How to study Monteverdi’s operatic roles

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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





1. Hold the music in your left hand

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


2. Take up the contrapposto posture

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


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



The toga is optional!

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

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


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


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

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



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

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

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

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



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



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


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


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

6. Sing the music, beating TACTUS

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


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

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


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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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



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


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


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

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

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


(Don’t worry, be happy!)



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


Look Bach on 2015

ALK & Peri


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

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



Looking forward to seeing you in 2016!


Peri Euridice Preface vale


Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites: [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music] [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.



Start Here: How to study Baroque Gesture & Historical Action

We must not break forth at once into speech, but should allow ourselves a few moments for reflection… In this preliminary delay there are certain pauses, as the actors call them, which are not unbecoming. We may stroke our head, look at our hand, wring the fingers, pretend to summon all our energies for the effort.


Homer describes Ulysses as having stood for a while with eyes fixed on the ground and staff held motionless, before he poured forth his whirlwind of eloquence. And these recommendations for how to start a speech (or an aria, or an instrumental solo, or for that matter, a corporate or academic presentation) come from Quintilian Institutio Oratoria (c95 AD) complete text here, in English translation.

So should we start by reading all 12 volumes of Quintilian (in the original Latin, of course)? Well, you could do worse, but there are perhaps quicker ways to get started. Read on…

In 2010, when I began to investigate baroque gesture seriously, in preparation for a production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (see the documentary film here and below), I started as any academic researcher might do, by reading key primary and secondary sources: Bonifaccio’s L’Arte dei Cenni (The Art of Gesture, 1616) here; John Bulwer’s 1644 Chironomia here; and that magnificent pioneering study, Dene Barnett’s (1987) The Art of Gesture: The Practices and Principles of 18th-century Acting. [Available on-line in 5 parts here, but charges may apply. Thank you to Brian Robins for informing me of this link]

Of course, this was not at all the way to start! Well, yes and no. These three books, along with Quintilian and other such publications are indispensable sources of historical information of what to do with your hands. But those hand-movements depend (physically) on whole-body structure and mental/spiritual connections, and they depend (rhetorically) on the text. And Baroque Gesture is only one element (and perhaps not the most significant) of the discipline of Historical Action.

Baroque Gesture requires holistic study

Attentionem poscit and art


Physically, gestural practices circa 1600 were enabled by the general embodied habitus of Early Modern performers. In an age before motor-cars and lifts, they walked and took the stairs, they rode horses. They were fit and more connected to their bodies than many of us today. They had better balance, they were more ‘centred’. Courtiers spent many hours every day dancing and practising swordsmanship.




Music Dance Swordsmanship


So any modern study of baroque gesture requires a grounding in academic knowledge and practical experience of period posture, early dance and historical swordsmanship. Speaking for myself, an academic appreciation can be more quickly acquired than an embodied understanding. It takes years of daily practice to assimilate ‘new’, healthy and historical ways of standing and moving. Experience with early dance is a great help, and sword-school is enormous fun. Although it is from another culture, I have found Tai Chi very helpful too in improving balance, establishing a sense of “centre” and facilitating mind/body/spirit connections.

Suit the Action to the Word



This is the advice for would-be Players in Shakespeare’s c1600 Hamlet. Baroque Gesture is only one element of Historical Action, which includes positioning on the stage (and even stage design), full-body acting, facial expressions etc.

For a list of possible gestures, see Bonifacio’s chapter headings, which examine the whole body from head to toe, not omitting ‘gestures of the genitals’. I’m currently working on a translation and commentary, to be published in 2016.

For an overview of all the various disciplines pertaining to Historical Action, see the opening chapter of that anonymous c1630 guide for a theatre’s artistic director, Il Corago, edited here.

By far the greatest influence is exercised by the glance. For it is by this that we express supplication, threats, flattery, sorrow, joy, pride or submission. It is on this that our audience hang, on this that they rivet their attention and their gaze, even before we begin to speak. It is this that inspires the hearer with affection or dislike, this that conveys a world of meaning and is often more eloquent than all our words.



And all this Action is dependent on the Text. It is not a modern “production” that has its own values, nor is it some kind of ancient hand-ballet, however visually pleasing that might be when done well. Action flows from the Text. Not only is the choice and timing of each gesture dictated by the play-text or opera-libretto, but the actor’s motivation, the mental and spiritual energy that empowers the physical movement, comes from the meaning and emotional force of the particular word being pronounced in that very moment.

This demands intense concentration on the text, not only in rehearsal, but right in the moment of performance. It should not be necessary to point out that performers (singers and their instrumental colleagues) need to understand the meaning and deeper significance of every word that is spoken or sung. But that understanding needs to be accessed in real time. It is not enough to have the translation written into the score, or buried somewhere in one’s memory. The complete implications of every word need to be fully present, in the exact moment that you pronounce it.

‘Staying with the text’ like this can function as a Mindfulness exercise, keeping the performer ‘in the moment’ and focussed, creating a special state of consciousness that enables relaxed concentration and flow. From this optimised mind-set, a great performance can emerge.


Of the various elements that go to form the expression, the eyes are the most important, since they, more than anything else, reveal the temper of the mind, and without actual movement will twinkle with merriment or be clouded with grief. And further, nature has given them tears to serve as interpreters of our feelings, tears that will break forth sorrow or stream for very joy. But, when the eyes move, they become intent, indifferent, proud, fierce, mild, or angry; and they will assume all these characters according as the [text] may demand.


eyes - mourinho


Most challenging of all, all of these elements – posture, movement, gesture, full-body acting and facial expressions, deep appreciation of the text – have to function simultaneously and in co-ordination. This does not come quickly or easily: one has to acquire the skill-set and musculature over years of study, hone the application to a particular text over hours of rehearsal, then give it that essential lift of spontaneity (for example, by choosing spontaneously from several well-rehearsed options, or by adding little touches of ‘ornamentation’ to the performance). Finally, you have to concentrate all this preparation into the one tiny instant of execution.

So Baroque Gesture is not something that we can master in a 90-minute workshop or condense into a short blog-post. It is a life-long study, that (for any true artist) will never be ‘perfected’. There is always something new to learn, something to understand more deeply, something to execute better in performance.

But there are some first steps that will get you started quickly. More quickly than me! So, whilst you are putting in the time to internalise the collected wisdom of Quintilian, Bulwer & Bonifacio, to memorise the complete works of Shakespeare and/or to translate all the ‘opera’ libretti from Anima e Corpo (1600) to Poppea (1643),  to learn all of Negri’s courtly dances, and to become a rapier-master according to Capo Ferro, here are some quick and easy short-cuts, literally from the ground up.


Start here



1. Historical Stance

Whenever you stand to sing/speak, practising at home, in the rehearsal room or on stage, adopt a historical stance. You can also practise this whilst waiting for a bus, an airport security check, or to pay for your coffee. Renaissance courtiers had to stand like this all day, so it became second nature to them. The aim is to minimise body tension, whilst still looking cool: ideal for standing around at court, waiting for your opportunity to shine. The technical term for this is contrapposto, an elegantly assymmetrical stance:

Stand diagonally-on to your audience.

With your weight on one leg.

The other (unweighted) leg is your ‘ornamental leg’. It is elegantly bent. Let the audience see how good it looks.

Relax, and let the weight fall through the weighted leg into the floor.

When you need to shift position, just change the weight into the other leg.


There is much more, as you can read in any history of art study of the contrapposto, but this is a good start. Practise it whenever you have half a chance!


2. Hands

Hold your script, or your musical score, in your LEFT hand. Now your right hand is free to gesture. This simple trick allows you to integrate gesture with your artistic preparation right from the beginning and throughout the rehearsal period, even into non-memorised performance. Let your RIGHT hand assume the default historical shape, as illustrated by Barnett.


056 Barnett 1

Imagine your right hand is holding a tennis ball. Relax, so that you are not using any more strength than is needed for that tennis ball’s weight.

Bring your middle and ring fingers together.

Let your index finger open outwards, and bring your little finger inwards a little.

If you turn this hand-shape over, it becomes an elegantly curved pointing gesture.


057 Barnett 2


Try it!


3. Eyes

This is what I call the Ut Pictura (like a picture) technique. As you study your text, create a detailed imaginary vision of precisely what everything looks like, with period iconography as a guide to keep your vision historically focussed. As you deliver the text, look at what you are talking about. Let your eyes and face show how you feel about what you ‘see’.


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

You will quickly notice how often baroque texts employ detailed visual imagery and such pointing words as “Look”, “Here”, “Now” etc. The more specific, detailed and precise your imagined vision, the more specific and interesting your eye-movements will be for the audience.


Further Study

No, these three first steps will not make you a master of Baroque Gesture. But they will create the conditions in which you can study and practise further. See my upcoming posts on what you might do next. And meanwhile, you have plenty of reading to do, in between those dance and swordsmanship classes!


Part 2 of this series, Modus Agendi, or How to Act is here.


Bulwer & Bonifaccio

Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites:  [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music]   [the production company & Historical Action]

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

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









The First Opera & The Beginning of Baroque

This is a slide-show introduction, based on lecture given to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Theatre Natalya Satz, Moscow (the original home of Peter and the Wolf), following the 45th performance of the theatre’s award-winning production of Anima & Corpo. Nevertheless, this post draws on the latest research findings, and there may be some surprises, even for seasoned baroque fans!


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 why would Cavalieri and his contemporaries seek to develop a new theatrical genre of fully-sung plays?

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 why would Cavalieri and his contemporaries seek to develop a new theatrical genre of fully-sung plays?

What are the three secrets of great performance

17th-century writers were still re-telling a story going back via Quintilian and Cicero to Demosthenes (4th cent. BC). The question was posed:


What are the three secrets of great performance?

Action Action Action


Demosthenes’ first answer was “Action!”. And his second answer was “Action!”, And his third answer was also “Action”.

Greek Drama

Meanwhile, in the decades before the year 1600, philosophers of performance were impressed by the emotional power of the ancient Greek and Roman dramas, which (they believed) had been fully sung. So Cavalieri and his colleagues wanted Action in their music, and Music in their dramas: fully-sung music-drama was the epitome of their beliefs in the power of performance.

The modern label 'first opera' encourages us to consider all that came after Cavalieri. But to understand his work, we need to view it in its own historical context. And we should be cautious: even though this is sophisticated, dramatically powerful, fully-sung music-theatre, Cavalieri did not call it 'opera'. It is a 'Rappresentatione', a 'show'. It is not 'primitive', but it certainly is different from our modern expectations.

The modern label ‘first opera’ encourages us to consider all that came after Cavalieri. But to understand his work, we need to view it in its own historical context. And we should be cautious: even though this is sophisticated, dramatically powerful, fully-sung music-theatre, Cavalieri did not call it ‘opera’. It is a Rappresentatione, a ‘show’. It is not ‘primitive’, but it certainly is different from our modern expectations.


Not ‘primitive’ but DIFFERENT…

… might well be our motto, as we climb into our time-machine in order to explore Planet Earth, circa 1600.


Architecture and Art

This was an age of impressive architecture: as assistant to Michelangelo, Cavalieri’s father Tommaso was closely involved with the building of St Peter’s Rome. Painting became ever more dramatic, culminating in the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio. Even religious subjects were depicted with theatrical bravura: Tommaso de Cavalieri was the model for Adam in Michelangelo’s frescos for the Sistine Chapel.

Exploration and Science

The exploration of the Americas continued, charted by sophisticated world maps. Galileo trained his telescope on the moons of Jupiter, and also experimented with gravity at the tower of Pisa.

Music Dance Swordsmanship

Italian ladies and gentleman at court would spend much of their time making music in madrigal groups or consorts of viols. Several hours each day would be spent learning and performing new social dances. And a couple more hours daily were devoted to practising swordsmanship, with the fashionable rapier, well over 1 metre long, with a needle point and razor-sharp edges.

Circa 1600

There was plenty of new music. Cavalieri’s opera was quickly followed by Caccini’s Le nuove musiche (1601/2), the first collection of songs with continuo-bass  accompaniment, which includes the famous Amarilli, mia bella. In 1607, Monteverdi’s ‘story in music’ Orfeo was performed: Aggazzari’s treatise from that year, Del sonare sopra’ l basso explains how many different kinds of instrument could improvise accompaniments from the same continuo-bass notation. In 1610, Monteverdi’s magnificent Vespers mixed old-style polyphony with the new techniques of continuo-song; Capo Ferro’s survey of rapier swordsmanship is from the same year. In England, this was the age of Shakespeare’s plays (full of music, of course) and Dowland’s melancholic lute-music.


In 1609 Dowland also translated into English an influential book on singing, Ornithoparcus’ Micrologus, in which he emphasises the particular importance of rhythm.





