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Title: Some Forerunners of Italian Opera
Author: Henderson, W. J. (William James), 1855-1937
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Author of

"The Orchestra and Orchestral Music,"
"What Is Good Music,"
"The Art of the Singer," etc.

[Illustration: Publisher's Device]

New York
Henry Holt and Company
Copyright, 1911,
Henry Holt and Company
Published March, 1911
The University Press, Cambridge, U.S.A.

    TO HER

        "_In a land of sand and ruin and gold
        There shone one woman, and none but she._"



The purpose of this volume is to offer to the English reader a short
study of the lyric drama in Italy prior to the birth of opera, and to
note in its history the growth of the artistic elements and influences
which finally led the Florentine reformers to resort to the ancient
drama in their search for a simplified medium of expression. The author
has not deemed it essential to his aims that he should recount the
history of all European essays in the field of lyric drama, but only
that of those which directly affected the Italians and were hence the
most important. For this reason, while some attention is given in the
beginning to the French and German liturgical plays, the story soon
confines itself to Italy.

The study of the character and performance of the first Italian secular
drama, the "Orfeo" of Poliziano, unquestionably a lyric work, is the
result of some years of labor. The author believes that what he has to
offer on this topic will be found to possess historical value. The
subsequent development of the lyric drama under the combined influences
of polyphonic secular composition and the growing Italian taste for
luxurious spectacle has been narrated at some length, because the author
believes that the reformatory movement of the Florentines was the
outcome of dissatisfaction with musical conditions brought about as much
by indulgence of the appetite for the purely sensuous elements in music
as by blind adherence to the restrictive laws of ecclesiastic

With the advent of dramatic recitative the work ends. The history of
seventeenth-century opera, interesting as it is, does not belong to the
subject especially treated in this volume. The authorities consulted
will be named from time to time in the pages of the book.


Chapter                                                 Page
     I. The Early Liturgical Drama                         1
    II. The Sacre Rappresentazioni                        21
   III. Birthplace of the Secular Drama                   35
    IV. The Artistic Impulse                              53
     V. Poliziano's "Favola di Orfeo"                     68
    VI. The Performance of "Orfeo"                        85
   VII. Character of the Music                            98
  VIII. The Solos of the "Orfeo"                         117
    IX. The Orchestra of the "Orfeo"                     136
     X. From Frottola Drama to Madrigal                  147
    XI. The Predominance of the Spectacular              160
   XII. Influence of the Taste for Comedy                179
  XIII. Vecchi and the Matured Madrigal Drama            190
   XIV. The Spectacular Element in Music                 207
    XV. The Medium for Individual Utterance              220
        Index                                            237



The Early Liturgical Drama

The modern entertainment called opera is a child of the Roman Catholic
Church. What might be described as operatic tendencies in the music of
worship date further back than the foundation of Christianity. The
Egyptians were accustomed to sing "jubilations" to their gods, and these
consisted of florid cadences on prolonged vowel sounds. The Greeks
caroled on vowels in honor of their deities. From these practices
descended into the musical part of the earliest Christian worship a
certain rhapsodic and exalted style of delivery, which is believed to
have been St. Paul's "gift of tongues."

That this element should have disappeared for a considerable time from
the church music is not at all remarkable, for in the first steps toward
regulating the liturgy simplification was a prime requisite. Thus in the
centuries before Gregory the plain chant gained complete ascendancy in
the church and under him it acquired a systematization which had in it
the elements of permanency.

Yet it was through the adaptation of this very chant to the delineation
of episodes in religious history that the path to the opera was opened.
The church slowly built up a ritual which offered no small amount of
graphic interest for the eyes of the congregation. As ceremonials became
more and more elaborate, they approached more and more closely the
ground on which the ancient dramatic dance rested, and it was not long
before they themselves acquired a distinctly dramatic character. It is
at this point that the liturgical ancestry of the opera becomes quite
manifest. The dance itself, at first an attempt to delineate
dramatically by means of measured movement, and thus the origin of the
art of dramatic action, was not without its place in the early church.
The ancient pagan festivals made use of the dance, and the early
Christians borrowed it from them. At one time Christian priests executed
solemn dances before their altars just as their Greek predecessors had
done. But in the course of time the dance became generally practised by
the congregation and this gave rise to abuses. The authorities of the
church abandoned it. But the feeling for it lingered, and in after years
issued in the employment of the procession. When the procession left the
sanctuary and displayed itself in the open air, something of the nature
of the dance returned to it and its development into a dramatic
spectacle was not difficult.

According to Magnin[1] the lyric drama of the Middle Ages had three
sources,--the aristocracy, religion and the people. Coussemaker finds
that this lyric drama had in its inception two chief varieties, namely,
the secular drama, and the religious or liturgical drama. "Each of these
dramas," he says, "had its own particular subject matter, character,
charms and style. The music, which formed an integral part of it, was
equally different in the one from the other."[2]

    [Footnote 1: "Les Origines du Théâtre Moderne ou Histoire du Génie
    Dramatique depuis le Premier Siècle jusqu'au XVIe." Paris, 1838.]

    [Footnote 2: "Histoire de l'Harmonie au Moyen Age." Paris, 1852.]

The liturgical drama, which was chronologically the first of the two
forms, originated, as we have noted, in the ceremonies of the Christian
church, in the strong dramatic element which inheres in the mass, the
Christmas fêtes, and those of the Epiphany, the Palms and the Passion.
These are all scenes in the drama of the sacrifice of the Redeemer, and
it required but small progress to develop them into real dramatic
performances, designed for the instruction of a people which as yet had
no literature.

The wearing of appropriate costumes by priest, deacon, sub-deacon and
boys of the choir is in certain ceremonies associated with the use of
melody and accent equally suited to the several rôles. Each festival is
an anniversary, and in the early church was celebrated with rites,
chants and ornaments corresponding to its origin. The Noël, for example,
was supposed to be the song which the angels sang at the nativity, and
for the sake of realistic effect some of the Latin churches used the
Greek words which they thought approached most closely to the original
text. The Passion was the subject of a series of little dramas enacted
as ceremonials of holy week in all the Catholic churches.

Out of these ceremonies, then, grew the liturgical drama. The most
ancient specimens of it which have come down to us are those collected
under the title "Vierges sages et Vierges folles," preserved in MS. 1139
of the national library at Paris. The manuscript contains two of these
dramas and a fragment of a third. The first is the "Three Maries." This
is an office of the sepulcher, and has five personages: an angel, the
guardian of the tomb and the three Maries.

The drama of the wise and foolish virgins, which was thoroughly examined
by M. Magnin and by Coussemaker after him, is simple in construction. It
begins with a chorus in Latin, the theme of which is indicated by the
first words:

  "Adest sponsus qui est Christus: vigilate, virgines."

This chorus is set to a melody grave and plaintive. Then the archangel
Gabriel, using the Provençal tongue, announces the coming of Christ and
tells what the Savior has suffered on earth for the sins of man. Each
strophe is terminated by a refrain, of which the conclusion has the same
melody as the first stanza of each of the strophes. The foolish virgins
confess their sins and beg their sisters for help. They sing in Latin,
and their three strophes have a melody different from that of the
preceding strophes. They terminate, like the others, with a sad and
plaintive refrain, of which the words are Provençal:

  "Dolentas! Chaitivas! trop i avem dormit."

In modern French this line reads, "Malheureuses! Chétives! Nous avons
trop dormi!" The wise virgins refuse the oil and bid their foolish
sisters to go and buy it. All the strophes change the melody at each
change of personages. The little drama comes to its end with the
intervention of Christ, who condemns the foolish virgins. The words of
the Savior have no music. Coussemaker wonders whether the musician was
unable to find a melody worthy to be sung by the Savior or intentionally
made Him speak instead of chant. The same author, in his "Histoire de
l'Harmonie au Moyen Age," gives facsimiles of all the pages of the
original manuscript of this play. The notation, that of the eleventh
century, is beautifully clear, and its deciphering is made easier by the
presence of a line ruled across the page to indicate the relative
positions of the notes. The music of these dramas is what we should
naturally expect it to be, if we take into account the character of the
text. The subjects of the dramas were always incidents from the Bible
and the plays were represented in churches by priests or those close to

It is certain that the educational drama of the church continued in the
state of its infancy for several centuries. Even after the birth of the
"Sacra Rappresentazione" in the fourteenth century the old-fashioned
liturgical drama survived in Italy and was preserved in activity in
other parts of Europe. Several interesting manuscripts in great
libraries attest the consideration accorded to it at a period much later
than that of which we have been speaking. Nevertheless the era of the
origin of the plays as a rule will be found to antedate that of the
manuscripts. For example, in the royal library of Berlin there is a
fifteenth century manuscript of a liturgical drama entitled, "Die
Marienklage." Dr. Frommann, of Nuremberg, after careful study, has
decided that the play was of middle German (perhaps Thuringian) origin
in the fourteenth century. This play is in part sung and in part
spoken.[3] It begins with this bit of Latin chant by Mary:

  [Musical Notation]

    [Footnote 3: See Robert Eitner's introduction to the First Part of
    "Die Oper von ihren ersten Anfängen bis zur Mitte des 18.
    Jahrhunderts." Leipsic, 1881.]

The rest of the text is in old German. Here is a specimen of the
recitative or chant with the German text:

  [Musical Notation]

These recitatives are in a style exactly like that of the early French
church plays.

As Coussemaker notes, one does not find in these plays the passions, the
intrigues nor the scenic movement found in the secular drama. What we do
find is calm simplicity of statement, elevation and nobility of thought,
purity of moral principles. The music designed to present these ideas in
a high light necessarily has an appropriate character. We do not find
here music of strongly marked rhythm and clearly defined measure,
suitable to the utterance of worldly emotions, but a melody resembling
the chant, written in the tonalities used in the church, but containing
a certain kind of prose rhythm and accentuation, such as exists in the
Gregorian music.

This was the inevitable march of development. The liturgical drama
originated, as has been shown, in the celebration of certain offices and
fêtes, for which the music assumed a style of delivery clothed in
unwonted pomp. Characters and costumes and specially composed music soon
found their way into these ceremonies. The new music followed the old
lines and preserved the character of the liturgical chant. Gradually
these accessories rose to the importance of separate incidents and
finally to that of dramas. But they did not lose their original literary
and musical character.

In studying the development of a secular lyric drama, it is essential
that we keep in mind the nature of the music employed in the dramatic
ceremonials, and later in the frankly theatrical representations of the
church. The opera is a child of Italy and its direct ancestors must be
sought there. The first secular musical plays of France far antedated
the birth of the primitive lyric drama of Italy, and it requires
something more than scientific devotion to establish a close connection
between the two. But the early French ecclesiastical play is directly
related to that of Italy. Both were products of the Catholic Church.
Both employed the same texts and the same kind of music. They were
developed by similar conditions; they were performed in similar
circumstances and under the same rules.

For these reasons it is proper to discuss the early French religious
drama and that of Italy as practically one and the same thing, and to
pass without discrimination from the first performances of such plays
outside the church to the establishment of that well-defined variety
known in Italy as the "Sacre Rappresentazioni." This form, as we shall
see, was the immediate outgrowth of the "laud," but one of its ancestors
was the open-air performances. The emergence of the churchly play into
the open was effected through the agency of ecclesiastic ceremonial.
Pagan traditions and festivities died a hard death in the early years of
Christianity, and some of them, instead of passing entirely out of the
world of worship, maintained their existence in a transformed shape.
Funerals, as Chouquet[4] pointedly notes, "provided the occasion for
scenic performances and certain religious fêtes the pretext for profane

    [Footnote 4: "Histoire de la Musique Dramatique en France," par
    Gustave Chouquet. Paris, 1873.]

The fête of the ass, celebrated on January 14 every year at Beauvais,
was an excellent example of this sort of ceremony. This was a
representation of the flight into Egypt. A beautiful young woman,
carrying in her arms an infant gorgeously dressed, was mounted on an
ass. Then she moved with a procession from the cathedral to the church
of St. Etienne. The procession marched into the choir, while the girl,
still riding the ass, took a position in front of the altar. Then the
mass was celebrated, and at the end of each part the words "Hin han"
were chanted in imitation of the braying of the beast. The officiating
priest, instead of chanting the "Ite missa est," invited the
congregation to join in imitating the bray.

This simple procession in time developed into a much more pretentious
liturgical drama called "The Prophets of Christ." But this appearance in
the open streets was doubtless the beginning of the custom of enacting
sacred plays in the public squares of cities and small towns. The fête
of the ass dates from the eleventh century, and we shall see that
open-air performances of religious dramas took place in the twelfth, if
no sooner.

Other significant elements of the fête of the ass and similar
ceremonials were the singing of choruses by the populace and dancing. In
the Beauvais "Flight into Egypt" at one point the choir sang an old
song, half Latin and half French, before the ass, clothed in a cope.

  "Hez, sire Asnes, car chantez!
  Belle bouche rechignez;
  Vous aurez du foin assez
  Et de l'avoine a plantez."

This refrain was changed after each stanza of the Latin. The people of
Limoges, in their yearly festival, sang:

  "San Marceau, pregas per nous,
  E nous epingarem per vous."

In the seventeenth century these good people of Limoges were still
holding a festival in honor of the patron saint of their parish, and

  "Saint Martial, priez pour nous,
  Et nous, nous danserons pour vous!"

This choral dance formed in the church, and continued to the middle of
the nave, and thence to the square before the edifice, or even into the
cemetery. At a period later than that first mentioned these dances had
instrumental accompaniment and became animated even to the verge of
hysteria. Thus unwittingly the people of the medieval church were
gathering into a loose, but by no means unformed, union the same
materials as the ancients used in the creation of their drama.

The earnest Lewis Riccoboni[5] holds that the Fraternity of the
Gonfalone, founded in 1264, was accustomed to enact the Passion in the
Coliseum, and that these performances lasted till Paul III abolished
them in 1549. Riccoboni argues that not the performance was interdicted,
but the use of the Coliseum. This matters not greatly, since it is
perfectly certain that out-door performances of the Passion took place
long before 1549. Those which were given in France were extremely
interesting and in regard to them we have important records. It is
established beyond doubt that near the end of the fourteenth century a
company of players called the Fraternity of the Passion assisted at the
festivities attendant upon the marriage of Charles VI and Isabella of
Bavaria. Thereafter they gave public performances of their version of
the Passion.

    [Footnote 5: "An Historical and Critical Account of the Theaters
    in Europe," by Lewis Riccoboni, translated from the Italian.
    London, 1741.]

It was too long to be performed without rest, and it was therefore
divided into several days' work. It employed eighty-seven personages and
made use of elaborate machinery. There seems to be little doubt that
some of the scenes were sung, and there is no question that there were
choruses. The stage directions are not the least remarkable part of this
play. The baptism is set forth in this wise: "Here Jesus enters the
waters of Jordan, all naked, and Saint John takes some of the water in
his hand and throws it on the head of Jesus." Saint John says:

  "Sir, you now baptized are,
  As it suits my simple skill,
  Not the lofty rank you fill;
  Unmeet for such great service I;
  Yet my God, so debonair,
  All that's wanting will supply."

"Here Jesus comes out of the river Jordan and throws himself upon his
knees, all naked, before Paradise. Then God, the Father, speaks, and the
Holy Ghost descends, in the form of a white dove, upon the head of
Jesus, and then returns into Paradise: and note that the words of God
the Father be very audibly pronounced and well sounded in three voices,
that is to say, a treble, a counter-treble and a counter-bass, all in
tune; and in this way must the following lines be repeated:

  'Hic est filius meus dilectus,
  In quo mihi bene complacui.
  C'estui-ci est mon fils amé Jesus,
  Que bien me plaist, ma plaisance est en lui.'"

Students are offered another choice of dates for the beginning of the
performance of sacred plays in the open air in Italy, to wit, 1304.
Vasari says that in this year a play was enacted on the Arno, that a
"machine representing hell was fixed upon the boats, and that the
subject of the drama was the perennially popular tale of 'Dives and
Lazarus'." But Vasari was not born till 1512, and he neglected to state
where he got his information. The latter years of the fourteenth
century, at any rate, saw the open-air sacred drama in full action, and
that suffices for our purpose.


The Sacre Rappresentazioni

Leaving D'Ancona, Vasari and the others in their confusion of dates, we
find ourselves provided with a satisfactory point of departure and with
some facts well defined. The drift of Provençal ideas over the borders
into Lombardy may or may not have given some impetus to the growth of
certain forms in Tuscany and Umbria, but at any rate it is clear that
the Italian form of "Sacre Rappresentazioni" grew chiefly out of the
poetic form called "Laud."

This itself was one of the products of a religious emotion. To observe
it in its cradle we must go back to the beginnings of Italian
literature. The seemingly endless battle between Emperor and Pope, which
scarred the soul of Italy through so many years, was at that time raging
between Frederick II and Innocent III and Gregory IX. The land reeked
with carnage, rapine, murder, fire and famine. So great was the force of
all this that the people fell into a state of religious terror. They
believed that the vengeance of a wrathful God must immediately descend
upon the country, and as a penance the practice of flagellation was

Against this horrible atonement came a violent reaction, and out of the
reaction attempts to continue in a soberer and more rational form the
propitiatory ideas of the flagellants. The chief furtherers of these
reforms were lay fraternities, calling themselves Disciplinati di Gesu
Cristo. From the very outset these fraternities practised the singing of
hymns in Italian, instead of Latin, the church language. These hymns
dealt chiefly with the Passion. They were called "Lauds" and they had a
rude directness and unlettered force which the Latin hymns never
possessed. Presently the disciplinati became known as Laudesi. The
master maker of "Lauds" was Jacopone da Todi and his most significant
production took the form of a dialogue between Mary and the Savior on
the cross, followed by the lamentation of the mother over her Son. Mary
at one point appeals to Pilate, but is interrupted by the chorus of
Jews, crying "Crucify him!" Many other "Lauds," however, were rather
more in the manner of short songs than in that of the subsequently
developed cantata. The music employed was without doubt that of the
popular songs of the time. It appears to have made no difference to the
Italians what kind of tune they employed. They "sang the same strambotti
to the Virgin and the lady of their love, to the rose of Jericho and the
red rose of the balcony."

Here, then, we find a significant difference between the liturgical
drama and the sacred representations. The chant, which was the musical
garb of the former appears to have had no position in the latter. We
shall perceive later that this difference marked a point of departure
from which the entire lyric drama of the fourteenth, fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, prior to the invention of dramatic recitative by
the Florentines, proceeded to move in a musical world of its own.

The sacred representations built up a method complex and pregnant
without chancing upon the defining element of opera. And this result was
reached chiefly, if not solely, because the ecclesiastic chant was not
employed. In its stead the musical forms practised by composers of
secular music and adopted by musicians of such small education as hardly
to be worthy of the title of composers, makers of carnival songs and
frottole, predominated and determined the musical character not only of
the Sacre Rappresentazioni, but also of the secular lyric plays which
succeeded them and which continued to exist in Italy even after the
"stile rappresentativo" had been introduced in the primitive dramma per
musica of Caccini and Peri.

A closer examination of the songs of this period and of the manner in
which they affected the lyric character of the sacred plays and the
succeeding secular dramas may be postponed until we have permitted
ourselves a glance at the character of the sacred plays as literary
products and have taken into account the manner of their performance.

The Disciplinati di Gesu began by intoning their lauds before a crucifix
or the shrine of some saint. Presently they introduced antiphonal
singing and in the end dialogue and action. By the middle of the
fourteenth century the laud came to be called "Divozione." After being
written in a number of meters it finally adhered to the _ottava rima_,
the stanza generally used in the popular poetry of the fifteenth
century. It was the custom to sing these dramatic lauds or "Divozioni"
in the oratories. Every fraternity had a collection of such lauds and
that they were performed with much detail is easily ascertained.

Records of the Perugian Confraternity of San Domenico for 1339 show that
wings and crowns for angels, a crimson robe for Christ, black veils for
the Maries, a coat of mail for Longinus, a dove to symbolize the Holy
Ghost and other properties had been used. By 1375 the "Divozioni" were
acted in church on a specially constructed stage, built against the
screen separating the choir from the nave. The audience sat in the nave,
and a preacher from time to time made explanations and comments. The
stage had two stories, the upper of which was reserved for celestial

The "Divozione" appears to be, as Symonds declares it to be, the Italian
variety of liturgical drama. The Sacra Rappresentazione, which was
developed from it, was a very different affair. Just when these
representations took definite individual form is not known, but the
period of their high development was from 1470 to 1520. It was precisely
at this time that their entire apparatus was adapted to the
dramatization of secular stories and the secular lyric drama came into

This whole subject has been exhaustively treated by John Addington
Symonds in the fourth volume in his great work "The Renaissance in
Italy." He examines briefly, but suggestively, D'Ancona's theory, that
the "Sacre Rappresentazioni" resulted from a blending of the Umbrian
divozioni with the civic pageants of St. John's Day in Florence. Civic
pageants were common and in them sacred and profane elements were
curiously mingled. For example, "Perugia gratified Eugenius IV in 1444
with the story of the Minotaur, the tragedy of Iphigenia, the Nativity
and the Ascension."

In the great midsummer pageant of St. John's Day there were twenty-two
floats with scenery and actors to represent such events as the Delivery
of the Law to Moses, the Creation, the Temptation, etc. The machinery of
those shows was so elaborate that the cathedral plaza was covered with a
blue awning to represent the heavens, while wooden frames, covered with
wool and lighted up, represented clouds amid which various saints
appeared. Iron supports bore up children dressed as angels and the whole
was made to "move slowly on the backs of bearers concealed beneath the

We are justified in inferring that ability to supply an elaborate scenic
investiture for the sacred drama was not wanting. When the sacred plays
began to be written, their authors were for the most part persons of no
distinction, but Lorenzo de Medici wrote one and Pulci also contributed
to this form of art. The best writers, according to Symonds, were Feo
Belcari and Castellano Castellani.

