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12—Il lamento : The Fusion of Music and Drama
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The Lament Aria: Variations on a Theme

Although the association between the descending tetrachord and the lament was based on expressive qualities intrinsic to the tetrachord itself, it was only through repeated use, primarily in the operas of Cavalli, that the combination became thoroughly conventionalized. But that repeated use was far from mechanical. Cavalli's treatment of the tetrachord remained extremely varied throughout his career—a testimony both to his compositional skill and to the power of the convention (example 82). As we have noticed, he tended to treat the tetrachord more freely than Monteverdi did in the "Lament of the Nymph." Only Rosinda's lament in Rosinda , 3.5 utilizes the basic descending tetrachord in a single key throughout. Usually, if he chose the simple pattern, he varied it through modulation or combined it with another related pattern; or else he completely abandoned it during the course of the lament (as in that of Apollo). More commonly, the pattern itself underwent modification: it was inverted (Hiperrnestra 3.12), chromaticized (Egisto 2.6), arpeggiated (Eliogabalo 1.16), or otherwise embellished melodically or rhythmically. Occasionally Cavalli treated the tetrachord with even greater freedom, utilizing its aura, its implications, rather than the pattern itself: in some laments he exploited the harmony or the possibilities of phrase overlap suggested by the tetrachord, or the affective language, the suspensions and syncopations associated with it, but without any discernible bass configuration (Arternisia 2. 12). Finally, in a few instances,


specific tetrachord reference was relegated solely to the ominous announcement of the opening ritornello (Artemisia 3. 19).

Cavalli's varied treatments of the pattern often highlight one of its affective attributes in particular: the obscuring of formal boundaries by means of ambiguities between phrase and strophe endings (Ciro 2.9), the ambiguity of the cadence (Statira 3.4 and 3.10), or the potential for extremely extended vocal phrases (Rosinda 3.5). The specific relevance of all of these features to the lament affect is demonstrated by Ciro's lament from Ciro (3.15), "Negatemi respiri" (example 83). Here syncopation, phrase extension, and a repeatedly interrupted vocal line converge to portray Ciro's labored breathing under emotional stress, a translation of the central image of the text. The tetrachord enables Cavalli to imitate an action.[20]

Monteverdi's two laments may have defined the stylistic boundaries of the convention, but it was Cavalli's repeated, continuous exploration, extension, and refinement of that definition over the course of his 25-year career that assured its permanent status in opera. Cavalli's natural inclination toward variety and toward realizing the implications of the tetrachord, in recitative as well as in aria, kept the convention alive as the climactic moment that audiences repeatedly anticipated. Their anticipation was rewarded not by something tired and predictable but by something always new.

The laments of Cavalli's contemporaries and immediate successors tended to show continuing variety. Although most were now arias, they remained distinctive in text form as well as musical setting. Many were non-strophic, in contrast to the growing number of strophic forms that characterized all other kinds of arias. And most, strophic and non-strophic alike, were treated more freely than other arias. They were usually more sectional, incorporating recitative passages or some other kind of contrast; they usually involved more repetition of text and more melismas—that is, greater musical expansion; and they were often integrated within a larger musical-dramatic context. Whether introduced by recitatives, linked to other arias, or just very long in themselves, many laments continued to comprise entire scenes. Most significant, they continued to represent the musico-dramatic high point of the opera.

In their use of the tetrachord, these laments run the gamut from unwavering strictness to a flexibility in which the merest allusion to the pattern is a sufficient reminder of its original function and meaning. Nor does the style of the moment seem to have especially influenced the choice. Selino's lament from Cesti's Argia (1669) 3. 18 offers a particularly effective example of the strict type.


Here a chromatic version of the tetrachord recurs twenty-one times under a constantly unfolding, repeatedly overlapping, seemingly unfettered, and consequently highly expressive vocal line (example 84).[21] Other, somewhat less effective examples of strict tetrachord use occur in two works by Carlo Grossi, Romilda (1659; 3.15, diatonic tetrachord) and Artaxerse (1669; 3.11, a chromatic tetrachord) (examples 85 and 86).[22]