Violin family

Violin-family instruments from the late 16th century are still regarded today as the finest ever made. Praetorius’ 1619 diagram shows violin, viola, cello and related instruments, together with a surviving cello by Amati. Nowadays, these wonderful instruments have been altered, by changing the angle of the fingerboard to increase the string tension. But around 1600, violins were held in a relaxed way on the shoulder, were strung more lightly, and were not encumbered by chin-rests, tuning screws and shoulder rests. With its original set-up, the instrument is not as loud as a modern violin, but is more direct and responsive. If a modern violin is like a big, luxurious limousine, then a baroque violin is like a sports-car: lighter, more manoeuvrable, and (I would say), more fun to drive!

Shawms and Dulcians

The early-17th-century predecessor of the oboe was the Shawm, which was made in various sizes from soprano to bass. The double-reed is surrounded by a wooden ‘pirouette’ to support the player’s lips. The Dulcian is the ancestor of the bassoon, and also came in various sizes from bass to soprano. Whereas nowadays we consider oboes to be the high register and bassoons the low register of a single ‘family’ of instruments, in Cavalieri’s time they were two distinct consorts, each with a complete range from treble to bass.

Cornetts and Sackbuts

Baroque trombones, known in English as Sackbuts, have a narrower bore than their modern descendants. Like baroque strings, they are not as loud as modern instruments, but more precise and flexible in their sound. Praetorius shows the trombone family from bass to alto. The upper register of this consort is represented by the Cornetto, made from wood, with leather wrapped around it. It has a wooden mouth-piece similar to a trumpet’s, and finger-holes in the tube similar to a flute. The sound is somewhere in-between a trumpet and a flute, and was considered in this period to be the closest to the sound of the human voice. That gives us a clue to the sound-world of circa-1600 singing: not as loud as modern opera singers, but clear, precise and very flexible.

Trumpets and Drums

Trumpets and drums were originally military instruments, and are still today associated with royalty. Baroque trumpets have no valves; the different pitches, including extreme high notes, are created with sophisticated lip-technique.


Divided Choirs


We can recognise the descendants of these early baroque consorts in the various sections of a modern orchestra. But around 1600, large groups of instruments were not formed into a single ensemble, but were rather distributed around the available space in groups of 4 to 7. Each group was considered to be a ‘choir’, that might mix instruments and voices, or might be homogenous, e.g. contrasting a string ‘choir’ with a wind ‘choir’.





You can view and download for free a full-size version of this poster here.


The most important instrumental section in the first operas has no equivalent in a modern orchestra. The Continuo section brings together a variety of instruments with the common purpose of providing harmonic support and rhythmic direction, guiding the entire company of instruments and voices. Like the rhythm section of a jazz-band, Continuo-players define the rhythmic structure, respond to the various soloists and add decorative touches of their own. Agazzari’s 1607 treatise Del Sonare sopra’l  basso here explains how each type of instrument contributes to the Continuo.

renaissance organ

The organo di legno, or chamber Organ, has wooden pipes, and plays sustained harmonies in the low register, to support the voices and melodic instruments.


The Harpsichord has metal strings; when you press a key, a wooden jack rises past the string, so that a small plectrum (shaped from a bird-quill) can pluck the string upwards. As you release the key, the jack descends and a piece of felt is lowered onto the string to stop the sound. The sound is not as loud as a modern piano, but is clear and rhythmically precise. In this style, the Harpsichord also plays simple harmonies in the low register, defining the essential harmonic and rhythmic foundation.



The Regal, or reed-organ, has metal pipes; when air enters the pipe, a metal tongue vibrates against a metal half-tube, and this vibration is amplified by the metal resonator. The sound is strong and rather nasal. If the wooden Organ suits scenes of heaven, or pastoral idylls on earth, then the Regal is ‘the organ from Hell’!


The most essential instrument in an early Italian continuo-section is the Theorbo, also known as Chitarrone. This is the double-bass instrument of the lute family, with two necks. The strings on the first neck run over a fingerboard, and produce a strong melodic bass, with chords in the tenor/alto register. The second neck is much longer, and these strings have no fingerboard; they give another octave of sub-bass notes, that provide a powerful rhythmic impulse and a long sustain that supports the harmonic arpeggio of the upper strings.

Arpa doppia

Around 1600, the harp doubled in size in order to create a strong sub-bass register comparable to the Theorbo’s. The Italian arpa doppia (double harp) has multiple rows of strings, arranged like the black and white notes of a keyboard, so that all harmonies and chromatic changes are available, just as on the harpsichord or organ.

The harp also has a full soprano register, so that it plays a unique role in the continuo section, defining fundamental structure alongside keyboards and theorbo, and also providing decorative touches in the higher register.

Baroque guitar

The baroque guitar has a plucking technique for solo repertoire, but in the Continuo section it usually provides rhythmic energy and decorative colour by strumming.

Read more about Agazzari’s categories of fundamental and decorative instruments here.

Theorbo + Organ


The combination of harpsichord and cello is typical of 18th-century music. In the early 17th-century, the usual pair is theorbo and organ.


Realising the Continuo

All the different instruments of the Continuo section play from the same bass-line, which may (or may not) have additional information about the harmonies indicated by figures above or below each note. But whilst they read from the same part, each player improvises the harmonies and any decorative touches according to the role and capabilities of each instrument: this is referred to as ‘realising’ the continuo.


No conducting!

No Conducting

One prominent figure in modern opera, the conductor who moulds the rhythm and guides the orchestra with his hand or baton, was not seen in the 17th century. Early Music was not conducted. The role of guiding the rhythm belonged to the Continuo section, as Agazzari tells us.

Of course, there would be someone to coordinate the rehearsals and make whatever decisions were needed. This job was done by Il Corago, who was usually the Artistic Director of the entire production, responsible not only for musical coordination, but also for guiding the actors, dancers, scene-builders, lighting technicians (sophisticated lighting effects were obtained from massed candles), and stuntmen (acrobats and sword-fighters). Cavalieri himself was a Corago, with a working knowledge of all of these disciplines, so that he could co-ordinate the contributions of each specialist.

When there was a large musical ensemble, it would be spatially divided into several groups, each of which would have a time-beater to synchronise the rhythm within the group and between one group and the others. The frontispiece of Praetorius’ Theatre of Instruments shows this practice in action, with a large ensemble divided into three ‘choirs’ of instruments and voices. Each choir has its own time-beater, and the three time-beaters watch each other to synchronise the beat.


Modern Topics

Today, discussions about Early Music often focus on the question of Vibrato. Period diagrams show the typical shape of long notes: a ‘plain note’ begins softly and then swells out (there is no vibrato); a ‘waved note’ similarly begins softly, and adds vibrato as the sound swells out.

Another topic of modern debate is the question of pitch. Around 1600, in the south of Italy, the pitch was lower than today’s standard of A440; in the north it was higher. In central Italy, it was somewhere in between. Bruce Haynes’ The Story of A here tells the History of Performing Pitch in great detail.

Subtle choices of precisely how to tune each note of a keyboard instrument or harp are studied as Temperament. Whereas on the modern piano, Eb and D# sound the same and are played from the same key, in historical Temperaments these are two subtly different pitches. Some keyboards have double keys for the black notes, baroque harps have extra strings, in order to facilitate this fine distinction. The typical Temperament circa 1600 is known as Quarter-Comma Meantone: it produces beautifully pure major thirds, making consonances sweeter and dissonances sharper.

These are the hot topics amongst many of todays’ Early Music practitioners. But what were the priorities for musicians and singers performing Anima & Corpo in the year 1600? The original print is here, and Caccini’s Le Nuove Musiche tells us how to approach it:

The Interpretation of Early Music

Music is Text + Rhythm, and sound last of all.

“And not the other way around”, Caccini emphasises.

Text and Rhythm

These historical priorities guided my international research program into Text, Rhythm, Action! over the last five years, reported here, and I apply them in all my practical work, training musicians and directing performances for audiences today.



Period sources insist on the importance of communicating the text to the audience, so for the production at Theatre Natalya Satz, we wanted to speak to the audience directly in their own Russian language. Great care was taken to synchronise the translation with the ‘word-painting’ of Cavalieri’s music, in which every single word is individually set to music. Poet Alexey Parin worked together with specialist musicians Ivan Velikanov, Katerina Antonenko and myself, to preserve the close links between text and music.

Word Painting

At the beginning of the drama, the first notes are immediately repeated – not because a series of repeated Fs makes a wonderful melody, but in order to repeat the word for emphasis, just as a fine orator would do: “Time… Time”.

In this period, the term Aria has a different meaning; it signifies any repeated structure in words, rhythm, harmony or melody. The metric patterning of the verses Hoggi vien fore, Doman si more, Hoggi n’appare, Doman dispare [Today Life comes forth, tomorrow it dies; today it appears, tomorrow it disappears] is matched by similar patterns in the melodic contours, rhythms and harmonies of Cavalieri’s music. This, in early-17th-century terms, is another Aria, just like the repetition of the single word Tempo, along with its carefully set music.

If the text refers to Heaven above, ciel soprano, the singer will pitch his voice high. If the text mentions a party, festa, the music swings into fast triple-time. Just as an actor in a spoken play will raise his voice to indicate a question, so Cavalieri sets questions on rising pitches.

Text and music are so closely linked that many musical features are not Cavalieri’s compositorial choices, but rather his sensitive responses to the demands of the poetry. Similarly, many performance practices are not the performers’ artistic inspiration, but rather their sensitive responses to the demands of the text and the historical expectations of this musical style.


Many explanatory texts survive to inform us of those historical expectations, including a Preface with Cavalieri’s own indications how to perform this kind of music-drama, Agazzari’s treatise on Continuo already mentioned, and the anonymous c1630 guide for a music-theatre’s artistic director, Il Corago.



Although there were no conductors in this period, musicians, whether soloists,or in duet, trio and larger ensembles, would beat time with their hand, palm downwards, down for about one second, up for one second. This slow, steady beat was known as the Tactus. Read more about Tactus here.

What is music

Music itself was understood to be the Music of the Spheres – mysteriously produced by the perfect motion of the stars and planets; the harmonious nature of the human body; and – last of all – actual sounds sung and played on earth. So musical rhythm represents that perfect heavenly movement, rhythm is life itself.



Just as clockwork produces various speeds of rotation from one fundamental movement, so 17th-century musicians perceived the different orbits of the planets to be meshed together and turned by the hand of God. This philosophy is imitated in musical Proportions, by which the constant slow Tactus beat is divided into 2, 3 or 6, to create duple, tripla and sestupla metres. A Proportion of 3:2 creates Sesquialtera metre.

What is Time

Time, like Music, was celestial and embodied, measured by the cosmos and the human pulse, better than by clocks. The sun shows the time of day and fixes the moment of noon, the stars show the changes of the seasons. Our pulse measures shorter time-spans, of the order of seconds.

Galileo Pendulum


Galileo discovered the pendulum effect in 1582, observing a chandelier in Pisa cathedral, but the first pendulum clock was not built until 1656. So Galileo’s observations were timed against his own pulse – there was no more accurate clock.

Galileo Inclined Plane

For his experiments on gravity in 1607, Galileo had to time a ball rolling down an inclined plane to an accuracy of fractions of a second. This was far beyond the capabilities of any period clock, and required finer gradations than a pulse-beat. The solution was found in the precision of musical rhythm – if a minim is about one second, then semi-quavers define an eighth of a second.

You can try for yourself an on-line simulation of Galileo’s experiment, precision-timed by lute-music, here.

Newton and Aristotle

For most of us, our intuitive understanding of Time is based on Newton’s model of Absolute Time: Time itself continues ever-onward, independent of other variables. We we can measure the accuracy of a clock, or the daily changes in the precise time of solar noon, against the fixed scale of Newton’s Time. But Newton published in 1687, and it was many decades before his concepts gained general acceptance. In the year 1600, the accepted model of Time was Aristotle’s:

Time is a number of change/movement, in respect of before and after.

Without an Absolute scale to measure by, without the assurance that Time would march independently onwards, “change/movement” was required to create a “before and after” that would allow Time to be numbered. So musical Time, i.e. rhythm, was not only indicated by the hand-movement of the Tactus, it required such movement (at least as a concept) in order to exist at all. The movement of the cosmos, driven by the hand of God, not only measured time, but created it. Just as the heart-beat sustains life, so the steadiness of the musical Tactus was necessary for human health and indeed, for the preservation of the entire universe.

Read more about the philosophy of Time and musical Rhythm here.


Plato Kronos Kairos

The first character to appear in the first opera is Old Father Time, and his first words (repeated) are Il Tempo. Time is a crucial topic in this drama, understood within Platonic philosophy. The fleeting present moment is a moving image of Eternity, the point of contact between human life and infinite destiny, between earthly actions and the eternal struggle of Good and Evil.

There are two Greek words that we translate as ‘Time’ or in Italian, tempo. Chronological time, clock time, is Greek kronos, whereas kairos signifies the moment of opportunity. For a swordsman, kairos is the crucial instant of time when you must defend yourself to save your life, or when you might safely attack your opponent.

