The Philosophy of La Musica

THE PHILOSOPHY OF LA MUSICA

 

 

Monteverdi’s setting of the Prologue to Striggio’s (1607) Orfeo is justly popular, not only as the opening of that famous favola in musica [story in music], but also as a concert-piece and as an introduction for student singers and continuo-players to the art of monody.

Documentary film and other articles about Orfeo on The Orfeo Page by IL Corago, here.

 

The music is just what we expect a baroque Prologue to be: a ground-bass, subtly varied from strophe to strophe according to the words; the vocal line a simple reciting-formula, but also varied from strophe to strophe. Whilst Cavalieri, Viadana, Peri, Caccini, the anonymous Il Corago, and Monteverdi himself (in the Preface to Combattimento) agree that neither singers nor continuo-players should make divisions in the ‘new music’ of the early 17th-century, Prologues and the entrances of allegorical personifications are an exception. Indeed, the repeating harmonic structure of Monteverdi’s music defines this Prologue as an Aria, and passeggi as well as ornaments on a single note (gruppetto – two-note trill with turn, zimbalo – restriking from the upper note, trillo – on one note, accelerating) would be appropriate, though they are seldom heard in modern-day performances. Nevertheless, the emotional effect comes first from the words, then from the steady rhythm, and finally from crescendos, diminuendos or exclamationi (sforzando, subito piano, crescendo) on single notes, as described by Caccini (1601). Caccini’s priorities, here.

Striggio’s five short stanzas summarise some of the most important philosophical concepts that guide baroque music in general and (what we now call) ‘early opera’ in particular. Perhaps we have been so charmed by the surface detail of La Musica’s song that we have missed her deeper message: but in the central stanza, all is revealed. And right from the start, Striggio proclaims two essential tenets of seicento aesthetics.

  1. Dal mio Permesso amato a voi ne vegno

Incliti Eroi, sangue gentil di Regi

Di cui narra la fama eccelsi pregi

Ne giunge al ver, perch’è tropp’ alto il segno.

 

From my beloved Permesso I come to you

Great heroes, noble blood of kings

Of whom Fame tells heavenly praises

Yet does not reach the truth, for the sign is too high.

 

Music comes from somewhere far-off,  from a beautiful pastoral landscape associated with the lost golden age of classical antiquity and with the divine inspiration and cultural melody of the Muses. With her opening line, La Musica evokes a mythological location, ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’.

 

The performance is offered to the audience: they (not the performers!) are the ‘great heroes’ whose fame is beyond telling. This is the reverse of the Romantic idea of ‘the great artistic genius in the temple of culture, receiving the worship of ordinary mortals’. Baroque music privileges the listeners: we performers come to tell them a story, to delight them with music, and to move their emotions.

 

In 1607, some of the audience (not all!) were indeed noble aristocrats. But today, anyone can be a king or a princess for the evening: this exquisite culture and the work of elite performers are on offer to everyone, at ticket prices that compare favourably to professional football!

The first baroque opera, here.

  1. Io la Musica son, ch’ai dolci accenti

So far tranquillo ogni turbato core

Et hor di nobil ira et hor d’Amore

Poss’ infiammar le piu gelate menti.

 

I am Music, who with sweet accents

Can calm every troubled heart,

And now with noble anger, now with Love,

Can enflame the most frozen minds.

 

Music can ‘soothe the savage breast’, but the special feature of seicento performance is the rapid change between contrasting, even opposing emotions. Cavalieri also draws attention to this, in the Preface to Anima & Corpo (1600), here. This differs from the Romantic tendency to intensify a single emotion more and more, in the search for catharsis.

 

Period Science classified the Passions according to the Four Humours: Sanguine (love, courage, hope), Choleric (anger, desire), Melancholic (sad, unlucky in love, sleepless, over-intellectual) Phlegmatic (unmoved by anything, a ‘wet blanket’).  Anger is Choleric, Love is Sanguine and the frozen minds are Phlegmatic. The Melancholy Humour, so typical in English period culture, in Dowland’s music and Shakespeare’s dramas, is absent from this Italian Musica, though it emerges in Striggio’s Act II. Emotions in Early Opera, here.

  1. Io su Cetera d’or cantando soglio

Mortal orrecchio lusingar tal’hora

E in questa guisa a l’armonia sonora

De la lira del ciel piu l’alme invoglio

 

Singing to the golden cetra as usual

I charm mortal ears for a while

And in this way with the sonorous harmony

Of the lyre of heaven I can even influence souls.

The strange and beautiful musical instruments of the early 17th-century, the large triple-harp, the long-necked theorbo and the bowed lirone, were all real-life imitations of the mythical cetra, the ancient and magical lyre of Apollo. With such instruments, baroque music can titillate the listener’s ears. But when this charming sound is coupled with music’s mysterious, cosmic power, the effect is far more profound.

 

This is the doctrine of the Music of the Spheres, a medieval concept that remained current until the end of the 18th century. Music, as we play and sing it every day, is an earthly imitation of that perfect music created by the movement of the stars, moon and planets in their orbits. The link is made by the harmonious nature of the human body, a microcosm with ears to hear, a tongue to sing, hands to play instruments, and a mind that senses the ineffable perfection and otherworldly power that our everyday music-making seeks to evoke.

This three-fold nature (cosmic, human and actual) is also characteristic of period Dance, which imitates the perfect movement of the heavenly bodies. In the early 17th-century (before Newton), Time itself was similarly understood to be set by the cosmological clock, observed in the human pulse and heartbeat, and shown by the steady down-up movsement of the hand, beating the (approximately one-per-second) Tactus that structures 17th-century music.

Period medical science modelled a mystic breath, something like oriental chi, networked through the mind-body holism (akin to the ‘meridians’ of Chinese traditional medicine) to facilitate proprioception, motor-control, psychological and physiological reactions. This pneuma was the same mysterious energy that transferred emotions from performer to listener, and was also the spiritual breath of life, activating each human being with the divine inspiration of the breath of creation.

Significantly, all this philosophy of heaven and humanity plays out at the practical level of historical performance. Musical rhythm imitates the steadiness and reliability of astronomical movement, driven by the slowest beat, the innermost sphere, the primum mobile. The Tactus-hand embodies the Hand of God, not wilful or capricious, but all-powerful and eternally constant. If musical time were to falter, the heavens might collapse, and your body rhythms would fail. If the pulse stops, the music also dies.

Getting back to Monteverdi’s Time, here.

 

The communication of emotions is linked to the healthy posture and elegant movements of Baroque Gesture, and to the invocation of the mysterious power of pneuma. Something like the Star Wars ‘Force’, pneuma can be with you, strong in someone, and you can use its power. Just as in oriental martial arts, the performance power of pneuma is associated with inner calm and precise timing, with a profound slow, steady control, even if surface movements are fast.

  1. Quinci a dirvi d’Orfeo desio mi sprona

D’Orfeo che trasse al suo cantar le fere

E servo fe l’Inferno a sue preghiere

Gloria immortal di Pindo e d’Elicona

 

Therefore to tell you about Orfeo is the desire that spurs me

Orfeo who tamed wild beasts with his singing

And made Hell a servant by his prayers

The immortal glory of Pindus and Helicon.

With this stanza, Striggio introduces the subject of his music-drama, a super-hero whose powers are wielded through the medium of song. Music has power over Nature, and can melt the hardest hearts. If battle-heroes go to Valhalla, then poets and musicians have the eternal glory of the homes of Epic verse and the Lyrical arts.

The sequence of ideas continues from the previous strophe into these lines, as signalled by the rhetorical link-word, quinci. Music is not just ear-tickling noise, it has cosmic power, and (in the current strophe) power over nature, power to persuade. Aristotle defined rhetoric itself as the Art of Persuasion, and Striggio’s Musica is, therefore, a rhetorical art.

