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8.555311 - MONTEVERDI, C.: Madrigals, Book 5 (Il Quinto Libro de' Madrigali, 1605) (Delitiae Musicae, Longhini)
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Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Madrigals Book V: "La seconda prattica"

 

Monteverdi's Fifth Book of Madrigals was published in Venice by Ricciardo Amadino in 1605. The natural successor of the Fourth Book (1603), it takes even further the expressive writing with which he had already so successfully experimented, and which had delighted some famous figures but scandalized others. His compositional audacity had led to much theoretical discussion and was the cue for canon Giovanni Maria Artusi's polemical publications, which inflamed the minds of intellectuals at the time: L'Artusi, overo Delle imperfettioni della moderna musica (Parts One and Two, published in 1600 and 1603 respectively). The reactionary Artusi was a staunch defender of the traditional rules of music and sworn enemy of the modern style that violated them. In his work he attacked a number of Monteverdi's madrigals which he had heard performed in Ferrara some years earlier, although they had not yet been published. These controversial works were cleverly divided between the Fourth and Fifth Books and did nothing but add to Monteverdi's success: by 1643 Book Five had been reprinted nine times.

The composer dedicated this book of his latest works to Vincenzo Gonzaga, duke of the wealthy and beautiful city of Mantua, entreating him to accept them, "since his Highness did not disdain to listen to them several times in his royal chambers, when they were still written by hand, and on hearing them made it known that they greatly pleased him, for which reason he honoured me with the charge of his most noble Music: thus … under the protection of such a great Prince, they will live eternally, to the shame of those tongues which seek to destroy the work of others". The dedication clearly conveys the composer's desire to defend both his own progressiveness and the artistic freedom that Ferrara had promoted for so many years, prior to its annexation to the Holy See: he was now composing his "new" music to be heard and appreciated by the duke in Mantua's "royal chambers", where no canon was lurking, pen poised. It also serves as a fascinating testimony of the performance practice of music "written by hand": works were rehearsed, performed and heard before going to print. Although we might have assumed this to be the case, the reality is that no autograph scores survive (by Monteverdi or virtually any other composer of the time), and our only sources are the printed scores: those that "will live eternally". (See however Monteverdi's manuscript works in the notes for the First Book, Naxos 8.555307.) Thirty years later, Artusi's stance had softened somewhat — as Monteverdi himself wrote: "he calmed down to such an extent that in the future he not only went no further but also turned his pen to praise and began to like and esteem me". Even today, however, the revolutionary nature of some of Monteverdi's works has the power to shock. Confidently positioned at the start of the Fifth Book is the first of these, 'Cruda Amarilli', with its unprepared and unresolved dissonances on strong beats (showing that any "harshness" was a quite deliberate choice and by no means incidental) and inclusion of unexpected notes in consonant chords, techniques that are still strikingly modern today. For Monteverdi, the "norm", the theoretical practice validated by the authorities of the past, is now outranked by the expressive requirements of the words. He did not defend himself against Artusi by writing copious theoretical texts: instead he included a brief introductory essay, addressed to "studiosi lettori" (studious readers), in the Fifth Book. A musician in full-time employment rather than a theorist, he justified himself saying that he was not "master of the all the hours that [he] needed", adding, "be not surprised that I have presented these madrigals for publication without first responding to the criticism levelled at them by Artusi". The words that followed have become part of musical history: "I do not do things at random and as soon as it is rewritten it will appear bearing the name of Second Practice, or Perfection of Modern music". As Claudio Gallico notes, "the Second Practice is the musical style which makes the "oration" (i.e. the word together with the meaning, communicative sense, spirit and concept that lie within it, as well as prosody, syntax and rhetoric) the mistress of harmony (i.e. of the music and its phonics, grammar and structure) and not its maidservant" (C. Gallico: Monteverdi, 1979).

Monteverdi, therefore, took advantage of the freedom to use any musical means, be they traditional or newly invented, to illustrate the poetry, transforming it in both expressive and artistic terms. Though Artusi thought that "the Second Practice may in all truth be said to be the dregs of the First", he was to be overwhelmed by the power of this new idiom which inexorably swept across the old world over the next few years.

