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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

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Volume 20 (2014) No. 1

Published 2017

“Guerra, guerra, all’armi o guerrieri!”: Depictions of the Ottoman Conflict in Bolognese Cantatas

Carrie Churnside*


During the final decades of the seventeenth century the unfolding events of the Ottoman wars gripped Italy. While conflict between Catholic Europe and the Muslim Ottomans lasted for centuries, the crucial siege of Vienna in 1683 proved to be a turning point, and Italians keenly anticipated reports of the gains and losses in each successive year’s campaigns, which were then swiftly celebrated or lamented. Reactions to the events occur not only in the newssheets that relayed the latest news and documented official celebrations, but also in the artwork, literature, and music of the day. It is no surprise that the cantata, one of the most popular forms of chamber music at the time and a genre frequently employed for “occasional” works, was a vehicle for comments on such captivating current events. This study examines depictions of the Ottoman conflict in cantatas by two Bolognese composers who were at the outset of their careers during the events of the 1680s and 1690s: Pirro Albergati (1663–1735) and Giacomo Antonio Perti (1661–1756). Bologna, while not playing a leading role in the same way as Venice or Rome, followed the events of the war eagerly. Furthermore, the hope of patronage outside the local orbit may have prompted both Albergati and Perti to choose to set such texts. These works, disseminated both in print and in manuscript, neatly encompass a range of poetical and musical responses to some of the defining events of the era.

1. Turkish Wars at the End of the Seventeenth Century

2. Musical Celebrations

3. Depiction of The Ottoman Soldier in Albergati’s Guerra, guerra

4. Turkey and Solimano in Perti’s Cantate morali e spirituali op. 1

5. Perti’s Unpublished Turkish Cantatas






1. Turkish Wars at the End of the Seventeenth Century

1.1 The sixteen years between 1683 and 1699 witnessed a particularly fierce conflict between Turkey and Europe; one that, judging from the regular reports found in the newssheets of the day, figured prominently in the Italian consciousness, and was the subject of artwork, literature and music at the time.[1] A number of cantata composers set texts on the subject, including two from Bologna, both at the outset of their careers: Pirro Albergati (1663–1735) and Giacomo Antonio Perti (1661–1756), whose works neatly encompass a range of poetical and musical responses to these events. The catalyst to the war was the siege of Vienna, in which the ambitious Kara Mustafa led the Ottoman forces to surround the city, threatening the very center of the Holy Roman Empire. The threat was repelled, largely thanks to the efforts of Charles of Lorraine, Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, and the Polish king John III Sobieski, and the siege concluded in the Imperialists’ favor after two months, on September 12, 1683. Shocked at how close the Turks came not only to occupying the majority of eastern Europe, but also to making inroads into the West, Pope Innocent XI formed a Holy League in 1684 with the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, Venice, and Poland; it was the fourteenth time that a pope had declared a religious crusade against the Muslim Ottomans.[2] Riding high on their success, in each annual campaign of the 1680s Austria enjoyed successes in Hungary and eastern Europe, while Venice fared well in Greece and Dalmatia. The campaigns of the 1690s were more variable, and a truce was declared in the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699 (a peace that was to hold until 1715).[3]

1.2 As second city of the Papal States, Bologna took great interest in this religious conflict. This was particularly true when her own countrymen, such as field marshal Enea Caprara and Count Luigi Marsigli, were involved.[4] Festivities to celebrate the victory in Vienna in 1683 were lavish; according to the chronicler Ghiselli:

the response was such that one couldn’t have asked for more, even if the enemy had been driven away from Bologna’s own walls.[5]

The victory was celebrated by patrician families (who distributed wine and food among the poor), the Church (with numerous Te Deums held throughout the city) and the State, with official civic festivities. There were bonfires, celebratory gunshots, and fireworks, while in the central Piazza Maggiore the authorities erected various painted structures that employed the heraldic imagery of the protagonists: Austrian eagles, the Turkish moon, the Papal tiara, the dove of the Holy Spirit and the Venetian lion. The annual festa della porchetta the following year saw an elaborate re-creation of the battle.[6] While no successive victory occasioned celebrations on the same scale as those for Vienna, contemporary sources such as the Gazzetta di Bologna and the Insignia degli anziani prove that the events of all subsequent campaigns continued to be reported and celebrated throughout the city.

2. Musical Celebrations

2.1 Musical celebrations of military victories were not limited, of course, to either the city of Bologna or the genre of the cantata. Across Italy, particularly in Venice and Rome, the two cities most involved in the campaigns, the conflict inspired church music, oratorios, and operas.[7] The automatic response to news of a victory was to give thanks to God in a church service with elaborate music, as exemplified by the Gazzetta di Bologna’s account of Bologna’s festivities after the siege of Vienna:

Yesterday morning … was sung in the cathedral [San Pietro] a solemn mass of thanksgiving with exquisite choirs of music, for the victory of the Christian armies against the Turk, in the presence of the most eminent cardinals the legate and the archbishop, the most illustrious Monsignor the vice-legate, the most illustrious signori the gonfaloniere and anziani, the most illustrious government, and all the other magistrates, with an incredible crowd of the nobility and the people, and in the end of the aforementioned mass was similarly sung the Te Deum laudamus with the shooting of artillery and a large number of firecrackers.[8]

