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Orazio Vecchi (1550-1605)
Orazio Vecchi spent much of his career in his native Modena, while enjoying a much wider reputation, notably as a composer of secular music. Of this his madrigal comedy L'Amfiparnaso remains the best known example. Vecchi's early education was under the Benedictines of San Pietro in Modena and he was ordained priest, serving from 1581 as maestro di cappella at the cathedral of Salo and from 1584 at Modena Cathedral. Two years later he assumed a similar but better rewarded position at Reggio Emilia and then as a canon at Correggio Cathedral. He returned to his former position at Modena in 1593 and by 1598 had been appointed maestro di corte to Duke Cesare d'Este. A later invitation to serve as maestro di corte to the Emperor Rudolph II was refused on the grounds of ill-health and Vecchi died in Modena in 1605, at a time when he was enjoying some material success.
Vecchi was associated at various times with other leading composers of the time. In 1579 he contributed to a celebratory collection, Trionfo di Musica, for the marriage of the Grand Duke Francesco, with Merulo and Andrea Gabrieli, and published the first of his own sets of Canzonette in 1580. His madrigal-comedy L'Amfiparnaso was first performed in 1594 and published in 1597. The text was the work of the Bologna poet Giulio Cesare Croce and is presented in a series of madrigal scenes. These offer a narrative that involves characters from the commedia dell'arte, the old man Pantalone, the ridiculous bumbling Doctor Graziano from Bologna, the bragging spaniard Capitan Cardone, the courtesan Hortensia, the comic servants, the chorus of Jews, and the more serious characters of the young lovers Lucio and Isabella, shepherd and shepherdess. The twin peaks of Mount Pamassus signified in the title are those of music and comic poetry, the first in a technically accomplished polyphonic style more naturally associated with relatively serious subjects and the latter in a style derived from the poet Francesco Berni, in contrast to the pure and elevated style of Petrarch. The madrigals that make up the juxtaposed scenes in a structure that leaves dramatic coherence to the listener are scored for five voices, with the exception of Doctor Graziano' s four-part serenade, a parody of a madrigal by Cipriano da Rore. Within the five-voice texture a contrasting group of three voices is used. The result is distinct from anything like opera, in which there was contemporary experiment. L'Amfiparnaso is for the listener rather than the spectator.
Each of the scenes is preceded by a three-line summary of the narrative. The Prologue urges the audience to listen rather than look and to imagine in the mind the events to be related. In the first scene Pantalone calls for his servant Pedrolino, who mocks his master's wooing. He tells Pantalone that Hortensia will have none of him, a conclusion Pantalone has confirmed when he calls up to her from the street only to be rejected, with the onomatopoeic suggestion of a chamber-pot emptied on his head. In the second scene Lelio wonders what. is intended by Nisa's gift to him of a narcissus, remembering the fate of Narcissus, who died in love with his own reflection. Pantalone, in the third scene, promises his daughter to Doctor Graziano, who is as confused in his speech as in his mind.
The second act starts with a scene in which the young lover Lucio is jealous of Isabella' s love for the boasting Spanish Captain Cardon. The captain appears in the second scene, speaking a form of comic Spanish and abusing his servant, Zanni, calling him Zanico, which has the Venetian connotation of stomach-ache. Zanni answers in the popular Venetian porter's Bergamo dialect. The third scene finds Isabella pretending love for the captain. As she reveals in the following scene, she is really in love with Lucio and remains faithful to him. She threatens to kill herself, but is prevented from doing so in the fifth scene of the act by Lucio's servant Frulla, who tells her that Lucio has been prevented from a similar action.
In the third act the marriage contract between Doctor Gratiano and Pantalone's daughter has been duly signed. Pantalone, in a comic scene with his servant Francatrippa, prepares a wedding feast. Gratiano in the second scene sings a serenade to his betrothed, a comic parody of a famous madrigal by Cipriano da Rore, Ancor che col partire, with an opening pun on 'parting' and 'parturition', and continues in the same vein -'la vita ch'acquisto' (the life regained) becomes 'l'acqua vita', (brandy), 'dolci gli ritorni (the sweet returns) become 'dolci i Storni (sweet starlings). The third scene finds Francatrippa trying to pawn his porter's strap with the Jews, who will have no business with him on the Sabbath. In contrast the fourth scene brings Isabella and Lucio together, promising now to be true to each other. The comedy ends in general happiness, as the chief characters of the story come to the wedding of Isabella and Lucio, each offering a suitable or unsuitable present, his great-grandfather's gloves from Pantalone, a faithful little dog from Nisa, money from Cardon, a radish, symbol of a fool, from Pedrolino and a pair of spectacles without glass from Gratiano.