Tactus, Sprezzatura & Drama

This post responds to questions from two members of the International Baroque Opera Studio, singers of leading roles in the recent OPERA OMNIA production of my remake of Monteverdi’s lost (1608) masterpiece, Arianna.

 

The performances (and also my composition of the score ‘in Monteverdi’s voice’) were founded on the principle and practice of Tactus, the slow steady beat that (according to John Dowland) ‘directs a song according to measure’.

 

It’s quite radical to sing a baroque opera in Tactus. Most modern-day performances are not directed by Tactus, nor do the continuo-instruments ‘guide the entire ensemble of voices and instruments’ (as Agazzari advises Del sonare sopra’l basso in 1607). Rather, even performances that claim to be ‘historically informed’ are nowadays often conducted. We all know that this is unhistorical, and it is high time that professional critics began to complain about dinosaur-conductors!

 

So for many singers, the experience of singing a baroque opera in Tactus is new, and it raises legitimate questions:

  1. Now that you have explained to us about the Tactus, I had a problem with the concept of sprezzatura, I felt that the Tactus did not give us more to deal with sprezzatura, I felt like it limited us to involve Tactus and sprezzatura at the same time.
  2.  Opera is a mix of music and theatre. What is difficult for me is just this: Everything in music is subordinated to a Tactus, and that’s reasonable (and just cool). But what about theatre? How to combine this musical Tactus and theatrical freedom? What to do if it feels like you need some stop, some pause in reaction or the opposite, if you feel like you need something unexpectadly fast, I’m talking about drama, about the text, about meaning of words, and more – about situation of the heroes of the opera itself. What to do when you need more freedom than Tactus lets you have? Does it mean you actually were not inside tactus? Or shoud you make yourself feel and listen to a tactus only?

 

These are appropriate and serious questions, and I’m delighted that the Arianna project provoked such thoughtful and enquiring responses. This is precisely the interaction of performance and research, brought about by advanced training, that the Baroque Opera Studio aims for. Both writers address questions of rhythmic freedom, within a Tactus-driven performance style, but from subtly different perspectives of singing and acting in historical music-drama. And Arianna is the ideal test-bed for such experimental investigations, since the 1608 performance brought together court singers and the commedia dell’arte actress Virginia Ramponi-Andreini (in the title role) to create a musical/theatrical experience that moved the audience to tears, and which Monteverdi himself considered his best-ever approach to the ‘natural way’ of representing emotions in music.

Tactus & sprezzatura

 

What appears to be the simpler matter, how to combine Tactus with sprezzatura, needs the longer answer. Lurking behind this singer’s enquiry are at least two more, hidden questions: what was sprezzatura? And: how significant was it, how frequently was it used? The consensus assumptions nowadays are that sprezzatura was defined by Caccini as rhythmic freedom, that it is highly significant and was very frequently used. But these assumptions are not supported by period evidence, least of all by Caccini.

In the 20th century, the ‘vacillating rhythm’ of tempo rubato was an essential element of the Romantic aesthetic. In that cultural climate, the argument seemed reasonable that if Caccini’s ‘new music’ was especially expressive, then its rhythm must be especially free. So musicians and musicologists leapt to the conclusion that sprezzatura must mean rhythmic freedom, and blithely assumed that it would have been as essential for Caccini as rubato was for them. But Caccini does not say this, not at all. Rather, it is canto – singing, i.e. voice-production –  that is treated with sprezzatura, and (according to Castiglione, who first used the word in his 1528 Il Cortegiano) sprezzatura is only applied to some low-priority, less significant element of the total performance. Modern-day singers might be shocked, but voice-production was a low priority for Caccini: he put Sound ‘last of all: and not the other way around!’.

My detailed analysis of Caccini’s Preface to Le nuove musiche (1601) is here: Play it again, Sam! The truth about Caccini’s sprezzatura To summarise from that article, Caccini’s sprezzatura is a ‘cool’ way of singing, a style of voice-production that is something between speech and song. And in a bold statement, backed by the full authority of the Florentine camerata, he defines music as ‘Text and Rhythm, with Sound last of all’. Caccini’s unambiguous insistence on rhythm has received little attention from performance practice scholars, especially compared to all the ink spilled over discussions (often skewed) of sprezzatura.

Alongside his text, Caccini provides music examples. In these, the speech-like voice-production of sprezzatura is mentioned only once, in connection with the unique occurence of senza misura. This – without measure – is rhythmic freedom for the singer, but (as we see from many notated examples in Monteverdi’s compositions) the continuo maintains steady Tactus. The result is something like modern-day jazz, where the singer floats freely over steady rhythm in the rhythm/bass section. Such free melody over a timed bass is described clearly by Leopold Mozart as late as 1756, and was the secret even of Chopin’s piano style.

I’m grateful to Domen Marincic for bringing to my attention a letter written by Caccini, in which he links the word sprezzatura to the practice of senza misura. Otherwise, this word sprezzatura receives little attention in the 17th century. It is not part of the discourse of those key texts that establish the seconda prattica, the passionate style associated with early ‘opera’. There is no mention of sprezzatura in the writings of Cavalieri, Peri, Viadana, Gagliano, Monteverdi, or that wonderful ( but anonymous) source on music-theatre, Il Corago.

 

 

In contrast, Tactus is a fundamental element of renaissance practice in education, study and performance, a vital part of musical discourse in this period. Zacconi characterises it in Prattica di Musica (1592) here as ‘regular, solid, stable, firm… clear, sure, fearless and without any pertubation’. And in all Caccini’s music examples, there is only one occurence of a change to the Tactus itself. Caccini indicates it as con misura piu larga (in measure, but with a slower beat). The idea is not discussed in the Preface text, at all. But such small and infrequent changes to the Tactus are codified in Frescobaldi’s famous Toccata rules (see Frescobaldi rules OK?) and will be discussed in a post I’m preparing on Tweaking the Tactus.

We can establish from simple word-counting that Caccini’s Preface is dominated by the concepts of affetto (passion, or a passionate ornament) and effetto (a passionate ornament or the effect of such an ornament on the listener’s passions). These interlinked concepts are mentioned 41 times, suggesting that what is really ‘new’ about the nuove musiche is Caccini’s focus on passion (affetto), combined with the linking of such passion to a particular class of ornaments (affetti/effetti) and to the emotional effect on the listener (effetto).

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

In the music examples, there are 13 esclamazioni, 11 trilli, 4 gruppi. Sprezzatura occurs only once. Senza misura only once. Con misura piu larga also only once.

The conclusions are inescapable: sprezzatura means a speech-like voice-production, not rhythmic freedom. In any case, it is rather insignificant. Rhythmic freedom is mentioned only twice (though Monteverdi notates it more often, and mentions tweaking the Tactus in the Vespers). It’s worth noting that Caccini associates free melody over timed bass with shortening the written note-values (most singers today want to drag), but a change to the Tactus itself with a slower beat.

Caccini’s Preface was translated into English and published by Playford in 1664 (with many reprints). Samuel Pepys was inspired to practise the one-note trillo (recommended by Caccini as the key to mastering all kinds of florid ornamentation), but the question of sprezzatura did not attract significant attention until the mid-20th century, when (rather ironically) it resonated perfectly both with the mainstream aesthetic of tempo rubato and with the Early Music counter-culture of disdain for authority. That is to say, it resonated perfectly with the spirit of the 1960s, once it had been misunderstood as ‘rhythmic freedom’!

So much for the history of the word sprezzatura. But even when we’ve recognised the desire for rubato and the disdain for the authority of steady rhythm as characteristic of  Romantic and post-Romantic, rather than early Baroque, aesthetics, a legitimate question remains:

If rhythm is guided by Tactus, how can we make baroque music expressive?

 

It’s certainly true that circa 1600, composers and performers were searching for new ways to ‘move the passions’, stripping away the complexities of polyphony, introducing wild chromaticism and ‘forbidden’ dissonances, inventing new genres of music-drama which eventually led to what we now call ‘opera’. But there is a subtle difference between the Romantic notion of a performing “expressing” their own artistic genius, and the seicento aim of moving the audience‘s passions.  Baroque performance, with all its formal structures, requires discipline as well as intensity, inspiration but not self-indulgence.

 

If we consider the nature of conservatoire teaching, it’s understandable that modern-day, classically trained singers feel they have been disarmed, if their favourite device of rubato is ruled out. But a jazz singer does not feel constrained by the absolute requirement to swing: it don’t mean a thing, otherwise! Rather, jazz soloists are guided by their rhythm section, and they relish how words and emotions ride the groove. The best performers can even side-step the regular beat, in a way that adds grace and/or energy, without destabilising the tempo in the slightest. And no rock-band would ever consider that powerful rhythm reduces the emotional power of their greatest anthems!

 

 

So we can embrace the power of Tactus, and need not regret the loss of rhythmic freedom, any more than we should resent Shakespeare’s structure of the iambic pentameter. Rhythm is energy, rhythm is power, rhythm is the force that hammers home the emotions, deep into the listener’s soul. This goes back to the great orators of classical antiquity: as Cicero observed, the rhetorical ‘thunderbolts of Demosthenes could not have been been hurled with such force, had it not been for the rhythm with which he launched them. Quintilian thought that Cicero paid even more attention to rhythm than Demosthenes himself.

And in early baroque music, we have two other powerful and historically appropriate techniques for communicating emotions to our listeners. The first of these is the oft-repeated cycle of preparation-dissonance-resolution, which each time creates a build-up and release of artistic tension. With a good composer (and Monteverdi was acknowledged to be the best for this particular technique), the intensity of each dissonance will match the appropriate level of emotional force, and the flavour of the dissonance will correspond to the particular emotion  (or combination of emotions) evoked at that specific moment. Singers and continuo-players should work together to time the dissonance precisely, and to find the best way to bring out its flavour by choosing how best to bring the dissonant note to bear against the sustained preparatory note. [This exploration, in the particular case of the singer suspending over a change of harmonies in the basso continuo, was one of our exercises on the Music Skills study day at the beginning of the Arianna project]

Another technique, that works well in tandem with dissonance-resolution is what I call the LY principle. According to the Rhetorical principle of Decorum, every aspect of delivery should be suited to, fitting with, the rhetorical message. For singers, this means adapting the vocal colour from moment to moment so that

Every word sounds like what it means

 

So the word ‘happy’ should be sung happiLY; the word ‘sad’, sadLY; the word ‘love’, lovingLY etc. Sometimes singers try to reduce the rich meaning of the poet’s chosen word to the one-dimensional choice of forte or piano. But such an emotionally significant word as ‘joy’ is not communicated by mezzo-forte: it needs to be sung joyfulLY. Once this simple but powerful principle is understood, we realise that the sung text contains a wealth of high-precision coaching directions: almost every word demands a new vocal colour.

So to sum up, and answer the question about Tactus and sprezzatura, the fundamental and (circa 1600) much-discussed principle of Tactus takes precedence over the obscure reference to sprezzatura, little discussed in the seicento even by Caccini himself, and misinterpreted (as well as over-emphasised) in the 20th century. If there is some kind of rhythmic freedom, it is still framed by the stable Tactus (Froberger Rule 1: even when the Tactus is tweaked, you control the change by means of Tactus). Caccini’s senza misura is notated by Monteverdi as a rhythmically displaced vocal line over steady Tactus in the basso continuo. I haven’t yet done a rigorous analysis, but my impression from well-known instances of this rhythmic displacement in Orfeo and Vespers is that Monteverdi anticipates the beat more often than he delays until after the beat: this would be consistent with Caccini’s remark about shortening the written note-values.

 

 

It’s also worth noting that Caccini’s two isolated examples of rhythmic alteration are each cued by strong hints in the text. So rather than approaching an early baroque text with a particular technique (e.g. rhythmic alteration) in mind, it would be more appropriate to wait for the text itself to suggest the most suitable technique. In Arianna, Teseo’s festive and glorious rhythms at tra feste e pompe gloriose e belle contrast with the first speech of his Counsellor that follows. Langue mortal virtu (mortal virtue languishes…) suggests that the singer might languish in tempo, falling behind the continuo bass temporarily. A good composer (and Monteverdi was the best at this) will have done much of the work already by writing a languid long note for langueA good singer will find a suitably languid tone-colour, and might well stretch this word beyond the confines of the Tactus. Continuo-players will not wait for the singer, but will maintain a (suitably languid) swing, trusting that the singer will come back to join them, before too long!

Consigliero’s next speech does not have any word that suggests rhythmic displacement, but the burning torches faci accese would suggest to the composer the bright sound of sharps (hard hexachord), whereas the shadows ombre in Rinuccini’s next line would suggest naturals (soft hexachord on F): singers can help this contrast with a corresponding contrast between bright and shady vocal colouring. And the composer will probably provide a long note on tremolar (as Monteverdi does for this word in Combattimento), giving the singer the opportunity to sing tremulousLY.  This ever-present attention to the sonic implications of each word (realised within the rhythmic structure of Tactus) is where expressivity lies in this style, not in rubato for its own sake.

Tactus & drama

The anonymous (c1630) Il Corago offers (with his typically pragmatic approach) a simple, practical solution to the problem of extra time being needed to accommodate some stage business. The continuo players should simply repeat the harmony (in Tactus). If it is known in advance that quite a bit more time will be needed, a simple chord sequence can be played rather than simply repeating the same harmony. Monteverdi notates this practice twice, at the beginning of scenes in Ulisse. This may also be the explanation for the long G minor harmony notated whilst Orfeo climbs into Caronte’s boat in the 1609 print of Orfeo, but that note might just be a misprint, since it does not occur in the second edition (1615). This practice would solve a problem in Cavalieri’s Anima e Corpo: when the Guardian Angel’s power strips Wordly Life of her glorious clothing to reveal wretched poverty beneath, the score leaves no time at all for the required stage action. A few chord from the continuo will fill the gap, and (crucially) maintain the Tactus until the singers are ready to continue.

But our actress’ question goes beyond practical necessities to artistic choices: what if the actors on stage feel the need for more (or less) time to negotiate some crucial change of mood, some decision or search for motivation? My first answer would be to trust the composer. Monteverdi notates different kinds of pacing in his transitions from one speech to another, or between sections or ideas within a single speech. For example, at the most dramatic moment of Combattimento, as Clorinda is fatally wounded by Tancredi’s sword, the composer alternates high-speed action with slow-motion contemplation, conveying both the sudden fury of Tancredi’s assault, and the slow, almost eroticised horror of blood filling the beautifully woven gold jacket that restrains Clorinda’s soft breasts… she sinks to the ground… and he rushes to follow up his victory with another strike! Here, the composer’s note-values are clearly carefully chosen to direct particular, and highly effective contrasts in dramatic timing.

In general, I would try to work with the composer’s notated timings, respecting his sensitivity to the expectations of the style of his own period. Where the notation at first seemed counter-intuitive, I would search for the hidden reason why the pacing is the way it is. For example, for the exit speech [I will conduct a life that my sadness suits] of the Messaggiera who informs Orfeo of Euridice’s death, Monteverdi writes a long slow ascent – menero vita al mio dolor – followed by an unexpectedly short cadence on conforme. Many modern-day singers drag out that cadence with tragic intensity, but they miss the point. As Monteverdi himself realised, the emotionally laden words end at mio dolor [my sadness], and the word conforme [it suits] is necessary to complete the sentence, but does not itself convey any emotion. Is this Striggio’s error then, to put such an empty word at the end of the phrase, where we expect something worthy of the Principal Accent of the verse scansion? The explanation is in Gagliano’s description of the singer’s movement around the stage for the Prologue to Dafne: the singer starts to walk away on the penultimate syllable con-for-me already. So after the peak of sadness on the word do-lor (an unresolved dissonance), the singer turns away and abandons herself to her fate on the exit word conforme: the short cadence propelling her off-stage. 

Nevertheless, there are moments of great dramatic intensity when the tempo dell’affetto del animo (the tempo of the emotion of the spirit) conflicts with the tempo della mano (the tempo of the hand, i.e. Tactus). Monteverdi anticipates this problem for his Lamento della Ninfa, written over a four-note ground bass. When the Nymph needs more time to manage a particular emotional transition, the continuo players can provide extra chords (as recommended by Il Corago), and obviously they will simply continue with an extra iteration of the four harmonies of the ground bass. This is easily done, but it poses a challenge for the male voice trio who also sing in this scene. If each singer has a part-book, containing only his own part (the norm for such madrigals), then he will not know whether or not an extra round of the four-note bass has been added, or not. The harmonies are the same, every four chords, there is nothing to inform him “where are we now?”! Monteverdi’s practical solution was to provide a score for the men’s trio, so that they could follow the solo voice, and would know if the Nymph had waited four bars, or even jumped four bars ahead.

The common feature of all these examples is that Tactus itself is maintained. There might be an extra beat, or even several extra beats, but ‘the clock keeps on ticking’.

 

 

The particular example of the Lamento in Arianna is problematic. MS sources, perhaps deriving from Virginia Ramponi-Andreini’s part book, offer variant readings for the rhythms of certain sections – always in Tactus, but with different syllabic speeds for the most agitated lines. Although some musicologists see this as the remnant of some kind of free rhythm, I disagree. I see the variants as alternative solutions for finding the required emotional intensity, whilst remaining in Tactus. If the singer could use free rhythm, there would be no need to adjust the notation between one solution and another.

It may well be that after the 1608 premiere, La Florinda chose another solution for certain lines when she performed the scene in contexts other than a full production of Monteverdi’s (now lost) score- this would explain the variant readings in the MSS. And in 1608, eye-witness accounts describe an accompanying string band, ‘violins and viols’: such a band would tend to be less flexible than a continuo-section, implying that whatever pacing was chosen, it would probably have been fixed in rehearsal, rather than improvised on-stage. Contrariwise, Emily Wilbourne’s 2016 book on Early Opera and the Sound of the commedia dell’ arte confirms that improvisation was usual in staged Laments within the commedia tradition, but usually to simpler accompaniments.

