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10—Il diletto : Aria, Drama, and the Emergence of Formal Conventions
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The Bipartite Aria

First to emerge as a form in its own right, the bipartite aria developed from attentive, recitative-like setting of text that followed the poetry line by line, precisely mirroring its metrical and rhyme structure without developing or emphasizing any single idea. This procedure is evident in Acchille's short speech at the beginning of 1.3 of La finta pazza (Strozzi/Sacrati, 1641) (example 17):

Ombra di timore,
Non mi turba il petto;
Nembo di sospetto
Non mi scuote il core.
Non può vero valor perder sue tempre.
In ogni habito Acchille, Acchille é sempre.

No shadow of fear
Disturbs my bosom.
No cloud of suspicion
Shakes my heart.
True valor cannot its temper lose.
Under any guise Achilles is ever Achilles.

Sacrati's setting, completely straightforward and syllabic, in duple meter, is only marginally more highly organized than normal recitative. Each of its first two parallel phrases (setting lines 1-2 and 3-4) is followed by an instrumental echo, for two violins and continuo; and a slight flourish at the end, involving repetition of part of the final line of text, promotes closure (even though the passage ends in the relative minor). Sacrati's music responds to the text on three different levels: it matches its form, a sequence of four senari culminating in two endecasillabi , rhyming abbacc , a kind of organization that was typically (though not here) duplicated in a succession of strophes; it underlines the self-affirmation of its closing line; finally, it heightens its dramatic function as Acchille's first utterance in the opera.[7] While it would be difficult to consider Acchille's brief speech an aria, particularly in the absence of subsequent strophes, it does illustrate the kind of austerity of text-setting that characterizes the earliest Venetian arias.


Most composers, however, propelled by their own natural impulse toward closure, would have taken greater advantage of the metric distinction of Acchille's closing couplet, emphasizing it by a change of meter, key, and/or melodic style, and capping it with a ritornello based on the same musical material—a kind of non-verbal reiteration of the text. Such treatment was encouraged when the final line or couplet carried a distinctive meaning, in the form of an epigram or aphorism. When such a line or couplet recurs as a refrain in successive strophes, the emphasis takes on even greater formal weight. But the effect is not merely formal; reiteration serves a rhetorical purpose by calling repeated attention to the already emphatic message of the refrain.

In responding to the combination of formal and rhetorical distinctions in such texts, composers wrote arias that were essentially bipartite; that is, they differentiated clearly between the refrain or epitomizing moral (the B section) and the rest of the text (A). To reinforce general distinctions of meter and melodic style, they often changed the accompanimental forces, from bare continuo to string tutti. And they sometimes called further attention to the change of style in mid aria, heightening the effect of the refrain or moral by setting the line immediately preceding it as recitative (as in example 20 below).

In Cavalli's earliest arias, the distinction between the A and B sections is often quite sharp. Sometimes, as in Jarba's "O benefico Dio" from Didone (Busenello/Cavalli, 1641) 3.10, the refrain is the only part of a closed form he set lyrically (example 18):

O' benefico Dio,
O' dator delle gratie, e de favori,
Felicità mi doni,
Che soprafà
Chi più lieto di me nel mondo fia ,
Se Didon finalmente sarà mia .

O' secreti profondi,
Non arrivati dal pensiero humano;
Per contemplarli
Forza non hà
Chi più lieto di me . . .[8]

O beneficent God,
O giver of mercy and of favors,
You grant me happiness
That overwhelms
Who shall be happier in this world than I ,
If Dido at last is to be mine .

Oh deepest secrets,
Unapproachable by the human mind;
To contemplate them
Humanity lacks
The power;
Who shall be happier . . .

Here the lyrical setting, seconded by a related five-measure ritornello, emphasizes Jarba's incredulous happiness at the possibility that Didone will be his, despite his fears to the contrary. Conversely, and more remarkably, Cavalli occasionally distinguished a refrain from the body of a strophe by setting it alone in recitative style. The refrain in another of Jarba's arias, "Rivolgo altrove


il piede" (2.2), is a cry of distress whose affect is more powerfully projected by irregular recitative than it would have been by metrical lyricism (example 19):

Rivolgo altrove il piede,
E'l cot mio resta qui.
D'aita, e di mercede
Veder non spero il di.
Insanabile mal m'opprime il core ,
Son disperato, e pur nutrisco amore .