The sacred plays were not divided into acts, but the stage directions
make it plain that scenes were changed. The dramas were not very
artistic in structure. The story was set forth baldly and simply, and
the language became stereotyped. The "success of the play," says
Symonds, "depended on the movement of the story, and the attractions of
the scenery, costumes and music."

Symonds describes at some length "Saint Uliva" and the interludes of
Cecchi's "Esaltazione della Croce." The latter belongs to 1589, but it
is almost certain that the manner of presentation was traditional. That
similar splendors might have been exhibited in the fifteenth century we
shall see later. Symonds thus describes the introduction to the
"Esaltazione." A skilful architect turned the field of San Giovanni into
a theater, covered with a red tent. The rising of the curtain showed
Jacob asleep with his head resting on rocks, while he wore a shirt of
fine linen and cloth of silver stockings and had costly furs thrown over
him. As he slept the heavens opened and seven angels appeared sitting on
clouds and making "a most pleasant noise with horns, greater and less
viols, lutes and organ.... The music of this and all the other
interludes was the composition of Luca Bati, a man of this art most
excellent." After this celestial music another part of the heavens
opened and disclosed God the Father. A ladder was let down, and God
leaning upon it "sang majestically to the sound of many instruments in a
sonorous bass voice."

The other interludes were also filled with scenic and musical effects.
For instance one showed the ecstasy of David, dancing before the ark "to
the sound of a large lute, a violin, a trombone, but more especially to
his own harp." These references to the employment of many instruments in
accompanying the voice or the dance make us wonder whether our
historical stories of the birth and development of the orchestra are
well grounded. But we shall have occasion to consider this matter more
fully when we approach the study of the musical apparatus of the first
lyric dramas. It may be noted, however, in passing that the Italian word
"violino" was used as late as 1597 to designate the tenor viol. This
instance of uncertainty in terminology warns us to be careful in
accepting all things literally.

Perhaps what is of greater significance is the fact that there seems to
have been more uniformity of effort and style in the first secular
drama, doubtless owing to its great superiority as a piece of literary
art. That sacred plays were seldom written by men of literary rank and
ability we have already noted. That they were long drawn out,
cumbersome, disjointed and quite without dramatic design has also been
indicated. Their real significance as forerunners of opera lies in their
insistent employment of certain materials, such as verse, music and
spectacular action, which afterwards became essential parts of the
machinery of the lyric drama.

Indeed in the profusion of spectacular interludes one finds much that
resembles not only opera, but also the English masque and sometimes even
the French pastoral. Yet close examination will convince any student of
operatic history that almost every form of theatrical performance, from
the choral dance to the most elaborate festival show, exerted a certain
amount of influence on the hybrid product called opera. For example,
between the acts of "Saint Uliva," which required two days for its
presentation, the "Masque of Hope" was given. The stage directions say:
"You will cause three women, well beseen, to issue, one of them attired
in white, one in red, the other in green, with golden balls in their
hands, and with them a young man robed in white; and let him, after
looking many times first on one and then on another of these damsels, at
last stay still and say the following verses, gazing at her who is clad
in green." The story of Echo and Narcissus was also enacted and the
choir of nymphs which carried off the dead youth had a song beginning

  "Fly forth in bliss to heaven,
  Thou happy soul and fair."

On the other hand some few sacred plays showed skill in the treatment of
character. The "Mary Magdalen" is one of these. The Magdalen is
portrayed with power and even passion. But the general purpose of the
sacred play, which was to instruct the populace in the stories of Bible
history, precluded the exercise of high literary imagination. Fancy and
the taste of the time seem to have governed the fashioning of these
plays. Their historic importance thus becomes much larger than their
artistic value. Their close approach to the character of early opera is
beyond question.


Birthplace of the Secular Drama

In the midst of more imposing chronicles bearing upon the growth of
Italy the student of her history is likely to lose sight of the little
Marquisate of Mantua. Yet its story is profoundly interesting and in its
relations to the development of the lyric drama filled with
significance. That it should have come to occupy such a high position
among the cultivated centers of the Renaissance seems singularly
appropriate since Virgil, the Italian literary deity of the period, was
born at Pietole, now a suburb of Mantua.

The marquisate owed its elevation to the character of the great lords of
the house of Gonzaga, who ruled it from 1328 to 1708. In the former year
the head of the house ousted from the government the Buonacolsis, who
had been masters since 1247. In 1432 the Gonzagas were invested with the
hereditary title of Marquis and in 1530 Charles V raised the head of the
house to the rank of Duke. When the last duke died without issue in 1708
Austria gained possession of the little realm.

Entangled in the ceaseless turmoil of wars between Milan and the forces
allied against her, Mantua under the rule of the Gonzagas maintained her
intellectual energy and played bravely her part in the revival of
classic learning. Her court became a center of scholarship from which
radiated a beneficent influence through much of northern Italy. The
lords of Gonzaga fought and plotted, ate and drank, and plunged into the
riotous dissipation and free play of passions which characterized the
Renaissance period, but like other distinguished Italians they steeped
themselves in learning and were the proud patrons of artists, authors,
teachers, composers.

The eminence of the house in scholarship doubtless dated from the reign
of the Marchese Gian Francesco Gonzaga. This nobleman cherished a
genuine love for ancient history and was not without an appreciation of
Roman verse. Believing, as he did in common with most Italians, that the
republican thought of Rome was the foundation of all exalted living, he
realized that his children ought to be committed to the care of a master
thoroughly schooled in ancient lore. He therefore invited to his court,
in 1425, the distinguished scholar Vittorino da Feltre and gave the
children entirely into his hands. A separate villa was allotted to the
master and his pupils. This house had been a pleasure resort where the
young Gonzagas and their friends had idled and feasted. Under Vittorino
it was gradually transformed into a great school, for the Marquis was
liberal enough to open its doors to students from various parts of
Italy. The influence of the institution became far reaching and vital.
The children of the Marquis, surrounded by earnest minds, by students
often so poor that they had to be provided by their patron with clothes
and food, but none the less respected in that little community of the
intellect for their sincerity and their industry, could not fail to
imbibe a deep reverence for learning and a keen and discriminating taste
in art.

It is, then, in the natural order of things that Ludovico Gonzaga, one
of the sons of Francesco and pupils of Vittorino, should have been proud
to receive at his court the sycophantic and avaricious poet Filelfo, and
to suffer under his systematic begging. He discharged his debt to the
world of art with greater insight when in 1456 he invited to his court
the great painter Mantegna. He offered the artist a substantial salary
and in 1460 the master went to reside at Mantua. He remained there under
three successive marquises till his death in 1506. He enriched the
little capital with splendid creations of his art, now unfortunately
mostly destroyed. Mantegna's "Madonna della Vittoria," in the Louvre,
was painted to celebrate the deeds of Francesco Gonzaga in the battle of

When he was ejected from Rome for making obscene pictures, Giulio Romano
went to live at Mantua, and the city still bears the traces of his
residence as well as of Mantegna's. The ducal palace, begun in 1302,
contains five hundred rooms in many of which are paintings by Romano.
The Palazzo Te is regarded by most authorities as Giulio's noblest
monument, displaying, as it does, his skill as an architect, painter and
sculptor. The Cathedral of San Pietro was restored from his designs and
in the Church of San Andrea, in a tomb adorned by his pupils, sleeps the
great Mantegna.

The history of music at the court of Mantua begins at least as early as
the fourteenth century. Vander Straeten[6] found some record of a
musician of the Gallo-Belgic school called Jean le Chartreux, or by the
Italians Giovanni di Namur. He was the author of a "Libellus Musicus,"
preserved in the British Museum. He was born at Namur, learned singing,
and according to Vander Straeten, studied the works of Boethius under
Vittorino da Feltre in Italy. He cites Marchetto of Padua as the first
to write in the chromatic manner since Boethius. Bertolotti in his
searching examination[7] of the records of Mantua found numerous names
of musicians employed at the court or permitted to exercise their
calling within the boundaries of the marquisate. He notes the
predominance of Flemish masters and the supremacy of their ideas in the
music of Italy. He attributes to Vittorino da Feltre the introduction of
the systematic study of music and credits him with publicly teaching the
art and inspiring in some measure the treatise of Jean le Chartreux.
From Bertolotti we learn that Maestro Rodolfo de Alemannia, an organist,
and German, living in Mantua, obtained in 1435 certain privileges in the
construction of organs for six years.

    [Footnote 6: "La Musique aux Pays-Bas avant le XIX Siècle," Edmond
    Vander Straeten. Brussels, 1867-1888.]

    [Footnote 7: "Musici alia Corte dei Gonzaga in Mantova dal Secolo
    XV al XVIII," per A. Bertolotti. Milan.]

From this time forward we find music and musicians in high favor at the
court of Mantua. Neither Vander Straeten nor Bertolotti succeeded in
obtaining from the archives of the city more than fragmentary mention of
musicians of whom we would gladly know more. Nevertheless there is
sufficient to demonstrate the interest of the marquises in the art and
the frequency with which musical entertainment was provided.

Toward the end of 1458 Germans became more numerous among the musicians
at Mantua, though they do not appear at any time to have held a
commanding position. This is quite natural since at that period German
musicians had no school of their own, but with the rest of the world
were followers of the Flemings. In 1458 Barbara of Brandenburg,
Marchioness of Mantua, took from Ferrara Marco and Giovanni Peccenini,
who were of German birth. Two years later the Marquis, wishing to engage
a master of singing for his son, sent to one Nicolo, the German, at
Ferrara, and this musician recommended Giovanni Brith as highly
qualified to sing in the latest fashion the best songs of the Venetian

Ludovico, who has already been mentioned and who was the marquis from
1444 to 1478, had for two years at his court the celebrated Franchino
Gaffori. This master, born near Lodi in 1451, was the son of one Betino,
a soldier. The boy went into the church in childhood and studied
ecclesiastical music under a Carmelite monk named Johannis Godendach.
Later, he went to Mantua, where his father was in the service of the
Marquis. "Here for two years he closely applied himself day and night to
study, during which time he composed many tracts on the theory and
practice of music."[8] The period of Gaffori's greatest achievements in
theoretical work, especially his noted "Practica Musicae," from which
Hawkins quotes copiously, was later than his residence at Mantua, but
his studies at that court at least betoken the existence of a congenial
atmosphere, and we may be assured that such an enlightened amateur as
Ludovico did not neglect opportunities to acquaint himself with the
workings of this studious mind.

    [Footnote 8: "A General History of the Science and Practice of
    Music," by Sir John Hawkins. London, 1776.]

Bertolotti reproduces sundry interesting letters which passed between
the courts of Ferrara and Mantua and dealt with musical matters. Perhaps
an epistle from the Duke of Milan in January, 1473, might cause a
passing smile of amusement, for in it the Duke confides to the Mantuan
Marquis a project for the revival of music in Italy. It seems that he
was weary of the long reign of the Flemings, and was sending to Rome for
the best musicians with the purpose of founding an orchestra so that
composers and singers would be attracted to his court. But as this fine
project had no direct bearing on the history of the lyric drama we may
permit it to pass without further examination.

However far we may follow the extracts from the archives of Mantua in
the fifteenth century, we get nothing definite in regard to the
production of the first Italian secular and lyric drama at that court.
We are driven into the hazardous realm of conjecture as to the relations
between its production and the prominent musicians who formed part of
the suite of the Marquis. This indeed is but natural, since it could not
be expected of the Marquis and his associates that they should know they
were making history.

We learn that in 1481 Gian Pietro della Viola, a Florentine by birth,
accompanied Clara Gonzaga when she became the Duchess of Montpensier and
that he returned to Mantua in 1484--the year after "Orfeo" was probably
produced. We learn that he composed the music for the ballerino, Lorenzo
Lavagnolo, who returned to Mantua in 1485 after having been since 1479
in the service of the Duchess Bona of Savoy. We are at least free to
conjecture that before 1479 Lavagnolo trained the chorus of Mantua in
dancing so that he may have contributed something to the ballata which
we shall at the proper place see as a number in Poliziano's "Orfeo."

Travel between the courts of Mantua and Ferrara was not unfamiliar to
musicians, and there is reason to believe that those of the former court
often sought instruction from those of the latter. For example, it is on
record that Gian Andrea di Alessandro, who became organist to the
Marquis of Mantua in 1485, was sent in 1490 to Ferrara that he might
"learn better song and playing the organ from Girolamo del Bruno." In
1492 he was sufficiently instructed to be sent by the Marquis to San
Benedetto to play for the ambassador from Venice to Milan.

The celebrated composer of frottole, Bartolomeo Tromboncino, was for
some time in the service of the Mantuan court. It was formerly believed
that he went to Mantua in 1494, but Signer Bertolotti unearthed a
document which showed that his father was engaged there in 1487. From
which the learned Italian investigator reached the conclusion that the
young Tromboncino was with his parent. It seems to be pretty well
established that the two went together to Venice in 1495.

But he returned to Mantua and for many years passed some of his time at
that court and some at Ferrara. For example, we learn that in 1497 the
Cardinal d'Este promised the Marchioness of Mantua that she should have
some new compositions by Tromboncino. Yet in 1499 he was sent with other
musicians of the suite of the Gonzagas to Vincenza to sing a vesper
service in some church. It appears that Tromboncino was not only a
composer, but an instrumental musician and a singer.

These fragmentary references to the activities of Tromboncino at the
court of Mantua are indeed unsatisfactory, but they are about all that
are within our reach. That he was born at Verona and that he was one of
the most popular composers of the latter end of the fifteenth and the
beginning of the sixteenth century and that his special field of art was
the frottola are almost the sum total of the story of his career. We
know that he wrote two sacred songs in the frottola style, nine
"Lamentations" and one "Benedictus" for three voices. Petrucci's nine
books of frottole (Venice, 1509) contain all of Tromboncino's.

Carlo Delaunasy, a singer in the service of Isabella, Marchioness of
Mantua in 1499, and Marco Carra, director of music to the Marquis in
1503, 1514 and 1525, are among the names unearthed from the archives of
Mantua by their keeper at the request of Mr. Vander Straeten. These
papers contained the names of a few other singers, players and
directors, but their inadequacy was demonstrated by the fact that they
contained no mention of Jacques de Wert, a composer of great activity
and talent, to whom Vander Straeten devotes some fifteen pages of his
exhaustive work.

De Wert was born in Flanders near the end of the first half of the
sixteenth century. While yet a child he was a choir boy in the service
of Maria de Cardona, Marchesa della Padulla. Subsequently he entered the
service of Count Alfonso of Novellara and in 1558 he published a book of
madrigals which attracted widespread attention. Ten years later we find
him at the court of Mantua, where his happiness was destroyed by the
conduct of his wife. He appealed for aid to the Duke of Ferrara and the
result appears to have been a dual service, for while he remained at
Mantua he wrote much for the other court. His distinguished "Concerto
Maggiore" for fifty-seven singers was written for some state festival.

His service at Ferrara, whither he often went, enticed him into a
relationship with Tarquinia Molza, a poet and court lady, which caused
her to go into retirement. De Wert continued to live in Mantua and his
last book of madrigals was published in Venice, September 10, 1591. He
must have died soon afterward. Between 1558 and 1591 he put forth ten
books of madrigals, generally for five voices, though toward the end he
sometimes composed for six or seven. He was the author also of some
motets, and Luca Marenzio, who brought the madrigal style to its most
beautiful development and whose influence molded the methods of the
English glee and madrigal writers, is believed to have been his pupil
for a short time. Marenzio unquestionably lived for some months in
Mantua, where according to Calvi[9] he completed his studies under the
guidance of the Duke.

    [Footnote 9: "Scena Letteraria degli Scrittori Bergamaschi," per
    Donato Calvi. Bergamo, 1664.]

Of Alessandro Striggio and his art work at the court of Mantua and
elsewhere special mention will be made in another part of this work.
Moreover it is not necessary that anything should be said here of the
epoch-making creations of Claudio Monteverde, who was long in the
Gonzaga service and who produced his "Orfeo" at Mantua. Sufficient has
been set forth in this chapter to give some estimate of the importance
and activity of Mantua as a literary and musical center. The culture of
the age was confined almost exclusively to churchmen, professors,
literary laborers and the nobility. The long line of musical and
dramatic development followed at Mantua had no relation to the general
art life of the Italian people. But its importance in its preparation
for the birth of the art form finally known as opera is not easily
overestimated, especially when we remember that this form did not become
a public entertainment till 1637. It was at Mantua that Angelo
Poliziano's "Orfeo," the first lyric drama with a secular subject, was
produced, and it must be our next business to examine this work and set
forth the conditions under which it was made known.


The Artistic Impulse

The non-existence of the drama in the Middle Ages is one of the
strikingly significant deficiencies of the period. The illiterate
condition of the people, and even of the nobility, the fragmentary state
of governments, the centralizing of small and dependent communities
around the feet of petty tyrants, the frequency of wars large and small,
and the devotion of men to skill in the use of arms, made it impossible
that attention should be bestowed upon so polite and sedentary a form of
amusement as the drama.

It is generally held that the church made the first movement toward the
abolition of the drama by placing its ban on the plays handed down from
the Greeks and the Romans, partly because of their inculcation of
reverence for heathen deities and partly because of the shameless
indecencies which had invaded them. But this could have been only one of
many causes which operated in keeping the play out of Europe for so many
centuries. When it was revived, as we have seen, in the form of the
liturgical drama and afterward of the sacred representation, it bore
little or no resemblance to the splendid art product bequeathed to the
world by the Greeks.

The sudden and glorious return of the dramatic subjects of the Greeks to
the stage of medieval Europe marks the beginning of the modern era. When
the Italians turned to the stories of ancient fable for material for
their secular drama they were without doubt quite unconscious of the
importance of the step they were taking. It is only the reflective eye
of retrospective study that can discern all the significant elements
happily combined in this event by the overmastering laws of human

To enter into a detailed examination of the matter would demand of us a
review of the whole movement known as the Renaissance. This, however, is
not essential to an appreciation of the precise nature of the step from
the sacred representation to the lyric drama and its importance in
laying the foundations of opera. This momentous step was taken late in
the fifteenth century with the performance of Angelo Poliziano's "Favola
di Orfeo" at the Court of Mantua to celebrate the return of the Cardinal
Gonzaga. The Italian authorities are by no means agreed as to the
importance of this production. Rossi says:[10]

  "The circle of plot in the religious drama, at first restricted to
  the life of Christ, had been gradually broadened. Some writers,
  wishing to adapt attractive themes to the aristocratic gatherings of
  the princely courts, availed themselves of the very form of the
  sacred drama of the people in the treatment of subjects entirely
  profane. Thus did Poliziano, whose 'Orfeo,' as the evident
  reproduction of that form in a mythological subject is an isolated
  type in the history of the Italian drama."

    [Footnote 10: "Storia della Letteratura Italiana." Milan, 1905.]

Alessandro D'Ancona[11] in his monumental work on the sources of the
Italian play says:

  "The 'Favola di Orfeo,' although it drew its argument from
  mythology, was hardly dissimilar in its intrinsic character from the
  sacred plays, and was moreover far from that second form of tragedy
  which was later given to it, not by the author himself, but probably
  by Tebaldeo, to serve the dramatic tastes of Ferrara. So then the
  'Fable of Orpheus' is a prelude, a passage, an attempt at the
  transformation of the dramatic spectacle so dear to the people, and
  while it detaches itself in subject from the religious tradition, it
  is not yet involved in the meshes of classic imitation. If, indeed,
  from the stage setting and from the music introduced into it, it is
  already an artistic spectacle, it cannot be called an example of
  ancient art restored. It was a theatrical ornament to a prince's

    [Footnote 11: "Origini del Teatro in Italia." Firenze, 1877.]

Perhaps both of these admirable Italian authors had their eyes too
closely fixed on the spoken drama to perceive the immense significance
of Poliziano's "Orfeo" in the field of opera. If they had paused for a
moment to consider that Peri and Caccini chose the same story for the
book of their operas, in which the musical departure was even more
significant than the dramatic innovation of Poliziano had been, that
Monteverde utilized the same theme in his epoch-making "Orfeo," and that
for nearly two centuries the poetic and musical suggestiveness of the
Orpheus legend made it hold its grip on the affections of composers,
they might have realized better the relative value of the achievement of

Let us then briefly review the influences which led to the selection of
the subject and the character of its literary investiture by the Italian
poet. The nature of the music and the manner of performance will have to
be examined separately. The transformation which came upon Italian life
and thought under the influence of the revival of the study of ancient
literature and philosophy has been extensively examined in numerous
works. But at this point we must recall at least the particular effect
which it had on Italian poetry. The creations of Dante might seem to us
tremendous enough in themselves to have originated an era, but as a
matter of fact they marked the conclusion of one. They were the full and
final fruition of medieval thought, and after them Italian literature
entered upon a new movement.

