The sound of true feeling

Magnus Florin

Six composers are represented on this recording: Girolamo Frescobaldi, Sigismondo d'India, Johann Hieronymous Kapsberger, Giulio Caccini, Bellerofonte Castaldi and Dario Castello. Their music, composed in the first decades of the 17th century, is distinguished by the individuality of voice and instrument, its quality spare, direct, stripped of artifice. It rises, bare of prevailing preconceptions and untrammelled by contemporary observance, on the ruins of the previous century's aesthetic paradigm. We stand at a historical and cultural origo, a point whose co-ordinates are zero. And even as we look, something new emerges, brought into being by a sudden, unprecedented conviction of the value of the individual human voice and instrument.

In this newly formed, as yet undefined, musical landscape, each listener will no doubt discover his or her particular reference point, a base to return to. Mine is Giulio Caccini's setting of Petrarch's sonnet Tutto'l dì piango - All day I weep. From here, it is but a few steps to the legendary Camerata fiorentina, the small circle of composers and cultured Florentines who in the dying years of the 16th century laid the ground for the musical upheaval to come.

My glance falls on one of the most remarkable documents of the period, a letter to Giulio Caccini from the Camerata's leading light, Giovanni Bardi. His subject is music's miraculous powers to move the human soul. There are chemical elements, he writes, which have no power in themselves, but when combined explode with devastating force. So it is with music in its effect on human emotions. Thus, a composer is a kind of chemist of the emotions; while the performer, even as he conjures sounds from his lute, plucks the strings of the soul. Bardi cites evidence of music's curative powers; he adduces reports from classical antiquity attesting to cases of insanity, fever and gout, where the afflicted were healed by music. The listener is a patient, the composer and performer his physicians; music is the physic which, in the right doses, brings relief from suffering.

Bardi's conception thus links the classical Greek view of music's ethical nature - the faculty of exercising a beneficial influence on human character - with modern musical therapy. Curiously enough, Bardi's aesthetics and 'psychology' put me in mind of something else, namely the Russian avant-garde after the 1917 Revolution. I am reminded of the constructivist ideas forming part of the aesthetics of the proletkult movement of the early 1920s, in particular of Sergei Eisenstein's and Sergei Tretyakov's rational, mechanistic conceptions of the cinema and theatre - inspired by contemporary stimulus-response psychology - as eminently suitable vehicles for working on the emotions of the audience. This is perhaps a hazardous association, provoked as much by the unexpected analogy it contains as by the startling contrast it provides. The attractions of the cinema and the theatre were to operate as 'stimuli' - elements of class-based conditioning - designed to bring about the desired emotional reactions in the audience. The right stimulus would lead to the right response in this utopian concept of the rule and powers of Art - a notion associated with an idealistic conception of the collective and its future.

Similarly, Bardi and his friends held up an idealized picture of Art's function - linked in this case to the notion of the individual, immutable yet beset by the threat of dissolution, stable yet in constant motion; in short, a subject in the process of maturing. In this picture, song and instrument are the vehicles of a wondrous, empowered discourse, possessing the remarkable ability to give form to - to codify - the subject's inner life; a language capable of conveying the intimate messages of the soul to the listening ear. It is the sound of true feeling, the sound that we hear in Caccini's setting of Petrarch's Tutto'l dì piango.

The Camerata fiorentina

Let us now step back and from our present vantage point survey this radical upheaval that convulsed the European musical world in the last decades of the 16th century.

The preceding centuries had seen the purposeful evolution of a cappella polyphonic choral music to a pitch of consummate artistry. In the choral works of the 15th century, human voices were God's keyboard. The voice parts mirrored the perfect order of Creation while the variations emphasized its unity. During the next century, unaccompanied polyphonic vocal music was further enriched and elaborated by masters like Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) and Palestrina (1525-1594), while the Italian frottola - a strophic polyphonic song style - was refined into equilibristic madrigal forms by Carlo Gesualdo (1560-1613) and Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).

Yet, the cracks in the fabric presaging the final disintegration of a musical era can already be discerned at the beginning of the 16th century as the word and its aura of meanings come increasingly into focus, a token of a new orientation towards the individual listener, humanity and human sensibility.