The Art of the Sword


Monteverdi wrote a one-act opera entitled Combattimento, a music-drama of sword-fighting. Opera-singer Julie d’Aubigny, known as La Maupin, was the best duellist of her age. Many dancing-masters were also fencing instructors, and the anonymous sword-master of Bologna declared that swordsmen needed the same precision timing as singers!

Capo Ferro’s 1610 Gran Simulacrum teaches the Art of the Sword, as applied to the long, needle-point, razor-sharp Italian rapier. If your opponent points his sword at your heart, you turn your (right) sword-hand palm-up and leftwards, so that your sword crosses his and protects you. His likely response is to dip his sword-point underneath your blade, and threaten your right shoulder instead. Now you will have to turn your sword-hand palm down and rightwards, pushing his sword aside so that you can lunge forwards and strike with the point of your sword.

Act with the hand, act with the heart!

Act with the heart, act with the hand


As we are told in the first scene of Anima & Corpo, historical acting linked emotional force to expressive hand-gestures. All the Action is founded on the poetic text, of course, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet instructs the Players:

Suit the Action to the Word

Bulwer Gestures


John Bulwer’s Chironomia (1644) shows gestures for Attention, for stylish Action, and for Antitheses (opposites): ‘on one hand…. on the other hand…’. Another way to Distinguish Contraries rotates the right hand palm-up and leftwards, then palm-down and out to the right.

To be or not to be


We could imagine such gestures being performed in Shakespeare’s most famous line from Hamlet:

To be or not to be, that’s the question

First we Distinguish Contraries  (to be, or not to be), and then we direct the audience’s Attention (the question). So To be (right hand palm-up and leftwards), or not to be (palm-down and out to the right), that’s (with index finger raised and the hand sent forwards, step forward to command the audience’s attention) the question.

If you try it for yourself, this sequence of movements might seem familiar to you: it is very similar to the sequence that we studied as a sword-drill, opposing to the left, turning the hand to close the line on the right, and then lunging forwards to strike.

Sword talk

Both Hamlet and Anima & Corpo are full of the language of sword-play. In Cavalieri’s masterpiece, the Guardian Angel would traditionally carry a sword, and the composer provides suitably martial music with G major harmonies and battle rhythms – the same harmonies and rhythms encountered a quarter-century later in Monteverdi’s Combattimento.

Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Cavalieri’s Anima & Corpo explores timeless questions of life and death by means of a fashionable vocabulary of sword-action. The English Play and the Italian Rappresentatione are each monuments of cultural achievement and artistic innovation: certainly not ‘primitive’, but endlessly fascinating and thought-provokingly different.

Anima e Corpo Golden Mask

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Text, Rhythm, Action! Research, Training & Performance

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

Read more…

Jacopo Peri


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

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

Text, Rhythm and Sound

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

Action! Action! Action!

Demosthenes Cicero Quintilian

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

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


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


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

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

Golden Mask


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



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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

Lasciate i monti


Scroll down for Publications  & (lots of) Links.


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


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


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


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



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



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



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



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


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



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



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


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


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


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


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


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

Ourense Angel

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



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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Hebro with head of Orfeo 2

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



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


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


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


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


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


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



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


Baroque Gesture: What’s the Point?

Workshop for advanced students and professorial staff at ESMUC, Barcelona

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


The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica hypnotises the Heroes

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


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


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


Landi La Morte d’Orfeo (1619)

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


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


A Baroque History of Time

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


Modes of Emotion Public Lecture, Kilkenny


Empfindsamkeit Workshop, Moscow Theatre Natalya Satz


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



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

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

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


Book Chapters by Andrew Lawrence-King:

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


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

Journal Articles by Andrew Lawrence-King:

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


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



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

Historical Prefaces:

Cavalieri Anima e Corpo (1600)

Peri Euridice (1600)

Caccini Le Nuove Musiche (1601)

Gagliano Dafne (1608)

Frescobaldi Toccate (1615)



ALK Video: “What are the Three Secrets of Great Performance?

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


Introduction to ALK’s research:!research/c1dp3

Index to ALK’s blog:!blog-index/cxm4

Time & Tactus

Grant Beating Time and Measuring Music (2015)

Houle Meter in Music 1600-1800 (1987)


ALK Video: “What is Time?

Redefining Recitative

Il Corago on ‘the three ways of acting’, Delle Tre Maniere di Recitare (Fabbri & Pompilio, 40)!research-findings-recitative/c1nz2

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


Agazzari Del Sonare sopra’l Basso (1607)


ALK Video “What is Continuo?”:


Introduction to Italian Continuo Video:

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

Historical Action


Bonifaccio L’Arte de’ Cenni (1616)

Bulwer Chirologia & Chironomia (1644)


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

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


Introduction to Historical Action:!historical-action/c12q3


Flow & The Zone



ALK Video: “Accessing Super-Creativity” 


History of Irish Harp

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


History of Welsh Triple Harp

Hypnosis, Rhetoric & Neuro-Linguistic Programming

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


Landi La Morte d’Orfeo

ALK In vino veritas: wine, women & song in Landi’s ‘La Morte d’Orfeo’ Musicological Journal of Moscow Conservatoire (2015)!la-morte-dorfeo/c4be

Monteverdi Vespers


Laudate Pueri Video:


Dixit Dominus Video:


Harp Technique

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


Introduction to Italian harp Video:

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



Introduction to Early Irish harp Video:

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


Early Irish harp ornaments Video:

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


Monteverdi Orfeo


Documentary Film:


Ludus Danielis

Documentary Film:


Peri Euridice



Purcell Dido & Aneas

Dido’s Lament Video:


The Witches Video:



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


Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites and www.TheFlow.Zone


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

Monteverdi, Caccini & Jazz

The Rhythm Section by Suzanne Cerny

The Rhythm Section by Suzanne Cerny


Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) would find basic advice for today’s jazz singers rather familiar:

Your jazz singing voice should be a natural extension of your speaking voice.

In Le Nuove Musiche (1601), Caccini asks for una sorte di musica … quasi che in armonia favellare, usando … una certa nobile sprezzatura di canto. [A kind of music, almost like speaking in harmony, using a certain elegantly ‘cool’ vocal production.] Note that, contrary to received opinion, Caccini’s sprezzatura is not to do with rhythm, but with voice-production. See Play it again Sam, the truth about Caccini’s sprezzaturahere.  The complete original text of Le Nuove Musiche is here.

Your aim is to move an audience by conveying the lyrics of a song as if it were a poem.

The aim of music, and all the Rhetorical arts of the 17th century is muovere gli affetti [to move the emotions]. Caccini too searches for the forza di muovere l’affetto dell’animo [the force to move the emotions of the mind], noting that non potevano … muovere l’intelletto senza l’intelligenza delle parole [you can’t move feelings unless the words are understood]. Caccini proclaims la musica altro non essere che la favella e’l ritmo, & il suono per ultimo, e non per lo contrario. [Music is nothing other than Text and Rhythm, with sound last of all. And not the other way around!]

Now sing your song … exactly as it was originally written by the songwriter.

That should prevent you copying a particular interpretation off a recording by an admired artist: rather, you should create your own version of the song. This is very good advice for students of 17th-century song, too. It’s surprising how many interpretative touches have been passed through the Early Music movement, even when they are contradicted by well-known period sources. And all too often, Early Music singers begin introducing random rhythmic changes (in the name of ‘expressiveness’) before learning what the composer actually wrote!

Rhythmic displacement

Nevertheless, the subtle rhythmic displacement that is so important for Jazz is mentioned also by Caccini (but remember, this is not sprezzatura).

The freedom to loosen up the rhythm of a song spontaneously to add intensity is one of the joys of singing jazz. To practise rhythmic displacement, it is a good idea to begin by learning … the song. [Then], start subtly “loosening up” the timing of each phrase. The idea here is to sing the words rather like you might say them. Try shortening and lengthening different notes each time you sing a phrase and notice how playing about with the rhythm changes the emphasis on the words and can help you put your own stamp on a song. Your singing will also sound more like jazz if you leave a short space (about the length of a clap) before launching into every phrase.

For a few bars of one of his three example songs, Caccini applies senza misura [unmeasured, i.e. ‘loosened up’ timing], asking for this particular phrase to be quasi favellando in armonia con la suddetta sprezzatura [almost speaking in harmony with the above-mentioned sprezzatura]. The ‘above-mentioned sprezzatura‘ is a ‘cool’ vocal production.

The jazz citations above are from The Guardian’s online Jazz Singing Advice (2009), full text here, and having dealt with words, the anonymous columnist continues with a paragraph on Swing, paralleling Caccini’s priorities of Text and Rhythm.

Pamelia Phillips similarly mentions Rhythmic Displacement in Singing for Dummies 2nd Edition (2010). [You can read more of Phillips’ Training Requirements for Singing Jazz here.]

Jazz singers … usually change the notes and rhythms from the original music. Jazz singers create their style with rhythmic flexibility, and the singer and pianist don’t always have to be together note for note (called back phrasing).

But this rhythmic flexibility is certainly not anarchic or random. Like Caccini and the Guardian’s jazz expert, Phillips emphasises that

The jazz singer needs a great sense of rhythm.

Just as in renaissance Italy. The Anonymous swordmaster of Bologna writes in L’Arte della Spada [The Art of the Sword, MS Ravenna M-345 & M-346. There is a modern edition by Rubboli & Cesari, who date the treatise to the early 16th century, whilst the consensus view places it c1650] that swordsmen need the same sense of precision rhythm as a good singer!

L'Arte della Spada Anonimo Bolognese

The Hidden Assumption

But the Guardian, Phillips and Caccini all fail to mention (though Phillips hints at it) a vital, hidden assumption. Whilst the singer ‘loosens up the timing’ with rhythmic displacement, rhythmic flexibility or senza misura (whatever you want to call it), the accompaniment maintains a steady swing. We take this for granted in jazz, and the renaissance concept of Tactus similarly requires a steady slow pulse. (For Monteverdi, Caccini etc, evidence suggests a consensus Tactus speed of around minim = 60). The crucial point I’m making is that this concept of Tactus still pertains in the accompaniment, even when the singer is applying Caccini’s senza misura.

Monteverdi notates this practice, for example in the opening phrase of Orpheus’ aria in the underworld, Possente Spirto, from Act III of Orfeo (1607).

Possente Spirto incipit

Just as Phillips describes for jazz, singer and basso continuo are not always together.

Taking Monteverdi as a model, here is my realisation of Caccini’s example of senza misura from Le Nuove Musiche, showing how the singer might loosen up the timing, whilst the continuo maintain the Tactus.

Aure divine, ch'errate peregrine

Such a realisation fundamentally redefines the role of the continuo. Nowadays, continuo-players are asked to follow even the most random, rhythmically anarchic singers. It feels like that fairground game, where you wait, rifle (or theorbo) in hand, until a little yellow duck (the tenor) waddles into your sights, and then you fire off a chord, and hope to hit him in root position.

Duck shoot

But jazz singing, and Monteverdi’s notation of Caccini’s senza misura, require the accompaniment to maintain the swing, or Tactus. In jazz, those accompanists are called the Rhythm Section. In Monteverdi’s time, the continuo group are

Those who guide and sustain the whole body of singers and instruments of the ensemble.

quei, che guidano e sostengono tutto il corpo delle voci  e stromenti di detto concerto [Agazzari Del suonare sopra ‘l basso (1607)]. There is, of course, no conductor, so the continuo are indeed the Rhythm Section of seicento music.

None of this should be shocking to Early Music readers, except that the familiar role of the continuo as Rhythm Section, maintaining the swing of the Tactus, still pertains, even in what  Caccini calls lo nuovo stile [the new style] of what musicologists call early baroque Monody, and most performers (anachronistically) call Recitative.

[See Redefining Recitative here. Circa 1600, recitare just means ‘to act’, whether in spoken drama, opera, or silent pantomime. Musica recitativa is thus ‘acted music’, i.e. dramatic music. The period term for speech-like declamation over a slow-moving bass is modulazione. 18th-century Recitative is something else. In late 17th-century England, what Samuel Pepys calls ‘Recitative Music’ is rhythmically structured, Caccini-style. See Andrew Lawrence-King, ‘’Tis Master’s Voice: A Seventeenth-Century Shakespeare Recording?’ in R.S. White, Mark Houlahan & Katrina O’Loughlin, eds., Shakespeare and Emotions: Inheritances, Enactments, Legacies (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).]

Heavenly Tactus or Hellish Duckshoot?

At the foot of the title page of Agazzari’s treatise, there are two Latin mottos. One shows a diagram of the cosmos, a model of armonia [which in this period means not only harmony, but music in general, in particular well-ordered or ‘goodly’ music].

Armonia comes from movement.

