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10—Il diletto : Aria, Drama, and the Emergence of Formal Conventions
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Contrast in Da Capo Forms

We have emphasized composers' and librettists' efforts to integrate the da capo refrain into an ongoing, overarching structure. On the other hand, as we have already observed, the da capo form was often chosen expressly for its naturally static effect, for dramatic situations that required backtracking. Such situations benefited from emphasis on the refrain's independence rather than integration, and from its exact repetition rather than its progressive, climactic expansion. The large, static da capo arias almost never involved elaboration of the refrain, but merely called for its repetition by means of the rubric da capo . In such cases, musical contrast was more appropriate than integration because it focused greater attention on the returning refrain. We are coming closer to the textbook da capo form.

In Aldimira's aria from Erismena 3.12, musical contrast, inspired by the meaning of the poetry, intensifies the impact of the refrain's return. Aldimira is responding to an order to leave. She refuses emphatically and directly: "Ch'io


parta? non posso," a line that initiates and then concludes a non-strophic aria consisting of eight senari (example 38):


Ch'io parta? non posso .
In prima conviene
Il nodo spezzar
Di quelle catene,
Che mi fan restar
In vano à l'andar
Il piede vien mosso,
Ch'io parta? non posso .

That I depart? I cannot .
First it would be necessary
To break the knot
Of those chains
That make me stay.
The foot is moved
In vain to leave.
That I depart? I cannot .

In response to its emphatic suddenness, Cavalli set the refrain line as recitative, changing to triple meter for the six lines that follow, during which Aldimira explains why it is she cannot leave. The contrast between the refrain and the rest of the text—and the naturalness of the aria style here—is heightened by their harmonic relationship. The refrain is in harmonic limbo; it stops suddenly on a C triad, which becomes, only in retrospect, the dominant of the aria's key. The middle section is itself rather unstable, moving from F to C minor and finally to Bb, where the refrain comes in, again concluding on the dominant, leaving the continuo to effect a quick resolution to the tonic. Not only is the relationship of refrain to B section exceedingly natural and appropriate to the text, but the central section itself, with its breathlessly repeated sequences, overlapped cadences, and intensifying momentum, communicates Aldimira's overwrought emotional state admirably, creating momentum that strengthens her resolution not to leave. Here the contrast of the refrain clearly functions as a dramatic element.[39]

Aldimira's affirmation of her unwillingness to depart is essential to the action; her refrain gains conviction from the emphasis conferred by a distinctive, contrasting setting. But the decision was largely the composer's. Nothing in the text requires contrast. On the contrary, it is structurally continuous. Often, however, the text of a da capo aria insists upon musical contrast between refrain and B section. One of the most obvious instances involves the portrayal of a character's indecision or internal conflict.

In Rodope's "Rendetemi il mio ben stelle fatali" (Le fortune di Rodope e Damira 3.8), another non-strophic text, musical contrast effectively portrays her ambivalence toward her lover, Nigrane. That ambivalence is built into the text. Rodope's love for Nigrane conflicts with her desire for vengeance. She wishes to harden her heart against him, but, as the return of the refrain tells us, she cannot (example 39):


Rendetemi il mio ben stelle fatali :
Fate che l'impietà
D'un Rè barbaro e amante,
Alimenti in un istante
Nelle viscere mie la crudeltà,
Sin che morte gli tronchi i dì vitali.
Rendetemi il mio ben stelle fatali .[40]

Return to me my love, O fateful stars!
Cause the impiousness
Of a barbarous and loving king
To nourish instantly,
Cruelty within my viscera
Until death cut short his living days.
Return to me my love . . .

In the refrain, triple meter, minor tonality, heavily accented appoggiaturas, string echoes, melismatic extensions, and affective text repetition all help to portray the intensity of Rodope's longing for Nigrane, while in the B section a shift to duple meter, D major, steady eighth-note motion, syllabic text-setting, and short, symmetrical phrases attempt to communicate her anger. Although the effect of B is perhaps a little too bright and jaunty to portray anger, it nevertheless communicates a different mood from that of A.[41]

Sectional contrast is inspired in other instances more by the imagery of a da capo text than by its dramatic function. In Elisa's strophic aria from Mutio Scevola (Minato/Cavalli, 1664) 1.13, poetic structure and imagery dictated the distinctive musical setting of the refrain. In this statement of principle, inspired by repeated attempts on her honor, Elisa asserts her steadfastness in metaphoric terms that suggested a series of pictorial images to the composer (example 40):


Fermo scoglio è la mia fede ,
Dal furor d'onda spurnante
Più costante nulla cede:
Fermo scoglio è la mia fede .

