Giulio Caccini, 1600

What motivation Caccini had for being the first to publish his version of Euridice is not certain. Much is often made of the rivalry among Peri, Caccini and Cavalieri and their respective claims to have invented monody Bust of Giulio Caccini, artist unknown
Bust of Giulio Caccini, artist unknown
(Wikimedia Commons)
single–handedly. All three had participated in La Pellegrina in one fashion or another: perhaps some bad blood between Peri and Caccini persisted from that event? Or perhaps Caccini wanted to press his newly elevated position as Cavalieri’s replacement at the Medici court. Caccini’s own opera Il rapimento di Cefalo (“The Abduction of Cephalus”), with contributions by Luca Bati and Piero Strozzi, was presented at the Palazzo Vecchio three days after Peri’s smaller production of Euridice at the Palazzo Pitti. His own Euridice was published 20 December 1600, while Peri’s was not published until 6 February 1601, under the auspices of Jacopo Corsi. Caccini’s version was performed for the first time on 5 December 1602, on the same stage as Peri’s version, at the Palazzo Pitti.

The two men had differing ideas about the new music. According to Peri, the singer should hear a composer’s personal rendition of a work in order to understand how to perform it properly. Caccini, on the other hand, thought that writing the music down carefully enough, observing certain conventions of notation, was perfectly adequate, once those conventions, written or otherwise, were explained and studied — hardly a surprising attitude on Caccini’s part insofar as he was well known in much of Italy as a teacher of singing. The natural surmise is that Peri’s score serves, at least in the strictly monodic passages, only as a rough guideline. Peri himself sang the rôle of Orpheus and therefore had the lion’s share of the work. But several members of the familia Caccini took female rôles, for whom Caccini insisted on providing the music.

So, for example, in the pastoral atmosphere of scene one where nymphs and shepherds echo, one after another, Non vede un simil par d’amanti il sole! (“The sun has never seen such a pair of lovers!”), Peri’s version is choral and melodic, over a relatively busy (for Peri) bass:

Peri, Euridice, excerpt

while Caccini’s is comparatively more florid, the passagi notated in full:

Caccini, Euridice, excerpt

Similar comparisons obtain in the closing choruses of the first three scenes. Caccini was evidently eager to show off the talents of his own protegées.

Daphne’s entrance in scene two is more diatonic — almost static — in Caccini’s version, although both composers shift between major and minor modes, and the opening phrase is almost identical, complete with the suspension and cadence on pietate (“pity”). Peri’s version makes more extensive use of dissonance, syncopation and unstable intervals than Caccini’s:

Caccini, Euridice, excerpt

Daphne’s delivery of her horrible news follows more or less the same structure in both versions, where tried–and–true methods of musical pictorialism — notwithstanding their theoretical rejection — are used with chiaroscuro and sharp contrast. The melody at e volti gli occhi al cielo (“and turned her eyes toward heaven”) rises in imitation of the act of looking upward, while the next, closing phrase gradually falls to its final cadence to bring Eurydice to the moment of her death. Caccini uses a pitiful leap from the words restò tanta belleza (“what remained of such beauty”), making the descent to the final note the more dramatic.

Orpheus’s Non piango e non sospiro is somewhat less effective in Caccini’s version. Again, it is largely diatonic, and mono–rhythmic throughout. Peri begins with monotone melody, which imparts the same mood of disbelief as in the first phrases of his version of Daphne’s Lassa! che di spavento, and Orpheus’s agitation and determination are emphasized as the activity in the bass, the melody, and the pace of the harmony all quicken as the lament progresses. The use of melodic sequence is more conspicous in Caccini’s version.

Caccini, Euridice, excerpt

Orpheus’s appeal to the denizens of the underworld, Funeste piagge (“Fatal shores”), shows similar differences between the two composers. Caccini was not only a teacher, he was himself an accomplished singer, which is how he got work in Florence in the first place. As each was the authoritative proponent of his own method, both composers recognized the monologue as the pivotal point in the opera, an ersatz manifesto for his ‘new music.’ The two versions display similar characteristics as before; Caccini’s version is more diatonic and somewhat more animated compared to Peri’s stricter use of monotone, slower bass, syncopation, and dramatic leaps. Each version repeats its own refrain, again remarkably similar to one another, except for each composer’s trademark style of cadence. Certainly Caccini would have had himself in mind as he penned the part of Orpheus.

Peri, Euridice; Caccini, Euridice; excerpts

Caccini seems to treat interrogative cadences more consistently than Peri. While both composers tend to end the phrase by stepwise ascent in the melody, rising as when asking a question in normal speech, Caccini almost always harmonizes in a manner closer to an imperfect cadence, where Peri uses more variety, sometimes finishing with a decidedly perfect cadence.

Despite the differences between the two scores, they were, after all, written on the same libretto, and both composers would have had the same performance in mind — the Navarre–Medici wedding — as they prepared for publication. (Ironically, although Orpheus literally descended into hell to retrieve his betrothed, Henry IV couldn’t be bothered to go to Italy for his, and sent a proxy instead.) There are many places where the structures and rhythms are remarkably similar, which is to be expected. Which composer was the father, and which the god–father, we leave for others to decide.

⇐ Peri, Euridice | Cavalieri, Anima e corpo

↥ Top