Derelitto, ramingo
Didone, ahi dove andrò,
Lagrimoso, e solingo
Le selci ammolirò;
Dirà pur sempre agonizando il core
Son disperato, e put nutrisco amore .

I turn my steps elsewhere,
And my heart remains here.
The day of succor and mercy
I do not hope to see.
Incurable malady oppresses my heart ;
I am despairing, yet I nourish love .

Derelict, wandering,
O Dido, where alas shall I go?
Tearful and solitary
I shall soften the very stones,
And my agonizing heart will ever say ,
I am despairing, yet I nourish love .

The mere change of style is enough to call attention to the refrain.

Typically, however, the contrast was more subtle and did not involve a change in style. Among numerous early examples of the standard, straightforward bipartite aria, a characteristic one is Erino's "Stolto chi fà d'un crine" from La virtù de' strali d'Amore (Faustini/Cavalli, 1642) 1.9 (example 20):

Stolto chi fà d'un crine
A la sua libertà laccio, e catena;
D'una infida Sirena
Amando l'empio bello, ed homicida,
Che mentre l'alma affida
Gl'appresta eterne, e misere ruine:
Amor è un precipitio, e morte alfine .

Sfortunato quel piede,
Che errando và per l'amoroso impero,
In cui scacciato il vero
Sol la bugia s'annida, e il tradimento,
La perfidia, il tormento,
Il lungo affaticar senza mercede:
Amor é fele al core, e non ha fede .
[+ two more strophes]

Foolish the man who of a tress
Makes a noose, a chain to his freedom:
Loving the impious, killing beauty
Of a faithless siren,
Who, while he entrusts to her his soul,
Prepares for him eternal, pitiful ruin:
Love is a precipice, and death in the end .

Unfortunate the foot
That wanders over love's empire,
Wherein, truth having been banished,
Only lies and treachery make their nest,
Perfidiousness, and torment,
And long, thankless labor:
Love is bile to the heart, and it is faithless .

Consisting of four seven-line strophes that conclude with a sententious inexact refrain, its text form is somewhat irregular in that meter and rhyme fail to confirm one another completely. This may be why Cavalli chose to treat the first six lines in a speechlike manner. He set the refrain apart from the rest, however, by a shift to triple meter and disjunct musical material suggested by its imagery. The line stands out by virtue of its distinctive "precipitio" motive, which provides the subject for the following ritornello. The refrain music is


unequivocally text-inspired, but by the first strophe only; it fits the subsequent refrains much less well.

The balance between the two sections of this aria is more equal than the distribution of its text would suggest. The distinctive music of the B section, particularly as reinforced by its echoing ritornello, compensates for its comparative brevity. The tendency to alter the proportions of a textual form for dramatic purposes increased markedly during the course of the century. Indeed, rather than merely balancing the longer texts of A sections, B sections eventually outweighed them (as in example 22 below). Usually, the emphasis on B involved repetition of its music and text. The two statements generally occurred on different tonal levels, the second returning the piece to the tonic. In such cases the resultant form might more properly be identified as ABB' rather than AB. This extended bipartite aria was the predominant type.[9]

The repetition of B material was occasionally only partial. More frequently, however, repetition involved the complete B section, particularly when that section comprised a complete refrain. In an aria for Dema from Egisto (Faustini/Cavalli, 1643), "Piacque à me sempre più" (2.8), the B section is repeated not only as a whole but in parts as well, thereby emphasizing the message of the refrain quite thoroughly (example 21):

Piacque à me sempre più
La vaga gioventù d'ogn'altra etade;
Sempre quella beltade
Mi porse più contento,
Che non havea ruvido pelo al mento.
Chi hà provato il mio amor mi dice errai?
Non credo un sì, non credo udir giamai .

Labro lanoso à me
Un sol bacio non diè, che mi ricordi,
Ben con desiri ingordi
Io volsi ambrosie care
Da guancie tenerelle ogn'or succhiare.
Chi hà provato . . .
[+ one more strophe]

I always loved lovely youth
More than any other age;
Ever that beauty
Gave me more pleasure
Than any rough-bearded chin.
She who has felt my love, will she say I erred?
I scarcely think I'll ever hear a "yes. "

A woolly lip has never
Given me a single kiss, that I remember.
Instead, with ravenous desire,
I have preferred ever to sip
Precious ambrosia from tender cheeks.
She who has felt . . .

