Anthology No. 6: Ohimé, se Tanto Amate (1603)
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
1 Find the origin of the term 'Baroque'.
By 1600 Italy had supplanted France, Flanders and the Netherlands as the centre of European musical life. Back in 1527,
it had been the Flemish Willaert who had held the post of director of music at St Mark's, Venice; his (Italian) pupil
Andrea Gabrieli took over, and Andrea's nephew Giovanni Gabrieli became the most celebrated Venetian composer of
his generation. In 1609, Schütz came to Italy to study; the roles had been reversed. Europe looked to Italy for musical
leadership, though independent national styles can be discerned in the variety of forms to be found:
Italy had the frottola (simple strophic songs, marked rhythmic patterns, simple diatonic harmonies, and
homophonic) and the lauda (the sacred counterpart). This was the forerunner of the madrigal.
France had the chanson, which could be more contrapuntal.
Germany had the polyphonic lied, and the quodlibet – literally “what you will”: really a musical joke, consisting
of fragments thrown together; but the musical sense was often quite clear.
Spain had the villanesca, counterpart of the Italian frottola.
England had the madrigal, and the ayre (its counterpart for solo voice, though the various performance
possibilities often blurred the distinction, especially when the madrigal could take various forms – the ballet, the
canzonet, for instance).
2 Describe the Italian madrigal of about 1600: its music and its poetry.
The Baroque developed the theory of the affections: musical figures with quite clear emotional associations. Zarlino in
1558: "When a composer wishes to express harshness, bitterness and similar things, he [should] proceed with movements that are without
the semitone... the major sixth and thirteenth... are somewhat harsh (!!!)... he should use the suspension of the 4th and 11th... along with
somewhat slow movements. But when a composer wishes to express grief and sorrow, he should use movements which proceed through the
semitone..., often using minor 6ths or minor 13ths, these being by nature sweet and soft."
Later (1550 on) madrigalists, found all over Europe, included Orlando di Lasso and Giaches de Wert. Grout suggests that
de Wert developed the style to include features such as bold leaps, recitative-like declamation, and extravagant contrasts;
and this exercised a marked influence on Monteverdi.
3 Explain the phrase 'recitative-like declamation'.
By the end of the century, the leading madrigalists were Italians: Marenzio, Gesualdo (famous also as a murderer) whose
madrigals experiment quite dramatically and vividly with rich chromaticism, and Monteverdi.
4 Explain 'rich chromaticism', and find an example of Gesualdo's writing to illustrate your answer.
For Monteverdi, the madrigal brought about the transition from the polyphonic vocal ensemble to the instrumentally
accompanied solo and duet. The first 5 books of madrigals (there were 8 altogether) demonstrate Monteverdi's mastery of
the form without following Gesualdo to extremes of chromaticism and dissonance: smooth combination of homophonic
and contrapuntal part-writing, faithful reflection of the text, and freedom in the use of expressive harmonies and
dissonances. "Although many of Monteverdi's dissonances may be rationalised as embellishments, their real motivation
was to convey through harmony, rather than through the graphic images of some earlier madrigalists, the meaning and
feeling of the poet's message" (Grout). Monteverdi himself, in the preface to the 5th book: "...be assured concerning
consonances and dissonances that there is a different way of considering them from that already determined which
defends the modern manner of composition with the assent of reason and the senses." Features which look forward to the
new style of the 17th century include the recitative-like character of the musical motives already noted, the ornamental
embellishment now written in to the score rather than being improvised in performance, and the texture often departing
from one which treats voices equally to become a duet over a harmonically-supporting bass.
5 Find the meaning of the terms 'prima prattica' and 'seconda prattica' as Monteverdi used them in 1605.
The history of music abounds with some spectacular arguments. One example is the row Noel Coward had with the
Sitwell family after he walked out of a performance of Facade (for which the young William Walton wrote the music).