 

Music is also storytelling – Monteverdi’s opera is designated favola, a fable. And it is desire that spurs us on tell such tales, to make such music. The Italian urge to sing, play, dance, act, recite poetry and tell stories is not English Melancholy but the Choleric Humour: a hunger, a thirst, a passionate desire.

 

  1. Hor mentre i canti alterno, hor lieti, hor mesti,

Non si mova Augellin fra queste piante

Ne s’oda in queste rive onda sonante

Et ogni auretta in suo camin s’arresti.

 

Now, while I alternate my songs, now happy, now sad,

Not even a bird will move amongst these plants

Nor will there be heard in these rivers the sound of waves

And every little breeze will stop in its tracks.

The traditional function of a theatrical Prologue is to command the audience’s attention and call for silence. Striggio’s choice of imagery reinforces the Orphic connection between music and nature, and emphasises changes between contrasting emotions. As her song ends, La Musica holds the spectators spell-bound for 9 minim-beats, 9 seconds of musical rests, 9 seconds of dramatic silence (on-stage, this feels like eternity!). If the performer can command the moment, this both creates and demonstrates the power of music to influence the listeners’ most profound spiritual experience.

If the audience are willing to suspend their disbelief, the staged drama that follows can be deeply moving. La Musica’s Prologue, in particular the hypnotic effect of drifting half-sentences and dreamy silences in this final strophe, gets the audience into the right state of mind for attentive listening and passionate response. Indeed, Striggio’s introduction to the opera can be analysed as an induction into hypnotic trance, an altered state of consciousness in which the conventional limits of reality are blurred and emotional responses are heightened, lulled into dream-world by the slow, steady beat of Tactus. The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica hypnotises the heroes, here.

So now, be still, and hear the Philosophy of La Musica:

 

  1. Music comes from an ancient, distant, golden, pastoral otherworld.
  2. Music pleasantly alters your state of mind.
  3. Music is more than sound, it uses the Power of the Force.
  4. Music is storytelling, and the Rhetorical Art of Persuasion.
  5. As Music sings, your mind flows… you relax… concentrate… in deep silence…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Organised Chaos – Rebel with a Source

Celebrating the European Day of Early Music 2018, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra’s concert of The Four Elements with Andrew Lawrence-King Saturday 17th March 6pm at Mustpeade Maja (Tallinn, Estonia) links Jean-Féry Rebel’s Les Élémens (1737) to music from

  • France – Rebel’s teacher, Lully, of course
  • England – Henry Purcell
  • Spain – the Madrid serenade scene from Campra’s L’Europe Galante (1697)
  • Turkey – the harem scene from L’Europe Galante

The Turkish scene features the Sultan’s favourite girl, Zaide, and the palace gardener, the Bostangi, represented in this instrumental concert by the orchestra’s flautist and bassoonist respectively.

I’m happy to have this chance to revisit L’Europe Galante, which I first directed at the Amherst Festival. Surely this is the perfect choice for the European Day of Early Music, and we are planning to start a staged production of the full opera with OPERA OMNIA at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’.

Meanwhile, here in Tallinn, our Spanish Entrée also includes variations on Les Folies d’Espagne, and the choice of movements for each of the ‘Suites’ we have constructed favours dances for which period choreographies survive, many of them published in Feuillet’s Chorégraphie (1700).

 

See also ALK’s solo recording here.

Rebel by Watteau c1710

Whilst French baroque music poses technical challenges for performers – intricate bowings, complex ornamentation – it offers easily appreciated delights to listeners: elegant dances with a lively swing, dramatic contrasts of theatrical characters. The complete program and program-note is below, but as the title promises, this post takes a closer look at the first movement of Rebel’s elemental suite, his famous depiction of Chaos.  Many listeners will know this from Christopher Hogwood’s (1980) recording with the Academy of Ancient Music here.

When I first performed Les Élémens, I had to work from the published Ur-text edition. As always, such editions are a mixed blessing. No matter how scholarly the editor, no matter how carefully they own up to their own editorial interventions, there is always more to be discovered in the primary sources. There is also the subtle question of whether variant sources should be conflated into a single version: perhaps these variants are neither ‘better’ nor ‘worse’, but just different. It would be historically appropriate to perform any one particular variant, but any conflated version is a modern construction! So, whilst secondary sources offer valuable commentary, any serious performer will prefer to see the original material for themselves.

I have seen mention of surviving instrumental parts, but if these exist, I haven’t been able to study them. So if some Rebel specialist can point me in the right direction, I’d be delighted to know more. I’ve also seen a statement that no score exists. However – God bless IMSLP! – the original (undated) printed score and Rebel’s c1737 MS are now freely available online (print of the complete suite and manuscript of Chaos only).

 

 

As you can see, the print is beautifully clear. It designates the work as Symphonie Nouvelle, and presents the suite of dances in a different order to that chosen by Hogwood: Chaos – Air pour l’Amour – Air & Chaconne – Ramage – Rossignols – Loure – Tambourins – Sicillienne – Caprice.  The Chaconne is clearly notated to continue directly from the preceding Air, and that Air has nothing of Loure (Hogwood’s title) about it. Rather, the rhythmic structure of the Air corresponds to a triple-metre Chaconne (phrases go across the bar-line, 2 3 / 1), though the harmonies and four-bar patterning of Chaconne are not present.

The print includes Rebel’s explanatory article, which reminds us of the close links between music and dance in baroque France: the concept of the four Elements offers a ‘pleasing variety’  of different music genres as well as costumes and dance-steps. Rebel describes the introductory movement, Chaos, as ‘natural’. In baroque terms, this implies an absence of artistry, the abandoning of the organising principles that would normally guide the transformation of raw nature into sophisticated art. And thus the famous first chord, containing every note of the scale simultaneously. Little by little, in 7 sections (suggesting the 7 days of Creation), musical organisation, principles of dissonance and resolution are imposed, and once the fog of Chaos is dispersed, a well-constructed final cadence brings this movement to a harmonious close.

In parallel, Rebel uses particular instruments to represent each element: Water (flute), Earth (low strings), Air (piccolo), Fire (violins). To begin with, the four elements are entangled and misplaced, but gradually they find their proper places, so that at the debrouillement (de-misting), each instrument, each element is correctly ordered.

 

If the print is clear, the manuscript gives an impression of primeval Chaos before the fog cleared.

Obviously, an earlier version of the piece is being adapted, with instructions to play certain bars twice, to add an extra bar of minims etc. But even when all the last-minute instructions are applied, the MS remains quite different from the print. The famous, shocking dissonance of the print’s first chord is delayed until bar 4: the MS begins doux (softly), with a single note, low D, in unison.

The flute part is given separately, on another page, leaving more space for the violas. And there are two staves for the bass section, shared between celli, bassoons, basses and continuo. Both bass staves feature low A (a third below a modern cello C-string), also seen in the single bass stave of the print. But there is no hope of filling in from the MS the viola parts missing in the print: the two versions are too different. At most, the MS gives an example of the composer’s viola writing, that can be imitated by present-day editors/directors. But the viola staves show frequent confusion of clefs, and many problematic passages defy any neat solution.

So the MS is a fascinating snapshot of Rebel’s creative process, of work in progress, but has limited use as a supporting source for the print. One could edit up the MS version, trying to make sense of all the additional instructions and reconciling this with the separate flute parts. Perhaps once audiences have become accustomed to the surprise of the chaotic opening dissonance, one could shock them anew by performing the MS version, with its soft, unison start!

 

What does emerge from parallel study of both versions is that Rebel’s work can be played by a standard French baroque line-up of five-part string ensemble, 1 bassoon and 2 high-wind players (who double flute, piccolo and oboe). Although the scores suggest multiple ‘flutes’ and ‘petites flutes’ (piccolos), only two high wind parts are notated at any given moment. With one player making a quick change from flute to piccolo and back, two musicians can manage everything. Usually, oboe and flute parts were played by the same musicians, and oboes are not mentioned at all in the Chaos. There is one horn part and one trumpet part – the D trumpet part includes the note treble c#, which is not part of the harmonic series. The violin and viola parts include many chords – it’s not clear if these would have been double-stops or divisi: in my own parties de remplissage I chose to make all chords playable as double-stops.

