Listening to a love-letter:
Monteverdi’s ‘Se i languidi miei sguardi’
Andrew Lawrence-King
‘Concerto’, Monteverdi’s Seventh Book of Madrigals (1619), does not include any
old-fashioned part-songs for unaccompanied voices, but rather a great variety of
concerted music for voices and instruments, with 2 to 13 performers. Soprano and
tenor soloists each have two contrasting pieces: one involving many instruments
(the tenor sings of Mars & Venus, the soprano about Words & Kisses); the other a
recitative soliloquy, a Lover’s Farewell for tenor, and for soprano a ‘Lettera
Monteverdi designates this performed Love-Letter as “in dramatic style”, implying
the use of facial and gestural acting, and perhaps simple props, a writing-desk, a
pen, the letter itself. No-one should beat time, and the accompaniment could be
played on any chordal instrument, most typically Theorbo (long-necked bass-lute),
Harp and/or wood-piped Organ. The music avoids dance-rhythms and catchy
tunes in favour of passionate declamation and dramatic changes of syllabic pace.
The text is excerpted from Claudio Achillini’s poem ‘Cavalier impatient over the
delay until the wedding, writes to his beautiful Fiancée this letter’. There is no
opening salutation; the first lines speak emotionally of “languid gazing and broken
sighs”. Soon “the heart is distilled into ink”, and we hear an ardent paean to the
beloved’s golden hair.
The music reminds us frequently of Arianna’s Lament, famously performed by
golden-haired actress La Florinda in Monteverdi’s 1608 opera. Is this another
transcription into music of her characteristic speech-patterns, another vehicle for
her talents? Monteverdi’s setting raises gender questions. The text is indubitably in
the male voice, but the music is for soprano. Does the performer represent the
writer, or the recipient?
Early 17th-century Recitative imitates speech; Monteverdi’s music allows
audiences to hear how a letter might have been read. Baroque music seeks to
“move the passions”; might audiences also experience how reading this letter
might have felt?
Key Words: Emotions, Recitative, Historically Informed Performance, Arianna,
Monteverdi, Peri, Caccini, Il Corago, Shakespeare, Continuo, La Florinda, Tactus,
Amorosa, Achillini, Action, Orfeo, Rhetoric, Affetti, Passions, Humours, Pneuma.
Listening to a love-letter:
Monteverdi’s ‘Se i languidi miei sguardi’
1. Text, Music, Action!
‘Concerto’, Monteverdi’s Seventh Book of Madrigals (1619), does not include any
old-fashioned part-songs for unaccompanied voices, but offers rather ‘other genres
of songs’, a great variety of concerted music for voices and instruments, with 2 to
13 performers.1 (See Illustration 1 ‘Title Page’) This is just one instance of seicento
musicians’ fascination with the exploration of new, varied, mixed and (in
particular) dramatic genres, an open-ended exploration that should not be
misrepresented by the teleological label of ‘the development of opera’. Amongst
29 madrigals and other songs, soprano and tenor soloists each have two contrasting
pieces: one involving many instruments (the tenor sings of Mars & Venus,2 the
soprano about Words & Kisses3); the other a recitative soliloquy, a Lover’s
Farewell from the tenor4, and for soprano, a ‘Lettera Amorosa’ (Love-Letter).5
As one of the Rhetorical Arts, music of this period seeks to persuade by means of
the sung text (Logos), the character of the orator (Ethos), and appeal to the
emotions (Pathos). Musicians were especially concerned with the Rhetorical aim to
‘move the Passions’.6 But whose passions are to be moved? This question diverts
our attention away from the Romantic focus on the genius performer, and towards
considerations of emotional reception. For this work, we must consider the
recipient of the letter as well as the audience for the song. Similarly, since the sung
text is a poem in the guise of a letter, we may be influenced by the characters of
three voices: the poet, the fictional letter-writer, and the singer.
For music-drama of this period, the lens of History of Emotions studies is
particularly appropriate. My investigations began by identifying period priorities of
‘Text, Rhythm, Action!’ – priorities that differ sharply from the modern
conservatoire’s focus on sound-production and from today’s singers’ reliance on
the vacillating rhythm of Romantic rubato.7 Meanwhile, in spite of its crucial
significance circa 1600, historical Action is not a correspondingly significant part
of performer training today, even for Early Music specialists. In its second phase,
my research examines responses (a composer responding to a text with a musical
setting, a performer responding to a text as an imaginary Vision, an audience
responding to the complete performance) to ‘Enargeia’, the emotional power of
detailed visual description.8 These period priorities and historical concepts guide
my approach, as academic and performer.
