A translation of Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

Monteverdi composed Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in 1624. The text is taken from Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered ) of 1574 and makes only slight changes to the original. Edward Fairfax translated Tasso in 1600 and this version of Il Combattimento is based on his translation. I do not claim that this version is an accurate translation of the original Italian text. I have also included the Fairfax translation.

The Combat of Tancredi and Clorinda

Over the hills the maiden made her way
To find the safety of the town
He thought she was a man of great might
And her defeat would bring him honour

Orchestra: theme of the horse

The knight pursued her with a great noise
She heard him and stopped and said

Why in such a hurry? It is better to ride quietly and easily. What are you carrying?

He answered

War and death

And war and death

She said

Is what you will get from me
If you are looking for a fight

With that she stood fast
Tancredi quickly jumped from his horse
And on foot he met the maid
Their courage was hot, and both were in a fury
Both champions drew a sharp blade
Ran towards each other and began to strike
Like two fierce bulls provoked by rage, or love

The fight was wondrous to behold
Though hid in the bosom of the darkest night
The contest was worthy of royal lists and the brightest day
Worthy of a golden trumpet and a laurel crown

Orchestra: symphony

Oh Night! – let me their acts display
And make their deeds to future ages known
And in records of long enduring story
Let me enrol their praise, their fame, their worth, their glory

Orchestra: beginning of the battle

Neither shrunk back nor sought for better ground with fancy footwork
They both stood still, each rooted to the spot
Their blows were neither false nor feigned
The night and their rage would not let them fight with art
Their swords clash together with a dreadful sound
As steady as great trees they stand and neither stir nor start
They move their hands but steadfast their feet remain
Nor blow nor thrust they stroked in vain
Shame bred a desire for sharp revenge
And vengeance taken gave a new cause for shame
So that with more fury than skill they fought
They had enough fuel to feed the flame

At last, the battle was so fierce and even
They could not wield their swords, so fought up close
The clashed and swung their sword hilts
And helmet to helmet and shield to shield they crushed
Three times his strong arms he folds around her waist
Three times he was forced to let the maiden go
For she disdained to be embraced
No lover would have squeezed his mistress so
They took their swords again and each
Put deep wounds in the soft flesh of the strong foe
Until weak, weary, faint, barely alive
They both stepped back and gasped for breath
They look long at each other and stand resting on their swords
With sword points driven in the earth
When day break rising with a sudden light
Put out the eyes of blindfold night
Tancredi beheld the streaming blood of his foe
And the gaping wounds and waxed proud at the sight

O vanity of man’s unstable mind
Puffed up with every blast of friendly wind
Why do you celebrate? What shall be your gain?
What trophy do you want for this conquest?
Even if you live, your eyes will shed
For every drop of blood a sea of tears

The bleeding warriors remained leaning
The stood in silence, neither spoke a word
At last Tancredi broke the silence and said
(For he wanted to know with whom he fought)

What bad luck we have, what bad fortune
Who in silence and in darkness clash
When the sun’s light and our comrades’ gaze
Should witness our prowess and our fame
If there is a place for words in war, grant me this
Tell me your name, your country and your estate
That I may know when the fight is over
Whom I have conquered, or who has conquered me

She replied

You ask in vain, I am not telling
You can pray all you like, or try to use your might
But I will tell you this
I am one of those brave heroes
Who destroyed your tower with fire

Tancredi swelled with disdain at her proud words

Everything you have said
Your boasting speech and your sullen silence
Has fuelled the anger in my breast

Orchestra: battle

Their anger redoubled they renewed the fray
Though their bodies were feeble the fight was fierce
Their strength and skill were gone
And fury alone kept them fighting
Their swords were bathed all over
In purple blood whenever they hit
And if their hearts were still beating
They only lived because they both disdained to die

But alas, now is the fatal hour
That her sweet life must leave her breast
He drives his sword deep into her chest
And bathed his sword in lukewarm blood
Between her breasts the cruel weapon cleaves
Her breastplate embossed with swelling gold
Her knees grow weak, the pains of death she
Feels, and like a falling Cedar bends and reels
The Prince stretched his hand upon her shield
And laid the wounded damsel on the earth
And as she fell, in a weak and woeful voice
Her last prayers and final words she said
Those prayers taught her a new spirit
One of hope, of charity and faith
And though her life was rebellious to Christ
Yet she died his child and handmaid dear

