OPERA OMNIA – Music of the Past for Audiences of the Future

Celebrating the European Day of Early Music and the first anniversary of OPERA OMNIA, Academy for Early Opera & Dance, Institute at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’, here is my article presented by Katerina Antonenko at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Reflective Conservatoire conference, which has become perhaps the most significant forum of its kind, for discussing new developments in tertiary music education.


OPERA OMNIA offers a new model for Early Music: linking Research, Training and Performance; connecting Music and Drama; and hosted not by a conservatoire, but by an opera house. We believe this model can be more historical, more accessible, more practical, and more relevant to the 21st century than the standard approach of trying to squeeze historical aesthetics into 19th-cent performance ideals and previous millenium educational structures!



A year ago we founded OPERA OMNIA, creating a formal institution and unified branding for a variety of collaborative projects developed during the previous five years. We link Research, Training and Performance of Early Music, in an evolving model adapted for the opportunities and constraints of cultural life in 21st-century Russia.



Natalya Sats was founder and director of the Moscow State Children’s Theatre, pioneering Synthesised Theatre, a combination of music and other media. In 1936, she commissioned Prokofiev to write Peter and the Wolf. Statues of characters and instruments from that story adorn the entrance to the present Theatre, built in 1979. Nowadays, her daughter, Roksana continues the Sats tradition of speaking to young audiences before each performance.



The present Artistic Director, Georgiy Isaakyan has extended the programming for young adults and multi-generational audiences: not only family favourites, but also challenging work, including new and early music.

There are two Early Opera productions, both rarely staged today. Celos, the first Spanish opera, is now in its third season. And the very first opera, Anima & Corpo, which won Russia’s highest music-theatrical award, The Golden Mask, has had 55 performances so far.



These two 17th-century operas required collaborations between the Theatre’s resident performers and guests from Moscow’s nascent early music scene. Over the last five years, the Theatre obtained specialist instruments – more are on order and planned for – and in training workshops and performance projects, teams of players acquired the necessary skills.

In cooperation with other institutions, those projects included the first performance in Russia of Monteverdi’s Vespers. More about Vespers here. Each performance was linked to public lectures, advanced masterclasses, academic seminars etc. Continuing performances of Anima & Corpo at Theatre Sats are also a training ground, with new company members each season.



17th-century music requires singers to have both solo and ensemble skills. Polyphonic vocal consorts, 2 or 3 to a part, were a new challenge to singing-actors schooled in the grand Russian tradition. Vocal ensembles in Anima & Corpo are now shared between the Small Choir (a consort of soloists who do most of the dramatic commentary) and members of the Theatre Chorus (who represent a Choir of Angels and swell the numbers to about 80 in the finale.)



As in Rome in 1600, so in 21st-century OPERA OMNIA: no conductor! Instead, there are multiple Tactus-beaters, relaying a consistent beat between separate groups of performers, so-called cori spezzati. More about Tactus here, and about how to do it here.

Anima & Corpo also provided an opportunity for final-year students from the Russian Institute of Theatrical Arts, who took part in workshops with Lawrence-King and Isaakyan, rehearsed with OPERA OMNIA continuo-players, and performed selected roles alongside professional colleagues in public performances at Theatre Sats. The best graduates were amongst September’s new intake into the professional company.

These performances involving students helped the Theatre reach out to new audience members in their late teens and twenties. But one of the delights of working at Theatre Sats is that we regularly have children, teenagers, and young adults in the audience. The Theatre has front of house staff dedicated to meeting and greeting young visitors, offering informal guidance for individuals, or a short introductory talk for groups.



Theatre Sats is also the administrative centre for the annual ВИДЕТЬ МУЗЫКУ (Seeing Music) Festival of the Association of Russian Theatres, which invites to Moscow directors and performers from all around the Russian Federation, uniting an artistic community that spans nine time-zones! The opening ceremonies last September featured an experimental production with historical staging by the young professionals and advanced students of OPERA OMNIA’s International Baroque Opera Studio: Andrew Lawrence-King’s re-make of Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece, Arianna (1608), composed around the surviving Lamento. More about Arianna here.



The astounding visual contrast between the famous Lament scene and the tumultuous arrival of Bacchus immediately afterwards is made audible in Lawrence-King’s work, as the ‘violins and viols’ of the Lament are blown away by ‘hundreds of trumpets, timpani and the raucous cry of horns’. More about how Arianna was re-made, here.

Although most professional ensembles in Europe substitute sackbuts for mid-range and low baroque trumpets, we were able to train up a full consort of natural trumpets, led by guest coach, Mark Bennett.



To close the Festival a month later, OPERA OMNIA provided the orchestra for a gala concert of baroque music at the Bolshoy Theatre, bringing together soloists from Sats, other Moscow theatres, and opera houses throughout Russia. This event provided a fascinating snapshot of the state of Baroque Music in mainstream institutions across the nation.

Alongside Moscow’s offering of Handel arias and the Triumph of Bacchus from Arianna, the choices from regional theatres were strongly influenced by mid-20th-century Russian anthologies of baroque favourites: Lascia ch’io pianga of course, but also arias mis-attributed to Pergolesi and Caccini.

We re-edited these, and made a clean ending with the Sauna scene from Lawrence-King’s Kalevala opera.




OPERA OMNIA enjoys close relations with the Moscow Conservatoire, for whom we provide conference speakers and master-classes. We also coach keyboard teachers within the Tchaikovsky School’s program of Continuing Professional Development.

Some of our best Early Music singers were initially trained at the Moscow Choir Academy ‘Papov’, emerging with a good mix of vocal, musical and ensemble skills. Our master-classes also welcome visitors from Stanislavsky, Bolshoy and other mainstream opera houses, singers with excellent voices and rich stage experience, for whom Historically Informed Performance is new territory.

Our production of Celos has led to close collaboration with the Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish embassy and theatres in Spain. We also contribute musically to charitable concerts given by the ensemble of Singing Diplomats at the German embassy.



The rhythmic energy and visual appeal of Spanish baroque has attracted considerable TV and radio exposure, and internet streaming of selected performances.



What remains of the former State education system continues to produce instrumentalists and singers with dazzling virtuosity and rich knowledge of mainstream repertoire. Some baroque aficionados have managed to educate themselves in Early Music with help from visiting teachers, achieving high levels of performance and refreshingly independent academic perspectives. Others studied in Europe, returning to found independent festivals and ensembles in Russia.

With public funding, ensemble Madrigal at the Moscow Philharmonic preserves the style of communist-era Early Music, and Musica Aeterna in Perm brings in most of its players from abroad to play period instruments under a post-modernist baton, but Insula Magica does sterling work in far-off Novo Sibirsk.



In 2012, Theorbo was almost unknown in Moscow. We guided the first generation of theorbists as they transitioned from other instruments.


Video clip of the 2012 premiere of Anima & Corpo here


We are now victims of our own success, in that our theorbists are greatly in demand with other ensembles, so we have had to find a second generation of continuo-players to train up… and this is just how it should be!



Russian theatres have a traditional working practice in which members of the company or orchestra learn repertoire, by sitting-in and observing. We combine that Russian tradition with the baroque concept of apprenticeship.

New-entrant continuo-players begin their studies in a relaxed environment at open workshops. When they reach intermediate standard, they are invited to sit-in and play alongside the professionals at Theatre rehearsals, offering them real-world experience and advanced training on a show which will soon provide them with paid employment.

In the wider arena of the Russian Early Music scene, we measure success not only by absolute standards achieved by young professionals, but also by value added for keen baroque musicians at any level.


Authenti-City: Abandon hope all ye who enter here!


The much-debated question of “What is Authenticity?” requires fresh answers in the post-communist oligarchy of modern-day Russia.

In Europe, Performance Practice theories are often circulated by a system of ‘Chinese whispers’, teacher to student, director to musician, CD to listener, and in heated (rather than illuminating) debates on social media. Some performers believe it’s impossible to assimilate enough historical information. Others feel that period practice has been thoroughly worked out, and it’s time to invent something new.



OPERA OMNIA’s message to Russia (and to the wider world) is that HIP is not what some famous person says, nor is it what you hear on your favourite CD! We encourage everyone to check primary sources for themselves – most of the crucial treatises and many original scores are freely available online.



Our take on HIP focuses on practicalities. But before we look for answers, we interrogate period documents for the right questions to ask. Caccini’s (1601) priorities –

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

encourage us to look beyond modern-day obsessions with pitch, temperament and vibrato, and far beyond the old-fashioned notion of ‘on period instruments’. More about the Text, Rhythm, Action! project here. The Sats orchestra mixes Early and modern instruments, the training Studio is Baroque only.


