Aura soave di segreti accenti

Luzzascho Luzzaschi, publ. 1601

As the diaspora of the Ferrarese court got underway in 1598 following the death of Alfonso II d’Este the previous year, some, including court organist Luzzascho Luzzaschi, continued on in the service of the new papal governor, Cardinal Title Page, Madrigali per cantare (1601)
Title Page, Madrigali per cantare (1601)
IMSLP Petrucci Music Libary
Pietro Aldobrandini. In fact, Luzzaschi dedicated a book of religious works to the Cardinal that same year. Yet he also dedicated a dozen songs for one, two or three sopranos to Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of neighbouring Mantua, and father–in–law to his former patron. That was how one went about applying for a job in those days, but Luzzaschi’s application–cum–résumé went unanswered.

Three years later, however, the Madrigali per cantare et sonare a uno, e doi, e tre soprani (“Madrigals to sing and play for one, two and three sopranos”) was published in Rome. Luzzaschi already had six published books of five–part madrigals to his credit, but the 1601 set was special: it brought to light some of the music written for the concerto delle donne that hitherto had been a strict secret on Alfonso’s orders.

Aura soave di segreti accenti

Soft breeze of secret sounds

Che penetrando per l’orecchie al core

who, penetrating through my ears to my heart

Svegliasti la dove dormiva Amore

awoke Love where she slept

Per te respiro e vivo

through you I breathe and I live

Da che nel petto mio

since into my breast

Spirasti tu d’Amor vital desio.

you blew the vital desire of Love.

Vissi di vita privo

I lived lifeless

Mentre amorosa cura in me fu spenta,

while care of love was extinguished

Hor vien che l’alma senta

come now, that my soul feels

Virtù di quel tuo spirto gentile.

the virtue of this your kind spirit

Felice vita oltre l’usato stile.

Happy life beyond the mundane.


The madrigal Aura soave di segreti accenti begins with a somewhat subdued tone, the melody gradually falling in pitch suggesting the aura (“breeze”) mentioned in the words. The second line climbs in pitch to climax on the words svegliasti la (“you awoke there”), with the word la (“there”) emphasized with higher pitch, longer duration, and followed by a pause (rest).

The phrase dove dormiva Amore (“where Love slumbered”) is striking: the motion is slower and more monotone, and falls a minor third suggesting (to me at least) a sigh in one’s sleep, and is extremely low in pitch, ending on a. The entire line (svegliasti la dove dormiva Amore) is repeated in echo, again suggesting a sigh.

Now the pace quickens as the singer elaborates with livelier passagework: per te respiro e vivo / da che nel petto mio spirasti tu d’Amore vital desio (“through you I breathe and I live, since into my breast you blew Love’s vital desire”). Important words (te – “you”, vivo – “I live”, desio – “desire”) are highlighted with florid runs and ornaments, culminating in a perfect cadence on the “relative major” F, in contrast to the opening phrase in the minor mode.

The next phrase is remarkable, recalling the mood of the opening in the melody with vissi di vita privo (“I lived of life deprived”), which drops a fourth from a' to e' in imitation of the phrase dove dormiva Amore that closed the first section. The line mentre amorosa cura in me fu spenta (“while cares of love in me were extinguished”) evokes another exhalation through a descending series of suspensions, then climbs on hor vien che l’alma senta / virtù di quel tuo spirto gentile (“now come, so that my soul feels the virtue of this your gentle spirit”), emphasizing the final word with an extended, ornamented imperfect cadence. Technically, it should be called a Phyrgian cadence I suppose, but the effect Luzzaschi wanted — an open–endedness that leaves the listener hanging momentarily — is all the more poignant because the singer drops a fourth, then pauses.

The work closes by shifting into triple meter, a change to a happier mood, on felice vita oltre l’usato stile (“happy life, beyond the ordinary”). The line is repeated in affirmation, with ornamented cadence, to close on d', the ‘tonic major’, with Tierce de Picardie raised third.


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