a theoretical distinction between recitare as rhapsodic delivery of the text in the style of the ancient Greeks, and rappresentare as stage-acting.  Here we see clearly the contrast in approach between Doni and Il Corago, commented on by Fabbri & Pompilio (editors of Il Corago in 1983):  Doni theorises and speculates about the ancient Greeks, Il Corago tells it like it is in seicento Italy.  But, in support of Doni’s academic precision, 17th-century title pages show that recitativo is rarely mentioned in the context of the ‘first operas’, rappresentatione is the preferred term. See Sternfeld A note on ‘stile recitativo’ here [paywall, unless you have institutional access]

In the Trattato della musica scenica Doni himself uses the word recitare in its usual meaning of ‘to act’ or to ‘declaim in speech’ (so not in the idealised way he calls for in the Annotationi, which would be ‘to act/declaim poetry as chamber-music’). At the end of Chapter IV, discussing Seneca’s Medea: “che si recitassero senza canto’ [that they acted/declaimed, without singing]. At the end of Chapter V, he argues that long narrations of messengers, descriptions of places etc were all spoken in Classical Antiquity: “it would not been elegant if some of these speeches were sung – si cantassero – whilst others were declaimed in speech – si recitassero. In Chapter VI, he again opposes recitata and cantata, writing that perfection can be found in Rappresentationi spirituale (dramas on sacred subjects: Cavalieri’s pioneering Anima & Corpo would be an example, and Doni’s own example is Landi’s Il Sant’ Alessio) in two ways: ‘if they are recitata (acted/declaimed) by the most experienced Actors, full of elegance and lightness in their gestures and carriage of the body… or when they are canata (sung) with sweet and appropriate melody’. Note in this last example that ‘gestures and carriage of the body’ are what ‘experienced Actors’ bring to recitare – declamation is only one part of acting, and the word recitare also includes those elements of embodiment. 


In short, recitare means ‘to act’, with hand-gestures and body-movement. This may include declamation of a text (spoken or sung). Recitare can be used to mean ‘spoken acting’, as opposed to cantare (singing). Doni would like to re-define it to mean ‘singing Rhapsodic poetry as chamber-music’, but this meaning is not employed in the real world, not even by Doni himself! All of this is very far from the modern English word Recitative. So we must not translate (even mentally) recitaremusica recitativa etc as ‘singing Recitative, or Recitative music’ etc , in the familiar way. We can better appreciate the period meaning of these terms from Doni’s alternative phrase (beginning of Chapter V of Musica Scenica):

canto scenico –  ‘stage singing’. 

 

All this matters, because we assume that we know how to do Recitative. But the music of Cavalieri, Peri, Caccini and Monteverdi is not Recitative, not as we know it…

 

GBD: The quality of its melody is midway between the Narrative and the Expressive, because it is more tuneful arioso [aria in this period also suggests rhythmic patterning, dance-metres etc] than the other two, and and has less pathos than the latter. There is very often heard in it certain desinenze [designs, melodic figures] which serve as clichés for composers and generate a certain tedium for listeners, for example:


ALK: I searched in vain for this exact melody in Peri’s and Caccini’s settings of Euridice. However, Doni is not wrong, there are many, many figures at the beginning of phrases that sound just like this in Peri. It is indeed a recognisable phrase-opening cliché, in the easy-flowing pastoral dialogues that  Peri contrasts against extended narrations and passionate speeches, fitting very well with Doni’s three categories. In particular, it is a very close match to the first notes of Peri’s Act I, and this might well be what Doni was remembering.

 

Euridice Act I incipit, in Peri’s setting

 

I did not find Doni’s cliché so frequently in Caccini’s version. But the incipit of his Act I is strikingly similar to Peri’s (just one more note differing from Doni), although the two settings diverge markedly immediately after this first phrase.

