Tactus, Sprezzatura & Drama

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Tactus & sprezzatura

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Every word sounds like what it means

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

Tactus & drama

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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Emotions in Early Opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

muovere gli affetti – to move the Passions

 

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

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

Which Emotion?

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

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

 

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

 

How to move the Passions

 

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

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

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

the  -LY principle

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

How to sing the Passions

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

 

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

 

Don’t sing at me, speak to me!

 

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

 

Last note short!

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

 

The Long Note Kit

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

How to study Monteverdi’s operatic roles

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

HOW TO PREPARE

 

1. Hold the music in your left hand

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

 

2. Take up the contrapposto posture

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

 

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

 

 

The toga is optional!

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

TEXT

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

RHYTHM

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

6. Sing the music, beating TACTUS

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

CONNECTING TEXT & RHYTHM

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LONG-NOTE KIT

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

ACTION

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

ET VIVETE LIETI! 

(Don’t worry, be happy!)

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

What might Claudio have done?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Ecco pur ch’a voi ritorno

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

MODELLING TECHNIQUES

 

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

 

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

 

Cut and Paste

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

 

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

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

 

Pattern recognition

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Transformation

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Declamation

 

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

ALK ‘Arianna a la recherche’

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

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

 

Re-composition

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other words also recur frequently:

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

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

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

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

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

TO READERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, Cavalieri argues for contrast and variety.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Some dissonances and parallel fifths are made deliberately.

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

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

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

FURTHER READING

Peri Preface to Euridice (1600) here

Caccini Preface to Le Nuove Musiche (1601) here

Agazzari Del sonare sopra’l basso (1607) here

Monteverdi Orfeo (1607) here.

Gagliano Preface to La Dafne (1608)

Anonymous Il Corago (c1630) here

How to Act in Early Opera & Shakespeare here

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

 

E VIVETE LIETI!

 

 

The Perfect Musical Director: Music inspires me!

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

 

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

 

The Perfect Musical Director

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You can find Mattheson’s complete original here.

 

Mattheson title page

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Power of Tactus: A hands-on approach

Hand of God supernova

 

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

 

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

 

Hand as cosmos

 

Tactus in the 1980s

 

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

 

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

 

Foucault pendulum 1851

 

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

 

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

Tactus in the 2010s

 

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

 

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

David Garrick as Richard III in 1759

 

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

 

 

What is Time

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You are trying to feel the right Time

 

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

 

Keep Time

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Galileo Pendulum

 

 

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

 

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

 

Down & Up

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Flow Zone mashup 2015

 

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

 

Sesquialtera: Down – Up becomes Down – 2 – Up

 

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

 

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

 

Divided Choirs

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

 

Praetorius Theatrum Instrumentorum

 

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

 

Rhythm

 

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

 

Silentium postulo

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Primum Mobile

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Dowland Above all things original

 

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

 

Hand touching the stars

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Happy New Year 2016

 

 

 

 

2016 Happy New Year

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Look Bach on 2015

ALK & Peri

 

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

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

 

 

Looking forward to seeing you in 2016!

 

Peri Euridice Preface vale

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Modus Agendi, or How to Act: preliminary exercises for Baroque Gesture

This article is Part 2 of a series on Historical Action, following on from Start Here: How to study Baroque Gesture and Historical Action here.

The rehearsal and training exercises I describe in this article are ‘stepping stones’ towards historical gestures that you can use in performance. They are also designed to bring specific benefits to the music/speech. So the exercises are well worth trying in rehearsal, even if you choose not to use gesture in the final performance. The exercises are designed for 17th-century recitar cantando – the first Italian operas, English masquing airs, declamatory songs, recitative songs by Lawes, Purcell, etc. – but can of course be adapted for other repertoires, or for spoken drama, including Shakespearian blank verse.

 

Modus agendi

 

Before starting these exercises, choose a song (or opera excerpt) that you already know well, written in duple time. I will take as my working examples two solos from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers: Nigra sum and the opening solo of Pulchra es, but it should be clear how you can apply these exercises to whatever piece you want to work on.

 

To start with, keep things simple with a song in duple time. I’ll cover Tactus-beating for triple meters in a future post, but you can read my suggestions about Proportions in general here, and about Proportions in Monteverdi’s Orfeo here.

 

For a song lasting, say, three minutes, I’d recommend trying each of these exercises for the whole text, perhaps twice through for each exercise. The idea is to build up general familiarity with and fluency in these hand movements, rather than to perfect any one particular moment within the song. But it can be helpful to have a training partner or rehearsal director to observe and give you feedback about anything that could be improved. If you don’t have an observer, then use a mirror, and/or video yourself and watch the playback.