Friend, you have won, but I forgive you, don’t save
This body that all torments can endure
But save my soul and baptise me before I die
Come wash away my sins with pure water

His relenting heart nearly broke apart
When he heard the sad words of that sweet creature
So that his rage, his wrath and his anger died
And salt tears of pity ran down his cheeks

A loud murmur was heard from the mountainside
And a little stream tumbled near the place
He ran to it and filled his helmet
And quickly returned to do the work of grace
With trembling hands her faceguard he undid
Which done he saw, and seeing, knew her face
And was speechless

O woeful knowledge, oh unhappy sight!
He did not die but gathered his last strength
And held in check the feelings in his heart
Torn with grief, with water he restores eternally
The life he took away with hard iron
And while the sacred words the knight recites
The maiden joyfully prepared for heaven
And as her life decays, her joys increase
She smiled and said

Farewell, I die in peace.

Barry Mitchell, 2008

Edward Fairfax’s translation of the text of Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1600)

The Combat of Tancred and Clorinda

He deem’d she was some man of mickle might,
And on her person would he worship win,
Ouer the hilles the nimph her iourney dight
Towards another port, there to get in:
Theme of the horse
With hideous noise fast after spurr’d the knight,
She heard and staide, and thus her words begin:
“What haste has thou? ride softly, take thy breath, What bringest thou?
He answerd:
“Warre and death….”
“And warre and death….”
Quoth she:
“…heere maist thou get
If thou for battle come”
With that she staid:
Tancred to ground his foote in haste downe set,
And left his stead: on foote he saw the maid,
Their courage hot, their ire and wrath they whet,
And either champion drew a tranchant blaid:
Togither ran they, and togither stroke,
Like two fierce buls, whom rage and loue prouoke.
The actions were and woonders of that fray,
Which sable night did in darke bosome drowne,
Woorthie of royal listes and brightest day,
Woorthie a golden trompe and lawrell crowne.
Yet night, consent that I their actes display,
And make their deeds to future ages knowne,
And in records of long enduring storie,
Enroll their praise, their fame, their woorth & glorie.
Beginning of the battle
They neither shrunke, nor vantage sought of ground,
They trauerst not, nor skipt from part to part,
Their blowes were neither false nor faigned found,
Their night, their rage, would let them vse no art,
Their swords togither clash with dreadfull sound,
Their feet stand fast, and neither stir nor start,
They moue their hands, stedfast their feete remaine,
Nor blow nor foine they stroake or thrust in vaine,
Shame bred desire a sharp reuenge to take,
And veng’ance taken gaue new cause of shame:
So that with haste and little heed they strake,
Fuell enough they had to feed the flame.
At last so close their battell fierce they make,
They could not weild their swords, so nie they came,
They vs’d the hilts, and each on other rusht,
And helme to helme, and shield to shield they crusht.
Thrice his strong armes he fouldes about her waste,
And thrice was forst to let the virgine goe,
For she disdained to be so embraste,
No louer would have strain’d his mistresse soe:
They tooke their swords againe, and each enchaste
Deepe wounds in the soft flesh of his strong foe,
Till weak and wearie, faint, aliue vneath,
They both retirde at once, at once tooke breath;
Each other long beheild, and leaning stood
Vpon their swords, whose points in earth were pight,
When day breake rising from the Eastren flood,
Put forth the thousand eies of blindfold night,
Tancred beheild his foes out streaming blood,
And gaping wounds, and waxt proud with the sight,
O vanitie of mans vnstable minde,
Puft vp with euerie blast of friendly winde!
Why ioi’st thou wretch? O what shall be thy gaine?
What trophie for this conquest ist, thou reares?
Thine eies shall shed (in case thou not be slaine)
For euerie drop of blood a sea of teares:
The bleeding warriors leaning thus remaine.
Each one to speake one word long time forbeares,
Tancred the silence broake at last, and said,
(For he would know with whom this fight he maid:)
“Euill is our chance, and hard our fortune is,
Who here in silence and in shade debate,
Where light of sunne and witnes all we mis,
That should our prowess and our praise dilate:
If words in armes finde place, yet grant me this,
Tell me thy name, thy countrey and estate,
That I may know (This dangerous combate donne)
Whom I haue conquerd, or who hath me wonne.”
Quoth she:
“What I nill tell, you aske in vaine,
Nor mou’d by praier, nor constrained by powre:
But thus much know, I am one of those twaine
Which late with kindled fire destroi’d the towre.”
Tancred at her proud words sweld with disdaine:
“That has thou said in euill howre (quoth he),
Thy vaunting speeches, and thy silence both,
(Vnciuill wretch) hath made my hart more wroth.”
Ire in their chafed breasts renewed the fray,
Fierce was the fight, though feeble were their might,
Their strength was gone, their cunning was away.
And furie in their stead maintain’d the fight:
Their swords both points and edges sharpe embay
In purple bloud, where so they hit or light,
And if weake life yet in their bosomes lie,
They liud because they both disdain to die.
But now alas, the fatall how’re arriues.
That her sweete life must leaue that tender hold.
His sword into her bosome deepe he driues,
And bath’d in lukewarm blood his iron cold,
Betweene her brests the cruell weapon riues
Her curious square, emboss with swelling gold,
Her knees grow weake, the paines of death she
Feeles, and like a falling Cedar bends and reeles,
The Prince his hand vpon her shield doth streach,
And low on earth the wounded damsell laith,
And while she fell, with weake and woefull speech,
Her praiers last, and last complaints she saith,
A spirit new did her those praiers teach,
Spirit of hope, of charitie, and faith;
And though her life to Christ rebellious weare,
Yet she died his childe and handmaide deare:
“Friend thous hast wonne, I pardon thee, nor saue
This bodie, that all torments can endure,
But suae my soule, baptisme I dying craue,
Come wash away my sinnes with water pure”
His hart relenting nigh insunder raue,
With woefull speech of that sweete creature,
So that his rage, his wrath and anger dide,
And on his cheekes salt teares for ruthe downe slide,
With murmur lowd downe from the mountaines side
A little runnell tumbled neere the place;
Thither he ran and fild his helmet wide,
And quicke return’d to do that worke of grace;
With trembling hands her beauver he vntide,
Which done he saw, and seeing, knew her face,
And lost therewith his speech and moouing quight,
O woefull knowledge, ah vnhappie sight!
He died not, but all his strength vnites,
And to his virtues gaue his hart in gard,
Brideling his greefe, with water he requites
The life, that he bereft with iron hard;
And while the sacred words the knight recites,
The Nymphe to heau’n with joy her selfe prepard;
And as her life decaies, her ioyes increase,
She smild and said:
“Farewell, I die in peace.”