 

Euridice Act I incipit, in Caccini’s setting

 

I speculate that Peri’s first phrase might have made so strong an impression that both Caccini and Doni cited it with only minor mis-rememberings. If so, it would seem that both Caccini and Doni were remembering something heard, rather than consulting a score, since the small differences (especially in Doni) do not look like copyist’s or printer’s errors. One could even imagine that Caccini thought the phrase to have been notated as he prints it, since Peri’s unexpected (and beautiful) lower note on the word crin has the character of a singer’s improvised accento – an ornament that creates an emotional accent by descending in order to ascend afterwards (or vice versa). 

For comparison, here is the notated accento in Monteverdi’s La Musica Prologue to Orfeo. At the words dolci accenti (sweet accents) the singer first ascends in order then to descend onto an expressive Bb on the good syllable.

 

Notated accento ornament on the words dolci accenti in the Prologue to Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

 

In Orfeo, Monteverdi avoids Doni’s melodic/rhythmic cliché, even though many phrases, including the beginning of the Prologue Del mio permesso amato and the opening of Act I In queto lieto e fortunato giorno, start with three upbeats. The closest he comes to it is in Orfeo’s first song (a diegetic song, but not an aria in 17th-century terms):

 

and twice in the following phrase, but with only two upbeats:

or in the Pastore’s invitation to the Temple Ma s’il nostro gioir del ciel deriva, with three upbeats and altered rhythm:

 

Catching a glimpse of the 20th-century mind-set

For Doni, the risk of tedium comes from the overuse of similar melodic figures at the beginning of phrases. But modern-day commentators and performers are more anxious about the cadences in long notes at the end of each phrase in this style. I first encountered Doni’s commentary in lecture notes handed out at Yale by eminent musicologist, the late Claude Palisca, Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor Emeritus of Music at Yale University and an internationally recognized authority on early music, especially opera of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Palisca translates desinenze as ‘endings’, but even a cursory glance at Doni’s example reveals it to be an incipit, not a cadence.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to the memory of this revered musicologist. But the mistranslation would seem to be a Freudian slip, revealing hidden assumptions of which researchers themselves cannot be consciously aware. The notion that cadences are a ‘problem’ is a firmly embedded,  deeply hidden – and hitherto unexamined – assumption in 20th-century musicology, that still influences modern-day performances. But Doni is not at all concerned with cadences: his focus is on incipits. This startling difference reinforces my impression that we have fundamentally misunderstood something in our treatment of cadences. See Ornamenting Monteverdi.  

GBD: The principal use of this style is for Prologues. There it really is more tolerable than elsewhere, even though its true place is in the pulpit and not onstage. But it is optimally suited to Rhapsodies and similar recitations recitationi with song of Heroic Poems, or structured poems of a certain type, such as the Heroics of Antiquity, and modern blank verse verso sciolto [Hendecasyllables], or verses of various types like the Idylls, or set out in stanzas like ottava rima and extended songs. And so it seems to me that we could include in this type also many of the tunes arie for ottava rima that are sung throughout Italy.

ALK: Peri’s Preface to Euridice here also makes the connection between his ‘new manner of singing for music onstage’ [he does not use the word recitativo] which is midway between speech and song, and Hendecasyllables (the Italian equivalent of Shakespeare’s blank verse), which are midway between prose and poetry. The connection between the new mondoy and improvising street-singers, cantastorie, singing ballads of heroes and battles to reciting formulae for ottava rima was extensively discussed in the late 20th-century writings of James Haar and Nino Pirotta. It’s difficult to imagine how this musical style might be used literally from the preacher’s pulpit, but in sacred music we can recognise it in the motets of Monteverdi’s (1610) Vespers – Nigra sum, Audi coelum etc. Doni later describes his ideal of Rhapsodic singing, as chamber-music accompanied by the harp.

These various contexts all address what Peri calls ‘sad or serious matters’, in which the slow-moving bass does not force the singer to ‘dance’. Even the singers of improvised arie and street cantastorie are far from the realm of Doni’s villanelle-singing Idiots. 

GBD: As an example of this style one could mention the Prologue to Euridice.

The Prologue to Euridice in Peri’s setting.