Specifically, well-ordered music comes from the perfect movement of the stars and planets, imitated on earth by the regular swing of the Tactus-beater’s arm, conceptualised as the authority of the Tactus itself.

Ex motu armonia

All this refers to the idea of the Harmony of the Spheres, the notion that earthly music-making, musica instrumentalis, is an imitation of the perfect music of the heavens, musica mondana; both of these symbolise musica humana, the harmonious nature of the human body. Well-ordered music is related to healthy well-being. Steady rhythm is a reflection of cosmic perfection.  Thus Dowland, translating Ornithoparcus’ Micrologus, declares that steady Tactus, “Equality of Measure” is a moral imperative.

Dowland Above all things original

Agazzari’s second motto is placed ‘stage left’, rhetorically the ‘bad’ area in contrast to the cosmos diagram placed in the ‘good’ area. It captions an image of the serpent in the pit of hell, and warns ominously:

And they don’t mess up, either!


Nec tamen inficiunt


If we view Caccini’s invitation for singers to apply senza misura and Agazzari’s description of the continuo ‘guiding the voices’ through the lens of these two mottos, we see a practice that today’s jazz-musicians would recognise: a singer is free to sing before or after the beat, whilst (in the Rhythm Section) the continuo-players maintain the Tactus. “And they don’t mess up, either!”.



Modern advice about jazz cannot prove anything, either way, about Early Music. But the parallels I’ve drawn here show the vital significance of underlying assumptions. Today’s performers approach Caccini and Monteverdi with the anachronistic label ‘Recitative’, which encourages them to abandon the period assumption of steady Tactus. Instead, they assume that the way to ‘express emotions’ is to use 20th-century rubato. But jazz and Caccini are not ‘expressing’ what the performer feels, they seek to move the audience‘s passions. Jazz does this by allowing the singer subtle rhythmic flexibility whilst the Rhythm Section maintains the swing; Monteverdi notates precisely this; I suggest this is what Caccini meant by suggesting senza misura for singers.

The underlying assumptions about music in the early 17th century are that Rhythm is a high priority, that there is a steady Tactus, and that this Tactus is maintained by the continuo.

Agazzari frontispiece

Please join me on Facebook and visit our websites and www.TheFlow.Zone

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





Tempus putationis – Getting back to Monteverdi’s Time

tempus putationis


Monteverdi fans will recognise this snippet as part of the tenor solo, Nigra sum, from the 1610 Vespers. The text is usually given in English as ‘the time of the singing of birds is come’, translating direct from the original Hebrew of the Song of Solomon. Monteverdi’s setting creates a musical picture of the word tempus (time) with a succession of semibreves.

Cranes flock to Israel in early spring

Cranes in Israel in early spring


Around the year 1600, the semibreve is the note-value where Time as musical notation and Time in the real world meet. That meeting is governed by the Tactus, the physical movement of the hand, down-and-up. Down and up again corresponds to a semibreve, and lasts about 2 seconds. [Read more about how 17th-century notation was calibrated against real time in Quality Time, here]. So Monteverdi’s semibreves for tempus putationis are a musical picture of Time itself.

However, the Latin word putatio actually means ‘pruning’, so Monteverdi’s text actually refers to the early spring pruning of the vines [the Song of Solomon has more to say about the ‘vine with the tender grape’]. That might encourage some pruning of any bird-song ornaments from this phrase! And it inspires me to cut away all the excess foliage to show what I believe to be the essential structure of Time, in Monteverdi’s period.


pruning vines

For this ‘pruned down’ post, instead of arguing from original sources towards my personal conclusions, I’m going to begin by setting out (my take on) the starting assumptions of Monteverdi’s generation. Starting from these period assumptions (very different to those of today’s musicians), we’ll see what kind of music-making might grow, as buds from these particular shoots.




This post is also inspired by Bill Hunt’s comments and challenges to my article on Proportions in Monteverdi’s Ballo, here. Thank you, Bill for your thought-provoking remarks: my replies and ripostes are below!

So let’s start at the very beginning, with the ut re mi  of seicento Time. But keep in mind: this is not simply a matter of practical music-making. We are dealing here with renaissance ‘Science’, that is to say the Philosophy of splendid, cosmic, divinely-ordained things, the knowledge of what really counts.


Splendidora explicat


  1. Monteverdi understood Time (as a philosophical concept) in Aristotelian terms, as defined by motus (movement, or change). This is very different from Newton’s concept of Absolute Time (1687) that still today underpins our intuitive grasp of Time.
  2. Time in the real world was defined by the heavenly clock of the cosmos. Each day, the sun reaches its zenith and defines noon.
  3. The best clocks of Monteverdi’s period could indicate the passing seconds, but could not measure seconds accurately. They were only accurate to about 15 minutes a day.
  4. Smaller intervals of time could be measured by the human pulse, the heartbeat. Although the heart-beat varies from person to person, and according to the physical state of the individual, it offered higher precision than the best clocks. But there was no means of calibrating this accurately to clock-time, since clock-time itself was insufficiently precise.
  5. Even smaller intervals of time could be measured by musical rhythm, subdividing to, say, 1/8th of a second. This was the highest precision timing known in this period (renaissance swordfighters wished to emulate singers’ sense of precision timing). Again, there was no means of calibrating this accurately to clock-time, since clocks themselves were inadequate.
  6. There was a strong belief in the existence of a single, divinely ordained, correct Time, defined by the cosmos, e.g. by the noon-day sun.


  1. Music itself was cosmic [musica mondana, the Music of the Spheres], and human [musica humana, the harmonious nature of the human body], as well as sound [musica instrumentalis, music sung and played here on earth].
  2. Musical Time was measured by the Aristotelean motus of the perfect movement of the cosmos, of the steady beat of the human heart, by the down-and-up movement of the Tactus hand.
  3. Just as citizens tried to regulate their clocks to run steadily (for practical convenience, and as faithful microcosms of solar time), so musicians tried to keep Time as steadily as humanly possible.  This regulation was at the level of about one second of clock-time; in music, it was at the level of the Tactus beat.
  4. Smaller intervals of Musical Time were measured by sub-dividing the Tactus beat.
  5. Just as citizens tried to calibrate their clocks to agree with each other, and with Solar Time, so musicians tried to agree with each other about Musical Time. The various members of a musical ensemble needed to agree on Time, in order to play together, just as citizens had to agree on a time of day, in order to meet each other. From one day to another, from one place to another, citizens and musicians alike tried to keep a consistent sense of Time. However, they had no means of precise calibration: they could only make their best human estimate. Consistent Time was what felt consistent.
  6. There was a strong assumption of a single, heavenly-inspired, correct Musical Time. A musician’s job was to get it right, not to have a personal clock that ran unsteadily, or differently from everyone else’s.


  1. All this philosophy was put into practice using the Tactus, the down-up movement of the hand, which calibrated musical notation to real-world Time. The Tactus could be physically enacted, or just kept in mind as an organising concept: either way, it was compared to the heartbeat.
  2. Under mensuration symbol C, the complete Tactus cycle (down-up) corresponds to a semibreve. Down for a minim; up for a minim.
  3.  In Tripla Proportion, down corresponds to three minims, up to another three minims. The Tactus-beat is maintained without change.
  4. In Sestupla Proportion, down corresponds to six semi-minims (these look like crotchets in 6/4); up to another six semi-minims. The Tactus-beat is maintained without change.
  5. In Sesquialtera Proportion, down corresponds to two semibreves; up to one semibreve. The duration of the complete Tactus-cycle does not change, but now the down is longer than the up, the beat is ‘unequal’.


  1. Like the Cosmos, like a clock (but better!), like the heartbeat (but slower), the Tactus beats steadily and slowly.
  2. A musician’s job is to get it right, to keep it steady, to make it consistent from day to day and with everyone else’s.
  3. Like the stars in heaven, like a clock at the back of the room, the Tactus (as a concept) existed before the music started, will persist after the music stops, and continues across silences within the music. This Tactus-as-concept directs the music. The Tactus itself is the director, not the human who waves the Tactus-hand.


  1. Music was calibrated to the Tactus at the level of semibreve (complete cycle) and minim (down alone, or up alone).
  2. The Tactus shared many vital qualities with the heartbeat, but was not calibrated to it (the heartbeat was generally faster).
  3. The Tactus felt slow and steady, as perceived in the human arm. This sets some limits (a finger could wag faster, the entire body might sway slower), but does not offer precise calibration.
  4. There was no means to calibrate the Tactus accurately to clock-time. The best approximation was about 1 beat (down, or up) per second for minims, i.e. about 2 seconds for the complete down-up cycle, for the semibreve. Tactus was calibrated not by clocks, but by a feeling of consistency.
  5. The Tactus felt the same, whatever the circumstances. We can imagine that in a large resonant building, the Tactus might actually proceed a little slower, in order to get the same feeling as in a small rehearsal room. We can imagine that, at moments of great excitement, or deep, genuine emotion, musicians might feel their Tactus to be consistent with the rehearsal, but this subjective impression would be altered by their human emotions.


  1. Like the Cosmos, like the heartbeat, the Tactus has a conceptual existence and an authority that mere humans should not try to mess with. It is better than any clock, not in the sense of being ‘less mechanical’, but in the quality of being more accurate, more steady.
  2. A musician’s job is to maintain the Tactus steadily, consistently and in agreement with all colleagues.
  3. Within these assumptions, as a daring challenge to the stability of the Cosmos, and at the risk of upsetting one’s own heartbeat, performers began to flirt with the notion that the authority of the Tactus might not be wholly Absolute. In certain, strictly limited, situations, a human musician might intervene to alter (momentarily, minutely, infrequently) the way in which Tactus directs music.
  4. Caccini describes (and Monteverdi notates) a senza misura (out of measure) in which the singer temporarily ignores the Tactus. The Tactus continues as a concept, and in the continuo accompaniment. This is like a jazz singer floating elegantly around a steady beat in the rhythm section. This is a special effect, not to be over-used.
  5. Caccini and Frescobaldi describe (and Frescobaldi links to Monteverdi-type madrigals) ways to guidare il tempo (drive Time), in which the Tactus beats sometimes faster, sometimes slower, and even hesitates (momentarily) on the up-stroke. These changes are between sections (passi, movements), at the boundary of contrasting rhythmic structures and emotional content, not within one section. The alteration is a ‘step-change’, rather than a smooth acceleration/deceleration; it’s like changing gears, rather than using the accelerator/brake; it’s like the way a horse changes pace by changing gait (from walk to trot, canter and gallop), not the smooth acceleration of  jet-plane. This is a special effect, not to be over-used.
  6. When ‘driving the Time’ any change to the Tactus itself is small. The purpose is that the listener should perceive a change of emotion, not simply to turn the speed-dial up or down. When a noticeable change in the speed of the notes is wanted, the composer can notate this with changes in note-values, or changes in Proportion.


Golden Hand

Source references for these period assumptions can be found in many of my previous postings on Tactus, Time and Rhythm (use the Search button and Tags elsewhere on this page) and in Citations and Sources, below. There’ll be more in future posts, too. Tactus and the Philosophy of Time are discussed in great detail in Roger Matthew Grant Beating Time and Measuring Music in the Early Modern Era, hot off the Oxford University Press, and highly recommended, here.

But since this posting is pruned back to the essentials, I’m now going to apply these starting assumptions to Bill Hunt’s excellent list of  questions.

Galileo and the Philosophers

Galileo challenged by the Philosophers


In the discussion that follows, the challenges come from the eminent English viola-player, William Hunt, profile here. Three articles about the Ballo in Monteverdi’s Orfeo are under discussion: Roger Bowers on proportions here, Virginia Lamothe on dance here, ALK on tactus, proportions and dance here.

WH: I’d like to propose a contrary view. Part of the problem with Andrew’s fascinating discussion is that he sets up a number of straw men in order to arrive at his conclusions. Principal amongst these, in referring to the articles by Lamothe and Bowers on L’Orfeo, is the assertion “Their suggested metronome mark of approximately 50/60 as the Tactus Aequalis is certainly highly plausible. And Bowers agrees that the notation implies the same Tactus for the whole opera”. Bowers makes no such claim. 

ALK: (See ‘Citations and Sources’ below). I should first state clearly that I have great respect for Prof Bowers, and I agree with his points of principle. Indeed, I wish to go even further in the same direction of consistency that he recommends. I set up the assumption of  single Tactus for the whole opera, not as a ‘straw man’ to be cast away, but as a strong principle that I thoroughly agree with. Indeed, I believe that a particular notation implies the same Tactus wherever it is encountered in this entire repertoire (to the limits of subjective, human ability to maintain a single Tactus without any clock to confirm it).

For Orfeo, Bowers argues that the original notation conveys precise information that should be respected in performance. I agree. He argues that proportions are mathematically precise, and I agree. I disagree only on the detail of which mathematical ratio applies in certain instances.