From this book onwards, a change in the structure of the madrigal can be observed. The traditional piece for five voices was transformed into a testing-ground which welcomed instrumental writing and extended sections for vocal trios and duets, or even solo works, supported by an "innovative invention". The latter consisted of a completely autonomous instrumental melodic line (in other words, not simply doubling the bass line as the basso seguente had done up till then), written by the composer himself (not worked out by the instrumentalists), and which, as Giovan Battista Doni wrote in 1635, "since it continues from beginning to end, is usually known as basso continuo". It is stated in the frontispiece, as well as in the book that Monteverdi himself had had printed for the instrumental bass line only (a first for one of his publications), that this part is for "harpsichord, theorbo or other similar instrument, and is required for the last six pieces and optional for the others". The basso continuo accompaniment plays a vital and indispensable part therefore in the musical texture of the final six madrigals, adding a harmonic support to the solo vocal lines without which the piece would be incomplete. These chords were improvised by the instrumentalist above the bass line. The precise instruments to be played were not specified and would have varied according to the availability of performers and the musical and expressive effects desired.

In the Fifth Book, the predominance of texts by the Ferrarese poet Giovanni Battista Guarini (sixteen out of nineteen) reminds us, as with the Fourth, of the production of his Pastor fido staged by Vincenzo in Mantua, but for which no account of the music survives. In a book whose theme is that of unrequited love, we find two cycles adapted from that work, one featuring Mirtillo's desperate love for Amaryllis, which she is unable to reciprocate, and the other Dorinda's sorrowful utterances to Silvio. Monteverdi successfully brings together two scenes which are not consecutive in the original to create a dialogue between Mirtillo and Amaryllis in the two opening madrigals. The dissonances mentioned earlier on the first words of 'Cruda Amarilli' [Track 1] are echoed in 'O Mirtillo' [2] on the words "il cor di questa che chiami crudelissima Amarilli" in a progression of vertical harmonic chords which highlight the transparency of the lyric. The story of the second unhappy couple (Dorinda and Silvio) forms the heart of this book, and represents the Monteverdian five-voice madrigal par excellence — the "traditional", a cappella, pre-basso continuo madrigal. The group of five madrigals beginning with 'Ecco, Silvio, colei' [4] and ending with 'Ferir quel petto, Silvio' [8] depicts an extended scena that reflects and even intensifies the dramatic inspiration found in 'Vattene pur crudel' (Third Book, Naxos 8.555309, track 8) and throughout the Fourth Book. "Allusions to the visual and narrative setting become explicit: a miniature drama is in effect played out here in a long chain of madrigals in dialogue, the first two for Dorinda [4], [5], the next two for Silvio [6], [7], and the last for Dorinda again [8]. In composing for this extended and well-constructed scene, Monteverdi employs a full range of polyphonic declamation techniques" (P. Fabbri: Monteverdi, 1985). With this impressive and highly dramatic scene the madrigal seems to have explored its full potential, and even perhaps exhausted it both formally and expressively. Yet Monteverdi's genius led him beyond this triumph to open up new formal and expressive channels, which can be heard here in the "last six pieces" (and, to great effect, in all his later books of madrigals). He wrote two further dramatic scenes in the "polyphonic tradition" (though with obligatory basso continuo): the first begins with the lament 'Lasciatemi morire', the second comprises the equally well-known sestina, 'Lacrime d'amante al Sepolcro dell'Amata', and they are respectively the first and last items in the Sixth Book (Naxos 8.555312-13, CD 1, tracks 1 and 8).

Another, particularly original madrigal from this collection (again by Guarini, but this time taken from his Rime, 1598) fell victim to Artusi's criticism. It must have been difficult for a champion of the stile antico to understand the brilliance of a piece whose contrasting sound and tonal effects are so exhilarating: 'Era l'anima mia' [3] opens with the three lower voices in the lowest part of their range, portraying the melancholy sense of the words. A sudden change occurs, however, as a dazzling light shines on the words "l'anima più bella e più gradita" and the upper voices enliven a subtle psychological play of sighs, sensuality and pathos.

'Che dar più vi poss'io' [12] employs psalmodic declamation to great effect, linking it back to the previous book of madrigals. Bringing to an end the first part of this book is 'M'è più dolce penar' [13], the last piece without basso continuo. This madrigal, with its text from Il pastor fido, its reference to Amaryllis (the first protagonist in this collection) and its bold dissonances (echoing those in the first piece) becomes the epitome and the epilogue to Monteverdi's compositional style prior to the last six madrigals in this book, which would set him on a new path.

The first of the obligatory basso continuo pieces, 'Ahi, come un vago sol' [14], is often regarded as anticipating the cantata, or even the classical rondo, because of its regular form in which solo and tutti episodes alternate. It is also fascinating to note how the phrase "Ah, che piaga d'amor", repeated five times, gains in expressive force with each repetition, varying each time until the tormented climax of the last episode and the final, disheartened catharsis.