Freer treatment of the tetrachord, however—or at least strict treatment of a freer paraphrase of the pattern—was more common during this period. Nigrane's lament from Ziani's Le fortune di Rodope e Damira (1657) 3.4, for example, is strictly based on a version of the pattern that is so varied and extended that its repetitions are barely perceptible, leaving Ziani to rely on rather small-scale rhythmic and harmonic conflicts of bass and voice rather than the more forceful structural overlaps that derive from opposition to a strongly articulated—and strongly perceptible—pattern (example 87). The conflict is weakened by the particular structure of the bass itself, which consists of twelve measures divided into two similar, but unequal, sections, the first of which seems to end too early and the second too late. The forward motion of the bass is impeded also by too many cadences—three: a half-cadence in m. 4 and full cadences in mm. 8 and 12, all of them confirmed by the violin parts above. Its tonal impact, overemphasized by the too-frequent cadences, is nevertheless contradictory and ambiguous in its combination of strong F major with several insistent chromatic inflections. Rather than somehow compensating for or counteracting the awkwardly sectional bass, the vocal line confirms the short subphrases with subphrases of its own. These are created by a very rigid, undramatic treatment of the text, in which nearly all clauses are repeated, some of them several times, to sequential music, whether they are particularly expressive or not. As a result, affective emphasis is completely lacking, both in the presentation of the text and in the piece as a whole. The effect can be appreciated by reading the text as presented in Ziani's setting (in brackets):

Rodope dove sei [dove sei, dove sei],
Pria ch'alla morte [pria ch'alla morte]
    io vada,
E svenato [e svenato] al suol cada
[E svenato, e svenato al suol cada]

Rodope, where are you [where are you, where are you]
Ere I to death [ere I to death] do go,

And gored [and gored] to the ground do fall
[And gored, and gored to the ground do fall],


Almen quest'occhi [almen quest'occhi] miei

Ti poressero dar [ti potessero dar] l'ultimo
   guardo [l'ultimo guardo]
Per bearmi nel foco [per bearmi nel foco]
   in cui [in cui] tutt'ardo

Che contento o mia vita [contento o mia vita]
   all'hor [all'hor] morrei
Rodope dove sei? [dove sei, dove sei, Rodope,
   dove sei?]

May these eyes at least [these eyes at least] of
Upon you cast [upon you cast] their last gaze
   [their last gaze],
That I may rejoice in the flame [that I may
   rejoice in the flame] in which [in which] I
For happy, O my life [happy, O my life],
   I then [I then] should die.
Rodope, where are you? [where are you, where
   are you, Rodope, where are you?]

With only a few exceptions—the refrain line, perhaps, and "all'hor" in line 7—the repetitions fail to heighten the natural rhetorical emphasis in the text. The result is a lament that seems aimless, short-breathed, and ineffectual.

Far more expressive is Polemone's lament from Cesti's Tito (1666) 3.8, which, however, is built on a bass whose relationship to the tetrachord is virtually nonexistent (example 88). Cesti did not tie himself down to an ostinato as Ziani did; his bass is much freer and more generative than Ziani's. Differences are immediately apparent in the opening ritornello, which is the same length as Ziani's. In contrast to Ziani's three cadences within twelve measures, Cesti has only one, at the end. Until then, Cesti studiously avoids cadences with the help of the string parts, whose continuously overlapping suspensions maintain harmonic intensity throughout.

Cesti's voice part enters before the cadence rather than coinciding with it as Ziani's does. Although Cesti's voice and bass phrases do not dovetail any more than Ziani's do, the string parts overlap them both, urging the piece forward. Furthermore, because they work together, voice and bass produce strong, propulsive syncopations against the strings, particularly toward the end of the lament (mm. 55-64). Cesti's vocal line is more singable than Ziani's, too, moving primarily by step, with an occasional expressive leap. Although its subphrases are equally short, they build syntactically to climaxes. Despite the absence of affective opposition between voice and bass, phrase extension is made possible by the freer bass—voice and bass together stretch phrases through syncopation and by invoking the deceptive cadence (mm. 67-80).

The difference between these two laments is epitomized by a comparison of the text presentation of the two composers. Cesti also repeated text, but in a manner that underscores rather than distorting its natural emphasis. And when his repetition creates melodic patterns, they are shorter, more motivic, and used for affective reiteration rather than sequence, as building blocks to a climax rather than going nowhere:


Berenice [Berenice] ove [ove, ove] sei,

Dove, dove t'ascondi?
Luce de gl'occhi miei
[Berenice ove sei?]
Marmi o voi che nel candore
Pareggiate la mia fè
Palesate [palesate, palesate] il mio sol, dite
   dov'è [dite dov'è, dov'è,
   dov'è, dite dov'è].
[Palesate il mio sol, dire dov'è, dire dov'è,
dov'è, dov'è, dite dov'è.]