In the Ballo, Bowers argues that there is no change in the meaning of note-values between the two triple-metre sections [3/2 and 6/4]. I agree. I go further to argue for equivalence of note-values between all triple-metre sections within the work [3/2 and 6/4 are the only triple-metre ‘time-signatures’ that occur in the whole of Orfeo]. I go further again, and argue for equivalence of note-values between sections in duple-metre too. Therefore, note-values only change, when the Proportion changes between duple and triple.

Bowers notes that all ‘time-signatures’ are governed by C throughout the whole work. He argues for a consistent Tactus from Sinfonia at the end of Act I to the entrance of the Messagiera. I agree, and I go further: I argue for a consistent Tactus throughout the whole work. I see no indication for a great increase of speed at the end of Act I, as the Sinfonia starts (Bowers’ argument requires a three-fold increase in speed at this moment). I see no evidence for doubling the speed (or more) between a “recitative” in C and the ballo also in C.

Bowers seems to be inconsistent about when he applies the principle of constant tactus, and when he does not. He wishes to apply it during the Ballo and through the Act I-Act II sequence, through many changes of ‘time-signature’, coloration etc. I agree. I go futher, I wish to apply it consistently throughout the work. But Bowers rejects the argument for constant tactus in general (see Bowers ‘footnote 33), without careful argument. Does he mean to say “Tactus is constant when I want it to be, and otherwise not”?

I say that Tactus is always constant, with only small and infrequent exceptions. I note Frescobaldi’s and Caccini’s discussions of when and how to change the tactus. They describe very restricted circumstances when tactus may be changed. And those changes should be small – if a composer wants double speed, he writes shorter note-values or switches to C-slash. [Some sources indicate that even C-slash is less than twice as fast as C]. If a composer wants a gear-shift of 3:2 or 3:1, proportional notation is available.

So I conclude that a performer’s personal choice of tempo-change would be within a small speed-range. And this personal choice would be exercised very infrequently. In his example madrigal, Caccini changes the Tactus only once (in response to an obvious cue from the words). Frescobaldi similarly sets specific conditions for change of Tactus: break between sections, change of rhythmic structure, change of affetto. Since they follow the affetto, these changes in tactus exaggerate what the composer has already notated: long note-values (for a sad affetto, say) are played in slower Tactus, short note-values (for a happy affetto) in faster Tactus. The affetto is determined on the short-scale, “line by line, even word by word” [Il Corago, Monteverdi and many other sources], but the Tactus only changes between sections, if at all.

Finally, when one considers the audience – it is after all their ‘affetti‘ we want to ‘muovere‘ – one realises that doubling or halving the speed has no effect. The listener perceives the same pulse, with different levels of activity. But a small increase in speed, in the context of precisely regular Tactus, has a strong emotional effect. It may even entrain the listener’s heartbeat, which was previously aligned with the regular, slow tactus, and increase it. As Renaissance theory of emotions describes, a performer might move the listener’s ‘affetto‘ and even create physiological changes in the body and blood (the doctrine of the Four Humours).

A fine example of this is Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” which accelerates between sections (within the general context, throughout pop music of that period, of steady tactus). There is some fascinating interview material with the performers, where they discuss the general context (“getting faster was absolutely prohibited”) and the emotional effect of a few small, but perceptible changes, in this song. I hear echoes of Caccini and Frescobaldi….




WH: I do firmly believe, as Andrew clearly does, that tactus was an essential structural constant that could unite consecutive and contrasting passages in logically proportionate tempi. On the face of it, the section which Bowers identifies, running from the Sinfonia to Act 2 up to the entrance of Messaggiera, is exactly such an instance, because of the succession of mensural signatures and the absence of intervening double barlines or fermata (the same is not true of the passage from “Lasciate i monti” up to the end of Act 1). Here, if one follows through Bowers’ notational logic, one ends up with a pretty fast tempo for “Vi ricordi boschi ombrosi”, as he says. Personally, I find that persuasive both musically and dramatically, but I have yet to experience it in performance, due to directorial intervention.

ALK: The entire opera (indeed this whole repertoire) offers ‘a succession of mensural signatures’. And I know of no period evidence that a fermata or a double-bar implies a change of Tactus. In Orfeo, Monteverdi sometimes places a fermata in one voice, when simultaneously another voice has no fermata: the fermata sign simply indicates ‘the end of something’, and cannot imply any alteration in the motus of the Tactus. Double-bars are often used to seperate consecutive strains of a single dance-movement, where a change of Tactus would be most implausible.

I don’t accept the argument that the passage from Lasciate i monti up to the end of Act I is somehow ‘different’.. It too has a ‘succession of mensural signatures’. Sure, it has some fermatas and double bar-lines, but so what? If Tactus is ‘an essential structural constant that could unite consecutive and contrasting passages in logically proportionate tempi’ [and it surely is!], then why not for the passage after the Ballo, as well as for the Ballo itself? Why not for the end of Act I, as well as for the bridge from Act I into Act II?

Does WH wish to say that “Tactus is constant when I want it to be, and can be changed when I want”? Or does he know of evidence of a fermata or double-bar as an instruction to change Tactus?

I believe that Tactus is constant, with only small and infrequent changes. Frescobaldi and Caccini list the circumstances in which the Tactus might be changed: neither of them mention fermata or double-bar.

WH: Bowers … analysis of the notation is that … semibreve of the C equates to dotted semibreve of the 3/2.  I suggest a tempo of something like semibreve = 52 for the opening (not a minim tactus, for reasons which I am coming to) becoming dotted semibreve = 52 for the 3/2, and finally bar = 52 (i.e. the ‘new’ semibreve = 52) for the 6/4: in other words a constant tactus.

ALK: I agree with the principle of a pulse that is maintained, and I have no objection to approximately MM52 for that pulse. And this interpretation of the proportions works too, in this place, starting from semibreve = 52 at the beginning of the ballo. But how do we find this tempo at the beginning of the ballo? Semibreve = 52 cannot apply to the whole opera – just try it for the beginning of the opera, for the Toccata or the Ritornello to La Musica or for any recitative: it is about twice as fast as possible. Why pick this fast tempo for this place notated in C, and not for another, also notated in C?

According to modern assumptions, directors can choose their own tempo, whenever there is a reasonable excuse (a fermata, a double-bar, personal inspiration, whatever). But according to period assumptions, the Tactus itself directs the tempo, and that Tactus is as constant as we humans can make it. (Caccini and Frescobaldi list limited circumstances where small and infrequent changes of Tactus might occur). My approach is to take that Tactus (somewhere around minim = 60), apply it at the beginning of the work, and maintain it, as best I can, until the end. And I’ll try to establish and maintain the same Tactus tomorrow, to the limits of my subjective perceptions of musical tempo.

The movement of the hand in beating Tactus is specified in period sources: in C, down for a minim, up for a minim. I find semibreve = MM52, i.e. minim = MM104 inconveniently fast for this mode of time-beating. I also find the resultant motus incompatible with the qualities of slow, steadiness that are associated with Tactus. I’m more convinced by the motus of minim around 60.

My approach starts from a broad principle, of a constant tactus. I apply this general principle first, before I look for solutions to particular problems of Proportions. I then apply the same solution to parallel situations. Following the Ballo under discussion, the next Proportional change in Orfeo is between the recitative (C) Ma se il nostro goir and the Ritornello (3/2), which moves in dotted semibreves and minims. My solution to the Ballo is  C: minim = 60 leads to 3/2: dotted semibreve = 60. My solution to the following, parallel situation is the same.

Bill’s solution to the Ballo [C: semibreve = 52 leads to 3/2: dotted semibreve = 52] does work there. But it does not work for the parallel situation of Recitative & Ritornello. Either the 52 pulse or the proportional relationship (or both) have to be abandoned. Is it Bill’s argument that although the notation is parallel, the second situation allows a personal choice, whereas the first situation indicates the composer’s tempo intentions? Why?

My belief is that the entire concept of personal choice of tempo is foreign to this period and its repertoire. Mensural notation indicates the composer’s intentions.

WH. … treating the central section of the first “Lasciate” as not being repeated. (No repeat is marked, of course, but a second verse of text is underlayed. I subscribe to Andrew Parrott’s view that this is a printer’s error, and that the second text should have been printed in the second “Lasciate”, instead of the repeated underlay of “Qui miri il sole”. This would result in an ABC form for each chorus, though, as Andrew (LK rather than P) points out, the uninformed listener would hear it as AABCC, because of the written-out repeats in the outer sections. This has a perfectly satisfactory symmetry. What is hard to believe is the format as it is printed).

ALK: I agree that the sequence of movements in the Orfeo Ballo is ambiguous – Lamothe has much to say on this. Andrew Parrot’s suggestion of a printing error in the 1609 edition is plausible, though one might have expected the editor of the 1615 edition to have fixed the problem, since much smaller errors were corrected (albeit at the cost of introducing some new errors too!). Lamothe makes a good point that the opening section (with the associated choreography of reverences and passi gravi, slow steps on the ground) would not be repeated in a court social dance. My point is that a similar opening section (which is not danced) is repeated in Cavalieri’s theatrical ballo for Anima & Corpo. We do not know which sections of the Orfeo ballo were danced, though it is sure that the singers themselves could not have danced a galliard, with all its jumps, whilst singing. Consideration of the repeat scheme for the Orfeo ballo has include all these points, together with scholarship on the total number of singers (between 7 and 9), the possibility that dancing masters might have participated (as is specified by Cavalieri), and the prohibition against women acting on stage, still in force in Mantua in 1607.

Good arguments can be made to support several possible solutions.

WH: Having read many of the linked sites here with great interest, particularly the one on “Text, Rhythm, Action / Rhythm: what really counts?”, I am curious to know what Andrew thinks about the semibreve, which so many theorists describe as the fundamental unit of time. There is so much emphasis throughout all his articles on the minim and the fixing to it of a constant tempo, viz “Around 1600, typically the Tactus will be on minims (half-notes), somewhere around MM60. Down for one second, Up for the next second”

Leaving aside the massive nature of this generalisation (is this really supposed to be typical of all music around 1600?), what about the concepts of Thesis and Arsis? It seems to me that these are essential to an understanding of musical structure in this period, especially the setting of text. Unless the semibreve is the unit on which one is principally focussed, not the minim, a whole vocabulary of subtlety is missed, to my mind. But that is a huge subject for another occasion!

ALK: Bill is absolutely right to draw attention to the fundamental significance of the semibreve. The complete Tactus-cycle (down-up) corresponds to a semibreve. I could equally well, perhaps better, express my view as “The Tactus-cycle will last for a semibreve, approximately two seconds, i.e. somewhere around MM30 for the complete down-up.” In duple time, this results in the same “Down for one second, Up for the next second”.

But an advantage of the focus on the semibreve is that it allows you to negotiate the tricky change into Sesquialtera more easily. The complete Tactus-cycle (down-up) still lasts  two seconds, but the Down lasts longer than the Up. This is why triple time is described as ‘unequal’ in this period. I agree with Bill that there are interesting and beautiful subtleties to be found in a heightened focus on the semibreve.

However, period sources specify that the mode of beating time for Tactus is that the semibreve corresponds to the complete down-up cycle. There is no suggestion of beating Down for one semibreve, Up for the next: the Down and Up are on successive minims.  Thus a heightened focus on the semibreve implies a heightened focus on the complete cycle, as opposed to the individual down/up movements: it does not imply a different mode of beating time. The concept of Thesis and Arsis (Down and Up) is therefore located in the alternation of minims (under mensural sign C). See my discussion of ‘The Hobbit problem’ in Quality Time, here.

Of course, there are duple (or other) symmetries at semibreve and longer durations too. It’s very good to be aware of these.


Returning to the fundamental assumptions with which I began, I agree that it is a massive generalisation to state that musical tempo was consistent throughout the whole repertoire in circa-1600 Italy, to the limits of human perception. It is a generalisation that is hard for us post-Romantics to comprehend. But it fits well with the evidence, not only of musical treatises, but of period philosophy in general. And we can observe the gradual change through the later 17th and 18th centuries; the persistence of notions of tempo giusto or tempo ordinario as late as Beethoven; the developing presumption of personal choice that comes to characterise the 19th-century; the glorification of Rubato circa 1910 that is taken by some today as a musical absolute. Those changes in musical practice follow changes in the scientific and philosophical understanding of Time itself, from Aristotle and Plato via Galileo and then Newton to Einstein and then Hawking.

It helps to keep in mind the 17th-century identification of musical tempo with Time itself, alluded to in Monteverdi’s setting of the word tempus at the beginning of this post. The ideal is to keep Time. A musician does not seek to develop a personal opinion about tempo, just as he does not seek to acquire a clock that runs differently from everyone else’s.

The difficulty is that we tend to read historical treatises on Music in the light of our modern assumptions of Science and Philosophy. If we start by assuming period philosophy, musical treatises reveal new, quite surprising details. To do this, we must be ready to abandon some modern assumptions so familiar that we hardly even notice them.

