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12—Il lamento : The Fusion of Music and Drama
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The Descending Tetrachord: An Emblem of Lament

And here we return once again to Monteverdi, the inevitable eminence,grise , and to his second lament-paradigm, the "Lament of the Nymph." Just as Cavalli modeled his recitative laments on the Monteverdi-Rinuccini "Lament of Arianna," so, too, he must have had that other Monteverdi-Rinuccini model in mind—published only two years before, in Monteverdi's Eighth Book of madrigals—when he chose to use the descending tetrachord in connection with Busenello's strophic lament of Apollo. Monteverdi's madrigal displays several distinctive features that may have suggested it as a model to Cavalli. Not only is it built on the descending tetrachord ostinato, but it is based on a strophic text whose formal outlines are virtually obliterated by Monteverdi's setting.

The "Lament of the Nymph," in genere rappresentativo , is a dramatic scene in which a shepherds' chorus frames and comments on the nymph's plaint— they sing four strophes in all, while she sings six, to completely different music.[14] Although the formal outlines of their strophes are marked by cadences,


hers are obscured by Monteverdi's setting, specifically through his use of the minor descending tetrachord ostinato as a means of organization. Possessed of a strongly articulated shape and affect, the ostinato substitutes for or superimposes itself on Rinuccini's strophes. As a result, the strophic structure of the text yields to the musical structure of its setting, a musical structure that by its special nature encourages free expression rather than inhibiting it, and thus contributes directly to the affective intensity of the piece.

Monteverdi's lament was only one of a number of works of the period based on the descending minor tetrachord ostinato. Various aria books published during the 1630s contain pieces that utilize the pattern, at least one of them specifically called a lament.[15] Whether the association of affect and pattern was Monteverdi's idea in the first place—which would be difficult to prove, however attractive the notion—the eloquence of his setting helps to reveal those features inherent in the tetrachord pattern that rendered it particularly suitable for laments.

Its most significant, potentially affective features are its strength and perceptibility. Unlike other, older ostinato basses such as the romanesca or ruggiero, the descending tetrachord is short; and it is strongly directional harmonically, moving inexorably, with stepwise melody and steady, unarticulated rhythm, from tonic to dominant, either through a modal succession of root position triads or a more tonal progression involving two first inversion triads. The tonic itself is structurally ambiguous, functioning either as the beginning of a new pattern or the ending of an old one. The powerful harmonic direction and structural ambiguity of the pattern encourage contradiction in the voice part. Denial of its tonal implications through suspensions, or of its formal structure by phrase overlap and syncopation, creates tension appropriate to the affect of lament. Two other features of the tetrachord contribute to its expressive potential. Its strongly minor configuration, emphasizing two of the most crucial degrees of the mode, invokes the full range of somber affects traditionally associated with minor since the Renaissance; and in its unremitting descent, its gravity, the pattern offers an analogue of obsession and depression— perceptible as the expression of unrelieved suffering.

In the "Lament of the Nymph," the descending tetrachord ostinato supplants the effect of strophic repetition with its own formal implications, implications that contribute to the affect of lament rather than detracting from it. The strength of the earlier lament texts, the Arianna -style recitatives, was their


passionate unpredictability and irregularity, their independence of formal indications or strictures, their openness of rhyme and meter, and their concentration of rhetorical expression. Monteverdi, and Cavalli after him, replaced these features with a musical technique that allowed freedom and unpredictability even in a strophic context, even in an aria. Musico-textual rhetoric was replaced by a purely musical sign.

Monteverdi masked the textual symmetries in the nymph's plaint essentially by rewriting Rinuccini's poetry, breaking it up and rearranging it. He then subjected it to musical manipulation by exploiting the ambiguities of the ostinato and its potential for creating tension against a freely moving voice part. Cavalli's methods in Apollo's lament (strophes 3-5) are similar but less radical. He, too, rewrote his librettist's poetry to supply the rhetorical intensification missing in the original, but without seriously disturbing its strophic form. In fact, judging from his treatment of the text alone, he seems to have emphasized its strophicism by treating all three strophes similarly: he added an affective repetition in the first line and repeated the entire fourth line, providing the occasion for musical repetition at the end of each strophe. But his expansion of the text actually enabled him to create a surprisingly asymmetrical structure for each strophe, one that is dramatic and progressive: line 1 is broken up into two unequal phrases (of four and five measures respectively)—facilitated by internal word repetitions; line 2 is set to a six-measure phrase, line 3 to seven measures, line 4 to eight measures (3 + 5), and its repetition to nine measures (3 + 6). This expressive expansion is achieved through the judicious use of melismas within a generally syllabic context, most of them text-inspired, combined with free treatment of the descending tetrachord. Indeed, unlike Monteverdi, who treated it as an unwavering ostinato throughout his piece, Cavalli played with the tetrachord, extending it, modulating with it to the relative major, and finally abandoning it completely after its fourth statement.

