How 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!

 

 

‘Celos’ in translation

celos-frontispiece

 

My first encounter with the earliest surviving Spanish opera, Celos, aun del aire matan (1660) was a concert performance in Vienna in 2001 with (mostly) Spanish singers directed by Jordi Savall, and sung in the original Spanish. In the same festival, The Harp Consort performed the Spanish and South American dances of Ribayaz’s Luz y norte (1677)Since then, I have directed the first productions of Celos in UK (2003) and (last night) in Russia with local singers. All these projects necessarily involved some kind of translation of Calderón’s verse drama, for the audience and/or for performers.

In Vienna, it was assumed that singers understood the libretto. Indeed, Calderón’s vocabulary is not difficult for native speakers. But behind the mostly simple choice of words lies a wealth of hidden meaning, historical and cultural references. English speakers might well make a comparison with Shakespeare’s plays: we probably understand nearly all the words, but there is much that we will fail to grasp without further study. For that concert performance, there was insufficient rehearsal time for detailed text work with the singers, or for detailed work on Hidalgo’s quicksilver Hispanic rhythms. [Jordi subsequently captured those rhythms marvelously in the on-going Folias Criollas project, in which he directs the combined forces of Hesperion XXI and Ensemble Tembembe (Mexico)].  The Viennese audience were provided a German-language translation to follow, but it is fair to say that performers and audence alike were largely baffled by Calderón and Hidalgo’s masterpiece.

 

celos-sheffield-poster-2003

In Sheffield, we had the advantage of a production team already familiar with Torrejon’s setting of Calderón’s (1659) libretto, La púrpura de la rosa (1701). [Hidalgo’s earlier setting is lost, though some of his music survives in Torrejon’s work.] Some of our English singers were fluent Spanish-speakers, and with a student cast we had plenty of time for painstaking language and text work, coached by university lecturer Dr Anthony Trippett. For my own study, and to assist the singers, I made a line-by-line English translation. This translation was not a thing of beauty; it was very dry, often clunky, but it did serve its purpose of helping us all understand Calderón’s words. Of course, this is only the first step towards understanding the libretto’s deeper meaning, and those more profound discussions continued throughout the production, and over the years afterwards. I translated the entire libretto, and then made cautious and carefully considered cuts to reduce the running time to manageable proportions, whilst preserving plot, musical forms and poetic structures.

 

Meanwhile, the head of the university’s Spanish department, Prof Nick Round dedicated many hours of his free time to making a singable English translation. We did not use this in performance, but Nick’s work sparked off a lively debate about the purposes and priorities of translation. Of course, there can never be a perfect translation: every translator has to make difficult, sometimes heart-breaking choices between dry accuracy and poetic beauty; between sound and meaning; between metre and fidelity to the original; between familiar idioms in the local language and exotic, even alienating, literal renditions; between the author’s and translator’s different poetical aesthics. Any singable translation faces the formidable challenges of doing all this and matching words to music. [See Andrew Porter’s fascinating introduction to his singing translation of Wagner’s Ring here].

 

To help the English-speaking audience follow Calderón’s complex plot, in which interwoven myths are told and retold in unexpected manner, whilst goddesses, heroes and idiots interact as main action and comic sub-plots collide, we introduced onto the stage an additional character, the poet himself. Our Pedro gave linking commentaries in English between scenes, and even during the most confusing scene (in which the clown, Rústico, is transformed into a bewildering sequence of different animals). I created Pedro’s texts in verse, matching Calderón’s metre and assonance (rhythming of vowels) with the surrounding Spanish poetry. But of course, I was not translating, merely summarising; and there was no demand to fit my content into a given number of lines. Apart from the self-inflicted technical challenge of imitating romance verse, my priority was clarity: the purpose of these speeches was to ensure that the audience would understand the story.

Yet another translation project ran in parallel: Tony Trippett worked on polished renditions of Calderón’s many refrain texts, repeated mottos that recur frequently during the drama: “A woman can be constant, without being cruel”; “Long live Love, death to Neglect”; and of course, “Jealousy, even of the air, kills”, the title of the opera, a refrain which is sung many times during the final Act. Posters with these texts in English and Spanish were posted around the public areas of the performance venues, to give audience members a chance to reflect on some of Calderón’s most thought-provoking pronouncements. Since then Tony and I have worked on several other Spanish Early Music projects, including the first Spanish Oratorio (1704) and Passion (1706), and we continue to discuss the aesthetics and practicalities of opera translation.

celos-cover

This season’s production in Russia is staged by the Moscow State Opera & Ballet Theatre, Natalya Sats. This is a theatre for families and young people, the original home of Peter and the Wolf, where Georgy Isaakian presents an enormous repertory ranging from popular classics (Nutcracker, Carmen) to award-winning productions of serious and challenging works (Love of Three Oranges, Rappresentatione di Anima e Corpo). Where else in the world could one perform baroque opera to an audience packed with teenagers and twenty-somethings?