Most modern directors assume they have the right to choose their own tempo, movement by movement, through a baroque opera:  most of those directors fail even to notice the anachronism of conducting, as a means of imposing those choices. But period sources tell us that music is directed by Tactus itself: not by the whim of a Tactus-beater!. And Il Corago tells us that operas are not conducted.


No conducting



At the opening of my article on the Orfeo Ballo, I tacitly linked up citations of Bowers and Lamothe with my own assumptions. So here are the individual elements:

Lamothe quotes Bowers on MM 50/60 (but identifies this with the semibreve, which  would not work for the whole opera. I  identify this sort of pulse with the minim). Bowers states that the notation implies the same Tactus for the lengthy excerpt from the end of Act I until the entrance of the Messaggiera halfway through Act II. Bowers remarks that the notation is the same throughout the rest of the opera too. I take the logical step that the same Tactus is implied for the whole opera.

George Houle’s (brief) discussion of constant tactus throughout the repertoire is on pages 3-5 of ‘Metre in Music’, citing Heyden, Mersenne and secondary sources. On page 2, Houle mentions (all too briefly) ‘degrees of change intermediate to those determined by diminution or proportion.’

Constant Tactus for the whole repertoire is supported by Il Corago, page 47 (see future postings on this blog).

Houle cites Dowland’s explanation of Tactus and Semi-Tactus on page 4. This is the ‘Hobbit Question’, aka ‘there and back again’: the semibreve corresponds to the complete down-up cycle. See Quality Time here.

Bowers cites Banchieri’s ‘Conclusioni’ chapter 14 “when there is no numerical sign”, in support of his Sesquialtera interpretation of proportional change. Of course, in Orfeo, there are numerical signs [3/2 and 6/4]. Banchieri addresses this situation in chapter 15, at the end of which he describes the Tripla interpretation that I propose.

I admit that Banchieri describes two interpretations, and does not discuss how to decide between them. But my general point is that we can approach such decisions by requiring consistency, not only of interpretations of Proportional relationships, but also in constancy of the underlying Tactus. If we consistently interpret the same notation the same way, if we apply a consistent tactus (perhaps allowing SMALL changes, but not doubling/halving the speed), we can rule out certain interpretations as impossible. [I try to distinguish carefully between ‘unfamiliar’ and ‘impossible’]. When – as in Orfeo and the Vespers – we have many proportions at work, the accumulated constraints of ‘impossibilities’ gradually reduce the number of possible solutions – ideally to a single answer.


Galileo Pendulum


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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.

A Baroque History of Time: Stars, Hearts and Music

A Baroque History of Time

The past is a foreign country,

they do things differently there.

L. P. Hartley The Go-Between (1953)

The past is a foreign country;

there is very little we can say about it until we have learned its language

and understood its assumptions.

Michael Howard The Lessons of History (1991)

One of the challenges of Historically Informed Performance is to try to catch a glimpse of our own assumptions, to notice where something seems so ‘obvious’ and ‘absolute’ that we  don’t even question it. The worst decisions in Early Music are the decisions that we don’t even realise we are making, because we don’t even notice there is a question to be addressed. But as soon as we become aware of an assumption, we can look for evidence of whether the same assumption held good in the past, or if attitudes might have changed with the centuries.

In this post, I’m exploring the subject of musical Rhythm by examining period concepts of Time: historical belief-systems at both cosmic and human levels; the grand philosophy and naive assumptions that underpin pragmatic performance decisions; the changing views of science; and the various practices of artists as they performed their passions. The assumption that I’m challenging is that we today understand Time itself in the same way that Monteverdi and Shakespeare did.


1900 and 1600

The question I’m posing to Renaissance Man, in order to understand his ways of thought, is the same question we can pose to ourselves, in order reveal the assumptions of our own age:

What is Time?

Modern Time

Now, it’s almost a century since the London newspaper, the Times, declared that Newton’s ideas had been ‘overthrown’ by Einstein (7th November, 1919). One might say that this ‘Revolution in Science’  which led to a ‘New Theory of the Universe’ began with a paper written by an official in the French Bureau of Longitude, mathematician Henri Poincaré. In The Measure of Time (1898), he asked two deep questions:

1. Is it meaningful to say that one second today is equal to one second tomorrow?

2. Is it meaningful to say that two events which are separated in space occurred at the same time?


A century later, the answers are: (1) we still don’t know, and (2) No. That resounding “No” came  from the work of Albert Einstein, who in his annus mirabilis of 1905 published four papers, on the Photoelectric Effect (establishing the Quantum nature of light), on Brownian Motion (addressing the methodology of statistical physics that Quantum Theory would come to rely on), on Special Relativity (overthrowing Newton’s concept of Absolute Time) and on Matter-Energy Equivalence (formulating that most famous equation, E=mc2). He also submitted his PhD thesis.

Perhaps relativistic effects helped him get so much done in just one year!


Poincaré and Einstein

The predicted and observed effects of all this new science still seem ‘paradoxical’ to most of us. Schrodinger’s Cat is neither alive nor dead, until the act of observation collapses the quantum dynamical waveform one way or another. There’s no certain answer, only statistical Probability.

Schrodingers Cat


Even Einstein himself didn’t want to believe that ‘God plays dice with the universe’ like that. Whatever the science told him, Einstein’s own assumptions were inevitably conditioned by the thinking of previous generations. Before the 20th century, religious beliefs and traditional assumptions led most people to expect Cosmic Power to control the everyday scale. Like Einstein, many of us find it hard to grasp that tiny particles might dictate the fate of the universe.

20th-century Science presents many more paradoxes. Heisenberg’s Principle means that we are forced to balance knowledge with uncertainty in pairs of values, for example mass and momentum. The more precisely we establish Time, the less we can know about Energy. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity predicts that a man who travels to Mars and back will return slightly younger than his twin brother, who waits for him on Earth.

Time itself might be reversed, if the arrow of entropy changes, in some future contracting state of the universe. Meanwhile, Quantum effects in the brain allow our nervous system to respond to stimuli measurably before the stimulus is received. The mathematics of Quantum Theory predict the existence of Wormholes, opening up the possibility of travel through time. This raises the question of what might happen if you went back in time and killed your Grandfather, forestalling your own birth. The Bootstrap Paradox refers to creating something out of nothing by complex loops of time-travel, like pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.



In Heinlein’s novel All you Zombies, kidnapping, love-affairs and gender-change surgery leave us with a time-travelling character who is his own mother, father, son, daughter, long-lost lover and kidnapper. Scientists are struggling too: Quantum Theory and Relativity do not mesh well, so that a Grand Unified Theory of Life, the Universe and Everything is currently out of reach.

But for most of us, the paradoxes of Einstein’s science, let alone more recent findings, do not affect our daily lives. We find Relativity counter-intuitive, because we do not see it at work in the everyday world. For us, Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) works just fine. If I drop an apple it will hit the ground more or less when I expect. Our intuitive assumptions about Time are more than 300 years behind the cutting edge of scientific theory.

Newton Principia 1687


We are very comfortable with Newton’s concept of Absolute Time, with its one direction ‘like an ever-rolling stream’, Time that exists independent of any other quantities. We are very accustomed to measuring the accuracy of a clock, the movement of a star, or the beating of a heart, against the absolute scale of Newton’s Time. So accustomed are we,  that as well as ignoring what we know from Stephen Hawking about post-Einsteinian Time, we also overlook the fact that Peri and Monteverdi did not know about Newton’s Time.

Early baroque musicians, around the year 1600, did not feel about Time the same way we do. They could not have had the same assumptions. Even after Newton’s 1687 publication, it would have taken some years for his ideas to gain acceptance amongst fellow-specialists, and many decades for those ideas to become part of the instinctive assumptions of the population at large.

Monteverdi’s Time

The Early Modern philosophy of Time was founded on Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle’s Physics characterises Time as

A Number of Motion in respect of Before and After

Time is only meaningful in the context of Motion or Stillness, of observable Change before/after.

In the year 1610, this was no mere philosophising: swordfighters bet their lives on it. Capo Ferro describes a swordfighting tempo as ‘measuring the Motion of my opponent by the Stillness of my sword’. Such a tempo could be long and slow, when the duellers were far apart and reluctant to come to close combat, or terrifyingly fast, as the sword-master parries and ripostes in a single lightning-strike of tempo, driving his rapier through his opponent’s left eye.

 Capo Ferro Plate 7

Viggiani’s sword treatise specifically refers to Aristotle. Agrippa’s fighting manual shows the period theory of Light, beams that come from your eyes, as he demonstrates how to save your life with a timely turn, the scanso della vita.

Agrippa rays of light

Tasso, whose poetry Monteverdi set as  the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, owned a copy of Agrippa’s book, and that music-drama is full of swordsmanship jargon: schivar (deceiving the blade), parar (parry), ritrarse (step back), destrezza (sword-skills).

Cavalieri’s musical morality play, Anima e Corpo (the earliest surviving ‘opera’, the first oratorio; Rome, 1600) presents Plato’s philosophy of Time. Past and Future are divided by the moving point of the Present, which is an instantaneous image of all Eternity. As Soul and Body battle against worldly temptations, this libretto too is full of swordsmanship jargon, but the first character to sing is Il Tempo, Old Father Time.

Old Father Time

Cavalieri tells us that Time flies, does not last, wears us away, measures us, that Time is short. We are told to do good works – act with the hand, act with the heart –there is a clear parallel to an actor’s performance, linking baroque gestures and heartfelt emotions.

But 17th-century texts use the word Time (in Italian, tempo) to translate from Greek two different words, conveying two distinct concepts. Kronos is Aristotle’s numbered Time of Before and After: kairos is a timely opportunity. In Rhetoric, kairos is when the time is ripe to press home logical arguments – I hope that as you read these words, there is kairos now.

For a swordfighter, tempo  is not only motion and stillness, but also the moment of opportunity, the crucial instant in which you must strike to defend yourself and wound your opponent.

In the Christian New Testament, the Messiah comes in the fullness of time – at the moment of kairos. And the Apostle Paul frequently exhorts his followers to seize the chance of their own instant of kairos.

In life, in debate, in a fight, or on stage, kairos is the moment to act. The anonymous 16th-century Bologna sword-master said that swordsmen need the same skills of timing as a fine singer: this gives an idea of the level of sharp rhythmic precision singers must have had back then. As one voice-student said to me ruefully of today’s early music singers: ‘we’d all be dead!’.

Hierarchy of Disciplines


Since Aristotle links Time to Number and to motion in Space, the Renaissance recognised an intellectual hierarchy relating Arithmetic (the study of Number), Geometry (Number and Space) and Music (Number and Time). At the top of this hierarchy is Astronomy (Number, Time and Space), the study of the heavens. That lofty position is shared by Dancing and Sword-fighting, which (in contrast to today’s devaluing of ballet, let alone martial arts) outrank absolute music.

Both philosophically and practically, sword-fighting and renaissance dancing are related, and ballets of the stars are a 17th-century cliché. In Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Nymphs ‘leave the mountains, leave the fountains’ to dance a ballo ‘even more beautiful than those danced to the moon on a dark night by the heavenly stars’. The first opera from the New World, Torrejón’s La púrpura de la rosa (Lima, Peru 1701) begins with Urania, the Muse of Astronomy, sighting a new planet.

So here are the Stars of my sub-title. For period musicians, swordsmen, even for baroque sailors, Time is a matter of Astronomy. Around 1600, it is defined by the stars and planets (on the largest, cosmic scale) and followed here on earth (on a smaller, human scale).

Three kinds of Music

Time & Music

Continuing to examine the assumptions of the past, what about practical music-making? For Cavalieri, Peri and Monteverdi, what is Music? Again, period thought was based on ancient authorities, and there is a consistent view that differs from modern assumptions.

The most significant type of music was musica mondana, the Music of the Spheres, the perfect music (inaudible to human ears) created by the heavenly  dance of the stars and planets. Musica humana is the harmonious nature of the human body, the divine image incarnate, the Word that was ‘in the beginning’ set to the soul-music of embodied Creation. Musica instrumentalis is what we mean by the word ‘Music’ today, the actual sounds we make with our voices and instruments.

These then are the three categories of my subtitle: music of the stars, of human hearts, and music as performed by 17th-century musicians. The structure of the cosmos, the beating of the human heart and musical rhythm are also the interlinked ideas that illustrate the period concept of Time. They are interconnected in philosophical theory and also in practical use.

What is Time

Slow Time (years, months, days and hours) is measured by Celestial movement. A brief moment is measured by the heartbeat, which is both a symbol and a practical measurement of musical rhythm.

Galileo discovered the pendulum effect in the late 16th century, but the first pendulum clock was not built until the 1630s. In this period, the most accurate clocks could just about count the seconds. This begs the question, how did Galileo measure the pendulum effect?