 

 

Start here

 

Click the START HERE image above to revise the fundamentals of Historical Stance (contrapposto), Hand Position, and Visions (Ut Pictura: creating an imagined vision of what you are talking about in the text to be performed). If the text includes any kind of visual description, plan ahead where in your field of (imaginary) vision each element of the picture will be situated.

So now you are standing diagonally on to your audience, weight on one leg, the other leg elegantly bent. You are holding your music in your left hand, and your right hand rests palm upwards, midway between your belly button and your chin. Fingers gently curved, middle two fingers brought close together, little finger curved more inwards, index finger less curved. Imagine you are holding a tennis ball in your hand – that gives a feeling for the right amount of curve and strength (just enough, no excess tension) in the fingers.

Exercise I: TACTUS

Lift up your hand, palm outwards. Now let your arm swing gently and slowly down-up, about one second in each direction, i.e. two seconds for the complete down-up movement. This is how 17th-century musicians understood the measurement of rhythm: down for one minim, up for another, so that the complete down-up cycle last a semibreve. Your best human estimate of the duration of one second will be sufficiently precise: they didn’t have stop-watches and digital metronomes in Monteverdi’s time!

Tactus beaters

The quality of the movement should be smooth and ’rounded’, like a pendulum swing, rather than jerky or “pointed”, like a modern conductor’s beat. There is a subtle difference between down and up strokes, arsis  and thesis. (Which is which is a knotty question, see the introduction here.)

 

As you move your hand, consider that musical rhythm (musica instrumentalis) was a symbol also for the harmonious nature of the human body (musica humana): let your arm swing with the quiet constancy of a heart-beat. Rhythm also symbolised the perfect motion of the stars and planets (musica mondana), moved by the hand of God: let your hand move gently, but with the profound significance of cosmic force, and with divinely-ordained authority.

 

What is music

 

This period philosophy of Music does not make you, the Tactus-beater, a demi-god who can alter Time and divert the sun on its course, at your whim. Rather, it gives you a weighty responsibility, to maintain a steady beat so that the heavens do not collapse, to sustain the pulse for the sake of the health of all humanity.

 

 

Nigra sum with Tactus_0001

 

Now sing your song through, paying attention to keeping the Tactus beat as constant as you possibly can. Don’t let your hand follow the voice! Rather, use the gentle power of Tactus to keep your singing in rhythm. It should feel rather like singing jazz, in that there is a strong, steady swing as the foundation for whatever longer or shorter notes you actually sing.

Pulchra es for Tactus_0001

 

What to check for

Your observer (or you yourself, watching the mirror or video playback) should check for steady, smooth hand movements, and for a clear sense that the ‘hand of God’ is in command, with the human voice conforming to the Tactus pulse.

Purpose of the exercise

Even with a song you know well, it is quite possible that this exercise might reveal some places where your rhythm was not steady, as measured by the Tactus beat. You may well find that the composer’s note-values are more varied than you had realised. Without the discipline of a steady Tactus, most ‘free’ performances tend to reduce contrast: long notes are cut short, short notes are not fast enough, rests are disregarded.

 

As a preliminary exercise for Baroque Gesture, Tactus-beating gets you accustomed to moving your right hand, and breaks the connection between hand-movement and voice-production, a connection which is often created by modern singing teachers or by gestural practices in romantic music, but which is unhelpful for Early Music.

 

Advanced use of Tactus

 

Nevertheless, there are certain freedoms, inside this slow Tactus beat. If the music is set syllable by syllable, then note-values notated equally can be subtly varied, according to the weight of each syllable. Where note-values are unequal, it is often good to emphasise that difference: make the long notes extra-long, the short notes extra-short. If there is a melisma (several notes on one syllable), you are free to play around with the note-values: see Caccini’s Le Nuove Musiche (original print here, my translation and commentary here) for examples of how to do this. All of these freedoms operate within the bounds of the steady Tactus.

 

Finally, there is a stylish special effect, which is to maintain the Tactus pulse, but deliberately to sing off the beat, like a jazz singer making syncopations. Read more about Monteverdi, Caccini & Jazz here. I recommend strongly that you leave this for later, concentrating to begin with on establishing and maintaining the steady Tactus.

 

Tactus in Historical Performance

The images above show a recorder-player using Tactus-beating to study a piece, and singers using Tactus-beating for songs and ensembles. In his seventh (1619) book of Madrigals, entitled Concerto and full of varied ensembles here, Monteverdi marks the dramatic solo recitatives as ‘in theatrical style’ in genere rappresentativo and ‘to be sung without beating Tactus ‘& si canta senza battuta’. The implication, of course, is that conventional madrigals and other ensemble-pieces would have Tactus-beating.