2.2 Liturgical music on a smaller scale in the form of the motet was also used to comment upon these events. In the Bolognese orbit, Francesco Lora has attributed passages in the Marian motet Dates rosas by Giacomo Antonio Perti to an appeal to the Virgin to protect the Bolognese during the ongoing conflict.[9] Similarly, Giovanni Battista Bassani’s motet collection Concerti sacri (op. 11), printed in the city in 1692, contains a dialogue between a Christian and a Turk, Ad arma gigantes (per la Beata Vergine), in which the power of the Virgin Mary defeats a bellicose Ottoman soldier.[10]

2.3 A number of cantatas from outside the Bolognese ambit also comment on the ongoing conflict. In the Roman cantata repertory, for example, we find a re-enactment of the siege of Vienna in Sotto quest’empie mura (text attributed to Flavio Orsini, Duke of Bracciano; music by Giacomo Simonelli),[11] while Bernardo Pasquini’s Era risorta invano (entitled either “La presa di Buda dall’armi imperiali” or “L’ombra di Solimano” in the sources) celebrates the fall of Buda in 1686.[12] More generally, other cantatas reveal the vogue for orientalism at the time, such as the anonymous Cane, chiaus, Occhialì. Here the Egyptian Fatima laments her desertion by her lover (described as Uccialì, a famous sixteenth-century Italian convert to Islam who fought for the Ottomans in the Battle of Lepanto) in a mixture of Italian and Italianate Arabic, Turkish, and Sanskrit.[13] The Bolognese cantatas under discussion here should not, then, be viewed as unusual in taking the Ottoman wars as their subject, but they do provide a neat microcosm of the ways in which the events were interpreted in one particular environment.

3. Depiction of The Ottoman Soldier in Albergati’s Guerra, guerra

3.1 The earliest cantata under discussion—Guerra, guerra (Fallacia del pensiero humano descritta con le vane speranze del Turco nella presente guerra)—appeared in the Bolognese dilettante composer and patron Count Pirro Capacelli Albergati’s Cantate morali (op. 3) of 1685.[14] The composer’s noble status makes this volume unusual in the context of other cantata publications of the period: in place of the customary dedication there is instead the Albergati crest. Somewhat unusually, all but the first and last of the twelve cantatas attribute the poetry to named authors, and there is a clear overall artistic vision for the collection that suggests that Albergati chose the contents of the volume with care. The opening cantata is a rousing defense of sacred music (citing Biblical examples of its use) and a fierce condemnation of using God’s gift of music to worldly ends, entirely appropriate as an introduction to a volume of cantate morali.[15] The remaining eleven cantatas form a series of reflections on the folly of man’s arrogance, thus engaging with the popular vanitas tradition.[16] Tackling a common subject—the futility of human endeavors—each poet illustrates the moral in a novel and surprising way, thereby demonstrating his “ingegno.”[17] In the final piece, Guerra, guerra (Fallacia del pensiero humano descritta con le vane speranze del Turco nella presente guerra) the anonymous poet (“Sig. N. N.”) demonstrates the adage that “pride comes before a fall” by way of a boastful and bloodthirsty Turkish soldier, who is humbled by his defeats and ends up begging for peace (Appendix 1). In spite of the obvious propaganda, there is an element of truth in this depiction. Following their defeat at Vienna in 1683, the Ottomans suffered a series of losses in the campaigns of 1684 and 1685. In the year this cantata was printed they made overtures of peace, with the Bolognese Alberto Caprara involved in the negotiations.[18] Given the coherence of the volume as a whole, it is possible that Albergati requested a text on this topical subject, perhaps motivated by his admiration for Leopold I, who was the dedicatee of his op. 5 two years later, and whom the composer held in high regard.[19]

3.2 On the page, Guerra, guerra opens with an illustrated initial letter depicting two soldiers in fierce battle. The Christian stands above the Turk; having already dismembered him, he appears to be about to decapitate him (Figure 1).[20] Meanwhile, the text opens with a somewhat crude picture of the bloodthirsty Ottoman soldier:

Guerra, guerra, guerra, guerra,
all’armi, o guerrieri!
Bellona v’invita,
le palme v’addita,
le glorie disserra:
guerra, guerra, guerra, guerra.

(War, war, to arms, soldiers! Bellona [Roman goddess of war] invites you, she directs you to palms of victory, she opens up glories: war, war!)

3.3 It is common for the Ottoman soldier to be depicted as bellicose, as it allows the poet to emphasize the Turkish talent for war, thereby highlighting the magnitude of the Imperial victory. Seldom, however, is such pugnacity expressed quite so bluntly. Albergati’s setting exploits the martial associations of the deep and powerful bass voice and draws on musical features commonly associated with war. The aria, in the trumpet key of D major, opens with the soldier’s war-cry of “Guerra, guerra, guerra, guerra” set to arpeggio figures and accompanied by a trommelbass (Example 1). A shortened version of this bellicose outburst reappears as a refrain both midway and at the close of the aria, ensuring that the soldier’s character is firmly established from the outset.