Whilst the training Studio works in original languages, the professional Theatre productions of Anima & Corpo and Celos are sung in Russian. Supertitles and printed translations are little used in Russia, and the gain in direct communication between our singing actors and young people in the audience far outweighs the loss of the sound of a foreign language.

We worked very carefully to unite Russian text and Mediterranean music, seeking to achieve natural language, appropriate rhythmic fit, and a perfect match of the word-painting that is so characteristic of this period.



We rehearse the interplay of Text, Rhythm and Meaning with simple but effective hand-exercises, that are themselves fundamental elements of period pedagogy.

In Early Music, Rhythm is directed by Tactus, a slow steady beat symbolically linked to the hand of God turning the cosmos, and to the human pulse.

In an exercise for Text, the hand (now palm up, in the default gesture called ‘how to act’) moves with each accented syllable – Good syllables, in period terminology. More about How to Act here.

We ask singers to think of the meaning of the word, each time they move their hand. Leading questions can then draw out more specific gestures. “Where is that?” prompts singers to connect their gesture to a specific – imagined – location. More about pointing gestures here.

Fixing singers’ attention on the particular word they are singing right now, is also a Mindfulness exercise, which – like the steady beat of Tactus – encourages a state of Flow. More about Flow here. It’s how Monteverdi composed, word by word, and it sits well within the Stanislavsky tradition of Russian theatrical education.

The famous challenge from director to actor

I don’t believe you!

cannot be answered by exaggerated histrionics, by a gesture that is more historical, or by wider vibrato! It demands profound interior work from the actor. Caccini characterised the new, 17th-century style of singing as ‘like speaking in harmony’. Too much singerly attention on The Voice must be challenged immediately with “I don’t believe you”.


More about Emotions in Early Opera here.


Daily Schedule of Performances at Theatre Sats in Moscow, in the same week that this paper was delivered at GSMD in London.


At Theatre Sats, permanent members of the resident company perform all the different shows in a vast repertoire, and each of these shows comes around again every month or so. Singers and musicians have an immense daily work-load, often with two or more performances on the same day, plus rehearsals to revive old shows and yet more rehearsals to prepare new productions.

A typical day might begin with rehearsals for Rimsky-Korsakov, continue with a performance of Puccini and end with 17th-century baroque. To ensure continuity and provide a reserve for any eventuality, every show is double- or triple-cast: similarly for the orchestra.

Our first rehearsal for the violin band in Anima & Corpo was a delicate moment, introducing highly-experienced modern players to an utterly different aesthetic – straight tone, open strings and first position, slow bow-strokes. By lunchtime, we’d got through most of the material, and the musicians began to feel convinced by the unfamiliar sounds they were being asked to make. The afternoon rehearsal would go smoothly, we thought… until we saw a completely different group of string-players sit down for the second session!

A subtle feeling for a different kind of music-making is not something that can be marked into the parts – it has to be acquired through patient coaching and shared ensemble experience. It takes time. But once instilled in the whole company, it can be “absorbed” by new recruits more quickly, thanks to the ‘sitting-in’ tradition mentioned earlier.

Learning new material goes very slowly at the beginning, and then the final days of stage and technical rehearsal pass all too quickly: there is almost no time available in the middle for ‘artistic’ work.

It’s therefore crucial to engage with preliminary rehearsals, assisting repetiteurs as they drill notes into the singers’ heads. What is taught in these sessions tends to become up hard-wired, so mistakes must be ruthlessly eliminated. But this is also an opportunity to build-in fundamental elements of style, so a wise director will not be too proud to do a lot of the donkey-work themselves.


More about learning Monteverdi’s operatic roles here.



With limited time, and performers who spend most of their time working in quite a different style, our rehearsals focus on training general principles which can be re-applied in many different situations. Teaching principles, rather than imposing the director’s personal interpretation, leaves each individual with space to add their own artistic touches, and fits well with the historical concept of Art as a organised set of rules.

Of course, 17th-century aesthetics were also acutely concerned with the beauty and mysterious power of music: this is historical Science. We teach this in workshops, but for daily rehearsals we have to encapsulate complex ideas in punchy catch-phrase1s.

Sometimes it’s helpful to contrast 19th- or 20th-century practice with earlier styles, showing respect for musicians’ normal approach and for the coaching they receive from the Theatre’s mainstream conductors, whilst empowering them to do something very different with us, in the historical context.

The long legato lines of Romantic opera are contrasted with our mnemonic,

Breathe as often as you can!


Long notes long, short notes short!

brings rhythmic clarity, and encourages varied articulations. Subtleties of Tactus rhythm here.

Good & bad

does the same job for text syllables. More on Good & Bad here.

Ornamentation is not always relevant, and it’s certainly not a priority. Some visiting early musicians add ornaments, or ask about them; some resident musicians are keen to try for themselves. They all receive encouragement and advice. We will be more proactive as we come to French and later operas, for which ornamentation is an essential ingredient, like spices in cooking.



There is more time available at weekend workshops, where we explore links between period philosophy and the nitty-gritty of what one actually does in performance. Workshops also offer a ‘safe space’, a chance to try something utterly new. It’s a ‘safe space’ in the sense that we don’t have to demand instant success, and suitably-cushioned failure is accepted as an inevitable part of the learning process.

This training space is essential, not only for beginners acquiring fundamental skills, but– perhaps even more so – for professionals learning a new approach. These workshops are also the experimental laboratory that complements our academic research by providing a test-bed for new ideas.

Supposedly, Early Music is always trying out new performance practice ideas, but in the real world, there is a strong tendency to stay within everyone’s comfort-zone. It is much easier for a director to implement even quite radical decisions, than to change individual musicians’ deeply-ingrained habits.

New research findings demand new skills; new skills require new training methodologies; new methods have to be optimised and applied. All of this has to happen before new research can be applied in rehearsal, and polished for performance.



Our workshop formats vary. Our teaching style is to expound fundamental historical principles, and then guide participants towards making their own choices, within the style-boundaries. We usually have a wide range of abilities. Our motto is

Everyone has something to contribute, everyone has something to learn

– and that includes the tutors!


More about baroque gesture and historical acting here.



Many European conservatoires host a Historical Performance department, and most of those departments have partnerships with professional HIP ensembles. But we are working the other way around. We are hosted by a Theatre, so involvement with professional productions is a powerful, built-in “pull-factor” that sets our educational priorities. The complementary “push-factor” is new academic research, which drives our training agenda.

This is quite a different, and more integrated relationship between research, training and performance than one finds in most conservatoires.

Our Early Music focus on chamber-music skills, rhythmic accuracy and empowering individual performers is also beneficial to the Theatre’s mainstream work.



In today’s Russia, public funding comes from the State of Russia, or the City of Moscow. The City is richer than the State. Our host Theatre is State funded, and we do not expect additional public funding for this new venture against the current background of annual cuts in arts budgets, international sanctions etc.

Commercial sponsorship is focussed entirely on the highest slice of elite mainstream activity: there is no tradition of small or medium businesses supporting regional or local culture. But we have found some private support from enthusiastic individuals, and there are State and City funds available for specific activities, such as travelling productions.

The funding gap is covered by informal cross-subsidies that in Europe would be managed by assigning itemised costs to specific budgets, with cross-payments between departments. Performance fees, whilst smaller than European expectations, encourage directors to spend time on blue-skies research, and encourage musicians to invest in their own continued professional training.

Theatre Sats supports the Academy by providing resources off-budget. In return, OPERA OMNIA’s activities support the Theatre’s artistic, educational and outreach aims. We are blessed with senior management who take the long and wide view of this. We are also blessed with good team spirit, powerful ‘start-up’ energy, and a strong sense of involvement from all participants.

When money does change hands, it is rigorously controlled. But we devote less time to formal meetings and paperwork than in Europe. We can get things done quickly when there is a need or an opportunity.



We don’t pretend to be a full-time educational institution, rather we try to complement the work of conservatoires with our specialist focus on cutting-edge research, new training methods, new skill-sets and professional performance. We take a pragmatic approach, trying to fill gaps in knowledge and experience for each individual, leading towards specific performances.

Our concept of training as a ‘safe space’ and an experimental lab encourages us to respond continuously to new research findings. If there is a tendency for some conservatoires to educate for the past, for the world in which teachers themselves grew up, we are training for the demands of performances now and in the future, creating skill-sets beyond the limits of today’s Early Music habits.



