Definition of Florentine Camerata
Florentine Camerata or Camerata de ‘Bardi refers to a cenacle of musicians, poets, intellectuals and playwrights who, towards the end of the 16th century, gathered together to address topics related to music, arts, science and literature.
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It was also called Camerata de ‘Bardi because the meetings of this group of experts and artists took place right at the palace of Count Giovanni Bardi del Vernio, in Florence.
Furthermore, the first written reference to the name of the “club” is found in the score for “Euridice” by Giulio Caccini, who dedicates the work to Bardi, in memory of the group’s “beautiful years”.
The Florentine Camerata was therefore started by Giovanni Bardi in 1573, the date on which the first meeting between these intellectuals, musicians and poets took place.
In addition to Bardi, the Camerata also included Vincenzo Galilei (music theorist and father of the astronomer Galileo Galilei), Pietro Strozzi, Giulio Caccini and, most likely, also Iacopo Peri, Iacopo Corsi and Ottavio Rinuccini, to whom we owe the first librettos for melodramas.
Girolamo Mei, a Florentine historian and scholar who passed on many of his discoveries to Vincenzo Galilei and who acted as mentor of the group, actively participated in the life of the Camerata.
So, in a nutshell, this circle had the merit of gathering the most prominent men of Florence.
But what were the goals of the Florentine Camerata and how did it exert its influence on the birth of Opera?
What kind of musical topics and theatrical innovations were actually discussed by these intellectuals?
In this article you’ll find an answer to these questions and you’ll also discover the importance of the Camerata for the invention of monody and recitar cantando as a response to the hegemony of polyphony.
What was the purpose of the Florentine Camerata?
The main goal of the Florentine Camerata was to bring back to life a past model, namely, the Greek tragedy and its peculiar way of uttering the words.
Girolamo Mei, as both a scholar of ancient Greece and an acclaimed translator of the most important treatises on Greek music theory, made an important contribution to the research work carried out by the group of intellectuals.
In fact, he argued that the drama of the ancient Greeks was mainly sung rather than spoken.
To make it easier for you to understand this new musical style, I invite you to listen to Giulio Caccini’s madrigal entitled “Amarilli, my beautiful”.
This piece, included in his “New Musics”, is a perfect example of monody:
The choice of this piece is not at all casual, because “Amaryllis, my beautiful” is one of the first examples of accompanied monody ever written and notated on a score.
Another example of monodic experimentation is Galilei’s “Il lamento del Conte Ugolino” (1582) .
Unfortunately, I cannot show you any video of this work, because the original score has been lost.
Recitar cantando and the influence on Opera
All the characteristics listed above, inherent to the monody, led to the elaboration of a new style called “recitar cantando”.
It is necessary to point out, though, that the monodic innovations carried out by the Camerata were criticized by Zarlino.
Gioseffo Zarlino, an established music theorist and supporter of the polyphonic musical style, opposed the idea of combining singing and acting, probably because he considered these two artistic realities as two separate worlds.
The first forms of “recitar cantando” were applied to simple monodies and interludes (intermezzi).
An “intermezzo” was a short stage action written to fill the intervals between one act and another in a play.
These interludes often dealt with mythological and pastoral stories and were staged in the palaces of Italian nobles in conjunction with particular events or celebrations.
The members of the Florentine Camerata, perhaps without being fully aware of it, were laying the foundations of the future Opera.
Originally, the first examples of Opera were set up to enhance the patron’s wealth on special occasions related to court life.
The first example of a drama in full “recitar cantando” style is “Dafne“, whose libretto was written by Piero Rinuccini while the music by Jacopo Peri (1958).
“Dafne” is considered by music historians to be the first Opera created by the Camerata.
Unfortunately, we are not in possession of the score.
The other work by Peri and Rinuccini of which, instead, we have the score is “Euridice”, an opera represented on the occasion of the wedding between Maria de ‘Medici and Henry IV of France.
I suggest you listen to the “Prologue” of Euridice, in which both the accompanied monody and the “recitar cantando” style emerge:
It should be noted that, again on the occasion of the wedding celebrations mentioned before, Giulio Caccini created his own version of the Euridice, using the same libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini.
In summary, the creative process born from the Camerata’s experiments meant that polyphony lost its prestige and that the style of the accompanied monody took over.
Starting from the accompanied monody, the Camerata developed a recitative style which was first applied to the interludes and then used in the Opera.
Therefore, all the ideas and experimental pieces of music created by the Florentine Camerata had a great influence on the birth of Opera, because they made it possible for the characters of a story to better express their individual personality and their emotions, combining acting and singing.
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In this way, following what were the “rules” of the monody, the audience could now follow the story better, participating with great involvement in the vicissitudes narrated by the actors.