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Marco Cerocchi. Funzioni semantiche e metatestuali della musica in Dante, Petrarca, e Boccaccio.

Marco Cerocchi. Funzioni semantiche e metatestuali della musica in Dante, Petrarca, e Boccaccio. Biblioteca dell' <<Archivum Romanicum>>, Serie I: Storia, Letteratura, Paleografia, 373. Florence: Olschki, 2010.

This book is a truly interdisciplinary project by an author who, as he explains in the "Premessa," has an academic and scholarly background in both classical music and Italianistica. Cerocchi proposes to illustrate the processes of secularization and anthropocentrism in Duecento and Trecento Italian culture through an analysis of the thematic and mimetic role of music in the works of the tre corone, Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio. Departing from a context that includes the medieval lauda and early Duecento musical theory, Cerocchi focuses in particular on the transformations of the concept of musica profana between Divina Commedia and Decameron.

In the first chapter, "La concezione della musica nel Medioevo," Cerocchi adduces Saint Francis's and Jacopone da Todi's vernacular laude as early musical examples of the laicizzazione in medieval culture. These popular Duecento forms of non-liturgical prayer and predication contaminate musica sacra (as it was epitomized by Gregorian plainchant) with elements of musica profana, such as the ritornello and the dialogized staging of spoken voices in the canzone da ballo. Next, the chapter makes an excursion into musical theories from Antiquity as they were carried over to Dante's period via the works of Augustine, Ambrose, and Boethius. The author traces the genesis of the Western notion of the harmony of the spheres and its corollary of the acoustic-mathematical relationship between the divine cosmos and the movements of the soul. The underlying idea is that music can influence human emotions and behavior through its core values of harmony, beauty, and grace, and therefore has an educational role in the formation of virtue and truth. At the same time the awareness emerges of the corruptive value of music's sensorial pleasure, which the author traces back to Augustine's caution that reason needs to control the listening experience.

Dante's encounter with the musician Casella in Purgatorio (II, 76-117) stands at the center of the next chapter ("La funzionalita della musica nella Divina Commedia"). Aside from marking a transition in lyrical and musical composition from a formal Franco-Provencal troubadour style toward an authentic Italian Ars Nova characterized by dolcezza, the canto amoroso Casella sings at Dante's request should retain our interest, according to Cerocchi, because its profane character renders it extraneous to Purgatorio's dominant liturgical theme of spiritual purification. It thus reveals Dante's struggle between his desire to dwell in memory and assuage earthly passions ("[l'] amoroso canto / che mi solea quetar tutte mie voglie") and his dutiful awareness of the "nuova legge," i.e. the spiritual atonement necessary for salvation that exposes, as illustrated by the ensuing Cato episode, music's treacherous corruptive power tempting the soul into collective frenzy. Cerocchi underlines the pivotal contrast between the Casella episode and Dante's predilection in the rest of the poem for musica sacra, the canto profano being solely associated with the temptations of the passions. Purgatorio's songs express the pilgrim's anxieties in face of spiritual purification while in Paradiso the dolce canto is redirected entirely toward divine praise. Ultimately, the music of the spheres comes to replace earthly sensorial experiences and Visio Dei dominates over sound ("La musica ha esaurito il suo compito e lascia il campo alle esperienze visive" [45]).

The third chapter ("Francesco Petrarca, poeta fautore e simbolo di una nuova unione tra parola e musica") first recalls Petrarch's close ties to contemporary musical developments, in particular through his friendships with figures who played a key role in creating the Italian Ars Nova style: bishop Phillipe de Vitry; the Avignonese chapel singer of cardinal Colonna, Ludvig van Kempen; and a certain Confortino, to whom Petrarch dedicates three ballades that were clearly intended to be set to music. This chapter makes the case for a petrarchismo musicale whereby the shift Petrarch operates from music's spiritual values to its esthetical impact as expressed through poetry is adduced as a further illustration of cultural secularization. Cerocchi focuses on Petrarch's poetic valorization of the communicative power of music in the arena of conflicted human emotions. This concerns not only the manifold musical and acoustic aspects of his Canzoniere, but also his keen awareness of the technical nuances of musical expressivity that emerge from the corrections he made to his madrigal (Canzoniere 52), and which reveal the poet's desire to adhere more adequately to the musical setting done previously by Jacopo da Bologna. The chapter ends with a reflection on Renaissance musical petrarchism that culminates in an analysis of the 1614 madrigal version of Petrarch's sonnet Zefiro torna by the composer who best epitomizes this movement, Claudio Monteverdi.

The goal of the book's long last chapter ("Boccaccio e la musica: specchio del processo di secolarizzazione della cultura del Trecento") is to substantiate the notion of Trecento secularization through Boccaccio's valorization of musica profana in the Decameron. The author first emphasizes music's mimetic value in the Florentine's masterpiece. The cornice's combination of numerous ballades sung by the storytellers and abundant descriptions of the brigata's collective music-making and dances constitutes a true "soundtrack" ("colonna sonora" [81, 83]). Boccaccio thus remedies the inadequacy of Trecento musical notation by mimetically recreating sounds, rhythms, and tunes in the mind of readers (who must have been familiar with many of these songs and melodies). Moreover, the musical and acoustic references in the book reinforce the emotional and psychological nuances that the literary discourse seeks to communicate to the reader. The first part of this chapter is an exhaustive overview of all musical instances in the cornice. Music's function of creating entertainment and harmony among the brigata and of alleviating the pain and suffering inflicted by the plague evinces the anthropocentric significance Boccaccio grants to musica profana. Cerocchi's reading of a representative sample of musical references in the novellas then focuses on the role of music in the characters' actions and motivations, and argues for the social importance of musica profana in the new anthropocentric worldview as it is reflected both in Boccaccio's text and in the esthetics of Ars Nova.

This meticulous analysis of the unique cross-fertilization of musical and poetic-literary developments as evidenced by the works of the tre corone provides us with an original perspective on duecento and trecento cultural transformations. The author at times uncritically perpetuates the age-old perceived dichotomy between medieval theocentrism (Dante) and pre-humanist anthropocentrism (Petrarca, Boccaccio), but this over-generalization is amply remedied by the book's didactic value. Cerocchi should be commended for fulfilling his stated goal of making complex musical theories understandable for an audience of students of Italian literature who are neither specialists in music history nor native speakers of Italian. This book will therefore be of interest not only to Duecento and Trecento literary scholars and music historians, but also to professors teaching medieval Italian literature and culture to undergraduate and graduate audiences in foreign language departments.


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Author:Leushuis, Reinier
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2011
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