Monteverdi designates this performed Love-Letter ‘in genere rappresentativo’, the
genre of representation, i.e. in dramatic style. (See Illustration 2 ‘BC 37’)
Musicologists have concentrated on the compositional technique of Recitative
associated with seicento music-drama, but Monteverdi’s designation carries quite a
Andrew Lawrence-King
different message for a courtly performer in 1619. ‘In genere rappresentativo’
directs the singer to present the performance not as a concert item, but as an
enacted scene, in which she takes on a character-role. This idea of Personation,
creating a detailed representation of a dramatic character, was the fashion of the
new century in Shakespearian theatre as well as in Italian music-drama.9
Gesture was an important element of oratorical and musical performance, and can
be studied in fine art and sculpture as well as in oratorical treatises. Bonifaccio
demonstrates that such ‘visible speech’ or ‘mute eloquence … reveals sincerity of
spirit’, with dignity, delight and efficacy.10 His Art of Nuances catalogues the
entire body, from head (elevated, lowered, carried on one side) and gestures of the
hair, via signs of the eyes and mouth, hands and fingers, to legs and feet. In the
preface to the earliest surviving opera, Cavalieri similarly describes ‘gestures and
motions not only of the hands, but of steps too’ as ‘very effective means of moving
the passions’.11
All these actions ‘accompany the words’, just as Hamlet instructs the Players to
‘Suit the Action to the Word’.12 In Monteverdi’s ‘Combattimento di Tancredi &
Clorinda’ the protagonists ‘do the steps and gestures in the way that the oratory
expresses’ so that the ‘actions come together into a unified representation’. 13 John
Bulwer’s Chirologia and Chironomia link hand gestures to discursive and
rhetorical language, whilst his Pathomyotomia examines connections between
emotions and the muscular changes that produce facial expressions.14
In this dramatic style, the performer might make use of simple props: a writingdesk, a pen, the letter itself. But in the context of courtly chamber music, the real
coup de theatre was the surprise entrance of the protagonist, the shock of
Personation, after the singing of several conventional, un-acted, madrigals. 15
The switch into drama-mode triggers the performance practices described in the
anonymous guide for a theatre’s artistic director, ‘Il Corago’.16 Although in this
period there was never a conductor in the modern sense, the leading singer or
principal accompanist might sometimes beat time in concerted music. Il Corago
makes it clear that such hand-waving would be distracting in music-drama, and
Monteverdi explicitly instructs that the ‘Lettera Amorosa’ be ‘sung without beating
Re-defining Recitative
Discussions about this kind of music are today couched in terms of Recitative,
‘musica recitativa’. This is unfortunate: those words were used only infrequently in
the early seicento,18 and they suggest to modern readers the rhythmic anarchy of
18th-century operatic Recitative, ‘the boring bits between the nice tunes’! Period
Listening to a love-letter:
Monteverdi’s ‘Se i languidi miei sguardi’
sources prefer terms that emphasise the connection to drama and acting: ‘recitar
cantando’ (to act whilst singing), ‘rappresentare’ (to represent, to act),
‘rappresentativo’ (represented, acted).19 Monteverdi’s first opera is a ‘favola in
musica… rappresentata’ (story in music …. represented).20
Il Corago makes it clear that ‘recitare’ means ‘to act’.21 ‘Musica recitativa’ is
‘acted music’, in which an actor declaims the text by singing rather than by
speaking. The theatrical style of music ‘in genere rappresentativo’ is as close as
possible to spoken theatre. Il Corago emphasises varied tone-colours and
passionate gestures. The sung pitches (referred to by Il Corago as ‘modulazione’
and by Peri as ‘the course of speech’) are modelled on the declamation of a fine
actor in spoken theatre.22
This period definition of ‘musica recitativa’ is very broad, encompassing
everything that is acted and sung solo, whether it represents speech or song,
whether it is tuneful or not. Within this speech-like music, an ‘aria’ is not
necessarily an extended tuneful melody, but any recurring motiv, especially a
rhythmic unit, in text and/or music. Even a tiny fragment of rhythmic repetition ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’ – is sufficient to establish a moment of
‘aria’.23 So Monteverdi employs ‘aria’, three iterations of the same melodic
fragment, for the Lettera Amorosa’s opening phrases, which list three signs of
passionate desire.24 Similarly, he gives parallel downward leaps for the parallel
phrases ‘legete queste note, credete a questa carta’.25 Of course, such shifts of pitch
could equally well be made by a fine speaker, matching his spoken delivery to the
rhetoric of the text.