3.4 The poet then attempts to provoke outrage in the listener at the Ottoman’s arrogance. In the aria “Vuò d’un aquila importuna” the soldier states his desire to force the Imperial eagle, which once flew so high as to behold the face of the sun, to fall blindly at the sight of the crescent moon. As noted above, the celebrations in the Piazza Maggiore employed the same heraldic imagery; this is a common poetic device in the cantata repertory. Musically, it is the second half of this binary aria that depicts the soldier at his most boastful, with Albergati setting his bluster to impressive melismatic sixteenth-note runs as he predicts that the Emperor “hor cadrà” (now will fall) (Example 2).[21] However, the soldier’s boasts are shown to be an “insana idea” as the narrator steps in to describe how this barbaric warrior (“inhumano/ e con barbara mano” [uncivilized/ and with a cruel hand]) is reduced to bewailing his fate because of the “unhappy events” (“gl’infausti eventi”) that took place in Hungary (“nell’Ungarico ciel”).[22]

3.5 The reference to Turkish defeats in Hungary demonstrates that this was a topical cantata written in response to recent events. Imperial troops enjoyed successes in Hungary in the campaigns of 1684 and 1685.[23] These were certainly followed avidly: the Gazzetta di Bologna reports conquests in Vác (issue dated August 2, 1684) and near Buda (August 23, 1684). However, the victory that received the largest celebrations in Bologna appears to have been the capture of Neuhäusel in Hungary on August 19, 1685. The Gazzetta of September 12 first reported news of the victory, which featured the Bolognese Count Eneo Caprara, while the October 3 issue gave some idea of the scale of the celebrations:

On Sunday night, in the town of S. Giovanni in Persiceto [just north of Bologna], in the presence of many noblemen and ladies, the glories of Sig. Count Marshall Caprara in the acquisition of Neuhäusel were celebrated with illuminations, the sound of trumpets and drums, and statues of various figures symbolizing the piazza of the said city. Added to the uproar of frequent volleys of firecrackers were various flames and fireworks that erupted over a long period of time, all of which ended with the distribution of various [poetical] compositions, and universal applause. [24]

3.6 Once Caprara had arrived back in Bologna the celebrations were even more elaborate, including a service in the church of San Salvatore involving “all the musicians in Bologna in five choirs” as described in the Gazzetta di Bologna of December 5, 1685.[25] On December 22 Innocent XI issued a papal brief in praise of Caprara’s actions.[26] We do not know precisely when in 1685 Albergati’s Cantate morali was published, as there is no dedication to date it, but it certainly seems likely that the poet’s references to Imperial successes in Hungary relate to the victory in Neuhäusel. If this is the case, it would be one of many poetical homages to celebrate Caprara’s triumph.[27]

3.7 Returning to Albergati’s cantata, after suffering such grave losses in Hungary, the Ottoman soldier in Guerra, guerra begins to lament and rail against fate, providing Albergati with the chance to contrast the vigor of the opening arias: the Turk is now so desolate he barely appears to have the energy left to lament. The musical setting is very simple: repeated notes and static melodic lines convey a sense of weariness, while the ostinato bass is a clear nod to the lament tradition (Example 3).

3.8 The soldier’s desperate pleas for peace (“Pace cara consolami tu/ … Sei bramata da chi ti sprezzò” [Dear peace, console me…/ you are desired by one who despised you]) stand in stark contrast to his earlier bravura, illustrating that his overconfidence has led to his downfall; undoubtedly this was how Catholic Europe viewed the Ottoman’s suing for peace after the audacious attempt on Vienna. However, the narrator shows the soldier no mercy, swiftly informing him that his pleas are in vain and that mortal (as opposed to heavenly) desires are false:

Taci, Barbaro, taci.
La pace ricusata hor più non trovi;
l’ardir, l’orgoglio provi
con scorno accerbo e fiero
che fallace il Mortal trova il pensiero.

(Be quiet, barbarian, be quiet. You will no longer find the peace you rejected; you demonstrate through impudence and arrogance, with bitter and proud scorn, that mortal thinking is always false.)

3.9 Albergati’s musical setting is equally stark (Example 4). Rather than creating a cavata out of the closing versi sciolti (as was common practice) he instead sets the lines as recitative. He makes only a small nod toward arioso in the final two measures, where a lengthening of note values and a descending line lend more emphasis to the delivery of the final phrase. Albergati adopts the technique of concluding a cantata with recitative elsewhere in the volume, where the surprisingly abrupt ending provides a musical illustration of the vanitas message that worldly pleasures are fleeting and inconstant. Here the device serves to emphasize how, by following his earthly desire for military glory, the soldier’s initial proud arrogance has led to his swift demise.

4. Turkey and Solimano in Perti’s Cantate morali e spirituali op. 1

4.1 Albergati was not the only Bolognese composer to go to the presses with an Ottoman cantata; three years later his friend, the rising star Giacomo Antonio Perti (1661-1756), included two Turkish cantatas in his Cantate morali e spirituali, op. 1 (1688).[28] Perti dedicated the volume to Leopold I, one of the main protagonists in the wars, and he took considerable care to ensure that its contents would please the emperor.[29] Hence when his advisor in Vienna, the Bolognese bass singer Lorenzo Gaggiotti, suggested “if you could insert one [cantata] that refers to the present victories, that could only be a good thing,” Perti took his advice and included not one but two cantatas on the subject.[30]

4.2 The volume opens with Pietà Signore! A le tue piante humile (La Turchia supplicante), a setting for soprano and violins of a text by the Bolognese senator Gregorio Casali (Appendix 2).[31] Here again an Ottoman is depicted suing for peace, but this time as a personification of Turkey, addressing herself directly to Leopold. Perti’s decision to write for high voice is in keeping with the lament tradition to which the poetry is clearly indebted. Nevertheless, the text again emphasizes the extent of Ottoman martial prowess to make the fall more dramatic and highlight how much the Imperialists had achieved in bringing them (literally) to their knees:

Pietà Signore! A le tue piante humile
ecco in laccio servile
quella Tracia, che altera
strinse e allentò di mille Imperi il freno.
Quella son io, che in bellicosa schiera
esposi audace a mille acciari il seno.
Or dal tuo braccio debellata e vinta,
anzi che vincitrice io piango avvinta.