The transformation overtook different localities in different guises at different times. Perhaps the most fascinating locus of change was the Camerata fiorentina (the Florentine 'Society'), also known as the Camerata de' Bardi after its leading figure, Count Giovanni de' Bardi (1534-1612). A musicologist and patron of the arts, Bardi was a man of wide cultural interests. For two decades, his home in the Via dei Benci in Florence was a venue for musicians, writers, art lovers and patrons. Even after 1592, when he left for Rome to serve at the Papal court, the Camerata continued its activities under the leadership of Emilio del Cavaliere (1550-1602) and Jacopo Corsi (1561-1604). Among the society's guests - or rather, its collaborators - were the musician, composer and musical theorist Vincenzo Galilei (1520-1591, father of the astronomer Galileo), the writers Ottavio Rinuccini (1563-1621) and Gabriello Chiabrera (1552-1638), and the composers Giulio Caccini (1550-1618) and Jacopo Peri (1561-1633).

The Camerata was at once salon and laboratory, avant-garde and academy, concert hall and research institute. Under its aegis, two remarkable inventions were conceived, developed and implemented. One was the new monodic song style, exemplified by Le nuove musici, a collection of songs composed by Caccini in 1602. The other was opera, a wholly new art form which sought, and found, its inspiration - and its model - in the past, in the music and tragic drama of classical antiquity.

For the society, practical activity - composition and performance - was of central importance. It was at Bardi's house in the 1580s that Vincenzo Galilei first performed his settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. 1597 or 1598 saw the performance of Dafne, the first through-composed, i.e. continuously sung, pastoral play - effectively, the very first opera. With music (now lost) composed by Jacopo Peri to a libretto by Rinuccini, Dafne was given at Corsi's house, with the host - and co-composer - at the keyboard. This partnership between Rinuccini and Peri continued with Euridice, the first completely preserved opera (performed in October, 1600 at the celebrations for the wedding of Maria de' Medici and King Henri IV of France). Caccini, who had collaborated with Peri on Euridice, gave his own complete setting of Rinuccini's libretto two years later.

In his dedication of Euridice to his friend and protector Bardi, Caccini harks back to the momentous years when his (Bardi's) camerata flourished in Florence, and to the latter's discourses on the use of music in the performance of Greek tragedy. This is in fact the first time the term "camerata" is used to refer to the society and its activities. Though seemingly the group had no need for a designation during its active decades, there are numerous extant documents both from and on this period. A striking example is Vincenzo Galilei's programmatic study, Dialogo della musica antica, et della moderna (1581), in which the concerts and discussions held at Bardi's home appear as the focal point of the current reevaluation of the musical world. Elegantly in context, the study takes the form of a dialogue between Bardi - cast in the flattering role of didactic mentor - and Camerata member Piero Strozzi as the pupil avid for knowledge.

To be present at such a discussion at a distance of over four centuries is a fascinating experience, coloured by the uncanny realization that at that very moment the map of the musical landscape was beginning to be redrawn. Soon, very soon, it would be time for Claudio Monteverdi to channel the Camerata's achievements into the new realm of opera; the actual point of crystallization was the performance of Orfeo in Mantua in 1607. In terms of its historical repercussions, the Camerata epoch can reasonably be compared to such critical watersheds as Vienna at the turn of the 19th century or New York in the 1950s; here, too, nothing would ever be the same again.

Letters from Girolamo Mei

That the practical aspects of the Camerata's activities - composition and performance - proved so fruitful may partly be attributed to the fact that these were informed by a large body of systematic speculative and theoretical work. During the 1570’s an animated discussion and exchange of ideas took place between Vincenzo Galilei, Giovanni de' Bardi and Girolamo Mei (1519-1594). The last was a philosopher, philologist, musical theorist and acknowledged expert on ancient Greek philosophy and music. Mei was largely instrumental in the Camerata's radical reappraisal of the musical world of classical antiquity and its relevance to the society's concerns. Peri's and Caccini's operas are thematically related to a series of important letters from Mei to Galilei, written between 1572 and 1581. Five of these letters have come down to us: the first, dated May 8, 1572, was circulated in copied form and subsequently printed in 1602. It is a carefully composed answer, covering twenty printed pages, to a series of questions on Greek music. Its ground-breaking thesis, based on written accounts of Greek tragedy, was that the music of classical antiquity was monodic and that its song styles were based on vocal recitative.

For Mei, ancient Greek music was a faithful reflection of nature; God gave voices to his creatures - above all to mankind - in order that they should give expression to their inner feelings, and in so doing "move the understanding" of the listener. Song should therefore strive to approximate the natural simplicity of the human voice and appeal to the individual emotions. Such, declared Mei, was the character of vocal music in ancient Greece - an ideal, exemplary condition.

