Feminism and Renaissance Studies

By Lorna Hutson | Go to book overview

17 Finding a Voice: Vittoria Archilei and
the Florentine 'New Music'M

Tim Carter

In Florence towards the end of the sixteenth century there arose a new school of singing and new styles of solo song that had a profound influence on the course of music in the Baroque era. The so-called 'new music' embraced both opera and chamber song (monody); it emerged in response to a Humanist-inspired interest in the music of Classical Antiquity, to a dissatisfaction with the affective limitations of contemporary compositional techniques (in particular, multi-voice polyphony) and to a sense that music could and should achieve new dramatic, rhetorical, and emotional power in the service of its text.1 It also reflected a fascination with the virtuoso singer. At the head of these developments were two virtuoso tenors and composers who were both colleagues and rivals among the musicians of the Medici court, Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) and Jacopo Peri (1561-1633). The 'new music' was not exclusively Florentine—important developments in Naples, Rome, and Ferrara also played their part—and it was less the result of a coherent aesthetic programme than of the collusion and collision of ideas and techniques stemming from a number of patrons, poets, composers, and performers. Yet Florence created the hot-house environment in which the 'new music' could take seed and grow before spreading its branches through the rest of Italy and beyond, enmeshing itself firmly in the musical styles and practices of the seventeenth century.

Caccini had been brought to Florence from Rome in 1565 and spent the rest of his life in Medici service, writing theatrical and chamber music, and heading with his wife and daughters a renowned performing group that the Medici had established on the model of the famed concerto di donne of Ferrara, an ensemble of women (predominantly) singers performing elaborately embellished works to instrumental accompaniment with which Duke Alfonso II d'Este amazed select

©Tim Carter 1999. Published for the first time in this collection by permission of the author.

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