Saturday, November 10, 2007

1620 – 1640 Roman Opera

1618 30 year war began
1620 Mayflower at Cape Cod
1624-42 Cardinal Richelieu in power in France

This is the generation of Frescobaldi, Schütz, Schein and Scheidt. It is also the era of the Roman style of opera.

Vocal Music

Roman Opera

Dramatic presentations in monodic style were popular in Rome in these decades; those that were staged are considered operas the others oratorios. Important operas were La Catena d'Adone (1626) by Virgilio Mazzocchi (1597-1646), Erminia sul Giordano (1633) by Michel Angelo Rossi, Il Sant'Alessio (1632) by Steffano Landi (c,1590-c.1655), and Il Palazzo Incanto (1642) by Luigi Rossi (1598-1653). They were all performed by all male casts with many castrati (male altos and sopranos) in elaborate productions with important choruses and comic scenes called intermezzi. Cardinal Rospigliosi, librettist, established a tradition of independent comic operas; Chi soffre, speri (1639) by Mazzocchi and Marco Marazzoli (d.1662) was the first, also Dal male il bene (1653) by Marazzoli and Antonio Abbatini (c.1595-1680).


With monodic solos and madrigal-like choruses Giovanni Francesco Anerio's (1567-1620) Teatro Armonico Spirituale (1619) was an early oratorio latino (in Latin prose). Querimonio de S. Maria Maddelena (1640) by Mazzocchi was an oratorio volgare (in Italian verse).

Aria and cantata

The first use of the name "cantata" was Alessandro Grandi's Cantade et arie a voce sola (1620). Cantata evolved (c.1630) to mean arias with strophic basses (long melody) or ostinato basses (short melody) interspersed with recitative sections. Some collections were Frescobaldi's Arie musicali (1630) and Monteverdi's Scherzi musicali (1632).

Monteverdi's madrigals continued in Book VIII (1638), titled Madrigali guerrieri et amarosi, which contained solos, duets and trios with continuo, five-voiced madrigals, two semi-dramatic ballets and Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. First performed in Venice in 1624, this was a setting of a section of Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata describing a duel between a crusader knight (tenor) and a pagan woman (soprano) with narrator (tenor), which attempted to portray combat through musical description in a style called stile concitato, including early dramatic use of the string tremolo.







Descended from the ballet de cour, this English dramatic entertainment with recitatives, ayres and dances had little dramatic continuity: Henry Lawes' (1596-1662) Comus (1634, text by Milton) was an outstanding example.

German Opera

The first German opera, Heinrich Schütz' (1585-1672) Daphne (1627), is lost.

Lutheran Church Music

A common practice was to apply continuo to the chorale melody, as in Opella nova (1618) by Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630).

Schütz, the German master of Italian style, did not use chorale melodies in his church compositions. Trained in Venice (1609-12), his Psalmen Davids (1610) were in the grand polychoric style of G. Gabrieli. Other early works were the a cappella Latin motets a 4 of Cantiones sacrae (1625) with a later added continuo part, and the archaic Auferstehungs Historie (1623) or Easter Oratorio.

Symphoniae sacrae I (1629), in Latin for 1 to 4 voices with instruments and continuo, showed the stylistic advances of Schütz' second trip to Italy in 1628, including new specified instrumentation, recurring instrumental ritornelli and more skilled use of monody. The Kleine geistliche Konzerte (1636-39), in German for one or more soloists with continuo, reflected the reduced circumstances of the Dresden court during the 30 Year War.

Instrumental Music


Collections by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) were Toccate e Partite (1627) and Fiori Musicali (1635). Forms were:

(1) toccata, developed to an improvisatory, rhapsodic form in free tempo rubato,
(2) partita, a variation form using the repeating bass melodies (see aria and cantata),
(3) ricercar (or fantasia), serious, contrapuntal with tempo rubato at the cadences, and
(4) canzona. When contrasting sections used a single theme, it was a variation canzona.
He was most important in the development of the toccata and partita.

A student of Sweelinck, the German Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654), Tablatura nova (1625), composed chorale variations and chorale preludes.

Violin sonata

Important idiomatic writing for the violin (with continuo) was by Carlo Farina (c.1600-1640) and Biagio Marini (c.1595-1665), La Gardana (1617), using double-stops, trills, tremolos, pizzicato and harmonics.

Ensemble canzona

A lively contrapuntal beginning with contrasting unrelated sections characterized the canzonas of Tarquinio Merula (b.c.1600). The Roman opera overture was usually a canzona. A related English form was the fancy by William Lawes (1602-45) and John Jenkins (1592-1678).


In Germany each composer had his own set of standard dances. Schein's Banchetto musicale (1617) used the order: Pavana, Galliarde, Courante, Allemanda, Tripla.


Harmonie universelle (1636) by Marin Mersenne described instruments and experiments on the properties of sound.

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