 

The Prologue to Euridice in Caccini’s setting

 

ALK: The two settings are very similar in pitch contours of the voice-part and of the bass-melody for the ritornello. But Peri has the more interesting rhythms and harmonies, and to my ears (though I admit to a pro-Peri bias) Caccini’s version seems to be a pale imitation of Peri’s original. Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that Peri was the champion of sparsely ornamented expressivity, whereas Caccini’s performance would certainly have been heightened by the elaborate ornamentation for which he was renowned.

Monteverdi’s La Musica Prologue is written out with careful attention to the words and emotional contrasts of each strophe, but its basic structure is clearly a strophic aria, variations on a ground bass. We might imagine that Peri’s and Caccini’s Prologues would have been performed with some improvised variation of the melody, possibly also of the bass, from one strophe to another: Monteverdi’s notated variations might even be a model for bold improvisation.

Expressive

GBD: The third type is what we call Expressive, which is the only one truly appropriate and suitable for the stage, for in our opinion [Doni uses the ‘royal we’] the other two types should stay away. The first [Narrative] is too cloying, and should be reduced to simple speech. And the second has too much sing-song cantilena, and would be better suited to poems of a mixed genre. 

So, in the Expressive we proffess to express well the emotions affetti and – in some places – the natural accents of emotional speech parlare patetico.  

ALK: This matches Peri’s analysis, in which the various emotions shape the bass and harmonies, whereas the pitch-contours of the voice-line follow the rise and fall of spoken declamation in the theatre. Il Corago also insists that dramatic monody should imitate the delivery of a fine actor in the spoken theatre.

GBD: Both these elements have very great force upon the human spirits animi humani [animo refers to the mind-body communication of affetti,  i.e. the pyschological and physiological aspects of emotion]. It is evident that when this is combined with lively stage-action vivace attione and a poetic text parlare appropriate proportionato to the subject, it marvellously induces commove laughter, tears, anger etc.

ALK: In spite of Doni’s enthusiasm for Caccini’s contributions to composition, singing and the reform of ornamentation, it seems that his memories of Euridice are of Peri’s setting. Certainly Peri’s version better matches the arguments Doni wishes to advance by his examples. And perhaps Peri’s ideals of dramatic expression, rather than Caccini’s song-like ear-tickling, fits better with Doni’s intellectual concept of baroque opera as carrying forward the theatrical power of Classical Antiquity.

GBD: Here there is the opportunity for all those contrasts of Tone, Genre and Rhythm [mode and hexachord – soft or hard; diatonic/chromatic; syllabic speed, word-accents on/off Tactus etc] which are the the greatest riches and impressive display of music. As an example, one could mention the Lamento d’Arianna, still today admired by everyone, which is the most beautiful composition which has ever been seen amongst dramatic and theatrical music.

ALK: One of the most attractive features of Orfeo is Monteverdi’s rich store of varied melodic and rhythmic figures for the ‘middle ground’ of dramatic monody that Doni identifies as neither Narrative nor passionately Expressive: the Prologue of La Musica, the dialogues of Shepherds, dance-songs in Act II, Speranza’s description of the gateway to Hell, Caronte’s aria, Prosperina’s persuasion, Plutone’s pronouncements, and  Orfeo’s dialogue with Apollo. But many of these examples have at least some moments that could be categorised as Expressive – Monteverdi takes the liberty to move freely between one type and another, setting Striggio’s text ‘verse by verse, even word by word’ [as Monteverdi writes in his letters, and we read also in the Il Corago MS] 

As well as all this delightful monody, there are Orfeo’s set-piece arias – the dance-song Vi ricorda just before the Messaggiera’s entrance with the news of Euridice’s death, Possente Spirto with its elaborate passaggi and Qual honor over a walking bass; the song-like Ecco pur, ch’a voi ritorno [the original notation implies a slow tempo around minim = 60, not a fast Proportion] and the diegetic song Rosa del Ciel in the most artful style of monody; as well as all the charming ensemble-music.

The Messaggiera’s narration perfectly fits Doni’s category of Narrative, and there are of course and many moment of heightened passion and exquisite composition in the style Doni distinguishes as Expressive.