There is no suggestion of rhythmic anarchy in ‘musica recitativa’.26 On the
contrary, composers notate complex, subtle and varied rhythms for the singer,27
guided by the slow pulse of Tactus (about one beat per second) in the continuo
accompaniment.28 Continuo notation is flexible, so that the accompaniment can be
realised on harpsichord, organ with wooden pipes, theorbo, harp etc, singly or in
combination.29 A typical choice in early opera is theorbo and organ.30 Period
sources agree that Tactus and Continuo keep singers in measure.31 Modern singers
apply decorative vocal ornamentation to this music, but period sources agree that
this speech-like ‘modulazione’ is not ornamented.32 Instruments too should play
simply, seriously and in a low register.33
Monteverdi selected the text from Claudio Achillini’s poem ‘Cavalier impatient
over the delay until the wedding, writes to his beautiful Fiancée this letter’.34 In
Achillini’s Letter as in Monteverdi’s setting of it, there is no opening salutation;
the first lines speak emotionally of ‘languid gaze’ and ‘interrupted sighs’.35 Soon
Andrew Lawrence-King
‘the heart is distilled into ink’, and we hear an ardent paean to the beloved’s golden
hair.36 Some musicologists are dismayed at the length (considerable) and language
(hyperbolic) of this apostrophe, but Monteverdi made considerable cuts to
Achillini’s hair-lines. In the poem, the Cavalier continues to praise his Fiancée’s
golden locks for another seven lines, after which he turns to her eyes for 36 lines,
and her mouth for another 16. For 2 lines he ‘bows in reverent silence at her other
beauties’, and in a single line promises to be her ‘consort and loving servant’.37
Then follows the concluding Envoy set by Monteverdi, 'But now the hour invites
me … dear Love-Letter, go! And may Love and Heaven grant that you arrive… ’38
Perhaps Monteverdi simply started at the beginning of Achillini’s poem, set as
much as he wanted to, and then found a convenient place from where to jump to
the Envoy. But he may have had particular reason to concentrate on the golden
hair, yet not to set the last seven lines of this section, which make comparisons to
the rays of the sun at dawn, and to a constellation of stars.39 Did he reject these
images as too remote, distracting from the intimacy of the contemplation of a real
woman’s hair? Or did he wish to avoid bringing to the audience’s minds the
personifications linked to those images: Apollo, Mary, and Berenice?
Peri and Il Corago describe the compositional process as the imitation of the
spoken declamation of a fine actor.40 Monteverdi’s notation of word-rhythms and
variations in vocal pitch is therefore the nearest equivalent to a sound-recording of
theatrical speech. The Tactus beat in the continuo accompaniment provides a timescale, approximately second by second. If we analyse the harmonies for the tension
and release of dissonance and resolution, we can also chart the emotional intensity.
The continuo begins on an unstable harmony, which is not resolved for about 15
seconds. Such initial harmonies became a cliché of 18th-century operatic recitative
and sound very familiar to modern listeners, but this is one of the earliest
examples: it would have surprised the 1619 audience and created a strange,
unsettled mood.
Monteverdi also uses ‘madrigalismo’ (word-painting), in which the sound of the
music (or even just the visual appearance of the notation) suggests the meaning of
particular words. There are sighing breaths marked by short rests (called ‘sospiri’
in seicento music-theory) before and after the word ‘sospiri’ (sighs); the melisma
on ‘cor’ traces a heart-shape on the musical stave; as the Cavalier turns to the soft
hair, the harmonies change to the ‘soft Hexachord’ with Bb; references to heaven,
the burning sphere or paradise have bright harmonies of A major. The word ‘cielo’
(heaven) is set on a high note, of course; and there is a fiery trill on the final word
Listening to a love-letter:
Monteverdi’s ‘Se i languidi miei sguardi’
Nevertheless, most of Monteverdi’s ear-catching turns of phrase are not so much
musical as rhetorical, imitating spoken delivery with memorable vocal intonations:
rising to direct attention, ‘a voi’ (to you); suddenly high for emotional
exclamations, ‘dhe’, ‘O’; high-low-high to point twice, ‘voi pur voi’ (you just you);
a characteristic fall from a high start on ‘chi sa’ (who knows?). All of these
‘musical gestures’ correspond perfectly to the appropriate hand gesture for each
fragment of text. Music and Action both suit the Word. (See Music examples 1-5.)