Mei's ideas were a convenient confirmation of Galilei's own discoveries as a performing musician and composer. Earlier, he had opposed the powerful and influential Gioseffo Zarlino (1517-1590), the age's leading authority on the theory of ancient Greek music. The latter's works, in particular Le institutioni harmoniche (1558) and Dimostrationi Harmonichi (1571), informed by a specific interpretation of Greek music and tonal systems, had conferred legitimacy on contemporary polyphonic music. For Zarlino, music was counterpoint, mathematics and Platonic philosophy. For Galilei, music was above all a matter of listening; the composer should obey the dictates of the ear, not of theory. Mei's inquiries into the tonal systems of classical antiquity, backed by his reputation as a philologist and antiquary, gave Galilei the weapons he needed to engage Zarlino.

The notable aspect of this critical assault is its constant appeal to the past - to the Greeks of the ancient world. In a sense, Galilei's revolt against Zarlino may be seen as a fulfilment: it was Zarlino himself who had revived the ethical premises underlying ancient Greek music. But Galilei's conclusions were wholly at odds with Zarlino's and led to an entirely different aesthetic theory: for him, the sound of true feeling was monophonic and thus the locus of individual expression and of the individual's listening experience.

Giovanni Bardi’s Discorso to Giulio Caccini

With this in mind, let us now return to Giovanni Bardi's famous Discorso addressed to Giulio Caccini. We find that Bardi, too, is at pains to fortify his arguments by appeal to the ancient Greeks. Central to his thinking is the capacity of music to move the listener's emotions. Citing a number of striking examples, he reminds Caccini that the music of classical antiquity exercised a miraculously ennobling and curative effect on body and soul alike. Song, melody and rhythm were indissolubly linked with morality, ethos and emotions. The human soul and the harmonic world were mirrored in each other.

Bardi called for a return to this close affinity between music and individual feeling. He sought to revolutionize the vocal music of his time. The prevailing doctrines on counterpoint and polyphony were not authentic reflections of classical Greek science and must therefore be rejected. In Bardi's view, contemporary musical forms must be abandoned in favour of the classical scale system. All in the name of the poetic logos and its emotional impact on the listener.

Underlying this attempt to identify the new music developing within the Camerata with the philosophical values of classical antiquity was the conviction that the ancient Greeks had attained insights which were subsequently lost. By the Roman period, according to the Camerata's members, degeneration had already set in. A growing, increasingly impenetrable darkness had descended on Humanity, and only through the rediscovery of the knowledge it once possessed, but had tragically lost, could civilization arise anew. In this endeavour, music occupied a central position as one of the seven liberal arts that from the middle ages onwards constituted the formal branches of learning. One branch, the trivium, comprised the language-related subjects, grammar, rhetoric and dialectics (logic), while arithmetic, geometry astronomy and music made up the mathematical branch, the quadrivium. But what we now witness is the sensational displacement of music from the mathematical to the language-related sphere. Song, composition and the listening experience were regarded within the Camerata as belonging to the human, temporal, contingent domain as opposed to the realm of abstract, eternal, other-worldly - or for that matter, divine - phenomena.

This scrupulous, painstaking appeal to the ideas of classical antiquity can, however, blind us to the fact that the Camerata Fiorentina was actually breaking new ground. A crucial point of departure was the strong emphasis on music's emotional content - the 'new' finds expression in the liberation of the word, in the intimate message addressed by one individual to another. Thus the sung canzona and the human voice in the newly created art of opera become the repositories of true feeling.

For the composers and musicians of the new age, love was not an allegorical figure in a pastoral landscape but a pathway to human development and maturity. It is this attitude which I discern in Caccini's interpretation of Petrarch's Tutto'l dì piango. Caccini uses Petrarch's lament on the consuming torments of love to establish an intimate pact between the sung word and the individual listener. Across this new bridgehead, the poetry reaches out to "you" to your innate apprehension of love's meaning. At the moment of recognition, you become the instrument on which the composer is playing - manipulatively and candidly in equal measure.

