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The solo madrigal: extract from Le nuove musiche by Giulio Caccini (1602)

October 30, 2007

This short extract is from Caccini’s foreword to Le nuove musiche (The new music), 1602. Translated by John Playford, 1693 edited by Oliver Strunk. Strunk, O. Source Readings in Music History, The Baroque Era, Norton, 1965, SBN 393-09682-3, pp.18-19.

Indeed, in the times when the most virtuous “Camerata” of the most illustrious Signor Giovanni Bardi, Count of Vernio, flourished in Florence, and in it were assembled not only a great part of the nobility but also the first musicians and men of talent and poets and philosophers of the city, and I too frequently attended it, I can say that I learned more from their learned discussions than I learned from descant in over thirty years; for these most understanding gentlemen always encouraged me and convinced me with the clearest reasons not the follow the old way of composition whose music, not suffering the words to be understood by the hearers, ruins the conceit and the verse,….a laceration of the poetry, but to hold fast to that manner so much praised by Plato and other philosophers, who declare that music is nothing other than the fable and last and not the contrary, the rhythm and the sound, in order to penetrate the perception of others and to produce those marvelous effects, admired by the writers, which cannot be produced by descant in modern compositions, especially in singing a solo above a stringed instrument, not a word of it being understood…though by the vulgar such singers were cried up for famous.

[Caccini discusses a number of madrigals he composed and performed for the Camerata.]

The affectionate applause with which these madrigals and this air were received in the “Camerata” and the exhortations to pursue by this path the end I had proposed to myself led me to betake myself to Rome to make trial of them also. At Rome, when the said madrigals and air were heard in the house of Signor Nero Neri by many gentlemen accustomed to gather there, and particularly by Signor Leone Strozzi, all can testify how I was urged to continue the enterprise I had begun, all telling me that they had never before heard harmony of a single voice, accompanied by a single stringed instrument, with such power to move the passion of the mind as those madrigals, both because of their style and because, when madrigals published for several voices were sung by a single voice, as was then a common practice, the single part of the soprano, sung as a solo, could have no effect by itself, so artificial were the corresponding parts.

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