Most musicologists now assume that La Florinda and Monteverdi collaborated in some way to create the famous Lamento di Arianna. I would imagine that the composer would have listened to such an experienced actress’s advice on how to pace this most dramatic of speeches. So what has come down to us in the printed solo version presumably reflects the combined wisdom of the greatest actress and finest composer of the day. As a modern-day performer, I would be inclined to trust them, and to follow the dramatic timing they indicate.

 

On the other hand, in other scenes of our re-made Arianna where I had to supply the music, if performers tell me that they found themselves struggling to act the words within the rhythms I had specified, then I should follow Claudio’s example and be ready to listen to my Florinda, my Rasi and all the other participants. Actually, I already went through the score of my remake, and fixed every passage that performers had repeatedly found difficult. If my version was tripping them up too often, it clearly needed improvement to flow properly.

We know something of the history of spoken delivery in the theatre, especially for Shakespearian blank verse. Samuel Pepys’ personal song-book provides us with a reading of To be or not to be in musical notation, framed by the Tactus of a strumming guitar. Accounts of Garrick’s delivery contrast his style with that of James Quin, an actor of the previous generation. 18th-century delivery tended ever more towards rhythmic freedom, pauses for sustained poses (‘striking an attitude’) etc, a tendency that reached its zenith in the late 20th century with the silences and extended pauses of Pinter’s dialogue. This gradual shift from structure to freedom to dissolution, from Shakespeare to Garrick to Pinter, seems to parallel changes in musical performance practice from Monteverdi to CPE Bach to Paderewski. Since Il Corago and Peri tells us explicitly that early 17th-century ‘recitative’ is modelled on the spoken declamation of their finest actors, I would advise respecting Monteverdi’s rhythms as the closest we have to a time-chart notation of theatrical speech in this period.

This and other questions are discussed in one of my favourite books about performance practice history in the theatre, Roach’s The Player’s Passion (1985). In particular, Roach’s opening remarks warn us that the via naturale  – the natural way that Monteverdi found for his setting of Arianna would seem ‘natural’ only in the context of his period, his culture, his courtly etiquette and his theatrical expectations. Such ‘naturalness’ might seem very formal to us, for Arianna was a Queen and La Florinda a woman of the 17th-century.

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

 

I would also like to acknowledge my huge debt to the scholarly and artistic inspiration for this project, provided by Emily Wilbourne’s Seventeenth-Century Opera and the Sound of the Commedia dell’ Arte (2016) and Tim Carter’s Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre (2002), and to thank Professor Carter again for his generosity – still ongoing! – with comments and advice.

 

 

 

 

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Emotions in Early Opera

As a student in London in the early 1980s, I was told by some tutors (who should have known better) that there was no place for emotion in early music. But nowadays, in a development that owes more to changes in current social norms than to improved historical awareness, emotion has become a buzz-word amongst academics and performers aiike. Nevertheless, even amongst Early Music practitioners, the search for emotional intensity is often neither historical, nor informed.

Many directors and teachers do not work directly with performers’ emotional engagement. But handling emotions is a performance skill that must be taught, learnt, rehearsed and practised, like any other element of a well-rounded delivery. And, like every other aspect of musical and dramatic presentation, the performance practice of emotions changed over time, and between one location and another.

Most conservatoires, even those with a Historical Performance department, teach emotions (if at all) within a late romantic framework, focussing on the intensity of the performer’s emotional engagement, and modelled on the concept of the performer “expressing” their emotions through the medium of the composed score. But we have plenty of easily accessible and self-consistent period evidence as the basis for a more historically-informed approach.

In some debates amongst singers, an argument is sometimes advanced that seems dangerously close to saying: “just use more vibrato”! I am all in favour of historically informed use of vibrato, but let’s all agree that there is more to the rich inner world of human emotions than a wobble in the voice! Singing louder is also not the answer: in Cavalieri’s preface to the very first baroque music-drama, Anima & Corpo, he warns against forcing the voice, which would be detrimental to emotional communication. Rather, he (and many other sources) ask for frequent changes between forte and piano, and between contrasting emotions. Act with the heart, act with the hand: Motion and E-motion in  Cavalieri’s preface

In the urge to convey baroque passions, many performers reach for the Romantic tool of rubato. Nearly all of us were taught this in our initial training, but in earlier periods, Rhetorical emotions were framed within the structure of measured rhythm, guided by the slow, steady beat of Tactus. Yes, this tactus could be tweaked according to changing emotions, but if you are not using Tactus in the first place, then you have no idea what you are tweaking! Frescobaldi Rules, OK? Caccini’s much-cited sprezzatura is even more misunderstood and mis-applied. The truth about Caccini’s sprezzatura. It’s certainly not the secret of emotional vocals (read below what Cacinni says that secret actually is).

In this post, I offer a brief introduction to the vast topic of Historically Informed Performance of Emotions. The post is dedicated to participants in Opera Omnia’s remake of Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece, Arianna (1608) from which only the famously emotional Lamento survives. But I hope the information will be useful to anyone working in early opera, indeed in any genre of baroque music.

 

 

There is ample historical evidence that emotions were highly significant in 17th-century music. The principal aim of Rhetoric is

 

muovere gli affetti – to move the Passions

 

From this well-known phrase, we should note two all-important points. Firstly, the historical discourse is not about “emotion” (singular), but about “Passions” (plural) and about “moving” from one Passion to another. All too often, modern-day coaches will ask for “more emotion!”. The performer might well ask in reply: “Which one?”. Emotion is not an all-purpose sauce that can be poured over any performance! In the historical context, we need to study various emotions, and practice moving between them.

Also, the concept of ‘moving the Passions’ begs the question: whose emotions are we trying to change? As soon as we ask the question, the answer is obvious: the audience’s. Here is the vital difference between Rhetorical (say, pre-1800) and Romantic concepts of emotional performance. In baroque opera, the purpose is to move emotions from the text and music into the hearts and minds of the audience; we do not really care about the performer’s own feelings. This is a world apart from the romantic cliché of the ‘genius performer, expressing emotions beyond those of the ordinary folk in the audience’!

Which Emotion?

Modern studies of emotions, facial expressions etc,  attempt various classifications, based on 6 or more principal emotions. In the Rhetorical age, emotions were understood within the concept of the Four Humours. Although this model does not entirely match modern medical science, psychologically it works very well and can be used very effectively in modern-day performance of early music, just as singers use suggestive imagery (alongside hard science) to guide vocal technique. Of course, the vast array of human emotions cannot be mapped onto just four types. But the Four Humours provide general directions for moving the Passions, just as the four cardinal points (North, South, East, West) provide general directions for travel.

The Four Humours are at work in poetry, music and visual arts; in personality traits, moods and emotional impulses; in performance; and in psychological and physiological responses. The four well-known types are Sanguine (love, courage, hope: a warm, moist, outward passion associated with generosity, enjoyment of music, good food and red wine); Choleric (anger, desire: a hot, dry, outward passion associated with violence and strong drink); Melancholy (thinking too much, unlucky in love, sleepless: a cold, dry inward passion associated with what we would today call ‘the blues’); Phlegmatic (passive acceptance: a cold, moist inward passion, the feeling one has when influenza seems to have filled the entire head and body with green phlegm).

 

Character roles and individual lines of text often combine subtle mixtures of Humours. Dramatic speeches and operatic scenes often move from one Humour to another. But in this style, there are often frequent changes from one Humour to its contrary, word by word: this was considered to be the most powerful way to ‘move’ the audience’s passions.

 

How to move the Passions

 

I use simple exercises to help performers experience and convey each of the Four Humours, spending time on exploring each Humour individually by words, postures and movements. Then we practise moving from one Humour to another: slowly at first, and then faster, so that we can snap from one Passion to its contrary.

Working with a specific text (dramatic speech, poem, opera libretto, song-text etc), we identify which Humour (or which blend of Humours) is at play, word by word. It’s very important to bring this analysis right down to the word-by-word level at which baroque emotions operate. The first exercise is to determine how to perform each word: what colour of voice, what facial expression, what physical posture etc? All of this goes far beyond ‘changes in dynamics’, the simple contrast of forte, piano etc. Rather, each individual word gives a wealth of nuanced information, making it unnecessary for the composer to indicate such ‘dynamic markings’, which would in any case be facile and shallow.

To optimise the delivery of each word, we have to match the precise meaning of each specific word. At first, students tend to suggest approximations: “let’s sing this word loud, warmly, with more vibrato, brightly etc.” But there is a better way, what I call

the  -LY principle

If the word is dolce ‘sweet’, sing it sweet-ly! If the word is amore ‘love’, sing it loving-ly! If the word is crudel ‘cruel’, sing it cruel-ly! And so on. The idea is simple, but powerful, and utterly historical. Try it! Experimental-ly!

 

Baroque Gesture is not merely a hand-ballet, though it should look elegant. Gesture is Rhetorical, i.e. based on the structure and passion of the words. And it’s always painfully apparent, when an actor puts their hand precisely where the director instructed, in the perfect historical position: it comes over to the audience academical-ly! Rather, each well-chosen and historically appropriate gesture has to be connected to, motivated (literally, set in motion) by the text, passionate-ly!

All this intense focus  – on the specific word being sung at the particular time  – results in increased Mindfulness, being ‘in the moment’. You don’t need to plan ahead or review backwards what you have just performed: stay intently in the present moment, and trust the librettist and composer to have done their job with (that previous element of Rhetoric), long-term structural planning.

 

 

The renaissance concept of the Music of the Spheres linked cosmic energy to the harmony of the human body and to practical  music-making. In parallel, period Science considered that emotions were communicated from performer to audience by Pneuma (the mystic spirit of creation, also the mystical energy of the body – like oriental chi – the mystical spirit of dramatic communication), transmitted as Enargeaia (the emotional power of detailed verbal description, poetic imagery, word-painting in baroque music), and carried by Energia (emotional energy) emitted from the actor’s eyes. You can practise believing this, whilst you perform: it will change what you are doing, in subtle, hard-to-describe, but powerful ways.

How to sing the Passions

The secret is not rubato, nor ornamentation (discouraged in the reciting style, according to Cavalieri, Peri, Monteverdi, Il Corago and many other early 17th-century sources), and certainly not vibrato. So what is it? How can we use the voice in this repertoire, passionately, appropriately, effectively?

 

Caccini’s preface to Le Nuove Musiche (1601) (here’s the link again) encapsulates the priorities, the method, and the technique, if you want to move your audience’s passions, in this repertoire. The priorities are Text and Rhythm: focus on the text, stay in the steady rhythm of Tactus. The method is a vocal production that is ‘between singing and speaking’ – see also Peri’s preface to Euridice (1600): you are not there to sing, your task is to help the audience understand every single word.

 

Don’t sing at me, speak to me!

 

By the way, the quickest way to destroy the illusion that you are ‘speaking’ in song, is to sustain the weak final syllable of the line. Amarilli, mia bel-LAAAAAA. So a very useful general rule is

 

Last note short!

Caccini’s recommended technique when there is a sustained note on a Good syllable, is to use crescendo/diminuendo on that single note. Caccini repeats this advice many times within his Preface, and he gives detailed examples of how to apply messa di voce (starting a long note softly, with crescendo) and exclamatione (starting a word like Ahi! or Deh! loud, then going immediately soft, and then crescendo). The standard way to present a long note is what I call

 

The Long Note Kit

 

Start softly and wait – then add crescendo – at the peak of the crescendo, relax and allow vibrato. Time this carefully with the Tactus, and with the typical process of Preparation-Dissonance-Resolution in a suspension. See How to study Monteverdi’s operatic roles for more detail.

 

And that’s it. The crucial concepts are not academically complex, just remember SSS:

  • Speak each word according to its meaning
  • Stay in tactus
  • Shape long notes.

 

The challenge is that these simple ideas demand constant Mindfulness and intense concentration on Caccini’s priorities of Text and Rhythm. So of course, it’s much easier just to add vibrato and mess up the rhythm with rubato, and to create a false pretence of generalised emotion, without any particular link to what you are talking about. But the audience will see through that pretence, just as easily as we spot the insincerity of a fake politician!  So let your Passions be strong, your Tactus stable: don’t rely on weak rubato and wobbly vibrato!

 

 

For further reading, I highly recommend Joseph Roach The Player’s Passion, which analyses theories of acting in light of the history of science, examining acting styles from the seventeenth to the twentieth century and measuring them against prevailing conceptions of the human body. The author explores how dominant theories of emotion, from the Galenic humor to the Pavlovian reflex, have shaped the critic’s changing standards of the natural order of life and the actor’s physical embodiment of it. The Player’s Passion has become a classic among theater historians and students of acting, and received the prestigious Barnard Hewitt Award for outstanding research in theater history.

For an analysis of the use of 17th-century Rhetoric to ‘move the passions’  in terms of modern medical science, try The Theatre of Dreams, which takes the Prologue for La Musica, in Monteverdi’s Orfeo, as a case-study.

How to study Monteverdi’s operatic roles

Are you Arianna or Apollo? Orfeo or Euridice? Penelope or Ulisse? Nero or Poppea? Or are you fighting a Combattimento, writing a Lettera Amorosa, or dancing a Ballo?

Now you don’t have to go to Hell and back, to learn a baroque role. Here, to celebrate Monteverdi’s anniversary year, is a guide to studying his dramatic roles.

At the end of September 2017, OPERA OMNIA will present the premiere of Andrew Lawrence-King’s remake of Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece, Arianna (1608), performed by the young professionals and advanced students of the International Baroque Opera Project at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’. Read more about the project here. You can also read about WHY we are remaking Monteverdi’s Arianna.

This post was written to guide singing actors in that production, but is equally relevant to any of Monteverdi’s surviving music-dramas, including the three ‘operas’ [Monteverdi did not use the O-word] Orfeo, Ulisse Poppea as well as Combattimeno, the Balli and other works in genere rappresentativo [in show-style, i.e. meant for acting, not just singing].

 

 

Whilst our modern ideals of theatre might send us on a deep psychological investigation of the character of the role to be played, in this article I suggest an alternative, historically informed approach.

When, as modern HIP performers, we take on the role of Arianna or Apollo, there are two stages to our work. The first step is to acquire the skill-set of Francesco Rasi (the tenor who sang the roles of Orfeo in 1607 and Apollo & Bacco in 1608) or Virginia Andreini Ramponi, known as La Florinda (the commedia dell’arte actress who triumphed in the role of Arianna in 1608, surpassing all the court singers); the second task is for you-as-Rasi or you-as-La-Florinda to play your character role.

The first of these two stages – acquiring the skill-set of the best historical performers – is by far the more challenging. After all, it was hardly a stretch for Rasi (great singer, somewhat self-obsessed) to play Orfeo or for La Florinda (prima donna, fond of lamenting) to represent Arianna!

 

 

When the first ‘operas’ were performed, circa 1600, there was no such thing as an Opera Singer. Since the genre itself was new and experimental, there was no previously existing system for educating performers for new demands. Rather, the participants in these first fully-sung baroque music-dramas brought skill sets from other, related disciplines. Court and chapel singers (Euridice was played in 1607 by a ‘little priest’ castrato) had a high level of general musicianship, sight-reading and ensemble skills. Many of them were competent composers and skilled instumentalists. As courtiers, they would have been trained in Rhetoric and courtly Etiquette, and would know how to stand, move, gesture and how to comport themselves in courtly situations: in the presence of a Prince, in a duel, at a dance, on horseback etc. Much of what we would today consider to be historical stage-craft would have been understood in the period as everyday courtly behaviour.

A modern singer of baroque opera would do well to study Historical Dance, Historical Fencing, and for that matter horse-riding. For an introduction to courtly posture and gesture, i.e. the beginnings of period acting, Start HereCaccini sets out the priorities for singing c1600 as Text and Rhythm – read more from Caccini. Close study of the libretto is essential: the sung text includes many hints for movement, costume and characterisation, as well as a detailed map of ever-changing emotions – affetti. In this repertoire, the performer’s concentration is best kept ‘in the moment’, on the particularly word you are singing right now, on the affetto of this instant, ready for swift and bold changes from one affetto to its contrary, as Cavalieri recommends for the earliest surviving seicento music-drama, Anima e Corpo (1600), read more about how to Act with the Hand, Act with the Heart.

La Florinda’s success in Arianna (1608), surpassing all the star singers, reminds us of the basic meaning of the word recitare – it means ‘to act’. Musica recitativa is acted music, i.e. music-drama. Singers would do well to think less about the voce, and more about How to Act in this historical style. 

It is not your job, as performer, to create a big structure of emotions, drama or music for the whole work: trust the librettist and composer to have done their work in this area. Your job is to realise the text and music from moment to moment, structured by the slow, steady pulse of baroque rhythm – Tactus. This blog has many posts about 17th-century rhythm: here is a small selection. Rhythm – what really counts? introduces the concept of Tactus; the theory of Proportions is the secret to Getting back to Monteverdi’s Time and for a practical approach there is this Hands-on guide to Tactus

This post presents a step-by-step guide on how to study your role. If you go through these 10 exercises, you will be well on the path towards acquiring that 17th-century skill-set, your approach will be utterly historical and securely practical, and after at least 10 repetitions of each phrase, linking together text, music and gesture, the task of memorisation will also be well begun, if not yet completed.

Have fun – approach these exercises and your study in general in a spirit of enthusiastic but relaxed concentration. Learning a big role is not ‘a mountain to climb’, it’s a journey to experience and enjoy. And your first performance is not ‘the end of the road’, it’s just one more step on the path, a place from where there is a good view of the distance you have already covered, as well as of the endless road ahead.

 

 

HOW TO PREPARE

 

1. Hold the music in your left hand

An easy one to start with, but it’s a game-changer! Acquiring this habit will allow you to make gestures with your right hand, one of the most important principles of historical acting.

 

2. Take up the contrapposto posture

If you do all your practice standing in period posture, that posture will gradually become ‘normal’ for you, and you will feel relaxed and look good in it, on stage.