(Have mercy, oh Lord! At your feet, here, now made humble and in servile bonds, is that Thrace which arrogantly tightened and slackened its reins over a thousand empires. I’m the one that in a warlike multitude bared my breast audaciously to a thousand swords. Now weakened and beaten by your arm, rather than a winner, I’m bound and in tears.)[32]

4.3 Following an aria in which Turkey begs the Emperor to stop its torments, the second recitative places the cantata in a specific historical context:

Piangono li rubelli ongari regni,
non li tuoi giusti sdegni,
ma quel vindice telo
ch’a danni loro han provocato in Cielo.
Piangono, non che assisa
la tua prole real mirin su ‘l trono,
ma piangon per desio del tuo perdono.
Piangono, ma che dissi? Ah, già respira
per tua pietate la Pannonia, ed io
viéppiù che il suo dolor deploro il mio.

(The rebel Hungarian kingdoms are not crying for your just wrath, but for that avenging arrow which they drew on themselves from heaven. They are crying, not because they behold your royal offspring on the throne, but they cry out of desire for your forgiveness. They are crying, but what did I say? Pannonia already breathes thanks to your mercy, and I cry much more for my pain than hers.)

The reference here to Leopold’s son as ruler of Hungary is, as Carlo Vitali points out, evidence that the text was written relatively close to the date of publication: Leopold’s son Joseph was crowned king of Hungary in December 1687.[33] Employing the customary flattery, Casali states that the Hungarians weep for Leopold’s forgiveness and that “Pannonia already breathes thanks to your mercy.” The use of the ancient Roman name for Hungary (Pannonia) links the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold with the Roman emperors of old, recalling the military victories of the past and lending legitimacy to his claim on the land.

4.4 Perti’s musical setting draws attention to this important passage (Example 5). He instantly creates a sense of heightened emotional tension by simply beginning the recitative a tone higher than the key of the preceding aria. Having concluded with a strong perfect cadence in D, the bass note is retained, but here functions as the seventh in an E7 chord in third inversion. The text comprises three sentences, each beginning with the word “piangono” (they weep). Perti highlights this important word, which describes the wretched state of Leopold’s enemies, both rhythmically and harmonically. It is set to a dotted quarter-note figure (the second time held across the bar line) and separated from the remainder of the line by rests, thereby drawing attention to the word. Furthermore, the voice and bass form a tritone each time the word appears, while each successive sentence begins at a higher pitch (moving from G#, to C# and then D#). In combination these simple compositional devices help to create a sense of Turkey’s increasing desperation: the musical equivalent of the rhetorical device of gradatio.

4.5 Begging for peace, Turkey concludes with a final rhyming couplet emphasizing the merits of forgiveness (“Dona, Cesare invitto, a noi salute,/ ch’è il vincer lode e il perdonar virtute” [Invincible Emperor, give us health. As winning is praiseworthy, forgiving is a virtue]). As was his standard practice, Perti sets the first line as simple recitative, in this case repeated immediately a tone higher, before creating a substantial cavata of thirty-four measures out of the closing line.[34] Presenting the same concluding moral four times, with increasingly elaborate melismas on “perdonar,” the listener is left in no doubt as to the final moral of the text (Example 6).

4.6 The timing of the publication of a cantata showing Turkey begging for mercy was particularly appropriate. Although Perti could not possibly have known, only the day before he signed the dedication to the Emperor (September 7, 1688), the Imperialists had won a substantial victory by taking the prestigious city of Belgrade, causing a “stunning blow” to the Turks, who had held the city for more than 150 years.[35] It led to Turkey sending a delegation to Vienna to ask for peace in February of the next year.[36] If the volume had arrived in Vienna as intended (rather than being lost in transit, as actually transpired), the image of Turkey pleading for peace would have been more apt than either Perti or Casali could have imagined.[37]

4.7 The third cantata in Perti’s collection, In tenebrosa eclissi (Perdite dell’Ottomano) is a setting for bass voice, two violins, and cello of a text by “Bologna’s finest librettist”: Giovanni Battista Neri (Appendix 3).[38] Like Guerra, guerra, it is written from the viewpoint of an Ottoman soldier, but this time named as “Solimano.” While there are a number of similarities between Neri’s text and that of Albergati’s anonymous librettist, the poetry set by Perti is far subtler. The cantata opens with an atmospheric picture of Turkish desolation:

In tenebrosa eclissi
langue il Tracio pianeta, e il sangue ostile
corre dell’Istro a imporporar la sponda;
dalle pietre profonde
di lacere meschite odesi ancora
mormorare, agitata
da smanie orrende e da deliri atroci,
l’ombra di Solimano…

(The Turkish crescent languishes in a dark eclipse, and hostile blood runs to stain the banks of the Hister [Danube]; from the deepest rocks of ruined mosques the ghost of Suleiman, agitated by horrendous craving and frantic delirium, can still be heard murmuring.)

