The end of the 1500s earmarked the turn-up of monody as a completely novel era in music history - or, rather, let us reverse the way we put it: accompanied monody became a new form of the new era.
What is it really? In the background there was an attempt of the contemporary Camerata societies to return to the antique music traditions.
A main step of it was the priority of the text/lyrics, i.e., music is the support, service and expression of the words. Thus came the landing on the earthly ground instead of the matrix-polyphony and the entirety in the complex spiritual cloud of the late Renaissance; a single part, a sole melody, focusing on the content, and an accompaniment on the bass line, which, like a mirror, maintains things in harmony and in proper pace - it was that became basso continuo.
To put it extremely simple: If the words are joyful then the music is happy too and if it is about sorrowful things then the music also gets sad. Indeed, there is a genre which explicitly relies on this: yes, the Opera, which was borne in these decades. For the audience received this close lyrics-music relationship very well, when the moaning of the lovesick lady is faithfully followed by the cadent melody syllable by syllable just like the upward staccato accords of the chase of jealousy with a knife in the hand. Then it remained like this producing a brilliant opera-repertoire stretching into much later eras.
Heavenly Things are a bit simplified, are they not?
It is a complicated issue for, on the one hand, Baroque filtered the complexity of the upper worlds well enough; Baroque made this complexity receivable for the mob; the first opera houses were extremely popular already; it is a fact that the incomprehensible fugues and the complicated polyphony of Bach much later were entirely accustomed in the Renaissance, albeit more nicely and in a superior environment, however, the expression of emotions by varying the multiplicity of parts was impossible.
On the other hand, the situation got more complex, which was also far from being simple.
The next record is a good example, the reason might get revealed, I warrant not, I mean not for everyone.
The CD is an Alpha from 1999, the ensemble is Le Poéme Harmonique, the singer, Guillemette Laurens is a huge fav of mine.
The composer is Domenico Belli whose life little do we know about. Three omnibus volumes survived the ups and downs in archives - Officiorium Defunctorium, Il Primo libro dell’Arie and Orfeo Dolente; the latter being a special opera which abounds in Orfeo’s struggles and moaning, Eurydice did not even appear on the scene … and there were loads of others vanishing like magic during the centuries. Such was the legendary Andromeda, outstandingly the most popular opera the time of which just a few intermezzo fragments have remained, it is impossible to reconstruct the whole piece.
To start with here is Aria di Fiorenza with a huge popularity; it was practically regarded as the anthem of Firenze, Dumestre made mention of the fact that 128 of its contemporary versions were found.
Belli spent most of his life in Firenze in service of the Medici family. Firenze was a huge cultural centre then as well, Camerata de’Bardi was established there - the circle which placed the relationship of music and poetry, music and drama onto novel foundations.
Poets as well as artists were members just like theatre persons and musicians such as Galilei, Cavalieri, Caccini, Peri and Domenico Belli. What made Belli so outstanding among his contemporaries was his depiction of passion and fatality.
He was said to “be ablaze”; he focused on tragic momentums, the emotional expression of the lyrics is more important than the beauty of the singing. Indeed, Ardo following the prologue is mere grief.
Then is the whole record going to be like this?
How could the noble guests endure it in the saloons of Uffizi palace?
Fortunately, things are far from being that grievous; the track No. 3 takes us to one of the hubs of the record, which is nicely included in the serious heart-breakings. She radiates such delight that when the pearls rolled about among the folks and they all knew her and loved her, many years later the young Lully was crazy about her and took her as far as Versailles - it happens like this today even 400 years later, only that these marvels roll about into more directions.
It’s astonishing at first listening. Something over-complex is sounded in a simple form; it’s not the first time that we’ve experienced it in Early Music.
There are at least 3 things elevating it so high: the system itself, the conception, the instrumentation as Dumestre recreated it, then the really fine embrace of the bowers with the drums, and, finally, the most important segment, the voice. Guillemette’s mezzo shows something which is a rarity even today when Early Music divas with an astonishing voice abound.
The record walks up and down with some transparent airiness in our entire music horizon; a few syllables themselves are given a curve of the size of a staircase. Of course, the topic can be found out from the title: Occhi belli, beautiful eyes, Occhi celesti, celestial eyes - they meant it literally - how nice it is … it is the Love, indeed.
Then come two complete instrumental Ballo pieces with several parts; the movements bear the names of dances and they much resemble the later French royal ballet; some of them are really marvellous.
The movements reel the eponym rhythm with an infinite fineness, between the two are some serious and passionate arias, the last part is again the magic of Guillemette, vocal pieces come one after the other. At the end there is an extremely nice Apre l’houmo infelice which provides the second centre of the record, i.e., if you are good at maths you can easily find out that the curve taken is an ellipsis, a track with which the planets orbit above and around us.
To return to the first issue whether things got simplified too much with this single line, I know not; experts have written books to fill a library on this topic as well as the birth of Baroque; you can decide yourselves.
One thing is sure. I bought this record new, the nice cover is slightly frayed; it’s in one as yet. If you turn the CD toward light a strange thing can be noticed amidst the rainbow colour refractions and the normal sea of scratches - it has a different hue in a concentric stripe, yes, the third track, Occhi Belli may be here; it simply tapered for I listened to it so often, I measured it with a slide calliper and I saw that it is full of holes … anyway, it still plays.
Flawless, perfect, unique.
Thank you for the images.