The music reminds us frequently of Arianna’s Lament, famously performed by
golden-haired actress Virginia Ramponi-Andreini, known as La Florinda, in
Monteverdi’s 1608 opera.42 (See Music Example 6.) Tim Carter speculates that this
Lament remained Andreini’s intellectual property, so that Monteverdi was not free
to publish it himself.43 The Peri/Il Corago model of ‘musica recitativa’ supports
Carter’s view. Monteverdi’s pitch contours might be more than just generic good
spoken delivery for such a text; he might have composed harmonies around a
musical transcription of the famous actress’ own distinctive speech-patterns.44
Might Virginia herself have performed the Lettera? Or might musical references to
the Lament have heightened the audience’s perception of the Letter-singer as a
woman of powerful passions, or even encouraged amateur performers to imitate La
Florinda in their own performances? Certainly, Monteverdi encourages the
associations between beautiful hair and the emotional power of a famous
performer, between forceful drama and women’s emotions; associations which the
Mantuan court had prohibited until Andreini’s 1608 triumph.45
Just as Achillini’s text and Monteverdi’s music recall La Florinda’s physical
appearance and vocal declamation, so the dramatic Action could have been
influenced by gestures from her most famous role. Words and musical gestures can
only hint at specific actions that might have characterised La Florinda’s acting
style, but two depictions of Andreini survive.( See Illustrations 3-4 ‘La Florida’ &
‘Ariadne & Bacchus’.) Both show her in a strong position, stage right looking
leftwards, with powerfully wide stance, and forceful gesture. Her long red-gold
hair is seen clearly, gathered up in a 1616 illustration46, flowing freely in Fetti’s
1611 painting of ‘Ariadne & Bacchus’. The widely accepted identification of
Andreini with Fetti’s Ariadne suggests that his Bacchus might be her fellow actor
from the 1608 opera: tenor Francesco Rasi, who sung the title role in ‘Orfeo’
(1607).47 (See Illustration 5 ‘Man with Sheet of Music’.) Since Monteverdi
associates La Florinda with the Lettera Amorosa, might we then associate with
Rasi the tenor solos in the 1619 book?
Andrew Lawrence-King
Period Medical Science considers emotions are conveyed by means of Pneuma, the
mystic breath.48 Somewhat like oriental ‘chi’, Pneuma is associated also with the
Divine Breath of Creation, with physical health and healthy movement.49 Audience
members receive this Spirit of Passion from the performer, and also perceive text,
music and action directly. All this creates Visions in the mind, and these Visions
produce changes in the balance of the Four Humours. Those body liquids regulate
the emotional experience and the physical indications of the passions (facial
expressions, bodily sensations).
The Four Humours – Sanguine (love, courage, hope), Choleric (anger, desire),
Melancholic (sad, weary), Phlegmatic (impassive, apathetic) – can be regarded as
emotional compass-points, cardinal directions that point out the general movement
of the passions, to be refined by careful consideration of specific words, details of
poetic imagery, particular subtleties of the musical setting. Achillini begins with
elements of Melancholy (languid glances, sighs, broken words), switches to the
‘opposto’ of Choler (flames), and then ‘distills the heart into the form of ink’:
black ink is Melancholy again.50 In spite of two isolated references to love
(Sanguine), the predominant Humour of the next 12 lines is Choleric – burning like
a star in its sphere, fire, invisible force, a predator’s prey, a hunter’s trophy. The
tone remains overwhelmingly Choleric throughout the hymn to the Fiancée’s hair
and into the final Envoy. Such Humorial analysis, even at an elementary level,
demonstrates that this Love Letter is motivated by the Cavalier’s impatient desire
more than by Sanguine love or gentle hope.
Monteverdi’s setting raises gender questions. The text is indubitably in the male
voice, but the music is for soprano. Does the performer represent the writer, or the
recipient? These issues are frequently ignored in concert performance, but
Monteverdi’s ‘genere rappresentativo’ calls for decisions to be made. Somehow,
although the language of the Cavalier’s letter is read in the first person, a modern
performer must play the interlocking roles of a 17th-century soprano (perhaps La
Florinda herself) and of the golden-haired Fiancée. Presumably, she enacts a
reading of the letter.
There are similar scenes in early operas, where the audience receives emotional
information via parallel channels, as when Sylvia, the Messenger, narrates to Orfeo
the events of Euridice’s death.51 Spectators hear the Messenger’s words and note
her emotions, but they also see the emotional reactions of the Shepherds and of
Orfeo himself. As the Lettera Amorosa is read aloud, the audience hears the words
of the Cavalier’s desire, and senses the emotions of the Fiancée. But what gestures
do they see? And how is the ambiguity of the performance resolved?