 

  1. Stand diagonally, rather than square-on to your audience
  2. With your weight all on one foot (doesn’t matter which one)
  3. Bend the other (unweighted) leg, and let it show.
  4. Relax at the hips, so that your whole body forms an elegant curve.
  5. Your right hand is somewhat raised/extended
  6. Your left hand relaxed by the body (or holding your music!)
  7. Look out into the audience.
  8. Relax.

 

 

The toga is optional!

At first, you might find it difficult to maintain this posture. Don’t get tense, just switch your weight from one foot to the other, moving through the hips.  Relax, and let your weight fall through the supporting leg into the floor.

But don’t move too often, and – in this style – you don’t walk and talk at the same time.

 

If your singing teacher has taught you to centre and relax, dropping the weight down into your feet, super! Do this, but allowing the weight to fall from that centre through ONE leg.

 

Don’t bounce up and down. If your singer teacher has taught you to bend your knees before high notes, don’t let this be seen by anyone, ever!

Don’t stand square-on to your audience, knees bent in the sumo-wrestler position of certain famous modern coloratura sopranos. That’s not baroque! Rather, look at and imitate period paintings. Be as beautiful as a picture!

 

TEXT

3. Speak the text, dramatically, like a great actor in a 1,000-seater hall.

3a. Paying close attention to Good/Bad syllables (this is period terminology for accented/unaccented syllables or notes: Caccini calls them Long/Short as in poetic analysis)
3b. And single/double consonants
3c. And the meaning of each individual word

You should be utterly comfortable with the text, ready to go on stage and act it in a spoken play. The anonymous 17th-century guide for a theatre’s artistic director, Il Corago (c1636) emphasises that singers should model their singing on the speech of a fine actor.

4. Speak the text again, waving your hand expressively on each Good syllable

 

 

On the final Bad syllable, just let your hand return to the body, relaxed.

 

 

5. Still speaking like a great actor, try to bring your spoken version close to the pitch-contours and rhythms of the music

 

In his preface to the first secular ‘opera’, Euridice (1600), Jacopo Peri explains that recitative is structured by the rhythm of the bass-line, and by the pitches of spoken declamation. Agazzari (1607) confirms that it is the continuo bass that ‘supports and guides the whole ensemble of instruments and voices’.

RHYTHM

Check #1 (music in your left hand) and #2 (baroque posture) again!

6. Sing the music, beating TACTUS

With the palm outwards, move your hand down and up, about 1 second down, 1 second up. Keep the movement steady, smooth, relaxed but with calm inner strength. Think of a big, slow-moving pendulum. Or the hand of God, turning the wheels of the cosmos.

 

  • In C-time, this represents minims: down for one minim, up for the next.
  • In 3/2 time – tripla, this represents three minims: down for three, up for the next three.
  • In 3/1 time – sesquialtera, the complete movement represents three semibreves: down for two, up for the next one. The complete movement occupies the same total duration of time, but the movement is now unequal, down for two, up for one. You might need to practise changing from C to 3/1 and back again.

According to Zacconi (1592), Tactus is “even, solid, stable, firm… clear, secure, without fear and without any kind of wobbling” [equale, saldo, stabile, e fermo … chiaro, sicuro, senza paura, & senza veruna titubatione]

 

If you have trouble maintaining a steady beat, you can easily make yourself a Tactus-pendulum. Take a long string and tie something heavy to one end, to make a simple pendulum. You need 1 metre to make a 1-second beat (Mersenne, 1636).

 

 

CONNECTING TEXT & RHYTHM

 

Whilst dramatic music is guided by Tactus, as the historical concept of rhythm, there was no conductor in early ‘opera’ (Il Corago specifically rules out beating time in recitative), and of course actors cannot beat Tactus on stage (nor even in a courtly performance in genere rappresentativo, as Monteverdi indicates for the Lettera amorosa]. So the next exercise asks you to feel the Tactus internally, whilst you use your hand in a new way, linked to the Text.

7. Sing the music, waving your hand on the Good syllables, not on the Bad

This is the same as #4, but singing, rather than speaking. Many singers find that their good speaking habits get overwhelmed by bad singer habits, as soon as they start to sing. So…

7a. Check that you do not wave your hand on any Bad syllable.

7b. Check that your hand is already relaxed on the last (Bad) syllable

7c. And sing this last note short, just as you would speak it.

The next exercise refines this, by taking into account the length of the composed notes. Some singers reduce the contrast between long and short notes: such laziness makes the performance boring. Don’t do that! A most useful reminder in this style is “Long notes long, short notes short”, within the steady pulse of the Tactus.

8. Sing the music, waving your hand slow/quick according to the length of Good syllables

If the note is long, move your hand slowly at the beginning, so that you have plenty of movement in reserve for the end of the note. You’ll find that doing this exercise changes the way you sing long notes – that’s the whole idea of the exercise!

8a. Apply the Long Note Kit to Good syllables on Long Notes

THE LONG-NOTE KIT

 

  • Start the note slowly and straight.
  • Wait as long as possible.
  • Crescendo towards the end of the note
  • At the very end, relax the crescendo and allow vibrato to happen

Plaine note (with messa da voce),
Waived note (with messa da voice and late-arriving vibrato)
Roger North (1695)
cited in Greta Moens-Hanen
“Das Vibrato in der Musick des Barock”

For a fine demonstration of baroque vibrato, listen to Whitney Houston And I will always love you

 

9. Alternating Tactus and Good/Bad hand-movements, alternating speaking and singing, bring the sung version as close to speech as possible, structured by Tactus.

In this exercise, as you change between various options (speech/song; Tactus/word-accents) the aim is to unify all these into a version that is ‘between speech and song’ [Peri & Caccini], with exciting contrasts of word-accents (the essential ingredient of good poetry) and steady Tactus (the essential ingredient of 17th-century music).

ACTION

Check #1 (music in the left hand) & #2 (baroque posture) again!

10. Perform the whole  speech, thinking of the meaning of the word, each time you wave your hand on a Good syllable.

Do this several times speaking, before you try to combine gesture with singing. The gestures you want are text-based, speech-based: quite different from typical gestures of modern singers.

One of the simplest, but most powerful gestures is simply to point (typically with the whole hand, rather than a single finger) at whatever you mention in your speech. See Baroque Gesture: what’s the Point? 

 

 

And the ut pictura principle encourages you to create a mental image of whatever you are talking about, so that your gestures are directed towards imaginary objects in your vision, as well as to real objects, dialogue partners etc, on stage with you.

 

But as Cavalieri reminds us, 17th-century Action is not only hand-gestures – it’s also movements of the whole body, the way you walk, and especially facial expressions and Energia from the eyes.

 

Two things you don’t have to worry about: ornaments (many sources, including Cavalieri & Monteverdi, warn against ornamenting in this style); your own emotions. The concept of ‘moving the Passions’ – muovere gli affetti – is concerned with changing the audience’s emotions: not yours. Some performers like to work ‘hot’, being very involved themselves in the emotions of the moment, others prefer to stay ‘cool’, keeping control of their own feelings so as to be better able to influence the audience: most people find a good balance between those two extremes. But in this style, we are not interested in the performer’s emotions, we are trying to sway the audience’s feelings. That’s what matters.

So now you are ready to perform, playing the role of Rasi playing the role of Bacco… or playing the role of La Florinda playing the role of Arianna.

And as Dorilla (Arianna’s irrepressibly positive maid-servant) would say:

ET VIVETE LIETI! 

(Don’t worry, be happy!)

 

 

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

How – by what techniques – to remake Monteverdi’s Arianna

At the end of September 2017, OPERA OMNIA will present the premiere of Andrew Lawrence-King’s remake of Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece, Arianna (1608), performed by the young professionals and advanced students of the International Baroque Opera Project at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’. Read more about the project here. Singers, continuo, instrumentalists and technical theatre specialists may apply to take part, here.

 

 

The first article in this series explores “WHY remake Arianna” here. There are two parts to the question of ‘HOW’ to remake a lost baroque opera, focussing respectively on result and process: how should the result come out, what kind of work should it be? And how should that result be achieved, by what methodology?  You can about the first part of this question, HOW – in what format – to remake Arianna? here.

 

In this present article I examine the second part of the HOW question: by what process. Having decided to make a new composition modelled on Monteverdi’s surviving c1608 works, I completed the score and uploaded it for participants last week. This post reveals my methodology: how I went about the job. In short, my motto throughout was

What might Claudio have done?

Prof Tim Carter’s inspiring book, Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre (2002), demonstrates solid academic techniques for investigating lost works, with considerable space given to his discussion of Arianna (1608), from which only the famous Lamento survives, published for solo voice and basso continuo, and in the composer’s arrangement for madrigal consort. It’s worth noting that neither of these versions matches descriptions of the 1608 production, in which the actress La Florinda performed the Lament accompanied by ‘violins & viols’, interspersed with commenting choruses from an ensemble of Fishermen. Thus, even the surviving music requires considerable compositorial intervention.

 

As analysed by Tim Carter, Monteverdi’s letters reveal his various ways of working: sometimes he would begin with set-piece arias (especially if he already knew who the singer would be), sometimes he worked through the libretto from the beginning, often he left dances to the end (waiting for more information about how the dances should be structured). Sometimes he negotiated with his librettist to make the text more suitable for music-drama, sometimes he made bold changes to the poet’s work.

More by chance than by plan, I ended up following all of these options. I began with a set-piece chorus and aria passeggiata at the beginning of Act V. By 1608, such a florid air is rather old-fashioned, but it remained the way for music-drama to demonstrate supernatural powers, at the entrance of a god -in this case, Amore (Cupid)  – or where magic is at work – Arion’s aria in the 1589 Florentine Intermedi, or Orfeo’s display of the power of music, Possente spirto, in Orfeo (1607). We tried out this first sketch at an Opera Omnia workshop in Moscow, with an informal performance at Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’.

After that first try out, I reviewed this excerpt and made a few changes. Amore’s strali, the burning rays of his arrows of love, might fly in whatever direction, but seicento settings tend to use downward passaggi to depict them. I adjusted the ornamentation accordingly. The polished version was dedicated to Jordi Savall and Maria Bartels and performed at the celebration of their marriage in Cardona, on 3rd June 2017.

I then continued my composing with another set-piece aria, the Prologue for Apollo, modelled (as is the text, with all its references to the cetera d’amore) on La Musica’s prologue to Orfeo. Then I completed the choirs and dances for the remainder of the Act V finale. Later on I removed an introductory chorus I had added to this Act, replacing it with a Sinfonia and dances for the Entrance of Bacco, eloquently described in Follino’s eye-witness report:

Bacco, with the beautiful Arianna and Amore in front, were seen to enter onto the stage on the left side of the stage, surrounded in front and behind by many couples of Soldiers dressed with beautiful arms, with superb crests on their heads. Once they were on stage, the instruments that were within began a beautiful aria di ballo, one part of the Soldiersdanced a very delightful ballo, weaving in and out amongst themselves in a thousand ways; and whilst these danced, another part of the Soldiers took up the accompaniment of the sound and ballo with the following words: Spiega omai, giocondo Nume / L’auree piume;

 

This danced chorus has the same metric structure as the final chorus of Peri’s Euridice (1600), another Rinuccini libretto, similar also to Monteverdi’s setting of Striggio’s verses for Orfeo

 

Ecco pur ch’a voi ritorno

Monteverdi and Peri set the triple-metre poetry under a ‘time-signature’  of C, which produces a slow measured dance, ideal for the solemn movements of this ‘ancient Greek’ style Chorus. More about Monteverdi’s proportional notation in Tempus putationis – getting back to Monteverdi’s Time here.

 

 

With the beginning and end of the show safely committed to paper (or rather, saved in Sibelius music-writing software), I then worked through the whole libretto in order. I also went back over my tracks several times, catching errors and revising. In pre-planning, I looked for Rinuccini’s indications of aria or dance-metres. There are diegetic songs, entrances of Gods and sententious statements (all cues for aria) as well as hints from poetic metre for dance-rhythms or triple-metre aria. [The period meaning of the word aria begins with any repeating structure, especially rhythmic patterning]. Expressions of movement (in this opera, walking, running and sailing!) or strong emotions similarly give an excuse for more regular rhythm, even for the extra impetus of triple metre.

Monteverdi’s practice in Orfeo was to reduce Striggio’s Act-end strophic choruses to a single strophe (sometimes this makes the text hard to understand). I considered this, since Rinuccini’s Arianna is much longer than Orfeo. But I was persuaded by Prof Carter (who has given generously of his time and energy to support this project), that with so much recitative implied by Rinuccini’s choice of styles, my remake would need every possible moment of musical interest, whether aria or chorus. After all, the first try-out in 1608 had been deemed “rather dry”, before the arrival of commedia dell’arte actress La Florinda in the title role, and various changes made by Rinuccini and Monteverdi.

I may have gone slightly too far, in creating brief moments of what we might today call arioso in the midst of the long recitative scenes. But Monteverdi himself reported that in this work he came closer than ever to ‘the natural way’ to handle dramatic scenes: closer even than in Ulisse and Poppea, where he separated aria from recitative more self-consciously. And Rinuccini gives occasional hints: Consigliero hears the note (notes, i.e. musical aria) of Teseo’s heart in a speech that one might otherwise have assumed to be recitative.

There was also something of a jigsaw-puzzle in distributing the various speeches of the Pescatori (Fishermen): which should be choral, which individual? This chorus has a similar function to the Pastori (Shepherds) in Orfeo, indeed Teseo’s first mention of them refers to a pastore. Prof Carter alerted me to subtle hints of contrasting character-types and awareness or lack of knowledge of previous action amongst individual members of this chorus. So I sketched out various distributions: my working notes refer to “Mr Happy = Tenor 1” and “Ms Miserable = Soprano” etc! I scored their speeches for 1-6 voices – the larger ensembles might well be doubled, according to contemporary information on the size of choruses.

After completing the score, I calculated the required company of singers: my version can be performed with 10 singers (with a lot of doubling), but would be better with 14 (with some doubling, as suggested by period reports). This would correspond to the nine singers of the all-male Mantuan capella (SSS AA TT BB) plus a mixed-gender group of five guest soloists (including La Florinda as Arianna and Francesco Rasi doubling Apollo in the Prologue and Bacco in the Finale).

 

MODELLING TECHNIQUES

 

I took as my models Monteverdi’s compositions circa 1608, which include madrigals, the opera Orfeo, the Ballo delle Ingrate, the surviving Lamento and other pieces inspired by it, and even the 1610 Vespers. Specific references in Rinuccini’s text sent me again to Orfeo, Ballo delle Ingrate and the madrigal Sfogava con le stelle as well as to Peri’s Euridice (1600) and the 1589 Intermedi. Peri’s description of his recitative, imitating the pitch contours of a declaiming actor over a bass defined by the changing emotions of the text, is reinforced by the latest work of musicologist Emily Wilbourne, which connects Seventeenth-Century Opera and the Sound of the Commedia dell’Arte. I also took note of Tim Carter’s observation that whilst Peri’s recitative tends to circle around, Monteverdi’s tends to go either up or down, and (noted by Carter and Wilbourne alike) often first up and then decisively down, in the most passionate moments.

 

I deliberately pre-loaded my subconscious mind with lots of good examples, reviewing entire books of Monteverdi madrigals, directing a staged production of Ballo delle Ingrate, performing Orfeo, running a workshop on the Lamento and listening to live performances of Sfogava and other madrigals, in the three month period of thinking and composing. This time-period is comparable to Monteverdi’s speed of writing (although his work was often delayed by waiting for political and artistic decisions from his patrons). For the actual writing, I consciously employed techniques of cut-and-paste, pattern recognition, transformation, declamation and re-composition.

 

Cut and Paste

Monteverdi frequently uses precisely the same notes for particular words: the exclamation ohime! often falls from d to F# over an F# in the continuo bass. Where I recognised such words in Rinuccini’s libretto, I used the well-known formula. This procedure was applied only on the short term, usually a single word, perhaps a short phrase.

 

Monteverdi ‘Orfeo’ & ALK ‘Arianna a la recherche’

My setting of Arianna’s first speech borrows from Monteverdi’s setting of the same word as the opening speech for Proserpina in Act IV of Orfeo.

 

Pattern recognition

 

In the madrigal books, Monteverdi responds to texts that suggest (without necessarily citing precisely) verses he previously set, with music that recalls (without necessarily citing precisely) his earlier work. For example, the Lettera Amorosa with its paean to a woman’s red hair (La Florinda had red hair) frequently recalls moments from Arianna’s Lamento. Rinuccini’s libretto for the opera often suggests well-known texts, from his own work – Ballo delle Ingrate (also 1608), Euridice (1600) and the madrigal Sfogava con le stelle (1603) as well as from Striggio’s Orfeo (1607) and the Florentine Intermedi (1589). There are also very frequent cross-references within the libretto, with many parallel passages between Arianna’s Lament and the Nunzio’s description of her lamenting, Teseo’s meeting with Consigliero and the Pescatori’s report of that meeting, and images of sunrise and sunset.

Of course, there may well be other references that escaped me, and we cannot know how many references Monteverdi would have noticed, or chosen to act on. I deliberately took every opportunity I found to make use of this pattern recognition. My score may therefore have more (not necessarily precise) citations than Monteverdi’s practice, but Rinuccini’s libretto has more (sometimes subtle) citations than other early operas.

The words of Arianna’s Lament are referenced (in the previous scene ) by Nunzio Primo, and my setting follows Rinuccini’s lead.

Monteverdi ‘Lamento’ & ALK ‘Arianna a la recherche’

This technique of pattern recognition I used on various time-scales, single words, complete phrases or extended sections, according to the length of Rinuccini’s citation. His reference to the opening solo of the Florentine Intermedi is unmistakeable, and I similarly cite the corresponding music in my setting of Nunzio Secondo’s final speech.