Vivo alloro è la mia fede ,
Ch'il suo verde
Mai non perde
D'Aquilon al fiato acuto,
Nè canuto
Mai si vede.
Vivo alloro è la mia fede .

A firm rock is my faith ,
By the fury of frothy wave,
Yet more constant, nothing yields:
A firm rock is my faith .

A living laurel is my faith ,
Whose green
Never fades
In the face of northern blast,
Nor is seen
Ever hoary.
A living laurel is my faith .

The refrain is set to a syncopated, falling fourth motive, depicting the fermo scoglio by its rocklike reiterated rhythm and gravitational motion. The second and third lines inspire agitated, ascending eighth-note patterns, furor in the


fourth line a descending sixteenth-note figure, onda spurnante a syncopation, and costante the conventional long notes in the voice part accompanied by a running bass. The return of the refrain with its pictorial motive reinforces the message of the aria; the refrain is self-referential, embodying its own meaning. It both states and represents the imperviousness of Elisa's faith to the furious assaults of her enemies.

A madrigalistic response to text yielded an even greater distinction between the poetically continuous refrain and B section of Angelica's much more elaborate non-strophic aria "La mia mente è un vasto Egeo" from Medoro (3.11). As in Elisa's aria, the text is a metaphoric distillation of intense emotion delivered while the character is alone on stage, but the refrain and B section stand in sharper opposition: the refrain depicts an untroubled, peaceful seascape that is threatened in the B section by the pirate, Fortune (example 41):


La mia mente è un vasto Egeo
Dove ondeggiano i pensieri;
E, Pirata, la Fortuna
Contro me sventure aduna
Acciò resti vil troffeo
De' suoi colpi crudi, e fieri.
La mia mente è un vasto Egeo . . .

My mind is a vast Aegean
Wherein my thoughts toss about like waves;
And the pirate Fortune
Rallies misfortunes against me,
That I may be the vile trophy
Of her rude, fierce blows.
My mind is a vast Aegean . . .

Sixteenth-note melismas repeated at the same pitch level initially portray the vast calm of the Aegean of Angelica's mind; the melismas are then literally transformed into the waves of that sea, dissipating into a more concrete, sequential three-note figure (eighth plus two sixteenths) in a two-beat pattern that breaks irregularly against the prevailing three-beat meter before culminating in a final sixteenth-note flourish at the cadence. The B section, marked by a shift to duple meter, is equally pictorial, its contrasting material beginning with an angular, syncopated, broken-chord figure representing piratical Fortune, whose cruel blows have destroyed Angelica's innocent, floating thoughts. The entire B section is repeated and varied before closing in the relative minor, which leads to a literal reprise of the refrain, indicated by the rubric da capo . Unlike Elisa's refrain, however, whose return emphasized its own meaning, Angelica's seems gratuitous, unmotivated except by the contrasting mood and imagery of the text.

Musical contrast in these last two arias was generated not by the dramatic function of their texts but by their imagery. The metaphoric nature of both texts removes them from the realm of action to that of contemplation—or self-contemplation. Unlike Aldimira and Rodope, Elisa and Angelica are not even expressing their emotion directly, but describing their feelings, commenting on them with a certain aesthetic detachment. This kind of distillation of emotion becomes commonplace in later da capo arias. Indeed, both Elisa's and


Angelica's texts, refined somewhat, might easily have come from a libretto by Metastasio.

These two arias affirm the connection between the single-line refrain aria and the more fully developed da capo. The form of Elisa's aria is like many of the refrain forms discussed earlier: it is strophic, it has a single-line refrain, its dimensions are small, and the A material is not repeated exactly—there is an extra cadential flourish at the end.[42] But like Angelica's aria, a full da capo with identifying rubric, Elisa's contrasting textual imagery inspired musical contrast rather than continuity between refrain and B section, and as a result the sections are clearly distinguished from one another. What links Elisa's and Angelica's arias is their sense of standing outside the action, whereas, as we have seen, so many da capo refrain arias are fully integrated within it.

In none of the four arias with contrasting refrains that we have considered, from Erismena, Rodope, Mutio , and Medoro , does the poetic form alone determine the contrast. Rather, their imagery and dramatic function, far more compelling than their structure, dictate the musical setting. Composers' choices, prompted by the librettists, were, as always, motivated by the need to integrate the arias within the dramatic fabric, to make the music serve the drama.

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