Two of these passionate moments, Dove, ah dove te’n vai and Ahi, sventurato amante are often performed nowadays as fast, free declamation, but are notated in longer note-values, quavers rather than semiquavers for passing syllables (only the first words sventurate amante are fast). Performed in Tactus rather than rattled through freely, these speeches become more song-like in their expressivity, and would seem to satisfy the requirement (remarked on by many modern-day commentators as ‘unfulfilled’) for Orfeo to sing songs of lamenting when he descends to Hell, as we read in the classical myth and hear reported in Proserpina’s speech.

 

Conclusion (ALK)

If we wish to avoid falling into Doni’s category of Idiots, we must pay careful attention to the genre distinctions he defines so precisely. Within all the rich variety of theatrical solo singing in the “first  Operas” there are songs, arias, song-like moments, and three different types of  dramatic monody. We miss vital contrasts if we simply label all of this ‘Recitative’ and disregard the composers’ detailed notation of Tactus and word-rhythms. We lose contact with text and changing emotions if we sing everything too much. We lose the ebb and flow of contrasting passions if we apply emotionality indiscriminately throughout. We remove a special dimension of theatricality if we try too hard to embody every moment, every character with the full power of Personation: early music-drama was fluid enough to switch seamlessly between action, narration and almost naively-staged music-making (often derided by today’s opera directors as ‘just a concert’).

Doni’s intellectual details might seem to be the dryest of academic nit-picking, but in seicento music-theatre, they can become the key to powerful emotions and dramatic contrasts.

 

Baroque Opera then and now: 1600 & 1607, 1970-2020

How did Baroque ‘opera’ develop in the first decade of the 1600s?

And how have our modern-day performances of early music-drama advanced in a half-century of Historically Informed Performances?

This post is based on an interview for Radio Orpheus (Moscow)  in which the presenter, Russian poet, novelist and dramaturg, Alexey Parin asked me to compare and contrast two of the earliest surviving baroque operas: Cavalieri’s Anima & Corpo (1600) and Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607). Both operas can be seen in regular repertoire at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’, in award-winning productions by Georgy Isaakyan, and in collaboration with OPERA OMNIA, the Academy for Early Opera & Dance.. My thanks to Alexey for his profound enthusiasm for opera, for his translation of the libretto of Anima & Corpo, and for his provocative questions in this interview.

 

With his long experience of opera in Russia, Alexey Parin finds the audience’s experience of the two works very different from one another.  Both productions succeed admirably, but why are they musically so different?

 

I think the first thing that strikes us, looking at the scores and listening to the music, is the similarity between the two works. Both composers are starting from the text, as if they were setting a spoken play to music.

But Monteverdi’s subject gives him the possibility for a lot more music, arising ‘realistically’ out of the drama. Since the protaganist is Orpheus, the great musician, the famous singer, of course we want to hear him sing and make music. And so he sings a magnificent Aria in Hell, accompanied by all the latest instruments of the early 17th-century Italian baroque. These are actually the same instruments that we hear in Cavalieri – violins, cornetti and the double-harp – but what’s now very different, is that with the excuse of Orpheus, Monteverdi writes virtuosi solos for these instruments. So although we have similar instruments, the sound of Monteverdi’s music begins to change.

Also in the earlier scenes, we are in pastoral Arcadia, and the shepherds of Arcadia all sing. They invite the Muses to descend from Parnassus to play instruments. So once again, Monteverdi has the chance to bring in a lot more ensemble music, proceeding ‘realistically’ from the mythological story.

Comparing the libretti

Another difference between the two works comes also from the text. With Orfeo, we are following one protagonist, we could almost say that the other characters are two-dimensional, only Orfeo is truly ‘there’. So while earlier operas exist on the same story, called Euridice, this drama is really the story of Orpheus. Eurydice has only two lines in the whole opera, but nevertheless what she says is extremely important, and perhaps her lines are the clue for understanding the whole opera. More about Eurydice here.

At the beginning when Orpheus sings beautifully of all his love for Euridice, her reply is that she cannot speak, and we should just ask Love, in order to know her feelings. And so we realise that Orpheus is perhaps speaking too much.