 

So that was my task for this month – organising Chaos!  My Creation – the program and note – follows below.

 

 

 

 

 

THE FOUR ELEMENTS

 

Jean-Féry Rebel Les Élémens (1737)

 

Baroque Dance-Music from France, England, Spain & Turkey

by Lully, Purcell & Campra

TALLINN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

directed by

Andrew Lawrence-King (baroque harp, harpsichord)

 

The word ‘Baroque’ suggests to us today the thrilling virtuosity of Vivaldi’s concertos and Italian operas; the intricate complexity of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Art of Fugue; perhaps even the exotic rhythms of Spanish and South-American music. But in the late 17th century, a fourth national style was the dominant element across most of Europe: the noble art of French dance.

 

It was the French who defined the dance-types that form the conventional baroque Suite – Allemande (originally an actual dance, but later a dance-like prelude), Courante (the noble entrance dance of Kings), Sarabande (elegant poses balanced on one leg, alternating with sudden fast turns and jumps), and Gigue (a lively leaping dance). The Loure is an elegant, slow version of the Gigue. The Chaconne and its minor-mode cousin, the Passacaille were grand ensemble-dances for the end of an opera, in which solo dancers and corps de ballet, solo singers and chorus, solo instruments and the full orchestra, would alternate in choreographically complex and harmonically expressive variations on a four-note descending ground-bass.

 

Composers and performers were free to assemble sequences of all kinds of dances, united by tonality, but contrasting in every other way. Each dance is quite short, and instantly recognisable, so that the audience can enjoy rapidly changing contrasts from one dance to the next. At a formal ball or Assemblée, courtiers would dance couple by couple, changing place in strict order of aristocratic precedence. In the theatre, each dance would feature different characters, in brightly coloured and contrasting costumes.

 

The Sun-King, Louis XIV himself, was a superb dancer, leading the way at court and dancing alongside the top professionals on stage. The beginning of his personal rule was dramatized as the Ballet de la Nuit, a ballet that lasted all night, culminating in Louis’ appearance at dawn as Apollo. “Now I alone guide the chariot of light. A divine hand has given me the reins, and a great goddess sustains my rights. I am the Star among Kings!”

 

French composers and playwrights linked sequences of dances with spoken or sung dialogue to create a variety of dance-based theatrical genres. As the 17th century progressed, plots became more serious. Dances were no longer merely entertainment, but became central to the dramatic story and to the artistic structure. Around 1700, however, the trend from charming comédie-ballet to serious tragédie en musique was reversed with a new genre, the opera-ballet, dramatically unified and formally structured, but more light-hearted than the tragedies.

 

Each dance-type has a characteristic rhythm, corresponding to its particular dance-step. This vrai mouvement  – true movement – guides not only tempo and rhythm, but also ‘swing’. 17th-century French musicians played medium-fast notes inégales – with a subtle swing – just as jazz musicians do today. The vrai mouvement is the ‘groove’ of each dance, giving a specific identity and feeling: courtly, theatrical or rustic; tragic, happy or comic.

 

In France, dancing and music were inseparably linked. The best violinists were also the best dancing-masters. Jean-Baptiste Lully was an expert dancer, violinist and singer, as well as the most famous composer of the age. Bow-strokes for the violin were light and airy, just like a dancer’s leaping feet. A flourish of the dancer’s wrist, or a brilliant swivel of the feet in mid-air correspond to the many trills and ornaments in French music. Dance choreographies transform a simple straight-line walk into an elegant and stylish display: similarly, underneath all the decoration of French baroque music there is a straightforward melody, often taken from folk-music.

 

In 1698, composer Georg Muffat summarised Lully’s violin style, cataloguing bow-strokes and left-hand ornaments for violinists. Dancing-masters published collections of choreographies, detailing every step of the most admired theatre and social dances. Muffat’s Florilegium and Feuillet’s Chorégraphie fed an insatiable public demand for new dances, new entertainments, as the dance-craze spread across Europe. Campra’s L’Europe Galante (1697) reflects the latest international fashions with scenes set Spain (the Sarabande, Chaconne and Folies d’Espagne were Spanish imports) as well as France itself. Campra’s finale is set in exotic Turkey, contrasting the passionate love-affairs of beautiful girls in the Sultan’s harem, with the wild exuberance of the palace gardeners, the comic Bostangis. In England, Purcell’s music combined Italian counterpoint with the ‘gaiety and fashion’ of French dance-styles, presenting Dido & Aeneas at the girls’ school founded by dancing-master Josias Priest.

 

This was also a period of change in the scientific understanding of the natural world, from Galileo’s Mecaniche (1599) to Newton’s Principia (1687, 1713 & 1726). New theories had to be reconciled with older models and with religious doctrine. The concept of Four Elements was expounded by Plato and Aristotle and survives today as the four states of matter (solid, liquid, gas and plasma). The classical Four Elements are Earth, Water, Air and Fire. These were all mixed together in the primordial Chaos, but during the Seven Days of Creation, they were disentangled so that each Element could find its proper place.

 

Lully’s pupil, Jean-Féry Rebel associates each element with particular instruments. As they emerge from primeval Chaos,  the characters of his ballet are: Water (L’Eau – Flute), Fire (Le Feu – violins), Air (L’Air – Piccolos),  Earth (La Terre – cellos and basses). String tremolos and bassoon create the sound-effect of Fremissage (earthquakes). In the following dances, low violins also represent Earth, and flutes represent Water. The piccolos create the stage scene of Ramage (green-leaved trees), where we hear Rossignols (nightingales) represented by the flute. Meanwhile, when harmony emerges from chaos on the seventh day of Creation, a fifth character appears in the circle-dance of a Rondeau: L’Amour (Love).

 

A fifth Element, the Quintessential or aether, occupied the highest, heavenly sphere. 17th-century writers identify the Quintessential as the Divine, as Love, or as the mysterious Spirit that communicates emotion from performer to audience. This baroque idea survives as our modern sensibility that music is more than just a physical process of vibrating strings and sound-waves in the air; that music, dancing and other arts can have some additional, indefinable, spiritual quality,

 

French baroque music was created by the collaborative work of dramatists, choreographers and composers. It was performed by singing actors, dancers and instrumentalists. So as you listen to these Suites, imagine casts of actors and troupes of dancers. See elaborate stage sets and thrilling machine-effects. Place yourself amidst the splendour of Louis XIV’s Versailles and the delights of André Le Nôtre’s formal gardens. Look for birds singing in the trees; for the enchanted palace of the witch, Armide, being consumed by fire; for the chivalric knight Amadis; for beautiful princesses in love and a noble Queen lamenting; and for a Turkish gardener busy with his shovel!

THE FOUR ELEMENTS

 

FRANCE

Overture: Le Retour des Plaisirs                           Jean-Baptiste Lully Alceste (1674)

Courante: La Bocane (Jaques Cordier c1625)     Marin Mersenne Harmonie Universelle 1636

Sarabande                                                                 Lully Une nopce de village (1663)

Gigue: La Vignonne                                                 Wilhelm Brade Neue Lustige Volten (1621)

Passacaille d’Armide (Pécour 1713)                     Lully  Armide (1786)

 

ENGLAND

A new Ground                                                          Henry Purcell Welcome to all the Pleasures (1683)

Lament                                                                      Purcell Dido & Aeneas (1689)

Round-O                                                                   Purcell Abdelazer (1695)

 

SPAIN

Sommeil                                                                    André Campra L’Europe Galante (1697)

Entrée Espagnole (Pécour 1704)                           Campra L’Europe Galante

Les Folies D’Espagne (Feuillet 1700)                   after Jean-Henri D’Anglebert

 

TURKEY

Prélude: Zaide                                                          Campra L’Europe Galante

Entree des Bostangis

 

INTERVAL

 

LES ÉLÉMENS                                                     Jean-Féry Rebel (1737)

Le Cahos

Air pour l’Amour

 

Air [La Terre, L’Eau, Le Feu]

Chaconne [Le Feu]

 

Ramage [L’Air]

Rossignols [L’Air]

Loure [La Terre]

Tambourins [L’Eau]

 

Sicillienne

Caprice

 

CHACONNE

Prélude                                                                      D’Anglebert (1689)

Fantasie de Chaconne                                             Francesco Corbetta La Guitare Royalle (1671)

Chaconne d’Amadis (L’Abbée 1725)                      Lully Amadis (1684)

 

 

 

 

The Shape of Time: Advanced Tactus skills for Early Music

 

Mid-20th-century Early Musicians faced a grim choice of rhythmic styles: Maelzel’s (1815) metronome, or Paderewski’s (1909) tempo rubato. Neither are historically appropriate for baroque music – Rameau and Quantz tell us that musicians simply didn’t use Loulie’s (1696) chronomètre , and Monteverdi’s notation suggests that Caccini’s senza misura was similar to Chopin’s rubato, a timeless melody over a timed bass.

