The Camerata

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La Voce Umana
The Camerata
In Memoriam
Su "L' Alternato"

the  camerata  fiorentina

Giulio CACCINI and Jacopo PERI

«... And thus they (Peri and Caccini) came to be known as the first singers and inventors of this manner of composing and of singing...» (Letter from Pietro Bardi to G.B. Doni in Florence on December 16th 1634)

This was the period, at the end of the 16th century, when the poet Ottavio Rinuccini, going out for the morning, might have told his housekeeper : «I shall be dropping in on Jacopo Corsi, Peri, Giovanni Bardi and Giulio Caccini. Get a good piece of roast ready, and a good bottle of Artimino. We'll have lunch at half-past twelve!».

Rinuccini, indeed, lived in the Santa Croce district of Florence, hard by the Bardi and Corsi families, while Caccini lodged near the SS. Annunziata, and Peri, probably, in Pitti.

I referred to that good Artimino wine, having found special mention of it in the famous dithyramb Bacco in Toscana (Bacchus in Tuscany) by Francesco Redi (1626-1698), who was retained as doctor and poet by the Medicis : «ma di quel che sì puretto/si vendemmia in Artimino/vo' trincarne più d'un tino»(«but of that wine so pure/ that they make in Artimino/I want to guzzle a vat»). But there is also a passage from Carlo Roberto Dati (17th century manuscript): «...The residence of Jacopo Corsi, a Florentine gentleman, had ever open doors, like some public Academy, for those with a taste for the fine arts. It was frequented by the gentry, and by a notable assembly of writers, poets and musicians among whom we find above all Tasso, Chiabrera, Marino, Monteverdi, Muzio Efrem and a thousand of their consorts...... and there it was,on the initiative of Ottavio Rinuccini, a celebrated poet, and of Jacopo Peri, a master in the art of harmony, that there came into being a style of recitative destined for the stage, and here it was, also, that «Dafne» was recited on May lst.»

Of great interest, too, is Filippo Vitali's preface to his Aretusa, 1620), in which he states :«... This manner of singing can rightly be called novel, for it was born not so long ago in Florence as the noble brainhild of Sig. Ottavio Rinuccini. He, being especially favoured by the Muses, and endowed with a unique talent in the expression of the emotions, wished to use song to increase the power of his poems and yet not allow the song to diminish this power. And trying, with Sig. Jacopo Corsi (...) a great connoisseur of music, to see what could be done to ensure not only that the music does not prevent one from catching the words, but more, that it helps bring out more clearly their meaning and their representative intent, he asked Sig. Jacopo Peri and Sig. Giulio Caccini, excellent masters in the art of song and counterpoint, to come to his aid. They debated to such good effect that they became convinced they had found the way to bring it off -and they were not mistaken...»

This is just a first glimpse of the documentation I shall quote concerning this manner of singing, where parlar cantando gives a quite different end effect from cantar parlando. It enables us to measure once more the immense distance separating the «Dafne», «Euridice» or «Orfeo» of a Da Gagliano, a Peri, a Caccini or a Monteverdi, from the melodramas of the 18th century and the so-called lyric operas of the 19th, and thus to give back to the Florentines and to Monteverdi the place their works have earned for them in the Olympian heights of the poetic and musical arts.

In sketching these few illustrations my intention is to give above all some idea of that enormously cultivated society which, held in high esteem throughout Europe, set the tone for its art and its learning. The Camerata Fiorentina, or, to be more precise, the Camerata de Giovanni Bardi des Contes de Vernio is the remarkable outcome of humanistic research into the Art of Music as defined by Plato, and it was the Bardi, the Corsi and the Medicis who helped carry this research through to a successful conclusion. Let us not forget that these families wielded their great powers in the service of culture and the arts, and that it was moreover none other than the Peruzzis and the Bardis, Florentine bankers, who were able to lend the English king Edward III (1327-1397) the imposing sum of 900.000 gold florins!