Neri thus makes the religious nature of the conflict clear from the outset: Suleiman is a wandering ghost who rises from the ruins of mosques that the Christian crusaders destroyed and is destined never to find peace.[39] While numerous battles took place close to the Danube (“Hister”), this is most likely a reference to the important Imperialist victory at Buda (September 2, 1686), which was widely celebrated across Europe.[40]

4.8 Two possible figures might be identified as the Suleimen of the text, both of whom had links to Buda. Carlo Vitali suggests that the speaker is the great warrior Suleiman I (1495-1566) known as “The Magnificent,” under whose rule the city was originally captured.[41] Perhaps a more convincing identification, however, is Sarı Süleyman Pasha, grand vizir during the fall of Buda, who was decapitated because of his failure to retain the city and to appease the troops who rose up in mutiny against his leadership.[42] The second reading would be a more topical response to recent events (Sarı Süleyman Pasha died in September 1687)[43] while also providing a compelling example of how quickly fortune’s wheel can turn, complementing the vanitas theme of other cantatas in the volume.

4.9 In Neri’s text Suleiman returns to survey the scene of the Ottoman defeat. The aria “Dove sei, fama volante” vividly creates a sense of the soldier’s bewilderment at the sudden turn of events (Example 7). Set as a da capo aria with a modified reprise, the “A” section has Suleiman questioning where the Ottomans’ fleeting fame has gone. Perti’s musical setting captures the feeling of disorientation through stilted staccato phrases in both instrumental and vocal lines, insistent repetition of “dove?” (where?), and a Phrygian cadence—the standard musical shorthand for a question.[44] Suleiman then goes on to emphasize how quickly the downfall took place (“Non cadé, precipitò/ l’ottomana libertà; suo fasto già sparì/ sen’ fuggì” [Turkish freedom did not fall, it plummeted; once its magnificence disappeared, it fled away]). However, he is resigned to the fact that the Ottomans will never recover (“e quel sol che tramontò/ non più, no, non sorgerà” [And that sun that has set will never ever rise again]). Like Albergati, Perti exploits the strength of the bass voice to characterize the warrior; again this involves the use of arpeggio figures and masterful control of a wide range, yet Perti’s treatment is more musically convincing. Here the strings set the scene with rapid sixteenth-note descending scales while the voice’s arpeggio figures encompass a descent of a thirteenth in the space of a measure (mm. 10–11) (Example 8). Again in a manner analogous to Albergati, Perti responds to the closing image of the warrior’s helplessness with languishing repeated notes that have lost all their previous energy, vividly illustrating how the once mighty Ottomans are now a spent force (Example 9). Suleiman thus makes his retreat into the shadowy underworld.

4.10 In tenebrosa eclissi bears a striking resemblance to an anonymous text set by the Roman composer Bernardo Pasquini, Era risorta invano (L’ombra di Solimano).[45] While there is no evidence to suggest that either poet or composer knew the work of the other, Pasquini’s poet also uses the device of the ghost of Suleiman returning to lament the fall of Buda (in this case the city is named).[46] In Pasquini’s text the religious aspect is made even more explicit, with Suleiman rising from his “infernal soggiorno” (infernal residence) to state that the sight of a fallen Buda is more painful than anything he has experienced in hell (“Di Stige nel regno/ Non è sì penoso / De’ miseri” [The miseries of the kingdom of Styx are not as painful]). Similarly, Pasquini’s poet proclaims more overtly that the present Imperialist victory has the effect of annulling previous Ottoman triumphs:

Se di me l’antica gloria
fra le mura sì atterrò
con l’oppressa mia memoria
pur fra l’ombre io morirò.

(If my past glory is thus razed to the ground with the walls, with my downtrodden memory I too in the shadows will die.)

4.11 Suleiman makes a last desperate attempt to rally the Ottoman troops (“Correte, soccorrete/ arcieri guerrieri” [Run, come and help, warrior archers]). However, unsurprisingly, the troops who rose up in mutiny against him fail to respond to his call to arms, and Suleiman is forced to concede that the situation is hopeless, as “L’aquila imperatrice/ Su le ceneri mie si fa Fenice” (the imperial eagle is a phoenix rising out of my ashes). Both cantatas thus use strikingly similar poetic means to demonstrate the waning of the Ottoman empire.[47]

5. Perti’s Unpublished Turkish Cantatas

5.1 Cantatas concerning the Ottoman wars did not circulate exclusively in print; a number of manuscript cantatas from the Bolognese orbit deal with the same themes. As Sara Dieci states in the introduction to her catalogue of the cantatas in the San Petronio archive, this can range from a fleeting reference to an exotic location (as in the anonymous Dal più sublime punto) to the supreme patriotism of Perti’s Io che l’età primiera (Felsina cantata), in which Bologna herself declares that, in times of peace at home, her bellicose soldiers will produce “nuovi duci [per] il Germano/ nuovi terrori [per] il Trace” (new leaders for the Germans, new terrors for Thrace).[48] Similarly a manuscript of cantatas for bass voice in Bologna’s Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica (I-Bc) contains two relevant works by the composers Paolo Antonio Bassani and Giuseppe Maria Pò.[49] In Bassani’s Che portento fatale (L’ombra di Mustafà Carà) it is the ghost of another Ottoman warrior–Kara Mustafa (architect of the 1683 siege of Vienna)—who rails against the fortune that saw his failure but the success of his enemy, the sultan; Pò’s Dalle Cesaree squadre is instead an homage to Leopold’s military prowess.