Petrarch was the father of the revival of ancient literature. Not only
was he himself a profound student of it, but he suggested to Boccaccio
that line of study which governed the entire intellectual life of the
author of the "Decameron." With the application of Boccaccio to the
translation of Homer into Latin we perceive a singular illustration of
the trend of the classic devotion of the time. Despite the fact that the
"Divina Commedia" had magnificently demonstrated the beauty of Italian
as a literary medium, fourteenth century scholars regarded the language
with contempt. Pride in their connection with historic Rome, as well as
the environment of places associated with his personality, made Virgil
their literary deity. The ancient language of the eternal city and of
the "Æneid" was for them the only suitable literary instrument. That
they played upon it as amateurs seems never to have occurred to them.
The study of Greek which followed the activities of Petrarch was at
first confined to a narrow circle and it never spread far beyond the
limits of university walls. But the study of Greek thought and ideals,
as obtained from the ancient works, speedily found its way through the
entire society of cultivated Italians. The people had their own poets
and their own songs, but the aristocracy, which was highly cultivated,
plunged into the contemplation of Grecian art. The influence of all this
on Italian literature was deep and significant.

But there were other significant facts in the history of this era. Italy
was not yet a nation. She had no central point of fixture and no system
of radiation. She was divided into a group of small centers, each with
its own dominating forces. Naples was unlike Rome; Florence was unlike
Venice; Milan was different from all. Each had its characteristics, yet
all had points of similarity. All were steeped in the immorality of the
age, and all embarked with equal enthusiasm in the pursuit of classic
learning. The strange combination of physical vice with intellectual
appetite produced throughout Italy what Symonds has happily called an
"esthetic sensuality." The Italian's intellectual pursuits satisfied a
craving quite sensuous in its nature.

It is not at all astonishing that in these conditions we find no
national epic and no national drama, but a gradual growth of a poetry
saturated with physical realism and the final appearance of a dramatic
form equipped with the most potent charms of sensuous art. It was in
such a period that a special kind of public was developed. The
"Cortegiano" of Castiglione, Bembo's "Asolani," the "Camaldolese
Discourses" of Landino could have been addressed only to social
oligarchies standing on a basis of polite culture.

In such conditions the stern ideals of early Christianity were thrust
into obscurity and the sensuous charms of a hybrid paganism, a bastard
child of ancient Greece and medieval Italy herself, excited the desires
of scholars and dilettanti from the lagoons of Venice to the Bay of
Naples. In the midst of this era it is not remarkable that we hear the
pipe of Pan, slightly out of tune and somewhat clogged by artifice, as
it was later in the day of Rousseau, but none the less playing the
ancient hymns to Nature and the open air life.

Jacopo Sannazzaro (1458-1530) embodied the ideals of the time in his
"Arcadia," in which Symonds finds the literary counterparts of the
frescoes of Gozzo and Lippo Lippi. At any rate the poem contains the
whole apparatus of nymphs and satyrs transplanted to Italian landscape
and living a life of commingled Hellenism and Italianism. The eloquence
of Sannazzaro is that of the Arcadian the world over. He sighs and weeps
and calls upon dryads, hamadryads and oreads to pity his consuming
passion. When he sees his mistress she is walking in the midst of
pastoral scenes where satyrs lurk behind every bush and the song of the
shepherd is heard in the land. Sannazzaro's "Arcadia" was the
inspiration of Sir Philip Sidney's. It was a natural outburst of the
time and it conveys perfectly the spirit of Italian imaginative thought
in a period almost baffling in the complexity of its character.

It was not strange that in such a time Italian poets should have
discerned in Orpheus the embodiment of their own ideals. There is no
evidence that the Italians of the fifteenth century knew (or at any rate
considered) the true meaning of the Orpheus myth. Of its relation to the
Sun myth and of Euridice as the dawn they give no hint. To them Orpheus
was the embodiment of the Arcadian idea. He was the singer of the hymns
that woke all nature to life. For him the satyr capered and the coy
nymph came bridling from her retreat, the woods became choral and the
streams danced in the sunlight to the magic of his pipe. This was the
poetic phase of the general trend of human thought at the time. The
philosophers began by questioning the authority of dogma. Next they
turned for instruction to the ancients, and finally they interrogated
nature. In the course of their development they revolted against the
deadening rule of the church and claimed for the human mind the right to
reason independently. The scientific investigation of natural phenomena
followed almost inevitably and the demonstrations of Giordano Bruno and
Galileo shook the foundations of the church.

In the field of polite literature men turned to nature for their laws of
daily life and believed that in the pastoral kingdom of Theocritus they
had found the promised land. Inevitably it followed that the figure of
Orpheus, singing through the earth, and bringing under his dominion the
beast and the bird, the very trees and stones, should become the picture
of their fondest dreams. He was the hero of Arcady "where all the leaves
are merry." In his presence the dust of dry theology and the cruel ban
of the church against the indulgence of human desires were impossible.
From solemn ecclesiastic prose the world was turned to happy pagan song.
The very music of the church went out into the world and became earthly
in the madrigals of love. The miter and the stole gave way to the buskin
and the pack; and the whole dreamland of Italy peopled itself with
wandering singers wooing nymphs or shepherdesses in landscapes that
would have fired the imagination of a Turner.

And withal the dramatic embodiment of this conception was prepared as a
court spectacle for the enjoyment of fashionable society. Thus we find
ourselves in the presence of conditions not unlike those which produced
the tomfooleries of the court of Louis XVI and the musettes, bergerettes
and aubades of French song.

The production of Poliziano's "Orfeo" may not have seemed to its
contemporaries to possess an importance larger than that which Rossi and
D'Ancona attribute to it; but its proper position in musical history is
at the foundation of the modern opera. Poetically it was the superior of
any lyric work, except perhaps those of Metastasio. Musically it was
radically different in character from the opera, as it was from the
liturgical drama. But none the less it contained some of the germs of
the modern opera. It had its solo, its chorus and its ballet.[12] But
while the characters of these were almost as clearly defined as they are
in Gluck's "Orfeo," their musical basis, as we shall see, was altogether
different. Nevertheless it was distinctly lyric and secular and was
therefore as near the spirit of the popular music of the time as any new
attempt could well approach. It had, too, in embryonic form all that
apparatus for the enchantment of the sense and the beguilement of the
intellect which in the following century was the chief attraction of a
lyric drama, partly opera, partly spectacle and partly ballet.

    [Footnote 12: George Hogarth, in his "Memoirs of the Musical
    Drama," London, 1838, declares that this "Orfeo" was sung
    throughout, but he offers no ground for his assertion, which must
    be taken as a mere conjecture based on the character of the text.
    Dr. Burney, in his "General History of Music," makes a similar
    assertion, but does not support it.]


Poliziano's "Favola Di Orfeo"

In the year 1472 the Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga, who had stayed long in
Bologna, returned to Mantua. He was received with jubilant celebrations.
There were banquets, processions and public rejoicings. It would have
been quite unusual if there had been no festival play of some kind. It
is uncertain whether Poliziano's "Orfeo" was written for this occasion,
but there seems to be a fair amount of reason for believing that it was.
At any rate it could not have been produced later than 1483, for we know
it was made in honor of this Cardinal and that he died in that year.

If the "Orfeo" was played in 1472 it must have been written when its
author was no more than eighteen years of age. But even at that age he
was already famous. He was born in Montepulciano on July 14, 1454. The
family name was Ambrogini, but from the Latinized name of his native
town turned into Italian he constructed the title of Poliziano, by which
he was afterward known. At the age of ten he was sent to Florence, then
governed by Lorenzo de Medici. He studied under the famous Greeks
Argyropoulos and Kallistos and the equally famous Italians, Landino and
Ficino.[13] Gifted with precocious talent, he wrote at the age of
sixteen, astonishing epigrams in Latin and Greek. At seventeen he began
to translate the "Iliad" into Latin hexameters, and his success with the
second book attracted the attention of Lorenzo himself. Poliziano was
now known as the "Homeric youth." It was not long before he was hailed
the king of Italian scholars and the literary genius of his time. When
he was but thirty he became professor of Greek and Latin in the
University of Florence, and drew to his feet students from all parts of
Europe. John Reuchlin hastened from Germany, William Grocyn from the
shades of Oxford, and from the same seat of learning the mighty Thomas
Linacre, later to found the Royal College of Physicians. Lorenzo's sons,
Piero and Giovanni, were for a time his pupils, but their mother took
them away. Poliziano was as vicious as the typical men of his time and
the prudent Clarice knew it.

    [Footnote 13: John Argyropoulos, who was born at Constantinople in
    1416, was one of the first teachers of Greek in Italy, where he
    was long a guest of Palla degli Strozzi at Padua. In 1456 he went
    to Florence, where Cosimo de Medici's son and grandson were among
    his pupils. He spent fifteen years in Florence and thence went to
    Rome. To this master, George Gemistos and George Trapezuntios, the
    acquisition of Greek knowledge at Florence in the fifteenth
    century was chiefly due. It should be particularly noted that all
    of them went to Italy before the fall of the Greek empire in 1453.
    Andronicus Kallistos was one of the popular lecturers of the time
    and one of the first Greeks to visit France. Cristoforo Landino,
    one of the famous coterie of intellectual men associated with
    Lorenzo de Medici, took the chair of rhetoric and poetry at
    Florence in 1454. He paid especial attention in his lectures to
    the Italian poets, and in 1481 published an edition of Dante. His
    famous "Camaldolese Discussions," modeled in part on Cicero's
    "Tusculan Disputations," is well known to students of Italian
    literature. Marsilio Ficino was a philosopher, and his chief aim
    was a reconciliation of ancient philosophy with Christianity.]

Dwelling in a villa at Fiesole, provided for him by Lorenzo, Poliziano
occupied his life with teaching and writing, occasionally paying visits
to other cities. In 1492 Lorenzo passed away and Poliliziano wrote an
elegy which is to this day regarded as unique in modern Latin verse. In
1494 the famous scholar followed his patron, even while Savonarola was
setting Italy in a ferment of passionate religious reaction against the
poetic and sensuous paganism infused into the thought of their time by
Poliziano and Lorenzo. The scholar was laid in San Marco and they set
upon his tomb this epitaph: "Here lies the angel who had one head, and
what is new, three tongues."

This is not the place for a discussion of Poliziano's importance in
literature, but it is essential that we should understand the
significance of his achievement in the "Orfeo." The philosophic and
poetic spirit of the period and of this poem has already been discussed.
But we may not dismiss the subject without noting that Poliziano
powerfully forwarded the impulse toward the employment of Italian as a
literary vehicle. Too many of the Italian humanists had preferred Latin,
and had looked down upon the native language as uncouth and fit only for
the masses. But when the authority of Poliziano was thrown upon the side
of Italian and when he made such a triumphant demonstration of its
beauties in his "Stanze" and his "Orfeo," he carried conviction to all
the writers of his country.

According to Poliziano's own statement he wrote the "Orfeo" at the
request of the Cardinal of Mantua in the space of two days, "among
continual disturbances, and in the vulgar tongue, that it might be the
better comprehended by the spectators." It was his opinion that this
creation would bring him more shame than honor. There are only 434 lines
in the "Orfeo" and therefore the feat of writing it in two days was no
great one for a man of Poliziano's ability.

Sismondi[14] regards this work as an eclogue rather than a drama. He
says: "The universal homage paid to Virgil had a decided influence on
the rising drama. The scholars were persuaded that this cherished poet
combined in himself all the different kinds of excellence; and as they
created a drama before they possessed a theater, they imagined that
dialogue rather than action, was the essence of the dramatic art. The
Buccolics appeared to them a species of comedies or tragedies, less
animated it is true, but more poetical than the dramas of Terence and of
Seneca, or perhaps of the Greeks. They attempted indeed to unite these
two kinds, to give interest by action to the tranquil reveries of the
shepherds, and to preserve a pastoral charm in the more violent
expression of passion. The Orpheus, though divided into five acts,
though mingled with chorus, and terminating with a tragic incident, is
still an eclogue rather than a drama."

    [Footnote 14: "Historical View of the Literature of the South of
    Europe," by J. C. L. Simonde de Sismondi, translated by Thomas
    Roscoe. London, 1895.]

Sismondi's perception of the survival of the pastoral character in this
new form of entertainment is something we can appreciate, for this
character has survived all the experiments made on the "Orfeo" legend
and it dominates even the epoch-making work of Gluck.

Symonds, who had a broader view of art than Sismondi, had no difficulty
in perceiving that the true genius of this new drama was lyric. He says:
"To do the 'Orfeo' justice we ought to have heard it with its own
accompaniment of music." He enlarges upon the failure of the author to
seize the opportunity to make much of the really tragic moment in the
play, namely that expressing the frenzied grief of Orfeo over the loss
of Euridice. Yet, he notes, "when we return from these criticisms to
the real merit of the piece, we find in it a charm of musical language,
a subtlety of musical movement, which are irresistibly fascinating.
Thought and feeling seem alike refined to a limpidity that suits the
flow of melody in song. The very words evaporate and lose themselves
in floods of sound." Surely, here is the description of an ideal opera

Two editions of the play are known and both are published in a volume
edited by Carducci.[15] The first version is that originally printed in
1494 and reprinted frequently up to 1776. In the latter year the second
version was brought out by Padre Ireneo Affo at Venice. This was in all
probability a revision of the poem by Poliziano. In this version the
division into five acts is noted and there are additional poetic
passages of great beauty. It may be worth a note in passing that in 1558
a version of the "Orfeo" in octave stanzas was published for the use of
the common people and that as late as 1860 it continued to be printed
from time to time for the use of the Tuscan contadini.

    [Footnote 15: "Le Stanze, l'Orfeo e le Rime di Messer Angelo
    Abrogini Poliziano," per Giosue Carducci. Firenze, 1863.]

The main movement of Poliziano's poem is intrusted to the traditional
octave stanza, but we find passages of terza rima. There are also choral
passages which suggest the existence of the frottola, the carnival song
and the ballata. The play is introduced by Mercury acting as prologue.
This was in accordance with time honored custom which called for an
"announcer of the festival." The first scene is between Mopsus, an old
shepherd, and Aristæus, a young one. Aristæus, after the manner of
shepherds, has seen a nymph, and has become desperately enamored. Mopsus
shakes his head and bids the young man beware. Aristæus says that his
nymph loves melody. He urges Mopsus:

  "Forth from thy wallet take thy pipe and we
  Will sing awhile beneath the leafy trees;
  For well my nymph is pleased with melody."

Now follows a number which the author calls a "canzona"--song. The first
stanza of the Italian text will serve to show the form.

    "Udite, selve, mie dolce parole,
      Poi che la ninfa mia udir non vole.
    La bella ninfa e sorda al mio lamento
      E'l suon di nostra fistula non cura:
  Di cio si lagna il mio cornuto armento,
    Ne vuol bagnare il grifo in acqua pura
    Ne vuol toccar la tenera verdura;
        Tanto del suo pastor gl'incresce e dole."

The two introductory lines preface each stanza. This first one is thus
translated by Symonds,[16] whose English version is here used

  "Listen, ye wild woods, to my roundelay;
    Since the fair nymph will hear not, though I pray.

    The lovely nymph is deaf to my lament,
    Nor heeds the music of this rustic reed;
  Wherefore my flocks and herds are ill content,
      Nor bathe the hoof where grows the water weed,
      Nor touch the tender herbage on the mead;
  So sad because their shepherd grieves are they."

    [Footnote 16: In "Sketches and Studies in Italy," pp. 217-224.]

There are four stanzas. The nymph who has bewitched Aristæus is Euridice
and the second scene shows us the shepherd pursuing her. It appears that
in trying to escape from the shepherd she was bitten by a deadly snake,
for in the third scene a dryad tells the story of the tragedy to her
sisters. In the first edition, "dei codici chigiano e Riccardiano," the
next scene introduces Orpheus, who sings a song with Latin text
beginning thus:

"O meos longum modulata lusus
  Quos amor primam docuit juventam,
    Flecte nunc mecum numeros novumque
      Dic, lyra, carmen."

The most significant matter connected with this scene in the early
version of the poem is the stage direction, which reads thus: "Orfeo
cantando sopra il monte in su la lira e seguente versi latini fu
interotto da un pastore nunciatore della morte di Euridice." The name of
the actor of Orfeo is mentioned as Baccio Ugolino. This stage "business"
in English reads: "Orpheus singing on the hill to his lyre the following
Latin verses is interrupted by a shepherd announcing the death of
Euridice." Thirteen verses of the song are given before the entrance of
the shepherd, and immediately after the announcement Orpheus descends
into Hades. In the Padre Affo's later version of the work this song of
Orpheus does not appear, but a dryad announces to her sisters the death
of Euridice and then follows a chorus:

  "L'Aria di pianti s'oda risuonare,
      Che d' ogni luce e priva:
      E al nostro lagrimare
      Crescano i fiumi al colmo della riva--"

The refrain, "l'aria di pianti" is repeated at the end of each stanza.
At the conclusion of this chorus the dryads leave the stage. Orpheus
enters singing a Latin stanza of four lines beginning:

  "Musa, triumphales titulos et gesta canamus

In Padre Affo's edition it is at this point that a dryad tells Orpheus
of Euridice's death. Mnesillus, a satyr, mocks him. The hero now sings
in the vernacular:

    "Ora piangiamo, O sconsolata lyra," etc.
  "Let us lament, O lyre disconsolate:
    Our wonted music is in tune no more."

The story now moves similarly in both editions. Orpheus determines to
descend to Hades to try to move the infernal powers "with tearful songs
and words of honey'd woe." He remembers that he has moved stones and
turned the flowing streams. He proceeds at once to the iron gates and
raises his song. Pluto demands to know

  "What man is he who with his golden lyre
  Hath moved the gates that never move,
  While the dead folk repeat his dirge of love."

These words leave no doubt that Orpheus sang. Even Proserpine, the
spouse of Pluto, confesses to her lord that she feels the new stirrings
of sympathy. She desires to hear more of this wondrous song. Now Orpheus
sings in octave stanzas. The last stanza of his song is thus translated
by Symonds:

  "I pray not to you by the waves forlorn
  Of marshy Styx or dismal Acheron,
  By Chaos, where the mighty world was born,
  Or by the sounding flames of Phlegethon;
  But by the fruit that charmed thee on that morn
  When thou didst leave our world for this dread throne!
  O queen, if thou reject this pleading breath,
  I will no more return, but ask for death."

Pluto yields up Euridice according to the well-known condition that
Orpheus keep silence and look not back till out of Hades. The poet again
sings four Latin lines and with his bride starts for the upper world.
The catastrophe is treated in much the same manner as it has been in
subsequent versions of the story. Euridice disappears. Orpheus is about
to turn back, but he is stopped by Tisiphone. He then breaks into
virulent raillery, swears he'll never love woman more and advises all
husbands to seek divorce. All this is in resounding octave rime. Then a
Mænad calls upon her sisters to defend their sex. They drive Orpheus off
the stage and slay him. Returning they sing a chorus, which is the
finale of the opera.

    "Ciascun segua, O Bacco, te;
        Bacco, Bacco, oé, oé!
  Di corimbi e di verd'edere
    Cinto il capo abbiam cosi
    Per servirti a tuo richiedere
    Festiggiando notte e di.
    Ognun breva: Bacco e qui:
    E lasciate bere a me.
  Ciascun segua, O Bacco, te."

This chorus is translated by Symonds. The first stanza, above given in
the original Italian, is translated thus:

  "Bacchus! we must all follow thee!
    Bacchus! Bacchus! Ohe! Ohe!

  With ivy coronals, bunch and berry,
    Crown we our heads to worship thee!
  Thou hast bidden us to make merry
    Day and night with jollity!
  Drink then! Bacchus is here! Drink free,
  And hand ye the drinking cup to me!
      Bacchus! Bacchus! we must all follow thee!
      Bacchus! Bacchus! Ohe! Ohe!"

This is a sketch of the poem of Poliziano, on a story which became the
subject of many operas, down to the time of Gluck. This is the story set
by Monteverde in his famous work, which has recently been revived in
Italy with success. This story was utilized by Peri and Caccini in their
"Euridice," which is accepted as the first opera written in the new
representative style of the sixteenth century to receive a public

But, as we have already noted, in this "Orfeo," performed at the Mantuan
court, there was so much of the material of a genuine lyric drama that
it now becomes our business to examine more closely the character of the
musical features and the manner of the performance. The points at which
music must have been heard are clearly indicated by the text. Before
proceeding to a consideration of this music, let us picture to ourselves
how the work was performed.


The Performance of "Orfeo"

The "Orfeo" was performed in a hall of the castle. The lyric dramas of
the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were all presented in private.
There were no opera houses, and the theater, though revived in Italy in
the fifteenth century, had no permanency till Alfonso I, Duke of
Ferrara, at the suggestion of Ariosto built in his capital a real play
house. There is nevertheless no reason to think that the performance of
Poliziano's "Orfeo" lacked admirable scenic and histrionic features. We
have already seen how skilful the Italian managers and mechanicians of
spectacular sacred plays were in preparing brilliant scenic effects for
their productions. Since the form and general apparatus of the sacred
play were seized by Poliziano for the fashioning of his "Orfeo," it is
altogether probable that he accepted from the earlier creation pregnant
suggestions as to the manner of presentation.

However, as the "Orfeo" was to be given indoors the manner of exhibiting
it had to differ somewhat from that of the open air spectacle. The scale
of the picture had to be reduced and the use of large movement
relinquished. A temporary stage was erected in the great hall of the
Palazzo Gonzaga. A single setting sufficed for the pictorial investiture
of the action. The stage was divided into two parts. One side
represented the Thracian country, with its streams and mountains and its
browsing flocks. The other represented the inferno with Pluto,
Proserpine, and the other personages made familiar by classic
literature. Between the two was a partition and at the rear of the
inferno were the iron gates.[17]

    [Footnote 17: "Florentia: Uomini e cose del Quattrocento," by
    Isidore del Lungo.]

