Friday, October 8, 8551

Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) - Florentine Camerata

Giulio Caccini (October 8, 1551 - December 10, 1618) was an Italian composer, teacher, singer, instrumentalist and writer of the very late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. He was one of the founders of the genre of opera, and one of the single most influential creators of the new Baroque style. He was also the father of the composer Francesca Caccini.

Caccini was born in Rome, the son of the carpenter Michelangelo, and the older brother of the Florentine sculptor Giovanni. In Rome he studied the lute, the viol and the harp, and began to acquire a reputation as a singer. In the 1560s, Cosimo de' Medici was so impressed with the young composer's talent that he took him to Florence for further study.

By 1579, Caccini was singing at the Medici court. He was a tenor, and he was able to accompany himself on the viol; he sang at various entertainments, including weddings and affairs of state, and took part in the sumptuous intermedi of the time, the elaborate musical, dramatic, visual spectacles which were one of the precursors of opera. Also during this time he took part in the movement of humanists, writers, musicians and scholars of the ancient world who formed the Florentine Camerata, the group which gathered at the home of Count Giovanni de' Bardi, and which was dedicated to recovering the supposed lost glory of ancient Greek dramatic music.

With Caccini's abilities as a singer, instrumentalist, and composer added to the mix of intellects and talents, the Camerata developed the concept of monody -- an emotionally affective solo vocal line, accompanied by relatively simple chordal harmony on one or more instruments -- which was a revolutionary departure from the polyphonic practice of the late Renaissance.

In the last two decades of the 1500's Caccini continued his activities as a singer, teacher and composer. His influence as a teacher has perhaps been underestimated, since he trained dozens of musicians to sing in the new style, including the castrato Giovanni Gualberto Magli, who sang the title role in Monteverdi's first opera Orfeo.

Caccini made at least one further trip to Rome, in 1592, as the secretary to Count Bardi. According to his own writings, his music and singing met with an enthusiastic response. However, Rome, the home of Palestrina and the Roman School, was musically conservative, and music following Caccini's stylistic lead was relatively rare there until after 1600.

Caccini's character seems to have been less than perfectly honorable, as he was frequently motivated by envy and jealousy, not only in his professional life but for personal advancement with the Medici. On one occasion, he informed to the Grand Duke Francesco on two lovers in the Medici household -- Eleonora, the wife of Pietro de' Medici, who was having an illicit affair with Bernardino Antinori -- and his informing led directly to Eleonora's murder by Pietro. His rivalry with both Emilio de' Cavalieri and Jacopo Peri seems to have been intense: he may have been the one who arranged for Cavalieri to be removed from his post as director of festivities for the wedding of Henry IV of France and Maria de' Medici in 1600 (an event which caused Cavalieri to leave Florence in fury), and he also seems to have rushed his own opera Euridice into print before Peri's opera on the same subject could be published, while simultaneously ordering his group of singers to have nothing to do with Peri's production.

After 1605 Caccini was less influential, though he continued to take part in composition and performance of sacred polychoral music. He died in Florence, and is buried in the church of St. Annunziata.

The stile recitativo, as the newly created style of monody was called, proved to be popular not only in Florence, but elsewhere in Italy. Florence and Venice were the two most progressive musical centers in Europe at the end of the 16th century, and the combination of musical innovations from each place resulted in the development of what came to be known as the Baroque style. Caccini's achievement was to create a type of direct musical expression, as easily understood as speech, which later developed into the operatic recitative, and which influenced numerous other stylistic and textural elements in Baroque music.

Caccini's most influential work was a collection of monodies and songs for solo voice and basso continuo, published in 1602, called Le nuove musiche. The introduction to this volume is probably the most clearly written description of the purpose, intent and correct performance of monody from the time. It includes musical examples of ornaments—for example how a specific passage can be ornamented in several different ways, according to the precise emotion that the singer wishes to convey; it also includes effusive praise for the style which he himself invented, and amusing disdain for the work of more conservative composers of the period.

Caccini wrote three operas -- Euridice (1600), Il rapimento di Cefalo (1600), and a second Euridice (1602), though the first two included music by others (mainly Peri for the first Euridice). In addition he wrote the music for one intermedio (Io che dal ciel cader farei la luna) (1589); and he published two collections of songs and madrigals, both titled Le nuove musiche, in 1602 and 1614. Most of the madrigals are through-composed and contain little repetition; some of the songs, however, are strophic. No music for multiple voices survives, even though the records from Florence indicate he was involved with polychoral music around 1610; at any rate such a manner of expression would have been alien to him. He was predominantly a composer of solo song, and it is in this capacity that he acquired his immense fame.

Among the most famous of his madrigals is "Amarilli, mia bella."


The Florentine Camerata was a group of humanists, musicians, poets and intellectuals in late Renaissance Florence who gathered under the patronage of Count Giovanni de' Bardi to discuss and guide trends in the arts, especially music and drama. They met mainly from about 1573 until the late 1580s, at the house of Bardi, and their gatherings had the reputation of having all the most famous men of Florence as frequent guests.