 

Cavalieri ‘Florentine Intermedi 1589’ & ALK ‘Arianna a la recherche’

 

Transformation

 

There is, to my mind, an important distinction between modelling (my intention) and contrafactum (a valid approach, but not my choice). For both techniques, it’s important that if the listener recognises the original, any associations evoked will be thoroughly supportive of the new context. With this aim in mind, I modelled the opening Sinfonia of my Prologue on Monteverdi’s Tempro la cetra: both are songs for solo tenor, in which the singer’s lyre accompanies songs of love, not of war. I avoided direct copying by switching modes from Monteverdi’s “G major” to “G minor”, more suited to the opening of Rinuccini’s tragedia.

Monteverdi ‘Tempro la cetra’ & ALK ‘Arianna a la recherche’

Similarly, I took the walking bass from Monteverdi’s Laetatus sum in the 1610 Vespers as a model for Bacco’s triumphant appearance, transforming it from sacred G minor to an exuberant G major, which ends up recalling Orfeo’s triumphant return from hell, Qual honor.

 

Monteverdi ‘Vespers’ (1610) & ALK ‘Arianna a la recherche’

 

Cued by Rinuccini’s words Faran del tuo bel crin ghirlanda d’oro (They will make a golden garland of your hair), my violin-writing cites Monteverdi’s madrigal Chiome d’oro (Golden hair), which he himself borrowed from to set the Psalm Beatus Vir.

Declamation

 

I declaimed aloud every single line of the libretto, searching for the best rhythms and pitch contours, accompanying my spoken recitation with historical gestures. I had not previously realised how significant the ‘language of gesture’ was for composers in this repertoire, as well as for performers. But Monteverdi’s letters, cited by Tim Carter, emphasise the need for strong gestures if there is to be good music, and Rinuccini’s libretto has Nunzio Secondo describe the silent eloquence of Bacco’s confrontation with Arianna. I had to correct my initial errors, and wrestle with challenging gesture-puzzles: lightning must strike downwards of course, but an emergence out of the deep sea must move upwards, yet somehow allow a low hand-position for the final word profondo. Once the gestures are decided, the music has to correspond.

ALK ‘Arianna a la recherche’

Lampeggio l’aere, e fuor del mar profondo… (Lightning strikes through the air, and out from the deep sea…)

Out from the deep sea come Nymphs and Divas, whose music in my setting recalls the Nymphs coming out to dance in the Ballo Lasciate i monti (Leave the mountains) from Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

 

Re-composition

Although it is not specifically indicated in Rinuccini’s libretto, instrumental music is clearly required to delineate Act boundaries, to allow characters to enter or exit or as ritornelli between strophes of arias or choruses. Here, bolder compositorial action was necessary, since there was no text to inspire the modelling techniques described above. But the affetto (emotion) of the situation, and the identity of the characters onstage gives clear guidance: battaglia (battle) figures for Teseo and his Soldiers, pastoral recorders for the Pescatori (Fishermen), sad modes for Arianna. I wrote strophic variations on the romanesca ground for one chorus and imitated the extraordinary dissonances of Monteverdi’s madrigals for the Fishermen’s outburst of anger against Teseo Ma tu, superbo altero (But you, haughty and proud).

My setting of Arianna’s aria of hope Dolcissima speranza is modelled on Monteverdi’s well-known song Si dolce e’l tormento, and I rework that material again as exit music for the lamenting princess. In another sinfonia for the protagonist, I take the thematic material of Josquin’s 4-voice Mille Regretz (one of those earlier chansons which were remembered in the 17th century and performed in new, ornamented settings) and rework it as a polyphonic fantasia for string quintet in the style of Monteverdi’s prima prattica.

 

Perhaps the most delicate work was in Act IV Scene ii, where I had to compose new music for the commenting Pescatori as well as string accompaniments for Arianna herself, around the published music of Monteverdi’s Lamento. As a performer, I have always opposed the addition of editorial string accompaniments to basso continuo, so it was a strange experience to be tasked with writing such additional accompaniments myself. Modelling my work on Monteverdi’s string accompaniments to Clorinda’s speeches in Combattimento and on the last strophe of Possente Spirto in Orfeo, I gave Arianna the full complement of five strings (contemporary reports mention ‘violins and viols’ which probably means just small and large string instruments, but does suggest a full consort), but left sections with fast-changing harmonies to be accompanied by continuo alone. The resulting contrasts bring out both Arianna’s grandeur and her vulnerability, the essential elements of baroque tragedy.

 

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I eagerly await the reactions of performers and audiences as they experience for the first time in four centuries Monteverdi’s famous Lamento in its original scoring with strings, and in a historically informed operatic context.

 

How – in what format- to remake Monteverdi’s Arianna?

ARIANNA a la recherche

At the end of September 2017, OPERA OMNIA will present the premiere of Andrew Lawrence-King’s remake of Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece, Arianna (1608), performed by the young professionals and advanced students of the International Baroque Opera Project at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’. Read more about the project here. Singers, continuo, instrumentalists and technical theatre specialists may apply to take part, here.

 

 

HOW to remake Monteverdi’s lost Arianna?

 

The first article in this series explores “WHY remake Ariannahere. Right now, I’m in the midst of the research and creative process of writing my own remake of Monteverdi’s lost Arianna: the prologue and finale have been composed, and I’m polishing the detailed plans for the many choruses and small ensembles.

There are two parts to the question of ‘how’ to remake a lost baroque opera: how should the result come out, what kind of work should it be? And how should that result be achieved, by what methodology? This post looks as the first part of the ‘how’ question: what is the remake intended to be?

Inspired by the impeccable scholarship, yet fundamentally practical approach of Tim Carter’s book, Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre here, I have a clear goal in mind. I’m not trying to re-create a lost musical masterpiece: I’m writing the score for a music-drama, for a performance in a theatre, with singers and musicians, and for an audience. Just as was the case for Monteverdi in Mantua in 1608, whatever ideas I might have of an ‘ideal’ composition, I have to write for the situation at hand, for particular performers, for a particular venue, for the anticipated audience.

If this project lives on, and my remade Arianna has a revival, perhaps with another cast, maybe in another venue, certainly with another audience, then there will need to be certain changes, for practical reasons. This is what we see, for example, in the two manuscript sources of Poppea, which reflect not only changes made after the premiere, but also further changes for two different productions, in two different cities, Venice and Naples.

Imitation

Keeping a practical outcome in mind encourages me to see the libretto not only as a text to be set to music, but also as the script for a theatrical performance, with hints of scenery, costumes, entrances and exits, of the emotional background and changing moods of the various characters. Without wanting to impose a Stanislavski-style, method-actor’s back-story on every anonymous chorus-member, there are nevertheless clear differences in character between the various soloists from the choir (I’m grateful to Tim Carter for the suggestion to investigate such differences). In Orfeo (1607), these ensemble-soloists are named as Pastori (idealised Shepherds in pastoral Arcadia); in Arianna (1608), they are members of a choir of Pescatori (similarly idealised Fishermen, who tend their nets just as the shepherds tend their sheep, and who – like the Pastori – spend their free time in love-affairs, singing and dancing). Following Professor Carter’s lead, and with his many helpful comments in private correspondence, my organisation of the various choirs – Soldiers of Teseo, Fishermen, and Soldiers of Bacchus – reflects cues and clues given by the sung texts.

Considering the end result as a theatrical performance, rather than merely a musical score, also encourages thinking about gesture, one of the most important aspects of rhetorical delivery and character acting. Indeed, the anonymous c1630 Il Corago  here defines acting as ‘imitating with gesture’.

Recitare … imitando le azioni umane, angeliche o divine con la voce e gesti… rappresentare le medisme azione cantando

To act… by imitating the human, angelic or divine actions with the voice and with gestures… to perform the same action singing.

[Notice that the 17th-century Italian word recitare means simply ‘to act’: it does not carry the baggage of our modern assumptions about Recitative. Indeed, Il Corago’s definition lists three ways of acting – tre maniere di recitare: spoken drama, sung ‘opera’, and wordless mime.]

Whilst there is tendency nowadays to think of gesture as a ‘bolt-on’ extra to historically informed musical performance, historical sources make it clear that Action (not only gestures of the hands, but facial expressions and movements of the whole body) was fundamental, ‘built-in’ from the outset. As he began work on a new project, Monteverdi himself searched through the libretto, looking for powerful emotions to express, and also for gestures (implied by the words) which could be imitated in instrumental music.

In a series of letters to Alessandro Striggio (who wrote the libretto for Orfeo) concerning an opera being planned in 1627, La finta pazza Licori (a few months later the project was abandoned), Monteverdi discusses and links the concepts of ‘imitation’ (dramatic representation, whether in acting, singing or instrumental music) and gesture.

The words [should] mimic either gestures or noises or any other kind of imitative idea that might suggest itself (24 May)

I am constantly aiming to have lively imitations of the music, gestures and tempi take place beind the scene (10 July)

So instrumental music (played di dentro, behind the scenic backdrop, as specified in Orfeo) would imitate not only the singer’s music (the lead role was to be sung by Margherita Basile), but also her acting, specifically her gestures. Monteverdi’s instructions for the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda similarly call for the actors’ passi & gesti, the instrumentalists’ varied sounds and the declamation of the text to be delivered in such a way that the three Actions (i.e. three ways of presenting drama) come together in a united representation.

che le tre ationi venghino ad’incontrarsi in una imitatione unita.

Rehearsing Combattimento in Andrew Lawrence-King’s production for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, incorporating swordplay from Capo Ferro (1610).

 

In both these works, Monteverdi’s aim was for his music to create effetti – not only a good effect in general, but also the ‘special effects’ of non-musical noises (e.g. the sounds of battle), and the emotional effect of ‘moving the passions’ – affetti. In this remake of Arianna, my aim is similarly to unite the essential concepts underlying Monteverdi’s vision of what we now call ‘opera’: drama as Action; acting as Gesture (of hands, face and the whole body); music and acting as Imitation; musical Effects that move the Affects (the audience’s emotions); all rooted in the communicative power (Energia) of detailed poetic imagery Enargeia.

Read more about affetti/effetti, Energia/Enargeia in Caccini’s Le Nuove Musiche here.

 

 

Three ways to represent Monteverdi’s lost Arianna

 

Our project is certainly not the first attempt to construct an opera around the Lamento d’Arianna. Of course, many ensembles have programmed other baroque music around the Lament, in order to create structure and flow, perhaps even a dramatic plot, within a concert performance. But in 1995, Alexander Goehr composed a modernist score for an ensemble including extensive pitched percussion, saxophone, sampler etc, but preserving some of Monteverdi’s vocal lines. A couple of excerpts are available to listen to on YouTube, the Lament here and another scene here both from the 1998 recording. In spite of the talented cast of singers, critical reviews were unfavourable. Writing for both Musical Times and Opera News, Tom Sutcliffe dismissed the project as ‘perfunctory’: ‘The opera reached its nadir in Goehr’s setting of the great surviving fragment itself [..] the harmonic implications of Goehr’s bass-line distortions destroyed the dramatic build-up’.

In 2015, Claudio Cavina, director of the ensemble La Venexiana, presented a semi-staged performance of his assemblage of Monteverdi’s music, reset to the texts of Rinuccini’s Arianna libretto. Using contrafacta in this way is a thoroughly historical procedure – we have 17th-century settings of Monteverdi madrigals to devotional texts and even a contrafactum of Arianna’s Lamento with a religious text in Latin, the Pianto della Madonna. The proof of a good contrafactum is not only that the word-setting works in terms of accentuation, word-painting and changes of affetto, but also that any remembered associations connected to the original text complement the new function of the music. This requires careful consideration and adaptation of the new text and the pre-extant music. Whatever success the private performance in 2015 enjoyed was sadly eclipsed by Maestro Cavina’s subsequent illness, preventing any follow-up to the initial experiment. It is to be hoped that he will continue to make a full recovery, and perhaps even return to the challenges of Arianna.

 

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

 

My re-make differs from both these previous projects in that the final product is intended to be a Historically Informed baroque performance (not only musically, but in the stage production too), and that it is new-composed, rather than an assemblage of contrafacta. Nevertheless my writing is carefully modelled on Monteverdi’s c1608 compositions.

In a number of works of this period, a particular word or short phrase is set to precisely the same notes. A good example is Ohime!, often set falling through a ‘forbidden’ interval, c F#, syncopated against a strong bass D between the two syllables.Probably this is the musical representation of a conventional way of declaiming such words in the spoken theatre, which (as Peri tells us) is the model for seicento recitative. Where such words or short phrases occur in Rinuccini’s Arianna, I’m copying Monteverdi’s standard recipe for them. So the word mirate is set in my constructed final scene to the same rising third to which it is set in Monteverdi’s music for the Lamento.

In other instances, a similar poetic image within a longer phrase, calls forth a similar (but not identical) musical setting. This encourages me to take suitable models from Monteverdi’s oeuvre as inspiration for a similar (but not identical) parallel setting. Thus my string ritornello for Apollo’s Prologue, a tenor singing tenderly to the lyre of love – su cetera d’amor teneri carmi – takes its rhythmic structure and rising phrases from the ritornello to the tenor solo from Monteverdi’s Book VII (1619)  Tempro la cetra – I tune my lyre to sing the honour of Mars, god of war. But instead of the hard hexachord of G major harmonies and sharpened notes in Monteverdi’s melody, my music for Apollo’s cetra adopts the soft hexachord with G minor harmonies and melodies with Bb, Eb and F. Of course, it’s important that any associations my models evoke are appropriate: here, if the listener is reminded of another lyre being tuned, that’s all to the good, especially if the listener also appreciates the significance of the shift from warlike major to pastoral, even melancholy minor, from hard to soft hexachords in period terminology.

Of course, I’m taking care to provide appropriate word-painting, whenever the poetry calls for a gesture that can be imitated in music. Apollo’s first words Io che ne l’alto… (I, who on high…) naturally require a high note on alto, matching the actor’s upward extended right hand.

My next article will continue this theme of ‘How to remake Arianna’, with a detailed comparison between Monteverdi’s procedures in setting the libretto and the methodology I am evolving for this challenging (not to say, daunting) project!

 

It was Professor Carter, playing devil’s advocate, who first challenged my Arianna project with the question, “Why?”. Since then, he has been immensely generous with comments, guidance and historical information. Inevitably, we will disagree here and there, but this project could not succeed without him. Thank you, Tim.

 

Why remake Monteverdi’s Arianna?

ARIANNA a la recherche

At the end of September 2017, OPERA OMNIA will present the premiere of Andrew Lawrence-King’s remake of Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece, Arianna (1608), performed by the young professionals and advanced students of the International Baroque Opera Project at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’. Read more about the project here. Singers, continuo, instrumentalists and technical theatre specialists may apply to take part, here.

 

WHY remake Monteverdi’s Arianna?

 

Recalling the famous question, why climb Mount Everest, I’m tempted to answer for Arianna, “because it’s not there!”. All that survives of the original music is the famous Lamento, published for voice and continuo in 1623, also transcribed as a 5-voice madrigal and in religious contrafacta. As Tim Carter writes in Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre (2002), Monteverdi regarded Arianna, composed in Mantua the year after Orfeo, as his greatest work for the stage; he revived it as his first production for the public theatre in Venice (1640);  it came closest to the via naturale alla immitatione, ‘the natural way to represent’ drama in music.

Arianna was by all accounts a huge success, and its central lament for the protagonist reportedly moved the ladies in the audience to tears.

 

Certainly, the construction of almost the entire opera is a formidable challenge, a musicological and artistic mountain to climb, with a huge pile of text to set, including a Prologue for Apollo and a virtuoso final aria for Bacchus, both sung by Francesco Rasi, who also sang the title-role in Orfeo. Any half-way decent setting will present a similar challenge to performers and an intriguing experience for audiences, as well offering irresistible grist to the mill of critics and musicologists.

 

So ARIANNA a la recherche attempts to set the famous Lament in context, with all due humility that the exercise of imitating Monteverdi can never be more than an exploration, an Essay in music, a baroque Versuch.

 

It is the task of the historian to create appropriate frames of reference within which Monteverdi’s works might plausibly have been viewed and understood by competent members of their first audiences. We are helped by various more or less obvious signposts in the works themselves; we are hindered by the unclear nature of early seventeenth-century theatrical and musical semiotics. Much hangs on the question of how precisely the music both informs and shapes our understanding….

Constructing meaning is an exercise both challenging and fraught with danger. But it is an essential part of the theatrical experience.

 

And the investigation of this ‘lost opera’ is a fascinating research project, following Professor Carter’s lead once again:

 

The longest chapter in [Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre] concerns the ‘lost’ works, where Monteverdi’s music does not survive, for all that one can still say a good deal about it. In general, however, my approach tends to be less philosophical or aesthetic than pragmatic; I am not so much concerned with my own, or even Monteverdi’s grand statements as with the nuts and bolts of how a seventeenth-century musician might have written for, and worked within, the theatre.

 

Composing, rehearsing and performing a setting of Rinuccini’s libretto (which survives in several variant editions) is the ultimate practical investigation, a hands-on study that should complement traditional musicology and reveal new insights.

 

Treating Monteverdi’s operas … as being of and for the theatre does not diminish their stature.

The status of his operas as the first ‘great’ examples of the genre means that they are rarely studied in this more practical light: thus their careful design and even content made to suit his performers have not hitherto been fully appreciated. Not that these works suffer as a result; indeed, one is forced to recognise still more Monteverdi’s remarkable achievement as a man of the theatre.

 

 

It’s always possible that the publicity surrounding this ‘reconstruction’ might flush out of hiding an original source for Monteverdi’s setting, held perhaps by some private collector, or buried in some as yet un-catalogued archive. For performers and academics of the future, this would be a great result from our humble endeavour. And the investigatory effort would not be wasted: on the contrary, comparisons between original and reconstruction would reveal gaps in our knowledge and understanding.