One easily realizes the vivid potency of the picture when Baccio
Ugolino, as Orpheus, clad in a flowing robe of white, with a fillet
around his head, a "golden" lyre in one hand and the "plectrum" in the
other, appeared at the iron gates, and, striking the strings of the
sweet sounding instrument, assailed the stony hearts of the infernals
with song as chaste and yet as persuasive as that of Gluck himself. It
is no difficult task to conjure up the scene, to see the gorgeously clad
courtiers and ladies bending forward in their seats and hanging upon the
accents of this gifted and accomplished performer of their day.

Of the history of Baccio Ugolino little, if anything, is known. There
was a Ugolino of Orvieto, who flourished about the beginning of the
fifteenth century. He was archpriest of Ferrara, and appears to have
written a theoretical work on music in which he set forth a great deal
of the fundamental matter afterward utilized in the writings of
Tinctoris. But whether this learned man was a member of the same family
as Baccio Ugolino is not known. The fact that he was located at Ferrara
makes it seem likely that he was related to Poliziano's interpreter, who
might thus have belonged to a musical family.

At any rate Baccio Ugolino possessed some skill in improvisation, and
was also accomplished in the art of singing and accompanying himself
upon the lute or viol. We shall in another place in this work examine
the methods of the lutenists and singers of the fifteenth century in
adapting polyphonic compositions to delivery by a single voice with
accompaniment of an instrument. It was in this manner of singing that
Baccio Ugolino was an expert. Symonds goes so far in one passage as to
hint that Ugolino composed the music for Poliziano's "Orfeo," but there
seems to be no ground whatever for such a conclusion.

Baccio Ugolino was without doubt one of those performers who appeared in
the dramatic scenes and processional representations of the outdoor
spectacles already reviewed. His pleasing voice, his picturesque
appearance, grace of bearing and elegance of gesture, together with his
ability to play his own accompaniments, marked him as the ideal
impersonator of the Greek poet, and accordingly Poliziano secured his
services for this important part.

For the other rôles and for the chorus the numerous singers of the court
were sufficient. That there was an organized orchestra must be doubted,
yet there may have been instrumental accompaniments in certain passages.
This also is a matter into which we shall further inquire when we take
up a detailed examination of the musical means at the command of
Poliziano and his musical associates. The study of this entire matter
calls for care and judgment, for it is involved in a mass of
misinformation, lack of any information and ill grounded conclusions.
For example, we read in a foot-note of Rolland's excellent work [18]
that in March, 1518, the "Suppositi" of Ariosto was performed at the
Vatican before Pope Leo with musical intermezzi. The author quotes from
a letter of Pauluzo, envoy of the Duke of Ferrara, written on March 8.
He wrote: "The comedy was recited and well acted, and at the end of each
act there was an intermezzo with fifes, bag-pipes, two cornets, some
viols, some lutes and a small organ with a variety of tone. There was at
the same time a flute and a voice which pleased much. There was also a
concert of voices which did not come off quite so well, in my opinion,
as other parts of the music."

    [Footnote 18: "Histoire de l'Opera en Europe avant Lully et
    Scarlatti," par Romain Rolland. Paris, 1895.]

Upon this passage Rolland makes the following comment: "This is the type
of piece performed in Italy up to Vecchi, as the 'Orfeo' of Poliziano
(1475), The Conversion of Saint Paul (Rome, 1484-92, music by Beverini),
Cephale et Aurore (music by Nicolo de Coreggio) 1487, Ferrara, etc."

This confusion of Poliziano's "Orfeo" with spoken drama interspersed
with intermezzi is unfortunate. There were no intermezzi at the
representation of this lyric drama. It was in itself an entire novelty
and nothing was done to distract the attention of the audience from its
poetic and musical beauties. We can hardly believe that there was any
close consideration of the fact that the work was an adaptation of the
apparatus of the sacra rappresentazione to the secular play. The
audience was without doubt absorbed in the immediate interest of the
entertainment and was not engaged in critical analysis or esthetic

The costuming of the drama presented no difficulties. The skill already
shown in the preparation of the sacred representations and the festal
processions could here be utilized with excellent results. From 1470 to
1520, as we have already seen, was the period of the high development of
the sacred play. Only a few years earlier the civic procession, or
pageant, had shown in brilliant tableaux vivants the stories of the
Minotaur and Iphigenie. The study of classic art and literature had
blossomed in the very streets of Italy in a new avatar of the dramatic
dance. From every account we glean testimony that the costuming of these
spectacles was admirable. It must follow that so simple a task as the
dressing of the characters in Poliziano's "Orfeo" was easily
accomplished at that time when the Arcadian spirit of the story was
precious to every cultured mind.

There were no mechanical problems of stage craft to be solved. The men
who designed the cloud effects and the carriages for the floating angels
in the open air spectacles might have disposed of them with ready
invention, had they existed, but the theater of action, with its two
pictures standing side by side, was simplicity itself. But let us not
fall into the error of supposing that the scenery was crude or ill
painted. The painter of the scenery of the production of Ariosto's
"Suppositi," described by Pauluzo, was no less a personage than the
mighty Raphael. The accounts of the writers of the latter part of the
fifteenth and all of the sixteenth centuries are prolific in testimony
as to the splendor of the pictorial elements in the festal
entertainments of courts and pontiffs.[19]

    [Footnote 19: "At the end of the fifteenth century, about 1480,
    are cited as famous scene painters Balthasar Reuzzi at Volterra,
    Parigi at Florence, Bibiena at Rome."--"Les Origines de l'Opera et
    le Ballet de la Reine," par Ludovic Celler. Paris, 1868.]

Celler,[20] in speaking of the theater of the period of Louis XIV, says:
"The simplicity of our fathers is somewhat doubtful; if they did not
have as regards the theater ideas exactly like ours, the luxury which
they displayed was most remarkable, and the anachronisms in local color
were not so extraordinary as we have often been told." The author a
little further on calls attention to the fact that the mise en scène of
the old mystery plays had combined splendor with naïve poverty. But he
is careful to note that the latter condition accompanied the
representations given by strolling troupes in small villages or towns,
while the former state was found where well paid and highly trained
actors gave performances in rich municipalities. In the villages rude
stage and scenery sufficed; in the cities all the resources of theatric
art were employed.

    [Footnote 20: "Les Décors, les Costumes et la Mise en Scène au
    XVIIe Siècle," par Ludovic Celler. Paris, 1869.]

Without doubt one of the most serious of all problems was that of
lighting. One cannot believe that at so early a date as that of this
first secular drama of Italy, the system of lighting the stage was such
as to give satisfactory results. Yet it is probable that artificial
lighting was provided, because it would have been extremely difficult to
admit daylight in such a way as to illumine the stage without destroying
much of the desirable illusion. Celler, in the first of his two volumes
already quoted, tells how the "Ballet de la Reine" (1581) was lighted by
torches and "lamps in the shape of little boats" so that the
illumination, according to a contemporary record, was such as to shame
the finest of days. But hyperbole was common then, and from Celler's
second book we learn that even in the extravagant times of Louis XIV the
lighting problem was an obstacle. It caused theatrical enterprises to
keep chiefly to pieces which could be performed in the open air or at
any rate by daylight. "The oldest representation," he says, "given in a
closed hall, with artificial light and with scenery, appears to have
been that of the 'Calandra,' a comedy which Balthazzar Peruzzi caused to
be performed before Leo X in 1516 at the Château of St. Ange." Duruy de
Noirville[21] says that Peruzzi revived the "ancient decorations" of the
theater in this "Calandra" which "was one of the first Italian plays in
music prepared for the theater. Italy never saw scenery more magnificent
than that of Peruzzi." This is a matter in which Noirville cannot be
called authoritative, but it is certain that the fame of the production
of "Calandra" was well established. Noirville's authority for his
statements was Bullart's "Académie des Sciences et d'Arts," Brussels,
1682. Whether the comedy had music or not we cannot now determine, and
it is a matter of no grave importance. The interesting point is that the
fame of the scenic attire of "Calandra" seems to have been well
established among the early writers on the theater and that they also
regarded as significant its indoor performance. The performance of
Poliziano's "Orfeo," however, took place some forty years earlier than
that of "Calandra," and it was without doubt in a closed hall and
therefore most probably with artificial light of flambeaux and lamps.

    [Footnote 21: "Histoire du Théâtre de l'Opéra en France depuis
    l'Etablissement de l'Académie Royale de Musique jusqu'à présent."
    (Published anonymously.) Paris, 1753.]


Character of the Music

It becomes now the duty of the author to make some examination of the
music of this first lyric drama. But here we unfortunately find
ourselves adrift upon a windless ocean. We are driven to the necessity
of deducing our information from the results of analogical
reconstruction. Nothing indeed can be more fascinating than the attempt
to arrive at a comprehension of the music of Poliziano's "Orfeo." All
record of it appears to be lost and the Italian savants who have given
us illuminating studies of the literary structure of the work, of its
environment and its performance, have hazarded scarcely a remote
conjecture as to the style of its music.

But we are not without a considerable amount of knowledge of the kinds
of music in use at the time when this work was produced and we can
therefore arrive at some idea of the nature of the lyric elements of the
"Orfeo." First of all we may fairly conclude that some portions of the
text were spoken. It seems, for instance, improbable that the prologue
delivered by Mercury could have been set to music. If all other
considerations are set aside there still remains the important fact that
the hero of the play is a musical personage. He is to move the powers of
hell by his impassioned song. It would, therefore, be artistically
foolish to begin this new species of work with a piece of vocal solo
which might rob the invocation of Orpheus of its desired effect. It is
altogether probable that the prologue was spoken, and that the opening
dialogue in the scene between the two shepherds was also spoken. After
the lines

  "Forth from thy wallet take thy pipe and we
  Will sing awhile beneath the leafy trees;
  For well my nymph is pleased with melody."

there follows a number which the author plainly indicates as lyric, for
he calls it a canzona. Beginning with this it seems to me that we may
content ourselves with inquiring into the musical character of those
parts which were without doubt lyrically treated in the performance. In
the early version of the poem we have a stage direction which shows that
the Latin text beginning "O meos longum modulata" was sung by Orpheus.
Again it is made plain by the text, as well as by the details of the
ancient legend itself, that the hero sang to the accompaniment of his
lyre when he was arousing the sympathies of the infernal powers. It is
not certain that song was employed in the scene between him and
Tisiphone. All the choruses, however, were unquestionably sung.

The propositions which must now be laid down are these: First, the
choral parts of the work were in the form of the Italian frottola, and
the final one may have approached more closely to the particular style
of the canto carnascialesco (carnival song) and was certainly a ballata,
or dance song. Second, the solo parts were constructed according to the
method developed by the lutenists, who devised a manner of singing one
part of a polyphonic composition and utilizing the other parts as the
instrumental support. Third, there were two obligato instruments, the
pipe used in the duet of the two shepherds, and the "lira" played by
Orpheus. Fourth, there was probably an instrumental accompaniment, at
least to the choral parts.

In regard to the choruses, then, we must bear in mind the well
established characteristics of the madrigal dramas of the sixteenth
century. In these works the choruses were set to music in the madrigal
style and they were frequently of great beauty. But the Italian madrigal
had not been well developed at the time of the production of Poliziano's
"Orfeo," while the frottola was the most popular song of the people.

The frottola was a secular song, written in polyphonic style. The
polyphony was simple and the aim of the composition was popularity. It
is essential for us to bear in mind the fact that in the fifteenth
century the cultivation of part singing was ardent and widespread. The
ability to sing music written in harmonized form was not confined to the
educated classes. It extended through all walks of life, and while the
most elaborate compositions of the famous masters were beyond the powers
of the people, the lighter and more facile pieces were readily sung.[22]

    [Footnote 22: "During the fifteenth century the love of
    part-singing seems to have taken hold of all phases of society in
    the Netherlands; princes and people, corporate bodies, both lay
    and clerical, vying with each other in the formation of choral
    societies." Naumann, "History of Music," Vol. I, p. 318.

    "The practice of concerted singing was not confined to the social
    circles of the dilettanti, but was also very popular in the army;
    and we have before alluded to the fact that Antoine Busnois and
    numerous others followed Charles the Bold into the field." Ibid.,
    p. 320.]

The teachings and practice of the Netherlands masters spread through
Europe rapidly, and some of the masters themselves went into Italy,
where they became the apostles of a new artistic religion. The
Netherlands musicians began early to write secular songs in a style
which eventually developed into the madrigal. Frequently they took folk
tunes and treated them polyphonically. Sometimes they used themes of
their own invention. In time musicians of small skill, undertaking to
imitate these earliest secular songs, developed the popular form called
frottola. Later we find some of the famous masters cultivating this
music of the people. Adrian Willaert, who settled in Venice in 1516,
wrote frottole and gondola songs in frottola form. It was from such
works that he advanced to the composition of the madrigal of which he
was so famous a composer and which he raised to the dignity of an art

The residence of Josquin des Prés in Italy doubtless had an immense
influence on the development of the Italian madrigal, but at a period
later than that of Poliziano's "Orfeo" and of the best of the frottole.
Josquin was a singer in the Sistine Chapel in 1484 and his first
successes as a composer were obtained in Rome. Later he went to Ferrara
where he wrote for the Duke Ercole d'Este his famous mass, "Hercules Dux
Ferrariæ." But these activities of Josquin had little relation to the

The point to be made here is that, at the time when Poliziano's "Orfeo"
was produced at Mantua, the Italian madrigal was in its infancy, while
its plebian parent, the frottola was in the lusty vigor of its maturity.
At the same time the popularity of part song was established in Italy
and music of this type was employed even for the most convivial
occasions. This is proved by the position which the variety of frottola,
called "carnival song," occupied in the joyous festivities of the
Italians. Note the narrative (not wholly inexact) of Burney:

  "Historians relate that Lorenzo il Magnifico in carnival time used
  to go out in the evening, followed by a numerous company of persons
  on horseback, masked and richly dressed, amounting sometimes to
  upwards of three hundred, and the same number on foot with wax
  tapers burning in their hands. In this manner they marched through
  the city till three or four o'clock in the morning, singing songs,
  ballads, madrigals, catches or songs of humor upon subjects then in
  vogue, with musical harmony, in four, eight, twelve, and even
  fifteen parts, accompanied with various instruments; and these, from
  being performed in carnival time, were called Canti

    [Footnote 23: "The Present State of Music in France and Italy," by
    Charles Burney. London, 1773.]

Burney errs in supposing that these songs were written in so many parts.
Three and four parts were the rule; five parts were extremely rare. The
actual words of Il Lasca, who wrote the introduction to the collection
of Triumphs and Carnival Songs published in Florence, 1559, are: "Thus
they traversed the city, singing to the accompaniment of music arranged
for four, eight, twelve or even fifteen voices, supported by various
instruments." This would not necessarily mean what musicians call
"fifteen real parts." The subject has been exhaustively and learnedly
studied by Ambros,[24] who has examined the frottola in all its
varieties. He has given several examples and among them he calls
attention to a particularly beautiful number (without text) for five
voices. This, he is certain, is one of the carnival songs which Heinrich
Isaak was wont to write at the pleasure of Lorenzo.

    [Footnote 24: "Geschichte der Musik" von August Wilhelm Ambros.
    Leipsic, 1880.]

The source of our knowledge of the frottola music is nine volumes of
these songs, averaging sixty-four to the volume, published by Petrucci
at Venice between 1504 and 1509, and a book of twenty-two published at
Rome by Junta in 1526. Ambros's study of these works convinced him that
the composers "while not having actually sat in the school of the
Netherlanders, had occasionally listened at the door." The composers of
the frottole showed sound knowledge of the ancient rules of ligature and
the correct use of accidentals; on the other hand it is always held by
the writers of the early periods that an elaborately made frottola is no
longer a frottola, but a madrigal. Thus Cerone[25] in the twelfth book
of his "Melopeo" gives an account of the manner of composing frottole.
He demands for this species of song a simple and easily comprehended
harmony, such as appears only in common melodies. So we see that a
frottola is practically a folk song artistically treated.

    [Footnote 25: "El Melopeo y Maestro," by Dominic Pierre Cerone.
    Naples, 1613. (Quoted here from Ambros.)]

"He who puts into a frottola fugues, imitations, etc., is like one who
sets a worthless stone in gold. A frottola thus ennobled would become a
madrigal, while a madrigal, all too scantily treated, would sink to a
frottola." A typical frottola by Scotus shows observance of Cerone's

  [Musical Notation]

These compositions are what we would call part songs and they are
usually constructed in simple four-part harmony, without fugato passages
or imitations. When imitations do appear, they are secondary and do not
deal with the fundamental melodic ideas of the song. Nothing
corresponding to subject and answer is found in these works. If we turn
from a frottola to a motet by the same composer, we meet at once the
device of canonic imitation and with it a clearly different artistic
purpose. These composers evidently did not expect the people to be such
accomplished musicians as the singers of the trained choirs.

  "Indeed, the frottola descended by an extremely easy transition to
  the villanelle, a still more popular form of composition and one
  marked by even less relationship to the counterpoint of the low
  countries. At the time of the full development of the madrigal the
  serious and humorous elements which dwelt together in the frottola
  separated completely. The purely sentimental and idealistic frottola
  became the madrigal; the clearly humorous frottola became the
  villanelle. When these two clearly differentiated species were
  firmly established, the frottola disappeared.

  "The madrigal existed as early as the fourteenth century, but its
  general spread dates from the time of Adrian Willaert (1480-1562).
  The madrigal was originally a pastoral song, but the form came to be
  utilized for the expression of varied sentiments and it was treated
  with a musicianship which advanced it toward the more stately
  condition of the 'durchcomponirt' motet. In the villanelle the
  influence of the strophic folk song is clearly perceptible. The
  frottola to a certain extent stood in the middle. It is sung verse
  by verse, but its musical scheme is almost always conceived in a
  much broader spirit than that of the villanelle and gives to it
  almost the appearance of a durchcomponirt work. But the systematic
  repetition of certain couplets in the manner of a refrain occasions
  the recurrence of whole musical periods. Thus does the frottola
  acquire from its text that architectural shape which places it in
  marked contrast to the swift-paced and fluid contrapuntal chanson of
  the Netherlanders. Its rhythm and accents are arranged not by the
  needs of contrapuntal development, but by the meter of the line and
  the accent of the Italian tongue. This appears most prominently in
  the upper voice part, where often the controlling melody seems ready
  to break quite through in pure song style, but only partly succeeds.
  In the texture of the voices all kinds of imitations appear, but
  only subordinated and in very modest setting.

  "All this was a part of the steady progress toward monody, the final
  goal of Italian musical art, where, in extreme contrast to the
  Netherlandish subordination to school, the emergence and domination
  of individuality, the special and significant distinction of the
  Renaissance, were taking shape. Hence Castiglione in his
  'Cortegiano' gives preference to the one-voiced song ('recitar alla
  lira') and it was quite natural that we find in the Petrucci
  collection frottole originally composed for four voices now
  appearing as soprano solos with lute accompaniment, the latter being
  arranged from the other three voices."[26]

    [Footnote 26: This passage is not a literal quotation, but partly
    a paraphrase and partly a condensation of the text of Ambros.]

Castiglione (1478-1529) wrote somewhat later than the period of
Poliziano. The "Cortegiano" dates from 1514, though it was not published
till a few years later, and the frottola was at the zenith of its
excellence in the time of Bernado Tromboncino, who belongs to the latter
half of the fifteenth century. But the frottola was well established
before the date of Poliziano's "Orfeo," for minor Italian composers had
poured forth a mass of small lyrics for which they found their models in
the polyphonic secular songs of Antoine de Busnois (1440-1482) and
others of the Netherlands school, especially such writers as Loyset
Compère, of St. Quentin, who died in 1518. Two of his frottole appear in
the Petrucci collection, showing that he was acquainted with this
Italian form, and that his productions in it were known and admired in
Italy. His frottole are distinguished by uncommon grace and gaiety, for
the frottola was generally rather passionate and melancholy, and full of
what Castiglione called "flebile dolcezza."

In view, then, of the state of part song composition in Italy at the
time when Poliziano's "Orfeo" was written we are safe in assuming that
its two choral numbers were set to music of the frottola type. The use
of the refrains, "l'aria di pianti" in the first, and "Ciascun segua, O
Bacco, te," in the second, is an additional influence in moving us
toward this conclusion because we know that it was the employment of the
refrain which helped to lead the frottola toward the strophic form of
the song. We are, moreover, justified in concluding from the character
of the final chorus that it was a ballata or dance song and hence a
frottola of the carnival song variety. No student of classic literature
will need any demonstration of the probability that the Maenads in their
Bacchic invocation danced; and here we have in all likelihood the origin
of that fashion of concluding operas with a chorus and a dance which
survived as late as Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte."


The Solos of the "Orfeo"

The failure of the vocal solo in the field of artistic music of Europe
might be traced to the establishment of the unisonal chant in the
service of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet in defining such ground we
should easily be led to exaggerate the importance of the solo. In the
infancy of modern music the solo existed only in the folk song, in the
rhapsodies of religious ecstatics and in the uncertain lyrics of the
minnesingers and troubadours. Of these the folk song, and the troubadour
lyrics had some musical figure, out of which a clear form might have
been developed. But, as all students of musical history know, the study
of the art originated among the fathers of the church and in their
pursuit of principles of structure they chose a path which led them
directly away from the rhythmic and strophic basis of the song and into
the realm of polyphonic imitation. The vocal solo had no place in their
system and hence it never appears in the art music of their time.

Consequently the advent of the dramatic recitative introduced by Peri,
Caccini and Cavaliere appears to be a striking phenomenon in the growth
of music, and we are easily induced to believe that this new species
burst upon the artistic firmament like a meteor. The truth is, however,
that the vague desire for solo expression had made itself felt in music
for centuries before the Florentine movement. The real significance of
the Florentine invention was its destruction of the musical shackles
which had so long hampered the advance toward truthful utterance.