5.2 One of the most interesting examples in the manuscript repertory, however, is a trio of works by Perti that celebrates Venetian naval battles. Two of the cantatas are located in the San Petronio archive: Pallida in fronte, insanguinata il volto (La Turchia piange le sue sconfitte, labelled “cantata seconda”) and Odi regno infelice (Invito alla Turchia à sottomettersi al dominio Veneto, labelled “cantata terza”) [I-Bsp L59/P]. An examination of the San Petronio catalogue reveals a convincing candidate for the first cantata of the set: All’incendio di luce (Augurio di felicità, labelled “cantata prima,” I-Bsp L58/P).[50] The set makes musical sense: the first two cantatas are for solo alto, with the third a duet for two altos, and all three have instrumental lines for two violins and a viola. There are also similarities in the way the strings are employed. Both solo cantatas contain two arias; the first of each has a ritornello for violins 1, 2, and viola, while in the second aria unison violins and viola play throughout. The number of surviving instrumental parts also suggests similar performing forces.[51] The cantatas are in related keys, moving from F major to the relative minor, D, and thence to D major. There is, moreover, a compelling poetical reason for considering all three to be a set (Appendix 4). The first cantata is celebratory, its text describing how the stars are proof of heaven’s happiness at the Virgin Mary’s triumph. In the second cantata a wounded Turkey laments her defeat at the hands of the Venetian lion, complaining that the stars are against her, while in the final cantata a “regno infelice” is invited to rise up against the yoke of Ottoman rule and submit to the Venetian republic, who is ruled by the “vergine regina.”[52]

5.3 None of the cantatas bears a date, but it is possible to put forward a hypothesis as to the date of creation from two pieces of contextual evidence, namely references to contemporary people and events. In the second recitative of the first cantata, the anonymous poet states that “Adriaci eroi” (Venetian heroes) are the “interpreti e ministri” (interpreters and ministers) of the Virgin’s desires, before going on to mention in particular the names Gritti and Foscarini:

Tu, su le auguste fronti
de’ porporati duci e Gritti e Foscarini,
mira de’ tuoi destini
descritto il lieto corso,
e in quella luce
che il tuo sen ristora
di due Imperi le gioie espresse onora.

(You [the Virgin Mary], behold the joyful progress of your destinies written on the venerable brows of the “porporati”[53] leaders and Gritti and Foscarini, and in that light that emanates from your breast, honor the expressed joys of two empires.)

In the second cantata Turkey laments her losses “su i lidi miei lasù l’Epiro” (on my shores up in Epirus); a region of ancient Greece, in this period Epirus corresponded to Albania.[54]

5.4 The fact that various members of the Foscarini and Gritti family were involved in the Ottoman conflict throughout its lengthy history makes it difficult to date the cantatas solely on this reference.[55] However, the allusion to victory in Albania places these works in the context of the events of 1690. Having finally captured the Peloponnese peninsula (known as the Morea) in its entirety, in September of this year the Venetians went on to conquer the Albanian towns of Vallona and Knin (Canina).[56] Their occupation of Albania did not last long; finding they were too costly to maintain, they demolished Canina on December 26 and Vallona in March of the following year.[57] There is thus a very short window during which a cantata celebrating Albanian victories would be relevant. Furthermore, both a Gritti and a Foscarini are mentioned in the published Venetian reports of these events.

5.5 Readers of the issue of the Gazzetta di Bologna dated September 5, 1690, learned that while the invading army made its way into Albania, the newly won town of Monemvasia in the Morea was left in the charge of “l’Eccellentiss. Sig. Vicenzo Gritti.”[58] That this was an important gain was highlighted in the following issue, which also recorded the elaborate celebrations held in Venice to mark the occasion.[59] In the issue of October 3, 1690, the Gazzetta relayed news of the acquisition of Vallona, which also provided an account of Sebastiano Foscarini’s elevation to the position of procuratore and the pomp with which it was celebrated:

The most excellent Sig. Sebastiano Foscarini honored by the Serenissimo
Maggior Conseglio … with the office of Procurator, on Monday made his ceremonial entrance, taking possession of the said office, in the usual manner. There was a crowd of senators, the Marciaria where they passed by was sumptuously decorated, and all followed with every possible pomp.[60]

The following week’s newspaper not only gave a detailed account of the capture of Vallona but also described the festivities that accompanied the news both in Venice and in Rome, where the pope marked the occasion with a Te Deum in S. Maria Maggiore, assisted by the Venetian Cardinal Ottoboni.[61]

5.6 A cantata celebrating Venetian victories in Epirus would thus only be topical at the close of the 1690 campaign. During this period both Vicenzo Gritti and Sebastiano Foscarini gained positions of leadership; presumably the references to their surnames would have been appreciated by the intended audience. The “porporati duci” referred to in the same passage are more ambiguous, although this may be an allusion to the fact that upon Alexander VIII’s election to the papacy he created a number of cardinals, including his grandnephews Pietro Ottoboni (November 1689) and Giambattista Rubini (February 1690); both Venetians were granted positions in government.[62] A date of 1690 would also fit with the musical style of the works. The small-scale da capo arias and lengthy cavatas are similar to those found in Perti’s Cantate morali e spirituali of 1688, rather than the longer da capo arias typical of the early eighteenth century and evident in a number of his other works now in the San Petronio archive.[63]