 

Reverse-Engineering Arianna

 

Many of the world’s most inspiring teachers take the trouble also to study new disciplines, deliberately placing themselves at the other end of the teacher/pupil axis. For this, amongst other reasons, I began studying Tai Chi. In the academic study of any of the arts, the reverse side of the coin from analysis is creativity. Early Music, our discipline of Historically Informed Performance, is sometimes characterised as searching to understand and follow the composer’s intentions: the reverse of that process is to become the composer oneself, transforming the libretto not only into a musical score, but into a dramatic performance and an emotional experience for the audience.

 

In short, the journey ‘a la recherche’ of lost Arianna is empowered by the connections between Research, Training and Performance that define the theatrical mission of OPERA OMNIA, that have guided my academic and artistic work ever more strongly over the last decades. I hope that, in your different individual ways, you will be interested to join us on this unique journey.

 

[Pioneering musicologist, Nino] Pirrotta wished to dispel any lingering Romantic vision of Monteverdi as a transcendental genius, and the related claim that opera as a genre emerged fully formed and perfect in his hands. Rather, he sought to place the composer and his work for the theatre squarely in the context of his life and times. Monteverdi was a working musician… and his operas, for all their undoubted status as masterpieces, were the product of artistic struggle where problems were exposed and not always solved.

 

 

It was Professor Carter, playing devil’s advocate, who first challenged my Arianna idea with the question, “Why?”. Since then, he has been immensely generous with comments, guidance and historical information. All the musicological citations in this article are from Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre. Inevitably, we will disagree here and there, but this project could not succeed without him. Thank you, Tim.

 

 

So much for “Why?”. The next question is of course, “How?”. Watch for my next post!

Act with the hand, act with the heart: motion and e-motion in Cavalieri’s Preface to ‘Anima & Corpo’

 

On the occasion of the 50th performance in repertoire of Cavalieri’s Anima & Corpo in George Isaakyan’s production Игра о душе и теле at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’ [Golden Mask award-winner in 2013], this article offers a translation of the Preface to the 1600 print, in which the publisher, Alessandro Guidotti, presents Cavalieri’s advice on ‘how to create a baroque opera’. Published in association with OPERA OMNIA Academy for Early Opera & Dance, read more here.

 

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

 

Guidotti’s original print with the full text of the Preface is available free online, here. More about Cavalieri’s music-drama here. Any (modern-day) debate about whether this work is ‘the first opera’ or ‘the first oratorio’ is icrrelevant, since neither genre existed in 1600. The original designation is Rappresentatione – a representation, a show. Cavalieri’s music-drama on a moral subject is the earliest surviving example of the genere rappresentativo: it is through-sung in three Acts with a spoken Prologue, two Sinfonias to separate the Acts and a final Ballo. We are very fortunate that this beautifully printed score was published, a sumptuous collector’s item for seicento music-lovers, as a souvenir of the original production.

The Preface has very little discussion of airy philosophy. This is a practical guide, drawing on Cavalieri’s long experience as a Corago (artistic director) for spectacular theatrical entertainments involving music. And clearly, in composing Anima & Corpo Cavalieri followed his own advice, so that his music-drama is a perfect example of how to put into practice the principles he recommends.

This practical approach is found again circa 1630 in the anonymous MS Il Corago, and the two sources are remarkably consistent in their advice. Framing the period of court ‘opera’ as they do [Venetian commercial opera  began in 1737], these two practical guides give us a clear understanding of the working priorities for the first ‘operas’ by Peri, Caccini, Gagliano and Monteverdi as well as offering insight into Roman music-dramas.

I’ve chosen a simple style of translation that stays close to Guidotti’s vocabulary and word-order, so that it’s easy to check the English version against the original Italian.  Difficult or old words, or words whose meaning has changed since 1600 have been been translated using John Florio’s 1611 Italian-English dictionary. So that readers can distinguish my comments from Cavalieri’s text, my commentary appears below in red. 

One way to discover Cavalieri’s priorities is simply to count how often he mentions key words. Crucial concepts emerge clearly:

  • Contrast: diversi mutare varieta variare cambiar  and their derivatives, 9 hits
  • Passions: affetti and derivatives 6 hits;
  • Specific Passions: pieta giubilo painto riso mesto allegro feroce mite etc, 10 hits
  • Moving [the passions]: commova, muovere and derivatives 5 hits

This supports the argument that seicento music favours contrast, emotion, and contrasts of emotion. The importance of specific emotions and of changes one from emotion to another differs subtly from the Romantic aim for intensity of emotion. Sometimes, modern-day coaches ask singers for ‘more emotion’, as if emotion itself were a quality, as if one could pour all-purpose emotion into a performance, like pouring sauce. But in this repertoire, a request for ‘more emotion’ begs the question: ‘which one?’. A more appropriate coaching method for seicento opera is to look for, and intensify changes between specific emotions.

Other words also recur frequently:

  • Recitando: with its derivatives, 6 hits
  • Gesture: gesti, motivi, 5 hits
  • Rappresentatione: with its derivatives 4 hits, plus 6 more mentions of specific genres of theatrical show
  • Ballo: together with the verb ballare and their derivatives, 18 hits, plus 7 more mentions of specific genres/dance types, plus many mentions of specific steps

Recitare must be understood in its period meaning: certainly not ‘to sing Recitative’, and usually not as specific as ‘to Recite’ [whether singing or speaking]. The principle meaning is ‘to Act’. It’s important to keep this distinction in mind, and to avoid the modern assumption that there is a musical genre of ‘Recitative’, which has different rules from ‘normal’ seicento music. Cavalieri is discussing how to act in a stage show, specifically in a stage show that is through-sung (what we nowadays call ‘opera’).

Three decades later, Il Corago defines acting as ‘imitating with gesture’, whether silent, spoken or sung. Gesture is a vital part of early seicento acting, but as Cavalieri reminds us (below), it comprises not only gestures of the hand but motivi of the whole body. Period ‘body language’ is described in exhaustive detail in Bonifaccio’s L’Arte de Cenni (Vicenza, 1600), my English translation will be published later this year. My introduction to historical acting for the first operas, Shakespeare etc starts here.

We should keep in the back of our minds the academic nicety that Cavalieri’s music-drama was not called ‘opera’, with all the anachronistic expectations that word arouses, but rappresentatione: a show. And it’s quite a surprise to see how significant dancing is in Italian music-drama, conventionally regarded as text-based and opposed to later French ideals of dance-dramas. But in the context of Cavalieri’s experience as overall artistic director, his triumph with the dance-finale to the 1589 Florentine Intermedi, his practical insistence on variety and lively entertainment for the audience, and comparisons with the later Il Corago MS, as well as the popularity of social dancing in this period, dancing emerges as vital theme, often undervalued, in the development of the ‘first operas’.

All these key words – contrast, passion, acting, gesture, theatrical shows, dancing –  are encapsulated in the period phrase muovere gli affetti, ‘moving the passions’. Cavalieri’s practical guide is all about motion and E-motion.

TO READERS

If you want to present on stage this work or others similar to it, and follow the advice of Signor Emilio del Cavaliere, so that this type of music, which he has revived, moves [the listeners] to different passions, such as to pity and to joy; to crying and to laughter and to others similar, as has been seen to be effective in the modern scene of La Disperatione di Fileno [The Despair of Fileno], composed by him, in which the acting of Signora Vittoria Archilei, whose excellence in music is very well known to all moved [the listeners] to tears marvellously, whilst the role of Fileno moved [them] to laughter:

Cavaliere is described as having ‘revived’, not ‘invented’ this type of music – dramatic monody, the representation in music of speech on stage. This reflects the period interest in re-discovering the power of emotional communication they had read about in classical Greek and Latin drama. The idea of ‘moving the passions… to tears and laughter’ is therefore a key topic.

As I say, if you want to put the show on, necessarily every element should be excellent: the singer should have a beautiful, well-pitched voice, they should keep the voice steady, they should sing with passion, piano and forte, without divisions (ornamentation) and in particular that they should pronounce the words well so that they [the words] are understood, and they should accompany them with gestures and motions not only of the hands, but of steps as well – these are most effective aids in moving the passion.

This advice for singers is an excellent check list of essential skills. Keeping the voice ‘steady’ encourages solid, well-supported voice-production and reminds us that vibrato is welcomed as an ornament, or a special effect, rather than as constant. Some early-music singers may be surprised to read that ornamentation is very restricted in this genre: passagi  are prohibited, and cadential ornaments (discussed below) appear only infrequently. But Cavalieri’s restrictions on ornamentation are consistent with other sources, including Il Corago.

The instruments should be well played, and more or fewer in number according to the venue, whether a theatre or hall, which to be proportionate for this acting in music should not have a capacity of more than a thousand people, who should be comfortably seated, for greater silence and for their own satisfaction: since if you put on a show in a very large hall, it is not possible to make the words heard for everyone, and then it would be necessary for the singer to force, from which cause the passion is reduced; and so much music, lacking audible text, becomes boring.

Monteverdi’s Orfeo was played in a ‘small venue’, and most modern commentators are sceptical about period claims that Arianna  had an audience of 6,000 Nevertheless, Cavalieri’s ideal venue is rather larger than the 400/500-seater chamber-music halls we sometimes think of as typical for early opera. And there is plenty more about large-scale ensembles below. But two important concepts from are already getting their second mention: no forcing (singers should even sing piano, when appropriate); it’s essential that the audience understands the words. And (singers take note!) in this repertoire passion is reduced if you sing too loud – as every actor knows, over-playing lines, shouting, generally ‘chewing the carpet’ just turns the audience off.

The need for the audience to be silent reminds us of the last stanza of the Prologue to Orfeo, in which La Musica calls on all nature (and by techniques similar to modern-day NLP, the audience too) to be still and silent.  Read more about how La Musica hypnotises the heroes… 

And the instruments, so that they are not seen, should be played from behind the backcloth of the scene, and by people who go along with the singer, without diminutions [ornamentation] and full [sound]. And to throw some light on those that have been useful in similar places, a lirone, a harpsichord, a chitarrone or theorbo as it is called, together make a really good effect: like also a soft organ with a chitarrone.

Cavalieri seems to seek the illusion that characters on-stage are just speaking, by hiding the instruments. In this period, the continuo ‘supports’ singers, ‘guiding’ the whole ensemble [Agazzari 1608, further discussion here], rather than ‘accompanying’ or ‘following’ in the modern sense [more about Monteverdi, Caccini & Jazz here]. Continuo-players should not add diminutions, but should play with full sound (to ‘support’ as Agazzari requires]. Many period sources ask the continuo to play grave.

Monteverdi also specifies organo di legno and theorbo in several places in Orfeo.

And Signor Cavaliere would praise changing instruments according to the passion of the actor; and he judges that similar music-dramas would not be good if they exceeded two hours, and should be divided up into Acts, and the characters should be dressed beautifully and with variety.

Changes of continuo instruments in Orfeo are according to the changing affetti: it’s not as simple as putting a certain instrument with each character (a solution sometimes favoured today).

Passing from one passion to another contrary, like from sad to jolly, from fierce to mild etc is enormously moving.

Cavalieri requires changes of emotion, and specific emotions – not just dollops of undifferentiated emotionality. And the importance of all kinds of contrast is beginning to emerge as a central principle.

When a soloist has sung for a bit, it’s good to sing some choruses, and to vary often the mode [tonality]; and that now the soprano sings, now bass, now contralto, now tenor: and that the rhythms and music should not be similar, but varied with many proportions [metres], which are Tripla , Sestupla [fast triple metre] and Binario [duple metre], and adorned with echos, and as many features [‘inventions’] as possible, like in particular [dances in varied metres], which bring these shows to life as much as possible, just as has been, in fact, the judgement of all the spectators;. and these Balli or Morescas if they can be made to appear out of the ordinary standard practice, they will have more beauty and novelty: like for example, the Moresca for a battle, and the Ballo based on a game or pastime: just like in  La Pastorale di Fileno [The Pastoral of Fileno] three Satyrs came to battle, and based on this they did the battle singing and dancing on the Moresca ground. And in the game of La Cieca  [Blind Man’s Buff] four Nymphs sang and danced, whilst they played around a blindfolded Amarilli, obeying the rules of the game of La Cieca.

Cavalieri calls for plenty of variety, contrast and novelty. He mentions Tripla and Sestupla, but not the slow triple-metre proportion of Sesquialtera [though all three triple-metres appear in Monteverdi’s Orfeo]. Given the strong correlation between the Preface and the music that follows, we would expect to find Tripla and Sestupla but not Sesquialtera when we realise Cavalieri’s notation of the proportional changes. My theory of proportions is supported by Cavalieri, some other modern-day theories are not. Read more about Monteverdi’s Time, here.

That’s certainly not to say that one shouldn’t do at the end with good reason a formal Ballo: but be well advised that the Ballo needs to be sung by the same [performers] who dance it, and with good reason to have instruments in their hands, which they themselves also play, for like this it will be more perfect and out of the ordinary, like that one which was put on by Signor Emilio in the great Comedy acted at the time of the wedding of the Most Serene Duchess of Tuscany in 1588.

The reference here is to Cavalieri’s spectacular success with the Ballo del Gran Duca, the finale to the Florentine Intermedi of 1589 [modern calendar]. There is more about performers simultaneously singing, dancing and playing below. The fact that singers simultaneously dance has implications for choice of dance steps and for proportions – leaping steps are impracticable for singers. See also this discussion of Cavalieri’s ideas applied to the Ballo in Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

When the composition is divided into three Acts, which according to experience gained should be sufficient, one would be able to add four fully-staged Intermedi, distributed so that the first would be before the Prologue, and each of the others at the end of its Act, observing this rule, that within the scene one makes small-scale music and a harmonious sinfonia of instruments, to the sound of which should be coordinated the movements of the Intermedio, having regard that there is no need for [sung or spoken] acting, as there would not be for example in showing the Giants who wanted to make war on Jupiter, or something similar.

Cavalieri’s term is intermedij apparenti – these include ‘sets and costumes, as well as recognisable narrative fragments, usually adapted from mythology; these are associated with the most spectacular of court entertainments… In contrast, intermedi non apparenti were far simpler, often consisting merely of a madrigal and performed without [changes of] costumes or sets.’  [Emily Wilbourne Seventeenth-Century Opera and the Sound of the Commedia dell’ Arte (University of Chicago, 2016, page 37)

The impression of seamless continuity given by the printed scores of Anima & Corpo and Orfeo is probably misleading: Cavalieri is recommending inserting Intermedi into this kind of three-act music-drama. But – an important point – since the drama itself is sung, the intermedi should avoid singing, whereas in a spoken drama such as La Pellegrina (Florence 1589), sung intermedi provide contrast as well as spectacle. Within Anima & Corpo itself, there are episodes (e.g. the entrance of Piacere and the Companions) that come close to being intermedi non apparenti. Indeed, the dramatic structure of the whole work, as a series of entrances, linked by the characters of Soul and Body whose story we follow [Intellect and Consiglio also make repeat appearances]

And in each [Intermedio] one could make that change of scenery appropriate to the theme of the Intermedio: which, it should be advised,  would not be able to include descending from clouds [stage machines], which could not synchronise the movement with the tempo of the Sinfonia, which would happen beautifully when there are Moresca or other dance-steps.

In the Preface to La Dafne (1608), Gagliano advises singers to walk in time to the music of their Ritornelli. But nevertheless, this comment of Cavalieri’s is puzzling: when can a descending cloud be appropriate, since there will always be the difficulty of synchronising its movement to the accompanying music?

The libretto should not exceed 700 lines, and to be suitable it should be easy, and full of short lines, not just of 7 syllables, but of 5 and 8, and sometimes in sdruccioli [accent on the ante-penultimate syllable] and with close rhymes, through the beauty of the music it makes a graceful effect:

Cavalieri is arguing for relatively simple poetry – the music will supply whatever gracefulness that might be lacking. High-style poetry would be in 11 and 7 syllable lines, and close rhymes would be avoided. Again, Cavalieri’s preference is for entertaining variety.

And in the dialogues statements and replies should not be very long; and the narratives of one solo [character] should be as brief as possible. And there is no doubt that the variety of characters enriches the scene with great beauty; as is seen well observed in the Pastorals of Satiro and of  La Disperatione di Fileno, which, conforming with the intentions of Signor Emilio, the most noble Signora Laura Guidiccioni, of the Luchesini, noble lady of Lucca was happy to write; she also took the game of La Cieca from Signor Cavalier Guarini’s Pastor Fido, adapting that noble spirit very beautifully for her own purpose.

Once again, Cavalieri argues for contrast and variety.

 

ADVICE FOR THIS PARTICULAR SHOW, FOR ANYONE WANTING TO HAVE IT ACTED IN SONG

Placed at the end [of the published book] are the words without music, and with numbers corresponding to those that are in the music, in order to make it easy to check the music, and from those numbers can be recognised the different scenes and the characters who speak alone and together. At the beginning, before the curtain falls, it will be good to do some full music with doubled voices and a great quantity of instruments: one could very well use the madrigal number 86, with the text O Signor santo & vero: which is in 6 parts.

Cavalieri’s earlier recommendation suggests that there would also be an Intermedio at the very beginning, presumably before this ‘full music’ that begins the music-drama proper. 

As the curtain falls, the two youths who have to act the Prologue will be onstage: and after delivering their material, Tempo [Time] will appear, and the instruments who have to accompany the singers, putting the first chord will wait for him to make a start.

The continuo repeat the first chord until Tempo is ready to start. Monteverdi’s Ulisse  has a similar introduction to a scene, and Il Corago also recommends the continuo to repeat the harmony if extra time is needed for stage action. This (I argue) is what is meant by the idea of accompanists going with the singer – they ‘vamp till ready’ when stage action requires it, but they do not ‘follow’ in the sense of breaking time, even if the singer chooses (temporarily) not to be on the beat. Monteverdi frequently notates the vocal line anticipating or delaying, over a continuo-bass that maintains Tactus, in the Preface to Le Nuove Musiche (1601) Caccini  describes what seems to be the same practice, see here. Both practices (free vocal line over timed bass, and ‘vamp till ready’ maintaining steady rhythm) are standard practice in today’s jazz, whereas mainstream ‘classical’ music expects accompanists to follow singers by breaking time, in the tradition of circa 1910 rubato.