We read frequently that the first instance of solo singing was the
delivery of a madrigal of Corteccia in a play of 1539. The character
Sileno sang the upper part and accompanied himself on the violone, while
the lower parts were given to other instruments. But this was nothing
new. This kind of solo was considerably older than Sileno and the
performance of Baccio Ugolino in Poliziano's "Orfeo" was unquestionably
of the same type. And this manner of delivering a solo, which
Castiglione called "recitar alla lira," was a descendant of the art of
singing with lute accompaniment which was well known in the fourteenth

Doubtless Casella, who was born in 1300 and set to music Dante's sonnet
"Amor che nella mente," was one of the _cantori a liuto_. Minuccio
d'Arezzo, mentioned by Boccaccio, was another. Here again we must recur
to the observations of Burney and the examinations of Ambros. The former
records that in the Vatican there is a poem by Lemmo of Pistoja, with
the note "Casella diede il suono." It is likely that this musician was
well known in Italy and that he would not have had to rely for his
immortality upon the passing mention of a poet if the art of notation
had been more advanced in his day.

The story of Minuccio, as told by Boccaccio, is this. A young maiden of
Palermo, seized with violent love for the King, begged Minuccio to help
her. Not being a verse-maker himself, he hastened to the poet Mico of
Siena, who wrote a poem setting forth the maiden's woes. This Minuccio
set at once to exquisite and heart-moving music and sang it for the King
to the accompaniment of his own viol. The poem is in the main strophic
and the melody is of similar nature. Whether Boccaccio or Mico wrote the
poem matters not in the historical sense. The important facts are that
such a poem exists and that a hint as to its music has come down to us.

In the "Decameron" we are told often how some one or other of the
personages sings to the company. Sometimes it is a dance song, as for
example the "Io son si vaga della mia bellezza." To this all the others
spontaneously dance while singing the refrain in chorus. Another time
the queen of the day, Emilia, invites Dioneo to sing a canzona. There is
much pretty banter, while Dioneo teases the women by making false starts
at several then familiar songs. In another place Dioneo with lute and
Fiametta with viol play a dance. Again one sings while Dioneo
accompanies her on the lute.

Thus Boccaccio in his marvelous portraiture of the social life of his
time has casually handed down to us invaluable facts about vocal and
instrumental music. There is no question that Ambros is fully justified
in his conclusion that the _cantori a liuto_ were a well-marked class of
musicians. They were vocal soloists and often improvisatori, clearly
differentiated from the cantori a libro, who were "singers by book and
note" and who sang the polyphonic art music of the time.

It is pretty well established that the songs of Dante were everywhere
known and sung. We have reason to believe that many of those of
Boccaccio were also familiar to the people. We may also feel confident
that when most of the Italian lute singers of the time had acquired
sufficient skill to make their own poems as well as their own melodies,
they followed the models provided in the verses of the great masters.
What is still more important for us to note is that these lyrics were
strophical and that they were no further removed from the folk song of
the era than the frottola was. Indeed they bore a closer resemblance to
the frottola. They differed in that they were solos with instrumental
accompaniment instead of being part songs unaccompanied.

But this difference is not so important as it appears. The part song
method was at the basis of all these old lute songs. This is well proved
by the fact that before the end of the century the device of turning
part songs into solo pieces with lute accompaniment had become quite
familiar. It was so common that we are driven to something more
substantial than a mere suspicion that Casella and Minuccio employed a
similar method and that the domination of polyphonic thought in music
had spread from the regions occupied by the church compositions of Dufay
and his contemporaries downward into the secular fancies of people whose
daily thought was influenced by the authority of the church.

Furthermore this method of turning part songs into solos survived until
the era of the full fledged madrigal dramas of Vecchi in the latter part
of the sixteenth century, and at what may be called the golden era of
the frottola was generally and successfully applied to that species of
composition. Whatever the troubadours and minnesingers may have done
toward establishing a metrical melodic form of monophonic character was
soon obliterated by the swift popularity of part singing and the immense
vogue of the secular songs of the polyphonic composers. When the desire
for the vocal solo made itself felt in the exquisitely sensuous life of
medieval Italy, it found its only gratification in the easy art of
adaptation. In such scenes as those described by Boccaccio and much
later by Castiglione there was no incentive to artistic reform, no
impulse to creative activity.

We find ourselves, then, equipped with these significant facts: first,
that the composition of secular music in polyphonic forms was at least
as old as the thirteenth century; that part singing was practised in
Italy as far back as the fourteenth century; that songs for one voice
were made with Italian texts at least as early as the time of Dante and
Boccaccio; that the art of arranging polyphonic compositions as vocal
solos by giving the secondary parts to the accompanying instrument was
known in the time of Minuccio and Casella; that at the time of
Poliziano's "Orfeo" the frottola was the reigning form of part song, and
that then and for years afterward it was customary to arrange frottole
as solos by giving the polyphony to the lute or other accompanying

It seems, then, that we shall not be far astray if we conclude that the
solo parts of Poliziano's lyric drama consisted of music of the better
frottola type and that the moving appeals of his hero were accompanied
on a "lyre" of the period in precisely the same manner as frottole
transformed into vocal solos were accompanied on the lute. For these
reasons an example of the method of arranging a frottola for voice and
lute will give us some idea of the character of the music sung by Baccio
Ugolino in the "Orfeo." The examples here offered are those given in the
great history of Ambros. The first is a fragment of a frottola (composed
by Tromboncino) in its original shape. The second shows the same music
as arranged for solo voice and lute by Franciscus Bossinensis as found
in a collection published by Petrucci in 1509.

  [Musical Notation: two excerpts]

How far removed this species of lyric solo was from the dramatic
recitative of Peri and Caccini is apparent at a single glance. But on
the other hand it is impossible to be blind to its relationship to the
more metrical arioso of Monteverde's earlier work or perhaps to the
canzone of Caccini's "Nuove Musiche." The line of development or
progress is distinctly traceable. At this point it is not essential that
we should satisfy ourselves that the solo songs of Caccini were
descendants of the lyrics of the _cantori a liuto_, for when the two
species are placed in juxtaposition the lineage is almost unmistakable.
What we do need to remember here is that the method of the lute singers
entered fully into the construction of the score--if it may be so
called--of Poliziano's "Orfeo" and passed from that to the madrigal
drama and was there brought under the reformatory experiments of Galilei
and his contemporaries. This subject must be discussed more fully in a
later chapter.

The first lyric number of the "Orfeo," that sung by Aristæus, is plainly
labeled "canzona," and was, therefore, without doubt a song made after
the manner of the lutenists. The words "forth from thy wallet take thy
pipe" indicate that a wind instrument figured in this number. What sort
of instrument we shall inquire in the next chapter. At present we may
content ourselves with assuming that no highly developed solo part was
assigned to it. The existence of such a part would imply the
co-existence of considerable musicianship on the part of the pipe player
and of an advanced technic in the composition of instrumental obbligati.
It might also presuppose the existence of a system of notation much
better than that of the fifteenth century. But this is a point about
which we cannot be too sure.

The decision must be sought in the general state of music at the time.
The learned masters cultivated only _a capella_ choral music, and the
unlearned imitated them. There was no systematic study of instrumental
composition. Even the organ had as yet acquired no independent office,
but simply supported voices by doubling their notes. It seems unlikely,
then, that the pipe in "Orfeo" could have had a real part. What it
probably did was to repeat as a sort of ritornello the clearly marked
refrain of the song. This would have been thoroughly in keeping with the
growing tendency of the frottola to use refrains and advance toward
strophical form.

The lyre, with which Baccio Ugolino as Orfeo accompanied himself, may
have been a cithara, but the probabilities are that it was not. As late
as the time of Prætorius's great work (Syntagma Musicum) the word "lyra"
was used to designate certain instruments of close relationship to the
viol family. Prætorius tells us that there were two kinds of Italian
lyres. The large lyre, called _lirone perfetto_, or arce violyra, was in
structure like the bass of the viola da gamba, but that the body and the
neck on account of the numerous strings were somewhat wider. Some had
twelve, some fourteen and some even sixteen strings, so that madrigals
and compositions both chromatic and diatonic could be performed and a
fine harmony produced. The small lyre was like the tenor viola di
braccio and was called the lyra di braccio. It had seven strings, two
of them outside the finger board and the other five over it. Upon this
instrument also certain harmonized compositions could be played. The
pictures of these two lyres show that they looked much like viols and
were played with bows.[27] An eighth century manuscript shows an
instrument with a body like a mandolin, a neck without frets and a small
bow. This instrument is entitled "lyra" in the manuscript. If now we
come down to the period when the modern opera was taking form we learn
that Galilei sang his own "Ugolino" monody and accompanied himself on
the viola. Various pictures show us that small instruments of the bowed
varieties were used by the minnesingers, and again by jongleurs in the
fifteenth century. Early Italian painters put such instruments into the
hands of angels and carvers left them for us to see, as in the cathedral
of Amiens. In fact there is every reason to believe that the wandering
poets and minstrels of the Middle Ages used the small vielle, rebek or
lyre for their accompaniments much oftener than the harp, which was more
cumbersome and a greater impediment in traveling.

    [Footnote 27: Michael Prætorius, "Syntagma Musicum," vol. ii,
    Organographia. Wolfenbüttel, 1619-20.]

The instruments used to support song, that of the troubadour or that of
a Casella, or later still that of a Galilei, being of the same lineage,
the only novelty was the adaptation to them of the lutenist's method of
arranging polyphonic music for one voice with accompaniment. That this
offered no large difficulties is proved by the account of Prætorius. If
at the close of the sixteenth century chromatic compositions, which were
then making much progress, could be performed on a bowed lyre, there is
no reason to think that in Poliziano's time there would have been much
labor in arranging frottola melodies for voice and lyra di braccio. It
is safe to assume that the instrument to which Baccio Ugolino was wont
to improvise and which was therefore utilized in "Orfeo" was the lyra di
braccio and that del Lungo's imaginative picture must be corrected by
the substitution of the bow for the plectrum. We have not even recourse
to the supposition that Ugolino may have employed the pizzicato since
that was not invented till after his day by Monteverde.

We are, however, compelled to conclude that Baccio Ugolino preceded
Corteccia in this manner of solo, afterwards called "recitar alla lira."
We may now reconstruct for ourselves the classic scene with Orpheus
"singing on the hill to his lyre" the verses "O meos longum modulata
lusus." The music was the half melancholy, half passionate melody of
some wandering Italian frottola which readily fitted itself to the
sonorous Sapphics. The accompaniment on the mellow lyra di braccio, one
of the tender sisters of the viola, was a simplified version of the
subordinate voice parts of the frottola. And perchance there were even
other instruments, an embryonic orchestra. Here, indeed, we must pause
lest reconstructive ardor carry us too far. We must content ourselves
with the conclusion that the vocal music of the entire drama was simple
in melodic structure, for such was the character of the part music out
of which it was made. It was certainly well fitted to be one of the
parents of the recitative of Peri and Caccini with the church chant as
the other.


The Orchestra of the "Orfeo"

That there was some sort of an orchestra in the "Orfeo" is probable,
though it is not wholly certain. The letter of the Envoy Pauluzo on the
performance of Ariosto's "Suppositi" at the Vatican in March, 1518, has
already been quoted. From this we learn that there was an orchestra
containing fifes, bag-pipes, two cornets, some viols and lutes and a
small organ. It is a pity that Pauluzzo did not record the number of
stringed instruments in order that we might have some idea of the
balance of this orchestra. On the other hand, as there was no system of
orchestration at that time, we might not learn much from the
enumeration. Rolland, in commenting on this letter, says, as we have
already noted, that this was the type of musical plays performed in
Italy at least as far back as the time of Poliziano. There is no
imperative demand that Rolland's statement on this point should be
accepted as authoritative, for his admirable book is without evidence
that the author gave this matter any special attention. On the other
hand it is almost certain that his assertion contains the truth. All the
instruments mentioned by him were in use long before the date of the
"Orfeo." Furthermore assemblies of instruments played together, as we
well know. But we are without data as to what they played, and are
driven to the conclusion that since there was no separate composition
for instruments till near the close of the sixteenth century, the
performance of the early assemblies of instruments must have been
devoted to popular songs or dances of the time. A little examination
into the character of these early "orchestras" may serve to throw light
on the nature of the instrumental accompaniments in Poliziano's "Orfeo."

Symonds's description of the performance of Cecchi's "Esaltazione della
Croce," already quoted in Chapter III, shows us that in 1589 a sacred
representation had an orchestra of viols, lutes, horns and organ, that
it played an interlude with special music composed by Luca Bati, and
that it also accompanied a solo allotted to the Deity. Another interlude
showed David dancing to lute, viol, trombone and harp. It is evident,
therefore, that at a period a century after that of the "Orfeo" there
was a certain sort of orchestra. But this period was somewhat later than
that of Striggio, who had already employed orchestras of considerable
variety. In his "La Cofanaria" (1566) he used two gravicembali, four
viols, two trombones, two straight flutes, one cornet, one traverso and
two lutes, and in a motet composed in 1569 he had eight viols, eight
trombones, eight flutes, an instrument of the spinet family and a large
lute, together with voices. To delve backward from this point is not so
easy as it looks, yet however far back we may choose to go we cannot
fail to find evidences that assemblies of instruments were employed,
sometimes to accompany voices and again to play independently.

The antiquity of music at banquets, for example, is attested by sayings
as old as Solomon, by bitter comments of Plato, by the account of
Xenophon and by passages in the comedies of Aristophanes. The
instrumental music at banquets in Plato's time was that of Greek girl
flute players and harpers. Early in the Middle Ages the banquet music
consisted of any collection of instruments that chanced to be at hand.
In an ancient manuscript in the National Library of Paris there is a
picture of Heinrich of Meissen, the minnesinger (born 1260), conducting
a choir of singers and instrumental performers. The instruments are
viols and wooden wind instruments of the schalmei family. A bas relief
in the church of St. Gregory at Boscherville in Normandy shows an
orchestra of several players. This relief is of the twelfth century. It
presents first on the left a king who plays a three-stringed gamba,
which he holds between his knees, like a violoncello. A woman performer
handles an organistrum, a sort of large hurdy-gurdy, sometimes (as
apparently in this case) requiring two players, one for the crank and
another for the stops. Then comes a man with a pandean pipe, next
another with a semicircular harp and then one with a portable organ.
Next comes a performer on a round-bodied fiddle (the usual form of the
instrument at that time). Next to him is a harper, using a plectrum, and
at the right end of the group is a pair of players, man and woman,
performing on a glockenspiel. This orchestra was probably playing for
dancing, as no singers are in sight.

In a fifteenth century breviary reposing in the library of Brussels
there is a representation of a similar orchestra, and this brings us
nearer to the era of Poliziano's "Orfeo." The instruments are harp,
lute, dulcimer, hurdy-gurdy, double flute, pommer (an ancient oboe
form), bag-pipe, trombone, portable organ, triangle and a straight
flute with its accompanying little tambour. One of the musicians did
not play, but beat time as a director. It is interesting to make a brief
comparison between the two representations, for this shows the novelties
which entered between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries. The lute,
the trombone, the pommer and the triangle were new acquisitions. If now
we refer again to the orchestra of 1518 mentioned by Pauluzo we shall
seem to have gone backward. But the truth must be clear to all students
that these orchestras were not brought together with any definite
musical design. They consisted of the players who chanced to be at hand.
Even the letter of the Duke of Milan in 1473 (see Chapter III), in which
he announces his intention of engaging a good orchestra from Rome, can
hardly mean anything more than a purpose to get as many good
instrumentalists as he could.[28]

    [Footnote 28: "Although the existence of 'Orfeo' as an opera
    appears to me to be problematical, there would be nothing
    impossible about the construction of a tragedy accompanied by
    music, because instruments were cultivated in Italy more than
    in France. Before that epoch the Medici had given concerts at
    Florence. Giovanni de Medici died in 1429, and Cosimo, who
    succeeded him and reigned till 1464, gave at the Pitti Palace
    concerts where there were as many as four hundred musicians. Under
    his successors and before the death of Alexander de' Medici in
    1537, the violinists Pietro Caldara and Antonio Mazzini were often
    the objects of veritable ovations, and about the same time, 1536,
    at Venice, was played a piece called 'Il Sacrificio,' in which
    violins sustained the principal parts."--"Les Origines de l'Opera
    et le Ballet de la Reine," par Ludovic Celler. Paris, 1868.]

While, then, it must be confessed that no conclusive evidence can be
produced that an orchestra was employed in the "Orfeo," the indications
are strong that there was one. We may assume without much fear of error
that it was used only to accompany the choral numbers and the dance and
that in fulfilling the last mentioned function it was heard to the best
advantage. Years after the period of the "Orfeo" of Poliziano
independent instrumental forms had not yet been developed. Fully a
century later compositions "da cantare e sonare" betray to us the fact
that bodies of instruments performing without voices merely played the
madrigals which at other times were sung. Such compositions were not
conceived in the instrumental idiom and must have floated in an
exceedingly thin atmosphere when separated from text and the expressive
nuances of the human tone. But the music of the dance was centuries old
and it had in all eras been sung by instruments, as well as by voices.
The invasion of the realm of popular melody by crude imitations of the
polyphonic devices of the Netherlanders could not have crushed out the
melodic and rhythmic basis of dance music and this had fitted itself to
the utterance of instruments. We are therefore justified in believing
that if the accompaniment of the first chorus in the "Orfeo" was
superfluous and vague that of the final ballata must have been clearer
in character and better suited to the nature of the scene. The dance
following the ballata must have been effective. The instruments were
most probably lutes, viols, flute, oboe, and possibly bag-pipe,
hurdy-gurdy and little organ.

We have already inquired into the nature of the instrument which Baccio
Ugolino carried on the stage and with which after the manner of the
minstrels of his time he accompanied himself. It remains now only to ask
what was the pipe which the shepherd Aristæus mentions in the first
scene. It was probably not a flageolet, though that instrument suggests
itself as particularly appropriate to the episode. But the good Dr.
Burney says that the flageolet was invented by the Sieur Juvigny, who
played it in the "Ballet Comique de la Royne," the first French pastoral
opera, in 1581. It could have been a recorder, the ancestor of the
flageolet, which was probably in use in the fourteenth and surely in the
fifteenth century. But more probably it was one of the older reed
instruments of the oboe family, the pommer or possibly a schalmei. The
schalmei is mentioned as far back as Sebastian Virdung's "Musica
getuscht und ausgezogen" (1511). Its ancestor was probably the
zamr-el-kebyr, an Oriental reed instrument. The schalmei was developed
into a whole family, enumerated by Prætorius in the work already
mentioned. The highest of these, the little schalmei, was seldom used,
but the "soprano schalmei is the primitive type of the modern oboe."[29]

    [Footnote 29: See "A Note on Oboes," by Philip Hale. Programme
    Books of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, season of 1905-06,
    p. 644.]

It is thus tolerably certain that the instrumental tone used to voice
the pastoral character of the scene was the same as that which Beethoven
used in his "Pastoral" symphony, as Berlioz used in his "Fantastic," as
Gounod used in his "Faust," and that thus at least one element of the
instrumental embodiment of Poliziano's story has come down to us.


From Frottola Drama to Madrigal

With such a simple and dignified beginning as that of the "Orfeo" how
came the lyric drama of the next century to wander into such sensuous
luxuriance, such spectacular extravagance of both action and music? In
the drama of Poliziano the means employed, as well as the ends sought,
were artistic and full of suggestions as to possible methods of
development. But whereas the opera in the seventeenth century suffered
from contact with the public, the lyric drama of the sixteenth was led
into paths of dalliance by the dominant taste of splendor-loving courts.
The character of this taste encouraged the development of the musical
apparatus of the lyric drama toward opulent complexity, and the medium
for this was found in the rapidly growing madrigal, which soon ruled the
realm of secular music. In it the frottola, raised to an art form and
equipped with the wealth of contrapuntal device, passed almost
insensibly into a new life. Berlioz says that it takes a long time to
discover musical Mediterraneans and still longer to learn to navigate
them. The madrigal was a musical Mediterranean. It was the song of the
people touched by the culture of the church. It was the priestly art of
cathedral music transferred to the service of human emotion.

The Italian madrigal had a specifically Italian character. It followed
the path of sensuous dalliance trod by the people of Boccaccio's tales.
It differentiated itself from the secular song of the northern musicians
as clearly as the architecture of Venice distinguished itself from all
other Gothic art. Even in that era those characteristics which
subsequently defined the racial and temperamental differences between
the musical art of northern Europe and that of Italy were fully
perceptible. The north moved steadily toward instrumental polyphony,
Italy toward the individual utterance of the solo voice. That her first
experiments were made in the popular madrigal form was to be expected.
The "Orfeo" of Poliziano and his unknown musical associates set the
model for a century. In the course of that century the irresistible
drift of Italian art feeling, retarded as it was by the supreme vogue of
musicians trained in the northern schools, moved steadily toward its
destination, the solo melody, yet the end was not reached till the
madrigal had worked itself to its logical conclusion, to wit,
a demonstration of its own inherent weakness. We must not be blind to
the fact that while the Netherland art at first powerfully affected that
of Italy, the latter in the end reacted on the former, and these two
influences crossed and recrossed in ways that demand the closest
scrutiny of the analytical historian. But at this particular period that
which immediately concerns us is the manner in which Italian musical art
defined itself. The secret of the differentiation already mentioned must
be sought in the powerful feeling of Gothic art for organization. Gothic
architecture is above all things organic and Teutonic music has the same
character. Its most Gothic form, the North German fugue, which is the
instrumental descendant of the Netherlands church music, is the most
closely organized of musical types. The Italian architecture, on the
other hand, displayed an aversion for the infinite detail of Gothic
methods and found its individual expression in the grand and patent
relations of noble mass effects. This same feeling speedily found its
way into Italian music, even that composed by the Netherland masters who
had settled in Italy.