Happily, there is rhythmic hope for Early Music, beyond that miserable modern binary of metronomic rigidity or vacillating rhythm: that hope is Tactus. Historically appropriate Tactus offers both structure and freedom, using which musicians can shape Time itself. For Monteverdi’s period, the structure is stabilised around a steady beat, minim = ~ 1 second, shown by the movement of the Tactus-hand: down for one second, up for the next second.  My previous post, The Practice of Tactus has links to articles on history, theory and philosophy; it also provides practical exercises for training yourself (and your ensemble) to work with Tactus. This post looks at advanced skills within that steady beat.

Further articles will introduce dance metres, even more subtle skills around the beat, and the difficult subject of tweaking the Tactus.

Warm-up

As a warm-up, repeat the Tactus Skills Maintenance exercises described in The Practice of Tactus:

Exercise One (Beat Tactus, eyes open/shut) 2 minutes

Exercise Two (Proportions version) 1 minute

Exercise Three (Whichever piece you are working on) 2 minutes

If there is any feeling of agitation or stress, extending Exercise One will help you find calm and focus.

You’ll find all the details you need to make sense of these cryptic reminders here.

 

Advanced Tactus Exercises

Exercise 1

This exercise introduces and strengthens a crucial, but subtle, Tactus-skill. The rhythms are taken from the setting by Morelli in Samuel Pepys’ music-book; the well-known words are from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which Pepys heard Thomas Betterton perform, in the declamatory style of the period.

 

 

 

Beat Tactus down/up with your hand (or use a 1-metre pendulum, but do NOT use a metronome), and say the words.

In modern, additive rhythmic practice, you would count from the beginning of the bar and sub-divide – “one two and” – in order to find the moment for the first word To. If you didn’t bother counting, you might well be early on the entry.  But the Tactus skills you acquired from the previous article (go on, you know you want to read it!) give you another option. Because you have steady Tactus, you know when the next beat will come, so you can place the word To just before Be on that next beat.

Tactus allows you to link phrases into the future.

And of course, in this example, the mini-phrase [or in CPE Bach’s terminology, ‘Thought’] To be belongs together. Similarly, the three-syllable Thought or not to be can be linked together, and placed so that this next be is also on the beat. And also with the four-syllable Thought that’s the Question: this is linked together, and placed so that Ques… comes on the beat.

Linking forwards to the next Tactus beat, rather than counting from the previous beat has many benefits: it allows you to keep your focus on the Tactus (without subdividing), it makes sure you don’t shorten the rests, it helps you keep the phrase linked together, and it gives you subtle freedom in where to place the little notes, as long as the main note is on the Tactus beat. You could make the upbeat on To short (‘overdot’) or very short (‘double dot’), not by counting, but by feeling what corresponds to speech-rhythm, aligning your freedom with the accompaniment by arriving at the main Tactus beat be on time. Try different versions of the short syllables in or not to be: there is a wealth of subtlety in the length you give to or.  But none of this subtlety disturbs the underlying beat, which remains

regular, stable, solid, firm… clear, fearless and without any pertubation

(Zacconi 1592)

 

Exercise Two

Staying with the Bard of Avon, here is a very structured line of blank verse:

When I do count the clock that tells the Time

Syllables in bold are on the strong beat of the iambic pentameter: syllables in red are accented. In this line, Shakespeare characterises the regularity of clockwork time by having every strong syllable coincide with the beat.

But in this line (formerly attributed to Shakespeare, now know to be by Richard Barnfield), the word-accents are not always on the beat, and the beat is not always accented.

If Music and sweet Poetry agree

The secret of good poetry, and of historical Tactus, is that word-accent and regular beat often, but not always, coincide. The interest and the beauty lies in the places where they diverge.

Shakespeare wrote plenty of blank verse. Try your favourite passage, and notice how the beats and the word-accents meet or diverge: that’s where meaning and beauty emerges from dee-dum dee-dum dee-dum.

Exercise Three

The next level of subtlety is to move beyond the crude binary accented/un-accented for each beat, and to investigate how each Good (i.e. accented) syllable sounds. Is it long or short? Slow developing or crisp? What is initial consonant? What is the vowel colour? What is the emotional flavour?

Now each of your Tactus beats can be regular yet subtly differentiated. You can find the extent and limit of these freedoms by working with a pendulum, which gives a subtle stillness at the beginning of each movement, rather than the sharp click of a metronome. Explore the particular flavour of each Tactus beat (as suggested by the sound and meaning of the words), in some more Shakespeare, as declaimed by Betterton and notated by Morelli for Pepys.

To ↓be; ↑_or not to ↓be; ↑_that’s the ↓Question. 

↓Whether ‘t be ↑nobler in the ↓mind; to ↑suffer
The ↓slings and ↑arrows ↓of outragious ↑fortune;
↓Or to take ↑arms a↓gainst a sea of ↑trouble,
↓And by op↑posing, ↓end them? 

To ↓die; ↑ _ to ↓sleep; ↑_
↓Noe ↑more. ↓ _ ↑And by a ↓sleep to ↑say we end
The ↓Heart-ake, ↑_and the ↓thousand nat’rall ↑shocks
That ↓flesh is ↑heir to, ↓is a consum-↑mation
De↓voutly *↑to be ↓wish’d. 

Notice, for example, the truly outrageous placement of the word-accents in ↓of outragious ↑fortune, and the unaccented down-beat of ↓And by op↑posing, in contrast to the sharp accent on ↓end themor the slow accents on ↓Noe ↑more.

This is what Tactus is all about – regular rhythm, with beautiful, subtle phrasing. And notice also that, in my text-only transcription, I haven’t notated anything at all inside the Tactus: this is an area where the soloist can suit the fine detail of syllabic timing to the sound and meaning of the words, without disturbing the regular pulse.

Exercise Four

The previous exercises were all syllabic, note-for-note. But where a single syllable is sustained as a melisma over several short notes, period sources give examples of how to vary the notated rhythms to create subtle beauty, within the steady beat of the Tactus. The following examples are from Caccini: the first of each pair shows how it would be notated, the second, how it could be sung, more beautifully.

 

 

Practise these examples with the Tactus-hand.

 

The Shape of Time

 

 

In the previous post, we already practised the subtle difference between the down- and up-strokes of the Tactus Hand (arsis & thesis). The downstroke is (almost imperceptibly) longer – notice in the illustration (above) that the down-curve is slightly longer than the up-curve. You can practice this by saying “L..O..N..G   / short” as you move your hand D..O..W..N / up.

The characteristically slow start to each pendulum movement also creates a kind of funnel-shape in Time, where the movement is slow at the beginning of the stroke and then accelerates. The regularity of the structure is maintained by the Tactus skill of linking to the next beat, and (with arsis and thesis) those two beats have a subtle LONG/short pattern: tick is not quite the same as tock. Notice in the next illustration that the down-funnel is subtly broader than the up-funnel.

