Scherzi Musicale

With an impossible workload to deal with, Monteverdi left the publication of a set of Scherzi musicali a tre voci (“Musical Jests for Three Voices”) to his brother Giulio Cesare in 1607. They are at first glance relatively uncomplicated little pieces more for sharing among singers and players than for performance. Judging from the title, one might not take them too seriously, but Giulio was Title page from Monteverdi's Scherzi Musicale, 1607
Title page from Monteverdi’s Scherzi Musicale, 1607
meticulous in relating his brother’s instructions on how they are to be played: sonare due volte il Ritornello...[e] in fine d’ogni stanza ne i Soprani da due violini da braccio & nel Basso dal Chitarrone, ò Clavicembalo, ò altro simile instrumento (“play the ritornello twice...and at the end of each stanza on two violins and a chitarrone, harpsichord or other similar instrument”). The first stanza should be sung by soprano, perhaps solo with violins, and other stanzas might be sung solo by other voices transposing down an octave. The final stanza should include all voices and instruments.

More importantly, Giulio discusses at length the controversy between his brother and Giovanni Artusi, the distinction between prima pratica and seconda pratica, and the merits and contexts of each. In fact, it is this essay from which Claudio’s thinking about musical style and theory are taken, since his promised Delle perfettione della moderna musica (“On the Perfection of Modern Music”) was unfortunately never to materialize. Material of such note would hardly be included in a book of otherwise unimportant music.

⇐ Ciao Mantova | Missa in illo tempore

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