Senza battuta

 

The anonymous c1630 MS Il Corago here agrees that Tactus-beating was not used in dramatic recitative, but that in a staged show, the principle continuo-player might beat Tactus for large-scale ensemble music. Music with ‘divided choirs’ (Gabrieli, Schütz, the Monteverdi Vespers etc) would have multiple Tactus-beaters to unify the Tactus across large spaces.

 

 

So this Tactus-exercise is something that can also be used in performance, but would not be used in a dramatic solo recitative, especially not on stage. For Nigra sum and Pulchra es, it would not be wrong to beat Tactus, but there are probably better and more beautiful things to do with your hands. Read on….

 

Exercise II: Good & Bad

Early Music is Rhetorical – it is based upon words. Those words should be clear, delightful and passionately moving. As an element of Historical Action, Baroque Gesture is also Rhetorical – it springs from the words. Shakespeare has Hamlet instruct the Players to:

Suit the Action to the Word

Word-based musical phrasing, and word-based baroque gesture starts at the fundamental level of syllables, accented and unaccented – or to use the period terminology, Good and Bad. Read about The Good, the Bad and the Early Music phrase here.

The Good & the Bad

The idea of this exercise is very simple: move your hand on the Good syllable, not on the Bad. It is more difficult to do, than you might think. Most singers find it easy to move the hand on a Good syllable, but harder to do nothing on the Bad syllable.

 

The hand movement, with the Right hand, begins from the Start Here neutral position, with the hand resting palm upwards, midway between your belly button and your chin, holding that imaginary tennis ball. On the good syllable, move your hand outwards, and slightly upwards, as if offering the tennis-ball to another player, standing in front of you and slightly to your right.

 

On the Bad syllables, let your hand remain still. Not tense, as if the tennis-ball has become a lead weight, and you are desperate for your partner to take it from you! Just relaxed and still, with nothing happening. This is perhaps the hardest element of the exercise, to learn who to do nothing.

 

On the next Good syllable, let your hand move again, either a little further outwards, or back towards the central resting position. Whatever feels natural – you don’t want your arm to end up too extended, but if there are several Good syllables in quick succession, you might not want to reverse the movement for every one.

 

At the end of a strophe, or at the end of the whole piece, let your hand fall gently to your side. This shows the end of a section.

Try this exercise several times, just speaking the text.

 

Nigra sum Good and Bad_0001

Good syllables are marked in RED

 

Then try with singing. Particularly when singing, the temptation to move on a Bad syllable can be hard to resist. Practice until it is easy and natural to move your hand appropriately.

 

Pulchra es with Good and Bad_0001

Good syllables are marked in RED

What to check for

It’s fairly easy to make a movement on each Good syllable. Check for false movements (or attempted movements) on Bad syllables, in particular small unaccented words (e.g. et) or final syllables (e.g. fi-li-A). Check also for unnecessary tension during Bad syllables, when the hand should be resting.

 

Singers will find it helpful to shorten unaccented final syllables, rather than sustaining them for the full written value of the note. This is anyway good style.

 

Purpose of the Exercise

I invented this exercise as an aid to the musical performance, to help singers establish a clear sense of Good and Bad syllables. In that context, the hand-movement is merely an outward and visible sign of the inward thought-processes. Using a hand-movement helps singers concentrate on this question, and allows both singers and directors to observe the level of success.

 

But Gesture was itself described in period treatises as ‘an outward and visible sign’ of the inward movements of the passions of the spirit. So this exercise is also useful preliminary training for gesture, establishing the connection between Word and Action, between a Good syllable and the Stroke (the well-timed focus of movement) of a gesture. By doing the exercise first whilst speaking, the non-period connection between hand-movements and vocal production are broken, and a new connection made between Text and Action. Make sure that the gestures remain text-based, even when you start to sing.

Advanced Good & Bad

This next variation of the exercise develops the ability to ‘shape’ long notes with a messa di voce, as well as increasing one’s awareness of subtle shaping and the Stroke of gestures.

 

Plain note (with messa da voce), Waived note (with messa da voice and late-arriving vibrato) Trillo (with accelerating trill and diminuendo) Roger North (1695) cited in Greta Moens-Hanen "Das Vibrato in der Musick des Barock"

Plain 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”

 

 

Sing your song once again, moving your right hand on the Good syllables (and not on the Bad). But now, move your hand slowly and further, making a long gesture for a long note; move your hand less and somewhat faster, for a short note. For a very long note, the gesture should match the ‘shape’ of the note by starting slowly, and moving to a Stroke at the moment where the bloom of the crescendo and vibrato happens.

 

Good and Bad in Performance

Although this is not yet completely historical gesture, I suggest that it can already be effective in performance, helping the performers focus on Good syllables and beautifully-shaped long notes. But if you can incorporate the results of the next exercise, so much the better. Read on….