'T'amo, mia vita' [17] is another piece about which rivers of words have been written. The simple, fresh, ethereal opening phrase is sung by the solo cantus (highest voice), as a reminder of his love to resonate in the heart of his beloved. When this is repeated (and, speaking of "anticipation", strange as it may seem, Leonard Bernstein was to use a similar technique three centuries later in the song Maria), the lovelorn reflections of the protagonist are entrusted to the three lower voices; only when the last echo of that phrase fills his heart, in the final bars, does a fifth voice join too, to complete the harmony in the incessant and tireless repetition.

This innovative second part contains two particularly virtuosic madrigals. 'Troppo ben può' [15], after a brief introduction, presents a dialogue (in a precise AB-AB bipartite form) between the soloist (by now almost a character in his own right) and a group of voices (playing the protagonist's friends and advisors). The second, 'E così, a poco a poco' [18], is written for six voices rather than five (anticipating and paving the way for the next madrigal), using two as narrators and the other four for the repetitions and to make the flames on the word "incendio" burn even brighter through the well-known technique of word-painting.

'Questi vaghi concenti' [19], for nine voices and string instruments, is an anomalous piece, hence its final position in this book. It is reminiscent of both Giovanni Gabrieli's Venetian-school Sacrae symphoniae with their antiphonal dialogues between two choirs ("cori battenti") and the great concerts given in Ferrara in which up to sixty performers took part (as we know from a 1571 account by the Florentine ambassador: see notes to the Third Book). The idiom used by Monteverdi is, however, even more advanced, so much so that it suggests this piece was written specifically to be performed in Mantua at an event linked to the book's publication (an event about which we know nothing today). The five-part sinfonia (both the instruments and voice parts are undefined) introduces and closes the first part which comprises a compact antiphonal dialogue between the two four-part choirs; this is interrupted by solo episodes, initially for the tenor and then the second choir. After a sharp, incisive exclamation by all the singers (on "Deh") we hear the ninth voice for the first time — a genuine solo character who unexpectedly (in what is surely a genuine Baroque invention) asks to join the choral group: "se potessi anch'io così dolce dolermi". Dramatically, quoting the same melody, other voices in duet plead to join this song which the next solo intervention (this time by the bass from the second choir) will define as flowing with the tears of love. A complex double chorus made up of horizontal, imitative melodies, highlighting Monteverdi's skill at contrapuntal writing, features all nine voices and brings to an end the concerto and this most original of collections.

In researching performance practice and historical-artistic sources for this book, two further pieces of evidence have come to light which support our choice of an all-male cast of singers. The first is a wonderful anthology of spiritual adaptations dedicated to Cardinal Borromeo of Milan and published by Aquilino Coppini in 1607: Musica tolta da i madrigali di Claudio Monteverde, e d'altri autori, a cinque et a sei voci, e fatta spirituale. Coppini adapted eleven of the madrigals from the Fifth Book (as well as pieces by Banchieri, Gabrieli, Giovannelli, Marenzio, Nanino and Vecchi) to sacred Latin texts for liturgical use. As we know that women were not allowed to perform sacred or spiritual works, we can assume the same applied to secular madrigals (for more information on the Coppini book, see the website of Professor Jens Peter Jacobsen of the University of Aarhus Music Department in Denmark: http://www.jpj.dk/index.htm#"Jesper").

Our second piece of evidence is a transcription of 'Cruda Amarilli' found in L'Esemplare o sia Saggio fondamentale pratico di contrappunto (Bologna, 1774-76), by one of the greatest scholars of the time, Padre Martini (to whom we shall always be grateful for having saved from destruction many of the ancient documents now held at the Civico Museo Bibliografico-Musicale in Bologna). Despite the fact that a hundred and fifty years had gone by and Monteverdi's fame had been overtaken by that of Mozart (who studied with the Padre in Italy), Martini was a great specialist and did much to conserve the music of the past (both theory and practice). His version of this madrigal is absolutely correct, but transcribed down a fourth to the key of F sharp, to be sung by male voices, a practice that had survived unscathed. It is this version, and this practice that we offer up now, all these centuries later.

I wish to dedicate this recording to my secondary school music teacher Pina Pighi, and to the eminent musicologiest Claudio Gallico.

Marco Longhini
Translated by Susannah Howe


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