Making baroque music in modern-day Moscow is often challenging. But the vibrant cultural scene, the energy and talent of Russian performers, enthusiasm from young audiences, and the Theatre’s support, create unique opportunities.

Last year, Theatre Sats was honoured with the European Opera prize for Education and Outreach. We at OPERA OMNIA are excited about our plans for the next few years. And we are proud to be developing performers and audiences for the Early Music of the future.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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.





The first Spanish opera: Speech, song and stories


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.



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.

Look Bach on 2015

ALK & Peri


Bach’s Prelude & Sarabande performed on baroque triple harp, against the background of a year of research, training and performance; publications, research findings; operas and concerts around the world.

Thanks to all co-researchers and musicians, friends, colleagues, participants and audiences!



Looking forward to seeing you in 2016!


Peri Euridice Preface vale


Please join me on Facebookhttps://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.



Text, Rhythm, Action! Research, Training & Performance

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

Read more…

Jacopo Peri


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

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

Text, Rhythm and Sound

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

Action! Action! Action!

Demosthenes Cicero Quintilian

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

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


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


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

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

Golden Mask


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



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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

Lasciate i monti


Scroll down for Publications  & (lots of) Links.


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


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


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


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



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



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



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



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


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



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



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


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


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


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


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


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

Ourense Angel

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



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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Hebro with head of Orfeo 2

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



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


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


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


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


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


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



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


Baroque Gesture: What’s the Point?

Workshop for advanced students and professorial staff at ESMUC, Barcelona

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


The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica hypnotises the Heroes

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


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


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


Landi La Morte d’Orfeo (1619)

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


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


A Baroque History of Time

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


Modes of Emotion Public Lecture, Kilkenny


Empfindsamkeit Workshop, Moscow Theatre Natalya Satz


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



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

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

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


Book Chapters by Andrew Lawrence-King:

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


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

Journal Articles by Andrew Lawrence-King:

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


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



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

Historical Prefaces:

Cavalieri Anima e Corpo (1600)

Peri Euridice (1600)

Caccini Le Nuove Musiche (1601)

Gagliano Dafne (1608)

Frescobaldi Toccate (1615)



ALK Video: “What are the Three Secrets of Great Performance?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j58nwM3nbpE

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


Introduction to ALK’s research: http://www.theharpconsort.com/#!research/c1dp3

Index to ALK’s blog: http://www.theharpconsort.com/#!blog-index/cxm4



Time & Tactus






Grant Beating Time and Measuring Music (2015)

Houle Meter in Music 1600-1800 (1987)


ALK Video: “What is Time?

Redefining Recitative

Il Corago on ‘the three ways of acting’, Delle Tre Maniere di Recitare (Fabbri & Pompilio, 40)





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


Agazzari Del Sonare sopra’l Basso (1607)




ALK Video “What is Continuo?”:


Introduction to Italian Continuo Video:

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

Historical Action




Bonifaccio L’Arte de’ Cenni (1616)

Bulwer Chirologia & Chironomia (1644)


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

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


Introduction to Historical Action:



Flow & The Zone









ALK Video: “Accessing Super-Creativity” 


History of Irish Harp

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








History of Welsh Triple Harp


Hypnosis, Rhetoric & Neuro-Linguistic Programming

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




Landi La Morte d’Orfeo

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




Monteverdi Vespers



Laudate Pueri Video:


Dixit Dominus Video:


Harp Technique




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




Introduction to Italian harp Video:

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



Introduction to Early Irish harp Video:

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


Early Irish harp ornaments Video:

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


Monteverdi Orfeo


Documentary Film:




Ludus Danielis

Documentary Film:


Peri Euridice



Purcell Dido & Aneas

Dido’s Lament Video:


The Witches Video:



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


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

www.IlCorago.com and www.TheFlow.Zone


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

Sherlock Holmes and the Wedding Dance: Tactus & Proportions in Monteverdi’s ‘Lasciate i monti’

Sherlock Holmes

“We must look for consistency. Where there is a want of it we must suspect deception.”


In a fine article, Dancing at a Wedding (Early Music magazine 2008 here) Virginia Christy Lamothe offers “some thoughts on performance issues in Monteverdi’s ‘Lasciate i monti’ (Orfeo, 1607) from her particular viewpoint as a musicologist and dancer. In a chapter for the multi-authored book edited by Timothy Watkins, Performance Practice: Issues and Approaches (Ann Arbor, 2009) she applies her expertise to Monteverdi’s Ballo delle Ingrate.

Lamothe examines these staged dances in the light of Roger Bowers’ theories of highly conservative, ‘medieval’ notation of Proportions (Bowers on Proportions in Orfeo here). Her own contribution is to place these dances in the context of period manuals for social dancing, Caroso Il Ballarino (1581) here  and Negri Le Gratie d’Amore (1600) and Nuovi Inventioni di Balli (1604) here.

There is certainly much to be learnt from Lamothe’s approach, to which we should add information specifically about theatrical dancing, in particular the Preface to Cavalieri Anima e Corpo (1600) here  and the anonymous c1630 treatise Il Corago (edited by Fabbri & Pompilio here). Both recommend that a ballo should be choreographed by an expert dancing-master, both mention specific dance-steps, continenze, gagliarda, canario that we see also in choregraphies for social dancing.

Il corago

Theatrical Dances

Cavalieri identifies slow steps such as riverenze, continenze and other passi gravi which are performed by the whole company con gravita. He suggests that singers might dance with instruments in their hands, and reminds us of his famous all-singing, all-dancing finale to the 1589 Florentine Intermedi, the Ballo del Gran Duca. But he distinguishes these slow, walking steps from the kind of ballo saltato (jumping steps) with gagliarda, canario, capriole (capers) etc, that would be performed by dance soloists (either two or four, depending on the size of the stage) without singing.

Listen to a duet version of Cavalieri’s Ballo del Gran Duca with Andrew Lawrence-King & Xavier Diaz Latorre here:


Monteverdi’s Balletto (Orfeo)


Lasciate i Monti scoring


The stage directions in the original print of Monteverdi’s Orfeo describe Lasciate i Monti as a balletto (diminuitive), and indeed it is small-scale compared to Cavalieri’s 1589 spectacular. It is shorter than many choregraphies for social dances. But nevertheless, the ensemble is larger than for Monteverdi’s Tirsi & Clori, designated a ballo.  Here, in Orfeo, we have 5 voices and 13 instruments. I will write about the instrumental ensemble in another post.

This balletto has three sections, in three time-signatures: C, 3/2, and 6/4.

Lasciate C

C: Lasciate i monti


Lasciate 3.2

3/2 Qui miri il Sole


Lasciate 6.4

6/4 Ritornello


Lamothe equates these with three movements commonly encountered in social dances: a opening section of riverenze, continenze and other passi gravi; a central gagliarda; a final salterello (jumping dance). The dotted rhythms of the final section of Lasciate i monti strongly suggest one particularly vigorous dance, the canario.


I agree with these identifications of the first and third sections. But I am not convinced that the central section is a gagliarda. It’s not a problem that the first phrase starts with an upbeat qui | miri il sole – Lamothe’s gagliarda example from Caroso does this.

Caroso gagliarda

Caroso gagliarda


But Monteverdi chose to make every phrase start this way, even when the word-accents suggest something different vos- | tre carole. In contrast, galliard phrases normally start on the first beat of the bar, even if the second note takes the word accent.

My thoughts are winged incipit

Dowland Galliard: My thoughts are winged with hopes, my hopes with love,


As Lamothe writes, “Specific types of dances followed particular rhythmic patterns.”. “Each galliard step requires six counts”, including gettati in aria, throwing yourself into the air, on the fourth count.

But the phrasing of qui miri il sole consistently contradicts the phrasing of the galliard step. If Monteverdi had wanted a galliard here, he could have written it like this.

Qui miri galliard

How ‘Qui miri il Sole’ could have been a galliard


Not everything in 3/2 is a galliard. Many of Negri and Caroso’s social dances include movements in 3/2 that are not galliards. Cavalieri tells us that theatrical galliards are danced without singing.  I conclude that Monteverdi’s sung 3/2 movement, Qui miri il sole, is not a galliard.

Monteverdi’s balletto and Cavalieri’s ballo

As we try to identify the three sections of Monteverdi’s 1607 balletto, there is an excellent match with Cavalieri’s 1600 ballo, the grand finale of Anima e Corpo, This is a larger-scale piece, with six strophes and many singers (Cavalieri asks the whole cast, whether on or off-stage, to sing). But the essential structure is the same: C (sung, major mode); 3/2 (sung, minor mode); jumping dance (major mode, instrumental). The texts of both link the movement of celestial bodies to earthly dancing. Cavalieri’s central movement also begins before the beat, in this case with two upbeats – it too, is not a galliard.