Adrian Willaert, who is often called the father of the madrigal (despite
the fact that madrigals were written before he was born), became chapel
master of St. Mark's, Venice, in 1527. He seized with avidity the
suggestion offered by the existence of two organs in the cathedral and
wrote great works "for two choruses of four voices each, so that the
choruses could answer each other across the church. He paid much less
attention to rigid canonic style than his predecessors had done because
it was not suited to the kind of music which he felt was fitting for his
church. He sought for grand, broad mass effects, which he learned could
be obtained only by the employment of frequent passages in chords. So he
began trying to write his counterpoint in such a way that the voice
parts should often come together in successions of chords. In order to
do this he was compelled to adopt the kind of formations still in use
and the fundamental chord relations of modern music--the tonic, dominant
and subdominant."[30]

    [Footnote 30: From the present author's "How Music Developed." New
    York, 1898.]

In music of this kind there was no longer a field for the intricate
working of canonically constructed voice parts. It must seek its chief
results in the opposition of one choir against the other, not in
multiplicity of voice parts, but in imposing contrasts as of "deep
answering unto deep." The development of fundamental chord harmonies was
inevitable and from them in the fullness of time was bound to spring the
pure harmonic style. Chord successions without any melodic union cannot
be long sustained, and the Italians, with the tentative achievements of
the frottolists before them, were not long blind to this fact. Leone
Battista Alberti, father of Renaissance architecture, in writing of his
church of St. Francis at Rimini uses the expression "tutta questa
musica." One understands him to mean the harmonious disposition of the
parts of his design so that all "sound" together, as it were, for the
artistic perception.

It was feeling of this same kind that led the apostles of the
Netherlands school and their Italian pupils to follow the physical trend
of all Italian art rather than struggle to impose upon it the shackles
of an uncongenial intellectuality forged in the canonic shops of
Ockeghem and his disciples. The seed of beauty had been sown by the
mighty Josquin des Prés what time he was a Roman singer and a Mantuan
composer. The fruit blossomed in the Renaissance music of Willaert,
Cyprian de Rore and others and came to its perfection in the later works
of Palestrina and Lasso. The resistless operation of the tendencies of
the school was such that at the close of the sixteenth century we are
suddenly confronted with the knowledge that all the details of polyphony
so studiously cultivated by the northern schools have in Italy suddenly
been packed away in a thorough bass supporting one voice which is
permitted to proclaim itself in a proud individuality.

Yet if we permit ourselves to believe that the lyric solo made but a
single spasmodic appearance in the "Orfeo" and had to be born again in
the artistic conversion brought about by the labors of Galilei and
Caccini, we shall be deceived. The fashion set by Poliziano's production
was not wholly abandoned and throughout the remainder of the fifteenth
and the whole of the sixteenth centuries there were productions closely
related to it in style and construction. Not only is the slow
assimilation of the mass of heterogeneous elements thrown together in
these dramas not astonishing, but to the thoughtful student it must
appear to be inevitable. On the one hand was the insatiable desire for
voluptuous spectacle, for the lascivious pseudo-classicism of the
pictorial dance, for the bewildering richness of movement which had
originated in the earlier triumphal processions, and for the stupendous
scenic apparatus made possible in the open air sacred plays. On the
other was the widespread taste for part singing and the constantly
growing skill of composers in adapting to secular ideas the polyphonic
science of the church. Added to these elements was the imperative need
of some method of imparting individuality of utterance to the principal
characters in a play while at the same time strengthening their charm by
the use of song.

For nearly a century, then, we find the lyric drama continuing to
utilize the materials of the sacra rappresentazione as adapted to
secular purposes by Poliziano, but with the natural results of the
improvement in artistic device in music. It is not necessary here to
enter into a detailed account of the growth of musical expression. Every
student of the history of the art knows that many centuries were
required to build up a technical praxis sufficient to enable composers
to shape compositions in such a large form as the Roman Catholic mass.
When the basic laws of contrapuntal technic had been codified, Josquin
des Prés led the way to the production of music possessing a beauty
purely musical. Then followed the next logical step, namely, the attempt
to imitate externals. Such pieces as Jannequin's "Chant des Oiseaux" and
Gombert's "Chasse du Liévre" are examples of what was achieved in this
direction. Finally, Palestrina demonstrated the scope of polyphonic
music in the expression of religious emotions at times bordering upon
the dramatic in their poignancy.

We cannot well doubt that the Italians of the late sixteenth century
felt the failure of their secular music to meet the demands of secular
poetry as religious music was meeting those of the canticles of the
church. The festal entertainments which had graced the marriages of
princes had most of the machinery of opera, but they lacked the vital
principle. They failed to become living art entities solely because they
wanted the medium for the adequate publication of individuality. They
made their march of a century on the very verge of the promised land,
but they had to lose themselves in the bewitching wilderness of the
madrigal drama before they found their Moses. It was the gradual growth
of skill in musical expression that brought the way into sight, and that
growth had to be effected by natural and logical processes, not by the
discovery or by the world-moving genius of any one composer.

The Doric architecture of the frottola had to be developed into the
Italian Renaissance style of the madrigal by the ripening of the craft
of composers in adapting the music of ecclesiastical polyphony to the
communication of worldly thought. Then the Renaissance style had to lose
itself in the baroque struggles of the final period of the madrigal
drama--struggles of artistic impulse against an impossible style of
structure and the uncultivated taste of the auditors. Then and then only
was the time for revolt and the revolt came.

In the meanwhile we may remark that the intense theatricalism of opera
ought never to be a source of astonishment to any one who has studied
the history of its origins. The supreme trait of the lyric drama of the
fifteenth and sixteenth century was its spectacular quality. The reforms
of Galilei and Caccini were, as we shall see, aimed at this condition.
Their endeavors to escape the contrapuntal music of the madrigal drama
were the labors of men consciously confronting conditions which had been
surely, if not boldly, moving toward their own rectification. The
madrigal opera was intrinsically operatic, but it was not yet freed from
the restrictions of impersonality from which its parent, the polyphony
of the church, could not logically rid itself even with the aid of a
Palestrina's genius. We must then follow this line of later development.


The Predominance of the Spectacular

Throughout the fifteenth century the lyric drama of Italy continued to
be a denizen of courts and to be saturated with what has been called the
"passionate sensualism" of the Italian genius. The rivalry of lords,
spiritual and temporal, of popes, of dukes and princes, in the luxury of
their fêtes was a salient phenomenon of the time. The lyric drama became
a field for gorgeous display and its pomp and circumstance included not
only elegant song, but considerable assemblies of instruments, dazzling
ballets, pantomimic exhibitions, elaborate stage machinery, imported
singers and instrumentalists. As the painters had represented popes and
potentates mingling with the holy family at the sacred manger, so the
lyric dramatists assembled the gods and heroes of classic fable to do
honor to Lorenzo and others of that glittering era.

In 1488 Bergonzo Botta, of Tortoni, prepared a festal play for the
marriage of Galeazzo Sforza and Isabella of Arragon. Arteaga[31] quotes
from Tristan Chalco, a Milanese historiographer, an account of this
production. The entertainment took place in a great hall, which had a
gallery holding many instrumental players. In the center of the hall
was a bare table. As soon as the prince and princess had entered the
spectacle began with the return of Jason and his companions who
deposited the golden fleece on the table as a present. Mercury then
appeared and related some of his adventures in Thessaly with Apollo.
Next came Diana with her nymphs dragging a handsome stag. She gave the
stag to the bridal pair and told a pretty story about his being the one
into which she had changed the incautious Acteon. After Diana had
retired the orchestra became silent and the tones of a lyre were heard.
Then entered Orpheus who began his tale with the words, "I bewailed on
the spires of the Apennines the untimely death of my Euridice." But, as
he explained, his song had changed as his heart had changed, and since
Euridice was no more, he wished now to lay his homage at the feet of the
most amiable Princess in the world. Orpheus was interrupted by the
entrance of Atalanta and Theseus and a party of hunters, who brought the
first part to an end in an animated dance.

    [Footnote 31: "Le Rivoluzioni del Teatro Musicale Italiano della
    sua Origine fino al Presente," by Stefano Arteaga. Venice, 1785.]

The second part introduced Iris, Hebe, Pomona, Vertumnus, and choruses
of Arcadians and others. This part concluded with a dance by gods of the
sea and the Lombardian rivers. The third part began with the appearance
of Orpheus leading Hymen, to whom he sang praises, accompanying himself
on the lyre. Behind him were the Graces, in the midst of whom came
"Marital Fidelity" and presented herself to the princess. After some
other minor incidents of the same kind the spectacle came to an end with
a ballet in which Bacchus, Silenus, Pan and a chorus of satyrs were
principal figures. This lively and comic dance, says Chalco, "brought to
an end the most splendid and astonishing spectacle that Italy had

In 1487 Nicolo de Corregio Visconti produced at Ferrara his fable
"Cephale et l'Aurore." In this there were choruses of nymphs, vows to
Diana, dialogues between Corydon and Thyrsis and other pastoral
dainties. At the carnival of 1506 at Urbino, Castiglione and his friend
Cesare Gonzaga, of the great Mantuan family, recited the former's
"Tirsi," dialogues in verse. The two interpreters wore pastoral
costumes. The dialogue was couched in the customary pastoral phrase, but
it was made plain that fulsome flattery of living personages was
intended.[32] The musical numbers of which we can be certain were one
solo, sung by Iola, a chorus of shepherds and a morris dance.

    [Footnote 32: "Poesie Volgari e Latine del Conte B. Castiglione."
    Rome, 1760.]

The impulse which brought the "Orfeo" into being had not yet exhausted
itself and the Italians continued to feast their souls on a visionary
Arcadia with which they vainly strove to mingle their own present. But
love of luxurious display slowly transformed their pastorals into
glittering spectacles. As for the music, we may be certain that in the
beginning it followed the lines laid down in the "Orfeo." It rested
first on the basis of the frottola, but when the elegant and gracious
madrigal provided an art form better suited to the opulence of the
decorative features of the embryonic lyric drama, the madrigal became
the dominating element in the music. Together with it we find in time
the dance slowly assuming that shape which eventually became the
foundation of the suite.

Adrian Willaert became chapel master of St. Mark's in 1527 and his
influence in spreading the madrigal through Italy was so great that he
has been called, as we have already noted, the father of that form of
composition. Certain it is that, despite the earlier publications of
Petrucci, the madrigal became dominant in Italy after the advent of
Willaert. But we must not lose sight of the influence of Constanzo
Festa, the earliest great Italian writer of madrigals, whose first book
of these compositions (for three voices) was published in 1537. We are
therefore to understand that in the plays about to be mentioned the
madrigal style prevailed in the music.

In 1539 at the marriage of Cosimo I and Eleanora of Toledo there were
two spectacular performances. In the first Apollo appeared in company
with the muses. He sang stanzas glorifying the bride and her husband,
and the muses responded with a canzona in nine parts. Now the cities of
Tuscany entered, each accompanied by a symbolical procession, and sang
their praises to the bride. The second entertainment was a prose comedy
of Landi, preceded by a prologue and provided with five intermezzi. In
the first intermezzo Aurora, in a blazing chariot, awakened all nature
by her song. Then the Sun rose and by his position in the sky informed
the audience what was the hour of each succeeding episode. In the final
intermezzo Night brought back Sleep, who had banished Aurora, and the
spectacle concluded with a dance of bacchantes and satyrs to
instrumental music. The accounts which have come down to us note that
the song of Aurora was accompanied by a gravicembalo, an organ, a flute,
a harp and a large viol. For the song of Night four trombones were used
to produce a grave and melancholy support. The music for this
entertainment was composed by Francesco Corteccia, Constanzo Festa,
Mattio Rampollini, Petrus Masaconus and Baccio Moschini. All these
musicians were composers of madrigals, and Corteccia was at the time
Cosimo's chapel master. In this spectacle was heard the solo madrigal
for Sileno already mentioned. Here is the opening of this piece; the
upper voice was sung and the other voice parts were played as an

  [Musical Notation]

In 1554 Beccari of Ferrara (1510-1590) produced his "Il Sagrifizio," a
genuine pastoral drama, in which the actors were Arcadian shepherds with
Roman manners. The dialogues were connected by a series of dramatic
actions, and the music was composed by Alfonso della Viola, a pupil of
Willaert. Among the personages was a high priest who sang, like
Poliziano's Orpheus, to the accompaniment of his own lyre. The same
composer wrote choruses for Alberto Lollio's pastoral, "Aretusa" (1563)
and several musical numbers for "Lo Sfortunato" by Agostino Argenti, of
Ferrara (1571).

In 1574 on the occasion of the visit of Henri III to Venice, the doge
ordered a performance of a piece called simply "Tragedia," which had
choruses and some other music by the great Claudio Merulo, composer of
the first definitely designed instrumental works. For the wedding
festivities attendant upon the marriage of Francesco de Medicis and
Bianca Capella in 1579 Gualterotti arranged a grand tournée in the
interior court of the Pitti Palace at Florence. This entertainment was
of a nature similar to that of 1539 above described. It was composed of
mythologic episodes spectacularly treated. The verse was by Giovanni
Rucellai, the distinguished author of "Rosamunda" and the "Api," and the
music by Pietro Strozzi. One of the singers was a certain young Giulio
Caccini, who lived to be famous.

Torquato Tasso's pastoral play "Aminta" (1573) had choruses though we
cannot say who composed the music. It is known that Luzzasco Luzzaschi,
pupil of Cyprian di Rore, master of Frescobaldi, and composer of
madrigals and organ toccatas, wrote the chorals in madrigal style for
Guarini's famous "Pastor Fido." There were choruses to separate the acts
and two introduced in the action. These two, which had a kind of
refrain, were the chorus of hunters in Act IV, scene sixth, and the
chorus of priests and shepherds in Act V, scene third. There was also an
episode in which a dance was executed to the music of a chorus sung
behind the scenes.

In 1589, on the occasion of the marriage in Florence of the Grand Duke
Ferdinand with Princess Christine of Loraine, there was a festal
entertainment under the general direction of Giovanni Bardi, Count of
Vernio, at whose palace afterward met the founders of modern opera.
Indeed, the members of the young Florentine coterie were generally
concerned in this fête and doubtless found much to move them toward
their new conception. The Count of Vernio's comedy "Amico Fido" was
played and was accompanied by six spectacular intermezzi with music. The
first of these was by Ottavio Rinuccini, author of "Dafne" and
"Euridice," usually called the first operas. It was named the "Harmony
of the Spheres," and its music was composed by Emilio del Cavaliere
(originator of the modern oratorio) and the chapel master Cristoforo
Malvezzi. The second intermezzo dealt with a contest in song between the
daughters of Pierus and the muses. The judges were hamadryads and the
defeated mortals were punished for their presumption. The text was by
Rinuccini and the music by Luca Marenzio, the famous madrigalist. The
contesting singers were accompanied by lutes and viols, while their
judges had the support of harps, lyres, viols and other instruments of
the same family.

Bardi himself devised the third intermezzo, Rinuccini wrote the verse
and Bardi and Marenzio the music. It had some of the essential features
of both ballet and opera and represented the victory of Apollo over the
python. The god descended from the skies to the music of viols, flutes
and trombones. Later when he celebrated his victory and the acclaiming
Greeks surrounded him, lutes, trombones, harps, viols and a horn united
with the voices. Strozzi wrote the fourth intermezzo with music by
Caccini. This carried the audience into both supernal and infernal
regions and its music, somber and imposing, called for an orchestra of
viols, lutes, lyres of all forms, double harps, trombones and organ.

The fifth intermezzo must have rivaled the glories of the ancient sacred
plays in the public squares. Rinuccini arranged it from the story of
Arion. The theater, so we are told, represented a sea dotted with rocks
and from many of these spouted springs of living water. At the foot of
the mountains in the background floated little ships. Amphitrite entered
in a car drawn by two dolphins and accompanied by fourteen tritons and
fourteen naiads. Arion arrived in a ship with a crew of forty. When he
had precipitated himself into the sea he sang a solo accompanied by a
harp, not by a lyre as in the ancient fable. When the avaricious sailors
thought him engulfed forever, they sang a chorus of rejoicing,
accompanied by oboes, bassoons, cornets and trombones. The music of this
intermezzo was by Malvezzi, who was a distinguished madrigalist. The
last intermezzo was also arranged by Rinuccini and its music was by
Cavaliere. In this the poet divided the muses into three groups, in
order to give antiphonal effect to their songs. He combined the episodes
so as to furnish the musician with the motives for a dance and in a
manner permit of the use of numerous and varied instruments, from the
organ to the Spanish guitar. Probably this ballet morceau was one of the
first of many medleys of national character dances so familiar now to
the operatic stage.[33]

    [Footnote 33: This account is taken from Bastiano de' Rossi's
    "Descrizione dell' apparato e degli intermedi fatti per la
    commedia rappresentata in Firenze nello nozze del serenissimo
    D. Ferdinando Medici," etc. Firenze, 1589. This work is not in any
    of the great libraries and is here quoted from the previously
    mentioned history of M. Chouquet, who had access to it in the
    private library of an Italian scholar. The voice and instrumental
    partbooks were edited by Malvezzi, and published at Venice in 1591
    under the title "Intermedii e concerti, fatti per la commedia
    rappresentata in Firenze nelle nozze del Ferdinando Medici e
    Madama Cristiana di Lorena." Malvezzi's edition contains valuable
    notes and an instructive preface.]

The published text of these creations shows that they contain much that
rests on the traditions of the lyric drama as it had been known in Italy
for a century, while there is also a little that approaches the new
style then in process of development. This is not strange, indeed, since
several of the men most deeply interested in the search after the
ancient Greek declamation were active in the preparation of this
entertainment. Nevertheless we learn from Malvezzi's publication that
the pieces were all written in the madrigal style, frequently in
numerous voice parts. The entire orchestra was employed in company with
the voices only in the heavier numbers.

It is plain that in these musical plays there was no attempt at complete
setting of the text. There was no union of the lyrics by any sort of
recitative. The first Italian to write anything of this kind in a play
seems to have been Cavaliere, but unfortunately his "Il Satiro" (1590)
and "La Disperazione di Sileno" (1595) are known to us only through a
comment of Doni, who censures them for pedantic affectations and
artificialities of style, inimical to the truth of dramatic music. The
dates of the production of these works show us that they were not as old
as the movement toward real monodic song, and it is certain that in
France, at any rate, the Italian Balthazarini had already brought out in
1581 a ballet-opera, "Le Ballet Comique de la Reine," which contained
real vocal solos. At the same time the evidence is conclusive that the
madrigal was acquiring general popularity as a form of dramatic music,
and the madrigal drama reached the zenith of its glory at the very
moment when its fate was preparing in the experiments of Galilei and
others in the new monodic style destined to become the basis of modern
Italian opera.


Influence of the Taste for Comedy

An illuminative fact in the history of the madrigal drama is the growth
of the comic element. Poliziano's dream of Arcadia was perhaps neither
deep nor passionate, but it was at any rate serious and for some time
after its production the lyric drama aspired to the utterance of high
sentiments. But the incongruous mingling of Arcadian shepherds and
shepherdesses with the gods and heroes of the classic literature in a
series of musical actions, conceived with the desire to gratify that
passionate sensuality which governed Italian thought, was sure in time
to lead the typical insincerity and satiric view-point of the Italian
mind to the delights of physical realism, and the free publication of
mocking comment. Photographic musical imitations of the noises of
battles, the songs of birds and the cries of a great city were certain
to be succeeded by the adaptation to the uses of dramatic action of the
musical means developed in these and this adaptation led the way
directly into the realm of the comic lyric drama.

The pomp and circumstance of the gorgeous spectacles which we examined
in the preceding chapter were cherished by the traditions of the Italian
court stage and were not obliterated even in the new species of lyric
comedy. But there was far less to dazzle the eye in the comic
performances, and even in this they offered a certain novelty to the
consideration of Italian audiences. The court spectacles, to be sure,
did not go out of existence. We meet them in all their brilliancy in the
early years of the seventeenth century, and at the same time we find
them copied in a somewhat modified form in the spectacular productions
of the young Italian opera houses. On the other hand, when the
Florentine coterie created dramatic recitative, it was to use it in a
drama wholly serious and poetic in purpose. It was not till some years
later that recitative acquired sufficient flexibility to fit itself into
the plan of the rapidly growing opera buffa. Yet even in this lyric
species we discern something of the large influence of the humorous
madrigal play, for in time the comic opera and the ballet spectacle both
found homes after public opera houses had been thrown open to an eager
public. Physical realism, the humors of the streets and satiric assaults
upon the life of the courts made excellent materials for the
entertainment of the Italian mind, especially at such a time as the
close of the sixteenth century, when the country had reached the
completion of that state described by Symonds:

  "The intellectual and social life of the Italians, though much
  reduced in vigor, was therefore still, as formerly, concentrated in
  cities marked by distinct local qualities and boastful of their
  ancient glories. The courts of Ferrara and Urbino continued to form
  centers for literary and artistic coteries. Venice remained the
  stronghold of mental unrestraint and moral license, where thinkers
  uttered their thoughts with tolerable freedom and libertines
  indulged their tastes unhindered. Rome early assumed novel airs of
  piety, and external conformity to austere patterns became the
  fashion here. Yet the Papal capital did not wholly cease to be the
  resort of students and artists. The universities maintained
  themselves in a respectable position--far different, indeed, from
  that which they had held in the last century, yet not ignoble. Much
  was being learned on many lines of study divergent from those
  prescribed by earlier humanists. Padua, in particular, distinguished
  itself for medical researches. This was the flourishing time,
  moreover, of Academies in which, notwithstanding nonsense talked and
  foolish tastes indulged, some solid work was done for literature and
  science. The names of the Cimento, Delia Crusca and Palazzo Vernio
  at Florence remind us of not unimportant labors in physics, in the
  analysis of language, and in the formation of a new dramatic style
  of music. At the same time the resurgence of popular literature and
  the creation of popular theatrical types deserved to be particularly
  noticed. It is as though the Italian nation at this epoch,
  suffocated by Spanish etiquette and poisoned by Jesuitical
  hypocrisy, sought to expand healthy lungs in free spaces of open
  air, indulging in dialectical niceties and immortalizing street
  jokes by the genius of masked comedy."

