1.1 During the period July 2-4, 2009, a group of scholars and practitioners in the arts and education met in Frankfurt at the invitation of Prof. Dr. Linda Maria Koldau, under the sponsorship of the Musikwissenschaftliche Institut of the Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt, to present papers and discuss the music of Claudio Monteverdi and its reception in the modern world. The sessions focused on changes in composition between the Renaissance and the Baroque, Monteverdi’s secular and sacred music in Mantua and Venice, stylistic change in Monteverdi’s late works, and Monteverdi in modern cultural life and academic education.
1.2 The conference featured formal and informal papers, spontaneous responses, panel discussions, and a concert. The present issue of the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music represents a selection from the formal papers, the majority of which are concerned with Monteverdi’s Mantuan period. One of the conference papers, by Anthony Newcomb, entitled “The Ballata and the ‘Free’ Madrigal in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century,” has already been published in an expanded version in the Journal of the American Musicological Society 63, no. 3 (Fall 2010): 427–97.
2.2 The paper sessions began with a prologue by Tim Carter, addressing the delegates on the subject “Rethinking Monteverdi: Toward a New Biography.” In this essay Carter proposes considering more deeply the context and motivations behind the facts we know of Monteverdi’s life. As Carter puts it, the challenge “is to move beyond these known facts to join up their dots.” This is what Carter himself pursues in placing the information we have about Monteverdi’s career at the court of the Gonzagas in the context of courtly life and the client-patron relationship between Monteverdi and the Gonzaga family. Carter suggests that Monteverdi tended “to overreach his position” and examines a number of situations that illustrate the fluctuating and tenuous balance between client agency and patronal authority in the Monteverdi-Gonzaga relationship.
2.3 More generally speaking, from the time of Leonardo da Vinci, Josquin des Prez, Giovanni Bellini, Michelangelo and Titian, the relationship between patrons and the finest artists and musicians, increasingly recognized as uniquely creative individuals, had shifted toward greater autonomy and freedom of action on the part of the latter, which was accepted and tolerated by most patrons, including the most powerful. Monteverdi, who was quite conscious of his special talents, may well have considered it appropriate to exercise, at least to some degree, this kind of assertiveness at Mantua, especially with respect to his set-to with Duke Francesco in 1612 that resulted in his and his brother’s dismissal. Duke Francesco, on the other hand, was attempting to reassert his patronal authority over his employees. Clearly, the procurators of St. Mark’s did not view Monteverdi’s dismissal for what Francesco considered insubordination as an impediment to hiring the composer for the most prestigious and powerful musical position in Venice.
2.4 “Joining the dots” requires, as Carter himself says, inference and speculation. It also requires a critical eye for plausibility. Speculation must make sense within the historical and social environment, and no one is better than Carter at such plausible, contextual speculation; moreover, Carter is scrupulous both about the relative probability of his hypotheses and in considering alternative explanations. His paper is a call for more of this kind of approach to understanding the life and conduct not only of Monteverdi, but other composers as well. As in any good conference, there are unanticipated, serendipitous relationships and interactions among the papers. The paper of Ulrich Siegele, described below, is just the kind of examination of biographical context and motivations that Carter proposes, and the same impetus informs my own essay, also described below.
3.1 Despite the vastness of the bibliography on Orfeo (1607), there always seems to be more to say about this extraordinarily rich work. Paolo Fabbri, in “L’Orfeo del 1607: Un madrigalista all’opera,” illustrates how many features of the work (first published in 1609) derive from Monteverdi’s own madrigals through Book 5 (1605). Monteverdi has in many cases taken Striggio’s original text and reduced it to the size of typical madrigal texts or reshaped it for strophic musical treatment in early seventeenth-century aria style. Striggio’s versi sciolti, cast dramatically in stile recitativo, reflect Monteverdi’s use of declamatory style in many of his madrigals, especially those closest in time to Orfeo. The conclusions of Acts I and II reveal an approach to duet writing already found in Book 5 of the madrigals, but which reaches much greater fruition later in Book 7. Some madrigals oscillate between a declamatory style based on note repetition and a more fluid and cadentially oriented melody, found in the recitatives of Orfeo as well. Fabbri also explores word repetition and frequent cadences as a means of intensifying the expression or lending a quality suited to the particular personage or situation in relation to others. The difference between rhetorical and expressive techniques in madrigals and their adaptation to the opera is the sense that on stage the personages speak for themselves, not for the composer behind them, as is obvious in the madrigal.