5.7 While it is possible that the cantatas were written in Bologna, the local nature of the text makes it more likely that they were destined for a Venetian performance. Perti was in Venice in 1689, and his opera Brenno in Efeso premiered there on January 4, 1690.[64] In 1690 he was presumably back in Bologna, as he was appointed maestro di cappella at the cathedral.[65] At the end of that year another of his operas—L’inganno scoperto per vendetta—was premiered in Venice with a dedication to a Venetian procurator.[66] It is possible, then, that he was in the city while the victories in Albania were being celebrated; undoubtedly he had contacts there who may have requested these topical cantatas from him.[67]

5.8 The first cantata in the set (All’incendio di luce) celebrates the Venetian victory, where the stars shining brightly in the sky are seen as proof that the Virgin Mary has today triumphed (“la Vergin coronata oggi trionfa”).[68] Beholding these heavenly signs of happiness (“alte felicità”) is a “bella figlia di Brenno” (beautiful daughter of Brennus). The subject of Perti’s opera Brenno in Efeso (to a libretto by Antonio Arcoleo), Brennus was a warrior in the third century BC.[69] The opera depicts this Western leader invading a city that, in Perti’s day, was at the heart of the Ottoman empire. His name was also a byword for a fearsome warrior; to quote Arcoleo he was “Brenno il gran Rè di cui/ già trema l’Asia, e il mondo” (Brennus, the great king, at whom Asia and the world already trembles).[70] After praising the stars, the daughter of Brennus links them to the “adriatici eroi” (Venetian heroes) who have carried out the Virgin Mary’s desires. The cantata concludes by underlining the importance of the Mother of God, whose light expresses the joys of two empires (both heavenly and Venetian).

5.9 In the second cantata we move from the words of the “figlia di Brenno” to Turkey herself, here presented in the familiar guise of a beaten and lamenting figure, “pallida in fronte, insanguinato il volto” (with a pallid brow and bloodstained face). In the first aria of the cantata Turkey laments that the stars that were expressions of happiness for the queen of heaven are, for the “unhappy queen of the Byzantine empire,” evidence that Fortune wages war on her.

Dite, o cieli, e sino a quando
contro me saran saette
gl’aspri rai d’astri tiranni?
Troppo lunghi son l’affanni,
troppo dure le vendette
che il mio cuor van fulminando.

(Tell me, o heavens, for how long will the harsh rays of the tyrannous stars be arrows against me? Too long are the troubles, too harsh the vengeances that are hurled down upon my heart.)

Perti’s musical setting again captures the sense of a lamenting figure questioning her position, just as in In tenebrosa eclissi (Example 10). The aria opens with a mournful descending phrase, first introduced in the string ritornello. Again the question is posed to a Phrygian cadence, followed by a second presentation of the material with an extended melisma to highlight “tiranni” (tyrannous). In the “B” section rising sequences give a sense of Turkey’s increasing frustration with the harshness of her torments. Formally, this aria text lacks the key rhyme that was conventionally understood to indicate a da capo setting, having instead the rhyme scheme abccba. Perti essentially fashions a da capo-style repeat from the rhyming first and last line. Thus the incomplete sentence “Dite, o cieli, e sino a quando” returns at the end, creating the impression of Turkey repeatedly questioning just how long her torments may last.

5.10 The cantata continues by showing Turkey in a desperate state, in a similar manner to the approach taken in Pietà Signore! (La Turchia supplicante). Here she is no longer able to endure further suffering after the wounds inflicted on her in Epirus by the Adriatic lion (“d’Adria il leone”). While this is a common heraldic image for Venice, it is noteworthy that in December 1690 the famous Porto leone statue, captured in Athens during the campaign of 1687, was ceremoniously placed in the Arsenal.[71] It is a trope of cantata poetry that the sea is unstable and inconstant (usually compared to a lover). In the second aria, however, the image is turned on its head, as Turkey laments that the usual “mare instabile” (unstable sea) has, to her detriment, become consistent in its inextinguishable fires. The final lines highlight, once again, the opposition between religions, as the moon is eclipsed by the Christian warrior (“batezzato Marte” [baptized Mars]).

5.11 The third cantata of the set, a duet for two altos, is entitled “Invitation to Turkey to submit to Venetian rule.” In performance it is easy to imagine the first two cantatas being assigned to two different singers (one portraying the “figlia di Brenno,” the other the lamenting Turkey) who then join together to convince their enemy to submit to Christian rule. Thus the text describes a “regno infelice” (unhappy kingdom) which suffers under the “giogo tiranno” (tyrannical yoke) of its rulers, the “crudele Ottomano” (cruel Ottoman). However, “il Cielo fedele” (faithful heaven) invites them to “più belle fortune” (better fortune); they are thus incited to rise up and break this “giogo crudele” (cruel yoke).

5.12 Discussion of an uprising to break free of the “Ottoman yoke” is particularly relevant in the case of Albania. Reports of the predominantly Christian country’s desire to break free of Ottoman rule appeared in Venice as early as 1688.[72] The Venetian capture of Vallona gave the Albanians a renewed impetus for rebellion:

Meanwhile the Christian people [of Albania], having heard of the capture of Vallona, were greatly encouraged and letters were sent to the Cuzzi, Clementi and other mountain peoples, making the case to them that now was the time that they had hoped for and encouraging them to effect a general uprising, in order to shake off the Ottoman yoke.[73]

Reading this cantata as an address to Albania, rather than Turkey more generally, allows us to view the message in a new light. The incitement to rise up against the harshness of Thrace (“Fuggi, fuggi del Trace il rigor”) takes on a more literal meaning, while the references to heaven and the Virgin Mary do not suggest a religious conversion, but rather joining a country that shares the Catholic faith. Thus, instead of submitting themselves to the rule of the “cruel Ottoman,” the ruler of Venice—the Virgin Mary, named as the architect of the victory in the first cantata—offers them a brighter future. In the final passage the “infelice regno” (unhappy kingdom) is invited to admire the Virgin Mary in heaven and to adore the mastery of the Venetian heroes.

