Stilnovo 8813








  1. Lamento di Penelope (Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria)

  2. Ninfa (Orfeo)

  3. Lamento di Olimpia

  4. Proserpina (Orfeo)

  5. Lettera Amorosa I (Se i languidi miei sguardi)





A sinistra della casa di Ade troverai una fonte / ed un cipresso bianco che si innalza accanto, / non accostarti a questa fonte. / C'è di fredda acqua un'altra fonte / che dalla palude di Mnemosine scorre: davanti sono i guardiani. / Dì ad essi: "Di Terra sono figlio e dello stellato Urano. / Celeste è la mia stirpe: e voi lo sapete. / Ardo per la sete e muoio, ma datemi subito l'acqua fredda / che scorre dalla palude di Mnemosine." / Della fonte divina ti daranno a bere l'acqua / e tu allora con gli altri eroi salirai...


Lamella Peteliae reperta

"If this were a thing that would lead to a sole end, like Arianna and Orpheus there would need be only of one direction, which would lead, as I say, to sung speech" (Letter of the 9th December 1616).

What is this sung speech, this second practice which the Divine Claudius speaks of?

We note first of all notice (Monteverdi's letter of the 22nd October 1633 probably written to G.B. Doni) the difference Monteverdi establishes between harmony founded on the prime practice and harmony founded on the melodic conception that he calls second practice. The bitter dispute between Monteverdi and Artusi is in effect based on this profound difference, and Monteverdi explains very well what he means by second practice that is no more than the fulfilment of the Platonic Melody; "Melody or musical second practice. Second (as I mean it) considered in terms of it's being modern, prime in terms of it's being ancient..." Second practice is, therefore, essentially a return to the ancient conception of music as production of the emotive diction of poetic expression through sound, which must be, according to Plato, chosen for its particular spiritually communicative value. This is the opposite of what happens in prime practice where literary expression is made upon a particular construction of sounds. As a consequence, oration as master of rhythm and harmony (second practice) is set against prime practice where harmony is master of rhythm and oration. This is the difference which Monteverdi had already noted in his letter to Striggio on 9th December 1616, the difference between sung speech (second practice) and spoken song (prime practice). In explaining his conception of the second practice (Platonic melody) he clearly states; "Arianna leads me to a right lament and Orpheus to a right prayer'. It is this word RIGHT that brings us to the conception of Song as the modulated communication of thought which, according to Plato, has to come out of the recreation of a real situation and which is, then, truth rediscovered as argued in the Xth Book of the Republic, 602 and that which follows, where Plato indicates the path that leads to mimesis. Monteverdi does not fail to show us this "enclosed light" (again in his letter of the 22nd October 1633) which he is barely able to see: "When I was about to write Arianna‘s lament, not finding a book that would describe for me the natural way of imitation, nor that would illuminate for me what the imitator should be, other than Plato by way of an enclosed light, the little of which I was hardly able to see with my weak sight from a distance; I experienced, as I say, a great fatigue in doing that little which I did of imitation"; this is the way that leads to the right mimesis of nature.

For Monteverdi the second practice is therefore a return to a conception of music as fulfilment of poetry in its three unitary elements - meaning, rhythm and sound - unitary elements that the artist moulds according to emotional impulse: that which is "representation of the affections", or the passions. Second practice must not be considered as a style of musical writing, but as a total poetic expression of human passions manifested in the WORD - alive with meaning, rhythm and sound.

I think it is useful at this point to make a few points concerning Monteverdi's style. Many people today persist in considering Monteverdi a "mannerist" and "baroque" musician! This is simply ridiculous and it is therefore easy to understand why so many of his interpreters manage so well to make a mockery of his music!

The term "mannerist" during the Renaissance indicated a particular way of being, or of doing a thing, and every artist had his or her manner or style. Later, the meaning of the term deteriorated and ended by indicating - as manner - a quest for, or the alteration of, elements of an affected style. It is easy to imagine how this view of Monteverdi's art could lead to a doubtful interpretation.