But let us return to the stile rappresentativo and our documents which, while being perfectly well known - at least to historians of music -have been too often unaccountably passed over.

The stile or genere rappresentativo can be viewed in two ways. It can denote sung recitation intended for the stage : it can also denote sung recitation which depicts the affetti, or human emotions quite outside the theatrical context. It is the latter meaning which interests us here.

Monteverdi eloquently expresses these two possibilities in his Combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda (1638) ; «Combattimento in Musica di Tancredi et Clorinda, descritto del Tasso ; il quale vo-lendosi esser fatto in genere rappresentativo...»(« Combattimento... described by Tasso, the which may be per formed in the representative style...») He accordingly states that the «Combattimento».. as described by Tasso can be rendered with no stage business at all, be it movement or gesture.

We must then consider this representation of the affetti which can be dramatic or descriptive : in both cases we have the same sung recitation, and in both cases we have Monteverdi's warning words and clear recommandation «to use no vocal ornamentation («non dovera far gorghe ne trilli...») except in the stanza beginning «Notte»...», while for the rest «the pronunciation should bear a true relation («si-militudine») to the emotions contained in the speech.» This is a theme, common to high poetic art and oratory, which brings us back to Plato and the «cantus obscurior» of Cicero, and which is fundamental to the parlar cantando of Monteverdi and the stile rappresentativo of the Florentine Camerata de Giovanni Bardi.

Giulio Caccini, in the preface to his own Euridice (1600) gives us some precise details as to the nature of the stile rappresentativo which is above all the outward expression of the emotions (independent of possible stage effects) through the evocative sounds of speech That is to say, the capture of the «melody» stipulated by Plato and named by Monteverdi the Seconda pratica (His letter of 22nd October 1633-toG.B.Doni(?)).

I would particularly underline Caccini's further words, addressed to Giovanni Bardi : - «Having set to music, in the representative style the drama of Euridice, I felt in duty bound to dedicate it to yourself.

You will recognize in it the style which I adopted many years ago for the eclogue by Sanazzaro «Iten' al’hombra de gli ameni faggi», and in some of my other madrigals of that period : «Perfidissimo volto», «Vedrò ’l mio sol», «Dovrò dunque morire» etc. It is, as you said at the time of your «Camerata» in Florence, the selfsame manner used by the ancient Greeks for their tragedies and other dramatic scenes in song. And in using this manner I have allowed a certain «sprezzatura» (a certain play in the timing to give, as I consider it, a heightening effect) so as to come as close as possible to natural speech». The meaningful parallel thus drawn between Euridice (a dramatic poem) and the madrigals is of great importance where the style of performance is concerned. Caccini published the aforesaid madrigals in 1601, and we have included two of them in the present recordings the Camerata Fiorentina.

Now let us turn to the words of Jacopo Peri in the preface to his «Le Musiche di Jacopo Peri... Sopra l'Euridice del Sig. Ottavio Rinuccini», published in 1600 and dedicated to Maria Medici, queen of France and Navarre : «...I thought it useful to tell (the readers) the reasons which led me back to this new manner of singing»...

There is, I believe, an interesting cultural and technical link to be established between this «... led me back...» of Peri's and the «stile» and «seconda pratica» of Caccini and Monteverdi respectively. We know that Monteverdi stayed at Jacopo Corsi's house in Florence and also that he names Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini as exponents of the «seconda pratica» (Dichiarazione della Lettera, published as preface to the Scherzi Musicali in 1607).

Peri continues : «Sig. Jacopo Corsi and Ottavio Rinuccini invited me (as early as 1594) to use a different technique and put to music the dramatic episode «Dafne» which Sig. Ottavio had composed, simply to prove what singing could be in our day and age».