Listening to a love-letter:
Monteverdi’s ‘Se i languidi miei sguardi’
The opening lines could well be understood as a woman’s letter to a man, indeed
the first reference to the Beloved is as ‘bell’ idolo mio’ (my handsome Idol,
masculine gender in Italian).52 Line 17, ‘my fire in your beauties’, might challenge
this assumption: 17th-century courtiers would expect fire from men, beauty in
women.53 Only gradually does the praise of beautiful hair reinforce the
interpretation that the female reader is the recipient, not the letter-writer. But
perhaps the performer’s Action could provide clarification: the soprano might
unseal and open the letter as she enters, and enact the business of reading. Every
subsequent gesture requires a performance decision. The principle is to point out
whatever it is you are talking about, so every ‘you’ and ‘I’, each reference to the
beautiful hair, raises the question of which way to point.
A solution in keeping with the period theory of Visions could be for the performer
to imagine the letter-writer as an embodied presence, placing him in her imagined
surroundings in the same way that an operatic Shepherd would imagine specific
places for the green meadows, distant hills and tranquil river of an Arcadian scene.
Once every detail is envisioned in its place, the performer’s gestures can point out
each element in turn. Such a vision could even be combined with first-person
gestures for certain moments: Monteverdi’s powerful syncopation as the letter is
dispatched, ‘Vanne!’ (Go!), tempts one to ‘suit the Action to the Word’ with a
strong outwards gesture.54
Perhaps these ambiguities might even be considered in a positive light. My
research into the first operas suggests that charismatic performers cast a spell over
their audiences by techniques that we can now recognise as hypnotic.55 The
emotional power of detailed visual description, this ‘Enargeia’ of golden hair,
combines with ambiguity to create a strong hypnotic effect. A wealth of detail
invites focussed attention and hallucinatory Visions, whilst ambiguity directs the
mind inwards in Trans-Derivational Search, an unconscious quest for meaning. All
this combines with the slow, steady beat of the continuo Tactus and the shadowy
half-presence of the Cavalier to facilitate an entrancing performance.56
Monteverdi’s musical notation allows us to reconstruct with considerable
confidence and accuracy the sound of a letter being read aloud in 1619. His
designation ‘in genere rappresentativo’ opens up more subtle questions about how
such a letter-reading might look, and how its audience might feel.
Andrew Lawrence-King
Award-wining opera director and the world’s leading exponent of Early Harps,
Andrew Lawrence-King is Senior Visiting Research Fellow for the Australian
Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. Andrew is an RYA Ocean
Yachtmaster, trains in 17th-century Rapier, and is a qualified Hypnotist.
Claudio, Monteverdi, ‘Concerto. Settimo Libro de Madrigali a 1, 2, 3, 4 & Sei
voci, con altri generi de Canti’ (Venice: Bartholomeo Magni, 1619).
Ibid. ‘Tempro la Cetra’.
Ibid. ‘Con che soavita’
Ibid. ‘Se pur destina. Partenza Amorosa’
Ibid. ‘Se i languidi miei sguardi. Lettera Amorosa a Voce Sola in genere
rapresentativo’. As was usual for such publications, the music is printed in
individual part-books. The vocal line of the ‘Lettera Amorosa’ is in the Canto partbook 27-31; the Basso Continuo part-book 33-42 has both vocal line and figured
bass. In common with the rest of this collection and many similar publications, the
Continuo short-score has bar-lines, but the voice part-books do not.
In seicento Italian, ‘muovere gli affetti’.
‘Text, Rhythm, Action!’ is the title of the author’s 2011-2013 research project
within the Performance Program of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of
Excellence for the History of Emotions. See!research/c1dp3 (accessed January 2015). The
period priorities of Text and Rhythm over Sound are found in the Preface to Giulio
Caccini, Le Nuove Musiche (Florence: Marescotti, 1601/2) ‘la musica altro non
essere, che la favela, e’l ritmo, & il suono per ultimo, e non per lo contrario…’
(music is nothing but text and rhythm, and sound last of all, and not the other way
around). Bulwer recounts Plutarch’s story of Demosthenes’ being asked to define
the first three points of Eloquence. The reply was ‘Action, Action, Action!’ See
John Bulwer, ‘Chirologia: Or the Naturall Language of the Hand. Composed of the
Speaking Motions, and Discoursing Gestures Thereof. Whereunto Is Added,
Chironomia: Or, the Art of Manuall Rhetoricke’ (London: Thomas Harper, 1644),
Chironomia, 22.