And this suspicion is reinfored with Eurydice’s second speech at the crucial moment in the drama, when Orpheus fatally turns to look at her. She says that the sight of him is too sweet, but also too bitter, and for the sake of too much love, he is going to lose her. And so in this very short speech, the word troppo, too much, comes three times. The poet is making it very clear for us here: this is the message. Orpheus was ‘too much’: too happy, too sad, too much love, too excessive in every way.

And so the message of the opera is then to look for the golden mean, for the perfect balance. But nevertheless, I think that Striggio as librettist and Monteverdi as composer both know that the audience enjoy the excesses. More about the message of Orfeo here.

And this brings us right back to Cavalieri again, because in his Preface, Emilio de’ Cavalieri says that the emotions in this kind of music come from rapid contrasts of opposites. More about Cavalieri’s Preface here.

Comparing the scores

It’s important to realise that a score in the early 17th-century had a very different purpose. It was not there for musicians like me to create a performance four hundred years later. More than anything, it was a souvenir for the public who had been to the performance and wanted to study the work further.

This reminds us how new this style of music-drama was. Cavalieri’s religious music-drama was so different from what had gone before, that he wanted to give his audience a chance to look at it again.

Nowadays, if we go to an opera we like, we might listen to the CD afterwards, as a nice memory of the real theatrical experience. So in Cavalieri’s score there is a lot of detail to help the reader remember the whole experience. He prints the music and the libretto and cross-references one to the other with numbers, number 1 in the music corresponds to number 1 in the libretto.

But, from the performers point of view, other information is missing. Many musical details are not specified in the score, and must be decided by the performers. In particular, the score provides no information about the orchestration of the instrumental parts, which instruments should play where.

In contrast, Monteverdi working at the Ducal court, wants to show off not only the opera, but also the court orchestra. So in his score, which is also a kind of souvenir-edition, he includes not only details of the drama but also a lot of information about the instruments. Especially at very strong dramatic moments…

This focus on moments of high drama shows us the purpose of publication. It’s not a score for musicians to work from. It’s to help audience members remember the show they saw. And so the score makes a kind of ‘close-up shot’ of the orchestra when it comes to the most dramatic moments. This gives us today, as musicians working with this historical material, vital information.

From the score, we know that in the original production of Orfeo, the instrumentalists appeared in different positions around the stage. We know that sometimes the instruments were part of the stage action. In a new piece of research, part of my investigation reveals that in one particular scene, when the Muses appear and the character La Ninfa says “you Muses have come with your instruments, so we’ll sing and you play, and everyone’s happy”, the score describes precisely which instruments play, and there are 10 of them – Apollo and the 9 Muses. So here the instruments are not just the accompaniment, they are part of the stage picture, and essential to the poetic concept.

 

Combining the information

But these differing levels of information in the two scores make today’s artistic process different for historically informed performers. Often Monteverdi writes details about the instrumentation that we don’t know from Cavalieri. For example, at the beginning of Act III, Monteverdi is extremely clear: the scene changes to Hell, the violins, the theorbos, the harp and the beautiful organs stop playing, and instead we have the cornetti, trombones and the regal. And so we can understand the two worlds, Hell and Arcadia, in Monteverdi’s opera. And this gives us a suggestion for the two worlds of Cavalieri’s opera, again Hell, and (now) Heaven. So from the point of view of a researcher and music director working with the score, it’s good to combine the information from both scores, to help us understand the cultural context of the period.

We don’t know if the Maenad ending was ever composed or not, but for sure it’s now lost. There’s a hint of  how the lost music might have been, in the Moresca that survives as the finale of the happy ending with Apollo. This Moresca starts in the score without time signature – there is no 3/2. This is very strange, and perhaps it’s because this Moresca was the continuation of something else, and that something else, whatever it was,is now lost. A Moresca, which is a danced battle, would also be an appropriate finale after the Bacchic ending with the Maenads. On the other hand, we should remember that often they would put a dance at the end that had no relation to the rest of the drama. After one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the actors – including characters who had died – would all stand up and dance a jig. Cavalieri says that you can put whatever dance at the end of a show, but then what he actually writes is the perfect dance finale, actually, yes, very connected to the show. More about dancing in Orfeo and Anima & Corpo here.