The unpredictably expanded phrases of the vocal line combine with the unexpected, gradual departure from the ostinato to create a sense of instability well suited to lamentation. Furthermore, rather than sacrificing the power inherent in the ostinato, its abandonment actually intensifies the effect of its return at the beginning of each new strophe, a return that emphasizes its emblematic obsessiveness: it is always there and cannot be forgotten. By his treatment of the tetrachord, Cavalli managed to create highly expressive individual strophes. At the same time, the bass pattern enabled him to turn to his advantage the seemingly recalcitrant strophic succession of the poetry.

According to the rubric in Cavalli's score, Apollo's lament actually begins only with the third stanza of Busenello's text and presumably ends after the fifth; that is, it is a strophic aria based on the descending tetrachord. The change


in textual expression that marks the onset of the lament, Apollo's shift from spontaneous outward reaction to more considered, inward self-pity, similar to the more fleeting vicissitudes within recitative laments, is equivalent to the standard (later) distinction between active recitative and contemplative aria. In this respect, Apollo's lament is quite forward-looking; it offers an early instance of the conventional lament-aria based on the tetrachord. It is forward-looking in another respect as well: although the lament ends with the final tetrachord strophe, Apollo's monologue continues, with two more strophes of recitative followed by what is essentially a second (non-strophic) aria that contrasts emphatically with the earlier one. Apollo's monologue, then, is also an early instance of the pairing of two contrasting arias bridged by recitative. Despite its continuous strophic coherence, this is in effect a scena of the type that was to become more common as increasing weight was given to the arias.

Through his use of the descending tetrachord in Apollo's lament, Cavalli found a means of maintaining expressive openness within the confines of a strophic text. It was a discovery well suited to his temperament as a musical dramatist, and one that he continued to exploit. Given the prevailing attitude toward dramatic verisimilitude in opera of the 1640s, of which he was the leading advocate, Cavalli must have found it difficult to set laments as formal arias. Even though the extreme emotional state of the character might have justified some artificiality of expression, the superimposition of a closed, predetermined musical structure on such an essentially spontaneous situation would have hindered the communication of emotion. The descending tetra-chord ostinato provided an ideal means for setting the lament apart from its context and at the same time maintaining its intense emotional power. Whatever loss of spontaneity such patterning entailed was more than compensated for by the affective implications of the tetrachord itself: by its intrinsic, emblematic meaning.

The most convincing evidence for that meaning, however, comes not from arias like Apollo's lament or the "Lament of the Nymph," where the pattern clearly served an important structural function, but from recitative laments where the pattern was structurally gratuitous. An early instance, perhaps the earliest, occurs in Sacrati's standard-setting La finta pazza (2.6), where Deidamia sings a recitative lament with a refrain based on the descending tetra-chord (example 79). The text of her lament is much shorter than those we have discussed, a mere twenty lines; and it does not present a succession of contrasting moods, but rather a single angry and ironic mood that culminates twice in a climactic cry of self-exhortation: "Sù, sù senno ingegnoso, Rendimi il caro sposo."


Ardisci, animo, ardisci:
Osa, mio cor, che temi?
Temi quel, che di grande,
Di grande, e d'impensato,
Ne' tuoi perigli estremi,
Ti suggerisce un consiglier fidato?
S'il precipitio miri,
Se la ruina aspetti,
Sgombra, sgombra i rispetti,
Adempi i tuoi desiri,
Vergogna non t'arresti,
Troppo udisti, e vedesti;
Sù sù senno ingegnoso ,
Rendimi il cato sposo .
Arti, industrie, discorsi, oh Dio, che spero,
Fissatevi quì meco,
Per destar à pietade, un crudo, un fiero,
Un fuggitivo Greco;
Sù, sù senno ingegnoso ,
Rendimi il caro sposo .

Be bold, my soul, be bold:
Be daring, my heart, what do you fear?
Do you fear that which so great,
So great and unexpected,
In your extreme danger
A trusted counselor advises you?
If you are looking at the precipice,
If' you are awaiting ruin,
Banish, banish all respect,
Fulfill your desires,
Let shame not stop you.
You heard and saw too much.
Come, come resourceful spirit ,
Return to me my beloved husband .
Arts, diligence, discourses, O God, let me hope,
Join with me here
To arouse to pity a cruel, a proud man,
A Greek fugitive.
Come, come resourceful spirit ,
Return to me my beloved husband .