The Chorus should be onstage, some seated, some standing, getting to hear what is presented, and amongst them sometimes changing places and making movements; and when they have to sing, they stand up in order to make their gestures, and then they return to their places:

As any stage director knows, characters on-stage, even Chorus-members, must be active listeners to the drama. Period art gives an idea of gestures of reacting and listening.

And the music for the Chorus being in four parts, one can, if wanted, double them, singing now four, and another time [all] together, assuming the stage is large enough for eight.

This is consistent with our modern understanding that the default expectation in this period was one singer per part. Monteverdi’s Orfeo was first performed with about 8 singers taking all solo roles and singing the choruses.

It will be good if Piacere [Pleasure] with the two Compagni [Companions] have instruments in their hands, playing whilst they sing, and playing their ritornelli. One could have a chitarrone, the other a Spanish guitar, and the other a little tambourine with jingles in the Spanish style which make little noise, exiting then whilst they play the last ritornello.

The scene of Pleasure & Companions is musically charming, with lively alternations of Binario, Tripla and Sestupla from the trio, contrasted with comments from the Body and Soul in what we today call ‘Recitative’. Cavalieri’s recipe for simultaneous playing and singing brings the instruments on-stage, visible to the audience (remember that the continuo-group is hidden behind the back-cloth), and gives the scene the flavour of an intermedio within the second Act.

When Corpo [Body] says the words Si che hormai Alma mia and what follows, he could remove such vain ornament, like a gold necklace or a hairpin, or something else.

This crucial moment marks the denouement of Act I, the Body’s decision, after much questioning and introspection, to follow the lead of the Soul rather than seek for earthly gratification. As composer, Cavalieri draws attention to these words with a sudden change of pace and harmony; as corago he suggests an action that goes beyond the usual hand-gestures, to make a symbolic rejection of earthly vanity. Underlying this small item of advice are two profound concepts of seicento music-drama, which differ sharply from the approach of modern-day Regieoper [in which the stage director seizes the freedom to create whatever he wishes]: music and stage-action work in parallel to tell the same story; both music and action are based on the text of the libretto. These concepts are stated explicitly in the Preface to Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi & Clorinda here page 19, and also in the anonymous Il Corago MS, modern edition hereIl Corago explains that a corago [artistic director] has universal authority in the theatre, but must serve the poet’s text. Choice of text is therefore an important consideration for both Cavalieri [who was himself a corago] and for the anonymous c1630 writer. 

Mondo [World] and Vita Mondana [Wordly Life] in particular should be very richly costumed: and when they are divested, they should show that great poverty and ugliness underneath those costumes: this shows the body of death.

At the moments where each of these characters is divested, the score does not provide any extra time for the necessary stage action. These are examples of where the continuo would ‘vamp till ready’, either on a single harmony, or on a chord sequence, as recommended by Il Corago. Notice that the extra time is ‘quantised’ – the continuo will remain in Tactus.

The Sinfonias and Ritornelli can be done with a great quantity of instruments: and a violin, which plays the soprano part precisely, will make a very good effect.

This advice seems to look back to the kind of varied consorts heard in the 1589 Florentine Intermedi, and reminds us that polyphonic ensemble music might be performed with diverse consorts of chordal and melody instruments, as well as with the more homogenous ensembles of melodic instruments that we know from Monteverdi’s 1607 Orfeo.

The ending can be done in two ways, with a Ballo or without: if you don’t want to do a Ballo, it should finish in eight parts with the line which is number 91, doubling the voices and instruments as much as possible: the verse goes Rispondono nel ciel scettri e corone. If you want to finish with the Ballo, you should leave this verse unsaid, and starting to sing Chiostri altissimi e stellati the Ballo starts with a reverence and continenza [dance step]: and then follow other passi gravi [steps, as opposed to jumps], with heys [the dancers weave around each other] and solemn steps for all the couples: in the ritornelli it’s done by four who dance exquisitely a jumping dance with capers and without singing: and like this it follows in all the stanzas with the dance always varying, one time galliard, another time canario, and another corrente, which in the ritornelli will come across very well. And if the stage is not large enough for four to dance, at least two should dance: and get this ballo choreographed by the best maestro that can be found.

The stanzas of the ballo should be sung tutti, on- and off-stage: and all possible instruments should be put into the ritornelli.

All this detailed advice throws light also on the ballo in Monteverdi’s Orfeo – Lasciate i monti – see here for further discussion.

 

PARTICULAR ADVICE FOR THOSE WHO WILL SING WHILST ACTING, AND FOR THOSE WHO WILL PLAY

In the vocal parts will be found sometimes written in front of some notes one of the four letters g m t z  which mean that which is shown in the example below.

Like this, for whomever is singing, as for whomever plays, it will be warned never to alter flats to sharps or sharps to flats except where the particular signs are placed: and similarly this should be understood for the notes that are raised with the sharp sign #, that only those specifically marked with # should be raised, even if the note is repeated.

The use of barlines was quite different in this period, our modern convention that accidentals apply within the same bar does not apply. This should be kept in mind, if working with a modern edition that imposes barlines.

The small figures placed above the notes of the instrumental Basso Continuo signify the consonances and dissonances according to the figuring: like 3 third, 4 fourth, and so on. When the sharp # is placed before or below a figure, that consonance will be raised: and in this way the flat b makes its own effect. When the sharp is placed above the notes [of the Basso Continuo] without any figure, it always means a major tenth.

Some dissonances and parallel fifths are made deliberately.

Some dissonances that are resolved ‘incorrectly’ are disguised in notation (but not in sound). Such transgressions of the rules of counterpoint are frequent in the ‘first operas’ – this is the ‘artistic licence’ that Peri requests, in his Preface to Euridice (also 1600) see here. Contrary to modern assumptions, there is no implication of rhythmic freedom.

The sign .S.  means coronata [the ‘crowned’ symbol, looking like a modern fermata sign], which is used to take breath and give a bit of time to make some gesture.

As in polyphonic music of this period, time for breathing (and gesture) is taken out of the last note of the phrase, maintaining the Tactus and starting the next phrase on time. The ‘fermata’ sign derives from the renaissance signum congruentiae, showing a consonance at the end of a phrase. In this period, the sign carries no implication of prolonging the note or breaking time: on the contrary, the assumption is that the note marked by this sign will be shortened, by default to approximately half-length.

FURTHER READING

Peri Preface to Euridice (1600) here

Caccini Preface to Le Nuove Musiche (1601) here

Agazzari Del sonare sopra’l basso (1607) here

Monteverdi Orfeo (1607) here.

Gagliano Preface to La Dafne (1608)

Anonymous Il Corago (c1630) here

How to Act in Early Opera & Shakespeare here

The title of this article cites the libretto, the end of the first speech of Time: ‘opri con la man’, opri co’l core’. The meaning of the Italian is ‘act with the hand, act with the heart’, but in the sense of ‘do good works’ – operare is cognate with ‘operate’. But since period acting links passions to gestures of the hand, it is not inappropriate to read into this line a reference (whether or not intended by the librettist) to historical stage-craft.

 

E VIVETE LIETI!

 

 

Ut pictura: reverse-engineering Baroque gesture

Boulougne cathedral

 

Following on from previous posts on Historical Action – Start Here, How to Act and Baroque Gesture  – this article offers a new approach to period acting that is utterly historical, but significantly different from the coaching methods usually applied today. 

 

The oft-repeated dictum ut pictura musica (music is like a painting) is often recognised in the 16th- and 17th-century practice of madrigalism or ‘word-painting’, in which the composer carefully matches musical effects to elements of visual detail described in the text. But this is only one manifestation of the renaissance concept of Enargeia, the emotional power of detailed visual description. And in turn, this connects to the historical science of emotions, with the idea that imagined Visions in the mind send Energia,the  Spirit of Passion down into the body, altering the balance of the Four Humours and producing the physiological changes of emotional response.

 

In vocal music, the emotional content of the text – affetto – is matched by an effective turn of phrase or an ornamental ‘special effect’ – effetto – which in turn can move the listeners’ emotions – muovere gli affetti. Similarly, visual detail in the text – enargeia – allows composer and performer to ‘paint the words’ in music. The audience receive this vision via many channels – the sung text, the composed music, vocal timbre, the performer’s gestures and Action, even by direct beams of energia flashing from the performer’s eyes – and the energia of their own minds converts the poet’s enargeia into a physically evident emotional response. The two pairs of words, affetto and effettoenargeia and energia, are closely inter-related.

The listener’s visual perception is crucial to this period understanding of emotional communication. So poets call for attention with such words as “Behold!” or “See!”, and performers employ gestures to emphasise visual details in the text. Those gestures have intrinsic beauty, variety and drama of their own, with contrasts of height and direction, all carefully coordinated with facial expressions and the focus of the performer’s gaze.

There is a historical notation for all this complexity of gesture, and a good way to study is to learn that notation in order to perform surviving examples of gestured texts. In The Art of Gesture(1987), Dene Barnett explains the notation and reproduces some early 19th-century examples, recommending this course of study. A four-letter code specifies the action of the right hand: phfd indicates prone horizontal forward descending; seqn means supine elevated oblique noting. Two groups of three letters describe both hands: phq—pdb has the right hand prone horizontal oblique with the left hand prone downwards backwards. There are additional markings for the attitude of the head, the direction of the gaze, the position and movements of the feet.

Use of notation also allows modern-day performers and directors to fix a particular realisation of gesture. Following Barnett’s lead, many directors, especially those with a background in baroque dance, have taken the approach of fixing the gestures, and coaching performers to reproduce a carefully constructed realisation.

This approach has certain advantages. Gestures can be closely modelled on period sources and can be drilled repeatedly in rehearsal. Repetition and certainty help performers feel confident. Performers of lesser ability are given clear guidance to follow.

Fixing the gestures also has disadvantages. It can lead to a false concentration on the movement of the gesture itself, on the sign, rather than on the underlying meaning, what is being signified. It can disconnect gesture from text and meaning. Performers have less sense of ‘ownership’ of their gestures. The spontaneity that we prize in historically informed musical improvisation is entirely absent. Audience members intuit that such gestures are produced not by passion but by well-intended instruction. At worst, this becomes a ‘ballet of the hands’, beautiful to watch, historically accurate in superficial appearance but in a more profound sense, inauthentic and emotionally unconvincing.

These disadvantages have been observed and commented on, even in some of today’s finest productions ‘with baroque gesture’. They represent the most serious criticism of the entire practice of historical action, and the challenge to which Historically Informed Performers must now rise. This article offers an evidence-based solution: the ut pictura approach.

 

Gray's Elegy

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Thomas Gray’s famous (1751) poem was re-printed as one of the examples of notated gesture in Gilbert Austin’s (1806) Chironomia. Austin fixes every minute detail of his gestures to correspond to the Enargeia (detailed visual description) of Gray’s pastoral scene. There is a wealth of variation: different vertical levels, different horizontal angles, different directions and speed of hand-movements.
 
To attempt to follow Austin’s annotated text  is to become, inevitably, a clumsily articulated automaton, a mechanized monster of crippling self-consciousness.
[Brian Dillon (2007) in Cabinet Magazine here] This would-be historical performer cannot possibly be convincing:
 
Such an orator, like the hysteric, is the anxious object of an abstracting gaze, made to perform his every natural affect and impulse according to a predetermined plot.
But there is a solution, a short-cut to elegantly varied and highly specific gestures, a way to cut the Gordian knot of fixed, notated action. The purpose of Austin’s gestures is to bring to life the scene described, as if it were right in front of your eyes. This is the fundamental principle of Enargeia, to move the audience’s emotions by facilitating their visual imagination, facilitating the listeners’ Vision of the words being spoken or sung.
 
My ut pictura approach invites performers to concentrate not on the precise positioning and movement of their hands, but on the precise positioning and movement of what is being described. Performers create a detailed Vision, a picture in their own imagination, a picture specified by every word in the performed text. Once the picture has been established, the appropriate gestures simply point out the various objects, locations and movements in that picture. Instead of worrying about our hands, we use the text to create a picture; from there, we can reverse-engineer the gestures that will bring that picture to life for spectators.
 

Ut pictura: make a picture

and point out (to the audience)

what you see (in your mind’s eye).

 

The work of rehearsal is then changed. Rather than fixing each gesture, directors will lead a discussion with performers in order to fix the location/movement of each object in the imaginary picture. Of course, the picture needs to be consistent from one performer to another, and throughout the duration of the performance. It should also be consistent with baroque principles, e.g. Good Things are to the performer’s right, Bad Things are to the left. Period paintings can feed the imagination and inform the judgement.

 

The question I ask most frequently in gesture rehearsals is “Where?”

 

So in rehearsal with La Musica for the beginning of the Prologue to Monteverdi’s Orfeo: Del mio Permesso amato, a voi ne vengo [From my beloved Permesso, I come to you…], I would ask: “Where is Permesso?” (presumably behind the scene, as the performer walks forwards towards the audience, on the right since it is Good, and moving from high to low, since it is a river flowing from Mount Helicon into the Copaic lake). “Where are voi, the people the performer moves towards and addresses?” (presumably, the audience, directly in front, perhaps angled slightly to the right, to show respect for Good). Monteverdi sets mio as a long note, giving time for a gesture to oneself.

 

This is how to refer to oneself

This is how to refer to oneself

153 Refer to self - Bond

 

The more vivid your imagined picture is, the easier it is to point appropriately, and the more convincing your gestures will be. Once a detailed Vision is established in the performer’s imagination, coordination of gesture and eye movement/focus becomes automatic. You may find you need to take a half-step back, to take in a wider panorama, or half-step forwards to focus on some foreground detail: go ahead. But don’t shift your feet too much or too often – save it for key moments.

 

EXAMPLE:

BAROQUE GESTURE & UT PICTURA

Here is a worked example of the Ut Pictura method, applied to a well-known Elizabethan poem, a rhetorical discussion of poetry and music. In The Passionate Pilgrim (1840) the verses were attributed to Shakespeare, but are now known to be by his contemporary, Richard Barnfield. For teaching purposes, I have taken the liberty of substituting Shakespeare’s name for Spencer’s in line 7. Lutenist, singer and composer John Dowland is referred to in line 5. 

 

If Music and sweet Poetry agree,

 

We can envisage Music as an English equivalent of Monteverdi’s La Musica, the personification of music. A beautiful women, holding a lyre, standing in classical pose. Similarly, Poetry is a personification, a handsome young man. Following the baroque convention of starting with the right hand, we might place our Music-woman to the right of our picture, and our Poetry-man to the left. As the opposing subjects of the rhetorical discussion to follow, these two should be placed opposite each other, separated, rather than together in the centre.

 

Music and Sweet Poetry 1

 

The imaginary picture-frame keeps our gesturing hands within natural and historical limits, more or less between waist and shoulders.

 

As they must needs, the Sister and the Brother,

Sister and Brother confirm the genders of the two personifications, and also their relative locations. Conventionally, the woman is accorded the respect of being placed to the right, as Good. These two gestures will (logically) repeat the precise direction and distance, since they refer to the same figures in the same positions as before.

Then must the love be great ’twixt thee and me,

Great invites the conventional gesture to show immensity. To help performers remember this gesture, I often make the joke that it’s the gesture of a fisherman describing the one that got away: it was this big!

 

Immensitatem aperit

Thee, the person addressed, represents the audience, straight ahead, and further away than Ms Music and Mr PoetryMe invites the usual gesture to self. The speaker and the person addressed are opposite one another, but on the forward/back axis, corresponding to Poetry and Music as opposites on the left/right axis.

Music and Sweet Poetry 2

 

Because thou lov’st the one and I the other.

Thou is the listener again, ahead and distant; the one is Music, right. encourages the speaker to gesture to self; the other is Poetry, left.

The locations of the personages are obvious and fixed. But a performer can choose, spontaneously, how to deploy the hands to point them out. For example, Thou and Music with the right hand, and Poetry with the left, makes elegant movements and leaves the hands attractively outspread. Leading the right hand is a good general rule.

Dowland to thee is dear,

Dowland appears here as the champion of Music, so on the right side, but not as far right as Music herself, in order to give the woman the honoured position to the right of the man. As a lute-player, he is seated, whereas Music and Poetry are standing. Thee is the addressee, in the audience, forward and further away.

whose heavenly touch
Upon the lute doth ravish human sense;

The touch is Dowland’s fingers on the Lute, which presumably is on his lap.

 

Music and Sweet Poetry 3

Shakespeare to me,

As the champion of poetry, Shakespeare should be placed to the left, in the corresponding position to Dowland’s on the right. I imagine him holding a manuscript script and a quill-pen. There might be sufficient time for a self-referring gesture for me, but the intention could also be clarified by a smaller movement of the hand, and/or a change of gaze.

 

Music and Sweet Poetry 4

 

It’s important to keep it clear for the audience that the following lines refer to Shakespeare and not to me, so if the point of the lines is to characterise Shakespeare, the pointing hand should be directed towards Shakespeare too. In both meanings of the word, directing the audience’s attention is the point of baroque gesture.

whose deep conceit is such,
As passing all conceit, needs no defence.

 

[The Elizabethan word conceit does not mean pride, but rather ‘artistic concept’.] 

These lines at first appear very abstract, a rhetorical flourish that does not suggest any specific gesture. Certainly, one could employ the Default Gesture (see How to Act here), and allow one’s mindful concentration on the words being spoken shape that gesture appropriately. However, there are three metaphors here that contain visual description, elements that could be assembled in a temporary picture. Shakespeare’s ideas are deep, they go past all other ideas, and they do not need any defence. This suggests a temporary picture, an inset within the larger picture of the whole poem, in which something goes deep, moves to pass other similar things, followed by an mental image of defence. Hand-to-hand fighting, 17th-century rapier, or an Elizabethan castle perhaps. What is your historical image for the word defence?