Extensive and irregular repetition of B material here gives a greater sense of harmonic closure than usual; B' actually contracts the material of B, but the two sections are harmonically almost identical: they both move from relative major to tonic, though only B' remains there. Repetition in this case performs a formal as well as expressive function. Not only does it emphasize the message


of the refrain, but it serves to ground the piece strongly in the tonic. In the most elaborate ABB' arias, particularly after the middle of the century, expansion was inspired as much by musical considerations—the desire to establish harmonic closure—as by rhetorical ones.

Despite their differing proportions, dimensions, and musical style, all five of the foregoing examples illustrate the development of the bipartite aria out of the recitative aesthetic. They show how the composer's attempt to enhance the shape and meaning of certain kinds of texts led to the bipartite form. But the direct relationship between recitative procedures and this form is demonstrated even more vividly by considering a characteristic practice within recitative poetry itself: the use of the epigrammatic arioso. The impetus behind the form and the procedure is the same: a desire to focus attention toward climax at the end.

Aphoristic tag lines were not exclusively associated with formal poetry. In librettos of the 1640s they often occurred at the end of recitative speeches, sometimes coinciding with the end of a scene and the departure of the speaker. Composers (occasionally Monteverdi, primarily Cavalli) tended to set such lines lyrically, in arioso style, repeating them and thereby emphasizing their punctuating function—and their meaning.[10] Both function and meaning were often further enhanced, like equivalent mottos in arias, by a ritornello or sinfonia based on the same material.[11]

Recitatives culminating in epigrams continued to be used well past the middle of the century, not merely for punctuation but more consistently for exits. Both Minato and Aureli favored them. Erismena (Aureli/Cavalli, 1655) contains many, of widely varying lengths. Act 1, scene 10, for example, ends


with a seven-line exit recitative for Idraspe, which culminates in a sexually allusive aphoristic couplet, set lyrically by the composer:

Amor Nume bendato
Che di foco novel nutre mia speme
I perigli non vede, e non li teme.
De passati successi
La memoria hò perduta, e sappi amico,
Che à l'amorose brame
Un cibo sol non trasse mai la fame.[12]

The blindfold god of love
That has renewed my flame for this fair stranger,
He does not see, and therefore fears no danger.
Those forgotten affections,
I bequeath to Armenia, too well finding,
That amorous desire
Does for its thirst more than one draught require.

Occasionally, the exit function rather than the meaning seems to have inspired the lyrical setting of a recitative line or couplet, as in the case of Argippo's scene-closing arioso from Erismena 1.3:

Lodato il Cielo? anch'io piagato un dì
Torno in Corte a mirar chi mi ferì.

Praised be to Heaven! I, too, once wounded,
Return to court to see the one who wounded me.

Such punctuating ariosos eventually became functionally and literally linked to the exit aria.[13]

The link is nicely illustrated in two examples from Erismena . They involve comparison between two versions of the score, the original of 1655 [1656] and a revision dating from sometime before 1670.[14] In one instance an exit aria by one comic character (Alcesta) replaces an exit arioso by another (Flerida) who has been eliminated from the revised scene. The text of aria and arioso are equivalent; both comment on the preceding action, but the aria is, naturally, more emphatic (and gives the character more opportunity for humor). In the other instance (from 1.10), an exit arioso in the earlier version is followed in the later one by an exit aria for the same character, expostulating or expanding upon the sentiment of the arioso. Here the culminating effect is intensified and reinforced, rather than replaced.[15]


In fact, the intensification of a sententious arioso by following it with an exit aria was quite common, even much earlier than the Erismena revision. Such sequences of lyrical events were particularly characteristic of comic soliloquies in Cavalli's Faustini settings. In these scenes, the music matched the drama: the buildup of momentum toward exit was confirmed by increased musical intensity and structure.[16]

The Exit Convention and the Bipartite Aria

Although ABB' arias did not always coincide with a character's departure, at least not until well after 1650, the two levels of action, musical and dramatic, meshed well. When associated with exits, the arias enhanced them even further. In addition, the echoing ritornellos commonly generated by both aria and epigrammatic arioso facilitated the business of exiting; perhaps arioso expansions and arias were even inserted in some cases to justify the interpolation of such instrumental passages.[17]

During the 1650s and 1660s, bipartite arias gravitated increasingly to the ends of scenes. The growing interest of Venetian audiences in the singers and their self-exhibition in arias must have been partially responsible for this tendency to save the best for last. Once a conventional function and position had been found for them, however, such arias were freed from the austerity of recitative-style setting. Accordingly, the close correspondence of music and text that characterized the earliest examples yielded to more expansive musical treatment. Although musical expansion affected entire arias, it was still the B section—the refrain or aphorism—that displayed the greatest freedom; compositional inventiveness further enhanced its exit function. But expansion could still serve a dramatic purpose beyond that: within an aria it could contribute to characterization or to the shaping of a conflict.