In this context, it was a given that Celos would be sung in Russian. This reflects the early baroque priority that every word should be understood by the audience, but the technical task for translators is enormous. Calderón’s Spanish libretto uses mostly short simple words, which are often highly compressed by multiple elisions, packing lots of meaning into very few syllables. The Russian language tends towards longer words, with many more syllables required to express the same thought. And whilst Calderón’s words are often simple, he loads those ‘easy’ words with multiple layers of hidden meaning and added significance. He also repeats key words throughout the drama, making subtle cross-connections between different scenes and characters – connections which should be preserved in translation. As dialogue between characters gathers pace, he often splits a single line of verse between two or three speakers, with quick-fire question and answer.

Floreta           ¿Qué haces?

Clarín                        Huyo.

Floreta                           Oye, espera.

Coro                                    Guarda la fiera.

Floreta           ¿Qué haré?

Coro                        Guarda la fiera.

Floreta                             ¡Lindo consuelo!

 

Floreta           What are you doing?

Clarín                       Running away.

Floreta                               Hey, wait!

Coro                                             Watch out for the beast!

Floreta          What shall I do?

Coro                         Watch out for the beast.

Floreta                                Nice idea!

 

So the first challenge is to fit so much meaning into just a few syllables, line-by-line.

Hidalgo’s Spanish baroque musical style is based on the lively rhythms of popular songs and dances, accompanied by strumming guitars, harps and percussion. There is a lot of triple metre, rocking to and fro between hemiola and tripla, and many, many syncopations. The basic pattern accents the second beat of the bar. This requires the translator to match Calderón’s metric patterns of Good and Bad syllables very closely indeed, on almost every syllable of every line.

Calderón and Hidalgo join forces to create exquisitely balanced pairs of lines:

Pocris por quien muera,

Aura por quien vivo.

 

Pocris, for whom I die/ Aura for whom I live. Here, a translator has not only to translate line by line and metrically, but also preserve the balance and contrast of the verse-pair.

But perhaps the most difficult challenge of all is Calderón’s refrain texts, the famous mottos. These recur, and must be translated consistently. But Hidalgo sets them polyphonically, with rhythmic variants in different voices. And sometimes he sets the same motto text to a completely different melody, even in a different metre. Tony Trippet’s polished English motto-translations were not singable – this was not his purpose. But for our Russian production, we had to render the mottos not only consistently, but line-by-line, metrically, and as elegantly as possible, whilst ensuring that the same text would work for all Hidalgo’s varied settings of it. It had already been decided that the opera would be presented under the adapted, short title Любовь Убивает (Love Kills). But the title is sung many times during Act III, as the final words of one of Calderón’s motto-refrains, so we also had to reconcile the original meaning with the chosen short title.

Both Calderón and Hidalgo employ varying registers (literary, and musical) for the noble and comic characters, who often interact in the same scene. Whilst seeking to imitate Calderón’s simplicity of language throughout, Katerina Antonenko-King also sought to match his shifts in register, with more elegant vocabulary or rougher words, according to the character of each role. At appropriate moments, Calderón even introduces poetic cliches and homespun phrases:

Aura me hiela y me abrasa,

Aura makes me freeze and burn.

 

¡Y luego dirán que no hay

a perro viejo tustuses!

And then they’ll say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! This approximate English translation demonstrates the point: a literal translation would be unfamiliar, hard to understand, and certainly wouldn’t create the laugh that Calderón is trying for.

Our absolute priority, in line with historical aesthetics, was that the audience should understand the words. This required us to choose the simplest possible words for the required meaning, just as Calderón himself did. Hidalgo’s music required us to preserve the original meaning line-by-line, and the original metre syllable by syllable. Calderón’s mottos required especial care. We made a deliberate choice to avoid antiquarian language, to adopt a modern idiom that would be understood by our young audience. Nevertheless, we respected Calderón’s careful variation in poetic register, from elevated speech for the gods to rough barking from the clown. Sometimes these multiple demands were simply irreconcilable: where necessary, we made small changes to the music, in order to set the best possible Russian text. In this too, we followed the historical aesthetic, that in this style, the music is the servant of the words.