As for the term "baroque", we find ourselves faced with something that, properly speaking, doesn't mean anything and which, due to bad habit, in the end was attributed underserved and very doubtful importance.

This is not the place, however, for an essay on musicology; it is enough to reproduce the passage of the letter that Monteverdi probably wrote to G.B. Doni on the 2nd February 1634. It is to some extent his philosophic and aesthetic "credo", and from which we get these illuminating affirmations: "... I directed my studies elsewhere and applied them to the fundamentals of the best and most searching natural philosophers, and because - according to what I have read - I see that the affections meet right reason and the satisfaction of nature (...) and I really see that one only has to follow these rules, with satisfaction, for these fundamentals I have placed the name of second practice (...) because my intention is to show (...) how much I have been able to extract from the mind from this philosophy which is at the service of fine art, and not at the source of the prime practice, which is merely harmonious..."; nor do we ever forget what Monteverdi, as we have seen, wrote in his letter of the 22nd October 1633, again with reference to the second practice.

It really does take the imagination of Gustav René Hocke to call Monteverdi "the greatest Italian mannerist genius together with Tintoretto..." and all the fantasy of Manfred Bukofzer (Music in the Baroque Era) to discourse upon the baroque that, according to Claude Palisca, ended up by including "the madrigals of Gesualdo, the first pastorals of Peri and Monteverdi, the tragicomedies of Scarlatti, the lyrical tragedies of Rameau... and Corelli, Vivaldi, Schütz and Bach's cantatas... (Baroque Music, 1968)".

Interpretation and execution of a work of second practice can exist only when it is possible to reproduce through particularly refined practice the emotional situation that have determined the poiesis of the artist who - and this is an important consideration - has noted the sounds and rhythms of the words pronounced in the particular emotive situation which he or she expresses in mimesis of the real life act.

It is opportune here to point out the aesthetic and technical characteristics of the ancient Italian school of singing.

The great theoreticians and practicians of the period - Maffei, Caccini, Rognoni, Brunelli, up to Tosi and Mancini (18th century) are all unanimous in demanding that song take its vitality from messa di voce, exclamation, increase and diminution of the voice, ornamentation (groups and trills), passages in marked notes, a pure binding of the breath in a perfect emission which allows all the notes to always be articulated in such a way as to leave a "vacuum" between each. Everything is enriched by a carefully constructed sprezzatura (nonchalance) which is at the heart of the rubato.

What comes out of these high school admonitions is the conditio sine qua non of natural full voice singing which singers of falsetto could not and cannot now perform: a full natural voice that, in unifying the two registers (chest and head) naturally moves from pianissimo to fortissimo (without getting lost in mezza voce, which is only an effect), this full natural voice without which song can never be expressive. Caccini is very precise concerning this: "... from false voices (falsetto) there cannot come the nobility of good song: that will come out of a voice which is able to deal with all chords, that a person may deal with according to his talent, and without having to rely upon breath, showing himself master of all the best effects that are required, for this very noble manner of singing." It is clear that, taking leave from this conception of the art of singing, every performance made by falsettos of this music is a mystification which a seriously made analysis can in no way accept; history has its own rights, and they must be respected.

I therefore believe it is useful to point out that the climate which characterised vocalisation in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries was particularly interesting since this was the period in which the female octave voice dominated in theatres and churches and ended up by substituting the singers of falsetto even in polyphonic repertory, both for technical reasons (the possibility of aggressive virtuosity) and aesthetic ones (a natural capacity to represent "affections"). It is in fact true that to do this the voice has to be able to fuse the natural registers (chest and head, which Italians also called falsetto). This fusion cannot be made by singers of falsetto as they only use one part of the vocal chords.

There here arises another great mystification: the belief pseudo controtenori had (alias singers of falsetto) that they were able to perform passages written for female octave voices (castrati).

