Singing Games in Early Modern Italy: The Music Books of Orazio Vecchi

Singing Games in Early Modern Italy: The Music Books of Orazio Vecchi

Singing Games in Early Modern Italy: The Music Books of Orazio Vecchi

Singing Games in Early Modern Italy: The Music Books of Orazio Vecchi


In Italy during the late cinquecento, printed music could be found not only in the homes of the wealthy or the music professional, but also in lay homes, courts, and academies. No longer confined to the salons of the elite, music took on the role of social play and recreation. Paul Schleuse examines these new musical forms through a study of the music books of Italian priest, poet, and composer, Orazio Vecchi. Composed for minor patrons and the wider music-buying public, Vecchi's madrigals took as their subjects game-playing, drinking, hunting, battles, and the life of the street. Schleuse looks at how music and game-playing allowed singers and performers to play the roles of exemplary pastoral characters and also comic, foreign, and "rustic" others in ways that defined and ultimately reinforced social norms of the times. His findings reposition Orazio Vecchi as one of the most innovative composers of the late 16th century.


The function of play in the higher forms which concern us here can largely
be derived from the two basic aspects under which we mean it: as a contest
for something or a representation of something. These two functions can
unite in such a way that the game “represents” a contest, or else becomes a
contest for the best representation of something.

The child [at play] is quite literally “beside himself” with delight, transported
beyond himself to such an extent that he almost believes he actually is such
and such a thing, without, however, wholly losing consciousness of “ordinary
reality.” His representation is not so much a sham-reality as a realization in
appearance: “imagination” in the original sense of the word.

—Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: a Study of the Play-Element in Culture

[The] search for suggestiveness is a deliberate move to “open” the work to the
free response of the addressee. An artistic work that suggests is also one that
can be performed with the full emotional and imaginative resources of the
interpreter. Whenever we read poetry there is a process by which we try to
adapt our personal world to the emotional world proposed by the text. This
is all the more true of poetic works that are deliberately based on suggestive
ness, since the text sets out to stimulate the private world of the addressee so
that he can draw from inside himself some deeper response that mirrors the
subtler resonances underlying the text.

—Umberto Eco, The Open Work

This book is about singing as social play and music written and published to function this way in late sixteenth-century Italy. It is about the poetry that singers of such music encounter and how they relate to the fictive voices in this poetry, either being “transported beyond themselves” (in Huizinga’s . . .

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