The most accurate clock available to him was his own, human pulse. This was sufficiently reliable to establish the constancy of period, around 7 seconds, for a chandelier hung on a very long cable from the roof of Pisa cathedral.


Galileo Pendulum


But Galileo also did high-precision experiments to determine the acceleration due to gravity, which required split-second timing. How could he do this? Circa-1600 clocks were hopelessly imprecise. His pulse (about one per second, when relaxed) was better, but still insufficient for such high-precision work.

History of Science researcher Stillman Drake realised that the Galilei family’s expertise in music would have solved the problem. Musical rhythm provides a reliable way to divide a one-second pulse into eight equal parts: in period notation, this is the equivalent of dividing a minim (half note) into semiquavers (sixteenth notes).

Joakim Linde has created an online simulation that allows you to repeat Galileo’s experiment with gravity and music, here.

What we need to understand today, is that Galileo was using Music to measure Time. Music was more precise than the very best clocks of his period. Music had the regular, heavenly equality of measure, that Time itself did not yet possess, since Newton’s idea of absolute time had not yet been formulated.


Measurement of Time


Hierarchy of Time

There is a definite hierarchy in this philosophy, in this period Science of Time. Celestial Time is the ideal, imitated on earth. As we look up to the heavens, to the musical spheres, the highest sphere is the primum mobile. It is God’s hand that winds the Clock of the Cosmos. This is imitated on earth, in that musical rhythm is determined by a long, slow count; in that we divide up those slow, long notes into faster notes (by division, or diminution); in that these faster notes must fit inside the rhythm pre-determined by the slow count; and in that we divide up the slow count in various proportions, in precise, whole-number ratios.


Hierarchy of Time


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

warns Richard II.

Clocks had religious significance. Just as Protestants and Catholics argued about calendar reform, so musical rhythm is a moral imperative. As Dowland thunders in 1609 (translating Ornithoparcus from 1535) “above all things… “ (the language itself is hierarchical) …

Above all things, keep the equality of measure, lest you offend God himself!

To attempt to change Time (the modern practices of rubato, rallentando, accelerando; even the 19th-century concept that the performer can decide the tempo of a particular movement) is to risk the stability of the cosmos, to threaten your own bodily health.

When Phaeton seized the reins of Apollo’s sun-chariot, he could not control the movement of the sun through the heavens. He crashed and burned.

Sun Chariot


If your pulse stops, the music also dies.

 The take-home message from all of this period Philosophy, or History of Science, is that Newton’s 1687 concept of Absolute Time did not apply around the year 1600. Time does not measure music, because there is no Absolute Scale of Time.

It’s the other way around: Music measures Time. Time is determined by divine, cosmic forces that we see also at work in the human body and in music itself.

This helps us understand what seem to be needlessly complicated statements about musical notation, like Carissimi’s here:

The triple-metres all agree with regard to quantity, division and proportion, as is easily understood, but in the slow or fast quality, known by the Italians as tempo and by the French as mouvement, they are utterly different.

Carissimi lacks the vocabulary and the very concept of Newton’s Absolute time, and he flounders as he tries to explain something we can today express more clearly, more simply.

The triple-metres all agree with regard to the quantity, the duration of musical note-values in absolute time [a semibreve lasts 0.66 seconds, a minim 0.33 seconds, etc].

This is easily understood [but it is different from 19th-century practice, where the performer can choose the speed of a piece of music].

In the slow or fast quality [how it feels to the listener] the triple-metres are utterly different [3/1 feels slow, 3/2  feels medium fast, 6/4 feels very fast].

‘What the Italians call tempo’ can mean Time itself, or the subjective feeling of how fast a piece of music is going. Carissimi has no vocabulary to separate these concepts, except for his idea of Absolute quantity and subjective quality.

The difficulty for Carissimi’s generation is that they do not have a concept, or a vocabulary for Absolute Time. Their best measure of Time is Music. So it’s extremely difficult for them to explain how different pieces of music can have consistent note-values, yet still produce such different subjective impressions of speed.

The French language is  bit more helpful: Mouvement for a piece of music helps us appreciate that music can seem to ‘move’ faster or slower, whilst we measure time steadily. But in the 17th-century they still measure Time with Music (so one can’t establish an objective description of how music moves in time), and (looking back to Aristotle) Time itself needs movement (i.e. change) in order to be measured. Without Newton’s concept of Absolute Time, it is very difficult to talk about the subjective speed of music!

Towards the modern assumptions of Time


As the 17th century progresses, the idea of an Absolute measurement of Time emerges. Clocks become more accurate, and the clock itself becomes a metaphor of time, and of music.

Thus Playford can advise music students to learn rhythm by listening to the tick-tock of a clock. Musicians’ modifying words, such as tarde, velociter, adagio, presto function like subtle adjustments to a clock, so that it ticks somewhat slower or faster. Similarly, Frescobaldi, Caccini and others allow the Tactus beat to go faster or slower according to the affetto, just as the human heart beats faster or slower under the influence of differing emotions. Gradually, music becomes a clock that can be adjusted by emotions to count Time faster or slower.

Nevertheless, this is still far removed from Newton’s concept of Absolute Time, and from our modern ideas that music can move freely whilst time itself is regular.

We need to think carefully, we need to understand the language and assumptions of the 17th century, before we rush to conclusions about rhythmic freedom. Rather than starting from the modern assumption of Absolute Time and musical rubato, we would do better to start from the period assumption that steady time is a religious imperative; that the heavens, our hearts and our music are inter-connected.


If the rhythm breaks, the cosmos will collapse!

If your heart stops, the music also dies.


 No rubato, no conducting



Please join me on Facebook and visit our website . 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.

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

Sherlock Holmes

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


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

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

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

Il corago

Theatrical Dances

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

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


Monteverdi’s Balletto (Orfeo)


Lasciate i Monti scoring


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

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

Lasciate C

C: Lasciate i monti


Lasciate 3.2

3/2 Qui miri il Sole


Lasciate 6.4

6/4 Ritornello


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


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

Caroso gagliarda

Caroso gagliarda


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

My thoughts are winged incipit

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


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

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

Qui miri galliard

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


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

Monteverdi’s balletto and Cavalieri’s ballo

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Galliard tempi

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

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

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

Ballo delle Ingrate gagliarda

Ballo delle Ingrate gagliarda


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

De la bellezza galliard (bass)

De la bellezza galliard (bass)


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

De la bellezza galliard (cantus 1)

De la bellezza galliard (cantus 1)


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

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

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


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

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

Caroso saltarello

Caroso saltarello

Who were the dancers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Riciulina and Metzetin



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

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

William Shakespeare Richard II (c1595) Act V scene v

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

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

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

Practical musicians must have found workable, consistent solutions.

You can examine my theory of proportions here.

Holmes theories

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


or the chorus afterwards, Vieni Imeneo.

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

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


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


Chain Missing Link Question

When considering Proportions, Tactus supplies the missing link


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

Combining Tactus & Proportions

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

Eliminating the impossible I – Sesquialtera

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

Minim = 90? Impossible!

Minim = 90? Impossible!


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

Moresca from Orfeo

Minim = 90? Impossible!


Eliminating the impossible II – Sextupla

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

Dotted minim = 240? Impossible!

Dotted minim = 240? Impossible!


What remains?

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

As Sherlock Holmes said:

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

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

Livanov as Holmes

Holmes never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson”


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

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

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

You know my methods, apply them!


Please join me on Facebook and visit our website . 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.











Flow (Accessing Super-Creativity): Making Connections


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow was enthusiastically taken up by musicians, sportsmen, businesswomen, creative types, indeed by anyone interested in learning, training and high-level performance. It’s that wonderful feeling when one is ‘in the zone’, simultaneously relaxed and concentrated, where one’s actions proceed effortlessly from a deep understanding of the situation. Whatever your particular application (arts, sports, business, creativity) Flow is the optimal state for efficient learning, effective training, and maximising one’s performance.

As part of my research (read more here) for the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions (CHE, read more here), I’m investigating Flow in the context of various related disciplines. My approach is phenomenological, experiential, based on my personal experience and on observations reported to me by colleagues, teachers and students from their own individual experiences. My aim is to reach a deeper understanding of how Flow works on a pragmatic level, so that I can offer practical hints to anyone who wants to access Flow in their own activities.

In this Introduction, I will summarise the classic description of Flow according to Csikszentmihalyi, and set out various connections which I’ll explore one-by-one and in greater depth in later posts: Griffin’s Dream Theory, Ericksonian Hypnosis, Ericsson’s Deliberate Practice, Neuroplasticity & Myelination, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Feldenkrais Method, Positive Psychology, Historically Informed Performance.

Also in this post, I’ll identify one crucial element of Flow which has not so far received the attention it deserves. I’ll connect this to the background theory, and suggest why this might be the missing link between Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, and the high-level, elite performance skills that so many coaches and performers are searching for.   

Chain Missing Link Question



In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Steps towards enhancing the quality of life (New York 1990, on Google Books here), Csikszentmihalyi identifies various elements that characterise Flow. If you experience several of these (not necessarily all of them), you are probably experiencing Flow. These elements can be present in any activity – sport, music, creative writing, business negotiations, public speaking etc.

  • Challenge

The activity is challenging, but not impossible. You are pushing the limit of your skills, but you are nevertheless confident in your abilities.

Csikszentmihalyi developed and gradually refined a diagram relating challenge and skill, with the flow-zone in the area of high-challenge, high-skill.

Flow diagram transit of Venus


  • Merging of Awareness & Action

Your intense awareness of crucial aspects of the activity leads immediately and effortlessly  to your actions, perhaps without any intervening conscious decision-process. You notice the situation, and your actions flow from that awareness.

  • Absorbtion

Your awareness is so intense that you are fully absorbed in the activity. Incoming information entirely fills the “bandwidth” of your attention.

  • Goals / feedback

The activity has clear goals, and you receive clear feedback on your progress towards those goals.

  • Concentration

You are fully concentrated so that nothing distracts you from the activity. Your focus does not shift here and there. Your concentration does not flicker off and on again. Potential distractions (e.g. background noises) do not disturb your focus and concentration.

This maintaining of a narrow focus is subtly different from the intensity of concentration described above as Absorbtion.

  • Control

You have a sufficient sense of control. As with Challenge, the optimal level of control presumably balances the thrill of unpredictability against the stability of control.

  • Lack of self-consciousness

Whilst the activity is in process, you are not aware of yourself, you are not concerned with how others see you, you are fully immersed in the activity itself. Typically, there is a strong feeling of pleasure after the activity is completed.

Csikszentmihalyi gives the example of a mountain climber, for whom the activity itself is physically demanding and requires total concentration. When the climber reaches the summit, only then do the feelings of elation kick in.

  • Time Distortion

You may not be aware of the passage of time, whilst you continue the activity in Flow. Only afterwards do you notice how late it is, that you might be hungry, thirsty, or need sleep.

As the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun! I’ll return to this question of Time Distortion, which I consider to be highly significant.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


The Autotelic Personality

Csikszentmihalyi considers that having an Autotelic Personality makes it easier for one to enter Flow. Autotelic people (from the Greek words for Self and Purpose) are self-motivated, they can find a sense of purpose in doing an activity for it’s own sake. Here are Csikszentmihalyi’s characteristics of Autotelics, which he derives from the corresponding elements of Flow:

  • Taking charge of your own destiny

You believe that what you are doing makes a difference.

  • Outward focus

You are focussed on your activities, on the outside world, not introspecting about your own situation

  • Goal setting

You set goals and monitor your progress towards them.

  • Absorbed

You get absorbed by the activities you undertake

  • Ability to concentrate

You can maintain a sharp focus over time, without being distracted

  • Enjoyment

You enjoy the immediate experience of the activity at hand.

I would add these two further characteristics, corresponding to Challenge and Merging of Awareness & Action

  • Have a go!

You enjoy taking on (new) challenges

  • Go for it!

You don’t procrastinate.


Flow notes


My investigation into Learning, Training and Performance rests on the theoretical foundation of Joe Griffin’s theory of Dreams and the REM state. In his later writings, together with Ivan Tyrrell, Griffin explores wide and deep implications of his theory, particularly in relation to mental health and creativity. (More here.)

The Expectation-Fulfilment Theory of Dreams offers a psychological, biological and evolutionary explanation that is consistent with neuroscientific data and has already led to measurable clinical success. It amounts to a new Organising Idea, a simple fundamental concept that underpins many observed complexities. In essence, Griffin claims that:
  •  Dreams are associated with the Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) state during sleep


  • The biological function of Dreams is to resolve unfulfilled expectations (positive or negative), generated whilst awake


  • Dreams re-present unfulfilled expectations in Metaphors, so that they can be resolved by pattern-matching to recalled memories.