4.1 Monteverdi’s second opera, Arianna, from which we have so much less actual music to consider than Orfeo, has nevertheless long been a principal starting point and locus for discussion of Monteverdi’s aesthetics; indeed, Monteverdi himself set the table for such colloquy by signaling the work out eleven times in his correspondence. Sabine Ehrmann-Herfort’s essay, “The Arianna Model: On Claudio Monteverdi’s Musical Conceptions,” surveys not only Monteverdi’s well-known prefaces to the Fifth Book of Madrigals of 1605, the Scherzi musicali of 1607 (written by his brother Giulio Cesare), and the Eighth Book of Madrigals of 1638, but also the many brief comments on specific works and musical matters in approximately one fourth of his 127 extant letters. These remarks tend to focus on practical musical concerns, occasionally on aesthetic ideas, and on individual pieces, the vast majority of which, including most of Arianna, are lost. From these sources, Ehrmann-Herfort singles out for emphasis three aspects of music on which Monteverdi maintained largely consistent attitudes throughout his career: affetto, oratione, and melodia.
4.2 Affetto is discussed in the preface to the Eighth Book of Madrigals, especially in conjunction with the Combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda. Here the composer names three principal affects: ira, temperanza, and humilità, but, as Ehrmann-Herfort notes, this taxonomy doesn’t include pain and sorrow, obvious in the composer’s laments. The absence of such affects from his taxonomy underscores the difference between Monteverdi’s general aesthetic conceptions about music and the actual, practical conceptualizations realized in individual compositions where he responded flexibly and in multiple ways to the exigencies of the moment. As Ehrmann-Herfort demonstrates, the demands of individual compositions show us complex and multi-layered ways of executing works within the general framework of Monteverdi’s underlying aesthetic ideas.
4.3 With regard to oratione, Monteverdi, as is well known, privileged speech over music, in the sense that musical speech should reflect the movements of the soul expressed first in speech, and then in speech-as-music, the via naturale alla imitatione. But this capacity to express oneself in musical speech is reserved to human characters, not to allegorical figures. Thus Orfeo and Arianna are cited in his letter to Alessandro Striggio of December 9, 1616, as having moved audiences because of their humanity, not as representatives of the gods or as mythological figures.
4.4 Melodia is a more problematic concept, not clearly defined either in Monteverdi’s writings or in those of his contemporaries. In the Dichiaratione of 1607, Monteverdi, quoting Plato, declares it to be composed of speech, harmony, and rhythm, i.e., musical style itself, as Ehrmann-Herfort indicates, but particularly identified with vocal music. Later, in a letter of October 22, 1633, written apparently to the well-known theorist Giovanni Battista Doni, Monteverdi identifies melodia with the seconda pratica, the new, modern way of composing in contrast to the prima pratica, ordinario scrivere, devoid of interest in nature. The treatise on the seconda pratica that Monteverdi first promised in 1605 and again in his letter to Doni in 1633 and another of February 2, 1634, never materialized.
4.5 Numerous musical theorists of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries wrote about established contrapuntal style, based on Zarlino’s Istitutioni harmoniche of 1558, or focused their attention on practical aspects of music-making and composition in their rapidly changing modern world—one in which the notion of the musician as orator was fundamental. The oratorical aspect of music was intertwined in Monteverdi’s thought with a theatrical conception of the art that encompassed not only music per se, but also theatrical production, staging, performance practice, and the effect on the audience. While Monteverdi expressed himself in general principles when the occasion prompted him to write about his aesthetics, his aesthetic ideas are only fully revealed in the practical realization of these general precepts in his responses to the immediate compositional demands of individual pieces.