Personally, I’m fascinated by this question of the end of Orfeo. In another production, in Helsinki, we showed both endings (with my reconstruction of the Maenad scene from the 1607 libretto), and I’m intrigued by the idea of letting the audience vote: should the final triumph be for Apollo, or for Bacchus?

Here in Moscow, in this production, in Georgy Isaakyan’s particular style, it seems to me that he doesn’t tell the audience what happens, he encourages them to ask themselves: does Orpheus live or die?

7 years of Early Opera, half a century of Historically Informed Performance

As we work on Orfeo at OPERA OMNIA, we now have the advantage of 7 years of work together in Theatre Sats on the baroque style of Cavalieri. More about how to study early operatic roles here. No doubt 17th-century musicians also developed their ideas in the 7 years between Anima & Corpo and Orfeo. And I think it’s also fair to say that Monteverdi is musically more difficult than Cavalieri. In our production of Orfeo, we have the opportunity to sing in the Italian language, which makes some things easier for the music, but challenges the actors to make that direct contact with the audience that we have when we sing Anima & Corpo in Russian. More about OPERA OMNIA here,

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the musical approach for the Orfeo production is that we have effectively two musical directors, in the same way that Monteverdi effectively had  two orchestras: the orchestra of the violins and wind instruments who play written parts; and the orchestra of the continuo who improvise their parts. And just as Georgy Isaakyan’s staging is an encounter between Monteverdi’s 17th-century story, and Russia of the 1970s and 1980s; so there is a similar contrast within the musical realisation. Amongst the continuo and soloists, we share the latest ideas of Monteverdi’s baroque style; whilst in the orchestra and chorus the audience are presented with the Russian way to play baroque from the 1970s.

 

 

This juxtaposition of fundamentally differing approaches to early opera within one production has led to me reflect on how Historically Performed Performance of Monteverdi has changed in my own lifetime. In the table below, I attempt to identify some key topics and trail-blazing pioneers associated with significant re-discoveries. Any serious early opera production should at least consider these topics. Nevertheless, even decades later, some findings are still considered too “radical”, whilst others are routinely ignored, even by ‘historically informed’ ensembles.

 

How HIP is your Monteverdi?

 

  • Chitarrone  1960s Robert Spencer

 

  • Cornetto  1970s Bruce Dickey
  • Vocal ornamentation    1970s Nigel Rogers
  • Quarter-comma meantone   1970s Mark Lindley
  • Negri/Caroso dance  1970s Julia Sutton
  • Renaissance recorders  1970s Bob Marvin, Martin Skowroneck

 

  • No conductor  1980s Roger Norrrington
  • Recit without bowed bass  1980s Graham Dixon
  • Baroque harp  1980s Frances Kelly, ALK
  • Led from continuo  1980s Ensemble Tragicomedia
  • Renaissance violin band  1980s David Douglass, Peter Holman
  • Count recit in minims  1980s Ensemble Tragicomedia
  • Metre in Music  1980s George Houle
  • Baroque Gesture  1980s Dene Barnett
  • Il Corago  1980s Fabbris & Pompilio
  • Chiavette  1980s Andrew Parrot
  • Vibrato  1980s Greta Moens-Haenen

 

  • Proportions  1990s Roger Bowers
  • Pitch  1990s  Bruce Haynes

 

  • Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre  2002 Tim Carter
  • 1615 print free online  2009 IMSLP

 

  • Tactus throughout  2010 ALK
  • Historical swordsmanship  2012 Guy Windsor
  • 1609 print free online  2013 IMSLP
  • Beating time & measuring music  2014 Roger Mathew Grant
  • Arianna a la recherche  2017 ALK

 

  • Violini alla francese  ?
  • 5 trumpets  ?

Of course, this list reflects my own personal experiences and fortunate encounters with individual experts. So I look forward to your comments, corrections and additions. And most importantly, I look forward to new research findings in the 2020s, which will provide new impetus for re-thinking, re-imagining and re-working Monteverdi’s theatrical music.