The single mood is portrayed musically with some of the same techniques Cavalli had used in Teti's lament. Many repeated notes followed by sudden large leaps, arpeggios, accented dissonance between bass and voice, exploitation of extremes of range within a single phrase, and syncopation are all closely geared to the expression of the text. All musical contrasts are subsumed, however, under the single most striking one, ushered in by the refrain; involving a change from duple to triple meter for its second line and a movement into aria style, the intensity of the refrain is heightened by repetition of the text and by the presence of the descending tetrachord in the bass, heard twice, with which the voice part, dissonant in itself, conflicts, rhythmically and harmonically. Although two statements hardly constitute an ostinato, the expressive intention of the tetrachord refrain is unmistakable. Subsequent practice confirms what is only hinted at here.

The tetrachord ostinato plays a much greater role within some of Cavalli's recitative laments as a means of emphasizing a characteristic change of mood. Doriclea's lengthy, multipartite recitative lament, for example (in Doriclea 3. 1), contains at its center a brief, but weighty, lyrical section based on the tetra-chord, marking her shift from impatient anger at herself to a plea to the heavens that her prayers be carried to her imprisoned husband. Although its text consists of only four lines (out of a total of forty-eight), the lyrical section is both emphatic and self-contained. In addition to beginning and ending firmly on the tonic, D minor, it is distinguished from its recitative surroundings by an instrumental frame: statements of the tetrachord in the strings provide an intro-


duction and epilogue. It is thus essentially an aria, prepared expressively and tonally by the recitative that precedes it (example 80).

Despite the expressive weight of this aria, there is no letdown in the remainder of the monologue. On the contrary, intensity is maintained as Doriclea angrily resorts to stile concitato recitative—a favorite technique familiar from the laments of Arianna and Sacrati's Deidamia—at first accompanied by continuo alone, but then intensified by strings as it gains momentum with Doriclea's vision of her imprisoned husband. Her return to reality ("che vaneggio")—the conventional reversal—is marked by a cessation of the string accompaniment, but it comes back again, calmer now, in sustained tones, as she sinks exhaustedly—and typically, for a lamenting character—into a deep sleep.[16]

In this scene, temporary tetrachord-aria style is just part of the panoply of expressive techniques used for the development of the internal psychological drama of the character. But it stands alone as a calm center of stability, setting up or preparing the way for the more active, excited outbursts to follow. It thus lends shape to the soliloquy as a whole. The structure of the text is very different, but the effect is analogous to that of Apollo's monologue: a recitative lament that encloses an independent tetrachord aria. Doriclea's lament, like Apollo's, gains expressive power from a fusion of two very different, originally separate, affective modes or techniques: unbridled recitative and ostinato aria style. And their juxtaposition increases the effect of each. The intensity of recitative becomes all the more expressive as it breaks free from the restraints of measured aria style, and the restraint of aria style in turn earns tension from having succeeded in reining in an emotional outburst. In some of the most powerful laments of the period, the two styles thus work with and against one another.

In Giasone , the paradigmatic midcentury opera and model of convention, this kind of stylistic compromise reached its climax. The text of the last of Isifile's three laments (3.21), like that of other recitative laments, consists of an extended series of seven-and eleven-syllable verses, sixty-seven in all, very few of them rhymed. It has fewer sections than usual, however—only three. In the first (thirty-seven lines), Isifile hurls an accusatory, angry, ironic diatribe at Giasone, her betrayer; in the second (only eight lines), she pleads with the


assembled company—the queen and her companions—to come to her aid against Giasone; and in the final section (twenty-two lines), she bids them all farewell (example 81).

Like Doriclea's aria oasis, Isifile's (mm. 71-121) coincides with a shift in the object of her attention, in this case from Giasone to the assembled company. And likewise, a change of key and an instrumental declaration of the tetrachord announce that change of focus, insulating Isifile's new remarks from the heat of her previous passion (if only temporarily), as if setting them in quotation marks or in another voice. The sense of formality provided by the tetrachord bass, particularly its heavy accentuation, lends an appropriately solemn tone to her address to the queen as well as a sense of self-control to Isifile's words. But the self-control quickly dissipates; the aria is short-lived. Unlike Doriclea's, it is incomplete, interrupted for no obvious formal reason nine lines before the end of the textual unit; there Cavalli's setting takes on a life of its own, suddenly breaking into highly charged, affective recitative style, a change that effectively captures the overflowing violence of Isifile's imagery:


Assistino à i martiri
Della madre Tradita,
E che ad ogni ferita
Che imprimerà nel mio pudico petto
Bevino quelli il sangue mio stillante,
Acciò ch'ei trapassando
Nelle lor pure vene, in lor s'incarni,
Onde il lor seno in qualche parte sia
Tomba Innocente, all'Innocenza mia.