5.1 The conflict between the stile antico of Zarlino and the modern style of the seconda pratica is the subject of the paper by Ulrich Siegele, “Seconda pratica: Counterpoint and Politics,” which revisits the controversy between Giovanni Maria Artusi and Monteverdi in light not only of Monteverdi’s compositional innovations but also of the Catholic Reformation, its efforts to define and regulate what was appropriate and acceptable in art, and the Roman Inquisition, which struggled not only to root out heresy, but to regulate public conduct in order to ensure religious conformity and suppress perceived threats to political stability. Siegele’s historical method is just what Tim Carter proposed in his call for a broader approach to Monteverdi’s biography: to connect the dots between and among the known facts.
5.2 Siegele argues that in reverse of our usual historical concept of the social context influencing the composer, in this instance Monteverdi’s compositional innovations influenced the social context. That context is identified by the coat of arms displayed on the title page and the dedication of Artusi’s first treatise attacking Monteverdi’s violation of the rules of stile antico counterpoint in madrigals that the theorist printed anonymously and without their texts. The dedicatee was Cardinal Pompeo Arigoni, a member of the Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition and a companion of Clement VIII in the papal military expedition to take over Ferrara after the death of the last Este duke in 1598. Artusi, who was a canon in the Congregation of San Salvatore in Bologna, met with Arigoni in Ferrara at that time and discussed with the cardinal “the imperfections of modern music … and was commissioned by that member of the Holy Office to proceed against them.”
5.3 Thus Artusi was representing both the cardinal and the Inquisition in charging Monteverdi with a moral error, but no proceeding against him could take place without a verbal response from the composer, since musical notation alone could not serve as the basis of an inquisitorial investigation. Siegele argues that Artusi was proceeding from the tradition of Aristotelian scholastic philosophy and theology that claimed universal truths for the Roman Catholic Church. Among those universal truths were the rules of counterpoint as defined by Artusi’s teacher, the composer and theorist Gioseffo Zarlino. Artusi saw Monteverdi’s approach to composition as violating these universal rules, as lacking rules altogether, and therefore leading to confusion and imperfection (the “Imperfections of Modern Music”). Lacking rules, Monteverdi’s music was no longer subject to reason and appealed to the senses alone. Within Zarlino’s rules, consonance represented numerical proportions of reason, which could tolerate the different proportions of dissonance as “merely accidental,” but not in the primary role they played in the Monteverdi madrigals Artusi quoted in his treatise. According to Artusi, such usage is “contrary to Nature, and thus contrary to Truth.”
5.4 Siegele goes on to trace the escalating back-and-forth responses of Monteverdi and Artusi, illustrating how carefully Monteverdi (and his brother Giulio Cesare) crafted the composer’s responses to claim that Claudio did indeed follow a set of rules that were based in reason, rules that would be propounded in Monteverdi’s forthcoming treatise on the seconda pratica. As mentioned above in connection with Sabine Ehrmann-Herfort’s essay, Monteverdi continued to consider this treatise throughout most of his life, but he never completed it nor even explained his thoughts about it in any detail. Like Ehrmann-Herfort, Siegele turns to Monteverdi’s own compositions, in particular, the famous Cruda Amarilli that opens the Fifth Book of Madrigals, in which Monteverdi made his initial verbal response to Artusi. Siegele analyzes in detail this madrigal, quoted prominently in Artusi’s first attack of 1600. His analysis illustrates both the consonant basis of the work and the rational principles behind the new way Monteverdi employs dissonance in relation to the underlying consonant “frame of reference,” a frame that at times exists only in the imagination.
