A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Petrarch Part 3

26 April 2013

From songbook (Il Canzoniere) to singing 


Andrea del Castagno (or Andrea di Bartolo di Bargilla) (c. 1421–1457): Francesco Petrarca, c. 1450, fresco on wood, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


Read Part 1

Read Part 2


When Petrarch sang his verses to the accompaniment of the lute, he couldn’t have known at the time what an immense impact his poetry would have on the music of the Renaissance.  Musical settings of poetry from Petrarch's Il Canzoniere (The Songbook) began as a trickle.  Jacopo da Bologna (fl 1340-1360), around 1350, set the sonnet “Non al suo amante” (poem #52) to music while the poet was alive, and then, almost one hundred years later, Guillaume Dufay (1397? –1474) set the canzone “Vergine bella” (poem #366). 

At the turn of the sixteenth century, enter the scholar and poet Pietro Bembo.  He was so passionate about Petrarch’s verse that his imitations of Petrarch in his own poetry came to be labeled as bembismo.  When Bembo, at his bembistic best, published a new edition of Petrarch’s Canzoniere in Venice in 1501, the trickle of music settings grew into an acqua alta (high water) of notes and staves, and Petrarch’s sonnets were soon floating all over Italy on strains of music.

Tiziano Vecelli (Titian) (1485/1490-1576): Portrait of Cardinal Pietro Bembo, c. 1540, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}

Not only were most sixteenth-century Italian composers inspired by Bembo’s publication of Petrarch, but a new generation of poets was also stirred, including Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530) and Torquato Tasso (1544-1595), who in turn wrote more poetry for composers to set to music.  After Bembo’s edition, the Canzoniere was published in more than 150 individual editions throughout the sixteenth century, prompting a cycle of even more poets and composers to follow in the Petrarchan tradition.


The Madrigal

The vehicle of choice for setting Petrach’s verse to music in the sixteenth century was the madrigal.  The Italian word madrigale derives from the Latin matricalis — of or pertaining to the womb or matrix, and by extension, the ‘mother tongue’, Italian.  Thus the medieval, often pastoral poems originally designated as madrigali were written in Italian instead of Latin.  The music to which these poems were set during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, for example by Petrarch’s friend, the Florentine poet and composer Francesco Landini (c. 1325 or 1335–1397), employed the same name — known today as the trecento [1300s] madrigal.  This older form disappeared by the fifteenth century.


A page from Prima stella de madrigali a cinque voci, which featured madrigals by, among others, Orlando di Lasso and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina — this collection was published by Girolamo Scotto (1505-1572; also a composer) in Venice, 1570; British Library, London

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


When the word madrigale resurfaced in the sixteenth century, it was to specify a secular, polyphonic, usually unaccompanied, vocal work for any number from two to twelve voices (but usually three to six), being related in name only to the thirteenth-century form.

Hans Müelich (or Mielich) (1516-1573): Cipriano de Rore; detail of a miniature in an illustrated manuscript of Rore’s motets, c. 1559, Munich State Library

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}
The sixteenth-century madrigal was at the outset energized by a Franco-Flemish infusion into Venice, especially with the arrival of composers such as Adrian Willaert (c. 1490–1562), who founded the Venetian School, and his pupil, Cipriano de Rore (1516-1565).  These northern Europeans were well-versed in the rigorous polyphonic style used in sacred music as well as having a fluency with the popular chanson, and could readily mix these techniques.  This blend resulted in establishing the madrigal as the foremost secular form of music of its era.

With Bembo’s publication of the Canzoniere, sixteenth-century composers discovered in Petrarch’s attention to the sound quality and rhythmic placement of words a newfound collaborator with their sonic muse.  Moreover, as a wide range of emotional states might be found within a single sonnet — for example, joy, sorrow, anger, desire, or sadness — Renaissance composers were presented with a rich palette of sentiments to express in their work.


Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael) (1483-1520):  Scuola di Atene (The School of Athens), detail in which it is believed that Pietro Bembo  — or some say Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529) — is depicted as Zoroaster (rear left); Ptolemy (facing away from the viewer), Raphael himself as Apelles (second from right), and Perugino (c. 1446/1450–1523) as Protogenes (far right) can also be seen; 1509-1510, fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican, Rome


In fact, Petrarch didn’t have to wait for the volta (or turn) for a feeling to shift.  In some of his sonnets, the needle might fluctuate wildly on the mood-o-meter with such emotional tangles as “sweet suffering” (poem #61), “I . . . burn, and I am ice,” or “laughing weep” (poem #134).  Petrarch would ponder “Love's light supple noose” (poem #6), and then reflect, “I look, think, burn, weep: and she who destroys me / is always before my eyes to my sweet distress” (poem #164).  Sixteenth-century composers clambered for the opportunity to express these Petrarchan conceits through music.

The result was a variety of "madrigalisms” (sometimes referred to as text painting or word painting), gestures in the music intended to reflect the meanings of the words.  For example, the words ‘sorrow’ or ‘grief’ might be set with dissonant harmony, or the word ‘alone’ be sung by a solo voice.  The words ‘darkness’ or ‘death’ could be scored as low pitches or, as a purely visual aside shared with the performer, black notes in the printed part.

Subsequent to the settings by Bartolomeo Tromboncino (c. 1470– 535 or later) of Petrarch’s canzonas in frottole — fore-runners of the madrigal —some important Renaissance madrigalists who drew from the Canzoniere for texts for their music include Philippe Verdelot (1480 to 1485 – c. 1530 to 1532?), Adrian Willaert (c. 1490–1562), who made at least 25 settings of Petrarch, paving the way for the rest of the Venetian School and eventually beyond, Jacques Arcadelt (c. 1507–1568), who, in addition to setting Petrarch’s words, was paid by Michelangelo to set two of his sonnets, Cipriano de Rore (1516-1565), Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590), Philippe de Monte (1521–1603), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525/1526 –1594), who made eight settings of the same canzona that Dufay had earlier set, Orlando di Lasso (1532 [possibly 1530] –1594), who set at least at least 60 Petrarch sonnets, Andrea Gabrieli (1532/1533–1585), Giaches de Wert (1535–1596), Giovanni Maria Nanino (1543/1544–1607), Giulio Caccini (1546-1618), Luca Marenzio (1553?–1599), and Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).

For comparison, it may be interesting to see how these last two named composers — Luca Marenzio  and Claudio Monteverdi — responded to Petrarch.


Luca Marenzio

Luca Marenzio (sometimes spelled Marentio) was the leading madrigal composer of his time and was also a singer and lutenist (John Dowland possibly traveled from England to study with him).  Marenzio served at several courts, including those of the Gonzaga, Este, and Medici, and in Rome he served the cardinals Cristoforo Madruzzo and Luigi d'Este.


Anonymous Italian painter of the 1500s:  Luca Marenzio, c. 1560, Archiv des Grafen Heinrich Marenzi, Vienna and Feldkirchen. Henry Peacham, in The Compleat Gentleman (1622), had claimed, “For delicious Aire and sweete Invention in Madrigals, Luca Marenzio excelleth all other whosoever; and to say truth, hath not an ill Song.”

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


Of Marenzio’s almost 500 madrigals, most written for five voices, dozens are settings of texts from Petrarch’s Canzoniere.  Eight of Marenzio’s madrigals, found in four different books, set each a different stanza from the sestina “Mia benigna fortuna” (poem #332), and he had put music to some of the same sonnets as did Jacopo da Bologna, Orlande Lassus, Andrea Gabrieli, and Claudio Monteverdi.  The Petrarch sonnet used in  
one of Marenzio’s madrigals, the chromatically concentrated “Solo e pensoso i più deserti campi” (Alone and thoughtful, through the most desolate fields; poem #35), would resound through the centuries with later settings by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and Franz Schubert (1797-1828).