5.13 Perti appears to have preferred writing duets; six of the ten cantatas in his op. 1 are for two voices, yet on only one occasion is a duet setting necessary to make sense of the text. The duet writing in Odi regno infelice is, by comparison with that found in the Cantate morali e spirituali, rather simple. The first aria (“Risorgi dal duolo”) moves almost exclusively in thirds,[74] while in the second aria each alto sings a solo strophe. Only in the relatively short final cavata does Perti demonstrate his skill at handling multiple melodic lines, as the two altos, two violins, viola, and continuo engage in a fugal passage that creates a fitting climax to the trio of cantatas, as the performers join together to praise the “veneti eroi” (Example 11). Aside from this brief moment, the relative simplicity of the writing suggests that the work may have been written in haste, in order to provide an up-to-date response to contemporary events.

5.14 The set of three cantatas neatly encompasses a range of poetical strategies seen in other cantatas on the subject. The poet emphasizes the military aptitude of the Venetians, yet at all times stresses that they are ruled by heaven. A personified Turkey is left to lament her losses in language that references the standard heraldic imagery, as she is wounded by the Venetian lion’s claw, and the Ottoman crescent moon is eclipsed. Finally, those under Turkish rule (most particularly those in Albania) are invited to submit to both the Virgin Mary and Venice. As poesia per musica the texts allow Perti to explore the gamut of emotions in his music, from Turkey’s despondent melancholy to the rousing invocation to rise up in rebellion.

5.15 The cantatas under discussion here provide a compelling insight into the ways in which chamber music was used to comment on and to provide an up-to-the-minute response to the current political situation. The poets use various strategies in order to mark the Imperial victories, whether by evoking ghosts of past warriors to highlight how great an enemy has been defeated, enraging listeners with the arrogance of an unnamed soldier, or drawing on the popular lament tradition to depict Turkey suing for peace. The standard references to fate and the heavens, however, take on added meaning when depicting a religious war in which every victory was taken as confirmation of God’s blessing. Compositional responses are the same as those for secular texts, but the evocative laments and extended cavata-settings of concluding heraldic imagery lend more weight and emotion to the one-dimensional poetic depictions. While the choice of these texts was undoubtedly influenced by the wider political context, with both Albergati and Perti looking to Vienna, and Perti also working in Venice, works such as these were performed across Italy during the period, and are evidence of the extent to which the Ottoman conflict impacted on everyday life in the seventeenth century, including the musical entertainment.


Example 1. Albergati, opening of Guerra, guerra, 139

Example 2. Albergati, “Vuò d’aquila importuna” from Guerra, guerra, 143–45

Example 3. Albergati, opening of “Fati aversi” in Guerra, guerra, 147

Example 4. Albergati, “Taci, barbaro, taci” from Guerra, guerra, 150–51

Example 5. Perti, closing ritornello from “Perdono o Cesare” and recitative “Piangono li rubelli ongari regni” from Pietà Signore! A le tue piante humile (La Turchia supplicante), 8–10 (pages from basso continuo partbook)

Example 6. Perti, recitative and cavata “Dona, Cesare invitto, a noi salute” from Pietà Signore! A le tue piante humile (La Turchia supplicante), 12–15

Example 7. Perti, “Dove sei, fama volante” from In tenebrosa eclissi (Perdite dell’Ottomano), 27–29

Example 8. Perti, “Non cadè, precipitò” from In tenebrosa eclissi (Perdite dell’Ottomano), 30–31

Example 9. Perti, “Parlano l’ombre” from In tenebrosa eclissi (Perdite dell’Ottomano), 33

Example 10. Perti, “Dite, o cieli, e sino a quando” from Pallida in fronte, insanguinata il volto (La Turchia piange le sue sconfitte), fols. 1r–1v

Example 11. Perti, recitative and cavata “Vieni e consola i lunghi tuoi martiri” from Odi regno infelice (Invito alla Turchia à sottomettersi al Dominio Veneto), fols. 3v–4r


Figure 1. Initial woodcut engraving of Guerra, guerra in Albergati, Cantate morali, op. 3 (Bologna: Monti, 1685), 139. Image reproduced by kind permission of the Biblioteca dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana and the Clori database (www.cantataitaliana.it).


Table 1. Cantatas and Motets on Turkish Themes Referenced in the Present Study


Appendix 1. Text of Guerra, guerra (Fallacia del pensiero humano descritta con le vane speranze del turco nella presente guerra), Poesia di Sig. N. N., in Albergati, Cantate morali, op. 3 (Bologna: Monti, 1685), 139–51

Appendix 2. Text of Pietà Signore! A le tue piante humile (Turchia supplicante), Parole dell’illustrissimo Sig. Gregorio Casali, in Perti, Cantate morali e spirituali, op. 1 (Bologna: Monti, 1688), 5–15

Appendix 3. Text of In tenebrose eclissi (Perdite dell’Ottomano), Parole del Sig. Dottore Neri, in Perti, Cantate morali e spirituali, op. 1 (Bologna: Monti, 1688), 26–34

Appendix 4. Cantatas by Perti in I-Bsp

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