In Erismena , the text of the heroine's "Comincia à respirar" (1.12) comprises two unequal sections, of four and two lines. The aria is a soliloquy in which Erismena tries to feel hopeful over her quest to recover her faithless lover; she exhorts herself to optimism in the refrain, which summarizes the import of the text: "Courage, courage, my heart. Shake off all your griefs, bid sorrow adieu" (example 22):


Comincia à respirar
Più giocondo ò mio cot l'aure vitali,
Satie di fulminar
Spera veder un dì l'ire fatali:
Vivi lieto sù sù ,
Ridi in mezo del duol, non pensar più .
[+ one more strophe]

Be cheerful, O my heart,
And let your joys trample your suffering under.
Fortune will sheathe her dart
And angry Jove will one day cease his thunder.
Courage, courage, my heart .
Shake off all your grief, bid sorrow adieu .

Cavalli's setting more than compensates for the unequal length of the two sections through the usual means of expansion of B: a change of meter, the addition of strings to the continuo accompaniment, new motivic material, extension by means of instrumental echoes between phrases, repetition of the text as a whole, and a concluding ritornello based on its distinctive material. All serve to emphasize the epitomizing function of the refrain, thereby imparting the affective essence of Aureli's text. The A section consists of two subsections, the first moving from the tonic, D minor, to the dominant, A, the second remaining in the relative major, F. With slightly unusual symmetry, the two B sections mirror one another, the first moving from tonic to subdominant, the second in the opposite direction. All the standard related keys are touched in this aria, but their sequence produces a somewhat atypical harmonic structure. The composer's emphasis on the refrain lends depth to the characterization, suggesting energy and self-control, qualities that will help Erismena achieve her objective of regaining Idraspe's affections.

The flourishing of the hipartite aria was essentially a musical phenomenon. The librettist could call for musical repetition by writing a refrain, or he could suggest musical contrast by juxtaposing strongly contrasting meters; but the repetition and expansion of the 13 section in AB arias were up to the composer.

Despite its conventionality, the ABB' aria never became completely divorced from its origins as a dramatic procedure for emphasizing a tag line. That is, if a text lacked an epigrammatic close worthy of emphasis, the composer did not feel compelled to write an ABB' aria. This is illustrated in an unusual aria from Argia (Apolloni/Cesti, 1669). Feraspe's "Aurette vezzose" (1.2) contains a four-line refrain of which Cesti repeats only the first two lines—those most essential to the meaning of the text—to different music (example 23):

Aurette vezzose,
Foriere del giorno
Ch'errate d'intorno
Con all di rose,
Volgetevi ,à mè ;
E dite dov'è
Coleì, che desia
Il mio Regno, il mio cor, l'anima mia .

Delightful breezes,
Harbingers of dawn,
That flit about
On rose-scented wings,
Turn to me
And say where is
She, who covets
My kingdom, my heart, my soul .


Stellanti zaffiri,
Ch'i mali influite,
Se mai compatite
D'un'alma i sospiri,
Volgetevi à mè . . .[18]

Starry sapphires
That influence wrongs,
If ever you pity
A sighing soul,
Turn to me . . .

Furthermore, the ritornello is not based upon the B section, as we would expect, but upon A. The musical form of this aria interestingly overlaps that of the poetry. The first two phrases of the A section encompass the whole first sentence of text (lines 1-5), including the first line of the refrain, and move from the tonic, A minor, through the relative major to the dominant; the third phrase of A treats the second line of the refrain, line 6, twice, and closes on the relative major. The B section sets the last two lines of the text, 7-8, expanding them somewhat by means of sequential repetition, and also ends on the relative major. The final section of the aria (C) repeats lines 5-6, running them together for the first time, to completely new music. In fact, then, although the text form clearly suggested a normal bipartite aria, Cesti wrote a tripartite one, choosing to emphasize the indirect question ("say where is she") in the middle of the stanza rather than the hendecasyllable at the end. That is, he emphasized the sense of the text over its form, ignoring the conventional refrain structure.