Cavalieri’s galliard comes as the jumping dance at the end of the first strophe, with perfectly regular phrases beginning on the beat, and obvious galliard rhythm. And – just as we read in his Preface – after the second strophe, the final dance is varied: now it’s a canario, with dotted rhythms in 6/4, and beginning (like Monteverdi’s canario) after the downbeat. The even-numbered strophes of Cavalieri’s ballo exactly match Monteverdi’s balletto:

  1. C (sung, major mode, could be danced by singers, riverenze, continenze etc) This section is con gravita.
  2. 3/2 (sung, minor mode, starts with upbeat, could be danced by singers but not with jumping steps, definitely not a galliard)
  3. 6/4 (instrumental, major mode, starts after the downbeat, canario, vigorous dance for the dancing-masters)

Cavalieri’s ballo has six strophes, so this particular sequence of three movements comes three times. Monteverdi’s balletto seems also to come three times: the sequence is two iterations of the balletto , some dialogue, and a final reprise of the balletto.


One of the challenges in reconstructing choreographies of this period is figuring out the precise repeat schemes. Lamothe problematises the repeats of the various sections of Monteverdi’s balletto. The music of the C section is written out twice, with a new text the second time;  the 3/2 has the music written out only once, with two strophes of text underlayed; the 6/4 is written out twice, but when the whole ballo is reprised a few minutes later, the repeat of the final section is indicated by repeat marks.

Whilst period choreographies show many different repeat schemes for different dances, the ABC ABC form usually adopted for modern performances of  Lasciate is not typical of Negri and Caroso’s social dances. However, we’ve seen that Monteverdi’s balletto is closer to Cavalieri’s staged ballo than to social dances.

I agree with Lamothe that the question of repeats is problematic. There is much to be said for her suggestion of ABB*C.   (B* means the B music with a new text). The effect for the listener is logical, since Monteverdi’s music has writtten-out repeats for A and C sections, but not for B. So the listener (unaware of how the music was notated) would hear an effect of AA*BB*CC. (The C section is untexted, of course). If one agrees with this logic, then the reprise of the ballo (a few minutes later) could be taken the same way.

I recommend this solution. But I do not rule out (as Lamothe does) the ABC AB*C …. ABC that we hear in many performances today. Her example of a social dance by Caroso is an arrangement of Cavalieri’s Ballo del Gran Duca (1589). Tellingly, the original theatrical ballo and the social dance arrangement have different repeat schemes. Theatrical and social dances were related, but not identical.

Galliard tempi

Lamothe draws attention to particular features of the Galliard movement in social dances, in particular that it is often specifically marked as gagliarda. She suggests that this implies the tempo of the galliard could be specific to that dance (i.e. not in proportion), or variable. Certainly it is true that the physical demands of this jumping dance require that the dancing master has just the tempo he needs. In The Harp Consort, our standard operating procedure for galliards (when performed as a single item, i.e. not as part of a larger ballo ) is to allow the dancer to set the tempo.

Contrary to what one might at first suppose, a slow galliard is physically more demanding than a fast one. At a slow tempo, the dancer must remain in the air longer – this allows more time for capriole, leg-beats in the air – which inevitably requires a higher jump. So slow galliards are more ornamented (just as with musical ornamentation in madrigali passegiati, where a slower Tactus may be taken). And slower, ornamental galliards with their extreme physicality were particularly for men.

Lamothe cites Yvonne Kendall, a scholar of early dance and music, who “reminds us that … the rhythm associated with a particular dance may not be tied to a particular metre signature.” Monteverdi notates galliard sometimes in 3/2 minims (which I take to be tripla, i.e.   three minims to one tactus at about MM60). This is a fast tempo, and we find it for example in Ballo delle Ingrate, which was danced not by singers, nor by the dancing-masters, but by the aristocratic ladies of the court.

Ballo delle Ingrate gagliarda

Ballo delle Ingrate gagliarda


But in the ballo ‘De la bellezza le dovute lodi’ the galliard is in 3/2 semibreves (which I take to be sesquialtera, i.e. three semibreves to two tactus beats). This is a slow tempo, and is set to the words Ben fallo Alcide il forte referring to that mythical strongman, Hercules.

De la bellezza galliard (bass)

De la bellezza galliard (bass)


The agreement of fast/slow tempi with the physicality of fast/slow galliards and with texts associated with women/men seems to support my interpretation of proportions, in which the note-values (minims or semibreves) give us the information we need, to choose between tripla and sesquialtera proportions.

De la bellezza galliard (cantus 1)

De la bellezza galliard (cantus 1)


By the way,  in the cantus primus part for ‘De la bellezza’, there is no time-signature for that same galliard at Ben fallo Alcide. According to Roger Bowers’ theory, this would be a fatal error, a singer would not be able to interpret the notation. According to my theory, the absence of a time-signature is a minor problem; the time signature doesn’t tell the singer anything they didn’t already know.

"What do you make of it, Holmes?" "It is obviously an attempt to convey secret information."

“What do you make of it, Holmes?” “It is obviously an attempt to convey secret information.” “But what is the use of a cipher message without the cipher?”


Since dance movements in 3/2 may or may not be galliards, I suggest that the marking gagliarda in Caroso and Negri indicates not so much the tempo of the movement but rather the particular rhythmic pattern, the characteristic  ‘groove’ of this specific dance. Lamothe again: “specific types of dances followed particular rhythmic patterns.”

We see the same idea with her example from Caroso’s social dance, where the final jumping dance is specifically identified as a salterello. The fast tempo and dotted rhythms might otherwise have suggested a canario (although there are other rhythmic clues in Caroso’s salterello that would contradict an initial diagnosis of canario). 

Caroso saltarello

Caroso saltarello

Who were the dancers?

We should move away from the conventions of Grand Opera in the Romantic period, away from the modern categories of soloists, chorus and corps de ballet. The first ‘operas’ were performed with small casts, who doubled several roles. Soloists often sang as the chorus, too. Chorus members, even soloists might dance.

Lamothe takes into account Tim Carter’s calculations of a company of 9 or 10 singers, a typical size for early ‘opera’, that could have performed Orfeo. But there is strong argument that the first performance in 1607 involved only 8 singers, SSATTBB plus Francesco Rasi as Orfeo. Either way, the singers for the balletto will be mostly, if not entirely, one-to-a-part.

It is possible that singers might sing one-to-a-part and simultaneously dance. This was done by the three female soloists in the 1589 Ballo del Gran Duca – they even played instruments too! But castrato Giovanni Gualberto Magli, who sang three roles (plus chorus parts) in Orfeo, arrived in Mantua eight days before the performance, knowing only the Prologue, and much concerned about ‘so many notes’ that he had to learn. I find it implausible that he would have learnt a dance too, although period commentators report that he performed well when it came to the show.

Certainly, singers could not have sung Qui miri il Sole one-to-a-part and simultaneously danced a galliard, with its combination of three low jumps and one high jump every two seconds. (Try it for yourself!) At most, they could have done some passi gravi during this section. This supports my argument that this section is not a galliard. 

In Mantua in 1607, female courtiers were not allowed to appear on stage – that is why castrato Magli had to be brought in from Pisa. I assume that this prohibition would apply to dancing just as much as to singing. The courtly ladies who danced the Ballo delle Ingrate in 1608 (that year saw a change of policy, which also allowed La Florinda to sing the title role in Arianna), could not have represented the ninfe who are invited to leave the mountains and dance the balletto in 1607.

The most likely explanation is that the dancers were the court dancing-masters. On the model of social dances, they could have danced all three sections. Or ,on the model of Cavalieri’s theatrical ballo, the singers could have done simple movements (riverenze, continenze etc) in the slow C movement, and other passi gravi  in the sung 3/2 (but not a jumping galliard). The instrumental Ritornello then featured a jumping dance, almost certainly a canario, performed by the (male) court dancing masters. Maybe four, or perhaps just two of them, since the performing space for Orfeo was small, and there are already 13 musicians and 5 singers on stage.