Another is the riot that greeted the first performance of the Rite of Spring. And another is the controversy generated by
this new style of writing to be found in the early 17th-century Italian madrigal. It was viciously attacked by the conservative
musical theorist Giovanni Maria Artusi, a monk living in Bologna. In two imaginary 'discourses' between a pair of
fictitious characters, Artusi describes the new style as "harsh and little pleasing to the ear... deformations of the nature and
propriety of true harmony... castles in the air, chimeras founded upon sand... they bring confusion and imperfection...
barbaric." He really doesn't seem to have liked it. Monteverdi's remarks above are part of his reply, printed as a preface to
Book V in 1605 and expounded upon by his brother in 1607; he promises to write a book on the new style which never
did appear. It's all printed in Strunk: "Source Readings in Music History", though an odd aspect is that Strunk himself
appears to have a lot of sympathy with Artusi. Claude V. Palisca, in his article The Artusi-Monteverdi Controversy in The
Monteverdi Companion, says we ought to be grateful to Artusi for being the catalyst in making explicit a stylistic
development. Artusi "...expected dissonances to be introduced according to the rules of counterpoint, and he insisted
upon unity of modality within a piece... It grieved him to see counterpoint, which had reached a point of ultimate
refinement and control, become a prey to caprice and expediency. He honestly believed that the patiently erected
structure was under siege." The crux of the matter was that new affections require new harmonic combinations to express
them, even if these "leave behind somehow the ancient traditions of some excellent composers." Palisca goes into
considerable detail about the course of the argument, which is fascinating, but finally gets round to identifying Artusi's
awkward intervallic leaps like the augmented 4th.
following a sharpened note by a descending interval and a flattened note by a rising interval (e.g. b. 6 in Ohimé)
...as a loyal follower of Zarlino, he denounced inflections and chromaticism in vocal music.
Monteverdi mixes his tones, or modes: "he throws the pumpkins in with the lanterns." You can mix the Plagal
and Authentic forms of the mode in a piece, but you can't mix other modes with them.
use of unprepared dissonance (e.g., a 7th)
Things got pretty heated. Galilei (father of Galileo) crossed swords with the reactionaries, accusing them of telling "tales
intended to confuse dunderheads".
Jerome Roche, in "The Madrigal", fills in a bit of biography: born in Cremona, taught by the conventional Ingegneri,
Monteverdi was at the Gonzaga court in Mantua by 1590. Here he worked closely with de Wert and absorbed the
influences noted above - undoubtedly encouraged by the fact that the court now boasted female singers of trained
virtuosity. The balance of the madrigal shifted from SATTB to SSATB and achieved a lighter texture thereby. Roche
identifies features of Monteverdi's style already mature by Book III: expressive falling 6th interval; structural balance;
polyphonic variety; vocal colouring; variety of material; and the extension of a paragraph either by pitting two contrasted
ideas against one another in a variety of vocal scorings or by making one contrapuntal tag gradually take over the musical
argument from another.
Nothing was published in book form between 1592 and 1603, though it seems that several of the madrigals appearing in
Book IV had been in circulation meanwhile; indeed, it is Cruda Amarilli which Artusi criticised. Roche notes another
feature from Sfogava con le stelle: "Typical as an expressive device is the long note followed by pattering quavers at the
exclamation "Ahi, car'e dolce lingua" piled up in sequences." "But it is the type of irregular harmonic combination of
individual lines that so annoyed a pedantic theorist by the name of Artusi... [who] cited in particular several instances of
unprepared dominant 7ths in Monteverdi's madrigals." Of Monteverdi's reply: "...the secunda prattica madrigalists brought
about a revolution in aesthetic thought, for not only was it necessary for the text to be heard; the sound of its music - its
unusual intervals, rhythms and sonorities - was also to draw an emotive response from the listener."
Denis Arnold, in the BBC Music Guide, Monteverdi Madrigals, makes the point by way of introduction that Monteverdi's
output of madrigals is as comprehensive and all-encompassing as Schubert's lieder in its response to the various texts he
used: "When it was frivolous or at least not very intense, his music matches its superficiality. When it becomes mannerist
and exaggerated (more particularly in the verse of Guarini and Marini) the mood of the music becomes exaggerated too.
When the fashion was for strong, concrete imagery, the music follows its pictorialism; when the vogue was for more
abstract, philosophical verse, so does Monteverdi's music become more abstract."