  • Some 40,000 years ago, humans evolved the ability to access the REM-state whilst awake: this facilitated learning, language, tool-making and higher culture.

Griffin’s metaphor for the REM-state is the Theatre of Dreams.

Waking access to the REM-state allows us to day-dream, to relive the past, to envision the future, to watch a play in the Theatre of Dreams.

In hypnosis, the hypnotist “hijacks” the theatre machinery, changing the scenery, producing special effects, sending on various characters, directing a play for you to watch (even to act in) within the Theatre of Dreams.

The Origin of Dreams


Milton H. Erickson is widely recognised as the founder of modern hypnotherapy. In contrast to the myth that hypnotism is ‘magic’; in contrast to the traditional view of the hypnotist as an authority figure who imposes his will on his client; in contrast to the cliche of watching as the hypnotist swings a pocket-watch and counts down from 10 to 1 whilst instructing you to sleep; in contrast to the Freudian concept of the unconscious as a dark cavern of negativity; in contrast to the caricature of the all-knowing therapist and the helpless client, the Milton method assumes:

  • Trance is a natural state that we all experience several times each day


  •  The hypnotist creates conditions in which the client can feel permitted and able to enter trance.


  • Different people enter trance in different ways and have different experiences within trance.


  • The unconscious mind can be a powerful and positive resource.


  • The client can be helped to access solutions from within their own unconscious resources.


One aspect of Ericksonian Hypnosis is that therapists don’t feel the need to rush through their Pre-Talk and Induction, in order to get the client into trance and ‘start doing something useful’. Rather, the Pre-Talk is seen as an essential and highly significant part of the therapeutic intervention, and there may be no formal Induction as such.

In the Ericksonian view, hypnosis is at work in many everyday situations, including conventional (supposedly non-hypnotic) talking therapies, and teaching/learning. I would also add the performer/audience interaction to this list.

Erickson made a particular study of Time Distortion effects in Hypnosis, where the client’s subjective experience of time, under trance, was either much slower, or much faster, than real time. I will return to this subject, which I consider highly significant for Flow.



Erickson at work. Notice the characteristic SOLER posture: S = Sit down with your client; O = Open, friendly posture; L = Lean forwards, be attentive; E = make Eye contact; R = Relax.


Accept & Utilise

Perhaps the most important characteristic of Erickson’s approach was his response to Client Resistance. Rather than struggling to overcome resistance or to ‘correct’ the client’s behaviour, his solution was to accept whatever the client presented, and utilise even the most difficult behaviour as part of the therapy. For example, when treating a delusional client who believed that he was Jesus Christ, Erickson’s approach was not to attack the delusion, but to accept it. “I understand that you have a background in carpentry, would you like to build some bookshelves for me?”. The occupational therapy of woodworking became a crucial component of a successful treatment.

There are many stories from Erickson’s cases, which have inspired succeeding generations of hypnotherapists. My favourite is one particularly difficult case, where Erickson himself was unable to find a successful angle from which to direct his therapeutic intervention. Finally, he put the client into trance, and progressed him into the future, to a time when his problem had been successfully treated. “How was it done?” Erickson asked. Having obtained the answer (under hypnosis, direct from the client’s unconscious), Erickson gave the instruction (by hypnotic suggestion of amnesia) for the client to forget about this exchange, and brought the client back to the present, and out of trance. He then began a successful line of treatment, from the angle that the client himself had described in trance.

For an easy-to-read practical introduction to Ericksonian Hypnosis, I recommend Bill O’Hanlon Guide to Tranceland (2009). Richard Nongard Speak Ericksonian (2014) draws on his rich experience as a stage and speed hypnotist, clinical therapist and religious minister, and introduces techniques of NLP (see below). Michael Yapko Trancework: An Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis (2012) is a thorough guide to essential theory and current practice, an excellently compiled textbook for serious students. Nash & Barnier (editors) The Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis is for researchers.  




As part of my investigations, I have been studying the theory and training in the practice of Hypnosis. I am not qualified as a Hypnotherapist, but I am competent to use Hypnosis as part of my work on Flow, in consensual and informed interactions. This training also gives me a better understanding of how hypnosis is at work in many everyday (supposedly non-hypnotic) situations.




Psychologist Anders Ericsson researches the cognitive structures that underpin high-level training and expert performance. His work shows the importance of sustained, intensely concentrated practice that challenges one’s current skill-levels, deliberately and precisely pushing the envelope, always just outside the comfort zone. As the title of one of his editions – Towards a General Theory of Expertise (Cambridge University Press, 1991) – suggests, although expert skills are specific to a particular domain, the processes underlying the acquisition of those skills are common across a wide range of applications: music, sports, chess, business negotiations etc.

Ericsson’s work has led to a reassessment of the nature of Talent. The modern consensus places much less emphasis on ‘natural giftedness’, even on helpful genetic traits (runners born with long limbs), recognising the importance of environmental factors (in particular, access to training opportunities) and the decisive factor of many, many hours of Deliberate Practice.

These ideas have been popularised and extended in a number of books linking elite performance in sports to effective training regimes on the Ericsson model: Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (2008) presents the 10,000 rule (i.e. the need for about 10 years dedicated training to reach elite levels of performance); Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance (2008) looks at the acquisition of high-level skills in two apparently unrelated areas, chess and martial arts; Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code (2009) examines a biological mechanism underlying the beneficial effects of skills training; Matthew Syad’s Bounce (2011) discounts genetic factors, even useful physical attributes, in favour of Deliberate Practice.

Johan Harmenberg’s Epee 2.0 (2007) follows a similar line to Waitzkin in advocating a narrow focus during training – what Waitzkin calls ‘making smaller circles’. Harmenberg considers performance under intense stress, the ‘Olympic hit’: in such circumstances, even highly trained performers are sometimes unable to access their elite skills. Waitzkin also considers high-stress performance, and draws attention to Time Distortion – ‘slowing down time’ within a particular state of consciousness that he calls ‘the soft zone’.  I’ll return to these ideas below and in later posts.


My focus is phenomenological and practical – what is the experience of Flow, and how can we access it? Nevertheless, it’s inspiring and illuminating to examine the findings of Neuroscientists, as they try to understand the biological processes that support the expert skills we wish to learn, train and perform. The metaphor of treating your brain as you would a muscle – use it well, train it deliberately, and it will strengthen and grow – is apt.

Deliberate Practice (targeting precise skill elements, pushing the envelope) carried out in a state of Flow (optimal transfer of information between conscious and unconscious mind) builds new pathways, activates neural networks inside the brain. Think of this as installing new software into your computer.

After a couple of days of Deliberate Practice, your brain starts to grow, physically. You are growing new hardware, bolted-on so as to increase your capacity for the specific skills you are training. The results will show in two to three weeks.

On a similar time-scale (2 or 3 days for activation, 2 or 3 weeks for measurable results), training switches on or off certain genes, optimising your inherited DNA according to the demands your training makes. (This is one reason why identical twins, who share the same DNA, show differences in genetic activity: genes are switched on or off according to the experiences you have.)



If neurons are like wires, transmitting and processing signals through the brain, you can connect them up better, and even add new circuits, with Deliberate Practice. Practising a particular skill under challenging conditions (pushing the envelope) also wraps layers of Myelin around the particular neurons that are working hardest. Myelin is like the insulation around a wire, it stops the charge leaking out and makes transmission more efficient. The more Deliberate Practice you do, the more Myelin you can wrap. You get better, sharper, faster.

And of course, to stay in Flow, as you continue to train, you must continually raise the bar, up the Challenge. As you continue to push the envelope, you assemble more neurons, connect up more neuro-circuits, and wrap them all in Myelin. The skill becomes effortless, awareness and action merge, and you might well start to have some serious fun!





Csikszentmihlayi’s concept Flow is part of a general trend to move away from researching only pathological conditions, mental illness, psychological trauma, and investigate well-being, happiness, positive psychology. Performance Studies can also benefit from a positive approach, with Solution Oriented interventions, learning to acquire confidence and access Flow,  rather than wallowing in the pathology of Performance Anxiety.

Nevertheless, musicians and sportsmen know all too well the phenomenon of ‘choking’. Just when it matters the most, the stress of the moment is too much, and one loses access to all those hard-won elite skills. In bad cases, one loses even basic competence, and reverts to crude bungling. This is what happened to the Brazil football team in the last World Cup: after they had Flowed through all the heats, in the semi-final they failed to Flow, and were not so much beaten as annihilated by Germany, 7-1. Brazil choked.


Brazil world cup defeat


How can we learn to use the stress of a highly significant moment as a spur towards our finest, most Flowing performance, rather than being knocked out of Flow into hopeless incompetence? I’ll explore some ideas in future posts.


NLP takes many ideas from Ericksonian Hypnosis, especially the subtle use of language to influence modes of thought, and distills them into their most concentrated form. Although NLP has become associated with covert hypnotism and unfair manipulation, its powerful techniques can be used beneficially, for teaching and even for self-improvement.


As well as subtleties of language, NLP examines directions of gaze and other outward indications of inner processes. I am interested to explore how this link might be reversed, to use deliberately directed gaze to re-order modes of thought and unconscious processes. Some work has already been done in this area by Feldenkrais practitioners and researchers into Performance Anxiety.



Moshe Feldenkrais was a martial arts expert and engineer who developed a method for learning and teaching efficient, effortless use of the body. Although its aim is similar to that of Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method teaches by different means. An ‘Awareness Through Movement’ class invites participants to notice subtle feedback from the body, as they carry out simple, undemanding movements in a relaxed environment. The use of non-habitual positions (e.g. crossing your legs with the other leg on top), or the introduction of a twist into a movement (direct your eyes to the right, turn your head to the left) produces a kind of alienation effect, sharpening one’s proprioception.

Classes include frequent moments of rest, not because the exercises are physically demanding (on the contrary, teachers repeatedly warn not to use too much effort), but in order to let the unconscious and conscious mind exchange and assimilate information. Many elements of Feldenkrais teaching look very familiar to the Ericksonian Hypnotist.

The results of Feldenkrais teaching can be amazing. The Method manages to link up conscious/unconscious learning, mind and body. A good session engages the participants in Flow, and the body Flows beautifully afterwards.

Feldenkrais Method


Csikszentmihalyi, Milton Erickson and Anders Ericsson all considered that their findings were valid across a wide-range of cases – music, arts, sports, business, any creative and challenging activity.

My experiential approach inevitably draws on my personal experience as an elite musician and teacher (part of my work as a Historical Informed Performer has included acquiring and teaching the related, but distinct techniques for different types of historical harp, Italian, Irish, Spanish, French etc, and the study of such related skills as directing, continuo, and baroque gesture); as a professionally qualified sailor (sailing is  favourite example of Csikszentmihalyi’s); as a novice fencer (modern epée and historical rapier) and as a keen student of the Feldenkrais Method.

I’m also consulting colleagues, teachers and students in each of these disciplines.

I hypothesise that certain aspects of Historically Informed Performance of music may be particularly suited for facilitating access into Flow.


Csikszentmihalyi considers Flow on the time-scale of an entire life-time’s search for happiness. But the Flow many of us are looking for is a transitory state, a temporary heightened consciousness that allows us to perform at our very best, just when it matters most.

Csikszentmihalyi characterises the Time Distortion of Flow as the perception that one has worked only for a short period, whilst in the real world, a long time has passed. This is a useful Time Distortion for training.

But in performance, we are looking for the other type of Time Distortion. The tennis ball comes flying over the net, but for the skilled player time seems to slow down: there is plenty of time to assess the incoming ball, position one’s body and the tennis racquet, and execute a perfect return that will severely challenge one’s opponent. In the Time Distortion of Performance, subjective time seems to slow down so that Awareness and Action can merge, effortlessly.

Erickson wrote about various Time Distortion effects under hypnosis, and about how this relates to the phenomenon of people responding to emergencies with cool, effective action: such people report a Time Distortion of Performance in which subjective time seems to slow down. Waitzkin links ‘slowing down time’ to the extreme stress of what Harmenberg calls ‘Olympic hits’, the most crucial, decisive moments.

swinging watch




Having proposed many connections, I’d like to conclude this introduction by suggesting a separation. I consider that there are actually two kinds of Flow, crucially distinguished by two types of Time Distortion. In Flow-T (ideal for training), the subjective impression is that a short time passed, whereas in the real world many hours went by. In Flow-P (ideal for performance), the subjective impression is that time slows down, so that one can effortlessly observe the situation and merge that awareness into action at elite skill-levels.

The two types are distinct but related. I hypothesise that long-term use of Flow-T can prepare the way for short-term access to Flow-P.


In the fluid mechanical phenomenon known as a Hydraulic Jump, a narrow zone of intense Flow contrasts with an extended region with different Flow characteristics.

In the fluid-mechanical phenomenon known as a Hydraulic Jump, a narrow zone of intense Flow contrasts with an extended region with slower Flow characteristics.


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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.

Flow connections