Berenice [Berenice], where [where, where] are
Where, where do you hide,
Light of my eyes?
[Berenice, where are you?]
O ye marbles that in candor
Match my faith,
Reveal [reveal, reveal] my sun, say where it is [say
   where it is, where it is,
   where it is, say where it is].
[Reveal my sun, say where it is, say where it is,
   where it is, where it is, say where it is.]

Clearly the success of these endeavors depended on the composer, not on the lament convention itself. The convention was flexible enough to allow a composer to make his own decisions. His choices were still numerous. A free adaptation of the tetrachord pattern, while sacrificing the obsessive impact of ostinato repetition, allowed him greater flexibility of expression. He could, of course, still depend on the value of the implied, underlying (but absent) tetra-chord as a sign, while drawing freely upon its conventional affective concomitants, syncopation, suspensions, and phrase overlap.

But sometimes composers used the stylistic conventions of the lament too superficially, in combination with other features that tended to counteract them, producing a conflict that seriously weakened the identity of the genre. Some of the laments that utilize the tetrachord merely as a vague point of reference rather than a structural feature fail to project the intended affect. That is, despite the use of individual conventional accoutrements (such as string accompaniment and tetrachord reference), they display a misunderstanding or misuse of the convention itself.

In Leucotoe's lament from Rovettino's Gli amori d' Apollo e di Leucotoe (1663) 3.11, duple meter, excessive rhythmic activity and melodic sequence, and predominantly major tonality undermine the expressive intention of the text and contradict the tetrachord and string accompaniment references (example 89). A similar miscalculation weakens the impact of Domitiano's lament from Boretti's Eliogabalo (1668) 2.11, where repeated allusions to the chromatic tetrachord, string accompaniment, and the minor key are insufficient to counteract the trivial effect of rapid rhythmic activity and short patterned phrases, both in the opening section in duple meter and the closing triple-meter section (example 90). These examples fail to fulfill their potential as laments because of conflicting affects. Reference to the tetrachord and string accompaniment may have been necessary, but obviously they were not sufficient to constitute a lament.


They needed the confirmation of a slow tempo, minor key, suspensions, and expansive text-setting.

The convention was exploited in a variety of ways throughout the century, with more or less full understanding of its implications. For a final affirmation of the power of the convention, we return once more to Cavalli: to one of his late operas, Scipione affricano (1664). One of the most moving scenes, Sofonisba's soliloquy (2.8), consisting of a recitative and an aria, derives its power precisely from not being a lament.[23] In fact, that is its point: it is intentionally a non-lament that can be understood only against the background of pieces that are laments (example 91).

In her opening recitative, a highly affective discourse that makes use of the usual expressive techniques of repeated notes, dissonance against the bass, and a gradually ascending line interrupted by a few extreme leaps against descending chromatic motion in the bass, Sofonisba, the wife of the imprisoned Sirace, explains that she must keep her sorrows to herself lest her situation deteriorate even further. She begins very much as Ottavia does in her first lament in Poppea , with the words "Di misera regina. . . . "The recitative concludes in an arioso that makes the same point, though with added emphasis through lyricism, affective harmony and melody, and repetition of text.

The following aria, then, is not a lament but an invocation of nature, of the "verdi herbette rugiadose" ("green dewy grass"), which Sofonisba calls upon to lament in her stead: "S'io non possò dir ohimè, lagrimate voi per me." The continuo aria (not string-accompanied) in duple meter (not triple), with a walking bass and syllabic, stepwise melody, contrasts strongly with what a lament would be—intentionally. But the walking bass (which subtly refers to the tetrachord in its descending stepwise motion), the melody (which creates dissonance against the bass through a series of accented appoggiaturas), and the harmony (particularly the cross relation in the refrain, heard twice, and the overall minor tonality) lend a poignant mood to the piece that tends to counteract the lively tempo and syllabic text-setting. In not being a lament, and in emphatically abjuring its most obvious conventional associations, this aria nonetheless draws upon all of the affective power of the lament. Denied on the surface, the lament affect animates this aria from within, peering out from behind Sofonisba's mask.