Arnold goes on to note that Mantua was an awful place in which to work: unpleasant climate; claustrophobic little town;
unstable, mercurial patron; and an inherent absurdity in the opulent lifestyle reflecting very little actual political influence
in the world outside. However, they had been great patrons of the arts for generations. Rubens was their court painter in
Mannerism flourished. This is a term which has been applied to the painting of the time, and which could be seen to
apply to the Italian madrigal as a genre in its own right. Roche defines it as a preoccupation with style for its own sake
which results in an indulgence in artificiality. The most obvious musical feature to which one might draw attention is
Arnold argues that the overwrought, bizarre world of the Gonzaga household at Mantua created a breeding-ground for
such mannerism: the Hall of Mirrors "...is a symptom of the disease, in its attempt to appear much larger than life and
distorting reality in the process." He suggests that de Wert (their maestro di capella) succumbed: "From his earliest days at
Mantua, he was interested in the expression of extreme emotions. His very first madrigals show him the master of strong
contrasts and bold musical images. By the time Monteverdi arrived, [de Wert] was almost a musical eccentric." The
"strange quirks" which resulted attempt to match violent emotions with violent music: recitative declamations, awkward
intervals, large tessitura (range within which the part moves); a "nervous discontinuity" in it all "which seems to match the
Mantuan atmosphere." Arnold finds in Book III clear signs that Monteverdi had absorbed a lot of this sort of thing,
whilst at the same time showing considerable mastery. The long gap between Books III and IV he finds interesting: he
speculates about a loss of fluency and confidence, finding evidence in Monteverdi's serious treatment of Artusi, whom
Arnold dismisses as an insignificant opponent who clearly hadn't read anything later than 1549. Monteverdi's concern is
especially puzzling given that the theorists of the epoch were with him.
6 Who were the 'Camerata' of Florence, and what did they propose? Assess their importance.
7 What were Caccini's main concerns in Le Nuove Musiche?
Audibility of the words has become of prime importance by Book IV; Montverdi adheres to the natural verbal
accentuation. "Melismas are something of an event, reserved for expressive purposes, and often are for the most part no
more than short ornaments of the sort with which 16th-c singers often decorated their parts." Nor does the harmony
intrude upon the verse: "there are extended passages without dissonances of any kind, and chromaticism is rare." This
gives it more intensity when it is used. Texture is important too: "these madrigals are built up as a series of trios and
quartets, in which the tutti are reserved for the climaxes." Apart from the awkward melodic lines, singers may also find
they have to enter on a dissonance, and discord is more freely used; the seventh is now considered normal harmony. To
the ear accustomed to 16th-century purity, the dominant 7th would sound "brazenly romantic". "But there are many
worse chords than this. Monteverdi often uses the effect of delaying a melody note while the bass moves on, with some
very pungent sounds resulting. Having created such a dissonance, he makes it worse by refusing to take the next concord
normally. His dissonant part will leap about to another note of the same chord in an embarrassing way, something
enough to make the theorists turn in their graves." None of this was new, but "Monteverdi's combination of such things,
especially when they are inserted into a music which still adheres to the basic textures and attitudes of the later 16th-c., is
quite remarkable, and it is this growth in technical device that makes possible the really astonishing feature of the
madrigals: their emotional breadth... Neurosis is not difficult to express in such an idiom. It is harder to provide music
which is more playful while remaining essentially serious, but this is what he does with the greatest assurance in... Ohimé,
se tanto amate.
Arnold on this madrigal is worth quoting in full:
"[This] is a setting of a typical erotic verse of Guarini. There is little emotional involvement in the text, for
it is the working out of a poetic conceit, the attempt to make the lover seem to sigh a thousand times.
Monteverdi provides an exact counterpart. He takes a conventional 'sigh' motive, a falling 3rd in the
melody usually preceded by a rest, and constructs the whole madrigal from it. Sometimes it is a consonant
sigh1, sometimes a dissonant2; sometimes it confirms the tonality of the piece3, sometimes it provides a
curious bitonal effect4. The concentration on this motive even excludes the conventional final cadence 5,
and since such words as 'moro' (I die) and 'languido e doloroso' (drooping and grieving) are strictly
subordinated to the sighs, we know exactly what these portentous sentiments are worth. It is a perfect
example of mannerist artificiality, a detail distorting the whole conception, an intellectual conceit taking
charge of the music's emotional development. It is the music of flirtation, meant to appeal to anyone who
enjoys such amorous sport."