‘Energeia: Visions in Performance’ is the title of the author’s 2014-2016 research
project at the Centre for the History of Emotions. See also Heinrich F. Plett
‘Enargeia in Classical Antiquity and the Early Modern Age: The Aesthetics of
Evidence (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2012).
See Andrew Gurr, ‘The Shakespearean Stage 1574-1642’ (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1980), 98.
Giovanni Bonifaccio, ‘L’Arte de’ Cenni con la quale formandosi favella visibile,
si tratta della muta eloquenza...’ (Vicenza: Grossi, 1616)
Listening to a love-letter:
Monteverdi’s ‘Se i languidi miei sguardi’
Emilio de Cavalieri, ‘Preface’ to Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo (Rome:
Muti, 1600). Since Cavalieri was an aristocrat, decorum required that his
instructions be expressed in the third person as ‘Signor Emilio del Cavaliere’s
recommendations’: ‘… che le [le parole] accompagni con gesti, & motivi non
solamente di mani, ma di passi ancora, che sono aiuti molto efficaci a muovere
Ibid.; Shakespeare Hamlet Act III Scene ii.
Claudio Monteverdi, ‘Preface’ to Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in
Libro in Book 8: Madrigali Guerrieri et Amorosi (Venice: Alessandro Vincenti,
1638) Basso Continuo part-book, 19. ‘Faranno gli passi & gesti nel modo che
l’oratione esprime ... in maniera che le tre ationi venghino ad’incontrarsi in una
imitatione unita.’ The three Actions in ‘Combattimento’ are text, acting and sound
effects created by violins; the ‘Lettera Amorosa’ has no violins, of course.
‘Combattimento’ was first performed in 1624.
Bulwer ‘Chirologia & Chironomia’ (1644); John Bulwer, ‘Pathomyotamia, Or,
A Dissection of the Significative Muscles of the Affections of the Minde Being an
Essay to a New Method of Observing the Most Important Movings of the Muscles
of the Head, as They Are the Neerest and Immediate Organs of the Voluntarie or
Impetuous Motions of the Mind : With the Proposall of a New Nomenclature of the
Muscles’ (London: Humphrey Moseley, 1649).
Monteverdi ‘Combattimento’ (1638) ‘il qual volendosi
esser fatto in genere rapresentativo, si farà entrare alla sprovista (dopo cantatosi
alcune Madregalli senza gesto) dalla parte de la Camera in cui si fa la Musica’
(wanting to perform this in dramatic style, a surprise entrance is made (after some
Madrigals have been sung without acting) from the part of the Chamber where
music is played). The 1624 first performance was done ‘in tal maniera’ (in such a
Anon, ‘Il Corago’ c1630 MS y.F.11, Biblioteca Estense, Modena, edited in
Paolo Fabbri and Angelo Pompilio, ‘Il Corago, O Vero, Alcune Osservazioni Per
Metter Bene in Scena Le Composizioni Drammatiche’ (Florence: Olschki, 1983),
Ibid.; Monteverdi ‘Concerto’ (1619), Canto part-book, 27: ‘si canta senza
battuta’. Some modern performers have interpreted ‘senza battuta’ to mean
‘unmeasured’ i.e. free rhythm, but Il Corago makes it clear that ‘battuta’ refers to
‘beating time’ with the hand. This music is sung rhythmically, but without anyone
beating time.
See F. W. Sternfeld ‘A Note on ‘Stile Recitativo’ Proceedings of the Royal
Musical Association 110 (1983-1984), 41-44. However, Sternfeld seems unaware
of Il Corago’s extensive commentary on ‘recitativo’ and ‘musica recitativa’.
Sternfeld offers a table of designations from title pages 1600-1638, Ibid., 42; Il
Corago’s c1630 list of terms includes also ‘azioni drammatiche’, ‘giochi’,
Andrew Lawrence-King
‘spettacoli’ and ‘azioni armoniche’ (dramatic action, play, spectacle, harmonic
action), see Fabbri & Pompilio ‘Il Corago’ (1983), 21, 81.
Claudio Monteverdi, ‘L’Orfeo favola in musica rappresentata in Mantova l’Anno
1607’ (Venice: Ricciardo Amadino, 1609).
Fabbri & Pompilio ‘Il Corago’ (1983), 40-41. Since one of the three ways to
recitare is dumb-show, recitare must mean ‘to act’, not ‘to recite’. The other two
ways are speaking and singing. Sternfeld ‘Stile Recitativo’ (1983-4) supports my
identification of recitativo and cantar recitando with acting, i.e. with
rappresentativo and rappresentare.