As an operatic convention, the lament combines features of all of the conventions we have discussed so far. Like madness and sleep, and often associated


with them, it was a theatrical device that enhanced the verisimilitude essential to opera. Lamenting characters, only slightly more responsible than mad or sleeping ones, were released from the bonds of decorous behavior by the intensity of their feelings, which verged on—and often culminated in—madness. Like the trumpet aria or the sdrucciolo aria, too, the lament was associated with a particular musical technique. And like the love duet it developed a precise structural and dramatic function, usually occurring at the point of maximum complication, just before the resolution of the plot. But the lament surpassed all the other conventions in its impact. From the very outset it had a stronger identity, one that was both musical and dramatic, and, indeed, was actually defined by the combination of those two elements. And its identity was reaffirmed and solidified, not only in opera but in the monody and aria books that developed symbiotically alongside, influencing and in turn being influenced by operatic developments. The lament did not require a context in order to be recognized—it could (and did) exist independently of opera.

We have traced the evolution of the operatic lament from one Monteverdian archetype to the other, from the Arianna -type sectional recitative to the "Lament of the Nymph"-type tetrachord-aria (with or without recitative introduction); but the evolution was not strictly linear. Aria and recitative laments coexist in many operas of the 1640s and 1650s, and an occasional recitative lament may be found as late as the 1660s.[24] However erratic its evolution from recitative to aria, the lament was a microcosm of operatic developments in general, of the growing preference for static summary and distillation of feelings over action. The increasing proportion of aria to recitative displayed by Isifile's lament from 1650 to 1671 reflects, succinctly, the change of proportion in opera as a whole during the same period.

With all of its development, however, the lament remained remarkably standardized for quite some time. An aria style that was viable for a lament in 1640 (in Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne ), hard on the heels of Venetian opera's beginnings, was deemed suitable for the same purpose thirty years later (in Il novello Giasone ). Although it seems to have disappeared temporarily from Venetian (or by now Italian) opera after the 1670s, the genre lasted much longer elsewhere—witness Purcell's classic setting of Dido's lament and the abundance of tetrachord laments in the dramatic music of Handel and Bach.[25] The longevity of the genre must be ascribed at least in part to the specificity of its musical characteristics, what we might call its musical formula, the descending tetrachord and its concomitants. Musical associations so much more specific


than those for any other dramatic convention undoubtedly helped to preserve the lament from stylistic change, to promote a certain conservatism. Further, the fact that the musical formula itself had an intrinsic relationship to the specific affect of the lament made the connection all the more natural, inevitable, and permanent.

In some later operas the tetrachord-aria lament seems to have assumed the role of an intentional, self-conscious archaism. This is suggested by the contrast between its characteristic white-note notation—typical meters are 3/1 or 3/2—and the increasingly pervasive quarter-note values of the music in the rest of the opera. As operatic style changed around it, the increasingly anachronistic lament served as a poignant reminder of old musico-dramatic values, of the way music had once embodied the affect of a text.

The intrinsic connection between the drama and music of the lament was certainly one reason for the longevity of the genre. Another may be its association with performers. From its origins as an operatic highpoint, the lament was associated with its singer, perhaps because it was the affective center or core of the main role(s). Singers' reputations were often connected to laments; they were praised for their skill at lamentation. And with the rise in their importance within the operatic collaboration, they may have helped to sustain the genre.[26]

Much of the reportage surrounding Arianna concerned the performance of the famous lament: "The lament that Ariadne . . . sang on the rock . . . was performed with so much feeling and in such a pathetic manner that not a single listener remained unmoved, nor did a single lady fail to shed some small tear at her plaint."[27] The singer was Virginia Andreini, a comica ordinaria known by the stage name Florinda, who at the last minute replaced the tragically deceased young singer Caterina Martinelli, for whom Monteverdi had conceived the part. Andreini's performance was immortalized by Giambattista Marino (Adone , 7.88), who compared it to those of the most famous singer of the day, Adriana Basile:


Tal forse intenerir col dolce canto
Suol la bella Adriana i duri affetti
E con la voce e con la vista intanto
Git per due strade a saettare i petti;
E in tal guisa Florinda udisti, o Manto,
Là ne' teatri de' tuoi regi tetti
D'Adrianna spiegar gli aspri martiri
E trar da mille cor mille sospiri.

Thus perhaps with her sweet song
The lovely Adriana is wont to melt harsh sentiments,
While with her voice and with her look
She takes two paths to pierce men's breasts;
Thus, Mantua, did you hear Florinda,
There in the theaters beneath your royal roofs,
Expounding Ariadne's harsh martyrdoms
And drawing from a thousand hearts a thousand sighs.