In some late bipartite arias the composer's liberty took a more aggressive turn. Reaching beyond extreme elaboration and variation, it extended to the writing of new music for the second B section. While such expansion often tended to increase the forward momentum of these arias, and was thus an extension of the ABB impetus, it also ran roughshod over the librettist's text by creating ABC forms out of AB material. In Flavia's "Cieca Dea la tua possanza" from Eliogabalo (Aureli/Boretti, 1668) 1.19, for example, Boretti repeated the text of B (lines 3 and 4) to music that is different—and not only harmonically, which would be expected, but also rhythmically and melodically (example 24):

Cieca Dea la tua possanza
Non m'afflige, e non m'atterra;
Con usbergo di costanza
Armo il sen per farti guerra.
[+ one more strophe]

Blind goddess, your power
Does not afflict me, does not prostrate me;
Shielded by constancy,
I arm my breast to wage war against you.

B' begins to resemble B only at the final melisma on guerra , but the melisma is expanded sequentially the second time over a harmonic structure drawn from the end of A, of which it sounds like an embellished variant. Despite its text,


then, B' actually shares as much with A as it does with B, and the ritornello strengthens the unified effect: a composite of A (mm. 1-5) and B' (mm. 16-19). Boretti created a rounded aria whose form was not suggested by Aureli's text.[19]

Ziani treated a number of aria texts in Le fortune di Rodope e Damira (Aureli/Ziani, 1657) with similar freedom. Lerino's "Voglio un giorno innamorarmi" (2.7) is built on a six-line stanza, the last two lines of which form a refrain (example 25):

Voglio un giorno innamorarmi
Donne belle, mà però
Con tal patto, che lasciarmi
Lusingar da voi non vò.
Sò, che amando tradite, e scaltre ogn'hora

Voi la fate sù gli occhi à chi v'adora .

Far le morte, o spasimate
Con me nulla gioverà,
Perche l'arti vostre usate
Mi son note un tempo fà.
Sò, che amando . . .

Some day I should like to fall in love,
Beauteous ladies, but only
On one condition, that I won't let you
Flatter me.
I know that, as you love, you betray, and, ever wily ,

You play your game in full view of him who adores you .

To play dead , or yearning,
Will gain you nothing with me,
For your much-used artifices
Were known to me long ago.
I know that, as you love . . .

The composer did not emphasize the refrain in the conventional way. Instead, he first repeated the music of lines 3-4, which had closed in the relative minor, this time ending it on the tonic; then he proceeded with the refrain, repeating only its last line extensively in the normal way and carrying forward its motive to the following ritornello. Rather than bipartite, the form might be described as a miniature ABB'CC'. It seems as if Ziani's musical conception needed two additional lines of text before the refrain.

Rodope's aria "Luci belle, se bramate" (1.8), another six-line strophic form with a distinct refrain, is also expanded in the middle (the music of lines 3-4 transposed and extended), and again only the final line of the refrain is repeated, after which its material is taken up in the ritornello; the form, once more, is ABB'CC', or even ABB'CDD' (example 26):

Luci belle, se bramate
Di saper quant'io v'adori,
Osservatelo a gl'ardori,
Che nel sen voi mi vibrate.
E direte, che in amarvi
Posso struggermi ben, mà non lasciarvi .

Beauteous eyes, if you desire
To know how much I love you,
Read it in the ardor
Which you have kindled in my breast.
And you shall say that, loving you ,
I may well consume myself, but never leave you .


Lumi cari se volete
Penetrar i miei martiri,
Dicerneteli à i sospiri,
Che dal cor uscir vedete,
E direte . . .[20]

Beloved eyes, if you wish
To penetrate my martyrdom,
Discern it in the sighs
You see issuing from my heart.
And you shall say . . .

Both arias represent a departure from the ABB' form, with its heavy emphasis on B; they allow the illusion of through-composition despite the text. The illusion is enhanced in the second aria by the motivic relationship between A and B, which disappears with the varied repetition of B.

This kind of textually unjustified expansion and variation, inspired as it may have been in certain instances by dramatic considerations, was a general sign of the loosening of the bonds between music and text. There were other signs as well, including the inappropriate application of melismatic decorations and the emancipation of ritornellos from their arias.[21] But it was also a function of the flexibility of the bipartite form itself, of the essential compatibility of that form with dramatic progress, its ability to disappear or become subsumed in a natural action. Even when reiterated strophically, the ABB' form was decisive, active, progressive; an action could be taken during its course. And even if it did not mark a character's exit, it could still maintain forward momentum, allowing the stage action to continue after just a brief punctuation.

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