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Emilio de' Cavalieri "Gentiluomo Romano." His Life and Letters, His Role as Superintendent of all the Arts at the Medici Court, and His Musical Compositions. With Addenda to L'aria di Fiorenza and The Court Musicians in Florence.

Emilio de' Cavalieri "Gentiluomo Romano." His Life and Letters, His Role as Superintendent of all the Arts at the Medici Court, and His Musical Compositions. With Addenda to L'aria di Fiorenza and The Court Musicians in Florence. By Warren Kirkendale. (Historiae Musicae Cultores, 86.) Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 2001. [551 p. ISBN 88-222-4949-0. [euro]77.] Plates, bibliography, discography, indexes.

Warren Kirkendale's study of the "Roman gentleman," Emilio de' Cavalieri (ca. 1550-1602) is a careful analysis of the life and works of this important composer. It is also a clear investigation into the immense changes taking place in Western music, art, and aesthetics around 1600, and the role that Cavalieri played in bringing them about. This volume concludes a trilogy that began with L'aria di Fiorenza (1972) and The Court Musicians in Florence During the Principate of the Medicis (1993). Letters and documents, many being addenda to these earlier books, along with an extensive bibliography, discography, and indexes (persons, subjects, etc.), account for over half of its 551 pages. It is a work of thorough scholarship, bringing to fruition Kirkendale's lifelong devotion to Cavalieri, and is of value not only to musicologists but to general historians as well.

Kirkendale's studies have centered on music in Florence but above all on this Roman musician who spent twelve crucial years (1588-1600) in the city of the Medici as superintendent of all artistic activities. He was an aristocrat and a man of many parts:
 [a] caporione [or Roman administrator], city councillor, conservator
 of the S.P.Q.R., animator, diplomat, composer, theatrical producer,
 choreographer, connoisseur of art (agent and collector), literature
 (who corresponded with Tasso and Guarini; religious literature and
 Latin liturgical texts), and of organs [even writing music for an
 enharmonic organ]. (p. 295)

He was, in short, "the embodiment of Castigilione's courtier," the ideal personification of a "Roman gentleman," even though he finally became disgusted with court life (p. 295). In his last years he turned, as Carlo Gesualdo was to do, to the musical setting of sacred texts. These works, along with three earlier lost musical pastorales, mark him as one of the great innovators of Western music.

Cavalieri's fame rests primarily on his Rappresentatione di anima e di corpo, the first opera to be produced (February 1600) and published (September 1600), and which over the years has proven to be far more popular with performers than Peri's Euridice (October 1600), long considered to be the first drama sung throughout. At least five complete performances of Cavalieri's morality play have been recorded since 1990, and close to fifty performances were staged during the last century (pp. 463-464). Even more recordings and performances have taken place since the publication of Kirkendale's book, and, for performers and audiences alike, Cavalieri's Rappresentatione is patently a far more rewarding musical experience than Euridice. Yet, the Rappresentatione is a work that musicologists curiously overlook and pass off as unimportant. The usual criticisms are that it is too tuneful, too full of choruses, too close to the sixteenth century in musical style, too much like the earlier intermedi, and its recitatives are far less expressive than those of the Florentines.

It is this seminal composition that provides the ending for Kirkendale's study of Cavalieri. The three initial performances of the opera took place in February of 1600 in a small room off the right transept of Filippo Neri's Chiesa Nuova with a distinguished audience of many cardinals and others in attendance. Kirkendale's exhaustive treatment of this influential work in cludes a description of these first performances, the publication of the work in late September 1600 (a publication that includes crucial information about its staging and thus an early example of operatic dramaturgy), its powerful dedicatee, Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini (1571-1621), the libretto, which was probably written by the Oratorian priest, Agostino Manni, the longstanding tradition of "Soul and Body" plays and poems (dating back even to Egyptian times), the tradition of laude and, finally, of rappresentazioni--popular Italian religious plays with boy actors, inserted songs (laude), three stage levels (cielo, terra, and inferno), and a concluding ballo--all found in Cavalieri's setting. Nonetheless, in comparison to all previous rappresentazioni, Cavalieri used a far more sophisticated metrical scheme, allegorical characters, a clear division into acts and scenes, staging, costumes, and not only music throughout the drama but many different styles of music: recitatives of various kinds, short arias with clear forms, choruses, and instrumental pieces. Above all, it was a play set entirely to music, and different from anything that had preceded it.