5.5 Siegele’s paper is a brief summary of a much more detailed earlier essay of his, “Claudio Monteverdi: vom Madrigal zur Monodie,” that appeared in Musik-Konzepte 83/84(Munich, 1994): 31-102, a periodical not widely circulated in North America. Therefore, in order to make it more readily available, we have, with the kind permission of the editors of Musik-Konzepte (edition text+kritik, Munich), republished the original in facsimile alongside his English-language summary.
6.1 My own paper, “Monteverdi’s Mass and Vespers of 1610: the Economic, Social, and Courtly Context,” expands on my earlier writings on this issue from the basis of the catalogue of all Mass, Office, and Holy Week music published in Italy 1516–1770 compiled by Anne Schnoebelen and myself and published by this Journal as Instrumenta, vol. 2 (https://sscm-jscm.org/instrumenta/vol-2/). As a model for the study of other prints, I explore a set of questions raised by Monteverdi’s publication, but applicable to any other: “What were the circumstances and conditions that engendered a particular publication? What was the relationship between the composer and the dedicatee? How was a particular music print financed, including who provided the initial investment? What were the patterns of marketing and distribution? Who purchased the publication, and how widespread was its sale and use? and finally, “How specifically was it employed in liturgical and devotional contexts?” These are the fundamental questions we need to investigate in order to understand better and more fully the culture and role of sacred music not only in Italy, but anywhere else where sacred music was produced, published, and consumed. In most cases we don’t have answers to more than one or two of these questions, if we have any at all, but by exploring them through the large repertoire now known to survive, we may be able to extrapolate certain generalities that characterize the sacred music culture of the period.
7.1 The conference organizer, Linda Maria Koldau, focuses her essay on a specific organizational aspect of Monteverdi’s and his contemporaries’ compositional practice—the construction of pieces over repetitive bass patterns that grow into the ostinato basses so prominent in Italian music of the 1630s and 1640s. On the one hand, ostinato basses simplify both the compositional process and the act of hearing, but on the other, they challenge the composer to introduce sufficient variety in the other parts to overcome the static and potentially tedious repetition of the bass line. Pieces built on ostinatos therefore have an inherent tension in them between repetition and variety, between stasis and activity. That tension itself serves frequently to intensify the affect in the music’s relationship to the text—often as a theatrical device in Monteverdi’s music—pitting a singer’s outpouring of emotion over the relentlessly unchanging organization of the musical space.
7.2 Koldau’s essay relates the development of the ostinato to the various bass dances of the Renaissance, expanded to ground basses as the structural framework for major compositions in the seventeenth century. Equally important after 1620, some shorter ostinatos prove to be more cadentially oriented truncations of the patterns common to the first two decades of the century. The practice of inventing new, abstract ostinato patterns also grew apace until becoming another available means for constructing compositions well before the middle of the century. Although ostinato patterns originated as bass patterns, they were not necessarily confined to the lowest part, but could permeate other parts as well.
7.3 Apart from patterns strictly repetitive in both their melodic and rhythmic features, Koldau also considers such patterns as walking basses to have a similar affective role; even though walking basses do not necessarily repeat the same melodic configuration (though they often do repeat melodic segments, just not in a strictly organized way). They too carry the impact of repetition in the regularity of their rhythm and directed drive toward cadences, reminiscent particularly of dance patterns.
7.4 An important aspect of Koldau’s analysis is the use of ostinato patterns to highlight and enhance the affective orientation of the text. Many compositions based largely or throughout on an ostinato present the formula independently at the outset, counting on the association between the pattern and certain generalized emotions to establish for the listener the affective framework of the composition even before a word of text is sung. Compositions in which only one or two segments of the piece are based on an ostinato underscore even more strongly the affective contrast between the ostinato passages and other portions of the work.
7.5 In some cases, brief repetitive exchanges between voices and instruments expand to form larger structural ostinatos, which may have more to do with organization of the composition than an affective function, since a pattern developed in conjunction with one phrase of text comes to underlie a continuing set of text phrases with potentially quite different emotional orientations. Even further removed from an affective purpose are ostinato patterns designed specifically for their structural function and the challenges they pose for the composer in overcoming the repetitiousness of the ostinato by means of variety in the other parts.