This fits beautifully with the typical syllabic patterns of the Italian language. Simple two-syllable words have the pattern Good-Bad:  for-te, pia-no, piz-za, vi-no, dol-ce. This encourages a long-short shape in Time, whether on two minims (arsis and thesis on two successive Tactus beats) or on two crotchets (funnel-shape of Time within the Tactus beat). Some writers, for example Caccini, even refer to Good/Bad as Long/Short.

Further confirmation comes from Caccini’s fundamental exercise for learning the trillo, which he describes as the basis for all other ornamentation: in contrast to the tendency of many modern performances, Caccini insists that the trillo begins slowly, and accelerates all the way into the next beat.

 

Diminution treatises around the year 1600 show a general tendency for ornaments to accelerate from slow to fast, as Caccini teaches. See Bruce Dickey’s excellent introductory article in A Performers Guide to 17th-century Music.

 

Here are two simple exercises for practising the “funnel-shape” of 17th-century Time. You can tap your feet, or use a pendulum, to externalise your sense of Tactus, but – Rule 1 – do not use a metronome. We are now in a world of subtlety that Maelzel never dreamt of!

 

In the first exercise, experiment with different amounts of “funnel effect” – a strong effect gives strong forward energy towards the last note, but be careful not to arrive early, and not to accent the last note, which will be a Bad.

In modern performances, we often hear the opposite: a fast start to the ornament, a long delay before the final note whilst everyone waits for the conductor and each other, and then a catastrophic false accent on the last note. I’m sure you’ve all been there, got the T-shirt!

 

 

But now, this exercise will hone your skill in shaping Time together with the regular Tactus playing of the other (non-ornamenting) musicians. Nobody needs to wait, nobody needs to push, nobody should accent the last note: you just arrive there, beautifully in Time. As your ability to create balanced Shapes in Time increases, you will find that you do not need rallentando. Just let your awareness of Tactus continue, whilst you stop playing: now you can pass Time back to the Celestial Spheres, to continue in perfection and silence.

In the second exercise, you should breathe after each quaver, and be careful not to wait just before a quaver. The Shape of Time creates extra space for you to breathe, with the quaver following the Last-Note-Short rule to be a “short note in a long space”. The Funnel of Time helps the fast notes flow all the way into the unaccented final note, just as Caccini taught his pupils.

A breath just after the beat is a characteristic of baroque phrasing, so the Shape of Tactus Time has miraculous benefits for all musicians in giving extra space to show phrasing, and especially to wind-players and singers, in giving extra space to breathe. Any continuo-player who learns this skill will be much appreciated by their soloists – the soloist might not realise why, but with this way of accompanying, it just feels more comfortable, there is more breathing-space!

This article is perhaps the most important in the current series. Please take the time to read and practise it carefully. This is the subtle but essential skill-set that transforms rhythm from mechanically metronomic rigidity or flaccidly unstructured mush into something beautifully regular yet subtly structured. Each Tactus beat is like a snow-flake: symmetrically and regularly formed, yet unique in the exquisite detail of its realisation. This is the perfection of the Music of the Spheres, imitated by human hands, through the mystery of music.

 

 

P.S.  You can throw away your metronome now, I don’t think you’ll be wanting it again.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other words also recur frequently:

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

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

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

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

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

TO READERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, Cavalieri argues for contrast and variety.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Some dissonances and parallel fifths are made deliberately.

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

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

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

FURTHER READING

Peri Preface to Euridice (1600) here

Caccini Preface to Le Nuove Musiche (1601) here

Agazzari Del sonare sopra’l basso (1607) here

Monteverdi Orfeo (1607) here.

Gagliano Preface to La Dafne (1608)

Anonymous Il Corago (c1630) here

How to Act in Early Opera & Shakespeare here

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

 

E VIVETE LIETI!

 

 

The Perfect Musical Director: Music inspires me!

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

 

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

 

The Perfect Musical Director

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You can find Mattheson’s complete original here.

 

Mattheson title page

 

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

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

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

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

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

From 2011 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. He is now preparing a translation of Bonifacio’s (1616) Art of Gesture and a book on The Theatre of Dreams: The Science of Historical Action.

 

 

 

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.

Heinrich Schütz: Polychoral splendour & the Enargeia of early opera

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) is justly celebrated as the greatest German composer of the generation before Johann Sebastian Bach. Apart from his first book of madrigals, he left almost no secular music; no score for his (1627) opera, Dafne has survived. Even though he was an outstanding organist, he published no instrumental music. Nearly all his surviving compositions are settings of sacred texts, many of them in the grand style of divided choirs he learnt from Gabrieli, others in the new, dramatic style of Monteverdi.

 

Schutz

 

Schütz was born in Bad Köstritz, near Leipzig, and grew up in nearby Weißenfels. He sang as a choir-boy for the Landgrave of Kassel, before travelling to Venice to study with Giovanni Gabrieli. He then spent most of his life in Dresden, creating an impressive body of work including settings of the Psalms, Historia (story-telling oratorios) of Christmas and the Resurrection, Passions (according to Matthew, Luke & John) and the Seven Last Words.  The Italianate splendour of his style is proclaimed in the titles of his publications: Geistliche Concerte (two books) and Symphoniae Sacrae (three books) – spiritual concertos and sacred symphonies! Schütz returned to Venice in 1628 to study with Monteverdi, and travelled twice to work in Denmark.

 

Schütz was master of a great variety of 17th-century styles, from Flemish polyphony to the block harmonies of Italianate music for two, three or four choirs, from dance rhythms and folk melodies to the dramatic style of oratorios and opera. In all these styles, the music responds directly to the words, to the speech-patterns of language, to the poetry of the psalms, and to the drama of bible-stories. Even the most elaborate instrumental writing (violin double-stops, sound-effects of battle, rhythmic dances, thrilling fanfares and virtuosic passage-work) proceeds from imagery in the sacred texts.

 

Divided Choirs

 

It is sometimes suggested that Schütz reacted to Gabrieli’s teaching by imitating Monteverdi, whereas after studying with Monteverdi, he returned to a Gabrieli-like style with multiple choirs. Though there is a grain of truth in this, it misses the point that much of the later polychoral music is designed for flexible performance; during and after the 30-years war (1618-1648), German establishments could not always provide the full complement of musicians required for four-choir settings. Monteverdi’s influence as madrigalist and opera-composer is seen more subtly in Schütz’s response to Enargeia, the emotional power of detailed visual description. His favourite Psalm-texts display vivid poetic imagery; Bible-stories are represented as dramatic scenes in which voices and instruments take on character roles.

 

006 3 kinds of Pneuma and of Music

 

Psalm 150 invites ‘everything that hath breath’ to praise the Lord with songs and instruments. This ‘breath’ is renaissance Pneuma, the divine breath of life, the mind/body energy of human beings, and the mysterious Spirit of Passion that communicates emotions through poetry and music. Accordingly, King David’s musical instruments and dancing are heard in the grand harmonies of the Responsory and the slow Sesquialtera dance-rhythms of this Psalm. Similarly in Psalm 33, the words ‘sing to the Lord a new song’ call forth a fashionable instrumental effect: violin double-stops with tremolo. After this, the ‘string-playing with harp’ is set just as King David describes.

 

The cetra is the mythical lyre of Orpheus – in Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo a golden cetra played by La Musica not only flatters the ear but, as the lyre of heaven, it can move souls. Schütz sets Psalm 70, Eile mich Gott zu eretten, in the dramatic style of Italianate opera and his own oratorios. In contrast, the simple faith of Von Gott will ich nicht lassen is set to vocal and instrumental variations on a popular folk-melody known in Germany as the Christmas carol Nun helft mir Gottes Güte schon preisen, in France as the dance-song Une jeune fillette and in England and Scandinavia as The Queen’s Alman.

