The Big Three

In 1592, Giovanni de’ Bardi moved to Rome to take up an ambassadorial position at the court of Pope Clement VIII. His departure seems to have left the way open for a shift in focus among the circle of artists and musicians who had formerly participated in Florence’s Camerata.

Like Bardi, Jacopo Corsi came from a family of wealthy bankers, and received an extensive classical education, cultivating an interest in the revival of antiquity. In 1585, he had visited Ferrara, where he heard the concerto delle donne and met Luzzaschi, and he had at least one copy of Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. Corsi was also much interested in music. He studied singing and composition with Batti and Malvezzi, and assembled a respectable collection of musical instruments during his travels. And he was privy to the proceedings of the Camerata, although he was probably not among its earliest members.

Perhaps Corsi was a little sensitive about being somewhat nouveau riche; his family’s financial standing really only firmed up in the sixteenth century, and his ancestors included individuals who had not always been sanguine about Medici influence. In any event, Corsi seems to have been keen to garner prestige among the ruling family and others of his social standing.

He was a generous patron of many musicians and poets, often making loans that ultimately were forgiven or never repaid. He contributed financially to the celebrations in 1584 of the wedding of Eleonora de’ Medici and Vincenzo Gonzaga of Mantua, and to the 1589 wedding between Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Christina of Lorraine. And he was instrumental in the final negotiations for the wedding of France’s Henri IV and Maria de’ Medici, which earned him an invitation to contribute to the festivities in 1600.

Most of the Camerata’s discussions had centered around theoretical matters, but after Bardi’s departure, it appears to have taken a rather more pragmatic turn, perhaps partly instigated by Corsi. During the 1590s, Emilio de’ Cavalieri had written short pastorales that were sung throughout. These are now lost but did not, at least according to Caccini, contain any recitative, i.e. monody. Also lost is the music for Dafne with libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini, hailed as the first–ever opera. Corsi was much involved in the development of Dafne between 1594 and 1598 and probably supplied some of the music. It was presented during the carnival season of 1598, with music mostly by Jacopo Peri, but it seems to have been a relatively modest work.

To commemorate the wedding of Henri IV and Maria de’ Medici, Corsi and Peri again collaborated in the presentation of Euridice. Like Dafne, it was based on a libretto by Rinuccini, and was sung throughout. Corsi played harpsichord, Peri sang the role of Orpheus. However what the audience heard was not an entire opera by Peri, but a hybrid. Playing the roles of Eurydice and several other female characters were members of Giulio Caccini’s entourage, including his daughter Francesca. Consequently, Caccini insisted on writing the music for their roles. This was hardly unusual — composers had collaborated in earlier intermedii like La Pellegrina. Yet Caccini had rushed to get his own complete setting of the same libretto published before the performance, evidently an attempt to steal Peri’s thunder.

In February of the same year, Emilio de’ Cavalieri presented his Rappresentatione di anima, et di corpo (“The Representation of Soul and Body”) before a group of cardinals in Rome. He had been making frequent trips to Rome, and apparently was anxious to show that the ‘new music’ could very easily be adapted as a new tool for Counter–Reformation use. The Rappresentatione is often cast as the first–ever oratorio, since it had a markedly moralistic religious theme, although it did include some costumes and props.

Together, these three works — or rather two works, one of which appears in two different versions — codified the stile rappresentativo (“representational style”), a specifically theatrical style of performance characterized by monody and drama. Choruses and strophic ‘arias’ might be used to add to the spectacle, or to create a certain atmosphere pertinent to the story, but the action in the story itself takes place through monody or, as it came to be called, recitative.

Peri, Euridice

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