Biagio Marini

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries music invariably meant vocal (and prevalently sacred) composition, and instrumental music sought to imitate ... precisely this ability to involve the listener emotionally. In vocal music it is the text that indicates the affetto of each individual passage. In the absence of a text it is experience of vocal music that identifies for us those qualities that suggest one interpretation to be preferable to another.

— Alessandro Bares. Marini, Affetti musicali liner notes (Chandos CHAN 0660.)

The city of Brescia and its namesake province lie in the Alpine foothills of the Lombard plain of northern Italy, possessions of the Venetian Republic since the third decade of the fifteenth century. Like its neighbour Cremona to the south, Brescia is renowned as an early centre of Province of Brescia
Province of Brescia
(Wikimedia Commons)
violin making and violin players. Where exactly the prototypical violin itself was actually invented may remain in dispute, but Brescia has the purported distinction of coining the term violino, in contradistinction to the viols da gamba and older string instruments it was famous for.

Among the many distinguished violin players it produced was Biagio Marini, born 5 February 1594. Traditional sources claim Fontana as his earliest teacher, but this is unsupported supposition, and it is more likely that he received his earliest education with his uncle, Giacinto Bondioli, a friar of the Dominican order. In 1615, Marini is listed as a civil musician for the city of Venice and as a violinist at St. Mark’s, which has led to speculation that he may have received tutelage under Monteverdi himself. Marini was in any event a celebrated and appreciated talent. In 1617, his collection of Affetti musicali (“Musical Affects”) was published as his opera prima.

Early Baroque instrumental music is sometimes characterized as a species of ‘drama–envy’ of the emotional impact of the new singing style. The ideal of musical affect provoked instrumentalists to mimic the histrionic delivery of vocalists, notwithstanding the absence of lyrics on which to hang Violins
(Wikimedia Commons)
the performance. While true as far as it goes, this idea glosses over some important factors.

Instruments were commonly called upon to play with vocalists, either colla parte (i.e. doubling a vocal line for support) or, as in the early concertato model, replacing a missing voice. But that implied that a player had to understand how a singer might render his part according to the words and thus how the player should adjust her rendition. Moreover, a singer was expected to view the written music as a guide and to take expressive liberties where warranted. This was no less true of instrumentalists, a considerable portion of whose training involved the production of ‘diminutions,’ or ornamental improvisation. Therein lies at least one reason for the popularity of the new violin: in terms of agility, volume and expressiveness, the old–style viol could not compete.

Marini’s collection of affetti comprises twenty–six brief pieces for various ensembles, along with a final number by his uncle Giacinto Bondioli. Each is given a descriptive sobriquet after prominent Venetian family names. Particular instruments are mentioned, but the title page is customarily flexible, specifying “all sorts of instruments.”

As with Salamone Rossi’s collection, the compositions are all brief, dedicated to a single affect or mood. The influences of monody and improvisation are immediately obvious in the some of the numbers for soloist with bass,

Marini, La Orlandina (excerpt)

while others are dance numbers like gagliardas or correntas. In general, the distinctions among canzona (traditionally imitative), sinfonia (as a ritornello–like interlude) and sonata (played as opposed to sung) are discernible but scarcely formal.

One of the more extended sonatas — La Foscarina — includes what is said to be the first in–print indication of tremolo (“tremble”) which, strictly speaking, is a variation not of pitch (vibrato) but of amplitude (loudness). Especially intriguing is that the indication shows not only in the continuo part, where the player is directed to metti il tremolo (“pull the [organ] tremulant stop”), but the violinists are to play tremolo con l’arco (“with the bow”), and the bass (trombone or bassoon) tremolo col strumento (“with the instrument”). For the string player, this seems to have meant playing each half note as a group of sixteenths, but all in a single bow, producing a slight pulse on each. For the wind player, it meant a slight ‘push’ of breath at each note.

Many of the techniques taken for granted when instructing instrumental players — slurs, vibrato, staccato, glissando and so on, are associated with specific musical imagery or emotions, some to the point of cliché. One can only imagine the excitement these effects must have provoked when they were brand new, in the hands of maestri like Marini.

In 1620, his Arie, madrigali et corenti a 1, 2, 3, opus 3, was published. After several more collections including works for voices and for instruments, his Sonate, symphonie, canzoni, passe’mezzi, baletti, corenti, gagliarde e retornelli appeared in 1629 as opus 8. Published actually in 1626, there was a delay before its availability not least because Venetian printing facilities — movable type — made setting the demanding notation inherent in the new techniques, such as double–stopping and passaggi an especially laborious process.. Producing publications of this kind in Venice became even more onerous after the War of the Mantuan succession.

Sona Italia | Dario Castello ⇒

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