From Giovanni Bardi: Discorso mandato a Giulio Caccini detto romano sopra la musica antica, e'l cantar bene (1578)

The tonoi of the ancients called by them harmoniai have been demonstrated so that you may understand what we discussed concerning them, namely, that they varied in several ways: through the difference in the [location of the] semitones in each octave; and through the intermediate, low, and high [pitch]; in addition to the other things that were said. For those great philosophers, connoisseurs of nature, understood that in the low voice resides the slow and the drowsy; in the intermediate, calm, majesty, and magnificence; and in the high, rapid blows to the ear and lamenting. Now who does not know that the inebriated and drowsy speak mostly in a low and slow tone; that men of big business converse in a median, magnificent, and calm voice; and those who are burdened by anger or great grief speak in a high and excited voice? On this point Aristotle at the end of the Politics says that in songs and rhythms are images of anger, gentleness, of strength, of temperance, and of every other moral quality, and of all things that are contrary to these. A little later he gives the reason for this: in melodies are the mutations of moral character [costumi ] because we do not remain in the same mood [modo ] as we listen to each of these. For, as we listen to some of them, we fall gloomy and restrained, as when [something] is sung in the Mixolydian; others we hear with mental abandon, as with deep [melodies], that is, in the low tonoi - the Hypophrygian and the Hypodorian; and we are in an intermediate and constant mood when we hear the Dorian. Concerning this Dorian music or mode [tuono ], if we want to call it that, - praised beyond measure by all the great wise men, and likewise by Aristotle - in another place, when speaking of the Dorian, he said that it had a virile, magnificent, and divine character, severe, honorable, modest, temperate, agreeable. Nor should we marvel at the things said by this great man, nor of other things accompanied by reason. What a miracle it is, then, if those divine ancient musicians, connossieurs of nature, harmonizing so many things, disposed the minds of others to move however they wished? May I be permitted at this point to adduce the example of fireworks that come from a bombarda or some other big piece, which destroy anything in front of them that they aim at. If they were to be ignited in a mine, not only a mountain but the entire globe of the earth would explode if it could penetrate to its center. Yet their ingredients - sulphur, niter and hazel - each by itself would have no effect whatever.

But let us return to the miracles of music, about which Damon, the teacher of Socrates, said that it had the power to dispose our souls to virtue, if it were honest [music], and vices, if it were the contrary. And Plato says that there are two kinds of discipline so that of the body being gymnastics, and that which is for the health of the soul being music, recounting that Thales of Miletus had such a sweet manner of singing that he not only moved the souls of others but cured infirmities and the plague. We read that Pythagoras cured alcoholics, and Empedocles the mad, and Xenocrates someone possessed of a devil. And Plutarch tells us that Asclepiades cured the delirious with a symphony (symphony being simply a mixture of song and instrumental sound), and it is told that Ismenias healed those afflicted with hip gout, sciatica, and fever with music. A[ulus] Gellius writes that those who were tormented by sciatic gout were medicated with the sound of aulos, and those who were bitten by the viper as well. But I would be going too far and beyond my proposed subject if I were to recite the praises that are owed to music and all its wonders, for my only purpose is to show as clearly as I can how one might treat its practice. […]

I say, then, that music as practiced today is divided into two parts. One is that called counterpoint ; the other we shall call the art of good singing . The first is simply composition of various melodies in several modes in low, high, and intermediate pitch, sung together at one time in various rhythms. I say of several melodies, be-cause, if, for example, a madrigal is composed of four voices, the bass will sing one melody, the tenor another, and the alto and soprano still others, all different from each other. That they would be of several modes, we have demonstrated already, namely, that in any piece of music of ours are found two species of octave. Of several rythms I say and, moreover, of low, intermediate, and high pitch at once, because while Mr. Bass, formally dressed in semibreves and minims, walks about in the ground-floor rooms of his palace, the soprano walks hurriedly with quick steps on the terrace, adorned with minims and semiminims, and Mr Tenor and the alto go around in the rooms of the intermediate floors with still other rates of movement and dressed otherwise. It would appear to be a mortal sin to the contrapuntists of today (let them be forgiven for the mixture of melodies and modes) if the parts were heard to move with the same notes, the same syllables of the verse, with long and short notes on the same beats at the same time; indeed, compositions are deemed by them to be better crafted the more the parts are made to move. This, in my opinion, derives from stringed instruments, in which, voices being absent, it suits the player when he plays something other than airs adapted to singing or to the dance to make the parts move, devising fugues, double counterpoints, or other inventions so as not to bore his listeners. This, I would say, is the sort of music disparaged by the philosophers, notably Aristotle in the Eight Book of the Politics , when he calles it artificial and not worth anything except for competing with other musicians, and not worthy of a free man, it being powerless to convert the soul of anyone to this or that moral character.