To really understand the spirit of inquiry which motivated Peri, Corsi and Rinuccini, one should take good note of the following passage from Peri's preface : «Benché del Sig. Emilio del Cavaliere, prima che da ogni altro, ch 'io sappia, con maravigliosa invenzione ci fusse fatta udire la nostra Musica su le scene ; Piacque nondimeno a’ Sig. Jacopo Corsi et Ottavio Rinuccini...» («Although Sig .Emilio del Cavaliere(...) had given us a marvellously ingenious rendering of our music on stage, Sig. Jacopo Corsi and Sig. Ottavio Rinuccini nevertheless invited me to put the dramatic episode «Dafne» to music in a different way».

 There have always been works of art linking words and music, and of course the period under consideration here gave us countless examples of a wide range of shows or spectacles of this sort. But it is precisely the musicians of Florence, gravitating around Corsi and Bardi, who propounded the return to a manner of singing which should draw on the expressive depths of feeling speech rather than create a melodic line to bring out the meaning of the words. (The latter tending to serve as a pretext for wildly fanciful musical excursions completely at odds with the concept of the recitative given almost «recto tono» and rigorously independent of any stage effect...)

Their aim was, through the thorough analysis of the values of the different vowels and consonants and syllabic structures, to find the underlying emotional resonance of poetic speech so that the singing voice becomes a modulation of the speaking voice, to attain the «cantus obscurior» the innermost and most secret form of verbal expression. This is certainly not the melodramatic song of the 18th century or of 19th century opera much less melody as we understand it today. There is further food for thought in Peri's following observations :

«...Seeing that I was dealing with dramatic poetry where song must wed speech (and no man has ever spoken a song) I reflected that the ancient Greeks and Romans (who, it is commonly held, sang whole tragedies on stage) must have followed a harmonic line which went beyond that of normal speech, but stayed sufficiently clear of a melodic line as to constitute an intermediate form of its own. Thus we find in their poems those iambics which, if they do not soar like hexameters, nevertheless outstrip the run of normal conversation. That is why, leaving aside all the styles of song in use hitherto, I have endeavoured to find out what desirable adaptation could be made from these poems. It seemed to me that the sort of voice that the Ancients used for their songs (and which they called «diastematic» - almost restrained, or suspended) could be partly accelerated and attuned to the sustained, slow sounds of song as well as to the quicker, livelier ones of speech. I could handle it to my advantage (like the Ancients when they read their poems and their heroic verses) by moving closer to the voice used for exposition (which they called continual). Clearly, we are back at the «sprezzatura» of Giulio Caccini.

It is perhaps worthwhile to draw the reader's attention to a vital passage in Peri's development of the theme : «No man has ever spoken a song» may at first reading seem in contradiction with the parlar cantando stipulated by Monteverdi. It is, on the contrary, corollary to it, for while Jacopo Peri holds that it is impossible to expound (speech) when the exposition is obliged to follow the contours of musical form (song), Monteverdi, for his part, wants the harmony of the song to spring from the spoken word. Monteverdi's opposition to what he calls cantar parlando is matched by Peri's refusal of a certain style of singing over makeweight words.

Jacopo Peri («0ur latter-day Orpheus» as his contemporaries called him) gives an account of his personal research into the harmony to be derived from the play between musical chords and modulations and normally accentuated speech. It is very interesting, but it would be a digression to deal with it here. It is certainly more useful to refer to other documents which are no doubt needed by those who wish to get a good grasp of the aesthetic ambience which permeates the works of the whole Camerata Fiorentina. This will also enable us to touch upon questions of harmony in the setting-up of the «continuo», bearing in mind that ideally the verbal expression should never suffer for the sake of overloaded counterpoint. Here again, in the preface to his «Nuove Musiche» (1601), Caccini states that he «... only used counterpoint to bind the two parts (the song and the «continuo») together, and to avoid certain obvious defects...» As for the continue, Caccini again leaves us the very useful note which follows : «I conceived the idea of a sort of music which enabled me practically to speak in harmony, allowing myself a certain studied negligence in the manner of singing and even certain dissonances. In this case I took the bass line, unless I was already using it in the normal way, the middle range, taken by the instrument, being kept specifically to express one emotion or another.»

