Son questi i crespi crini?

Claudio Monteverdi, publ. 1584

The canzona of the latter part of the sixteenth century was a short, light piece of vocal music, often relatively simple, and typically written mainly for the enjoyment of the singers, rather than a formal audience who might sit around listening. Thousands of such pieces were written at the time, along with more formidable madrigals, and used for entertainment.

Each of the canzonettas (“little song” or “song–let”) in Monteverdi’s 1584 collection is similar in the way it unfolds: strophic, Monteverdi, Canzonette; Title Page
Monteverdi, Canzonette; Title Page
(IMSLP)
meaning that successive stanzas or verses are sung to the same melody; and binary, which is to say they take the form AABB, where a line or pair of lines (A) is sung and repeated, then another line or two (B) is sung and repeated. The poetry deals with themes typical of the time, the afflicted, unrequited lover and his or her unbearable melancholy.

Within the confines of such a modest form, there is room for the composer only to quickly evoke a particular mood. Mirroring the words in the melody is out of the question: the same tune is used for three or four verses. In Monteverdi’s case, there is imitation among the voices, and over all the songs impress with their elegance, particularly for a composer of fifteen years.


Son questi i crespi crini e questo il viso ond’io rimango ucciso?

Are these the curls and is this the face by which I am killed?

Deh dimelo ben mio che questo sol desio.

Oh, tell me, my dear, that only this I desire.

–♦–

Questi son gli occhi che mirand’io fiso tuto restai conquiso?

Are these the eyes by whose fixed gaze I remain conquered?

Deh dimelo ben mio che questo sol desio.

Oh, tell me, my dear, that only this I desire.

–♦–

Questa la bocca e questo il dolce riso ch’allegra il Paradiso?

Is this the mouth and this the sweet smile that brightens paradise?

Deh dimelo ben mio che questo sol desio.

Oh, tell me, my dear, that only this I desire.

–♦–

Ma se quest’è che non mi par bugia godianci anima mia

But if this is so and I am not deceived, rejoice my soul

et l’alma al duolo avvezza mora de la dolcezza.

and my soul, to sadness accustomed, dies of sweetness.



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