As Aristotle said elsewhere, he cannot be called a good musician who does not have the power to draw someone to the moral ethos. Since we are in such darkness, let us at least ingeniously strive to give a little light to our poor helpless music, which in its decline over so many centuries has not had a creator with any idea of finding a path other than that of counterpoint, which is an enemy of music, and this light cannot be brought to it except little by little, almost like a man afflicted by a very great illness, who must be given by small stages a little food that is easily digested and by this good nourishment led back to his former good health. The little food that will be given to music for now will be an endeavour not to spoil a verse, break it up into several bits in such a way that the words are not understood. While the soprano, for example, sings Voi ch´ascoltate in rime, the bass at the same time sings other words, thereby mixing one idea with another - a slaughter and death of our forsaken music. This is like a man who does not care that his rather large and noticeable slippers are showing when he wears a gown made of cloth that is too short, resulting in a poorly fitting garment. Apropos, the great philosophers, and specifically Plato, say that the singer must follow the verse of the poet, adjusting his voice like a good cook who adds to the food that he has seasoned well a little sauce or condiment to make it pleasing to his lord.

Thus when composing, you will strive above all to arrange the verse well and to make the words comprehensible, not letting yourself be led astray by counterpoint like a poor swimmer who lets himself be carried away by the current, not reaching the other side of the river as he intended. Keeping in mind that just as the soul is nobler than the body, so the text is nobler than the counterpoint, and just as the mind should rule the body, so the counterpoint should receive its rule from the text. Would it not seem to you comical if, while in the square, you saw a servant followed by and commanding his master, or a child giving instruction to his parent or teacher? The divine Cipriano de Rore toward the end of his life knew well what a very grave error this was in music. Therefore he dedicated all his energies to making the verse and the sound of the words intelligible in his madrigals, as is evident in that for five voices Poiche m´invita amore and an earlier one, Se ben il duolo. He did likewise in another madrigal, Di virtù, di costumi, di valore as well as in those for four voices published shortly before his death, which include Un altra volta la Germania stride and O sonno, o, della queta humida ombrosa Schietto arbuscello, and others, not done haphazardly, for that great man said in Venice that it was the true way to compose; and had he not been taken from us by death, he would have, in my opinion, brought this genre of music of several airs to such perfection that others would have been easily able to raise it to the true and perfect condition so much praised by the ancients.

But we have perhaps made too long a digression. Therefore we shall simply say that, besides not spoiling the text and the verse, it is appropiate that when someone wishes to set music to a madrigal, canzone, or other poem, he should first recall and consider whether the idea is magnificent or lamenting. If it is magnificent, you will take the Dorian Tonos, which begins on e la mi and has its median note (mese ) on A la mi re, giving the entire air to the tenor and revolving around the median note as much as you can, because, as we said elsewhere, grand and magnificent matters are spoken of in a pleasant and median voice. But if the idea is lamenting, you will choose the Mixolydian tonos, which begins on B mi and has its median note on E la mi, around which you will stay as much as possible, giving the soprano part the principal air. Likewise you will be guided by other ideas of the words, avoiding being out of tune with the nature of the slow, fast and intermediate. For example, if you had to set to music the song that begins Italia mia ch´il parlar sia ’ndarno, you would choose the Dorian mentioned above, giving the principal air to the tenor, hovering around the median (mese), adopting a rhythm, that is a long and short note that are not too slow or too fast, but that imitates the speech of a stately and solemn man, and since we have given a reason for this, you should seek the advice of others about it. […]

I would like you, from whom for various reasons a singular music should come, to adapt some beautiful air so that it can be played on a fitting instrument, an air whith a grand magnificent character, like that composed by the philosopher Memphis, to the sound of which, without speaking a word, by movements of his person, Socrates represented all the precepts of Pythagorean philosophy. I would add that, if the Moors and Spanish women can represent the most saucy and obscene attitudes, good and perfect musicians should be able to bring before us the contrary, namely, airs and dances full of majesty and continence, as we read concerning the insufficiently praised musician who for so many years kept Penelope steadfast and secure from the teasing of her admirers until the wise and prudent Ulysses returned to his homeland after so many long years of exile. […]

I would advise you, therefore, to fix forever in your memory what Aristotle says, that in rhythms are images of fortitude and the other things mentioned. Above all else your principal objective should be not to spoil the verse in singing by making a long syllable short, or a short one long, as is habitually done every time; and what is worse, it is done by those who consider themselves great men in this art, with such poor grace and style that any connoisseur of good poetry reacts with great pain and distress, something unworthy of our century, surely. It is so much more distressing when you find some who have the temerity to say that the words are not the principal thing in music. This is directly opposed to the good, right, honest and fitting. In my opinion these wretched fellows have fallen into such folly through the shameless flattery of illiterate common people, who are heedless - for such is their nature - of anything good and perfect. Aristotle, deliberating about this matter at the end of the Politics, says that this sort of people, importunate though they are, have the power to alter the character of music, that is, to induce a singer in order to humor these people to abandon praiseworthy and honorable music in pursuit of the blameworthy. You should have before your eyes above all the verse of the poet:

Seguite i pochi, e non la volgar gente(Follow the few and not the common people) […]

Take as a model those never sufficiently praised ladies of Ferrara, whom I have heard sing more than 330 madrigals by heart - something to wonder at - without ever spoiling even one syllable. Besides, it would behove you, if you want to garner supreme praise with your singing, to let the words be heard clearly, which is of sovereign importance for your purpose. For to do the contrary would be unbecoming to someone raised in Florence among noble and accomplished persons, where one learns good speech and excellent diction, unlike the many who do not understand how to pronounce "o" or other vowels, unaware of which are open and which closed, for in this resides the sweetness, clarity, and effectiveness of our speech. God gave us this special gift to employ to the end that our ideas may be understood.

I become nauseated when I recall some singers I have heard, whether solo or accompanied by others, improvising on a choir book, not caring if any of their words were understood. I remember, when I was in Rome in the year 1567, hearing of the reputation of a famous bass who was praised beyond measure. I went to hear him one day in the company of certain accomplished foreigners. He filled us with wonder - with wonder, I say - because there was never a man who had greater natural gifts than this one, for he could reach a large number of notes - all resonant and sweet - up high as much as in the deepest and middle ranges. But to return to our subject, he so spoiled nature with art that he broke the lines, indeed shattered them to pieces, making long syllables short and short ones long, putting runs on the short and stopping on the long, that listening to him was to witness a massacre of the unfortunate poetry. […]

Let us now speak of the difference that ought to be observed between solo and ensemble singing, so that we do not do as someone who in part-singing thinks of nothing but to have his own voice heard, as if those who are listening came just to hear his squealing. They do not realize or remember perhaps that singing well in ensemble is simply uniting one’s own voice well with others, making with them a single body. Besides, there are others who in their zeal to indulge in passaggi do not respect the beat; they break and strech the measure so much that they do not allow their companions to sing at all with good style. The singer should be cautioned to enter softly after rests and not, as some do, so noisily that you would think he was scolding you for some error you had commited. There are others who, not wanting to go into the lower parts when they are in upper range, sing with such a racket that they sound like auctioneers trying to sell pawned or stolen goods to the sound of the trumpet, resembling a snappish dog who is silent when roaming in other people’s neighborhoods but makes an outrageous uproar in his own mansion.

When singing alone or to the lute, harpsichord, or other instrument, one may contract or strech the measure at will, granted that it is up to the singer to lead the measure according to his judgment. To make divisions on a bass is contrary to nature, because this part contains (as we said) the slow and severe and drowsy too. But since it is costumary to do it, I do not know what to say of it - I dare not praise or blame it. I would give this advice: do this as little as you can, and when you must, show that you do it to indulge someone else, taking care never to pass from the tenor to the bass, since that magnificence which the tenor with his majesty impresses upon us, the bass takes away with his passaggi and gravity. Furthermore, it is necessary to sing on a pitch and insert correctly the whole tones and semitones and intone the notes accurately, eschewing the indecent manners some employ in reaching for weak notes. You will also search out only a few notes, revolving around the median of the tonos, which you will employ as often as possible, remembering that a human being reaches for only a few notes in speaking, and rarely, or perhaps never, talks in leaps, unless stirred by anger or other sudden passion. In this you will imitate the great musician Olympus, who in the many hundreds of songs that he gave the world never made the principal part span more than four tones.

I would add that the best thing a singer can do is to perform a song well and punctiliously, as it was composed by its creator. And do not do as some, who - and it is comical - from the beginning to the end so spoil a madrigal with their unhinged passaggi, thinking that they will thereby be considered clever, that even the com-poser does not recognize it as his offspring. The fine singer must, in addition, execute his songs with as much smoothness and sweetness as he can summon and not persist in certain opinions, such as that music ought to be sung boldly. A man of this mind would stand out among other singers like a plum among oranges, or as a man displaying with fierce countenance his coat of mail among urbane and well-bred people. Aristotle, speaking on this subject in the Politics, said that music, being seasoned with great sweetness, should be taught to youngsters. Plato told of Thales of Miletus healing infirmity with it, and Macrobius that the soul, when departing from the body, returns through the sweetness of music to its point of origin. […]