Fabbri & Pompilio ‘Il Corago’ (1983), 61: ‘il vero stil musico recitativo ...
ritrovare nelle corde del genere diatonico un andare simile a quello che nella
commune prolazione delle voci averebbe un perfetto istrione recitando in scena
quei versi medesimi’ (The true style of acted music ... finding in the notes of a
diatonic scale a progression similar to that which in the normal course of the words
would be employed by a perfect actor, performing on stage these same verses);
Jacopo Peri, ‘Preface to Euridice’ (Florence: Marescotti, 1600): ‘il corso del
Shakespeare Richard III Act V Scene iv.
Languid gaze, interrupted sighs, broken words. Monteverdi ‘Concerto’ (1619)
Canto part-book, 27.
‘Read these words, believe this letter’, Ibid.
In his extensive examples, Caccini ‘Le Nuove Musiche’ (1601/2) suggests only
one brief moment of ‘senza misura’ (unmeasured) singing, and one change to
‘misura piu larga’ (a slower measure), whereas exclamations and other expressive
devices occur frequently. Monteverdi ‘Orfeo’ (1609) and many other sources
notate such ‘senza misura’ as the singer’s rhythmic freedom over a regular slow
pulse in the accompaniment (as in Jazz); Frescobaldi’s rules for ‘driving time’
(guidare il tempo) allow changes of speed only infrequently, between movements
and according to the emotions of the text. See Girolamo Frescobaldi ‘Toccate e
Partite… Libro Primo’ (Rome: Bartolomeo Zannetti, 1615).
E.g. Stefano Landi ‘La Morte d’Orfeo’ (Venice: Bartolomeo Magni,1619). From
the very first speech this opera has contrasting note-values from semibreve down to
quaver. Monteverdi ‘Orfeo’ (1609) extends such contrasts down to semiquavers,
from the second strophe of the Prologue onwards.
Period performance practice controls rhythms by a slow count, the Tactus. Small
note-values are regarded as sub-divisions of this fundamental beat. Tactus can be
shown by a down-up movement of the hand, with the complete down-up cycle
equivalent to a semibreve. For this entire repertoire, Tactus goes at a consistent
speed, with only small differences between individual musicians, or in particular
circumstances. See Fabbri & Pompilio ‘Il Corago’, 47. In modern terminology,
Tactus is approximately minim = MM60. For an extended discussion, see Roger
Listening to a love-letter:
Monteverdi’s ‘Se i languidi miei sguardi’
Grant ‘Beating Time & Measuring Music’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
See Agostino Agazzari ‘Del sonare sopra’l basso’ (Siena, 1607).
See Monteverdi ‘Orfeo’ (1609).
Peri ‘Euridice’ (1600) implies that singing would usually ‘dance to the
movement of the bass’; Agazzari ‘Del sonare’ (1607) states that the bass
instruments ‘guide the whole ensemble’; in John Dowland ‘Micrologus’(London:
Thomas Adams, 1609): ‘Tactus directs a song according to measure’.
E.g. Cavalieri ‘Anima & Corpo’ (1600) ‘senzza passaggi’ (without improvised
passages of fast notes); Monteverdi ‘Combattimento’ (1638) ‘non doverà far
gorghe ne trilli’ (do not do fast ornaments with the throat or trills); Fabbio &
Pompilio ‘Il Corago’ (1983), 62: ‘questo modo [e] manchevole di quelli ornamenti
e vaghezze ... passaggi, trilli, gorghiggiamenti’ (this style lacks the ornaments and
decorations ... passages, trills, fast notes with the throat).
E.g. Cavalieri ‘Anima & Corpo’ (1600) ‘senza diminutioni’ (without improvised
fast notes); Agazzari ‘Del Sonare’ (1607) ‘non passeggiando’ (not improvising fast
notes) ‘assai stretto e grave’ (somewhat restrained, low and serious); Lodovico
Viadana ‘Cento Concerti Ecclesiastici’ (Venice,1602) ‘semplicamente’ (simply).
Claudio Acchillini ‘Rime’ (Venice: Nicolo Pezzana, 1673) edited by Ferdinando
Cometto 145-150 (accessed
January 2015): ‘Cavaliere impaziente delle tardate nozze, scrive alla sua bellissima
Sposa questa lettera.’.
Ibid.: ‘i languidi miei sguardi … i sospiri interrotti’.