 

Exercise III: Meaning

Renaissance Theory of Visions

 

Try this exercise several times, speaking, before attempting to combine everything at once with singing as well.

 

As you pronounce the Good syllable of each word, focus your mind on the meaning of that particular word. This soon becomes a Mindfulness exercise, in which you seek to keep focussed on each particular word in that very moment, without being distracted by what happened previously, or what is about to happen next.

 

Two historical concepts can help you with this: Enargeia (the emotional power of detailed visual description) and Visions (an imagined picture of what you are describing in the performed Text). As you sing formosa filia, imagine how the the ‘beautiful daughter’ looks, and locate this imagined figure precisely in your field of vision. An appropriate place, keeping in mind the etiquette of a renaissance court, which carried over into the conventions of theatrical practice, would be in front and to your right side. Similarly for amica mea: you can locate your imaginary ‘friend’ forward right.

 

Courtly lady Italian c1600

 

Ut Pictura

 

The combination of all these elements is what I call the Ut Pictura technique, borrowing from a favourite period expression, ut pictura musica (music is like a picture). As you sing the Good syllable of each word, you concentrate on the meaning of that particular word, and you imagine, with as much detail and precision as you can, how the resulting ‘scene’ looks, with a specific location for the particular elements you are currently describing.

 

Caravaggio Calling of St Matthew

What to check for

For an attentive observer, it quickly becomes very obvious, whether the singer has a specific meaning and a detailed picture in mind as they pronounce a certain word, or not. Sometimes singers have the translation of the text written into the score, or buried somewhere in their memory, but not available to them in the moment of performance. Sometimes, under pressure, one can be distracted away from the particular word at hand, perhaps thinking about a difficult note in the next bar, or whatever. Sometimes, singers will pronounce a word meaningfully, but have no specific visual imagination of it, or no particular location for it.

 

It’s worth considering that attentive audience members will also be able to notice whether or not you are fully committed to the meaning of each word, and have an inspiring Vision of it. This applies even when singing in your native language.

 

Purpose of the Exercise

 

This exercise too was invented as an aid to musical delivery, attaching deep meaning to each word being sung. As singers start to acquire the skill to do this, you will notice the enormous difference focus on Meaning makes for passionate performance, and you will probably be unwilling to accept anything less, in the future!

 

As an exercise for Gesture, establishing connections to the Meaning of each word is an obvious pre-requisite for satisfying Shakespeare’s demand, Suit the Action to the Word. But the resulting hand-movements are more than just a well-completed exercise, they are themselves a basic, Default Gesture, that is thoroughly historical and can be used in performance.

 

Default Gesture in Performance

 

Although the actual hand-movement is just a basic to and fro, this is now ‘real’ baroque gesture, and can be used with confidence in performance. Of course, there are other specific gestures to be learnt and added later, but this basic movement of the hand gently back and forth every few words, is a Default Gesture described by Quintilian (1st cent AD), Shakespeare (Hamlet c1600) and Bulwer (1644).

 

Moliere

Default Gesture demonstrated by Moliere: initial position. From here, the right hand moves outwards.

 

However, what makes this Default Gesture work is not what you do with your hand, but what you do with your mind. If you fill your concentration with the meaning of the word and an imaginary vision of the scene, all that Enargeia (the emotional power of detailed visual description) will turn to Enargeia (the spirit of passion) transmitted from your eyes and hands to your audience. The force of your own concentration and imagination will change your facial expression, the look in your eyes, and (in indescribably subtle ways) the movement of the hand gesture.

 

Moliere crop

Default Gesture (2) Moliere again: the right hand has moved outwards, and is now ready to return again to the initial position.

 

Advanced Default Gesture

 

For total success, you need to synchronise all these elements – pronunciation, meaning and vision, the gaze of your eyes and the movement of your hand – with the music, i.e. with the steady beat of the Tactus.

 

So try the song again, with a partner to beat Tactus for you. Or you could ask your accompanist to play in absolutely steady Tactus, to keep you in time. According to Agazzari in 1607 (original here, my commentary here), the role of the continuo is to direct the entire ensemble. If you can synchronise all of this, you really have unlocked the secrets of early Baroque performance, and you are ready to go on to more advanced gestures.

 

Just for Fun

This last variation is really only a party-trick, but it might help you realise that combining all these elements is quite a challenge, a challenge which deserves sustained practice over months and years. Try beating Tactus with left hand, and doing Default Gesture (Good syllables only, coordinated with the length of the note, synchronised with the meaning of the word and supported by a precise Vision of the scene) with your right hand.

 

This would not be done in historical performance, but it is a (very demanding) drill that combines everything you should have learnt from the exercises in this post.

 

Good luck!

 

The next article in this series, Baroque Gesture: What’s the Point? is here.

 

Magnanimitatem ostendit

 

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

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