Katerina and I worked together. She is responsible for the Russian, as well as for some literary insights into Calderón’s witty treatment of the ancient myths. My duty was to care for Calderón’s Spanish and Hidalgo’s music (in that order of priority). Our work is not perfect: no translation can be perfect. But we approached the task with a clear set of priorities, in order to give audiences the best possible understanding of the drama as it happens before their eyes, and the best possible experience of the rhythms of Spanish music, as they listen. No doubt some readers of Calderón in flowery literary translations will be disappointed by the simplicity of language required for effective communication on stage: they might even be disappointed by the original, for Calderón was a master of elegant simplicity:

 

Esta, hermosa Diana … es Aura

“This, beautiful Diana… is Aura.” So Calderón begins his complex drama by introducing the two protagonists, in Spanish that would not trouble a first-year student. Katerina rendered this as “Это,  царица Диана … та Аура” [Eto, czarina Diana… ta Aura] “This, queen Diana… that’s Aura]. Even with my limited Russian, I can understand this, and the opening word  Это matches the original Esta almost perfectly.

 

I look forward to observing how our young (and not so young) audiences react to the show. So far, Calderón’s earthy humour has raised genuine belly-laughs, and his tragic drama has inspired strong emotions: if we can acheive this, we have succeeded.

 

Of course, there is another kind of translation, which we have chosen not to attempt. A fine poet can create in his own language a parallel work, not a slavish translation, but a re-imagining of the original in another language, in another culture, in another aesthetic. Such a work can be a thing of great beauty, but it would not meet the requirements of this particular production. I consider that the role of opera translators is not to present their own gusto, but rather, like a fine actor, to take on the mantle of the original author and convey his, perhaps different, aesthetic. In the 18th century, there was a fashion to ‘improve’ Shakespeare with flowery, more ‘elegant’ language: I do not believe that we should translate 17th-century opera libretti in this way.

 

After all, the world’s most famous line of 17th-century verse encapsulates the existential dilemma almost entirely in monosyllables:

 

To be, or not to be – that is the Question

 

Who could ever improve on such elegant simplicity?  On the other hand, who would ever want to be faced with translating Hamlet into modern Russian, whilst preserving syllable by syllable every metrical twist of Shakeseare’s iambic pentameters??? Something is always lost in translation: the translator’s choice is what to attempt to preserve.

celos-in-russian-title-tune

 

The first Spanish opera: Speech, song and stories

celos-sats-orchestra

Celos, aun del aire, matan

Russian premiere as “Любовь Yбивает”

14th October, 2016 at Moscow State Theatre Natalya Sats

 

How can singing a drama ever be ‘realistic’? This was the challenge facing the composers of the first operas, in Italy around 1600 and in Spain sixty years later. The Peace of the Pyrenees, which in 1659 ended the war between France and Spain, was sealed by the marriage of the Spanish Infanta, Maria Teresa to King Louis XIV of France. For the wedding celebrations in Madrid, the Marquis of Eliche produced two operas, the first fully-sung Spanish music-dramas:L a púrpura de la rosa (‘The Blood of the Rose’ lost, but later revived in Peru with music by Torrejón), and the following year, Celos, aun de aire, matan (Jealousy, even of the Air, Kills) which we now present on the Russian stage under the title Love Kills. Both operas were set by harpist and composer Juan Hidalgo to libretti by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, defining a new Spanish genre. Their fiesta cantada (sung celebration) was quite different from the Italian stilo rappresentativo of Cavalieri’s Anima e Corpo, as well as from the Lully’s French comédie-ballet.

The first Italian operas imitate the rhythms and pitch-contours of serious, rhetorical speech in what we nowadays call Recitative. But within the Spanish tradition of realistic theatre, down-to-earth humour and popular songs established by Lope de Vega’s life-mirroring comedies, Calderón and Hidalgo sought alternative styles of representing everyday speech in music. The rhetorical artificiality of Recitative was suitable for gods and goddesses, but ordinary people should speak in a more natural style, and comic characters should have funny music for their skits. They found their solution in the Spanish tradition of story-telling ballad-songs with many strophes to the same tune, the famous and still-popular romances quoted and parodied in Cervantes’ Don Quijote (1615).