 

It is the mind that creates a picture here. The hands might point to elements of the picture, to the deep place, or to whatever defending is going on. But the hands do not mimic those elements – this is a subtle but essential distinction that many historical sources emphasise. And we need not be daunted by the abstract nature of conceit (in its period sense of ‘idea’, ‘concept’). It is typical of the 17th-century mode of thought to characterise abstract qualities as personifications. Just as we have beautiful La Musica, so we can have clever Master Conceit.

 

Also, note that although the clause concerning defence is negative, the gesture nevertheless corresponds to defence rather than to the absence of it. Try for yourself what gesture you make when you say “I don’t have my phone“: do you make a sign for a phone, or for an empty space?

 

Thou lov’st to hear the sweet melodious sound

 

Thou is the addressee once again. Sweet melodious sound might seem difficult to imagine visually, until we remember that 17th-century science considered sound as travelling invisibly through that mysterious invisible substance, the Aether. So the eyes and pointing hand search for something that cannot be seen, but which travels towards the ear. If you sharpen your ears to listen for this invisible melody, you will find yourself tilting your head and turning one ear towards the origin of the sound. This is a gesture described in period sources, but (like the pointing gestures) it works better if you imagine the sound and listen for it intently, than if you focus on reproducing the mechanics of the gesture.

 

That Phoebus’ lute, the queen of music, makes;

 

Music and Sweet Poetry 5

 

Phoebus is Apollo, the god of music and of poetry. Stage conventions put the most important personage of a larger group front and centre, so this would be an appropriate placement for Phoebus. We envisage him seated – a symbol of kingly power – and holding his Lute, and perhaps turning towards Music. We might create a temporary ‘inset’ picture for the Queen – although this is just a metaphor, the poetic imagery calls forth a mental image.

 

Queen Elizabeth I

 

And I in deep delight am chiefly drowned

I suggests another self-referring gesture. The poetic imagery here characterises delight as a something like a tidal-wave that sweeps over the speaker. Again, one should not mimic, but rather point to what is described. Eye-, head- and body-movement might be more effective than a hand-gesture, but in any case the speaker’s focus should not be on the execution of such movements, but rather on the imagery of the words being spoken.

Whenas himself to singing he betakes:

The key word here is Singing. Phoebus-Apollo is the god of music (represented by the lute) and of poetry (represented by singing). So we should now imagine Apollo as a singer, perhaps now turned towards the left, towards the personification of Poetry. One might even imagine Apollo putting down his lute, and standing up to sing- this would add movement to the picture and increase the power of the resulting gesture.

 

eyes - mourinho 2

 

As often in a Sonnet, the final couplet reveals the underlying meaning, sums up the message, the conceit of the whole poem, and sends that message winging towards its recipient. 

One god is god of both, as poets feign,

The number one can be shown with the vertically extended index finger (the same gesture also calls for Attention for these last two lines). Apollo is the god (front and centre) of both (simultaneously indicating Music far right and Poetry far left). As poets feign politely concedes lesser strength on the pro-poetry speaker’s own team, and disperses the attention to a wider audience (perhaps behind the addressee and to the left, as less important) of Poets.

 

Music and Sweet Poetry 6

One knight loves both, and both in thee remain.

 

The one knight is the speaker himself: there could be another counting gesture, or a referral to self. There is probably insufficient time to make both those gestures without unseemly haste, but the missing meaning can be conveyed by the eyes. Again, the performer’s focus should not be on “how do I show this meaning?” but on “what is the meaning I’m trying to show?”. So have some fun, imagine yourself as the one-and-only Elizabethan knight, complete with shining armour. 

 

Elizabethan Armour

 

Both refers again to Music and Poetry simultaneously (right and left, respectively). Thee is the addressee, and this final clause underlines the point made earlier  – ‘then must the love be great ‘twixt thee and me’. The one knight loves the music and poetry which are to be found within the soul of his beloved. This is consistent with the period philosophy of the Music of the Spheres, which sees heavenly music reflected in the microcosm of the harmony of human nature.

The final line invites the orator to conclude with eyes and hands directed towards the beloved addressee, and to remain there. Then as the vision dissolves and fades, leaving ‘not a rack behind’, the hands fall relaxed to the sides.

 

Conclusion

All this work of detailed positioning would be done by any competent director of baroque gesture, placing the hands at the appropriate angle and elevation to indicate each of the persons or objects referred to in the text. The crucial difference in my Ut Pictura approach is that the work is carried out not on the gestures, not on the hands themselves, but rather on the imagined picture of the scene. In period theory of emotions, it is the audience’s visions that produce an emotional response. Those visions are conjured up by the actor’s words and gestures: gestures create visions. The ‘reverse engineering’ of my title and method is to use the actor’s own visions to produce the gestures that will move the audience’s passions: visions create gesture.

 

I encourage actors to consider not “where do I put my hand?” but “where is Apollo?”. And this question is particularly effective as a rehearsal tool, because when as gesture coach I ask, “Where is Dowland?”, the actor will usually reply with a pointing gesture to accompany the word “There!”. That pointing gesture will be perfectly positioned, as long as Dowland is precisely located in the imagined picture. 

 

Of course, the pointing has to be done with a well-shaped hand, the orator has to assume a historical posture. Plenty of rehearsal will be needed, to bring the imagined picture into sharp focus, and to time detailed envisioning to coincide with mindful attention on the word being spoken right now. Coaching must discreetly improve the historicity of the gestures, whilst ensuring that performers’ attention remain on the picture, not on their hands. But this method allows actors to ‘own’ their gestures, and to vary them spontaneously, or at the very least to choose spontaneously between several (well-rehearsed) options. And concentration on the picture will ensure that the gesture, be it thoroughly historical or work-in-progress, will strike the spectator as being honest and genuine – authentic. 

Ideally, audience members will not even notice the gesture as such. Their attention too will be directed away from the hand itself, and towards wherever the hand is pointing. That‘s the point!

 

Point - Wenger

 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our websites:

www.TheHarpConsort.com  [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music]

http://www.IlCorago.com   [the production company & Historical Action]

http://www.TheFlow.Zone  [Flow for optimal creativity, The Zone for elite performance]

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2011 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. He is now preparing a translation of Bonifacio’s (1616) Art of Gesture and a book on The Theatre of Dreams: The Science of Historical Action.

 

 

The Power of Tactus: A hands-on approach

Hand of God supernova

 

Tactus is the slow, steady beat that guides Early Music, shown by a down-up movement of the hand, approximately one second each way. In previous posts, I’ve introduced the concept Rhythm – what really counts?, explored the philosophical background Quality Time: how does it feel?and summarised the implications for Historically Informed Performance Tempus Putationis: getting back to Monteverdi’s Time

 

In this article the focus is on the Tactus Hand itself, on the practicalities of embodying a mystic concept that links everyday music-making with the divine power of the cosmos. And we should not underestimate that power, since, for renaissance and baroque musicians, the Tactus Hand was the Hand of God made visible in microcosm.

 

Hand as cosmos

 

Tactus in the 1980s

 

Since the 1980s, as co-director of ensemble Tragicomedia and in my own teaching and directing, I have frequently used a simple arm-waving exercise to give participants a practical experience of Tactus. I emphasise the significance of a two-way motion with a sense of ‘swing’, as opposed to the hammering effect of a one-way beat. I recommend using the entire arm, a long pendulum for a slow swing. And already in those days, I noticed that this kind of Tactus work brought to the group a special atmosphere of calm and concentration. After just a minute or so of beating Tactus, the room seems quieter, each of us  more aware of small sounds and as a group, better able to find a united sense of rhythm and timing.

 

In my own playing, I notice that keeping my mind on the Tactus allows me to stay calm, even in demanding fast passage-work. No matter how fast my fingers need to move, my inner focus is on that slow swing: even the fast bits still feel slow and steady. Working with singers, I encourage them to feel the embodied power of the Tactus, to realise that they could hold the entire ensemble in their own hands, and to feel (like a physical weight) the responsibility that this entails.  The Tactus-movement can’t be a trivial flip of the wrist, it needs the gravity of a long, weighty pendulum.

 

Foucault pendulum 1851

 

George Houle’s most useful survey of Metre in Music: 1600-1800 was published in 1987, though I didn’t come across it until many years later. Houle wondered what a tactus-directed ensemble would sound like: my work ever since has been devoted to answering that question.

 

Since the 1990s, with my own ensemble, The Harp Consort, we continue to apply Tactus to many different repertoires, to Spanish dances in Luz y Norte, to German high baroque in Italian Concerto, to the medieval Ludus Danielis and the first South American opera, La púpura de la rosa, to folk-music from Guernsey, Les Travailleurs de la Mer, to Purcell’s theatrical and chamber music in Musick’s Hand-Maid, to medieval popular songs Les Miracles de Notre Dame and Latin-American religious music, Missa Mexicana. In these and many other projects, Tactus is the organising principle that unites the whole ensemble in music, dance and improvisation.

Tactus in the 2010s

 

In this current decade, with my renewed focus on early opera, Tactus has been a key concept in the award-winning Text, Rhythm, Action! program of international research, experiment, training and performance. I’ve re-opened the investigation of Tactus in the context of the Historical Science of Time itself, and applied the latest research findings to my work on Baroque Gesture and Historical Action. Fascinating connections have emerged: the 18th-century love of fermata and cadenza seems to match the contemporaneous fashion for striking Attitudes on the theatrical stage.

 

(c) The Holburne Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

David Garrick as Richard III in 1759

 

Some findings would seem glaringly obvious, but have previously escaped attention. Monteverdi, Shakespeare and their contemporaries circa 1600 did not share our present-day intuitive understanding of Absolute Time: that idea was introduced in Newton’s Principia (1687). The seicento concept of Time was Aristotelian, depending on movement to define ‘before’ and ‘after’. In music, that movement is embodied in the Tactus Hand.

 

 

What is Time

 

Gradually, I’ve been able to reach a more refined understanding of Tactus as Time, Tactus as Movement, with the goal of applying all that pre-Newtonian philosophy to down-to-earth practicalities. How do we move our hands to create Tactus, and what does it mean?

 

For Italian music around the year 1600, the Tactus hand is indeed like a pendulum, swinging for about one second each way (i.e. two seconds for the complete there-and-back-again). The complete (reciprocal) movement corresponds to a semibreve, so each individual (one-way) beat corresponds to a minim, at approximately minim = 60. Of course, in Monteverdi’s day, although there were clocks that ticked approximate seconds accurate to about 15 minutes per day, clocks were not capable of defining those seconds accurately. So Tactus Time is only as accurate as you can humanly make it.

 

The precise Quantity of Time therefore can’t be defined: rather Tactus relies on each musician to remember how it feels, to recall the Quality of Time.  So try these tests: can you remember the sound of a ticking clock? How fast does it tick (according to your memory)? Can you recall the speed of some particular piece of music that you’ve often performed with the same team? How accurately can you estimate a one-second pulse? If you hear a church clock strike noon, how good is your estimate of 1215?

 

Of course, nowadays, you can check your estimates against Absolute Time (well, at least against a digital stopwatch!). But the point of these experiments is to get used to the idea that

 

You are trying to feel the right Time

 

This is very different from the modern musical practice of performers choosing their own time. Seicento tempo is not a matter of personal choice!. You would not get much sympathy if you turned up late for rehearsal, saying “Although most people take it faster, in my interpretation, it is not yet 10 o’clock.” Toby Belch, in Shakespeare’s As you like it (1603) makes a similar connection between good time-keeping in everyday life (‘to go to bed betimes’) and keeping time in music. In reply to Malvolio’s accusation that he shows no respect of time, he retorts that ‘we did keep time, sir, in our catches’ (witty part-songs).

 

Keep Time

 

Your estimate of time will naturally be influenced by your surroundings and your own state of mind: if you are in a hectic mood, you might err on the fast side; if you are feeling particularly relaxed, you might err on the slow side. If you play a piece of music in a generous acoustic, you might play it slower; in a dry acoustic, you might play it faster to get the same feeling.

 

The precise Quantity cannot be defined – you are trying to find the right Quality

 

Fixing Tactus at the order of magnitude of one second (for C time in Italian seicento: in other repertoires, there are significant pulse-rates somewhat faster at approx 80 beats per minute or somewhat slower at around 45 bpm) does not imply a ‘metronomic’ performance. There is room inside that slow, steady minim beat for the subtle difference between Good and Bad syllables (in crotchets) or the dance-like swing of French inegalite (in quavers). There are also symmetries on longer time-scales, and good musicians will be sensitive to these too. Nevertheless, Tactus provides a particular time-scale, a calibration that synchronises musical notation with real-world time, with physical movement, and with the human body. That time-scale is approximately one second, corresponding to a pendulum-length of approximately one metre, which is approximately the length of an outstretched arm (measured to the centre of the body).

 

Narrowing down the historical sense of musical time to an order of magnitude might not seem like much progress towards the question of “what is the historical tempo for Monteverdi’s Orfeo?”. But even this very approximate measure can help unify an ensemble, by ensuring that everyone is feeling the same beat (as opposed to some counting in crotchets, others counting in minims). There has been some discussion along the lines that if a slow Tactus beat is good, then feeling a super-slow pulse (say 30, or even just 15 beats per minute) might be even better. But whilst there is evidence for very slow pulse in some medieval music, around the year 1600 ensemble unity was definitely organised on the Tactus time-scale at around 60 bpm.

 

Establishing an approximate calibration of real-world time to the speed of a minim in common time is also a vital first step towards understanding seicento Proportions. Whether or not a certain interpretation of the relationship between common and triple time is plausible, depends crucially on the starting tempo in common time. Somewhat illogically, current debate on Proportions recognises that historical notation was intended to fix the speed of triple metres (even if we do not yet have a consensus agreement about how to understand that notation), but resists the idea that the speed of common time was also fixed (as precisely as humanly possible). But Roger Mathew Grant’s Beating Time and Measuring Music shows how the entire system of Proportional notation depends crucially on common-time Tactus. The various Proportions are linked, like cog-wheels in a 17th-century clock, and calibrated to real-world time by setting common-time Tactus at the rate of one minim = one second (as precisely as humanly possible).

 

Galileo Pendulum

 

 

The pendulum effect, discovered by Galileo in the late 16-century but not built into a clock until 1656, was used to measure musical time by means of Loulié’s chronomètre (1696) and as late as 1840, in Bunting’s transcriptions of ancient Irish harp-music. With students from the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, we tried playing to a pendulum beat at Scoil na gClairseach: the experience is nothing like playing to a metronome click. Try it for yourself, and you’ll immediately appreciate the differences.

 

The movement of a pendulum, pausing momentarily at the end of each swing, leaves musicians a certain margin for subtle choice of where to ‘place’ the beat. To use the vocabulary of jazz, you can be ‘on the front of the beat’ or ‘laid back’. In this sense, a pendulum feels more ‘human’, less ‘mechanical’. However, the pendulum does not allow those subtle choices to pile up cumulatively: it checks any general tendency to rush or drag. Meanwhile, the strong but gentle movement of a pendulum has the same mesmeric effect of inducing relaxed concentration that we notice with the Tactus hand itself.

 

Down & Up

 

Re-reading seicento treatises reminded me that the Tactus movement is always described as down-up. So when using the Tactus hand as a rehearsal exercise, or in performances of Cavalieri’s (1600) Anima e Corpo at the Theatre Natalya Sats in Moscow, we abandoned the side-to-side swing in favour of the historical, vertical movement. This creates a subtle distinction between the two directions of movement, with Down having added significance, and facilitates awareness of the complete Tactus cycle, from Down to Down.

 

From my studies of historical swordsmanship, modern Feldenkrais Method and ancient Tai Chi, I can now appreciate that the sensation of ‘soft strength’ appropriate to beating musical time can be found by connecting the Tactus Hand down through the whole body. This requires a body-posture that maintains structural integrity with minimal tension. We can see such postures in period paintings and sculptures: a good posture for Tactus is also the starting point for Baroque Gesture, and for historically informed instrumental playing.

 

My training as a Hypnotist provides an explanation for the special sense of relaxation and concentration that focus on the Tactus can evoke. Following the lead of Milton H. Erickson (the father of modern hypnotism) and of Joe Griffin (theorist of the Origin of Dreams), it is now recognised that any experience of calm concentration can induce a particular state of mind. We can call this an Altered State of Consciousness, we can call it Flow or being in the Zone, we can call it Mindfulness or Meditatation: the labels don’t really matter. This phenomenon of heightened awareness is the key to optimal performance not only in music, but also in many other creative and sporting activities.

 

The Flow Zone mashup 2015

 

Preparing for the first performance in Russia of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, we encountered many instances of slow triple-metre, notated as 3 Sesquialtera semibreves in the time of the 2 common-time minims. This can be a tricky Proportional change, but Tactus helps us manage it, especially with a vertical motion of the hand. The duration of the complete cycle from Down to Down continues unchanged: the only adjustment is that Down now lasts longer than Up.

 

Sesquialtera: Down – Up becomes Down – 2 – Up

 

In Spanish baroque music, the same adjustment happens even more frequently, whenever we find the cross-rhythm of Hemiola amongst a regular metre of Tripla. A well-known modern example is I wanna live in America: two units of Tripla, I wanna / live in A- / (Down Up) have the same duration as one unit of Hemiola me-ri-ca (Down – 2- Up).

 

One way to negotiate such shifts is to de-emphasise the Up stroke so that it simply doesn’t matter whether it is equal (Down Up) or unequal (Down – 2- Up). Instead, the focus is on preserving the equality of measure in the complete cycle, a consistent time between Down strokes. This focus on the complete Tactus-cycle, on the common-time semibreve rather than on the minim of each stroke, is mentioned in some period treatises, and works well for us in practice.