We shall perceive, then, in the productions of some representative
masters of the madrigal drama in the latter half of the sixteenth
century, an expression of this Italian eagerness to abandon even the
external attitude of serious contemplation, which the spectacular
delights of the intermezzi and the serious lyric drama had made at least
tolerable, and to turn to the uses of pure amusement the materials of a
clearly defined form of art. We shall find the dramatization of the
chatter of the street and the apparition of types familiar to the
farcical comedies and operas bouffes of later days. In the washerwomen
of Striggio we are not far from _Madame Angot_, and some of the
personages whom Vecchi humorously treated in his "Amfiparnaso" are
treading the stage of to-day. In these madrigal dramas, as we shall see,
the attempts to overcome the musical unsuitability of polyphonic music
to the purposes of dramatic dialogue led composers further and further
from the truth which had stood at the elbows of Poliziano's
contemporaries and immediate successors. Musicians went forward with the
madrigal till they found themselves in Vecchi's day confronted with a
genuine _reductio ad absurdum_. It was only at this time that the
experiments of the Florentines uncovered the profound musical law that
the true dramatic dialogue is to be carried on by single-voiced melodies
resting on a basis of chord harmony.

In the meantime, we must delay our approach to the golden era of the
madrigal drama (when indeed it faced that _reductio_) to look for a
moment at the representative work of a Mantuan master of the lyric
comedy. Alessandro Striggio, born in Mantua, about 1535, died in the
same city in 1587, was for a time in the service of Cosimo, but for at
least fifteen years of his life was known simply as a "gentleman of
Mantua." Striggio was one of the most active and talented of the
composers of his time, and his creations are found in both religious and
secular fields. He utilized instruments freely in connection with voices
and his works give an excellent insight into the general condition of
vocal composition in Italy in his day. He became prominent as one of the
early composers of intermezzi and he was employed also to write church
music for wedding festivals. One of his motets calls for an orchestra of
eight trombones, eight violas, eight large flutes, a spinet and a large
lute. Without doubt his most significant work in the domain of the lyric
drama was "Il Calamento delle Donne al Bucato," published at Florence in

This is a series of rustic scenes, of which the first begins with an
introductory recitation by the poet, set for four voices: "In the gentle
month of May I found myself by chance near a clear stream where some
troops of women in various poses washed their white linen, and when they
had spread it to the sun on the grass, they chattered thus in lively
repartee, laughing." Then begin the action and the dialogue. The
scenario may be set forth in this wise: boisterous salutations,
hilarious talk and accounts of flirtations; tittle tattle about
neighbors and lively scandals; exchange of commiserations on the
insupportable humor of masters and the fatigue of service; cessation of
laughing, kissing and shouting, the day being ended; quick change of
scene to a levee of washing mallets; one of the women steals a trinket
from another, and a general riot ensues, after which there is a
reconciliation as the sun goes down and the women disperse with
embraces, tender words and cries of adieu.[34]

    [Footnote 34: Something suggestive of a similar train of musical
    thought is found in some reflections of George Moore on Zola:
    "I had read the 'Assomoir,' and had been much impressed by its
    pyramid size, strength, height and decorative grandeur, and also
    by the immense harmonic development of the idea; and the fugal
    treatment of the different scenes had seemed to me astonishingly
    new--the washhouse, for example: the fight motive is indicated,
    then follows the development of side issues, then comes the fight
    motive explained; it is broken off short, it flutters through a
    web of progressive detail, the fight motive is again taken up,
    and now it is worked out in all its fulness; it is worked up to
    _crescendo_, another side issue is introduced, and again the theme
    is given forth." ("Confessions of a Young Man.")]

One can have no difficulty in imagining how this story, furnished as it
must have been, with some very free action, was set to music in the
madrigal style. The contrast of moods provides an excellent background
for variety of musical movement and for a generous exercise of the
expressional skill which the composers of that period had acquired.
Lovers of the ballet of action will perceive that the scenario of
Striggio's musical comedy could also serve perfectly for that of a suite
of pantomimic dances.

Nor can the reader fail to discern in this story some of the germs of
the opera buffa. What is lacking here, to wit, the advancing of some
individual characters from the choral mass to the center of the stage,
was better accomplished in the earlier or more serious works. The
Orpheus of Poliziano was doubtless a striking figure in the minds of the
Mantuan audience of 1484. While perhaps there was a distinct decline in
directness of expression in the attempts of later lyric dramatists, the
departure was possibly not as large in the case of the serious writers
as in that of the humorists. We shall in all likelihood better
understand this after a survey of the labors of the dominant figure of
the artistic period of the humorous madrigal drama.


Vecchi and the Matured Madrigal Drama

The fully developed madrigal drama of the latter years of the sixteenth
century was an art form entirely dissimilar to anything known to the
modern stage, and, as we shall presently see, it was in itself a frank
confession of utter confusion in the search for a musical means of
individual expression. If no other evidence were at hand, the works of
Vecchi would be sufficient to prove that the logical progress of the
medieval lyric drama in one direction had led it into the very mazes of
the polyphonic wilderness. This new form lacked the spectacular glories
of the really operatic shows described in Chapter XI and it abandoned
even their ways of voicing the utterances of individual characters. Much
misinformation concerning this madrigal drama has been disseminated by
the comfortable process of repeating without scrutiny errors early
fastened upon histories of music.

The master spirit of the madrigal drama was Orazio Vecchi, born about
1551 at Modena. He became a priest and was canon of Corregio in 1586 and
in 1591 deacon. He became chapel master at the cathedral of Modena in
1596 and after numerous vicissitudes died in 1605. His most important
work was "L'Amfiparnaso, commedia harmonica," performed at Modena in
1594. This has been preserved in its entirety, together with the
author's preface, from which valuable information may be gathered. The
work is an attempt to turn into a lyric form the "Commedia dell' Arte,"
enacted in early times at village fairs in northern Italy. The
characters are Arlecchino, Pantalone, Doctor Graziano, Brighella,
Isabella, Lelio and others. The story of the play, however, does not
concern us so much as the author's artistic purposes and the methods by
which he sought to achieve them. In the addresses to the reader prefixed
to his scores Vecchi states some of his artistic beliefs. He says:

  "The gross jests, which are found in the comedies of our time, and
  which are their meat rather than the spice, are the reasons why he
  who says 'Comedy' seems to speak of a buffoon's pastime. They wrong
  themselves who give to such gracious poesy a sense so unworthy. True
  comedy, properly regarded, has for its object the representation in
  divers personages of almost all the actions of familiar life. To
  hold the mirror up to human life it bestows attention no less upon
  the useful than upon the pleasing, and it does not suffice it to
  raise a laugh." ("Amfiparnaso.")

  "It will be said that it is contrary to convention to mingle serious
  music with that which is merely pleasing and that one thus brings
  discredit on the profession. But the pleasing and the serious
  according to report have been mingled from father to son. Aristotle
  says so; Homer and Virgil give examples." ("Veglie di Siena," 1604.)

  "I know full well that at first view some will be able to judge my
  artistic caprices low and flimsy, but they ought to know that it
  requires as much grace, art and nature to draw well a rôle of comedy
  as to represent a wise old grumbler." ("Selva di Varia Ricreatione,"

  "Everything has a precise meaning, and the actor should try to find
  it; and, that done, to express it well and intelligently in such a
  way as to give life to the work." ("Amfiparnaso.")

  "The moral intention of it will be less than that of the simple
  comedy, for music applies itself to the passion rather than to the
  reason, and hence I have been compelled to use reflective elements
  with moderation. Moreover, the action has less scope for
  development, spoken words being more rapid than song; so it is
  expedient to condense, to restrict, to suppress details, and to take
  only the capital situations. The imagination ought to supply the
  rest." ("Amfiparnaso.")

When we turn to the drama itself to ascertain how the composer embodied
his artistic ideas, we find that the score shows a series of scenes
containing speeches for single personages and dialogues for two or more.
All of these are set to madrigal music in five parts. This music
exhibits much variety of style and expressive power. The composer was
undoubtedly a master of his material. How intricate and yet pictorial
his style can become may be seen in these four measures from Act I,
scene second, which contain words uttered by Lelio.

  [Musical Notation]

That the composer sometimes employed skilfully the contrast of pure
chord sequence is seen in his setting of the "tag" of the play spoken by
Lelio and beginning thus:

  [Musical Notation]

Interesting as this music is in itself, the temptation to enter upon a
prolonged examination of the score must be resisted for the good reason
that a more important matter demands our attention. It has often been
stated that in the madrigal drama, when the musician wished a single
personage to speak, that character sang his part in the madrigal while
alone on the stage and the other parts were sung behind the scenes. This
error has persistently clung to musical history, despite the fact that
it was long ago exposed by European authors who ought to have commanded
more consideration. The present writer is indebted to Romain Rolland for
guidance in his examination into this matter.

Vecchi had an enthusiastic disciple in Adriano Banchieri, born at
Bologna in 1567 and died in the same city in 1634. Although he was a
pupil of Giuseppe Guami, organist of St. Mark's, himself an organist of
St. Michele in Bologna, and a serious theoretician, he was none the less
the author of several comedies and satires, which he wrote under the
pseudonym of Camillo Scaligeri della Fratta. He states in the title page
that his comedy, "Il Studio Dilettevole" (for three voices) produced in
1603, is after the manner of Vecchi's "Amfiparnaso." His "Saggezia
Giovenile," produced somewhat later, is equipped with a preface
containing full directions as the method of performing a madrigal drama.
He says:

  "Before the music begins one of the singers will read in a loud
  voice the title of the scene, the names of the personages and the

  "The place of the scene is a chamber of moderate size, as well
  closed as possible (for the quality of the sound). In an angle of
  the room are placed two pieces of carpet on the floor and a pleasing
  scene. Two chairs are placed, one at the right, the other at the
  left. Behind the scene are benches for the singers, which are turned
  toward the public and separated from one another by the breadth of a
  palm. Behind these is an orchestra of lutes, clavicembali, and other
  instruments, in tune with the voices. From above the scene falls a
  large curtain which shuts off the singers and instrumentalists; the
  rule of procedure will be according to the following order:

  "The invisible singers read the music from their parts. They will be
  three at a time, or better, six, two sopranos, two tenors, one alto
  and one bass, singing or remaining silent according to the occasion,
  giving with spirit the lively words and with feeling the sentimental
  ones and pronouncing all with loud and intelligible voices according
  to the judgment of prudent singers.

  "The actors alone on the scene, and reciting, should prepare their
  parts so as to know them by heart and in every detail of place and
  time follow the music with all care as to time. It will not be a bad
  idea to have a prompter to aid the singers, instrumentalists and

The words, carefully chosen by the writer, prove conclusively that the
actors did not sing; they spoke. The only music was that which came from
behind the curtain at the rear.

Further directions for the performance of a madrigal drama by Vecchi
tell us that when a single person speaks on the stage, all the musical
parts join in representing him. In the case of a dialogue between two
actors the voices are to be divided into two groups situated so that the
musical sounds shall seem to proceed from the actors. For example, when
Lucio and Isabella converse, men's voices represent the former and
women's voices the latter. The subjoined passage of dialogue between
Frulla and Isabella, Act II, scene fifth, will show how two voices were

  [Musical Notation]

In the "Fidi Amanti" of Torelli there is a scene for two men,
a satyr and a shepherd, and one woman, a nymph. In this the two men
are represented always by the tenor and the bass, the latter having
the chief burden of the delineation of the satyr. The soprano and alto
voices are reserved for the nymph. Yet in this scene whenever the
emotion becomes intense, whether sad or joyous, the four voices unite
in singing the principal phrase.

Rolland, with his customary acumen, notes that in Vecchi's five part
madrigals for the stage the employment of the odd voice is plainly
governed by musical needs. It has to be common to both personages in a
scene for two and hence it is always the least characteristic voice. Its
chief business is to fill in the harmony.

It is not essential to the purpose of this work that the story of
"L'Amfiparnaso" or any of the other important madrigal dramas should be
told. The significant points are the disappearance of the more gorgeous
elements of spectacle found in the older court shows, the rise to
prominence of the comic element, and above all the entire obliteration
of the tentative methods of solo song found in the earlier lyric drama.
The old-fashioned _cantori a liuti_ sank into obscurity as the madrigal
grew in general favor in Italy, and in the latter years of the sixteenth
century their art seems to have undergone alterations quite in keeping
with the growing complexity of madrigal forms. The madrigal was now the
solo form with an instrumental accompaniment made from the under voices,
and this solo form was not used in the madrigal drama. Its musicians had
laid aside the "recitar alla lira," so much praised by Castiglione in
1514, and were seeking for some new way of setting solo utterance to
music. The method chosen by Vecchi must appear to us to be removed from
possibilities of artistic success still further than the solo
adaptations of frottole, yet the historical fact is that his
"Amfiparnaso" had an extraordinary popularity and set a fashion.

Some of Vecchi's works were produced and met with favor even after the
pseudo-Hellenic invention of the Bardi fraternity had burst upon Italy.
Indeed the madrigal drama died hard and its final burial was not
accomplished till the opera had begun to take shape more definite than
that found in the experimental productions of its founders. With the
declining years of this curious form we need not concern ourselves. We
may now turn to a consideration of the experiments which led to the
creation of dramatic recitative, the missing link in the primeval world
of the lyric drama.


The Spectacular Element in Music

While the madrigal drama was in the ripeness of its glory the young
Florentine coterie which brought the opera to birth was engaged in its
experiments with monody. The history of its labors has been told in many
books and need not be repeated here. But connected with it are certain
important facts which are too often overlooked or at best denied their
correct position in the story.

In the first place, then, let us remind ourselves that while the
madrigal drama was utilizing in a novel manner the musical form from
which it took its name, the method of adapting the madrigal to solo
purposes had never been abandoned. The singular path of development
followed by the musical drama had been leading away from its true goal,
that of solo utterance, but the Italian salon still heard the charms of
the madrigal arranged as a lyric for single voice.

The first secular drama, the "Orfeo" of Poliziano, was equipped with the
elements from which might have been evolved quickly all the materials of
the first experimental operas; but the rapid spread of the polyphonic
music through Italy and the sudden and overwhelming popularity of part
singing soon, as we have seen, relegated the first suggestions of a
manner of setting vocal solos for the stage into a position of
comparative obscurity and in the end this possibility was conquered by
the cumbrous method of Vecchi. Perhaps the unsuitability of polyphonic
composition might have made itself clear earlier than it did, had not
the general state of Italian thought and taste moved in a direction
making this impossible. The noble classic figure of Orpheus, with his
flowing white robe, his simple fillet on his brow, and his lyre in his
arm, standing before the iron gates and moving by his song the powers of
hell, soon gave way to the gorgeous exhibitions in which the splendors
of Night and Dawn were made the subjects of a series of glittering
scenes enveloping a plan much like that of some modern ballet spectacle.

Throughout the sixteenth century, as we have seen, these court
representations grew in complexity of pictorial detail, while the
importance of the development of a medium for individual expression sank
further and further out of notice. One reads of occasional uses of the
old method of solo recitation to the lyre, but never as a controlling
motive in the dramatic construction. It appears only as an incident in
the general medley of sensuous allurements. So, too, the convocation of
masses of singers, dancers and instrumentalists seems to have been
nothing more than a natural demonstration of that growing appetite for
luxury which characterized the approach of the feeble intellectual era
of the Seicentisti, that era in which "ecclesiastical intolerance had
rendered Italy nearly destitute of great men."

These quoted words are Symonds's; let him speak still further: "Bruno
burned, Vanini burned, Carnescchi burned, Paleario burned, Bonfadio
burned; Campanella banished after a quarter of a century's imprisonment
with torture; the leaders of free religious thought in exile, scattered
over northern Europe. Tasso, worn out with misery and madness, rested at
length in his tomb on the Janiculan; Scarpi survived the stylus of the
Roman curia with calm inscrutability at St. Fosca; Galileo meditated
with closed lips in his watch tower behind Bello Squardo. With Michael
Angelo in 1564, Palladio in 1580, Tintoretto in 1594, the godlike
lineage of the Renaissance artists ended; and what children of the
sixteenth century still survived to sustain the nation's prestige, to
carry on its glorious traditions? The list is but a poor one. Marino,
Tassoni, the younger Buonarotti, Boccalini and Chiabrera in literature.
The Bolognese academy in painting. After these men expand arid
wildernesses of the Sei Cento--barocco architecture, false taste,
frivolity, grimace, affectation--Jesuitry translated into false

Symonds is here speaking of the dawn of the seventeenth century, but the
movement toward these conditions is quite clearly marked in the later
years of the preceding cycle. Its influence on the lyric drama is
manifest in the multiplication of luxurious accessories and superficial
splendors, designed to appeal to the taste of nobles plunged in sensuous
extravagances and easily mistaking delight in them for a lofty
appreciation of the drama and art. The reform of the Florentine coterie
conquered Italy for less than fifty years. The return to showy
productions, to the congregation of purely theatric effects, scenic as
well as musical, was swift, and the student of operatic art can to-day
discern with facility that the invention of the Florentines was soon
reduced to the state of a thread to bind together episodes of pictorial
and vocal display. But in the beginning it was unquestionably the
outcome of a hostility to these very things, or at any rate to their
merely spectacular employment.

Peri, Caccini, Bardi and others of the Florentine "camerata" were
engaged as composers, stage managers, actors and singers in many of the
elaborate court spectacles, intermezzi and madrigal dramas produced
toward the end of the sixteenth century. Peri and Caccini were
professional singers, and their experiences were not only those of
students, but also those of practitioners. Their revolt against the
contrapuntal lyric drama was largely, though not wholly, based on
deep-seated objection to the unintelligibility of the text. It does not
require profound consideration to bring us to the opinion that the
method of Vecchi was in part an attempt to overcome the innate defect of
the polyphonic style in this matter of intelligibility. The resort to
the spoken text on the stage while the music was sung behind the scenes
appears on the face of it to have been compelled by a wish for some
method of conveying the meaning of the poet to the audience.

Why, then, did not these young reformers find at hand in the madrigal
arranged for solo voice the suggestion for their line of lyric
reconstruction? Partly by reason of the confusion caused by obedience to
old polyphonic customs in making the accompaniments, and partly because
the madrigal had become a field for the display of vocal agility.
Already the development of colorature singing had reached a high degree
of perfection. Already the singer sought to astonish the hearer by
covering an air with a bewildering variety of ornaments. The time was
not far off when the opera prima donna was to become the incarnation of
the artistic sensuousness which had beguiled Italy with a dream of
Grecian resurrection. The way had been well built, for the attention of
the fathers of the Roman church had been turned early to the necessity
of system in the delivery of the liturgical chants. The study of a style
had developed a technic and to the achievement of vocal feats this
technic had been incited by the rapid rise of the act of descant.

Hand in hand the technic and the art of descant had come down the years.
The sharp distinction early made between "contrapunctus a penna" and
"contrapunctus a mente" showed that composers and singers to a certain
degree actually stood in rivalry in their production of passage work for
voices. The rapid expansion of the florid element in the polyphonic
music of the composers indicates to us that the improvised descant of
the singer had a sensible influence. We need not be astonished, then, to
learn that long before the end of the sixteenth century a very
considerable knowledge of what was later systematized as the so-called
"Italian method" had been acquired. The registers of head and chest were
understood, breathing was studied, the hygiene of the voice was not a
stranger, and vocalizes on all the vowels and for all the voices had
been written. Numerous singers had risen to note, and the records show
that their distinction rested not only on the beauty of their voices and
the elegance of their singing, but also on their ability to perform
those instrumental feats which have from that time to this been dear to
the colorature singer and to the operatic public.

In the closing years of the sixteenth century we find that the famous
singers were heard not oftener in public entertainments than in private
assemblies. Occasionally a madrigal arranged as a solo figured in a
lyric play, but the singing of madrigals for one voice was a popular
field for the exhibition of the powers of celebrated prima donnas such
as Vittoria Archilei and eminent tenors like Jacopo Peri.
Kiesewetter[35] gives a madrigal sung as a solo by Archilei. The
supporting parts of the composition were transferred from voices to
instruments apparently with little trouble. Mme. Archilei herself played
the lute and her husband, Antonio Archilei, and Antonio Nalda played two
chitarroni. The music of the madrigal was composed by Signor Archilei.
Here are the opening measures of this lyric:

  [Musical Notation]

    [Footnote 35: "Schicksale und Beschaffenheit des Weltlichen
    Gesanges," by R. G. Kiesewetter. Leipsic, 1841.]