One can readily see from this the incongruities of style and harmony to which are imperceptibly misled so many singers and accompanists who think to display their talents in counterpoint. They forget that simplicity does not imply indigence, and end up by grossly misrepresenting the author and his manner of expression.

Our main problem is thus in the interpretation of this music, and it is fascinating to try and solve it. What aesthetic concepts and what performing techniques are involved ? We shall see, and hear, in the passages which we offer to those who read these lines or listen to the records they accompany, for this is the first collection made in accordance with the directions and the guidance of the theorists and performers who in their lifetime took part in the flowering of the arts in the Camerata Fiorentina.

In bringing together a few brief passages from among the mass of letters and other accounts of events and spectacles from that distant period when art and culture played a leading role, I reach far back to quote a letter (dated about 1488) from Poliziano to Pico della Mirandola. Speaking of the singer Fabio Orsini he writes : «He then rendered a song in heroic vein, a hardly finished composition of his own in honour of our Piero de’ Medici... his voice was not quite that of someone reading, nor yet clearly that of a singer. It was plain or modulated, varying with the demands of the passage, fluctuating or steady, exalted or restrained, calm, vehement or passionate ; always true, clear and pleasing to the ear...» (What a model for singers!) Still in the 16th century, Vincenzo Calmeta (Prose e lettere edite ed inedite collected by Cecilia Grayson, Bologna 1959) gives the following advice : «... in the manner of singing, the rhymes should be accompanied by a music free from tension or harshness, so as to let the listener seize as well as possible the wit and wisdom of the words. Thus one shows good sense similar to that of a clever jeweller who, wishing to display a pearl of purest water, will take good care not to wrap it up in a cloth of gold, but will rather place it against a black cloth so that it may shine at its best(...) Particularly praiseworthy are those who render the words well as they sing, so that the music accompanies the words as servants do their masters... putting the music at the behest of the intelligence and the passions expressed in the words, and not the other way round...» (We are back to Book III of Plato's Republic.). This highlights the value of the contribution made, in terms of research and practical achievement, by the Camerata Fiorentina that select circle of poets, men of letters, artistes and men of science, to encourage a return to the musical aesthetics of classical antiquity.

It is interesting to point out certain documents which help us to realize the general atmosphere which gave rise to those major artistic events of the Renaissance which left their vigorous mark on the noble courts of Italy and Europe (see Angelo Grillo's letter from Venice in 1608, addressed to Giulio Caccini). The resulting spirit of healthy competition led to a considerable output of artistic works which enable us to take stock of the state of culture at that time. It is difficult to imagine how this rich vein could peter out, leaving nothing behind but a vain striving for effect, lacking any acceptable cultural quality. This is all the stranger in that the great Intermedi of 1589 are there to demonstrate how any spectacle can be enlivened and ennobled by great art on stage, in music and in poetry.

Let us consider for example, the great festivities which took place during the Carnival of 1612 in the court of Tuscany. Ottavio Rinuccini had composed Comparsa d'Eroi Celesti, in the course of which, splendidly staged with the help of an ingenious arrangement of moving spheres, Jupiter followed his course surrounded by his four celestial satellites, discovered by Galileo Galilei and christened «Stelle Medicee». One need hardly recall that Galileo was the son of that Vincenzo Galilei who, in the Bardi residence, had recited (with vocal modulation). Canto of Dante's Inferno (the tale of Count Ugolino). This, to an accompaniment of violas, in order to illustrate his theories about music for solo voice, which he considered should be linked to the expression of human passions, Vincenzo Galilei was, we know, a leading theorist in Giovanni Bardi's circle.

This huge spectacle Comparsa d'Eroi Celesti, like the Intermedi, included musical pieces, symphonies, choirs and solo singers. One must avoid any confusion between this and the «Fabula rappresentata in musica» (a dramatic episode played to music) such as Euridice or Orfeo. The presence of music and text in both cases has misled many historians, and because words and music are similarly present in these twin streams of staged musical productions, historians of music came to think, (about the middle of the 19th century) that they could give melodrama and opera a prestigious pedigree, at a time when these two forms were catering more and more the tastes of a society seeking a new cultural identity.