One of the court castrati, Issachino Massarini, was also a dancing-master (though he was elderly by 1607). Lamothe speculates that this singer might have sung the role of Euridice, and also danced the balletto. In this interpretation, Rasi as Orfeo would also have to dance the balletto. I haven’t found anything about Rasi’s dancing skills (he was a singer, theorbo player and composer), but I’m sceptical that he would find dancing a vigorous canario the ideal preparation for his great song, Rosa del Ciel, which comes about half a minute afterwards, even if he was not needed for the chorus parts of the balletto. I also find it hard to believe that old Issachino would have managed the sequence of ballo choruses, galliard dancing, and Euridice’s recitative, followed by more chorus-singing, another galliard and the chorus Vieni Imeneo, all in the space of a few minutes.

Nevertheless, Lamothe’s suggestion reminds us that a male dancing master might have danced this balletto as a female character, just as the castrati singers sang female roles.

Another possibility is that some of the 13 on-stage instrumentalists could have danced and played – more plausibly in the passi gravi of the first two movements, than in the canario. But since Stephen Player of The Harp Consort has often played guitar whilst simultaneously dancing a canario, perhaps there was a dancing-master or two amongst Monteverdi’s players. Perhaps not the bass-violinist, harpsichordists or the harpist, but what about the three chitarrone-players? We do have period images of dancers with lutes and long-necked instruments.

Eighteenth-century Engraving of Commedia dell'arte Actors on Stage


Riciulina and Metzetin



Part of Lamothe’s argument is that Proportions might not apply to dancers. Dancers (and many conductors) are sometimes reluctant to struggle with the intellectual and practical challenges of Proportions, but period philosophy and historical musicology combine to emphasise that they are essential.

Ha, ha, keep time! How sour sweet music is / When time is broke and no proportion kept!

William Shakespeare Richard II (c1595) Act V scene v

To support the argument for inconsistency, Lamothe cites musicologist Jeffrey Kurtzman, who is certainly correct to draw attention to the complexity of evidence from period theorists. Working within the scholastic method, theorists had to reconcile the new practices of the 17th century – Monteverdi’s seconda prattica,  the novelty of continuo-notation and (I argue) a simplified use of proportional notation – with the conservative traditions of previous generations. As George Houle observes in Meter in Music 1600-1800, changing usages were fundamentally incompatible with older notation systems, and the theorists’ attempts to unite the irreconcilable were confused, confusing, and in vain.

I do not see that inconsistent realisations could work, in a period when there was often no rehearsal at all. And I do not agree with Bowers’ position, that musicians of Monteverdi’s generation were still putting into practice highly conservative, ‘medieval’ systems – Bowers’ theories are too complicated to work in real time, when sight-reading. Yes, something of the old ways was conserved in the notation, and period theorists struggled to make sense of this. But the actual Use had moved on, and (as just continuo notation replaced intabulated accompaniments) the practice (as opposed to the theory) of Proportions had been simplified, made more practical.

We can be sure that practising musicians found pragmatic solutions that worked, that provided consistent and unambiguous realisations of proportions for ensembles sight-reading together. For, unlike opera, most 17th-century ensemble performances had very little or no rehearsal. I argue:

Practical musicians must have found workable, consistent solutions.

You can examine my theory of proportions here.

Holmes theories

“The theories which I have expressed there, and which appear to you to be so chimerical, are really extremely practical — so practical that I depend upon them for my bread and cheese.”


In addition to arguing that period musicians realised Proportions consistently, I also reject the suggestion that 17th-century dancers had a different way of thinking. Such a divergence may happen today, but the familiar concept of the Renaissance Man reminds us that historically there was an aesthetic unity across many artistic disciplines, guided by high philosophy, i.e. period Science.

In Mantua, Massarini danced and sang; Rasi composed, sang and played theorbo; Monteverdi sang, composed and played the viol. Elsewhere we know of dancer/swordsmen, swordsman/vihuelists, and many dancing violinists, and continuo-playing singers.

It’s clear that there must have been a consistent approach across all these disciplines. We must therefore synthesise all the available information.

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”


I suggest that the missing links in Lamothe’s and Bowers’ arguments about Lasciate i Monti are the links: the link from the previous speech, the link to the next speech. Their suggested metronome mark of approximately 50/60 as  the Tactus Aequalis is certainly highly plausible. And Bowers agrees that the notation implies the same Tactus for the whole opera:

There thus appears to be every indication of the prevalence of a single tempo for the entirety of these pages, the fundamental durations of the unblackened semibreve, minim and semiminim remaining constant throughout.

Houle goes further, showing  considerable evidence of the same Tactus for the entire repertory, within this period.

But this ‘single tempo for the entirety’ must be minim = approx 60, not semibreve.

The confusion here is one that we find in period sources too, between Tactus (which strictly means the complete down-up movement) and Semi-Tactus (which is the proper name for the down-movement alone, or the up-movement alone). Many sources use the word Tactus for both, which leads to some theoretical confusion.

But in practice, there is no confusion. Just try the recitative Ma tu gentil cantor  that follows the first part of the balletto,  

Minim = 60? Maybe. Semibreve = 60? Impossible!

Minim = 60? Maybe.
Semibreve = 60? Impossible!


or Euridice’s speech Io non diro qual sia before the reprise,

Minim = 60? Maybe. Semibreve = 60? Impossible!

Minim = 60? Maybe.
Semibreve = 60? Impossible!


or the chorus afterwards, Vieni Imeneo.

Minim = 60? Maybe. Semibreve = 60? Impossible!

Minim = 60? Maybe.
Semibreve = 60? Impossible!


All work well at around minim = 60, none could be imagined at semibreve = 60!


Chain Missing Link Question

When considering Proportions, Tactus supplies the missing link


So, according to the well-agreed principle that the whole work has a unified Tactus, around MM 60,  I’m convinced that the C section of  Lasciate goes at approximately minim = 60. This is slower than many modern performances, but corresponds to the period description of this kind of movement as con gravita, with passi gravi.

Combining Tactus & Proportions

And here is perhaps the most powerful tool for the scholar of Proportions. If we combine the period principle of Proportions with the period principle of Tactus, we can eliminate many theoretical options as impossible. Starting with minim ~ 60 for Lasciate i monti (unfamiliar to our modern ears but certainly possible), the big question is what proportional relationship to apply at Qui miri il sole.

Eliminating the impossible I – Sesquialtera

If we follow Bowers’ theory and apply Sesquialtera to Qui miri il Sole, we would have dotted semibreve (three minims) = 30, i.e. minim = 90. I find this too slow for Qui miri, but not necessarily impossible.  (Bowers himself arrives at a faster tempo, by applying Sesquialtera, but starting impossibly fast in the previous C section). But what about the Ritornello after the balletto reprise?

Minim = 90? Impossible!

Minim = 90? Impossible!


Or (killer example) the final Moresca at minim = 90? Impossible!

Moresca from Orfeo

Minim = 90? Impossible!


Eliminating the impossible II – Sextupla

Alternatively, if we apply the very fast (Sextupla) proportion to 3/2 Qui miri il Sole, we would get dotted semibreve (three minims) = 120..  I find this too fast, but not necessarily impossible. But now the 6/4 canario would be dotted minim (three crotchets) = 240. Impossible!

Dotted minim = 240? Impossible!

Dotted minim = 240? Impossible!


What remains?

My practical theory of proportions (here again) indicates Tripla, dotted semibreve = 60 for Qui miri il Sole. (This would work as a fast galliard tempo, but I don’t think this is relevant, since the movement is not a galliard.) Then the canario comes out at dotted minim = 120 (i.e. the same dotted semibreve = 60 as in the previous movement). This (as Latrophe agrees) is a good canario tempo.

As Sherlock Holmes said:

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

[Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four (1890), page 111]

Livanov as Holmes

Holmes never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson”


I find this balletto an interesting and significant test-case, for which my theory of Proportions provides a plausible solution.

But I’m certainly not so arrogant as to insist that anyone else should accept my theory. And I’m just having some fun by quoting Conan Doyle, even if investigating period performance practice can be something like Holmes’ Detective Science. However, I do suggest that you might apply my methods to test your own theory of Proportions. A good theory should be consistent, unambiguous, and easily applied for quick decisions in the real world of practical music-making.

So, as Sherlock Holmes said on the next page of The Sign of the Four:

You know my methods, apply them!


Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com . Further details of original sources are on the website, click on “New Priorities in Historically Informed Performance”

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












Regina Cithararum – the Cloyne, or Dalway Harp



Ego sum Regina Cithararum (I am the Queen of Harps): so reads the inscription on the 1621 Cloyne Harp (also known as the Dalway fragments), which now belongs to the National Museum of Ireland, and is kept in store at Collins Barracks. In a seminar at Scoil na gCláirseach (the summer school of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, more about Scoil here) last August, Simon Chadwick skillfully reviewed the state of research into chromatic Irish Harps, and Thomas Zapf demonstrated a prototype reconstruction of the Cloyne Harp, with a fine performance of Dowland’s “Lacrime”‘ pavan.