Charles Burney in 1776 acutely pointed out that Cavalieri's Anima e corpo included "almost every form and phrase of musical recitation which occurs in J. Peri, G. Caccini, and Claudio Monteverdi" (p. 289). Most important, though, was Cavalieri's aim "to move the affections of the audience," something which any modern producer or director would understand, and, to do this, Cavalieri avoided the continuously dull recitative style of Peri and Caccini, that notorious "'tedio del recitativo' responsible for the melodic dullness of much early opera" (p. 294). He did not omit this speech-like style but used it along with tuneful melodies, expressive recitatives, abundant choruses, instrumental pieces, and dancing.

Although the Anima e corpo was and is a great success, it had no real successors primarily because a new genre was evolving for setting extended religious texts--the oratorio. Although Kirkendale does not discuss this, Cavalieri's musical influence on the first major composer of oratorios, Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674), was immense--as seen in his use of expressive recitatives, brief tuneful passages, short arias with repetition of musical ideas, and the important presence of the chorus--all of which Cavalieri used.

Kirkendale devotes twenty pages to Cavalieri's lamentations and responsories of 1593 (or 1599?), and does not downplay their importance. His wide-ranging approach makes the discussion useful to a variety of scholars. Beginning with a biblical and liturgical survey of the dramatic texts, depicting one of "the most catastrophic events in Old Testament history" (p. 213), he moves on to a discussion of their polyphonic settings in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, before arriving at Cavalieri's settings, whose "musical value and historical significance are hardly less" than that of the more famous Anima e corpo (p. 217). Kirkendale believes the writer of the manuscript preserving Cavalieri's sacred works is not Giovenale Ancone, as has been assumed, but Duritio Isorelli, a friend and collaborator of Cavalieri, and Kirkendale makes a strong case for dating the manuscript from 1593, not as I believe, 1599 and 1600 (p. 219). In discussing the music, he emphasizes, inter alia, the strong influence of the falsobordone on the entire style of Florentine monody, an influence that "few musicologists" have recognized (p. 225). In the chromaticisms and constant juxtaposition of the prima and seconda pratica these lamentations and responsories opened up a new door of musical composition, as the Anima e corpo was to do.

Between 1590 and 1595 Cavalieri had composed and presented three pastorales at the Florentine court, and although music and text are lost, Kirkendale considers them to be the "earliest operas" with music composed in the style of the later Anima e corpo (p. 206). Cavalieri's librettist was Laura Guidiccioni, a member of one of the most prominent families in Lucca, and Kirkendale discusses thoroughly both the Guidiccioni family, the tradition of pastoral dramas (most of which have strong political overtones) and the close connection of text to music, as well as the costuming, scenery, action, and music of these lost pastorales. Also, much of the information for these lost operas comes from the introductory material to the Anima e corpo, the publication of which ends with a printed example of a setting of a pastoral text (which has nothing to do with the Anima itself). It is obvious that if Cavalieri had not consciously created the new musical genre of "opera," he would not have presented such a detailed dramaturgy of it in the prefatory material to his Anima (p. 212), and added at the end an example of the song style of these earlier pastorales.

With these three sets of compositions--the three pastorales, the lamentations and responsories, and the Anima e corpo--Cavalieri made an indelible mark on the history of Western music. Kirkendale precedes his thorough treatment of these works with chapters on the family "de' Cavalieri" (including Emilio's famous father, Tommaso, and his close relationship with Michelangelo), Cavalieri's significant diplomatic work both in Rome and Florence, his powerful position as superintendent of all the arts at the Florentine court (p. 85), his life-long interest in organ building, and his production of music for the weddings at the Medici court, especially for the intermedi of 1588.

The volume is extremely beautiful and includes eight appendices (including addenda to Kirkendale's two earlier volumes). Sixty-four plates, ranging from the Cappella Cavalieri in S. Maria in Aracoeli, to places, people, and things connected with Cavalieri, and especially to the Anima e corpo, end the volume. In March 2002, exactly 400 years after Cavalieri's death, Kirkendale formulated words for a marble inscription placed in the chapel that lies just to the left of the altar. He also delivered a lecture summing up Cavalieri's achievements--an abbreviated version of this present volume--that has appeared in the Opera Quarterly (19, no. 4 [Autumn, 2003]: 631-643) and Rivista italiana di musicologia (37, no. 1 [2002]: 131-141).

The wide intellectual scope and thorough grasp of all the material makes Kirkendale's Emilio de' Cavalieri a book of immense value to musicologist and general scholar alike. The author does not translate some of the Italian texts, and does not thoroughly discuss dancing (which was very important to Cavalieri), but all of this would have added hundreds of pages to a book already bursting with solid information. It is a vade mecum for all scholars interested in those pivotal years of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and one which does full justice to a most remarkable human being.


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Author:Bradshaw, Murray C.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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