Thus misguided by their exclusive consideration of the component parts (the book and the score) instead of the artistic whole, they felt free to draw edifying comparisons between melodrama and, later, opera on the one hand, and poetic and musical creations of the 16th and 17th centuries on the other. The outcome of all this was, firstly, that Euridice, Dafne, Orfeo and such like were taken as the prototypes of a form of lyric opera in fieri, and secondly-with more serious and dangerous consequences - singers were encouraged to misconceive the notion of sung poetic recitation, and simply to sing everything to the musical tempi mastered to a greater or leaser extent in the various schools of music.

The reaction came late and, alas, from singers lacking the indispensable training in the history and theory of music, and in suitable performing techniques. For want of any sound knowledge in the field, they invented a style, a sound and a technique which have no basis in the writings of the period concerned, adding moreover a startling wealth of baroque-style ornamentation which is enough to take the bloom off arias and themes which are in themselves superb.

It having been decreed that everything - including «la cena è pronta» («Soup is served») - should be sung with plenty of voice, and having thus conveniently eliminated the art of the «passaggi», it now remained, on the basis of some non-existent aesthetic concept, to concoct a special range of sounds. These (very) special sounds were almost always the result of the combination of somewhat precarious vocal skills with a profound ignorance of singing technique.

As for the pronunciation, which is of the essence in seconda pratica, let us not dwell on the indignities it has endured.

But (to be brief) we appear to be avoiding the disaster which was looming ahead. As always, the truth is beginning to come out through a closer reading and deeper analysis of the texts which have come down to us - even if Brunelleschi's «Palazzo Bardi» in Florence proudly carries an inscription (dating from the 20th century) celebrating the birth of melodrama in that rallying -point of the Camerata Fiorentina - even if there is carved on the tomb of Jacopo Peri, in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, an inscription dating from this century which calls him (I would rather say miscalls him) the father of opera, and thus encourages singers to persist in their errors - even if, finally, people will insist on naming Monteverdi «the creator of modern music», in obvious ignorance of the words which he himself wrote in a letter dated October 22nd 1633 : «Melodia, overo seconda pratica musicale. Seconda (intendendo io) considerata in ordine alla moderna, prima in ordine all'antica» («Melody, the second mode of practice. Second, I mean, when considering modern music, but the first where ancient music is concerned..) These few remarks are not inspired by any taste for controversy on my part, but by the fact that placing works in incorrect historical and aesthetical settings leads to serious deformations in their interpretation and their performance.

To get back to Florence, and Peri and Caccini, who are the subject-matter of our recordings ; there are in their works (quite apart from any problems of staging) certain aspects which can be easily misinterpreted as calling for a «melodification» (in modern terms) which obscure their expressive depth and beauty, I wish therefore to set down in conclusion to this presentation a few lines which strike me as being particularly rewarding. The first are taken from a letter written in 1608 by Jacopo Peri and addressed to Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga, and concern a performance of Dafne.«... and particularly «Dafne»... newly embellished by Rinuccini himself and composed with infinite good taste by Sig. Marco da Gagliano... it being admitted that such a style of singing is more suitable and closer to speech». The others come from a letter written in Venice in 1608, from Angelo Grillo to Giulio Caccini : «... You are the creator of a new form of music-making, or rather of singing without song, recitative singing of nobility and breeding which does not lop, swallow or stifle the words or the emotions, but rather gives them a new lease of life, redoubling their content and their force...»

The important facts are, that all the passaggi and «ornamentation» were written by those master-musicians Peri and Caccini, and that the so-called embellishments that one often hears are therefore completely unfounded.