I would add, to end my discussion, that whenever someone finds himself in conversation with others, he should be gracious, well-bred, and courteous, yielding to the wishes of others rather than his own, and as often as others seek out his work, he should content them as well as he can, not imitating those who always grumble and when they do you a service do it in a scanty and reluctant way, which makes their actions a kind of death and a bother. Your manners, therefore, ought to be graceful and noble, always deferring to the wishes of others. And while singing you will strive to behave in a well-groomed way, so similar to your normal manner that people will be left wondering whether the sound issues from your lips or from someone else’s. You should not, as some, go into all kinds of vocalisings, tales of misfortunes, of catching a cold, of not sleeping well the night before, saying that their instrument is not good, and relating similar tiresome stories, which even before they start to sing cancels out your pleasure with so much intemperate hesitation.


Renaissance (vocal) polyphony is made up of overlying and interweaving layers of structurally equal and independent horizontal musical strands, organized in accordance with prescribed rules of part writing. Earlier works were often based on a cantus firmus, a more or less well-known melody that sometimes 'migrated' between the parts. Towards the latter part of the 16th century, however, two new ideas emerging from the humanistic discourse of the time gained prominence. One was that poetry, to be truly understood, should be sung with careful attention to its natural declamation in speech. The other was that song should provide a vehicle for individual emotional expression and response. As vocal polyphony could scarcely accommodate these aims, the need arose for a new musical style in which the various voices could be radically differentiated and allotted separate functions. The new form that ultimately emerged embodied an entirely new conception of 'polyphonic' music. The most important factor in its development was the Camerata fiorentina (see above), whose experiments in monodic structure were based on what they took to be the aesthetic principles governing classical Greek drama. It was believed that Greek tragedy owed its powerful impact on the audience to the fact that its texts were sung, either by a soloist or by a chorus singing in unison, with or without instrumental accompaniment also sounding in unison. The texts were clearly audible to the audience precisely because they were not disturbed by surrounding polyphony. The melodic phrasing was determined by the structure of the text, while their content determined the song's character - emotional agitation in the text should be matched by a rapid succession of high notes, etc.

In the monodic works for voice part and continuo accompaniment, the voice declaimed the poetic texts in an emotionally heightened recitativo style. The accompaniment, normally wholly subordinate in character, was played on a lute, guitar, harpsichord, organ or other instrument capable of sounding chords. This novel musical conception, with separate functions allotted to the upper line, chord accompaniment and base line proved decisive for the development of all baroque music, vocal and instrumental. The bass part was sometimes reduced to a simple basso continuo or thoroughbass, to re-emerge on occasion as the most important part in the form of a basso ostinato, a short repeated bass pattern above which melodic variations could occur. A piece in this style was known as a passacaglia or chaconne.

Though some solo song styles, such as the Italian frottola and Spanish and French lute songs did develop during the 16th century, all other music was essentially polyphonic in structure, conceived as horizontal melodic lines.

It was the Camerata's experiments with monodic forms that served as a catalyst for a movement that would ultimately sweep away the older polyphonic style. Other important cities which contributed to the spread of the new ideas were Rome and Venice. On this CD we can hear something of the variety of forms given to Le nuove musiche by some of the period's most notable composers.


Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583 -1643) was the most influential keyboard player and composer of his time. He was a crucial figure in the development of instrumental forms such as the toccata, ricercar and canzona, which would long serve as models for other composers. Even J. S. Bach copied and studied his compositions. Frescobaldi was employed as an organist and court composer at several courts in Rome and also served intermittently as organist at St Peter's. In 1628, Ferdinando II de Medici, learning of his renown, called him to Florence. The invitation was part of a valiant attempt to restore Florence to its former state as a leading city in music and the arts. The publication of his Arie musicali in 1630, which harked back to Caccini and the 1590s-monodic style of the Camerata fiorentina, may perhaps be seen as an expression - whether at his own or his employer's instigation - of that endeavour. His many compositions included variations on highly popular standard base lines; these were variously termed romanesca, ruggiero or passacaglia. Frescobaldi's vocal music remains far less explored than his instrumental works. The poets whose texts he set to music are not known to us.

