Cruda Amarilli & O Mirtillo

Claudio Monteverdi

The first two madrigals in Monteverdi’s fifth book comprise scenes depicting Mirtillo’s despair at his rejection by his beloved Amaryllis, followed by her sorrow at being unable to reveal her love for Mirtillo because of her obligation to duty in marrying Silvius, both scenes from Guarini’s Il pastor fido.

The opening phrase of Cruda Amarilli (“Cruel Amaryllis”) sets a sorrowful atmosphere with the first syllable of cruda on a high, sustained note in the top voice, evoking the natural stress of the Italian word itself. After descending to a cadence, the same pattern is repeated, this time with the highest voice entering ahead of the others while the tenor is delayed, echoing cruda, cruda, cruda in succession.

Monteverdi, Cruda Amarilli (excerpt)

Guarini’s next lines are a play on words among the name of Mirtillo’s beloved, Amarilli, the verb amare (“to love”), and the adverb amaramente (“bitterly”). The singer’s paroxysm on ahi lasso (“ah, alas!”) interrupts this thought with pungent dissonances and cross–relation, coming to rest after the ninth that bothered Artusi so much. Indeed, in written form it looks nonsensical, but in performance and the context of the words, conveys the singer’s despair flawlessly.

Monteverdi, Cruda Amarilli (excerpt)

Now Amaryllis is compared to the privet flower, then to an asp, deaf and elusive. Monteverdi sets the first phrase homophonically, again beginning on high notes and descending to a cadential pause,

Monteverdi, Cruda Amarilli (excerpt)

but treating the second with imitation, bringing both a change of texture and of imagery,

Monteverdi, Cruda Amarilli (excerpt)

and ending with compressed chords to convey elusiveness.

Monteverdi, Cruda Amarilli (excerpt)

The final phrases bring a return to a more contrapuntal structure. The phrase poi che col dir t’offendo (“since with speech I offend you”) appears to another descending figure that begins at the top of its range, emphasis on the first word, and is freely imitated among all the voices, while i’ mi morrò tacendo (“I shall die silently”) is set to an ascending figure. Both themes are woven together to bring the song to a close.

Monteverdi, Cruda Amarilli (excerpt)

Cruda Amarilli, che col nome ancora

Cruel Amaryllis, whose name

d’amar, ahi lasso, amaramente insegni;

signifies, ah alas, the bitterness of love;

Amarilli, del candido ligustro

Amaryllis, than the pale privet

più candida e più bella

more pale and more beautiful,

ma de l’aspido sordo

but than the deaf asp

e più sorda e più fera e più fugace

is more deaf and more wild and more fleeting,

poi che col dir t’offendo

since by speaking I offend you

i’mi morrò tacendo.

I shall die in silence.



After Mirtillo departs in misery, Amaryllis expresses her anguish at hiding her true feelings. The scene from which the second song is taken was widely separated in the play from the first — acts one and three respectively — but for Monteverdi’s purpose the two are admirably paired in this vivid little tableau. They also happen to be two of the madrigals which Artusi publicly found so objectionable.

O Mirtillo, Mirtill’anima mia

Oh Mirtillo, Mirtillo my soul [my love]

se vedesti qui dentro

if you could see her within

come sta il cor di questa

her heart of the one

che chiami crudelissima Amarilli

whom you call cruelest Amaryllis

so ben che tu di lei

I know you would for her

quella pietà che da lei chiedi avresti.

feel the pity that you wish her to have for you.

O anime in amor troppo infelici!

Oh spirits in love so unhappy!

Che giova a te, cor mio, l’esser amato?

What use is it, my heart, to be loved?

Che giova a me l’aver sì caro amante?

What use to me to have so dear a lover?

Perchè, crudo destino

Why, cruel destiny

ne disunisci tu, s’Amor ne stringe?

do you divide us, if Love joins us?

E tu, perchè ne stringi

And you, why bring us together

se ne parte il destin, perfido Amore?

when destiny separates us, treacherous Love?


Amaryllis’s dismay at keeping her secret to herself shows in the unresolved suspensions on the words se vedesti qui dentro ... il cor (“if you could see inside [my heart]”) and the uncertain tonality, two more of Artusi’s grievances.

Monteverdi, O Mirtillo (excerpt)

The sense of confusion continues with che chiami crudelissima Amarilli (“her whom you call cruelest Amaryllis”) intensified with the customary chain of suspensions, but not in a run–of–the–mill way. While each voice in turn imitates a wretched wail on che chiami ➁, the suspensions themselves seem unsatisfactorily to resolve through the open fourths, fifths, seconds and unisons ➀ and false relations ➂. The result seems to wander without direction, unrelieved until the cadence on the final syllable of the section.

Monteverdi, O Mirtillo (excerpt)

While the next phrases are somewhat calmer, the feeling of turmoil remains in the parlando (“speaking”) syncopation following O anime in amor troppo infelici (“Oh spirits, in love too unhappy”). The meandering tonality contributes to a feeling of bewilderment as the closing perfido Amore (“treacherous Love”) ends two ‘keys’ away from that in which the madrigal began.

Monteverdi, O Mirtillo (excerpt)



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