THE moresca is a literary-musical form that appeared in 16th-century Naples as an offshoot of a genre variously called canzone villanesca, villotta, villanella or napolitana, all of these describing a secular song in the Neapolitan dialect (Cardamone, 25-27; 155). The first known collection to consist entirely of moresche was published in 1555 (Cardamone, 21; 158-59). The genre, whose protagonists are African slaves, was short-lived and never achieved wide popularity. The musicologist Alfred Einstein describes its essence as follows: "it [the moresca] never has stanzaic form, but is rather a show piece for the entertainment of Neapolitan society and Venetian patricians. Musically speaking, it includes occasional parody of the madrigal, interspersed street ballads, African folklore, spoken gibberish (to add to the humorous element); the lewdness of the situation and the text is sometimes abysmal and diabolic" (Einstein, vol. 1, p. 373; cited in Cardamone, 158).
The immediate antecedents of the moresca are unknown. Cardamone (159) and Williams (24-26) have pointed to a possible connection between the moresca and a dance of the same name, also known as ballo alla maltese or ballo di sfessania, some of the characters of which are Moorish slaves. A connection with the commedia dell'arte and its stock characters has also been proposed (Williams 5; Katritzky 75-76). In this note, I suggest that the moresca may be connected to yet another source, namely, poesia de negros, which occupied a prominent place in the contemporary Spanish music, theater and letters.
In 1581 Orlando di Lasso, a famous Belgian-born composer, published a collection of songs he had reportedly written in his youth, Libro de villanelle, moresche, et altre canzoni a 4, 5, 6, et 8 voci (Erb, 18-19; Williams, 3; 7). The collection consists of twenty-three songs, fifteen of which are written in Neapolitan, one is a todesca imitating the broken Italian of German mercenaries (no. 12), one a padovana (no. 17), and the remaining six moresche imitating the language of African slaves (nos. 8, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20 and part of 23) (Reese, 444; Williams, 4). The moresca of immediate interest to the argument of this paper is Canta, Giorgia, which is no. 20 in this collection; its full text is reproduced in the Appendix to this note. Canta, Giorgia consists of three loosely connected parts, in the first of which a white master or mistress--gente ianca--asks an African slave, Giorgio, to sing ("Canta, Giorgia, canta"); which he refuses saying: "Giorgia non pote cantar!" In the second part, Giorgio talks to his sweetheart Lucia, and in the third part of this composition he sings a lewd song, accompanying himself on the lute.
The first part of Canta, Giorgia is strongly reminiscent of an old Spanish nursery rhyme ("un cantarcillo viejo, con que acallavan los ninos") quoted under "Argolla" in Covarrubias's Tesoro de la lengua castellana o espanola:
Canta, Jorgico, canta,
no quere canta.
Canta Jorge por tu fe,
y veras que te dare:
una argolla para el pie,
y otra para la garganta;
no quere canta.
More significantly, Canta, Giorgia as a whole is reminiscent of the early 16th-century Verses of How a Lady Begs a Black Slave to Sing to Her, attributed to Rodrigo de Reinosa, that are based on the above nursery rhyme (Hill, 18). The fully descriptive title of the piece attributed to Reinosa is Coplas de como vna dama ruega a vn negro que cante en manera de requiebro: y como el negro se dexa rogar en fin la senora vencida de su gracia le offrece su persona (Rodriguez-Monino, Diccionario, no. 824). (2) The similarity between Canta, Giorgia and the above coplas goes beyond the merely textual correspondences (cf. "Canta, Jorgico, canta,/no quere canta." with "Canta, Giorgio, canta" and "Giorgia non pote cantar!") and includes the internal progression of each piece, in which the slave (Jorge or Giorgio), urged to sing by a female companion, at first refuses and then relents. …