Period descriptions – Vincenzo Galilei Dialogo della Musica (Florence, 1581 here), Praetorius De Organographia (Wolfenbuttel, 1619 here) and the Talbot MS (Cambridge 1690s here) – make it clear that chromatic Irish harps did exist, but do not give us all the details we would like to have. Nevertheless it seems plausible that the typical layout of the strings was more-or-less similar to an Italian ‘arpa doppia’, with two or perhaps three rows of strings in the centre of the compass, and with the lowest octave or so in the bass “diatonic only”. [Of course, those bass strings can be re-tuned for each piece, just as is done for the bass strings on lutes]

Galilei arpa doppia

The Cloyne harp survives only partially: we have the beautifully made neck and part of the fore-pillar (the Dalway fragments), but the soundbox is missing. The neck has a short extra row of pegs in the centre of the compass. This extra row and the total number of strings strongly suggest some kind of chromatic stringing. Simon described various experimental reconstructions including Tim Hobrough’s (used extensively for performances and recordings in the 1990s and still going strong), two harps developed as part of Tristram Robson’s researches (the surviving second model kindly donated to the HHSI), a copy made by Evans & Flockhart for the National Museum of Ireland, and the most recent attempt, David Kortier’s prototype (played during the seminar by Thomas Zapf). 

Dalway extra pegs

It was noted that many modern reproductions have exploded under the extreme tension of so many wire strings. Tristram’s first harp had to be rebuilt, Kortier’s prototype has a temporary repair to a deep split in the box, Evan’s & Flockhart’s also broke: otherwise Hobrough’s is the only reconstruction to have survived intact. Simon speculated that perhaps the soundbox of the original also exploded, which would explain why it is no longer with us today!

Early Music May 1987

Early Music Magazine May 1987 includes two articles about Chromatic Irish harps. Mike Billinge & Bonnie Shlajean showed how a multi-row layout (at the soundboard) can be achieved from a single-row line of pegs (at the neck). (I would add that the historical playing position (with the hands resting on the soundboard) implies that the string layout at the soundboard is all that matters for playability.)

Dalway-Hobrough layout



Peter Holman set out some of the evidence for the use of a chromatic Irish harp (rather than a gut-strung Italian or Spanish harp) in William Lawes’ music “for the Harp Consort.” Although some early harpists continue to promote gut-strung Italian triple harp for this repertoire, the academic consensus is that the case for Irish harp has been proven. ‘The triple harp idea does not hold up to scholarly scrutiny’, writes John Cunningham in ‘Some Consorts of Instruments are Sweeter than Others’: Further Light on the Harp of William Lawes’ Harp Consorts’, Galpin Society Journal,  41, April 2008, 147-76. See Cunningham’s book,  The Consort Music of William Lawes, 1602-1645, (Woodbridge, 2010) for more about the Harp Consorts. The best edition is Jane Achtman’s 2002 diploma thesis, published by PRB productions here in 2007 , even if her preface is now out-of-date (in an attempt to be even-handed, she discusses triple harp at length). You can hear one of the Pavans performed with Irish Harp on the recording Exquisite Consorts by The Harp Consort (available from Amazon here).

Exquisite Consorts CD

Reinhard Thym’s painting of musicians at the court of Christian IV in Denmark shows an Irish harp (we see the player’s hands resting on the soundboard, but we cannot see the string layout), lute, viol and flute. A lot of consort music from this court survives, in particular music by William Brade. In England, Thomas Bedoes played Irish harp amongst a large consort of plucked and bowed strings in Shirley’s 1634 masque The Triumph of Peace. You can hear another Pavan by Lawes performed with the line-up of the Thym painting on the recording Exquisite Consorts (here again) and English masque music with Irish harp on the Tragicomedia CD Orpheus I am.

Darby Scott and friends

Simon drew attention to two contributions to this growing body of research, coming from his work together with David Kortier and Thomas Zapf. A change in the angle of the neck and the spacing between the tuning pins seems to indicate the point at which the Cloyne harp’s basses went “diatonic only”. And the geometry of the string layout can be improved by taking the strings from the upper row of tuning pegs via the pegs of the lower row (using the lower row pegs as bridge pins). Very useful practical tips!

I have performed and recorded on the Hobrough reconstruction, performed on Tristram’s harp (there is a video, somewhere in the HHSI archives) and briefly played Kortier’s prototype. I suggest that there are three questions to be addressed: sound-quality, playability, and fidelity to the Cloyne as a (partially) surviving original).


Kortier’s harp has the best sound I’ve heard so far from a chromatic Irish harp, but his first sound-box exploded. I’m now planning to ask Katerina Antonenko to re-string my Hobrough reconstruction (which has a massive box modelled on the O’Fogarty harp) according to the new ideas that emerged since the mid-1990s, and to do some acoustic work on the box, to improve the sound.


However, I consider Kortier’s prototype unplayable. Kudos to Thomas Zapf for getting through Lacrime, but he also admitted that the wild irregularity of the string-layout makes the instrument impractical for public performance. Tristam’s harp is a little better to play, but still very difficult to manage. After many experiments and repeated revisions of the string layout, my Hobrough is the most playable chromatic Irish harp I’ve seen. But it’s also not easy to play. I’m now planning to ask Katerina to make further adjustments to the layout, taking into account Simon’s ideas, and seeking to improve both sound and playability.

Dalway reconstruction by Hobrough 3


The fragments of the Cloyne harp are vital information. It’s wonderful that we have these two pieces, although it’s frustrating not to know what was happening at the soundboard: this is where the string-layout really matters! It’s important to study these artefacts in great detail, and to extract as much information as we can from them. However, I don’t believe that the Cloyne is necessarily the perfect model for a chromatic Irish harp that would be suitable for the complex polyphonic music of the Danish court and/or William Lawes’ consorts. In order to explore these historical repertoires, performers need instruments that sound good and are fully playable. So we need to study the Dalway fragments, and build the information from them into reconstructions that are imaginatively redesigned to suit the music.

After all, that music is also historical information.But it comes from a different milieu. We might expect the Cloyne harp, Galilei’s Irish harp in Florence, and Praetorius’ German/Irish harp to be similar, but not identical to the chromatic Irish harps that were played in Copenhagen and London. Perhaps Talbot’s information might be more closely related, even though he is writing at the other end of the century.

So I hope that this seminar and my report her will stimulate further interest and experiment in this fascinating topic. Certainly, I’ve been inspired to tune up my Hobrough/Dalway/O’Fogarty monster again, and see what we might do with it next. When Tim made it, he included a surprise for me, an inscription that reads CITHARARUM REX REGINAM TANGET – Of harps, the King plays the Queen! 

Dalway-Hobrough detail


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

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

In Memoriam Pat O’Brien: Introduction to Italian Baroque harp

 In Memoriam

Pat O’Brien, lute and guitar guru, was also a charismatic influence on the revival of historical harps. In 1986 he contributed to the pioneering Early Harp conference in Basel, and over the next few years taught at the influential Bremen Harps & Lutes events. He was a founder member of The Harp Consort, appearing in many concerts and on the CDs Luz y Norte, Carolan’s Harp and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. With the New York Continuo Collective he facilitated a creative dialogue between harpists, lutenists and singers. He also taught at the Julliard School.

Most of today’s leading early harpists and lutenists benefitted from Pat’s insightful and authoritative teaching. Many of us are privileged to have known him as a friend, a larger-than-life character whose powerful presence we sadly miss, even whilst the inspiration of his work lives on.

Pat thought a lot about Historical harp technique, and he and I discussed the subject at length over many years. This article owes much to his ideas, and is dedicated to his memory.

Pat O'Brien


Part I: History

This instrument is called in Italian arpa doppia, because it is very large [twice the size of the renaissance ‘gothic’ harps that preceded it], and because it has a low bass compass [as we also say ‘double-bass’, ‘double-bassoon’ for instruments with low bass notes]. It has more than one row of strings, providing strings for chromatic and diatonic notes.

Jacopo Peri

Jacopo Peri with a renaissance harp (1589)


The Barberini harp  (17th century)

The Barberini harp


We see medium-size double-harps in Italy, with two rows of strings, around 1580. The ‘Este’ harp is typical, with the shape of a gothic harp, but rather larger size, and with two rows of strings.