The exact understanding of castrato is possible only from a technical point of view. A vast and at times morbose literature on this subject has contributed to some confusion surrounding the subject. Latest medical research states that: "castrati have a larynx which is as large as that of a woman's (due to the fact that there is no secretion of testosterone) while castration has no effect upon the production of thoracic breath or on the sound box; both of which remain the same as those of a singer who has not been castrated. (Thesis for a doctorate - Faculty of Medicine - University of Limoges - 1983 - Dr. Philippe Defaye, cfr. VIII Convegno Internazionale di Musicologia - Centro Studi Rinascimento Musicale, Artimino l983). The voice of the castrato is characterised therefore by a high octave which is typical of a woman's voice with its two registers (chest and head). The grande tecnica has to lead to homogeneity (fusion in one register) in the low, middle and high notes.

The voice of the castrato is therefore a voice which is "full and natural" and able to cover the notable range of expression (play of breath) described by Caccini and which Pietro Della Valle mentions when talking of this new art that Caccini calls a representative style, that is to say representative of the affections (human passions).

We are also able to say that this period witnessed the triumph of female octave natural voices, both in theatres and churches where women (nuns) and sopranos (castrati) sang, as well as, naturally, male voices. It was therefore the category of falsetto voices that disappeared and it is absurd to think of falsetto singers performing music which was written for "full and natural" sopranos and contraltos (women or castrati).

The love of virtuosity and expressive song in Italy over past centuries led to idolatry of high voices (sopranos) in the natural female octave, an idolatry which continued up until the present time making aleatory every attempt to carry out an unnatural return to what was more or less disguised, to the practice of falsetto singing as substituted for the female voice (in the 15th and first half of the 16th centuries) in churches.

This quest for virtuosity and expressive song easily explains the voices of women and castrati in interchangeable roles. Haendel for example entrusted the same role in Rinaldo during its first performance to the castrato Nicolini. For later performances he used women - Barbier and Diana Vico - and then again another famous castrato, Bernacchi.

The interpretation offered by Nella ANFUSO leads us the memorable performances of the high Italian school of singing associated with Vittoria Archilei at the Medici Court in Tuscany, and Virginia Ramponi - an actress in the Compagnia dei Fedeli who was the first to perform Arianna - and then Leonora Baroni, daughter of Adriana Basile who was so much admired by Monteverdi at the Court of Mantova... Then there was Francesca Caccini and her daughter Margherita "so lucid and splendid in this profession as a singer that whoever admired her superbly soft and gentle voice which seemed to issue forth from a resonant silver reed, full of trills and marked groups accompanied by marvellous and passionate accents, fought to see her..." - this was real praise for a beautiful voice!

Caccini and Monteverdi give very careful instructions which very few singers today can follow but which would be to their advantage and - as Monteverdi wrote - "at the service of good art" (Venice 1634). In fact perfect emission of the voice, which is to say the total and exclusive use of resonance over and above that from the chest (no strain therefore and no reliance on the larynx) means that sounds are not forced. It is only in this way that one can really respect and follow the natural tempo required for pronunciation of syllables which constitutes the primary rhythmic element sung speech that is based exclusively on the rhythm itself of natural breathing and, as a consequence, "singing without beat" (Monteverdi). This leads to the possibility of having a voice that carries and that is able to modulate sounds and, as a consequence, is able to express the most subtle vocal effects (portamenti, etc.) and demonstrate the most extraordinary virtuosity.

