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A performance of music by Carissimi described in 1659

December 11, 2009

An eye witness account of a performance of music by Carissimi in Rome in 1659.  The three extracts are taken from the Travels of Francis Mortoft, an English traveller who visited Rome in 1659.

 1.  It beginning to be night, wee went to the Chiesa Nuova, where there is most incomparable Musicke every Sunday and holy day at Night, with Organs and 4 Voyces, and wee heard here such sweete Musicke, that a man could not thinke his paines be il spent, if he should come two thousand mile, if he were sure to be recompensed with nothing else, but to hear such most melodious voyces. (pp.118-19)

 2.  And at the Evening wee went to the Chiesa Nuova, where wee heard most sweete Musicke and a sermon.  And after, saw a kind of Comody acted by 5 little Boyes against the Maskaradoes, who did every part so prettily, that they could scarcely be excelled by Persons of greater yeares. (p.140)

 3.  Wee went to the Chiesa Nuova where wee heard that never enough to be praised and delightful Musicke.  The subject was Made by A Prince of Rome and Composed by Charissima, who for that is accounted the best in the world, and sung by Bonnaventure, Sinesia and the two Vuulpies, all which made so sweet and harmonye, that never the like must be againe expected, unlesse in heaven and in Rome. (p. 146)


The Chiesa Nuova was an Oratory.  “Comody” refers not to a comedy but to the recitation of a spiritual dialogue, a common practice in oratories at the time.  Charissima is the composer Giacomo Carissimi.  The piece referred to in extract 3 may be Carissimi’s Daniele, an oratorio with an Italian text. But this is not certain.

The extracts are quoted in: Smither, Howard E., A History of the Oratorio Vol. I, The University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 0-8078-1274-9, Library of Congress No. 76-43980, pp. 162-163.

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