Popular Piety

The popularity of Florentine–style monody declined rather more quickly than its self–proclaimed inventors might have liked as lighter and more melodic fare became more fashionable. Later offerings by Caccini and Peri themselves included as good deal more of this kind of music. But it did not disappear either: alongside its hesitating development as operatic recitative, it saw significant growth among Roman composers.

Songs of a religious or moral nature, like the ones published in Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale were encouraged in the centre of western Christendom, explicitly or otherwise. The lament at the foot of the cross, whether in the mouth of the Virgin or of Mary Magdalene, a mise en scène furnished an occasion of strong musical affect.

Among the hundreds of examples of the time is Lagrime Amare (“Bitter Tears”) by Domenico Mazzochi, composer of La Catena d’Adone. In addition to his employment by Cardinal Aldobrandini beginning in 1621, Mazzochi enjoyed the Domenico Mazzocchi, Dialoghi e sonnetti; Title Page
Domenico Mazzocchi, Dialoghi e sonnetti; Title Page
patronage of Pope Urban VIII himself. Based on words by Cardinal Roberto Ubaldino, the work appeared as the last number in Mazzocchi’s Dialoghi e sonetti (“Dialogues and sonnets”) published in Rome in 1638; it was scored in four sections for soprano and continuo.

Mazzochi makes it clear that the ‘sonnet’ is to be performed strictly as written (...si canta come è scritto á rigore, non facendo alterationi...), and the first section moves along quite regularly.

Mazzocchi, ‘Pianto della Maddalena” (excerpt)

Yet the second part begs for the affect of recitative: the bass holds stationary as the vocal part advances with agitated

Mazzocchi, ‘Pianto della Maddalena” (excerpt)

passaggi. In several places, Mazzocchi indicates the ornament we know as portamento or slide, where the transition in pitch between two notes happens smoothly and gradually, rather than chromatically by step, an effect evocative of despair. Florid figures are used to express the words versate pur (“spill forth”) in respect of the singer’s flowing tears of repentance. Finally, the closing section completes the metaphor wherein the blood of Christ becomes the water of the penitent’s tears, with a string change of tonality at the words da Giesú ferito (“of wounded Jesus”).

Stefano Landi, composer of secular and sacred operas, numbers among his most well–known songs the Passacaglia della Vita (“Passacaglia of Life”), a strophic song built over an ostinato bass.

Landi, ‘Bisogna morire” (excerpt)

Each stanza ends with the same words: bisogna morire (“we must die”). The repetitious rhythm of the melody and more especially the relentless bass, even during an instrumental interlude, are exceptionally effective in driving home the point of the song.

Landi, ‘Bisogna morire” (excerpt)

Oh how you deceive yourself

if you think the years

have no end:

we must die.


Si more cantando,

One dies singing,

si more sonando

one dies playing

la cetra, o sampogna,

the lyre, or bagpipe,

morire bisogna.

die we must.

Si muore danzando,

One dies dancing,

bevendo, mangiando;

drinking, eating,

con quella carogna

in this carrion

morire bisogna.

die we must.


⇐ Monteverdi, Selva morale & spirituale (II) | Monteverdi, Selva morale & spirituale (III) ⇒

↥ Top