Ibid.: ‘Sotto forma d’inchiostro il cor stillai.’; 146: ‘A voi mi volgo, o chiome/
Cari miei lacci d’oro’ (To you I turn, oh hair, my dear lace of gold).
Ibid., 149: ‘Ch’a l’altre tue bellezze / Che con silenzio riverente inchino, / Sarò
consorte, e sarò servo amante.’
Ibid., 149-150: ‘Ma già l’hora m’invita ... Cara carta amorosa… Vanne, e
s’Amor, e’l Cielo Cortese ti concede che . ricovra in quel bel seno’.
Ibid., 147: ‘Cedano pur a voi, Bellissimi capelli, Quelle chiome, che il Sole
Spiega ne l’Oriente, in sul mattino, Quelle chiome, che il Mondo Aurora appella.
Ceda pur di bellezza Il favoloso crin di Berenice.’
See note 22 above.
Monteverdi ‘Concerto’ (1619) Basso Continuo 33-42.
Although the libretto survives, all of the music is lost, except for the famous
Lament which Monteverdi published in three versions.
If so, perhaps Monteverdi was testing out the strength of Andreini’s ‘copyright’
of the Lament, by publishing an ensemble contrafactum in 1614 and quoting
characteristic turns of phrase in the 1619 ‘Lettera Amorosa’, before publishing the
solo Lament in 1623 (Private Communication). Carter also notes the significance
Andrew Lawrence-King
of a classical source for the Lament: Ariadne’s letter to Theseus in Ovid’s
‘Heroides’ X. See Tim Carter ‘Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre’ (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2002), 208-209.
Ibid., 203 & 211. Carter draws attention to Monteverdi’s association of the
Lament with his search for the ‘via naturale alla immitatione’ (natural path to
imitation). He also shows marked similarities between arias sung by tenor
Francesco Rasi in operas by different composers, supporting the notion that
composers might embed in their own works the trademarks of famous performers:
Ibid., 92-95.
When ‘Orfeo’ was performed in Mantua in 1607, court decorum forbade women
to appear on stage. The roles of La Musica (Music), Euridice, Ninfa (a nymph),
Sylvia (the Messenger), Speranza (Hope), Proserpina and the two chorus sopranos
were performed by two castrati (each doubling several roles). Duke Vincenzo
Gonzaga relaxed the prohibition for his son, Francesco’s wedding festivities, which
included the first performance of ‘Arianna’.
Dionisio Minaggio ‘The Feather Book’ (1618) plate 106, Blacker-Wood Library
of Biology, McGill University, Montreal accessed January 2015.
Minaggio, Chief Gardiner of the Duchy of Milan, depicts birds, hunters, commedia
dell’arte players, musicians and tradesmen in collages of bird-feathers. Andreini’s
portrait is captioned ‘La Florinda’.
Rasi has been identified with Fetti’s 1620 Portrait of a Man with a Sheet of
Music. Allowing for the intervening years since Fetti’s 1611 image of Bacchus in
1608, the faces show definite similarities.
For 17th-century theories of emotions derived from Quintilian and Galen see
Joseph R Roach ‘The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting’ (Newark:
University of Delaware Press, 1985).
This three-fold nature of Pneuma parallels the period categorisation of Music as
performed sound (‘musica instrumentalis’), the music of the heavenly spheres
(‘musica mondana’) or the harmonious nature of the human body (‘musica
Short-term contrasts between opposing passions are a feature of 17th-century
writing, see Cavalieri ‘Anima & Corpo’ (1600): ‘il passer da uno affetto all’altro
contrario, come dal mesto all’ allegro, dal feroce al mite, e simile, commove
grandamente.’ (the change from one passion to another opposed one, as from
sadness to happiness, ferocity to mildness, and so on, is greatly moving.).
Achillini’s ‘le mie fiamme’ are the flames of desire: Monteverdi ‘Concerto’
(1619), Canto partbook 27.
Monteverdi ‘Orfeo’ (1609) Act II.
Monteverdi ‘Concerto’ (1619), Canto partbook 27.
Ibid.: ‘ne le vostre bellezze il foco mio’.
Listening to a love-letter:
Monteverdi’s ‘Se i languidi miei sguardi’
Ibid., 31.
Andrew Lawrence-King ‘The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica Hypnotises the
Heroes’ (accessed January 2015).
For details of Hypnotic Induction see Michael D. Yapko ‘Trancework: an
Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis. 4th edition’ (New York:
Routledge, 2012) and Richard Bandler ‘Guide to Trance-formation: How to
Harness the Power of Hypnosis to Ignite Effortless and Lasting Change.’
(Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, 2008).

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