Este harp


In the early 1600s, we see much larger harps with three rows of strings [two diatonic rows, chromatics in the middle row]. These are still called arpa doppia, or sometimes arpa a tre ordini [with three rows].


We do not know the details of the transformation from medium-size & 2 rows to large-size & 3 rows. There is comparable situation with our lack of detailed knowledge of the similar transformation of the renaissance lute to the baroque theorbo, which took place around the same time.

theorbo Confortini

The large 3-row harp was a highly successful design. It, was exported to France, Germany and England. It later interacted with Welsh harps to produce the Anglo-Welsh baroque triple harp [around 1700, more on Welsh harps here].

The primary function of the arpa doppia around 1600 was to accompany, in the new style of continuo. [More on continuo here.] The instrument is designed to play bass, with extreme low bass-notes easily available; and to play harmonies in the tenor/alto register. The playing position is optimised for this function.

In the painting,  Allegory of Music (above), the very large Barberini harp is shown leaning forwards (in contrast to the modern position with the instrument leant backwards). I’ve tried the Barberini position, and I find it plausible. I sometimes use a less extreme version of this position, with the harp leaning forwards just a little: the harp will not fall, because your hands are resting on the soundboard. Most 17th-century paintings show that harp was positioned approximately upright [where it balances], with the player on a chair of normal height.

The player is thus rather low, with the harp high above. If you turn to look at the strings, you will be looking at the “tuning A” [eg A 460/440/415, whatever]. Without turning, your normal focus is on the strings corresponding to the range of the bass-clef – the normal range of baroque bass-lines.

It is easy to reach forward and down with the left hand, to play the extreme bass notes close to the soundboard. It is more difficult to reach up and back with the right hand to play the high treble. This is consistent with the main role of the instrument, to play continuo.

Of course, players did take advantage of the solo possibilities of the arpa doppia. Monteverdi and Trabaci write solos that dramatically exploit the entire compass from d” to GGG, 4½ octaves, sometimes in a single phrase. But the normal 17th-century soprano range remains within the C1 soprano clef [a third below treble clef].

In 18th-century instrumental music, composers often write an octave higher than this. Thus some German 18th-century harps, known as Davidsharfe,  were medium-size with 2 rows [allowing easier access to the high notes]. Italianate triple harps were also played in Germany, and it is not known whether CPE Bach’s Sonata was intended for triple harp, single-action pedal harp, or perhaps even for 2 instruments (one plays the solo, the other realises the continuo). [You can read Mary Oleskiewicz’s article on CPE Bach’s sonatas here Mary Oleskiewicz on CPE Bach. See the first page of her edition here, and consult the complete edition here.]


The 18th-century Anglo-Welsh triple harp is very large, but has a different shape, with very long bass strings, but not extending above the player’s head and shoulders in the treble. Again, this allows easier access to the high notes. [More on Welsh triple harps here.]


Our Italian baroque harp, the 17th-century arpa doppia, is optimised for 17th-century music. It can play very chromatically, but within a narrow range of basic tonalities [a simple piece in a ‘bad’ key is very difficult]. The instrument is designed to play continuo accompaniments, and is also very suitable for 17th-century polyphonic music or for dramatic solos. This is precisely how it was used at the time: this is also the kind of published repertoire that survives.

Agazzari frontispiece

Part II: Technique

The modern binary of Technique/Interpretation is not the best way to consider how to play Early Music. Many teaching books from the baroque period [most famously the three great treatises: Quantz for flute (1752) here, CPE Bach for keyboard (1753 & 1762) here, , Leopold Mozart for violin (1787) here] share a common structure with three or four main sections.

18th-century teaching books

Much of what we would now describe as elementary technique is dealt with very quickly. Hold the instrument like this, play in time (read more about rhythm for Early Music here), and play in tune (for the period of the arpa doppia the default temperament is quarter-comma meantone).

After this short introduction, the first subject to be dealt with at length is Articulation. This means tonguing-syllables for wind instruments, bowing for violin, and fingering for keyboards and harps.  This section therefore links phrasing (especially short-term phrasing) to the basic technique of each instrument.

The second section teaches how to play ornaments (technique), and how to use them (intepretation). Often, certain ornaments are required for the sake of musical ‘grammar’, just as certain words require diacritical marks. What might seem to be a tiny mark, an optional extra, is an essential requirement if you ‘speak the language’ of a particular musical style.

The third section teaches Good Delivery. This is not quite the same as modern Interpretation. There is less emphasis on the performer’s Expression, or on translating the composition into some new form. Rather, the idea is to get the music across to the audience, clearly and effectively. The desired effect is muovere gli affetti to move [the audience’s] passions.

[Read more about How does it feel? A history of heaven, hearts and harps here.]

In this Introduction, I’ll follow the example of those historical teaching books, dealing quickly with the basic playing position, and spending more time considering Articulation, i.e. how musical phrasing (in period style) connects to historical technique (fingering).

2.1 Position

Find the balance-point of the harp, and bring yourself towards the instrument. You will need to sit well forward on the chair. Put your right leg forward, alongside the instrument. Draw your left foot back, so you have easy access to the extreme basses, playing the strings close to the soundboard.

Keep some weight on your feet. You can test this, by seeing if you can stand up without first adjusting your position. Stand up and sit down a few times, until you have found a seated position that still has your feet firmly on the ground.


Charles II, seated in typical 17th century manner. But I have flipped this image horizontally, in order to show the right leg extended, as needed for baroque harp.

Charles II, seated in typical 17th century manner. Note that I have flipped this image horizontally, in order to show the right leg extended, as needed for baroque harp.


For those interested in radical authenticity, you could experiment with having the instrument leaning forwards, held from falling by your hands resting on the soundboard (as we see with the Barberini harp, above.

For anyone coming from modern harp, you might need to remind yourself frequently to re-set the harp upright, since you’ll be used to its leaning backwards.

Your nose will be around the “tuning-A” string. You can easily see the bass-clef register. You can easily reach the extreme low strings. Don’t worry about the high trebles, you won’t need them yet.

It might feel strange to have the instrument ‘so high’: don’t worry! You might find it difficult to focus your eyes on so many strings: don’t look!


You can watch the video here.

Introduction to Italian Baroque harp 1 Position

2.2 Hands – relaxed for delicate control

With the low-tension strings of an early harp, your fingers don’t need strength, as much as smooth relaxation and delicate control. Excess strength will tend to morph into unwanted tension in the hand. So it’s a useful exercise to re-calibrate the strength in your hands, especially if you are coming from higher-tension pedal harp.

gentle hands

You can do the following exercise with real water-bottles, but it’s even more effective if you just imagine the bottles, and let the learning go direct into your subconscious.



water bottles


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

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

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

4. Turn your right hand so that the thumb is uppermost. Let your index finger wrap inwards a little more, and your little finger ease outwards a bit. Bring the middle and ring fingers close to each other.

Your hand will look like this:

Baroque hand

Default hand position from Burnett: The Art of Gesture

This position, with the fingers delicately curved, is the typical shape of a renaissance/baroque hand, that you will see in thousands of period paintings.

Charles II hands

The historical ideal of graceful posture was to have just enough strength in the hand to maintain an elegantly curved shape, but no excess tension. That’s an ideal starting point for historical harp-playing, too.

renaissance hands

Holding you hands out again, palm-up as before, bring your thumb into the palm, aiming towards the base of the little finger. (It varies from person to person how far the thumb wants to go. Just move it as much as is easy and comfortable for you). Then wrap your fingers around your thumb.

This is a basic human movement that we learn as tiny babies. Don’t think of it as a sophisticated “harp technique”, just keep the movement as easy and smooth as possible.

baby hands

As the last stage of this preparatory exercise, try bringing your thumb into your palm, and then wrapping the fingers around it, one by one: index, middle, ring, little. Gently, smoothly. Imagine your hands are moving through honey, not air, so that the movement is slow and sweet, like a slow-motion film.


1… 2… 3… 4… 5

Keep it simple!

2.3 Hands on harp

Place your hands on the harp, with the weight taken on the soundboard. Hold your fingers in a relaxed curve. As you move your fingers, let your hand remain still.

Hands on baroque harp

Place your hands on the harp, close to (but not touching) the strings. Repeat the wrap-around exercise.

This is especially valuable for modern harpists. Your long experience with the modern instrument has taught your hands an automatic response to being placed on a harp, i.e. to use your modern technique. So you have to give yourself time to learn another, different technique. At first, away from the harp; then on the harp, but not yet on the strings.