Let the children witness
Their betrayed mother's martyrdom,
Let them drink the blood
From every wound
Inflicted on my chaste bosom
So that it will course
In their veins,
And they will be
The innocent tomb of my innocence.

By her sudden burst of recitative, Isifile emphatically frees herself from the constraints of the descending tetrachord, which had been holding her in check, helping her to maintain decorum. She is now carried away by her own rhetoric, in an excess of emotion that the music portrays even more emphatically than the text.

After Isifile's unexpected recitative outburst, another significant musical contrast initiates the final section (mm. 137-72), a contrast suggested by yet another change in the focus of her attention, from passionate self-justification to a generalized leave-taking. Following her calm farewell, the lament concludes with one further passionate outburst as Isifile admits she still loves Giasone.

Within Isifile's lament, as in Doriclea's, the lyrical section (or aria) stands out as the affective center, the musical focus, providing the springboard for the dramatic climax. And it is prepared, like an aria, by the preceding recitative. But whereas Doriclea's aria is self-contained, Isifile's does not end; rather, it explodes suddenly and unpredictably into the climax. The use of the tetrachord


aria style in Giasone is the more effective; it reveals a composer self-confidently striking out on his own rather than strictly following the librettist's structure. But in both cases the effect is predicated on the musical weight and contrast provided by the tetrachord pattern, and on its innate affective implications.

Isifile's monologue was among the last of Cavalli's great recitative-laments. Stylistic developments in opera after the middle of the century, in particular the increasing dichotomy of aria and recitative, rendered such fluid compromise obsolete. The multiple, kaleidoscopic contrasts that so eloquently portrayed the vicissitudes of the lamenting Arianna and her successors were gradually reduced to one, the contrast between preparatory recitative and lengthy, weighty aria. By the mid 1650s, virtually all laments were arias, many of them strophic. Lyricism had gradually absorbed all of the expressive responsibility it had formerly shared, via the tetrachord, with recitative.

Graphic documentation of the process of reduction is provided by a series of revisions of Isifile's lament. Giasone , as we know, enjoyed an unusually long life, being revived quite regularly until the end of the century. Each time it was edited or modernized for a new performance, arias were added and recitative was cut. Although the lament endured as long as the opera itself, the opening recitative portion underwent a succession of cuts until, in the Novello Giasone , a version edited by Antonio Stradella for a production in Rome in 1671, it was radically reduced, from seventy-one to a mere eleven measures. The original proportions were reversed; from an extended recitative with a central lyrical section, it had become essentially a tetrachord aria prefaced by a brief, standard recitative introduction and followed by an expressive recitative epilogue, reduced from fifty to nineteen measures (the sections marked VI = DE, mm. 12-70, 115-36, and 147-63 in example 81, were cut).[17]

By virtue of its formal and affective implications, the descending tetrachord ostinato facilitated the transition from lament recitative to lament aria as the conventional operatic procedure. Being infinitely expandable, the pattern was suitable for lyrical passages of various lengths, brief inserts within recitative or full aria strophes. Whether in the context of recitative or aria, the tetrachord lent to the lament a sharp, distinctive profile, particularly when reinforced by the host of secondary attributes associated with it: triple meter, slow tempo, and string accompaniment (in addition to syncopation, suspensions, and phrase overlap encouraged by the ostinato pattern itself). These were all independently expressive techniques whose special effect depended in part on their being used only rarely—though always together—at particularly dramatic moments dur-


ing the course of an opera. String accompaniment, in fact, had a particular association with lament that extended at least as far back as Arianna .[18] The combined use of these secondary features in conjunction with the tetrachord helped to mark the lament as the most important moment in the opera.

Interestingly, these attributes were considered as much a part of the lament convention as the tetrachord itself, and even sometimes served as substitutes for it. Generic designations for laments in Venetian scores often included reference to one or more of them. Lamento con violini occurs more than once; and sometimes the attributes alone were sufficient to signify the genre—laments often bear the indication adagio or just con viole or con violini . In one exceptional instance the rubric con le viole even appears in a libretto, next to what was obviously intended as a lament text.[19]

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