Hidalgo sets everyday speech to newly-composed strophic melodies – tonos humanos (secular tunes) – accompanied by a typically Spanish ensemble of guitars, harps and percussion. Spanish lyric traditions favoured refrain forms, encouraging Hidalgo to assemble elaborate musical structures from these simple, catchy tunes. In the first scene, he weaves together a martial tune for the heroine Pocris and a slow lament-refrain for her prisoner, Aura (guilty of the crime of Love) with the comments of the chorus. These tonos contrast with the goddess Diana’s recitative, and Aura’s cry for help, a dramatic invocation of all creation. As the hero, Cefalo comes to the rescue and confronts the goddess, the composer introduces a new sequence of tono and recitative.

Aura’s lover, Erostrato, encounters Diana’s gardiner, Rústico (literally ‘village idiot’, the traditional name for a theatrical clown). Rústico recounts the story so far, but in comic style: Hidalgo sets this to a popular song-and-dance tune, the seguidilla. The ensuing conversation, and Diana’s interrogation of Rústico’s wife, Floreta, are set to the next tono, alternating between duple and triple rhythms. But the music changes as Diana punishes Rústico by turning him into various wild animals. Cefalo comes to the rescue again, and under Aura’s influence, he and Pocris fall in love, to the sweet music of yet another tono and refrain. As the villagers gather outside Diana’s temple for the new moon celebrations, Cefalo’s servant, the cynical Clarín has his chance to summarise the plot, another comic song-and-dance number set to the low-style street-music of the xácara.

Calderón’s dramaturgy is also compounded from several elements. The mythological tragedy of Pocris, destined to be killed by her lover, Cefalo, is combined with the history of Eróstrato, destined to lose his identity after burning down the temple of Diana, and contrasted with the low comedy of Rústico (who also loses his identity), Floreta (attacked by her husband) and the anti-hero, Clarín. Poetical refrain-structures allow Calderón to emphasise certain mottos: Aura is transformed from condemned ‘victim of love’ to the gently inspiring ‘aura of Love’; she then changes Diana’s hymn ‘Death to Love’ into ‘Death to Indifference’. Another motto advises how to be ‘constant but not cruel’, and affirms that ‘love cannot be driven out by hate’. We hear many times that ‘if you are jealous of the air, jealous love kills’ and of course the hunters keep shouting “follow the beast!”. Cefalo is ‘dying for Pocris, living for Aura’, and both he and Erostrato ‘burn and freeze’ with passion. The final motto is wise advice to the young Infanta, about to marry a notorious womaniser: ‘although vengeance seems noble, once achieved, it disappoints’.

The incidental music in this production represents the Spanish baroque tradition of diferencias – improvised variations on popular dances, amongst them the famously wild folias. Like Hidalgo’s tonos, this instrumental music is structured as theme-and-variations or verses-and-refrain, in the lively, syncopated rhythms of Iberian and Latin-American dances. This blend of high art and popular traditions complements Calderón’s mix of tragedy and comedy to create a music-drama that remains highly relevant today, with its entertaining but profound exploration of how young people might manage questions of personal identity and emotions of jealousy and love.

 

celos-sats-f_ck-off-diana

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 Perfect Musical Director: Music inspires me!

Updated May 25th 2016 – please revisit this page for further updates, or LIKE our Facebook page here to receive updates automatically.

 

Art, crown, refreshment, heavenly language, pleasure of gods and men – all these speak to me in words!

 

The Perfect Musical Director

 

No, before I’m drowned out with howls of derision, that’s not me! Rather it’s Johann Mattheson’s Der vollkommene Capellmeister (Hamburg, 1739). Mattheson’s weighty tome is a key source for baroque performance practice, pre-dating the three great Essays of the 1750s (CPE Bach, Quantz & Leopold Mozart).

 

The book is famous, famously long, and famously long-winded: how many of us have read it all through? I confess that I hadn’t, and so now I’ve started. My personal selection and summary of Mattheson’s ideas will be posted in progressively updated versions of this post, with extended commentary in future postings.

 

Meanwhile, please LIKE the Perfect Musical Director Facebook page here to receive real-time messages from the year 1739!

 

You can find Mattheson’s complete original here.

 

Mattheson title page

 

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, Principal Guest Director of Concerto Copenhagen, and visiting director for modern and baroque orchestras throughout Europe and Scandinavia. Awards include the Golden Masque (Russia’s highest music-theatre prize) for baroque opera, the USA Handel Society Prize for best opera CD, and the German Echo Prize for baroque orchestral concertos. He is also Director of Baroque Opera and Historical Action at the Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Satz’.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year 2016

 

 

 

 

2016 Happy New Year

 

 

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.