 

Divided Choirs

Towards the end of last year, working with multiple Tactus-beaters for polychoral music, I suddenly noticed a small detail of Tactus-beating that had previously escaped my attention. In the three-choir piece illustrated on the frontispiece of Praetorius’  Theatrum Instrumentorum, the Tactus Hands are shown palm outwards.

 

Praetorius Theatrum Instrumentorum

 

I immediately searched through other period images and consulted with colleagues. Though no-one else had noticed it before either, it became apparent that Tactus-beating was usually, perhaps always, palm-outwards. (Do let me know if you find evidence to the contrary, or if you would like to add to the mountain of evidence in favour of palm-out).

 

Rhythm

 

The historical movement of the Tactus Hand, down-up with the palm outwards, feels different, and subtly alters the relationship between the two strokes. And the connections to Baroque Gesture are highly significant. The starting position of Tactus (hand high, palm outwards) corresponds to the orator’s preparatory gesture, commanding the audience to be silent and listen. The powerful Down movement of the Tactus stroke corresponds to a gesture of authority, quelling and directing subordinates.

 

Silentium postulo

 

The period philosophy of the Music of the Spheres connects the perfect movement of the cosmos with the harmonious nature of the human body and with practical music-making. Similarly, heavenly Time directed by the Hand of God is reflected in the microcosm of the Human hand beating Tactus and in the perfection (to the limits of human ability) of musical rhythm. That rhythm is found by dividing the slow Tactus beat in various Proportions, just as the movement of the stars and planets are derived from the Primum Mobile. This concept is beautifully described in Dante’s Paradiso, Canto XXVII. Here is the classic Longfellow translation:

 

The nature of the universe, which holds
the center still and moves all else around it,
begins here as if from its turning-post.

This heaven has no other where than this:
the mind of God, in which are kindled both
the love that turns it and the force it rains.

No other heaven measures this sphere’s motion,
but it serves as the measure for the rest,
even as half and fifth determine ten;

and now it can be evident to you
how time has roots within this vessel and,
within the other vessels, has its leaves.

 

Primum Mobile

 

The Tactus Hand embodies the divine Hand of God; maintaining Tactus symbolises the turning of the cosmos; the movements of the Tactus Hand embody earthly authority and command listeners’ attention. However, the authority of Tactus is not located in the whims and fancies of an individual Tactus-beater: Tactus-beating is utterly different from modern conducting. The responsibility of a Tactus-beater is to recall and preserve the perfection of heavenly time, not to make personal choices. So it is that multiple Tactus-beaters can collaborate simultaneously, as Praetorius showed.

 

No-one is trying to make a personal interpretation of Time: everyone is trying to unite in finding the right time.

 

Some musicians feel a deep sense of responsibility to arrive at rehearsal on time. This is part of the respect we owe to the beauty and ineffable nature of Music itself. If you can understand such respect, then you might begin to understand the sense of high duty and precise timeliness that renaissance musicians felt about rhythm.

 

Dowland Above all things original

 

Music and other arts offer us earth-born creatures a glimpse of a world beyond the everyday. In period philosophy, the Tactus Hand allows musicians to touch the stars. We all know that Early Music was directed not by conductors, but by Tactus beaters. So why not try the Power of Tactus for yourself! I’m sure you’ll have a Good Time.

 

Hand touching the stars

 

 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our websites:

http://www.TheHarpConsort.com [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music]

http://www.IlCorago.com [the production company & Historical Action]

http://www.TheFlow.Zone [Flow for optimal creativity, The Zone for elite performance]

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2011 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. He is now preparing a translation of Bonifacio’s (1616) Art of Gesture and a book on The Theatre of Dreams: The Science of Historical Action.

 

Baroque Gesture: what’s the Point?

Barcelona Colon Monument

 

At the seaward end of Barcelona’s Ramblas, Colombus points the way not only to America, but also towards good Baroque Gesture: weight on the back foot, front leg elegantly bent (more about historical posture here). Head erect, eyes focused in coordination with a strong pointing gesture, other fingers held in by the thumb (as shown by Bulwer, see below). The arm is not locked straight, but has a nice curve at the elbow, the shoulders are nicely dropped, the left hand lower than the right and relaxed.

Notice that he holds his music/script in his left hand, leaving the right hand free to gesture. The Historical Action workshop is THIS way!

 

Golden Hand

 

This is the third in a series of posts on Historical Action and Baroque Gesture, following on from Start Here: How to study and How to Act: Preliminary ExercisesFor this post, I will use examples from Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607): the first edition (1609) is here, together with the second (1615) print, which corrects some errors from 1609 but also introduces new mistakes.

 

Sistine Chapel God points

 

In an excellent article on Monteverdi’s parole sceniche for the journal of the Society of Seventeenth-Century music here,  Mauro Calcagno studies text/music relationships in Orfeo from the perspective of Deixis, the “pointing” function of language analysed in Karl Bühler’s  1934 Sprachtheorie. Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache. Bühler is translated into English as Theory of Language. The Representational Function of Language, trans. Donald Fraser Goodwin (Amsterdam-Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1990).

 

Deictics are words that indicate person, time and place. They are prominent in Striggio’s libretto for Orfeo and, Calcagno argues, are musically highlighted by Monteverdi.  Deixis (Greek) or demonstratio (Latin) can be

  1. Spatial: this, that, here, there
  2. Temporal: now, then
  3. Personal: I, you, my, yours

 

Three deictics are quite literally central in space-time and for each character personated: here, now, I

 

Pointing is the first and most fundamental human gesture,

which connects body and mind to the external world

 

In the theatre, pointing gestures connect the actor’s body with the spectators’ minds, and create a illusion of a mind/body connection with the imaginary world of the drama. Perhaps for this reason, early opera libretti often include visual descriptions that correspond with the real-life external world, just outside the theatre. Pointing to queste rive ‘these shores’ in lakeside Mantua takes poetic imagery and visions of the dramatic scene conjured up in actors’ and audience’s minds, and connects those imaginary visions to an external world that the courtiers knew as real and close at hand.

 

Renaissance Enargeia (the emotional power of detailed visual description) was often energised (Energia is the spirit of passion communicated via the eyes) by the powerful word Ecco (look!).

 

Deictics

 

Calcagno introduces his argument with a discussion of oratory, and briefly mentions the link between pointing words and physical gestures. He then demonstrates the prominence of deictics in Striggio’s libretto, and points out the significance of deictics in Monteverdi’s musical setting. Around 1600, gesture was a key element of oratory, of rhetorical delivery. We can therefore be confident that pointing gestures should be a prominent and significant part of the Historical Action. Prominent, in that there will be many pointing gestures, and audiences should notice them. Significant, in that these pointing gestures should carry meaning and weight, so that the imaginary vision is convincing.

 

According to Quintilian, it is these visiones – ‘fantastic… daydreams… whereby things absent are presented to our imagination with such extreme vividness that they seem actually to be before our very eyes’ – that move the audience’s passions. Calcagno shows that Deictics draw attention to movement, physical movement across the stage and within the imaginary field of view of the dramatic scene, and the to-and-fro of emotional communication between actor and audience. Deictic words connect with pointing gestures to create visiones and muovere gli affetti (to move the passions).

 

John_Bulwer_Chironomia_frontispiece_1644 (1)

 

So it is no surprise that John Bulwer’s (1644) survey of gesture, Chironomia, includes many pointing gestures. In my approach to Historical Action, I encourage actors to begin with these simple but powerful gestures, not only because they are so prominent and significant in circa-1600 theatre, but also because pointing is

 

the first and most fundamental human gesture, which connects body and mind

 

There are two challenges for modern-day performers of Baroque Gesture. One is to root a historical gesture in the full-body structure (that body-structure founded on period posture of course): otherwise the gesture seems disembodied. The other is to connect each specific gesture to the concept in mind (inspired by each word of the text, in real time): otherwise the gesture seems mindless. The difficulty is that learning unfamiliar gestures from a historical treatise tends to focus attention on the arm and hand, disconnecting the gesture from body and mind. This misplaced attention on the gesture itself, rather than on the embodied action and mental vision it signs, is a potential danger for actors and spectators alike.

 

Training Exercise for Pointing Gestures

 

The remedy is to connect each gesture to body and mind. The exercises in my two previous articles are designed to wire-up connections to posture and text, ready to empower the pointing gestures below. Pointing is indeed a fundamental, instinctive action, so once a specific hand-shape has been learnt, an excellent way for a training partner or rehearsal coach to call forth a well-connected gesture is to ask (with assumed innocence):

Where is that?

When is that?

Who is that?

as appropriate, for Spatial, Temporal or Personal deictics.

 

If you can make the question seem spontaneous, it has a good chance of triggering a spontaneous response from the actor, who will point with a gesture that is both historical and also mind/body connected.  The observer should now check for technical errors in the historicity of the gesture (too high, too low, wrong hand-shape) or for tell-tale signs of lack of connection (gesture looks weak, eyes are not appropriately directed and focused, gesture seems ‘artificial’, wrong timing of eye-movement and hand-gesture) and give feedback.

 

If the actor did well, the observer should say so, and add a gesture of approval, why not!. After all, if we believe that baroque gestures can move the passions, then shouldn’t we use them in real life too? Or at least, in that transitional space between real life and dramatic fantasy, the rehearsal room!

 

Magnanimitatem ostendit

 

Pointing gestures in Monteverdi’s Orfeo

As Calcagno points out (did you get that?), Deictics are prominent right from the beginning of the Prologue. “Striggio strategically places the three most primitive deictics (Io, qui[nci], and ora) at the beginning of strophes 2 to 5. But the first strophe also emphasizes the function of the “pointing words.” The deictics mio and voi, appearing in the first line … [establish] a channel of communication with the public.”

 

In that very first line, Monteverdi extends the word mio (my) for more than one second, giving time and prominence to the significant ‘refer to self’ pointing gesture.

 

This is how to refer to oneself

This is how to refer to oneself

 

As we would expect, this fundamental and central gesture is seen frequently in period iconography and in modern-day life.

 

el-greco-domenikos-theotkopoulos-a-knight-with-his-hand-on-his-chest-1580

 

153 Refer to self - Bond

 

‘From MY beloved Permesso’  a VOI ne vegno  ‘to YOU I come’, La Musica continues. ‘You’ refers to the audience, ‘great heroes, noble blood of Kings’. To point directly with the index finger would not show the respect such an audience deserves; a more elegant pointing gesture is required.

 

Bulwer shows a gesture ‘suitable for pointing’, which is a simple variation on the Default Gesture studied in the first article of this series, here.  Starting with your hand in the default rest position, close to the body and between chest and belly, middle two fingers together, little finger curved in, index curved out somewhat…

 

056 Barnett 1

 

let the thumb fall into the hand slightly, in order to give slightly more prominence to the extended index finger. Now extend your arm outwards, in an elegant pointing gesture. You could time the Stroke of this gesture to give added significance to ‘you’ or to the movement of ‘I come’: try both options. A voi ne vegno.

 

Ad monstradum valet

Suitable for pointing

 

Contrary to Dene Barnett and other directors who have actors learn a fixed ‘choreography’ of gesture for each speech, I believe strongly that some element of improvisation can be of great help in giving performers a sense of ‘ownership’ of the gestures they make, in connecting the gesture more securely to the actor’s body and to a mental vision of the text. Yes, improvisation does entail the danger of a loss of historicity in precise details of the gesture, but I consider that the gain in credibility far outweighs the risk. And ‘improvisation’ need not be a daunting challenge: a good first step is to give the actor a spontaneous choice between two well rehearsed options, as with the two options for timing the gesture described above.

 

Bulwer’s Ad Monstrandum way of pointing is also convenient when you want to indicate a wider field of reference, for which the direct point with the index finger would be too narrowly focused. So you can use this pointing hand to indicate an area of the dramatic scene – in queste rive (on these shores) – an extended interval of time – in questo lieto e fortunato giorno (on this happy and auspicious day) – or a group of people – Muse, honor di parnasso (Muses, honour of Parnassus).  In the Prologue, gestures connected La Musica and the audience. In Act I, the to-and-fro words discussed by Calcagno call forth gestures that connect musicians (the Muses have cetre sonore, sonorous lyres) and singers (sia il NOSTRO canto al VOSTRO suon concorde, may OUR song and YOUR instrumental sound meet in concord).

 

But I have a minor disagreement with one detail of Calcagno’s article. Simple logic and the theatrical necessities of the original production with just a few singers dictate that it is the actors who are singing and the musicians who represent the muses with their instruments. Nostro and vostro must be this way around. As proof, the 1609 print calls for an ensemble suono of a 5-part violin-band, 3 theorboes, 2 harpsichords, harp, violone and small flute: presumably these represent Apollo with the 12 muses.

 

ApolloMuses

 

This small point of difference (got it?) with Calcagno illustrates a vital rule for pointing gestures. You have to know what you are pointing at.  This calls for some decisions, which should ideally be consistent for the whole production. Where is the temple? Where are the woods? Who are the Muses? Which way leads to Hell? A vaguely outstretched arm pointing at nothing in particular shows a disconnect between mind and body that will undermine any attempt to move the audience’s passions.

 

So whilst there is room for academic debate about vostro and nostro in this phrase, on stage a decision needs to be made. All the actors and musicians involved need to know who’s who, and where’s what, so that they can point with confidence and conviction.

 

Another way of pointing seems to show an elegant casualness, a sprezzatura in gesture, by pointing with the thumb.

 

Demonstrat

 

This is convenient for pointing to the right side or behind, less suited for something central or left. Bulwer classes this as a Rhetorical (rather than ‘natural’) gesture, but his only comment is that this ‘act of Demonstration’ is a ‘received custom’.

 

Indigitat

As a Rhetorical gesture, the pointing index finger is ‘most demonstrative’. If the other fingers are compressed in by the thumb, ‘and the Index displayed in full length’ this gesture ‘upbraides’ (reprimands, rebukes, scolds).

 

 

For more respectful pointing, the turned-over default position of the hand should be used, with the index still slightly curved, and the other fingers not held in too much.  In this way, Art refines a Natural gesture into the elegance that we observe in period iconography.

 

057 Barnett 2

 

Pointing gestures become stronger as the arm is extended more. This extends the gesture for more distant objects (on stage, or imagined as part of the envisioned scene), or makes the gesture more forceful for an object in the middle distance.  Nearly always, the arm remains somewhat bent, as if it remains relaxed in its own weight whilst being lifted from the wrist. A rigid, straight arm lacks elegance.

 

Pointing Murillo

 

As the speaker points, fellow-actors may well react by pointing too. At any time, non-speaking actors may also point to the speaker, or to the object under discussion. Many period paintings show pointing gestures of all kinds, and it’s well worth studying and imitating these. Notice the long-range and short-range pointing in Caravaggio’s St Matthew.

 

Caravaggio Calling of St Matthew

 

In Rhetoric, the index finger pointing downwards (with the rest of the hand as a fist) is very strong, used to ‘urge’ and ‘drive the point into the heads’ of the listeners. It might be used for an emphatic ‘here’ or ‘now’.

 

Urgebit

 

The index finger pointing upwards is a most useful gesture, calling for the audience’s Attention. The same principles apply: the gesture is strengthened by compressing in the other fingers and by extending the arm; it is made more elegant by retaining some curvature in fingers and arm. The emotional power of visual detail, the force of Enargeia is often invoked with Ecco! (behold, look): this attracts the listeners attention, which can then be directed to the object of discussion with one or other pointing gesture.

 

Attentionem poscit and art

 

An upward pointing gesture is also called for if the text mentions God or Heaven (as seicento texts often do). This is one of the exceptions to the general rule of decorous gesture that the hand should not rise higher than the shoulder. Here Régnier demonstrates the divine inspiration of Music: the arm is strongly extended, yet elegantly curved.

 

Divine inspiration of Music c1640 Nicolas Régnier

 

Pointing can be a convenient way to start using baroque gesture in rehearsal and performance. The actual movements are quite intuitive, so there is less chance of getting distracted by the mechanics of the gesture and ‘losing sight’ of the significance of the text. Neither the actor nor the audience should be looking at the pointing arm, attention should be fixed on what is being pointed out. Pointing is indeed a fundamental gesture, but it is not necessarily simple. A good pointing gesture will be rooted in whole-body posture, and will recruit the face and (especially) the eyes.

 

eyes - mourinho

 

As Bühler reminds us, pointing words connect the speaker to the object under discussion. A pointing gesture does not merely show what the actor is talking about, it also demonstrates the nature of the relationship between pointer and object.

 

Consider how the shepherds in Monteverdi’s Orfeo might point at Silvia, as they first recognise her (‘elegant Silvia, the sweetest companion of beautiful Euridice’), as they react in shock to her demeanour (‘Oh, how sad her face is!’), during her narration of Euridice’s death, and as she departs to exile (like an ‘ill-omened bat, hateful to the shepherds and the nymphs’). Period conventions discourage actors from moving around the stage whilst they are singing, so the direction of the shepherds’ pointing might not change at all, but the affetto certainly will. And how will this Messaggiera’s Refer to Self gesture be transformed at the words odiosa a me stessa, ‘hateful to myself’?

 

Calcagno draws his readers attention to the to-and-fro between actor and audience. Period texts often set up contrasts between stage left and right: “on one hand …. on the other hand”. The historical convention is that anything good is to the actor’s right, everything bad is to the left. This convention dictates the relative positions of the actors on-stage, as well as the imagined locations of everything that is mentioned in the play-text or operatic libretto. The next post in this series, on my Ut Pictura technique for applying historical gesture in modern-day performance,  continues from this point…

 

Pointing hand

Click on the pointing hand, or here, to read more.

For now, well done, everyone!

 

Approbabit

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http://www.TheHarpConsort.com [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music]

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Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2011 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. He is now preparing a translation of Bonifacio’s (1616) Art of Gesture and a book on The Theatre of Dreams: The Science of Historical Action.