The first Venetian prima donna, Anna Renzi, too, was particularly acclaimed for her performances of laments. Several sonnets in the volume of encomiastic poetry addressed to her by Giulio Strozzi refer to her powers of persuasion in that mode:


Nella Scena Real forma sonori
I mesti accenti suoi, canoro il pianto,
E col finto languir ben desta in tanto
In noi verace duol, vivaci ardori.[28]

On the regal stage she sonorously forms
Her mournful accents, singing her plaint,
And with pretended sorrow the while awakes
In us authentic grief, living desires.

Among other roles, her lamenting Ottavia in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea elicited special praise.


Non è Ottavia, che lagrime diffonde
Esule, esposta ale spumose arene;
È un mostro, che con note alte, e profonde
Acrescer và lo stuol de le Sirene.[29]

It is not Ottavia shedding her tears,
Exiled, exposed on foamy shores;
It is a monster, who, with notes high and deep
Augments the company of the Sirens.

The most specific description of her performance of Ottavia's lament occurs in a passage from the anonymous Idillio in Strozzi's volume that provides a running commentary on all of her roles.


Poi cominciasti afflitta
Tue querele Canore
Con tua voce divina,
Disprezzata Regina,
E seguendo il lamento
Facevi di dolore
Stillar in pianto, e sospirar Amore.
Sò ben'io, che se vero
Fosse stato il cordoglio,
E l'historia funesta,
Alia tua voce mesta,
Alle dolci parole, ai carl detti.
Si come i nostri petri
Colmaro di pietade, an sò ben'io,
Neron s'havrebbe fatto humile, e pio.[30]

Then, afflicted, you intoned
Your melodious complaints
With your voice divine,
O spurned queen,
And continuing your lament
You forced Love
To burst into tears and sigh.
Well do I know that,
Had the grief been true,
And the dolorous tale,
Hearing your mournful voice,
Your sweet words, your endearing expressions,
Just as they filled our breasts
With pity, ah, well do I know that
    Nero would have been rendered humble and         compassionate.

Surely few descriptions of a lamenting protagonist, however, could rival in vividness and realism of detail this one in a letter to the duke of Brunswick from his secretary, Francesco Massi:

[The Rangoni maiden, jealous of her protector's attentions to another prima donna] . . . had resolved never to sing again, when, encouraged by friends of the marquis


[Rangoni, her protector], right in the midst of a conversation she began to sing a lament, precisely made to measure for her, of most beautiful poetry and most perfect music. Now whoever did not witness that scene cannot know what it is to transform oneself in song. She moved around, and, as the nature of the lament required, prayed, emoted, called her betrayer beloved; gently she persuaded him, looked at him, and exuded passion from her eyes, cried with tears of trust, protested that her heart was the altar where the fire of an immense affection always burned, that he was the king of the entire realm of her thoughts, that therefore he shouldn't abandon her. She followed with desperate actions, with great violence, and so much so that she seemed actually to be an enraged Fury; naming at one point her rival, she turned her eyes to heaven and exclaimed, "Ah, ah, let her be cursed!" She returned then with her heart to the beginning [a segno ], and blaming for her fate more the wrath of destiny than the inconstancy of her lover, finished the lament and fainted. (Appendix IIIB.22b)[31]

This description closely follows the narrative progress of the lament itself, through vicissitudes of passion familiar from the many laments we have examined. Text and music both can almost be reconstructed from the description. Prayers, persuasion, penetrating looks, tears, desperation, and fury (stile concitato? ) lead to the exclamatory climax ("ahi, ahi, che sia maledetta!" perhaps in recitative), which is followed by a pulling back ("dal segno," a return to the opening), an awareness of futility, and a final generalized diatribe against fate, culminating in a faint. Although this lament is surely an aria "cut to measure," the stages of feeling described are very much like those of the paradigmatic recitative lament of Arianna. The stylistic dichotomy that separated recitative and aria-laments was less important than the similarity of affect that linked them.

Massi's description not only recreates the narrative progress of the lament; it provides a vivid sense of the affective intensity of its performance. No matter that the stage for this production was a private salotto rather than one of Venice's public theaters, or that the singer-protagonist played not a fictional character in historical garb but herself. The fate she lamented was her own. Her lament declared its generic independence of opera. Its verisimilitude transcended art, asserting a powerful connection to life. No other operatic convention had the power to do so much.


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12—Il lamento : The Fusion of Music and Drama
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