Here is the beginning of the composition as Mme. Archilei decorated it
with her extraordinary skill in the vocal ornamentation of the period:

  [Musical Notation]

We are told that despite the fine professions of the Florentines, Mme.
Archilei was permitted to embroider Peri's _Euridice_ in something like
this fashion. But we must admit that even in those days a prima donna
had power, and that something had to be conceded to popular taste.
Furthermore, we shall see that the Florentines did not purpose to
abolish floridity entirely.


The Medium for Individual Utterance

A closer examination of the musical reforms instituted by the camerata
which met at the Vernio and Corsi palaces will convince us that they
were directed toward two objects; first, the restoration of the Greek
method of delivering the declamation of a drama, and second, the
reduction of purely lyric forms to a rational musical basis on which
could be built intelligible settings of texts. The revolt was not only
against polyphonic music in which text was treated without regard for
its communicative purpose, but also against the decorative manner of
solo singing, which made words only backgrounds for arabesques of sound.
On this point we have the conclusive evidence of Caccini's own words as
found in the preface to his "Nuove Musiche."[36] He begins by giving the
reasons why he had not earlier published his lyrics in the new style,
though they had long been sung. He continues:

  "But when I now see many of these pieces torn apart and altered in
  form, when I see to what evil uses the long runs are put, to wit,
  those consisting of single and double notes (repeated ones), as if
  both kinds were combined, and which were invented by me in order to
  do away with the former old fashion of introduced passages, which
  were for wind or stringed instruments rather than the human voice;
  when further I see how dynamic gradations of tone are used without
  discrimination, what enunciation now is, and how trills, gruppetti
  and other ornaments are introduced, I consider it necessary--and in
  this I am upheld by my friends--to have my music printed."

    [Footnote 36: "Nuove Musiche di Giulio Caccini detto Romano."
    Florence, 1601.]

Furthermore he will explain in this preface the principles which led him
to write in this manner for the solo voice. He says that for a long time
he has been a member of the Florentine circle of cultivated men and that
he has learned from them more than he acquired in thirty years in the
schools of counterpoint.

  "For these wise and noble personages have constantly strengthened me
  and with most lucid reasons determined me to place no value upon
  that music which makes it impossible to understand the words and
  thus to destroy the unity and meter, sometimes lengthening the
  syllables, sometimes shortening them in order to suit the
  counterpoint--a real mangling of the poetry--but to hold fast to
  that principle so greatly extolled by Plato and other philosophers:
  'Let music be first of all language and rhythm and secondly tone,'
  but not vice versa, and moreover to strive to force music into the
  consciousness of the hearer and create there those impressions so
  admirable and so much praised by the ancients, and to produce which
  modern music through its counterpoint is impotent. Especially true
  is this of solo singing with the accompaniment of a stringed
  instrument when the words are not understood because of the
  immoderate introduction of passages."

This, he declares, can only extort applause of the "crowd" and such
music can only result in mere tickling of the ear, because when the text
is not intelligible there can be no appeal to the understanding.

  "The idea came to me to introduce a style of music which makes it
  possible in a certain manner to speak musically by employing, as
  already said, a certain noble subordination of the song, with now
  and then some dissonances, while however holding the chord by means
  of the sustained bass, except when I follow the already common
  custom of assigning the middle voices to the accompanying
  instrument for the purpose of increasing the effect, for which
  purpose alone they are, in my opinion, appropriate."

He now tells us that, after he found that his principle stood the tests
of practice and he was satisfied that in the new style lay a power to
touch hearts far beyond that possessed by polyphony, he wrote certain
madrigals for the solo voice in the manner described, which manner
"I hereafter used for the representations in Florence." Then he went to
Rome where the dilettanti, particularly Lione Strozzi, gathered at the
house of Nero Neri, expressed themselves enthusiastically about the new
revelation of the power of solo song to move the heart. These amateurs
became convinced that there was no longer any satisfaction to be drawn
from the old way of singing the soprano part of madrigals and turning
the other parts into an instrumental accompaniment.

Caccini went back to Florence and continued to set canzonettas. He says
that in these compositions he tried continually to give the meaning of
the words and so to touch responsive chords of feeling. He endeavored to
compose in a pleasing style by hiding all contrapuntal effects as much
as possible. He set long syllables to consonances and let passing notes
go with short syllables. He applied similar considerations to the
introduction of passages "although sometimes as a certain ornamentation
I have used a few broken notes to the value of a quarter, or at most a
half note, on a short syllable, something one can endure, because they
quickly slip by and are not really passages, but only add to the
pleasant effect."

Caccini continues his preface with reiterated objections to vocal
passages used merely for display, and says that he has striven to show
how they can be turned to artistic uses. He deprecates the employment of
contrapuntal device for its own sake, and says that he employs it only
infrequently and to fill out middle voices. He forcefully condemns all
haphazard use of vocal resources and says that the singer should labor
to penetrate the meaning and passion of that which he sings and to
convey it to the hearer. This he asserts can never be accomplished by
the delivery of passages.

Here, then, we have a clear statement of the artistic ideals cherished
by Caccini, and these, we may take it, were shared by the other members
of the camerata who were engaged in the pursuit of a method of direct,
eloquent, dramatic solo expression. The opening measures of one of the
numbers in the "Nuove Musiche" will serve to show in what manner Caccini
developed his theories in practice and equally what close relation this
style had to that of the new dramatic recitative.

  [Musical Notation]

In the preface to his score of "Euridice" Peri has set forth his ideas
about recitative. He has told us how he tried to base its movement upon
that of ordinary speech, using few tones and calm movements for quiet
conversation and more extended intervals and animated movement for the
delineation of emotion. This was founded upon the same basis as the
theory of Caccini, which condemned emphatically the indiscriminate
employment of swelled tones, exclamatory emphases and other vocal
devices. Caccini desired that the employment of all these factors in
song should be regulated by the significance of the text. In other words
these reformers were fighting a fight not unlike that of Wagner. They
deplored the making of vocal ornaments and the display of ingenuity in
the interweaving of parts for their own sakes, just as Wagner decried
the writing of tune for tune's sake, and on one of the same grounds,
namely, that nothing could result but a tickling of the ear. Yet these
young reformers had no intention of throwing overboard all the charms of
floridity in song. Here are two examples of their treatment of
passionate utterance in recitative. The first is by Peri and the second
by Caccini. Both are settings of the same text in the "Euridice."

  [Musical Notation: two excerpts]

Caccini was somewhat more liberal than Peri in the use of floridity and
always showed taste and judgement therein. Here is a sample of his style
taken from a solo by one of the nymphs in "Euridice":

  [Musical Notation]

Caccini also showed that he was not averse to the lascivious allurements
of two female voices moving in elementary harmonies. Here is a passage
from a scene between two nymphs upon which rest many hundreds of pages
in later Italian operas.

  [Musical Notation]

This was the immediate predecessor of the well-known "Saliam cantando"
in Monteverde's "Orfeo."

The innovations of the Florentine reformers included also the invention
of thorough bass, or the basso continuo, as the Italians call it.
Ludovico Grossi, called Viadana from the place of his birth, seems to
have been the first to use the term basso continuo and on the authority
of Prætorius and other writers was long credited with the invention of
the thing itself. But it was in 1602 that he published his "Cento
concerti ecclesiastici a 1, a 2, a 3, e a 4 voci, con il basso continuo
per sonar nell' organo." The basso continuo had been in use for some
time before this. It appears in the score of Peri's Euridice as well as
in the "Nuove Musiche" of Caccini. It was employed in Cavaliere's "Anima
e Corpo" and was doubtless utilized in some of the camerata's earlier
attempts which have not come down to us.

Just which one of the Florentines devised this method of noting the
chords arranged for the support of the voice in the new style matters
little. The fact remains that the fundamental principle of related chord
harmonies, as distinguished from incidental accords arising in the
interweavings of voice parts melodic in themselves, had been recognized
and the basis of modern melodic composition established. This, indeed,
was not the achievement of the young innovators, but the result of a
slow and steady development in the art of composition. The introduction
of thorough bass shows us that the reformers had found it essential to
the success of their experiments that, in their effort to pack away in
solid chords the tangle of parts which had so offended them in the old
counterpoint, they should codify to some extent the relations of
fundamental chords and contrive a simple method of indicating their
sequence in the new and elementary kind of accompaniments. They at any
rate perceived that the vital fact concerning the new monophonic style
was that the melody alone demanded individual independence, while the
other parts could not, as in polyphony, ask for equal suffrage, but must
sink themselves in the solid and concrete structure of the supporting
chord. Thorough bass was in later periods utilized in such music as
Bach's and Handel's, but its original nature always stood forth most
clearly when it was employed in the support of vocal music approaching
the recitative type.

Here, then, we may permit the entire matter to rest. It ought now to be
manifest that in their experiments at the resuscitation of the Greek
manner of declamation the ardent young Florentines were impelled first
of all by the feeling that the obliteration of the text by musical
device was a crying evil and that by it dramatic expression was rendered
impossible. Doubtless they felt that their art lacked a medium for the
publication of the individual, but it is by no means likely that they
realized the full significance of this deficiency or of their own
efforts to supply it. Nevertheless, what they did under the incentive
of a genuine artistic impulse was in direct line with the whole
intellectual progress of the Renaissance. The thing that was patent to
them was the importance of studying the models of antiquity to find out
how dramatic delineation was to be accomplished; but in doing so they
discovered the one element which had been wanting in the Italian lyric
drama since its birth in the Mantuan court, namely, the way to set
speeches for one actor to music having communicative potency and capable
of preserving the intelligibility of the text.

So they completed a cycle of the art of dramatic music, and, having
found the link that was missing in the musical chain of Poliziano's
"Orfeo," reincarnated Italy's Arcadian prophet, and built the gates
through which Monteverde ushered lyric composition to the broad highway
of modern opera.


Agility, vocal,                                                  214
Alemannia, Rudolfo de,                                            41
Alessandro, Gian Andrea di,                                       46
Ambros, August Wilhelm,                                          107
"Amfiparnaso,"                                            191 et seq.
"Apollo and the Python," spectacular intermezzo,                 174
Arcadia, the Italian,                                      62 et seq.
Archilei, Vittoria,                                         216, 218
Argyropoulos, John,                                               69
"Arion," spectacular intermezzo,                                 175
Ariosto, performance of his "Suppositi,"                     90, 136

Ballata,                                                76, 116, 144
"Ballet Comique de la Reine,"                                    178
Banchieri, Adriano,                                              198
Banquets, music at,                                              139
Basso continuo,                                                  232
Bati, Luca,                                                       30
Beccari,                                                         170
Bembo, Pietro,                                                    61
Boccaccio,                                                        59
Botta, Bergonzo, festal play by,                                 161
Busnois, Antoine,                                                115

Caccini, Giulio,                                                 172
  "Nuove Musiche," its aim,                               221 et seq.
"Calandra," performance of,                                       96
_Cantori a liuto_,                                   119, 121 et seq.
Carnival Song (canto carnascialesco),                   76, 105, 116
Casella,                                                         119
Castiglione,                                                 61, 114
  performance of his "Tirsi,"                                    164
Cavaliere, Emilio del, first recitatives written by,             177
Chant, music of liturgical drama,                                 11
  disappearance from "Sacre Rappresentazioni,"                    24
Chartreux, Jean le,                                               40
Chorus, in first secular drama,                              89, 116
Comedy, influence on lyric drama,                         179 et seq.
  Vecchi's theories,                                             192
Compère, Loyset,                                                 115
Concerts, early,                                                 142
Corteccia,                                                       119
Costumes in early lyric plays,                                    92

Dance, dramatic, in church ritual,                              2, 3
  in open-air plays,                                              16
  orchestral music for,                                          144
  executed to concealed chorus,                                  172
  characteristic national,                                       176
Dante,                                                            58
Della Viola, Alfonso,                                            170
Della Viola, Gian Pietro,                                         45
Des Prés, Josquin,                                               104
Disciplinati di Gesu Cristo,                                      22
"Divozione,"                                               25 et seq.
Drama, lyric, sources,                                             4
  open-air religious,                                             13
  at Florence,                                                    19
  revival in Europe,                                              54
  causes of disappearance,                                        53
Dramatic dialogue, in madrigal drama,                            184
Dramatic element, in early church music,                           2
  in ceremonials,                                               4, 5

"Esaltazione della Croce," sacred play,                           29
  orchestra in,                                                  138
"Euridice," Peri's,                                              219

Feltre, Vittorino da,                                         37, 41
Ferrara, musical relations with Mantua,                           46
Festa, Constanzo,                                                165
Fête of the Ass,                                                  14
Ficino, Marsilio,                                                 70
Florence, reform of dramatic music,                         220, 234
Florid element, in early church music,                             1
  its disappearance,                                               2
  in madrigal,                                                   214
  in early operas,                                               231
Frottola,                             76, 101, 102, 104 et seq., 122
  distinguished from madrigal,                              108, 112
  arranged for solo voice,                                124 et seq.

Gaffori, Franchino,                                               43
Gonzaga, house of,                                         35 et seq.
  Gian Francesco,                                                 37
  Ludovico,                                                       38
Grecian ideals in Italian literature,      54, 58 et seq., 62 et seq.
Gualterotti, spectacular festal play,                            171

"Harmony of the Spheres," intermezzo by Cavaliere,               173
Harmony, modern begun,                                           233

Individuality, medium of expression sought,                 155, 157
  found,                                                  220 et seq.
Intermezzi, spectacular in 1589,                                 173
Intermezzo,                                                       91
Isaak, Heinrich,                                                 107
Italian, Latin preferred to,                                      59
  Poliziano's use of,                                             72
Italian music, defining its character,                           149
Italian thought, state of in sixteenth century,   181, 209, 210, 211
Italy, lack of national unity,                                    60

Kallistos, Andronicus,                                            69

Landino,                                                      61, 69
Lauds,                                                     21 et seq.
  music of,                                                       23
  development of,                                                 25
Lavagnolo, Lorenzo, teacher of dance at Mantua,                   45
Lighting in early plays,                                          95
Liturgical drama,                                           1 et seq.
  early examples,                                           6 et seq.
  its longevity,                                                   9
  character of music,                                       5, 6, 10
  French as related to opera,                                     12
  costumes, etc.,                                                 26
  stage used,                                                     26
Luzzaschi, music to "Pastor Fido,"                               172
Lyra di braccio,                                                 134
Lyre,                                                            130

Madrigal,                                         102, 104, 105, 112
  Italian,                                                       148
  solo,                                 168, 216, 217, 218, 219, 223
  florid element in,                                             214
  ornamented by singer,                                     217, 218
Madrigal drama, transition to from frottola,              147 et seq.
  in maturity,                                            191 et seq.
Madrigal dramas,                                                 166
  comedy in,                                              179 et seq.
  dialogue in,                            181, 198 et seq., 201, 203
  instruments in,                                           185, 199
  manner of performance,                                  198 et seq.
  voices in,                                                     200
  solo in,                                                       201
  unintelligibility of text,                                     213
Mantegna,                                                 38, 39, 40
Mantua, birthplace of secular drama,                              35
  sketch of the marquisate,                                35 et seq.
  literary and artistic importance,                               36
  music at,                                                40 et seq.
  musical relations with Ferrara,                                 46
Marenzio, Luca,                                                   50
"Marienklage, die," liturgical drama,                              9
"Mary Magdalen," sacred play,                                     33
Masques,                                                      32, 33
Medici, Lorenzo de, writer of sacred plays,                       29
Merulo, Claudio, his "Tragedia,"                                 171
Minuccio,                                                   119, 120
Monody, movement toward,                                         149
  Caccini's,                                                222, 225
Music, in sixteenth century lyric dramas,                        164

  [Transcriber's Note: The letter "N" is absent from the Index.
  Possible entries include:
  Namur, Naples, Narcissus, Naumann, Nero Neri, Netherlands,
    Noirville, Novellara, Nuremberg.]

Oboe,                                                            145
Opera buffa, germs of,                                           188
Orchestra, in "Sacre Rappresentazioni,"                       30, 31
  at Mantua,                                                      44
  in first secular drama,                             89, 136 et seq.
  Striggio's,                                          138, 185, 186
  in other early lyric plays,           161, 162, 174, 175, 177, 199
"Orfeo," performed at Mantua,                             52, 55, 68
  Italian estimates of,                                       55, 56
  importance of its production,                               57, 66
  its lyric character,                                    66, 77, 79
  description of poem,                                     76 et seq.
  how written,                                                    72
  Sismondi's comments on,                                         73
  Symonds on,                                                     74
  editions compared,                                      75, 79, 80
  how performed,                                           85 et seq.
  examination of its music,                                98 et seq.
  choruses,                                                 101, 116
  solo parts,                                        101, 117 et seq.
  solo parts, frottola as basis of,                              124
  instrumental parts,                     101, 129, 136 et seq., 144
Orpheus, embodiment of Arcadian ideal,                        63, 65

Paganism, Italian medieval,                                       62
Pageant of St. John's Day, Florence,                              28
Pageants, relation to "Sacre Rappresentazioni,"                   27
Part singing, its popularity in fifteenth century,               103
Passion, early performances of,                                   17
  French fourteenth century version,                              17
Pastoral drama,                                                  170
Peri, Jacopo,                                               216, 219
Petrarch,                                                         59
Philosophy, its effect on medieval literature,                    64
Poliziano, Angelo,                                            52, 55
  sketch of career,                                        68 et seq.
Procession, succeeds dance,                                        3
Prompter,                                                        200

Realism, Italian,                                                 61
"Recitar alla lira,"                                        114, 170
Recitative, in liturgical drama,                                  10
  in first secular plays,                                        114
  Florentine,                                          118, 212, 224
  beginnings,                                                    177
  in comic opera,                                                181
  impulses leading to modern,                             207 et seq.
  Caccini's,                                           224, 225, 229
  Peri's,                                                   227, 229
Romano, Giulio,                                                   39

"Sacre Rappresentazioni,"                              13, 21 et seq.
  music of,                                                       24
  time of origin,                                                 27
  sources of,                                                     27
  their construction and performance,                             29
  scenic effects,                                                 30
  as forerunners of opera,                                        32
"Saint Uliva," sacred play,                                       29
Sannazzaro, Jacopo, his "Arcadia,"                                62
Scene painting, in early plays,                                   93
Scenic effects, in "Sacre Rappresentazioni,"                      30
  in Poliziano's "Orfeo,"                                     86, 93
Schalmei,                                                        145
Sensualism, esthetic in Italy,                                    61
Singing, development of technic,                            214, 215
Solo, superseded by part song,                                   117
  in madrigal drama,                                        198, 205
  vocal,                                  114, 119, 222 et seq., 227
  adapted from part songs,                                119 et seq.
  florid element abused,                                         222
Songs, arranged for lute accompaniment,                          121
Spectacular, element in early plays,                    93, 155, 166
  in early dramatic music,                                       158
  predominance of the,                                    160 et seq.
  in music of sixteenth century,                          207 et seq.
  in music of sixteenth century, revolt against,                 212
Striggio, Alessandro,                                        51, 185
  his art work,                                                  185

Table music,                                                     139
Tasso, "Aminto," music of,                                       172
Technic, vocal,                                                  214
Thoroughbass,                                               154, 232
Todi, Jacopone da,                                                23
Tromboncino, Bartolomeo,                                     46, 115

Ugolino, Baccio, original _Orfeo_,                            79, 87

Vecchi, Orazio,                                           190 et seq.
  artistic theories,                                             192
Viadana, Ludovico,                                               232
"Vierges sages et Vierges folles,"                          6 et seq.
Villanelle,                                                      112
Violinists, early,                                               142
Virgil, Italian worship of,                                       59
Visconti, Nicolo de Corregio, his "Cephale et Aurore,"           163
Voices, in madrigal plays,                                  200, 203
Voice, technic in early music,                                   215

Wert, Jacques de,                                                 49
Willaert, Adrian,                                 104, 112, 151, 165

       *       *       *       *       *


Translated by WILLIAM MARCHANT. _5th printing._

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Transcriber's notes:

   Errors and Anomalies:

   Pauluzo : Pauluzzo (envoy from Ferrara)
     _spelling not regularized_
     _name also recorded in other sources as "Paolucci"_
     _this spelling is used throughout the text_

   "machine representing hell was fixed upon the boats, and that the
   subject of the drama was the perennially popular tale of 'Dives and
     _original punctuation:_
       "machine representing hell ... tale of "Dives and Lazarus."
   scholars and dilettanti
     _text reads "dilletanti"_
   and believed that in the pastoral kingdom
     _text reads "belived"_
   Lorenzo passed away and Poliziano wrote
     _text reads "Poliliziano"_
   Buccolics appeared to them
     _spelling unchanged_
   there were two obligato instruments
     _spelling unchanged_
   The teachings and practice of the Netherlands masters
     _text reads "Nethererlands"_
   its plebian parent
     _spelling unchanged_
   the frottola was in the lusty vigor of its maturity
     _text reads "frottole" (plural)_
   Dioneo teases the women
     _text reads "Dineo"_
   The large lyre, called _lirone perfetto_
     _text reads "lironi" (plural)_
   small instruments of the bowed varieties
     _text reads "varities"_
   arranging frottola melodies
     _text reads "aranging"_
   racial and temperamental differences between
     _text reads "betwen"_
   the untimely death of my Euridice
     _text reads "unitmely"_
   "Before the music begins .... instrumentalists and reciters"
     _text has close quote after first and third paragraph-- but not
     second-- of inset quotation_
   the four voices unite / in singing
     _text reads "unit"_

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