Amarilli, mia bella
One of the most famous songs of any era is Amarilli, mia bella (“Amaryllis, my beauty”). Dozens and dozens of performances are available in commercial recordings and by amateurs alike, and it often appears on the programmes of vocal recitals. The song was no less popular in its own day, appearing in all sorts of anthologies and as arrangements for other instruments and ensembles. It quickly became Caccini’s signature work.
The lyrics are brief and simple, taken from a passage in Guarini’s Il pastor fido (“The Faithful Shepherd”):
Amarilli, mia bella,
Amaryllis, my beauty
non credi, o del mio cor dolce desio,
do you not believe, o sweet desire of my heart
d’esser tu l’amor mio?
that you are my love?
Credilo pur, e se timor t’assale,
Believe it, and if you fear
prendi questo mio strale
take this my arrow,
aprimi il petto e vedrai scritto in core:
open my breast and you shall see written in my heart:
Amarilli è il mio amore.
Amaryllis is my love.
The verse alludes to the Greek myth of Amaryllis who, picking flowers on a mountainside, falls in love with the shepherd Alteus. He, however, is interested only in flowers, and says that he can love only the girl who brings him a new flower. Amaryllis follows the advice of the Oracle at Delphi, taking a temple arrow and waiting on Alteus’s doorstep each night, piercing her breast and her heart as she calls his name. Because of the shepherd’s dilatory response, she is obliged to repeat her action for thirty nights, after which he finally emerges to find a beautiful flower where her blood has fallen. Naturally, the flower was named in her honour.
Caccini’s setting too is deceptively simple; the words are sung from beginning to end, the second sentence repeated to the same music, giving the singer an opportunity to emphasize the significance of the appeal through variation. It closes with an ornamented repetition of the final line.