 

Annunciation

 

Episodes from the story of Christmas inspired many of Schütz’s compositions. A high tenor represents the Angel Gabriel in the Annunciation scene, leading to Mary’s great song of joy, the Magnificat. Schütz set this text many times; the setting in Symphoniae Sacrae II (1647) casts Mary as a solo soprano and recalls Monteverdi’s Vespers with its elaborate instrumental writing. As the scene changes to the fields where the Shepherds watch over their flocks, Schütz depicts the angel choir’s concerto with the serene harmonies of Andrea Gabrieli’s (1576) motet Angelus ad Pastores ait, brought to the German congregation as Der Engel sprach zu den Hirten. The choral melody Veni, Sancte Spiritus is ornamented in dance-rhythms, with glorious moments of Giovanni Gabrieli-like tutti at the sacred words O lux beatissima (O most blessed light) and sacrum septenarium (the sacred sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit). 

 

Veni Sancte Spiritus

 

Later, the angel appears again to Joseph, warning him to take Mary and the Baby to Egypt, in order to avoid Herod’s wrath. Schütz casts King David as a bass, lamenting the death of his son, Absalon, amidst the solemn sonority of four sackbuts. In Psalm 68, paying homage to Monteverdi’s Combattimento, violins imitate the sounds of battle as God arises to destroy his enemies: but the righteous rejoice with the party-music of ciacona, citing Monteverdi’s Zefiro torna. Pharaoh’s army are drowned in the Red Sea (Psalm 136), but God’s goodness endures forever. Schütz depicts divine eternity with seemingly endless repetitions of the psalmist’s refrain, culminating in a final fanfare. No score is provided for this, since each Prince would have his own fanfare, which his trumpeters would play (from memory, of course) whenever required.

 

Baroque composers were utterly practical. Schütz explains how his music is scored flexibly, and can be adapted for various combinations of voices and instruments, for larger or smaller ensembles. In that period, the art of contrafactum, the skilful re-arrangement of pre-extant material, was greatly admired, and several of Schütz’s compositions adapt or refer to Italian originals. In general, 17th-century music was not conducted: one of the great ironies of today’s Early Music is to see an ensemble of period instruments or renaissance singers directed in 19th/20th-century manner by a conductor standing in front! However, in polychoral music it was customary to have several conductors simultaneously, one for each choir, relaying the Tactus around the building. Praetorius’ (1620) Theatrum Instrumentorum shows how German ensembles managed this (for us today, unfamiliar) practice.

 

No Conducting

 

Large-scale performances would of course have an artistic director, known in early 17th-century Italy as the Corago, who would take directorial decisions and coordinate rehearsals, but who would NOT conduct the performance.

With no conductor to warp time with romantic rubato or rallentando, each musician shares responsibility for maintaining the Tactus, that earthly microcosm of the hand of God directing the perfect rhythm of the heavens. Tactus also represents the human pulse, which should not falter or stop. So, if the time was kept steadily, where is the expression in 17th-century music? Schutz inherited the Flemish polyphonic style, in which individual voices clash in emotionally-laden dissonances, then resolve into gentle consonance. And he studied the Italian seconda prattica, in which Enargeia in the imagery of the text powers dramatic effects in the music, and the force of Pneuma transmits emotions to performers and listeners. Modern audiences, like a baroque congregation, are invited to apply the force of their own imagination to create a Theatre of Instruments, transforming Schütz’s music into dramatic scenes of Angels and Shepherds, King David, holy Mary, and Biblical battles.

 

Battle 17th century

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Casablanca Poster

 

Play it again, Sam!

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

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

sprezzatura di ritmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caccini Nuove Musiche title page

 

Re-assessing Le Nuove Musiche

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

 

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

 

Sprezzatura in the 16th century

 

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

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

Here is Hoby’s 1561 translation:

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

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

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

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

Hoby translates this section in 1561 as:

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

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

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

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

Il Cortegiano frontispiece 1562

 

Caccini’s Preface

 

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

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

Good Style

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

una certa nobile sprezzatura di canto

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Passaggi

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

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

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

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

The Passionate style

 

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

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

Quest’ arte non patisce la mediocrita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caccini Nuove Musiche Exclamazione

 

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

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

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

 

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

Trillo & Gruppo

Caccini Trillo & Gruppo

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

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

Caccini rhythmic alteration examples  

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

 

Three Sample Songs

 

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

 

Caccini Nuove Musiche example 1

 

 

 

Caccini Nuove Musiche example 2

 

Caccini Nuove Musiche example 3

 

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

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

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

Possente Spirto incipit

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

Aure divine, ch'errate peregrine

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

Caccini does not equate sprezzatura with free rhythm.

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

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

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

The fundamental things apply…

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

 

Play it again Sam

 

Please join me on Facebook 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.

www.historyofemotions.org.au

Historical technique for Early Irish Harps

As interest in and knowledge about Historical Irish Harps (aka Early Gaelic Harps) grows, as well-made and fine-sounding instruments become increasingly available, as insights into historical styles and period aesthetics are sharpened and shared, it’s high time to consider how we might recover historical playing techniques. We have a good model of how to do this work of re-discovery in the revival of period techniques for other historical instruments: harpsichord, viola da gamba, recorder, baroque violin and European Early Harps. The modern revival of those early instruments has many decades more experience than we have with Early Irish harps, so we would be wise to take whatever we can from the hard work they already put in. As Isaac Newton wrote in 1676, we can see further “by standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Where to look?

So what sources of information are available to us?

  1. Period information specifically related to the Early Irish Harp (music including technical instructions, treatises with technical information, iconography etc)
  2. Other sources of period information (other harps, similar instruments, other instruments and voice, literature etc)
  3. Personal experience of modern experts

We need to synthesise all the available information, examining each source for its merits, and weighing one piece of evidence against another. Apparent contradictions should alert us to the need for further investigation, and/or reconsideration. And – most importantly – our approach should prioritise those various sources of information in the order I’ve given.

For example, whatever opinions you might read in my blog are less significant than hard information you find in historical sources. Doh! Of course! And the same goes for any modern writer’s (or musician’s) opinions. So the challenge goes out to everyone, anyone with any interest in the subject, to find pieces of evidence that might challenge the accepted view. After all, knowledge only advances when someone dares to challenge what the previous authorities declared as indubitable fact!

Galileo and the Philosophers

Galileo and the Philosophers

What can we expect to see?

So as we put this evidence-based approach to work, what can we expect to see? The revival of other early instruments shows us that

4.  Historical techniques are different from 20th-century techniques

5.  Historical techniques vary from one historical period to another

6.  Historical techniques have consistent principles from one instrument/voice to another, within the same period

7.  Historical techniques differ from one place to another, not according to geography, but according to schools of influence

 

That last point is especially important. Within the same period, we do see significant differences in techniques from one place to another. These differences do not respect national boundaries, but are associated with shared aesthetics, cultural communication. So in the late 17th century, the musical aesthetics of the French style influenced many other countries: in Ireland, Carolan wrote Minuets. Technical methods followed the same routes as the aesthetic styles – if you want to play in French style, you’ll need French technique. Thus Muffat’s comments (in Florilegium, 1698, available, but not free, here) on the violin style of Lully made French violin technique available to musicians in the German-speaking countries who wanted to play in the French style.

Meanwhile Italian musicians brought Italian violin technique to Germany, too. By the mid-18th century, violin technique in Germany was a complex mix of French and Italian influences, described in detail in Leopold Mozart’s Violinschule (1787) here.

Similarly, Carolan’s contemporaries noticed how he brought the fashionable early 18th-century Italian style into his music. We can clearly trace in 18th-century Scots and Irish music three schools of influence: an ancient layer of Gaelic tradition (most visible in the gapped scales and characteristic ornaments); a 17th-century layer of French style (especially dance rhythms); a surface layer of Italian fashion (virtuosity and drama).

Available Evidence

So keeping in mind the principles of Where to Look and the guide of What we can Expect to See, what can we observe about period techniques for Early Irish Harps?