We cannot forget the words of Giulio Caccini, an undisputed master of the singer's art, of which he wrote «It is an art which leaves no scope for mediocrity, and we who pursue this calling must devote every effort diligently and lovingly to bring out its every exquisite shade of beauty. And it is this devotion which has led me (who have understood that it is from writings that we can best get knowledge in all arts and sciences) to set down in the following notes what one must know in order to sing as a soloist, accompanied only by «chitarrone» or other stringed instruments. Provided that the accompanist be well acquainted with musical theory, and an accomplished player... One will get better vocal expression by giving a firm attack followed by a diminuendo, for if one does otherwise, when it comes to rendering exclamations, one is obliged to redouble the natural crescendo, and this will make the voice strained and harsh... to get this effect one must have received a particularly sound theoretical training, and worked long hours in rehearsal to achieve that mastery of voice-production which sets the seal of perfection on male and female singers alike».

Caccini makes particular mention of the expressive effect of the «exclamations», whether affectionate, languorous or witty, and deals with all the difficulties they present. There follows a series of examples, and an explanation of the technique of the passaggi, of the rolled notes (giri di voce), of the fast trillo on one note, and of the gruppo on notes at half-tone intervals. His preface (Nuove Musiche, 1601) contains nine such pages, rich in observations and examples and ending with an important clarification as follows : «... Notice that I call «noble» that manner of singing which calls for no slavish observance of the strict musical tempo, and in which notes can be reduced to half their value if the expression of the words so demands. This is what gives the style that «sprezzatura» which can only be attained with a fine, supple voice and perfect breath-controls. »

In the matter of voice-production and breath-control, and the delicate swell and fade of the voice («crescere e scemar della voce»), Caccini is very clear : «To excel in this art the singer must have not only a good voice, but also perfect production («respirazione del fiato») so as to always have his breath under control. Accordingly, since he sings solo, with fust a «chitarrone» or other string, instrument in accompaniment, the singer need not match his voice to others, and should thus choose a range over which he can sing in a natural voice, and avoid the falsetto («le voci finte») - where, to obtain certain effects he would be obliged to force his breathing and in so doing lose control of his production». In this Caccini is very precise :

«In falsetto one cannot achieve the refinement which is possible when the voice ranges freely through its natural register, and which is at the singer's command for the performance of the «exclamations» and the rendering of the «affetti».

These explicit remarks of Caccini, invaluable master-class ad vice, should be taken to heart by the numerous singers who venture to sing the works of Caccini (and others) in falsetto. This is nowadays called «countertenor» by those who have moreover forgotten that countertenor does not indicate a specific type of voice, but merely a vocal line in a contrapuntal score. Consequently, one hears nothing but falsetto - that is to say, those very «voci finte» (outside their natural range) which Caccini rejected for the reasons above.

Caccini's remarks in his preface to Nuove Musiche (1614) are of special interest in the matter of «embellishments» : - «I think I can safely say that the «passaggi», the «trilli» and other embellishments that one can use in singing certain expressive passages («affetti») may be likened to the images and colours which rhetoric lends to normal speech in order to raise it to the pitch of eloquence.»

So the poetic content of these songs is enriched and exalted by embellishments which demand an exceptional command of vocal technique. These «gruppi» «passaggi» and «trilli», vortices of repeated «spiccate» notes, must spring from the lips like so many brilliant asides, thrown away in a masterly display of «sprezzatura»; the quintessence of the singer's expressive art. Each embellishment, each «passaggio» is indicated by the author, and the present recordings give a completely faithful reproduction of the original texts.

We have been able to glimpse the number of elements which must be borne in mind by those who wish to perform that music which embodies the poiesis of the Florentine school in Bardi's Camerata Fiorentina, of Monteverdi, and of other exponents of the seconda pratica. This poiesis reveals itself in musical terms by the osmosis (if I may use the expression) between the component parts of human communication, that is to say the rational meaning of the word, and the dynamic force and audible manifestation of the concept. It is this return to the platonic conception of melody which lifts the works of our poet-musicians, far beyond a simple linking of words and music, to attain absolute heights in the musical representation of verbal expression.

Prof.   Annibale  Gianuario

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