8.1 The final essay in this volume, by Massimo Ossi, examines Monteverdi’s last secular publication, the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi of 1638 (Eighth Book of Madrigals) in light of the changing politics of the Hapsburg Emperors Ferdinand II and III through the course of the Thirty Years War. After briefly surveying the circle of political relationships among Venice (and Monteverdi), Mantua, and the Habsburgs, Ossi reconsiders the central metaphor of Monteverdi’s Eighth Book, that is, the relationship of war and love, of Mars and Venus, against the contemporary realities of the Thirty Years War.
8.2 Many of the madrigals in the first part of the book (the madrigali guerrieri) make comparisons between lovers and warriors, and while the book begins with an encomium to Ferdinand as warrior, it ends with a paean to the Emperor as peacemaker. Although rulers like Ferdinand still saw and pictured themselves in the light of Medieval knights bound by codes of chivalry, the reality of war had become much more horrifyingly mechanical and technological, with the destruction of thousands of anonymous troops rather than the honor-bound clashes of individual knights and heroes. As the war dragged on, more and more rulers emphasized their role as peacemakers rather than warriors, having themselves depicted in connection with the fruits of peace and domestic love. Ossi shows how paintings of royalty as well as allegorical paintings nearer the middle of the century stress the horrors of war versus the bounty and abundance of peace. No longer are heroism, glory, and triumph principal themes. Allegories of Mars and Venus together exemplify the tension between love and war—Mars not as the god of war, but as the Christian knight with self-control struggling against the devil and the evils of the World, and Venus not as the goddess of sensuality and luxury, but of marriage, family and peace. The passions of love and war have been subjected to self-control.
8.3 In the Combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda, originally composed in 1624 for the secular salon of the Venetian nobleman Girolamo Mocenigo but also included near the end of the Eighth Book, Monteverdi treats the story as a realistic, unheroic, and bloody conflict (exemplifying Mars) between two lovers (representing Venus). The combatants are unknown to one another until the end, which results in the death of Clorinda and the near death of Tancred. The emotional climax and meaning of the work is not the victory of Venus, but rather of divine love revealed in the forgiveness accorded to her killer by the expiring Clorinda and her request for baptism given lovingly by the sorrowing Tancred. Death brings gestures of peace and love between the two protagonists, the only redeeming aspect of their battle and the one suffused with the most emotionally charged music by Monteverdi. The battle could readily be interpreted as an allegory of the triumph of Catholicism over infidels (e.g., heretics) and an appropriate gesture to the court of the newly crowned Ferdinand III involved in a long and bloody religious conflict like that described in Torquato Tasso’s epic, La Gerusalemme liberata, from which the Combattimento was drawn.
8.4 Ossi describes Monteverdi’s madrigali guerrieri as “not very warlike.” The conclusion of the madrigali guerrieri, the celebration of valorous Ferdinand as the bringer of peace to a world where love can flourish, subsequently leads to an exclusive focus on love in the second part of the volume, the madrigali amorosi. The overriding note in this second part of Book 8 is positive, but the final work, Il ballo delle ingrate, forwarded to this new context from the 1608 Mantuan wedding celebrations of Margherite of Savoy and Francesco Gonzaga, is a warning to women by women sorrowfully interred in Hades for refusing love. As Ossi puts it, “The ambivalent Christian Knight … fleeing Venus in search of chastity and heroism, is on the wrong path, and so by extension is Europe.”
8.5 In the end, the message of the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi for Ferdinand III is clearly and elegantly delivered: “make love, not war.” Ossi’s essay is a sophisticated and fascinating interpretation of a very complex set of texts, ideas and compositions whose interrelationships and purposes have often defied adequate explanation, but are clarified here by placing them in their historical context and through comparison with the sister art of painting.
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