8 Find examples in the music for notes 1 - 4:
9 For 5, explain how the motif “excludes the conventional final cadence”
10 Re-read the features of Monteverdi's madrigal style mentioned at various points above. Which of these are
exemplified in Ohimé, se tanto amate? Illustrate your answer by close reference to the music, giving bar nos.
and naming relevant parts. Suggest which aspects of it Artusi might have objected to, and show which other
aspects show the influences of the older style. It is absolutely vital that you listen to the madrigal in order to
answer this question.
11 Manfred Bukofzer speaks of the 'excitement of the pre-tonal period'. Suggest what might be meant, and find
examples in Ohimé to illustrate your answer.
12 Describe your own reaction to the music. Attempt to explain it, not merely in subjective terms, but by trying
to point out technical/expressive aspects of the music.
Gb/Ebmin = F#/D#min
The Oxford Book of Italian Madrigals: Introduction by Alec Harman
One of the principal differences between late Renaissance secular part-music1 in Italy and in England lies in the far greater
amount produced in the former country. This was partly due to the fact that in Italy compared to England the period in
question was roughly twice as long, and the number of composers (many of them foreigners from north of the Alps), even
allowing for the longer period, was far greater, as was the general productivity of each composer. Thus, while there were
23 English composers who produced at least one book containing secular part-music (only eight published more than one
book), and who produced a total of nearly 800 pieces, in Italy there were close to 600 such composers, the great majority
of whom wrote at least two books (some composers were especially productive, e.g. Monte with 36 books, Marenzio with
23, Wert with 16). The total can only be guessed at from the fact that the number of madrigals alone produced by the
leading composers of the genre - Festa, Verdelot, Arcadelt, Willaert, Rore, Palestrina, Lassus, A. Gabrieli, Monte, Wert,
Marenzio, Gesualdo, and Monteverdi - is almost exactly 2,900. Of these almost 300 consist of settings of the same texts by
two or more of the above composers - another striking difference between the madrigal in Italy and England, for the latter
produced only 27 such comparative settings.
[He comments on the range of] the various types of secular part-music, the number and kinds of voices used, the range in
mood, and the development of the madrigal - by far the most important secular type.
Generally speaking, the madrigal began as a sentimental, amorous piece for usually four voices, displaying a rather casual
concern for matching the music either to the accents of a poem or to its more evocative words or phrases. The lack of
careful accentuation may have been because the great majority of the early madrigalists were foreigners, but it was a
foreigner, Willaert, who first stressed the importance of accurate text-setting. Attempts to portray in the music the
meaning of certain words or phrases (word- or mood-painting) became a significant feature of the madrigal around 1550,
and developed thereafter; it included such devices as ‘wavy’ vocal lines to denote ‘sea’ or ‘flight’, white and black
semibreves to the words ‘day’ and ‘night’ respectively, triple metre when dancing was mentioned, and semitonal rises and
falls or chromatic chords to express anguish. Moreover, from c. 1550 on not only were the accents of the text increasingly
matched in the music, but also the emotional range of the poetry chosen for madrigal settings began to widen. As a result
of the latter, compositional techniques expanded, in particular the use of five and, to a lesser extent, six voices instead of
four, and the deliberate choice as 'time' signature, for expressive reasons, of either “cut common” or 'C'; in the former the
pulse was a semibreve, and the shortest note set to a syllable, the shortest harmonic movement, and the longest dissonance
was usually a minim; while in the latter signature these note-values were halved.
The growing importance of the text was fundamental to the development of the Italian madrigal, for it was increasingly
the text that caused composers to decide on what mode, metre, and voices they would use for a particular madrigal, and,
for a particular word or phrase, the kind of vocal line, note-values, rhythms, textual underlay, harmonies, dissonances,
textures, and vocal colour. It is, therefore, essential, when performing an Italian madrigal, to understand the poem as a
whole, as well as certain words and phrases that receive special musical treatment. It is equally essential to accentuate the
text correctly, and this brings us to one of the most striking and basic differences between the music of the Renaissance
period and earlier and that of the Baroque period and later: namely, the rhythmic flexibility and irregularity of the former.