The earliest recorded meeting was January 14, 1573 at Count Giovanni Bardi's house.

Known members of the group besides Bardi included Giulio Caccini, Pietro Strozzi, and Vincenzo Galilei (the father of the astronomer Galileo Galilei). Ottavio Rinuccini and Girolamo Mei also participated.

Unifying them was the belief that music had become corrupt, and by returning to the forms and style of the ancient Greeks, the art of music could be improved, and thereby society could be improved as well.

It was thought that the Greeks used a style between speech and song, and this is what this development produced. They were influenced by Girolamo Mei, the foremost scholar of ancient Greece at the time, who held -- among other things -- that ancient Greek drama was predominantly sung rather than spoken. While he may have been mistaken, the result was an efflorescence of musical activity unlike anything else at the time, mostly in an attempt to recover the ancient methods.

Largely concerned with a revival of the Greek dramatic style, it is from their experimentations that the stile recitativo was invented. The style later became primarily linked with the development of opera.

The criticism of contemporary music by the Camerata centered on the overuse of polyphony, at the expense of intelligibility of the sung text. Paradoxically, this was the same criticism levelled at polyphony by the Council of Trent which had met in the immediately preceding decades, although the world-view of the two groups could not have been more different. Intrigued by ancient descriptions of the emotional and moral effect of ancient Greek tragedy and comedy, which they presumed to be sung as a single line to a simple instrumental accompaniment, the Camerata proposed creating a new kind of music.

In 1582 Vincenzo Galilei performed a setting, which he composed himself, of Ugolino's lament from Dante's Inferno; it was a frank imitation of what he thought to be an ancient Greek type of music (unfortunately, the music for this is lost).

Caccini also is known to have performed several of his own songs which were more or less chanted melodically over a simple chordal accompaniment.

The musical style which developed from these early experiments was called monody; it developed, in the 1590's, through the work of composers such as Jacopo Peri, working in conjunction with poet Ottavio Rinuccini, into a vehicle capable of extended dramatic expression. In 1598, Peri and Rinuccini produced Dafne, an entire drama sung in monodic style: this was the first creation of a new form called "opera." Other composers quickly followed suit, and by the first decade of the 1600's the new "music drama" was being widely composed, performed and disseminated. It should be noted that the new form of opera also borrowed from an existing pastoral poetic form called the intermedio, especially for the librettos: it was mainly the musical style that was new.

Of all revolutions in music history, this one was perhaps the most carefully premeditated: it is one of few examples in music, before the 20th Century, of theory preceding practice.

Both Bardi and Galilei left writings expounding their ideas. Bardi wrote the Discorso (1578), a long letter to Giulio Caccini, and Galilei published the Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna (1581-1582).

The tradition is sustained by the government of Florence, which houses office of the Camerata for music and poetry.

Related Reading:

Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin
Music in the Western World: A History in Documents
Giulio Caccini
The Birth of a "New Music" (Pages 169-171)


[Michelangelo (1475-1564) - The Sistine Chapel]

Castrati, many of them having Spanish names, first appeared in Italy in the mid-1500's, though at first the terms describing them were not always clear. The phrase Soprano maschio (male soprano), which could also mean falsettist, occurs in the Due Dialoghi della Musica of Luigi Dentini, an Oratorian priest, published in Rome in 1553. On November 9, 1555 Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este (the builder of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli), wrote to Guglielmo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (1538-1587), that he has heard that His Grace is interested in his cantoretti, and offering to send him two, so that he could choose one for his own service. This is a rare term, but probably does equate to castrato.

The Cardinal's brother, Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, was another early enthusiast, enquiring about castrati in 1556. There were certainly castrati in the Sistine Chapel choir in 1558, although not described as such: on April 27, Hernando Bustamante, a Spaniard from Palencia, was admitted (the first castrati so termed who joined the Sistine choir were Pietro Paolo Folignato and Girolamo Rossini, admitted almost 50 years later in 1599).

Surprisingly, considering the later French distaste for castrati they certainly existed in France at this time also, being known of in Paris, Orléans, Picardy and Normandy, though they were not abundant, the King of France himself having difficulty in obtaining them.

By 1574 there were castrati in the Imperial court chapel at Munich, where the Kapellmeister (music director) was Orlando di Lasso. In 1589, by the bull Cum pro nostri temporali munere, Pope Sixtus V re-organized the choir of St Peter's, Rome specifically to include castrati. Thus the castrati came to supplant both boys (whose voices broke after only a few years) and falsettists (whose voices were weaker and less reliable) from the top line in such choirs. Women were banned by the Pauline dictum mulieres in ecclesiis taceant ("let women keep silent in church"; I Corinthians 14: 34).

[8553 G. Gabrieli / 8551 Caccini / 8548 La Paz]