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Lessons in Musical History

The work of the Florentine circle, as recounted in The Etude for February, had given impetus to the movement for reform in music, and the idea spread to other Italian cities, Bologna, Parma, Rome. One weakness of the Florentine movement was that the men who were most prominent in it were not men with a profound knowledge of music. They were only fair musicians, and could not bear comparison with the leading composers of the day. The new style of music, under such conditions, could not sweep aside the old polyphony; it still held to some of the old traditions. It waited the coming of one who should be courageous enough to break away from the old ideas, and carry forward the new.
 
The world of music did not wait long on him. This man, who has been variously styled "the first modern musician," "the Mozart of his time," "the Richard Wagner of the seventeenth century," was Claudio Monteverde, who was born at Cremona (celebrated also as the home of Stradivarius and other violin makers), in 1567, was a court singer and violinist at Mantua in 1590, somewhat later to become director of music at St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice, where he died in 1643.
 
He was trained musically by one of the old contrapuntists, and at first exercised his powers in the older forms, yet showed a tendency to depart from the methods of strict composition then so highly esteemed. He wrote many madrigals and canzonets in which he introduced dissonances freely, used the dominant seventh chord, and in all his work showed principles which directly antagonized the diatonic system of the old church tones.
 
When the principles enunciated by the Florentine circle began to spread over Italy, Monteverde, a trained musician and a skilled composer, was not slow to take up with them. The first occasion which called forth his efforts was the production of an opera, "Orfeo," in 1607. The next year he produced another work, "Arianna," which, according to a contemporary, "moved the whole theater to tears." A portion of this opera, the "Lament" of Arianna over the departure of her faithless lover, which is preserved, approaches the modern arioso style. Besides these two works Monteverde wrote a number of others, which were represented at Venice and elsewhere and received with great applause.
 
Monteverde was essentially an innovator, a reformer, one who broke the way for others. Even in his early works he strove after the sharp expression of the feelings, and in the representation of strong passions he was far beyond his predecessors and contemporaries. He was daring in his experiments in the way of achieving effects. In addition to the free use of the dominant seventh, mentioned before, he used the diminished triad, the tritone, used certain dissonant chords freely, including the ninth, called into requisition the changing note, and even went so far as to press into his service the diminished seventh. All this to the great horror of the musical purists of the time, who hurled all manner of invective against him as a destroyer of musical principles and one who violated the canons of musical beauty.
 
Monteverde might be called the father of instrumentation, for while the composers who preceded him were satisfied with accompanying their songs with several instruments to reinforce the voice without paying special attention to the peculiarities or special characteristics of the instruments, Monteverde gave close study to his orchestra. In his "Arianna" he employed an orchestra of thirty-six instruments, a very large number for that time. This opera not having been preserved, we do not know all the effects that Monteverde introduced. We do know, however, that in his "Orfeo," which was published in several different editions at different times, he used an orchestra composed of two harpsichords, two bass viols,
 
ten tenor viols, two little French violins, one harp, two large guitars, two organs (small ones), two violas di gamba, four trombones, one regal (a little reed organ), two cornets, one piccolo, one clarion (an instrument of the trumpet family), and three trumpets. He employed certain characteristic instruments to support the voices of certain of the dramatis personæ. In 1624 he composed the music to a grand dramatic interlude in the course of which he introduced an instrumental tremolo such as is used by violin players of the present day. In this particular instance it consisted of the rapid reiteration of a full chord in sixteenth notes in common time. Another innovation in orchestral effects ascribed to him is the pizzicato; that is, plucking the strings of the violin with the finger.
 
We can only take space to mention two successors of Monteverde, Francesco Cavalli (1599-1676), who wrote forty-two operas, and Marc Antonio Cesti (1620-1669), who spent part of his time in Vienna; although he wrote a number of operas, the titles of but twelve have been preserved.
 
The second great name in continuing our study of the opera is Alessandro Scarlatti, who is considered the founder of the Neapolitan school of opera. He was born in 1659, in Sicily, and died in 1725, in Naples. He was a pupil of Carissimi, who was mentioned in our study of the Oratorio. His productivity as a composer borders on the incredible. He wrote a great number of motets, psalms, and sacred pieces for chorus. Two hundred masses, seven oratorios, one passion music, one hundred and six operas, and about five hundred cantatas, besides that a number of toccatas for organ or piano, while in his church music he confined himself to the freer Roman style than to the lofty style of Palestrina. In his secular music he paved the way for the beautiful style or flowing melody which was to be so gloriously developed by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Of his operas we mention particularly "Teodora," in which for the first time appears the Da Capo in the great arias thus indicating the three-part song form. This is the form in which nearly all of the arias of the older operas and oratorios are composed. It takes its name from the fact that it divides into three sections. The first section is based mainly upon the key of the tonic. In the second section some other key predominates, either the dominant or the relative minor. Sometimes several keys are introduced, the end of the section being so contrived that it shall lead smoothly to a repetition of the first section. Since this is repeated exactly, as given at first it is not printed out again, its use being indicated by the familiar words Da Capo. He also gave a more flowing form to the recitative portions of his operas. He replaced the simple accompaniments of his predecessors with a more elaborate form, in which the instruments had more or less independence. He was also the first composer who wrote overtures to operas and he gave to these overtures considerable independence.
 
In closing our account of Scarlatti we quote from Kiesewetter, who says: —
 
"Alessandro Scarlatti was unmistakably one of the greatest masters of all times, alike great in the arts of the higher contrapuntal style as in that of dramatic recitation, in the invention of melodies of the noblest, richest, and, at the same time, most striking expression, and in the selection of free yet always thoughtful accompaniment of his instruments. A reformer in every one of these branches, we can say of him that he surpassed his contemporaries at least a century.
 
Suggestions to Teachers.
 
1. Review the first lesson on the Opera. Nearly all regular histories give one or more musical illustrations of the earlier works. Compare those by Galilei, Caccini, Peri, with those by Monteverde and Scarlatti.
 
2. In what respects would Monteverde with truth be called "the Mozart of his time," "the Wagner of the seventeenth century"?
 
3. Can you tell anything about a madrigal? Many choral societies of to-day sing madrigals in their concerts; have you heard one?
 
4. Why is the Dominant Seventh called a Dissonance? Why was its free use contrary to the usually accepted rules of composition. (Counterpoint throws light on this subject.)
 
5. What are "church tones"?
 
6. Look up the word "arioso" in a dictionary of music if you have one. Look up this word and aria in any large dictionary, Standard, Webster, Century.
 
7. Show the pupils what the "diminished triad," the "tritone," the "ninth" are.
 
8. In this manner work out the rest of the lesson.

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