In diction it is essential - while maintaining its poetry - to not forget that in modulated speech - or poetic "cantus" - we have a succession of wired, almost suspended, alternating sounds together with continuous sounds that belong to "usual speech" (see here Jacopo Peri's Preface to his Euridice, Florence 1600). In sung speech (modulated speech = speaking while modulating syllables) the characteristics of tonic accents that - above all in Italian - have immense importance because they condition the tone and intensity of sounds that are not tonic (which is to say, are accentuated) must not be altered. For example, the word AMORE has a delivery syllable A and tonic syllable MO that slides into the syllable RE. Here diction is particularly complex and cannot be simplified in any way. Above all, the three syllables must not be pronounced with the same intensity, and certainly not doubled (as is too often done by foreign singers who think that in this way the consonants M and R will be better understood (in the case of amore). Pronunciation has to be exact in following tonic accent and the features of voiced consonants and syllables. Comprehension of the text comes automatically from the psychological impression that diction creates in the synthesis of meaning, rhythm and sound. This synthesis is the primary characteristic of representative "style", which is to say the "representation of affections" or the representative expression of human passions. I would like to end with a particularly important quote which gives us the exact measure of what Monteverdi desired vocally. It is a passage from the letter addressed from Venice to Alessandro Striggio on the 24th July 1627: "... Though it is true that he sings with confidence, vivacity lacks and the notes of passaggi are not sufficiently marked. This is due to an imperfect union between the two voices. If the head voice laks the qualities of the chest voice, the passaggio becomes hard and disagreable; if the latter lacks former's character, the wowels are almost shuffled and the passaggio becomes oily and almost continuous; but when the two operate harmoniously, the notes are marked and the passaggio is rendered in its natural, perfectly gracious state..."

Any other conception of vocal execution is not natural, but forced, and does not allow in any way or from any point of view to correctly produce either airs or madrigals (whether monodic or polyphonic) and certainly not the "'representative genre".

Therefore, either we go back to the Italian high school of singing if we want to be virtuosi and interpreters, or we abandon definitively a repertoire that, as Caccini said, "does not suffer mediocrity".


The Centre for Renaissance Music Studies has published three studies (1969-1973-1975) on the Lamento d'Arianna, Due Lettere Amorose and Tre Arianne. In publishing studies on the Lamento and the Letters we wanted to recreate the notation of the original editions (Gardano - Venice 1623 for the Lamento d'Arianna- Unicum in Gent). In terms of musicology the 1623 Venetian edition of Arianna supplies us with very important semiographic elements in that we thereby obtain Monteverdi's authentic notation which modern revisions have not taken into account, perhaps in an attempt to render more "singable" that which the author wanted to be natural "sung speech". The result of this was distortion of the expressive truth of Monteverdi's Seconda Practica which he explicitly makes clear in his correspondence.

It is particularly interesting to see the presence of chromatisms and dissonances that, having disappeared in modern versions, are on the other hand rendered profoundly legitimate in the concept expressed by Monteverdi himself in his letter of October 1633 in which he clearly, when mentioning Plato, indicates having wanted to recreate, by imitation, the authentic lament of the protagonist lived at first hand:

"When I was about to write Arianna’s lament, not finding a book that would describe for me the natural way of imitation, nor that would illuminate for me what the imitator should be, other than Plato by way of an enclosed light, the little of which I was hardly able to see with my weak sight from a distance; I experienced, as I say, a great fatigue in doing that little which I did of imitation". After having deepened our knowledge of the various texts obtained, we rightly opted for the unicum kept in Gent (the only edition printed by Gardano in Venice, 1623).

We were comforted in this choice by Giovan Battista Doni's critical study (1594-1647) which in a manuscript conserved in the Marucelliana Library in Florence and printed in Florence a century later, in 1763, offers us the opinion of a contemporary of great learning concerning the modal character of Monteverdi's composition. Doni in fact writes: "Commendable is the judgement of Monteverdi, who by setting aside these superstitious rules was well able to vary by means of cadences the start of his Arianna, leaving the first verse Lasciatemi morire in E, la, mi, and the same performance in D, la, sol, re with its own cadence. E chi volete voi, che mi conforte, in G, sol, re, ut. In così dura sorte in A, la, mi, re. In così gran martire in bq mi. Penultimate Lasciatemi morire in F, fa, ut and the same performance in D, la, sol, re with a final cadence. Therefore in these few verses one can demonstrate all the ways - only four in truth and as many as are the kinds of diapente that create some variety - since that which comes from the different kind of diapason cannot easily be know unless has access to ways of the old manner..."

