THE ITALIAN DRAMATIC LAMENT
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The Italian Dramatic Lament
Seventeenth-century Italians reflected upon theextravagances of their day and were shamed andhumbled. They reacted to this by focusing on the darkand depressing. Italian art of the seventeenth centuryoften dwelt on the excessively grotesque, such as theblood of saints, and dark colours abounded. Musicaimed at the dramatic representation of powerful andwide-ranging emotions, not only the beauty of the roseof love, but also its thorns.
The lament was a popular genre in Italian poetry andsong. It was thought to have originated in ancient Greeceand later ancient Rome. It was Aristotle's theory ofcatharsis (the purification of the emotions through art,suggesting that the emotions could be purified throughthe excitement of pity and fear) that inspiredseventeenth-century composers. This idea of catharsispricked the curiosity of musical revolutionaries. Thelament would move a listener to pity, and would affectthe humour of melancholy, one of the four psychologicalstates of ancient and later medical theory. The subjectmatter was usually about a woman bemoaning hersituation and ill-fated love. It was popular to portray amadwoman in song, where experimental harmoniescould highlight the meaning and passion of the poetry.
The popular Lament of Arianna by Claudio Monteverdimoved its original audience to tears. One witness to itsoriginal performance commented that the lament \wasacted with much emotion and in so piteous a way that noone hearing it was left unmoved, nor among the ladieswas there one who did not shed a few tears at herplainte."The r??le of the woman in seventeenth-century Italychanged somewhat. Whereas in the sixteenth century itwas expected that a noblewoman know how to play aninstrument fitting for a lady and be able to sing, she wasnot to do this in front of others, either professionally oras entertainment. In the sixteenth century it wascommon for nuns or women born into professionalmusical families to perform music. In the next century itwas more acceptable for women to perform musicprofessionally and even compose, although it wasunusual for this music to be published. Barbara Strozzi(1619-1664) was one such woman. She was born inVenice, the illegitimate daughter of Giulio Strozzi, whowas a dramatist, librettist, and poet, working with greatcomposers such as Monteverdi and Cavalli. He hadforward-thinking attitudes toward women and their r??lein society. It was probably under his influence thatBarbara Strozzi bravely pursued her love of music. It issaid that her song Lagrime mie (My Tears) was writtenas a result of a discussion in which she took part in theAccademia degli Unisoni, a group of intellectualthinkers of which she was a member. In this discussion,a question was put as to whether tears or song couldbetter express emotion. After performing her song in ameeting, she said: I do not question your decision,gentlemen, in favour of song; for I know very well that Iwould not have received the honour of your presencetonight had I invited you to see me cry and not hear mesing.
The composer and singer Jacopo Peri (1561-1633)was referred to as "il zazzerino" for his long reddishblondehair. He was a famous singer in his day, knownfor moving his audience through his powerfully emotivemusical performances, and he enjoyed the status ofbeing something of a sex symbol. Peri wrote the musicto what is now thought of as the first opera, La Dafne.
He was born in Rome but grew up in Florence andworked for the Medici family. Peri is thought to havebeen involved in several intellectual societies (especiallythe Florentine Camerata) that espoused the ideals of anew type of music purporting to recreate a dramaticstyle of music from ancient Greece. The FlorentineCamerata felt that the music common in their time hadso much counterpoint (simultaneous melodic lines) thatthe text was obscured. Whereas the old music wasensemble music (such as the madrigal) with four or fivevoices, the new music favoured the solo voice withaccompaniment. This new style (recitativo), acombination of speech and song, was thought of asbegotten from the rhetorical tradition of ancient Greece.
Composers and publishers made profit by selling tolarge numbers of male and female amateur musiciansthis new music for solo voice. As with every age,musical change was not embraced by all. The musiccritic Artusi, who felt that this style of music waseffeminate and inferior, compared it to a painted whore.
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was widelyconsidered the best musician in Italy in the earlyseventeenth century. He worked for the Gonzaga familyin Mantua and eventually left for employment in Venice.
According to his brother, Giulio Cesare Monteverdi,Claudio made the words of his music the mistress("padrona") of harmony and not the servant ("serva").
Today he is one of the most popular composers of theearly Baroque era and is fondly remembered for hiscontributions to the opera repertory, especially Orfeoand L'incoronazione di Poppea.
The composer Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) wastrained in the church, as were most musicians of his day,and he worked for the Medici family. Caccini is creditedwith developing the new stile recitativo and wasinstrumental in the development of opera.
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c.1580-1651) wasknown as "il Tedesco della Tiorba" (the German of theTheorbo). Although his parents were of Germandescent, he was born in Venice and later moved toRome. In 1626 the theorist Doni said that Kapsbergerwas the "finest master of the theorbo in Rome", althoughDoni later fell out with Kapsberger and wrote ill of him.
Kapsberger wrote demanding music and was a pioneerin developing new musical devices for the theorbo,including strascini (long slurred passages), campanellas(little bells), cross-strung harp effects, and more. Kircherwrote of Kapsberger: "The noble musician HieronymusKapsberger Germanus, author of innumerable writingsand distinguished musical publications, with his superbgenius and other scientific skills in which he was expert,successfully penetrated the secrets of music".
The music in the present programme is played in acreative and improvisatory manner that is surprisinglysimilar to jazz. The composer provides the material forthe solo voices, and only a skeletal bass line for theaccompanying instruments. The accompanists, playinginstruments such as the theorbo, harp, lirone, and organ,are expected to know how to play the correct chordsaccording to certain theoretical rules of harmony. Thispractice, called basso continuo or simply continuo, wasa very common way of playing music in the Baroqueperiod.Annalisa Pappano