When you are comfortable with the wrap-around exercise, not touching the strings, take a short break. During a break like this, the learning you have done consciously is transferred to your unconscious mind.

Locking Attention


Now place your hands on the harp again, with your thumb and fingers on adjacent strings. Push gently on the strings, feel the contact. Rest your hand firmly on the soundboard, really take some weight down into the harp.

Now do the wrap-around exercise again, and let some sounds emerge from the strings. Move your fingers slowly. Focus on the smooth, easy movement, not on the resulting sound.

Most likely, the sound will be pleasant, but rather soft. To get more sound, apply more pressure on the strings, but keep the finger-movement slow.

To improve your sound, apply even more pressure, but keep the finger-movement slow. Let your fingers move through the complete range of movement, slowly. Don’t explode off the string: let your finger (or thumb) move slowly and smoothly.

More pressure. And slower. 

2.4 On the strings

It’s important to position your fingers accurately on the strings. The position is different from that for modern harp.

Place your fingers on the strings, not behind the strings. Your fingers are on the strings, and as you play, they slide across the strings. They slide slowly, with smooth pressure. The secret is to find this controlled sliding, like a violin bow sliding across the strings with enough pressure to make a sound, and with slow speed to sustain the sound.

Your fingers are on the strings applying pressure, not behind the strings and pulling. Here is an easy test for the correct finger-position:

1. Place your fingers on the strings in your best historical-harp position.

2. Push on the strings. Push firmly, and observe what happens.

If your fingers are correctly placed on the strings, you will be able to push the entire harp sideways.

If your fingers are behind the strings, when you push strongly, your fingers will slip between the strings. Whoops! Use this feedback to adjust your finger-position, and try again.

To begin with, you will need to remind yourself frequently of the basics:

  1. Rest your hands on the harp.
  2. Keep your hands still whilst your fingers move.
  3. Fingers on the strings, not behind.
  4. Slow, and with pressure.

Where does all this come from? It’s a mixture of historical information, information from historical keyboard & lute-playing (many ideas from Pat O’ Brien), and my personal experience. Period paintings and study of historical gesture shows us basic positions; lute-playing shows how to be on the string (it’s the only way to play both strings of a double course simultaneously); period violin technique shows the importance of slow, smooth pressure; keyboard, harp and lute techniques show us how to relate finger-movements to the period principle of Good and Bad notes.

2.5 Fingering

Now that you can move the fingers well, which finger should you use for which note? Period fingering systems copy the patterns of speech, so that you can play your Italian harp with an Italian accent.

Around the year 1600, Italian texts have mostly two- or three-syllable words, with a characteristic pattern of accented/unaccented syllables. The historical terms for these syllables are Good and Bad (or sometimes, Long and Short). When composers set such texts, they put a Good note on each Good syllable.

Articulation Good & Bad syllables

[You can read more about historical articulation, The Good, the Bad & the Early Music Phrase here.]

For Italian harp, thumb and middle finger are good. Index finger is bad. Patterns of two or three fingers are usually sufficient for melodies, corresponding to the two or three syllables of the most frequently encountered words.

Period melodies often move stepwise (a jump might indicate the separation between one phrase and the next). So it’s useful to practise the basic fingering for scales:

Upwards: 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 ….. and 1 at the top.

Downwards: 1 2 1 2 1 2 ….. and 3 at the bottom. Pass the thumb underneath the fingers.

A good exercise is to play a scale up and down across and octave and one note. Listen for the characteristic sound of Good & Bad notes, like Frank Sinatra’s dooby-dooby-doo.

Helpful Hints:

On the upward scale, place two fingers (3 & 2), play two notes (with your hand still), now slide your hand, and only then replace your fingers on the next two strings. Don’t let your fingers “look for the strings”. Rather, let your hand slide up the harp just the correct distance, so that when you put your fingers onto the strings again, they are in exactly the right place.

On the downward scale, let your thumb move directly from playing one string to resting on its next string (i.e. thumb jumps down a third). The index plays after your thumb has already crossed underneath. This disadvantages the index finger, helping to produce the Bad effect that we want. To keep your hand in contact with the soundboard, you need to slide your index finger down the string (towards the soundboard) as you go along.

When you come to a chromatic note, you might need to adjust the fingering. Often 2, or thumb, will be needed, regardless of the good/bad rule. Get back to good/bad as soon as you can.

E.g. D major ascending: 32 2(f#)2 32 2(c#)2

Period Principles

The principles of historic fingering are very simple.

  1. Put a Good finger on a Good note, a Bad finger on a Bad note. (If you are not sure about the notes, sing the melody Frank Sinatra-style, to dooby-dooby-doo. The doo is Good, the by is Bad. If you are still uncertain, try to reverse the Sinatra syllables: you’ll quickly convince yourself which way round is best.)
  2. Obey this principle, even when it makes the fingering complicated or awkward. Difficult fingering is better than bad phrasing!
  3. If you have a piece of stepwise movement, go up with 3 2 and down with 1 2. 
  4. When choosing between 1 or 3, put any movement of the hand where you logically want a jump or break in the music. Fingering and phrasing are totally united.

Chromatic notes

To reach a chromatic note in the inner row with the thumb, push the lower adjacent diatonic note aside and lean your thumb on this string whilst you play the chromatic. The thumb ends up hooked around this diatonic string.


E.g. to play F# with the thumb, push aside and lean on the F-natural, play F#, end up hooked around F-natural.


To reach a chromatic note in the inner row with a finger, push the upper adjacent diatonic note aside and lean your finger on this string whilst you play the chromatic. The finger ends up hooked around this diatonic string.


E.g. to play F# with a finger, push aside and lean on the G, play F#, end up hooked around G.


You cannot lift your hands up and away from the harp at the end of the note: your thumb or finger is still hooked around a string! This necessity confirms the ‘hands on the harp’ position we notice in period paintings, and which we studied earlier.

The secret to playing the chromatic notes confidently, accurately, without extraneous noises, and with a good sound, is that you leave the finger or thumb hooked into the middle row, after sounding the string.

And of course, Slow. With smooth Pressure. And your hands stay still, resting on the harp.

It’s a useful exercise to practise scales in difficult keys, and also chromatic scales.


It is difficult at first to coordinate the finger-movements when some notes of the chord are chromatic, others diatonic. Practise each note in turn to perfect the movement, before trying to synchronise the whole chord.

Try all the major and minor triads, in both friendly and un-friendly tonalities!

See the video on basic technique – fingering, chromatics, chords – here.

Introduction to Italian Baroque harp 2 Basic Technique

For a normal “good-note” chord, arpeggiate in both hands approximately simultaneously. Play “bad-note” chords unarpeggiated.

For a long arpeggio, play a low-octave bass note alone, then arpeggiate left hand then right. Play the bass-note on the beat (not before).

Continuo-playing requires sophisticated use of chord and arpeggios – this is just a beginning.


The first step is to learn good positions for the basic major and minor chords. Here are some guide-lines:


  • Third at the top, and/or doubled sounds good
  • Compact position (hands not separated, perhaps even overlapping) is good
  • Treat “tuning-A” as the upper limit for chords
  • Don’t use thirds in the bass below tenor-C, they are too ‘growly’
  • Try for big chords, at least 3 or 4 notes in each hand.


Introduction to continuo for Italian harp 1 Good & Bad

More about Continuo in a later posting, and forthcoming video series.



Two tunings were in general use in the 17th-century: with Bb in the diatonic row [historically more common] and with B-natural [my own usual tuning]. Scordatura was frequently used.

ALK with Rainer Thurau's "Zampieri" Italian baroque harp

ALK with Rainer Thurau’s “Zampieri” Italian baroque harp


On my harp, the ‘extra black notes’ between E & F and between B & C are used for enharmonics. This is typical of 17th-century practice: in the 16th century, these strings were tuned to important notes like D and A, for additional resonance.


The standard tuning of my harp is (from the bass upwards):


Left hand row:

FFF GGG AAA BBBb CC DD EE FF GG AA BB          etc       to g’


Middle row:

CC# EEb DD# FF# GG# BBb AA# C# Eb D# F# G# Bb A# c#     etc       to c”#


Right hand row:

FF GG AA BB C D E F G A B c d e f g a                                               etc       to c” d” eb

I keep my harp in quarter-comma meantone (details in another posting)

Pat O'Brien, ALK & other founder-members of The Harp Consort, at the recording sessions of Luz y Norte in 1994.

Pat O’Brien, ALK & other founder-members of The Harp Consort, at the recording sessions of Luz y Norte in 1994.


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