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Some Forerunners of Italian Opera   By: (1855-1937)

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"The Orchestra and Orchestral Music," "What Is Good Music," "The Art of the Singer," etc.

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New York Henry Holt and Company 1911 Copyright, 1911, by Henry Holt and Company Published March, 1911 The University Press, Cambridge, U.S.A.


" In a land of sand and ruin and gold There shone one woman, and none but she. "



The purpose of this volume is to offer to the English reader a short study of the lyric drama in Italy prior to the birth of opera, and to note in its history the growth of the artistic elements and influences which finally led the Florentine reformers to resort to the ancient drama in their search for a simplified medium of expression. The author has not deemed it essential to his aims that he should recount the history of all European essays in the field of lyric drama, but only that of those which directly affected the Italians and were hence the most important. For this reason, while some attention is given in the beginning to the French and German liturgical plays, the story soon confines itself to Italy.

The study of the character and performance of the first Italian secular drama, the "Orfeo" of Poliziano, unquestionably a lyric work, is the result of some years of labor. The author believes that what he has to offer on this topic will be found to possess historical value. The subsequent development of the lyric drama under the combined influences of polyphonic secular composition and the growing Italian taste for luxurious spectacle has been narrated at some length, because the author believes that the reformatory movement of the Florentines was the outcome of dissatisfaction with musical conditions brought about as much by indulgence of the appetite for the purely sensuous elements in music as by blind adherence to the restrictive laws of ecclesiastic counterpoint.

With the advent of dramatic recitative the work ends. The history of seventeenth century opera, interesting as it is, does not belong to the subject especially treated in this volume. The authorities consulted will be named from time to time in the pages of the book.


Chapter Page I. The Early Liturgical Drama 1 II. The Sacre Rappresentazioni 21 III. Birthplace of the Secular Drama 35 IV. The Artistic Impulse 53 V. Poliziano's "Favola di Orfeo" 68 VI. The Performance of "Orfeo" 85 VII. Character of the Music 98 VIII. The Solos of the "Orfeo" 117 IX. The Orchestra of the "Orfeo" 136 X. From Frottola Drama to Madrigal 147 XI. The Predominance of the Spectacular 160 XII. Influence of the Taste for Comedy 179 XIII. Vecchi and the Matured Madrigal Drama 190 XIV. The Spectacular Element in Music 207 XV. The Medium for Individual Utterance 220 Index 237



The Early Liturgical Drama

The modern entertainment called opera is a child of the Roman Catholic Church. What might be described as operatic tendencies in the music of worship date further back than the foundation of Christianity. The Egyptians were accustomed to sing "jubilations" to their gods, and these consisted of florid cadences on prolonged vowel sounds. The Greeks caroled on vowels in honor of their deities. From these practices descended into the musical part of the earliest Christian worship a certain rhapsodic and exalted style of delivery, which is believed to have been St... Continue reading book >>

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