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Contents

Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries

CHAPTER 1 Opera from Monteverdi to Monteverdi

Princely and Public Theaters; Monteverdi’s Contributions to Both

Chapter:
CHAPTER 1 Opera from Monteverdi to Monteverdi
Source:
MUSIC IN THE SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

Richard Taruskin

COURT AND COMMERCE

Nino Pirrotta, an outstanding historian of Italian music, once proposed the title of this chapter as a joke, but it contains an important insight and provides an excellent frame for discussing some issues of major consequence.1 Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), previously best known as a composer of polyphonic part-songs, or madrigals, was also a major player in the “monodic revolution,” the rise to dominance of harmony–supported solo singing in the first decade of the seventeenth century. Owing to the unusual length of his career and the places where he happened to live, moreover, he made distinguished contributions to the burgeoning repertoire of music for the stage during more than one phase of its development. His first “musical tale,” as the nascent opera was called, dates from 1607, his last from shortly before his death, thirty-six years later. The first was performed before an invited assembly of nobles in Mantua and had a mythological theme. The last was performed before a paying public in Venice and had a theme from history. Stylistically as well as socially and thematically, the two works were worlds apart. To all intents and purposes, whether historical, theoretical, or practical, they belonged to different genres. It was the second that actually bore the designation opera, and that still looks like one.

Chapter 1 Opera from Monteverdi to Monteverdi

fig. 1-1 Claudio Monteverdi.

The first was called Orfeo, and it was a favola in musica on the same music-myth previously (and separately) musicalized by the Florentine courtier-musicians Jacopo Peri and Ciulio Caccini. The other, L’incoronazione di Poppea (“The crowning of Poppea,” the emperor Nero’s second wife), was designated a dramma musicale or opera reggia (“staged work”), work being the literal meaning of the word opera, which has stuck to the genre ever since. Both works still have a toehold on the fringes of today’s repertory, although neither is without interruptions in its performance history. They are the earliest and for today’s audiences the exemplary (“classic”) representatives of the noble musical play and the public music drama, respectively. To put it a little more loosely and serviceably, they are the prime representatives of the early court and commercial operas. As Pirrotta implied, comparing them, the common author notwithstanding, will be a study in contrasts and a powerfully instructive one.

Because he was so widely recognized by his contemporaries as the most gifted and interesting composer in Italy, Monteverdi (though he had no hand in its inception) became willy-nilly the spokesman and the scapegoat of the new manner of composing (or seconda prattica, as Monteverdi himself called it). It was captious criticism from detractors that made it necessary for Monteverdi to engage in defensive propaganda. But that redounded to our good fortune, because it enables us directly to compare his preaching with his practice, his professed intentions with his achievement.

Notes:

(1) Pirrotta, “Monteverdi and the Problems of Opera,” in Music and Culture in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Baroque (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 248.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 1 Opera from Monteverdi to Monteverdi." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2020. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-chapter-01.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 1 Opera from Monteverdi to Monteverdi. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 18 Feb. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-chapter-01.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 1 Opera from Monteverdi to Monteverdi." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 18 Feb. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-chapter-01.xml