1a Music

There is very little (if any) music, let alone music annotated with technical instructions, for historical Irish Harp, that survives as a reliable indication of how the old harpers actually played.. Much of the repertoire remained in the aural tradition for centuries, and most of the publications of harp music were intended (and therefore, we may presume, adapted) for other instruments. Around 1800, Bunting includes some technical instructions in his published arrangements, but the technical information has to be assessed carefully since the music itself is heavily adapted. Luckily, we also have Bunting’s MS notebooks, which record the various stages of his work from field recording (noting down a tune as sung, played on fiddle, or played on the harp) through the process of adaptation and arrangement to the final published version. These notebooks include a few hints on technique, but fall way short of what we might wish for (detailed fingerings for an entire tune, for example). 18th-century prints are also one step removed from the harp itself, and do not include technical information. We find harp music in 17th-century lute tablatures, but these supply very little technical information.

1b Treatises

We don’t have Carolan’s Recipe for the Harp, more’s the pity! In fact, we have almost no period technical information for historical Irish Harp. Bunting’s publications and note-books give us some information on treble-hand ornaments and bass-hand chords.

What we do have is an 18th-century tradition of the first tunes that were taught to students of the Irish harp. Simon Chadwick discusses three such tunes and gives his suggestions for a technical approach in his book Progressive Lessons for Early Gaelic Harp, read more here.

Chadwick Progressive Lessons

You can see Bunting’s manuscript sketch of the Second Tune Burns March here  (The crossing out is Bunting’s mark that he has transferred the material to the next stage of adaptation and arrangement).

Burns March Bunting MS

 

The final arrangement for pianoforte is in his 1809 publication.

 

 

Burns March Bunting 1809

Comparing these two versions, there is plenty of room for speculation and debate as to which elements of detail seen in the final publication are genuine memories of Denis O’Hampsey’s performance on Irish harp, and which are Bunting’s own adaptations for a pianoforte publication. For example, the published version suggests how the notes might be divided between the two hands, and gives a lot of information about sustained and damped notes, all of which is consistent with other information this period. But the pianoforte arrangement also features extreme dynamics and rallentando, which contradict the information Bunting himself provides, that the old harpers played “briskly” and avoided the “sentimentality” of the 19th-century pianoforte style. However, the publication’s over-dotting of the long notes in bars one and two, and the slur indication, both serve to emphasise the difference between long/resonant and short/damped. This  is consistent with the principle of Good and Bad notes that we find throughout European music in the three centuries or more before 1800 (see below).

But we don’t know what kind of fingering system was used. Simon Chadwick’s realisation has something of medieval Ap Huw, something of 20th-century Crossed Hands. It does not look like the Good/Bad fingerings we see for many European instruments in the 16th/17th centuries, nor like the 18th-century approach we see in European treatises (German Essays and French Methods). With Simon’s book, as with Bunting’s output, the reader must decide for themselves how to separate historical information from editorial adaptation. With all due academic propriety, Simon makes your task easier, by giving you access to Bunting’s versions so that you can make your own comparison.

The fact that we know what were the First Tunes to be learnt in the early 18th century is a wonderful piece of information. Unfortunately, any modern interpretation of that information is working at several removes from what the old harpists actually played. We should synthesise the information hinted at in these First Tunes with what we know more surely from other sources.

1c Iconography

There are lots of period images, which give us plenty of suggestions for the basic posture, position of the hands etc. Surviving instruments also preserve signs of wear and tear, indicating how they were used by historical players.

aoneill

 

Carolan with small harp

2a Other Early Harps

We have a lot of period information and modern expertise to draw on. The ‘schools of influence’ concept can help us apply French and Italian techniques to Irish harp.

2b Related Early Instruments

We have a huge amount of period information and modern expertise to draw on. We can learn from historical Irish pipers and fiddlers. And we can learn from all the European instruments and voice treatises. If we look for the common ground, we can see strong consistent messages from all these sources, that we can confidently apply to Irish harp.

2c Other period sources

We have Irish texts to show us the characteristic phrasing of Irish song melodies. We can learn from any musical instrument, and from period literature and philosophy. There is a bottomless well of period information from Ireland and the rest of Europe, all of which we might usefully examine for possible relevance to Irish harp technique.

3 Modern expertise

If there is a current consensus, it is based largely on modern expertise. This is a valuable source of shared knowledge, but we must bear in mind that 20th-century wire-strung techniques were developed to play the repertoire as it was understood in the 20th century, in the way it was played in the 20th century, with the instruments that were available in the 20th century. Modern wire-strung technique therefore focuses on how to play the jigs and reels of modern tradition; how to play fast and loud in the modern manner; how to play evenly and smoothly in the modern style; how to control the excessive treble resonance of 20th-century steel-strung harps.

Coupled hands Heymann

Ann Heymann’s (2001) Coupled Hands technique makes it easier to play wide-ranging fast tunes by using both hands for the melody. It is available here.

 

Intro to wire-strung harp

This modern tutor, edited by Bill Taylor and Barnaby Brown, features contributions from Ann Heymann, Javier Sanz and Bill Taylor, and is available here.

Weighing the evidence

4.  Historical techniques are different from 20th-century techniques

20th-century techniques evolved to deal with particular challenges. Historical techniques evolved to deal with different challenges: how to play the historical repertoire of a particular period; with the slow steady beat of historical Tactus; with the short-term phrasing contrasts of period style; how to create the rich bass resonance that was so admired from the middle ages onwards, on thick brass strings.

Therefore, we can confidently expect that period techniques for historical Irish Harps will be quite different from 20th-century wire-strung methods.

5.  Historical techniques vary from one historical period to another

This makes our task with the Irish Harp even more complex. We have so little information, and the information we do have is from around 1800. When we look at the music itself, we see that music from Carolan’s time changed considerably as it was passed around by aural transmission during the 18th century. During the 1840s, William Forde collected many variants of older tunes, and some of these variants show extreme differences. More about the Forde MS here. During the 18th century, the old nail-technique was almost entirely abandoned.

We must assume that period techniques changed, in line with the music itself. Parallel changes in techniques for other harps, for other instruments, and the changing demands of the music can suggest what changes might have happened when.

Nevertheless, there are certain fundamental principles that are common to a wide range of early techniques (various instruments across a wide chronological period). It is reasonable to apply these fundamental principles of early techniques to Irish harp. And frankly, given the lack of other evidence, we have no alternative!

6.  Historical techniques have consistent principles from one instrument/voice to another, within the same period

This encourages us to seek out those fundamental principles, and apply them.

7.  Historical techniques differ from one place to another, not according to geography, but according to schools of influence

So we can look for help for the Irish harp from 15th/16th-century Welsh traditions (e.g. Ap Huw MS, read more here); from 17th-century French sources; from mid-18th-century German sources that describe the ‘international’ mix of Italian and French styles, from late 18th-century French sources that describe the harp techniques brought to England and Ireland around 1800.

These patterns of influence suggest strong parallels between the chronological development of Irish harp techniques and the big story of technical changes in Europe for all kinds of instruments.

All this encourages us to examine the fundamental principles of historical techniques (for any instrument, anywhere in Europe), and experiment with how to apply them to historical Irish harps, playing historical repertoire in a historical style.

Here are some provisional pointers.

Position

Period images show us that

  • The player sits with one leg more extended than the other
  • The harp is positioned with the top of the box more-or-less under the player’s chin.
  • The hands rest on the soundbox

All this is consistent with period posture when sitting in any situation, and with the wear-marks from the player’s hands resting on the soundbox of the 15th-century Trinity harp.

My personal experience is that it helps to rest the hands on the soundbox firmly: this allows the fingers to be relaxed and move freely. I counterbalance the pressure of a finger on a string with increased pressure of the hand on the soundbox. This passes the physical sensation of playing down through the body in a chain of actions/reactions, finger on string, hand on harp, harp on shoulder, shoulders supported by spine, sitting well-balanced on the chair, sensing the connection to the floor in your feet. This proprioceptive chain creates the sensation that you play a note with your entire body, and that you are simultaneously balanced, centred and connected to the earth.

