Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Music & Spectacle in Baroque Rome: Barberini Patronage under Urban VIII

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Music & Spectacle in Baroque Rome: Barberini Patronage under Urban VIII

Article excerpt

Music & Spectacle in Baroque Rome: Barberini Patronage under Urban VIII. By Federick Hammond. (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1994. Pp. xxiv, 309. $40.00.)

Attention given by historians to the opening of the first public opera house in Venice in 1637 and the subsequent hegemony of Venetian opera has tended to relegate Roman opera of the period to the status of an "interlude" between that of Venice and the early monodic settings of pastoral plays by the Florentines who (sincerely but erroneously) thought they were imitating ancient Greek tragedy. To the reader seeking a thorough-going treatment of Rome's contributions to this complex genre Frederick Hammond's book is a welcome and erudite addition.

But the work is much more than a treatment of opera in Rome, as the title clearly indicates. Hammond has mined the extensive resources not only of the Vatican but also of various state archives and has fashioned a narrative that is at once dense with meticulously documented factual information yet manages to be stylishly written.

Early on, Hammond raises the question as to "why... seventeenth-century Italian writings on music seem so uninformative." Despite the fact that the Pope himself, Urban VII (Maffei Barberini), and other powerful members of the family together employed every major composer of Rome at this time, there is an incredible poverty of description regarding the most ephemeral aspect of theatrical entertainment -- the music -- much of which has not survived. Conversely, the libretti are well preserved, and detailed descriptions of various feste and theatrical entertainment emphasize the visual spectacle --the amazing machines and elaborate lighting devices at which the Italians excelled. The work is rich in exuberant eyewitness descriptions documented with details gleaned from household rolls of the various Barberini brothers and nephews, the inventories of the guardaroba, and financial records.

The book is not just about spectacles, however. Among its many merits is the attention given to the sacred and liturgical works of such compose as Mazzochi, Marazzoli, and Landi, who are generally identified as composers of opera. …

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