One should note here the fact that Doni's study adheres to the Venetian edition being examined and concerns the "resta in F fa ut" (penultimate Lasciatemi morire), F fa ut which is not met with in the various unsigned manuscripts of the time or in modern revisions. The last three verses "Nacqui Regina...", "Vivo, moro...", "Io son contenta..." are found exclusively in the Magliabechiano Mss in Florence and the British Museum in London.

As far as Rinuccini’s tragedy is concerned it has to be pointed out that only the manuscripts of Florence and London contain the entire dramatic scene for which we have the music for the character of Arianna, since the rest of Monteverdi's composition was lost.

So as to restore the purely dramatic and representative value of the "Lament" and ascribe it to Monteverdi, by referring to Striggio in December 1616 "'Arianna mi porta ad un giusto lamento\ and eliminate in terms of aesthetic and interpretative value a tendency now falsely acquired of considering this stupendous scene almost as a song to be performed as camera music, and not a stupendous example of Monteverdi's sung speech, we have included contributions by Nunzio, Coro and Dorilla (for which we do not have the music) in their right place among the verses expressed by Arianna in the form of recited text. All of this so as to get to know the scene itself and in order to create the atmosphere in which Arianna modulates her own pathos. This reconstruction appeared to us to be particularly useful in order to also demonstrate the classic structure of Rinuccini’s tragedy. In fact this scene in Arianna reminds us structurally of the Kommos, or the moment when the protagonist laments her destiny while the chorus participates and comments upon the event (see for example Sophocle's Antigone).

The present performance of Penelope's Lament from "Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria" is an absolute novelty as, for first time, the Lament is performed on the basis of the text written by Badoaro.

The habit from the very start of reworking varying texts with varying pieces of music in Venetian performances is now well known, while the opening of the theatre of S. Cassiano and the presentation of musical performances to a paying public - a wider public, but also one which is culturally less aware - is essentially a commercial venture whose end aim is, of course, commercial success. One remembers here the episode concerning the Florentine Filippo Vitali who left Rome in extreme irritation after his Narciso was "reworked" by Marazzoli for a performance in Rome. Monteverdi's glorious name was commercially appealing for the impresarios Ferrari and Mannelli but, all said and done, it was the commercial element that prevailed over any respect due to this musician from Cremona. Thus, new performances were reworked by singers - who, let's not forget, were at the time accomplished musicians - since the principal objective was to create a successful performance leading to a consistent paying public. This is what happened with the arietta Torna il tranquillo al mare from Penelope's Lament, which was rejected.

The exact origin of the Viennese manuscript of "II Ritorno di LJlisse in Patria' is unclear, as are its performances and adaptations. What we do know is that Penelope's Lament was cut and Badoaro's dramatic order changed. This could not have been done by Monteverdi, who belonged to that generation of artists who held the poet's poem in high esteem, whether it was Badoaro or Rinuccini. Penelope's verses were reduced to 76 in the manuscript from Badoaro's original 125, and what strikes the ear most is the absence of the arietta Torna il tranquillo al mare whose position was changed by the unknown manipulator so as to arouse the interest of the public: far from what Monteverdi would have done, either from the musical or the dramatic point of view. The original dramatic order in the Lament has therefore been reestablished so that it now reveals its unifying psychological character, even if it has not been possible to restore Penelope’s great scene due to the mutilated condition of the manuscript. The pages of the female characters (Messenger, Nymph, Speranza and Proserpine) from Orpheus were produced upon the basis of the Venetian editions of 1609 and 1615 (the latter from the Polish library in Wroclaw, and containing handwritten notes) and take into consideration differences concerning "notes" and "alterations" made there.

Musical performances of a "genere rappresentativo" is carried out on a organo di legno and chitarrone (also "soli") as indicated by Monteverdi who, for example, in the Messenger scene indicates these very instruments for performance of the continuous bass.

And live happily

Prof. Annibale  Gianuario





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