Thus in Renaissance part-music each voice was, with very few exceptions, printed in separate part-books, as, for example,
in string quartet music today; but unlike the latter there were no indications of tempo or dynamics, no expression marks,
and no regularly spaced bar-lines with their implied regular accents, because accents were derived from the text or, in a
melisma (i.e. several notes to a syllable), from the length of a note in its context, a longer note than those flanking it being
more accented. Thus, while it is imperative for today's singers that the music be arranged in score and regularly barred, it
is also imperative that singers recognise that such barring has no automatic accentual significance, in other words, in a 2/2
or 4/4 bar the first minim or the first and third crotchets respectively will not invariably be accented.
Although the madrigal was, as stated earlier, by far the most important type of secular part-music in the Renaissance, there
were a number of other types. These, in general, were set for fewer voices, much lighter, not to say coarser, in tone,
homophonic in texture, and strophic, and thus provided a marked contrast with the sentimental or serious, essentially
polyphonic, and through-composed madrigal. Some of these types are included in this anthology, namely: villanella - a
simple strophic song, which often deliberately included musical solecisms, e.g. parallel fifths or triads. It was the most
common non-madrigalian type, and incorporated a number of sub-types, among them the mascherata - sung during
carnival processions by 'masked' singers advertising various local trades or professions, in this case dance instructors, and
the giustiniana - a strophic song for three male voices, representing decrepit old men who stutter (a rare affliction in Italy)
In this Foreword a distinction is made between secular part-music, which covers all types, and the madrigal itself, but in
the title, as in the companion volume of English madrigals, the term 'madrigal' includes other types, such as balletti,
canzonetti, etc., but not the 'spiritual madrigal'.
and whose amorous desires exceed their capabilities! Canzonetta – literally ‘little song’ – sometimes ‘parodied’ the
madrigal. Balletti, strophic 'dance' songs, were strongly rhythmic, and usually had a 'Fa la' refrain.
The seven clefs in common use in the Renaissance have been reduced to three [in this edition]; thus the G clef is used for
the original G clef as well as the soprano and mezzo-soprano C clefs, the octave-transposed G clef is used for the original
tenor C clef, and the F clef is used for the original bass and baritone F clefs. This leaves the alto C clef, the only one
common to the two basic clef combinations in the Renaissance, namely: treble/mezzo-soprano/alto/baritone, and
soprano/alto/tenor/bass (in pieces for more than four voices any clef could be doubled).
It should be mentioned that during the Renaissance there was no fixed pitch, and hence what was written in, say, the
Ionian mode (our C major) could have sounded in B flat or D major. This applies equally to instruments, and
instrumental participation in the vocal music of the period (i.e. the doubling or replacing of a vocal line by a suitable
instrument) was part of performance practice. It is probable, however, that those pieces in which the music is very closely
wedded to the text as regards expression were ideally performed by unaccompanied voices. Ornamentation of the written
note was also a part of performance practice, but it is recommended that any embellishments should be simple, and
restricted to the principal cadences and to the repeat of a musical phrase or passages. (For further information, H. M.
Brown's admirable little book Embellishing Sixteenth-Century Music should be consulted). Such improvisation can only be
done by one singer per part, and implies a small group of not more than three singers per part, a number supported by the
little evidence that has survived. This is vocal chamber music, not choral music, and hence clarity of sound is all-
important, in other words, undue vibrato in any voice will mar the chordal purity of the ensemble.
As noted earlier, there are no expression or dynamic marks in the original prints or manuscripts, and yet it is unthinkable
that no sense of mood or structure was conveyed by the singers of that time. Thus it is reasonable to assume that the text
determined the dynamic levels and gradations and the 'colour' of the voices, that in a passage where a motif is shared
between all or most of the voices, the voice with the motif should stand out, that the rise or fall of a vocal line should also
affect, naturally, dynamic gradations, and that ritardandos should accompany final cadences, but that everything should be
done modestly, avoiding extremes.