Sigismondo d'India (?1582 -1629), known as the "nobleman from Palermo" was employed as a singer and Kapellmeister at the court in Turin. Although he has left no instrumental music or operas, he composed numerous songs in all the styles of the period, including strophic arias, strophic variations on ostinato basses, madrigals and laments. Though he initially published madrigals in the earlier polyphonic style, he was already engaged in the study of the new monodic forms. The results of his studies were set out in the preface to the first volume of Le musiche da cantar solo (1609). He concluded that a composer's task was to interpret the texts as effectively as possible. Like so many others, d'India's texts, which he often wrote himself, were about ill-fated love and forsaken lovers. The anguished outbursts and sighs of the abandoned lover were effectively depicted by the use of gliding semitones in the voice part as well as the continuo and bass line. As a result, d'India's compositions are marked by highly expressive chromaticism and unusual harmonic progressions for that time.

Johann Hieronymous Kapsberger (1580 -1651), composer and lutenist/theorbo player of German origin, grew up and was professionally active in Italy, where he went under the soubriquet "Il Tedesco della Tiorba". He himself italianized his Christian names to Giovanni Girolamo. He was the most renowned lute and theorbo (chittarone) virtuoso of his day. In 1605, he moved from Venice to Rome, where he was subsequently taken up by the Barberini family, whose most prominent member was Pope Urban VIII. Kapsberger became a celebrated composer in Rome and composed works in all the prevailing styles, from dainty villanella pieces to large-scale masses employing multiple choirs. He is best remembered for his important contributions, both as performer and composer, to the development of lute music. His pieces, short and of extreme virtuosity, include toccatas, partitas and dances for lute and theorbo. That the same basso ostinato for Kapsberger's passacaglia variations was used by Frescobaldi in one of his arias, (compare tracks 18 and 19) is one of several indications that the two composers knew each other in Rome and perhaps even performed together. Kapsberger's vocal music has been little studied but is said to be of uneven quality. The articulation of his virtuoso songs, with long, winding passages composed of numerous short notes, clearly bears the stamp of his instrumental style. He composed the only song on this CD that is not about unhappy love, the cradle song Figlio dormi.

Giulio Caccini (1545 -1618), singer, highly renowned for his beautiful voice, composer, singing teacher, instrumentalist - and gardener. In the 1580s, he took part in the activities of the informal academy known as the Camerata fiorentina, which held meetings in Count Bardi's home in Florence. Influenced by the Camerata's humanistic ideals, and in particular by its attempt to revive ancient Greek drama, he evolved a wholly new style of singing which approached the naturalness of speech - hence its name, stile recitativo. This style, graphically described as "speaking in musical tones", formed the basis for the Camerata's experiments in monodic form and opera. Caccini himself published a monodic opera, Euridice, in 1600. He is best known for his pioneering work, Le nuove musiche, a volume of solo songs with continuo accompaniment, published in 1602. The now famous preface provides a great deal of information about the new style, in which, as he explains, the instrumental parts were no longer composed polyphonically but takes the form of chordal accompaniment. Moreover, it tolerated certain melodic movements, dissonances and intervals that were forbidden in classical polyphony. Applied with a "measure of noble restraint", these could be used to heighten the expressiveness of the text. On the whole, Caccini's songs were more lyrical than dramatic.

Bellerofonte Castaldi (1580 -1649), composer, theorbo player, guitarist, poet, musical engraver and adventurer, was one of the most colourful musicians of his day. He toured a great deal, owned a large collection of instruments and curios and served several spells in prison for his defamatory writings. This and more we know from his autobiography, which he set down in verse. Better known in his lifetime as a poet than a composer, he nevertheless published two volumes of theorbo music, engraved by himself, gracing the pieces with fantastical titles like The Hermaphrodite and The Perfidious One. Other innovations included his insistence on the use of a tenor clef instead of the usual alto clef on the grounds that it was absurd for a man to sing to - or, indeed of - his loved one in falsetto or in a woman's voice; that all the stanzas of a strophic song should be printed between the staves; and that the pages should not be disfigured by "pedantry" such as alfabet tablature systems for the guitar. Apart from theorbo music, he composed vocal music to his own texts. He also wrote for the theorbino, a small theorbo.

Dario Castello (?1600 - ?), composer and wind player. The only biographical details we have are those which appear on the flyleaf of two printed collections of his music dating from the 1620s. We learn that he was the leader of a wind band in Venice. The two collections contain 29 works, entitled sonatas. These usually comprised between seven and nine sections and featured frequent changes of tempo. The pieces are in two to four parts; some have an additional, often difficult, concertante part for bassoon. The upper parts, written for violin, flute or cornetto, are of great virtuosity. This is the first recording in which Castaldi's music is played on a treble viol.

Bodil Asketorp

Translation by Stuart Sheild