Hempson

Which hand to use?

  • One hand plays the treble, the other hand plays the bass.
  • The hands are usually widely separated.
  • The left hand plays the treble.

Images and surviving music support the historical division of roles between the hands – one hand plays the treble, the other hand plays the bass. This is consistent from Ap Huw to Bunting. Bunting mentions hand-crossing as a special effect, used very sparingly. This is consistent with techniques for other harps and keyboards in this period.

There is no historical support for, and considerable period evidence to contradict, the 20th-century technique of  Crossed (Linked or Coupled) hands. That is a modern technique, evolved to deal with the modern challenge of playing the modern repertoire in the modern style.

For the Irish harp, period sources show a strong preference for left hand in the treble, right hand in the bass. Modern players may have good reasons for preferring right hand in the treble. This is a matter of personal choice, it makes no difference to the sound (if you set up your instrument in accordance with your choice of treble hand). The days are long past, when we thought it was acceptable to force people to change their natural handedness.

Brutal attempts to suppress left-handedness in the past.

Brutal attempts to suppress left-handedness in the past.

See my video lesson 1: Position here.

Introduction to Early Irish harp 1 Position

How to move your fingers

Accumulated experience and period evidence for other early instruments teaches us

  • The hand is relaxed, with the fingers and thumb gently curved
  • The fingers rest on the strings and ‘slide’ across the strings, rather than ‘pulling’ or ‘plucking’ from behind the strings
  • The finger-stroke is slow
  • There is a wide range of movement for a long note, a small movement for a short note
  • Increased volume comes from pressure on the string, not from speed of movement.
  • The movement is similar to giving a shoulder rub, to massaging the scalp when washing your hair, to kneading dough for bread-making

These fundamentals are common to any instrument with low tension strings. There is no significant difference whether one plays with fingertips or with nails. However, there is a historical change around 1800, as string tension increases greatly and the period aesthetic moves away from Rhetoric to 19th-century Romanticism.

These fundamentals are very different from the technique of modern classical (or modern ‘Celtic’) harp. 20th-century instruments are different, 20th-century aesthetics are different: it is to be expected that 20th-century techniques will also be different.

ALK video coming soon!

Introduction to Early Irish harp 2 Finger-movement

Which finger to use

This is the element of technique that changed the most, as we see from parallel developments in European harps and related instruments.

Across a wide period, and across many different instruments, teaching books have a consistent structure. More about period teaching books, here. There is a short introduction, which could be summarised as “hold the instrument this way up, this is where the notes are, play in tune, play in time”. Then the book considers three main topics:

  1. Short-term phrasing (what early musicians call Articulation). This is created by  tonguing patterns for flutes, bowing rules for violins, and fingerings for harps, keyboards etc. More about phrasing here.
  2.  Ornamentation (more about Irish harp ornaments here)
  3. Good Delivery (period style, what modern musicians would call Interpretation)

Some books have a fourth section, about Accompaniment. (Continuo, in the baroque period).

The short-term phrasing patterns of Articulation change, and the fingering/tonguing/bowing techniques change accordingly, during the period of the Early Irish harp.

Medieval

If medieval Irish harp-playing was similar to the Welsh styles we see in the Ap Huw MS (more about Ap Huw here), then the music was ornamental, rather than melodic/syllabic. Finger patterns were evolved to produce crisp ornaments, that could be played fast and with certain notes damped for the sake of clarity. The hand is fairly static. We see the remnants of this technical approach in the ornament fingerings given by Bunting.

Just as “classical” early Irish poetry is not constructed according to the accentual metres of European poetry (and Carolan’s easy-listening song lyrics), so the medieval technique of the Ap Huw style does not correspond to the Good/Bad notes principle of later music.

Renaissance & Early Baroque

16th and 17th music has melodies that relate closely to song-melodies. The tunes are therefore syllabic (you can set a text to the tune, with one, two or more notes to each syllable). Just as period poetry has accented and unaccented syllables, so early music has Good and Bad notes, which are played with Good and Bad fingers.  The rule is simple, a Good finger for a Good note, a Bad finger for a Bad note.

The question, which finger is which? Different techniques (various instruments, various periods, various places) make different choices: we may conclude that it doesn’t so much matter which choice you make, but it does matter to make some choice). I speculate that earlier Irish harp techniques might have concentrated on three fingers (index Good, middle Bad, ring Good) with the thumb kept for ornaments. Later Irish harp techniques were probably similar to European harps (thumb Good, index Bad, middle Good).

European historical techniques for harps with the hands close to the soundboard cross the thumb under the fingers. Irish harps were played with the hands close to the soundboard.

Melodies in this period tend to move step-wise, with little fragments of scales upwards and downwards. European historical techniques for harps with the hands close to the soundboard go upwards 32 32 32 and downwards 12 12 12. This works well on Irish harps, remembering that many intervals of a third are not true “jumps” but rather Gaelic gapped scales.

ALK video coming soon!

Introduction to Early Irish harp 3 Good & Bad

Late Baroque and Classical

There is a significant change in aesthetic and techniques during the 18th century, which is clearly established by the time of the three great mid-century treatises: Quantz for flute (1752) here, CPE Bach for keyboard (1753 & 1762) here, , Leopold Mozart for violin (1787) here. The same approach is seen in late 18th-century French harp treatises, read more here.

European 18th-century harp technique works very well for 18th-century Irish music on historical Irish harp.

This was the period during which Irish harpists abandoned use of fingernails. Playing with nails in the older tradition, I find it easier to play thumb-under. If you play with the finger pads as was the incoming fashion, you might well use the thumb-over position described in the late-century French sources.

My advice to students about thumb-under/thumb-over is that it doesn’t really matter much which you use. But you really need to choose: if your thumb can’t decide whether to go over or under, and ends up striking against the index finger, the result is disastrous! Just choose.

Late 18th-century fingerings stretch out the hand to help cover wide-ranging tunes and bigger leaps. The fourth, even fifth, finger comes into use. These fingerings respond to the challenges of the 18th-century repertoire, and I find that they work even for the jigs and reels of the later tradition.

These fingering are convenient to use, they make difficult melodies possible. But they do not create the Good/Bad phrasing, that is still part of the style even in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. If you use this kind of technique, you have to create the Good and Bad notes for yourself. The three great treatises make it clear that the concept of Good & Bad notes still applies, even during the later 18th century when the technical methods have moved on.

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ALK video coming soon!

Introduction to Early Irish harp 4 18th-century fingerings

 

Which technique shall I learn?

My advice would be:

  • If you have the time and patience, learn the appropriate technique for the period of the music you are playing.
  • The best way to sensitise your ears to the sound of Good/Bad phrasing is to experiment with the 16th/17th century Good/Bad fingerings.
  • If you are going to learn just one technique for Historical Irish Harps, learn the late-18th century French technique, here.

 

ALK video coming soon!

Introduction to Early Irish harp 5 Comparing fingerings circa 1700

 

Helpful Hints

Don’t worry about left-hand treble or right-hand treble. Just choose.

Don’t worry about thumb-under or thumb-over. Just choose.

Don’t worry too much about damping. Play Good and Bad notes, and listen. Damp anything that continues to annoy you!

20th-century wire-strung methods have instilled a terror of resonance, and an instinct to damp everything. This results in a negative mind-set, where the rich resonance of the historical Irish harp is choked, and players are inhibited from creating any sound at all. Learn to love that wonderful deep bass, thick brass, resonance. Make your melodies as clear as they need to be with selective damping, but let your harp’s voice be heard.

Thinking too much about damping is like driving with one foot on the accelerator, the other foot on the brake. You won’t get anywhere. The resultant sound is rather like John Major’s infamous locked throat voice-production (have a good laugh, here)

More about selective damping, in a later post.

Meanwhile, if you have some historical evidence to add to this, or contradict my suggestions, I would love to hear your comments!

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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.