Edward Fairfax (1600)

8 thoughts on “A translation of Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

  1. Jan Burke

    Thank you — a character in a Georgette Heyer novel dubs a woman “Clorinda.” Your translation has allowed a group reading her work to understand why. And you’ve interested me enough in it that I’ve just downloaded an album of Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. Thanks for expanding my musical horizons.


  2. Anonymous

    I am writing a book, Globality in Music History, for Routledge. One chapter will be on music, War, Exiles and Expatriates. I would like to quote your translation of Tancredi… I would appreciate a note from you stating the conditions for citing your work.

    1. Barry Mitchell Post author

      Thanks for your interest in citing this version of the poem. If you cite the work can you give the url as http://www.theoryofmusic.wordpress.com and the author as Barry Mitchell. Apart from that feel free to cite as much as you want. I would also be grateful for an email to info@barrymitchellmusic.com when the book comes out, with the title etc. It sounds like a very interesting book so good luck with it. I’m glad you have found theoryofmusic of help.

  3. David Wickham

    Singers beware – this is a good start for search, and fine for skimming, but way off the mark as a working translation. Monteverdi and Tasso had infinite subtlety in handling detail, and a beauty of phrase, not reflected at all here. Do your research!

  4. Pingback: Musical anger management | Nuova Voce

  5. Pingback: Musical anger management | Italian American Voice

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