One of Marenzio’s madrigals is a setting of "L'aura che'l verde Lauro" (#246), a sonnet also set by Nicola Vicentino (1511-1575 or 1576), music theorist, composer, and inventor of the archicembalo (a microtonal keyboard based on a system of 31 equal divisions of the octave).  The two musical treatments are interesting to compare, but for now we’ll consider Marenzio’s setting of this sonnet.

Portrait of Nicola Vicentino, from his treatise Antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica, [Ancient Music Adapted to Modern Practice] Rome, 1555, in which he linked ancient Greek musical theory and practice with that of his time — his interest in chromatic composition influenced Rore and other madrigalists

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


L'aura che 'l verde lauro et l'aureo crine
soavemente sospirando move,
fa con sue viste leggiadrette et nove
l'anime da' lor corpi pellegrine.
Candida rosa nata in dure spine,
quando fia chi sua pari al mondo trove,
gloria di nostra etate? O vivo Giove,
manda, prego, il mio in prima che 'l suo fine:
sí ch'io non veggia il gran publico danno,
e 'l mondo remaner senza 'l suo sole,
né li occhi miei, che luce altra non ànno;
né l'alma, che pensar d'altro non vòle,
né l'orecchie, ch'udir altro non sanno,
senza l'oneste sue dolci parole.
The breeze that with its gentle sighing moves
the green laurel and the curling gold,
makes the spirit wander from the body
at seeing her fresh and pretty looks.
This white rose born among sharp thorns,
when shall we see its equal in this world,
this glory of our age? O living Jove,
command that I die before her, I pray:
so I may not see that great earthly harm,
the world left here without its sun,
and my eyes, that have no other light:
and my soul without thought of any other,
and my ears that cannot hear any other,
lacking her sweet virtuous words.
— Translated by: A. S. Kline (Copyright © 2002)



In the previous sonnet that we had looked at, “Amor m'à posto come segno a strale” (Love placed me as a target for his arrow, poem #133), Petrarch had hidden Laura’s name in the last line: “l'aura” (the breeze).  In this sonnet he goes overboard in concealing Laura’s name, the sound of which, however, reverberates throughout the first line and permeating every concept: “L'aura” (the breeze), “lauro” (laurel tree), and “l'aureo” (the golden [mane]).

Not insignificantly, the laurus (bay laurel), native to the Mediterranean region and the source of the laurel wreath of ancient Greece, is also the symbol for poetry.


Laurus nobilis or bay laurel

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


Marenzio’s setting of this sonnet, published in 1599 as number six of Il nono libro de madrigali a cinque voci (Ninth Book of Madrigals in five voices), is replete with the musical Petrarchism common at the end of the sixteenth century in the late madrigal style:  text painting, chromaticism (the use of pitches that do not belong to the scale of a mode or key), and, in general, the endeavor to depict every gradation of sentiment.

The madrigal opens with the alto part flowing like a breeze (“L'aura”) in notes of relatively quick duration, while the canto begins with this same word, but in effect announces Laura’s name in long durations and with a descending fifth.  This gesture  is later imitated by the tenor and quinto voices.  (Imitation occurs when one musical part follows the contour of another part at a later point in time, often at a different pitch level.  The imitated idea can be inverted — turned upside-down, as in a mirror image — or altered in many different ways.)

In a wonderful instance of text painting, at the word “sospirando” (sighing — in this example of a Petrarchan conceit, the poet projects his own emotional reaction onto the wind), a four-note figure descends stepwise, interlocking in four parts.  If you haven’t sighed like this before, you haven’t had your heart broken.


The descending, four-note pattern in the setting of the word “sospirando” (sighing) is highlighted in this edition using modern notation with bar-lines.


Soon, after lines three and four of the sonnet traverse much denser polyphony (perhaps this intensity is what is experienced by the viewer of Laura’s pretty looks), we encounter another madrigalism at the word “anime” (spirit), with a sudden upward shift from FAC to AC#E, then at “corpi” (body), a root movement (to use tonal nomenclature) again by third to CEG, and last at “pellegrine” (to wander), the first quatrain of the poetry wanders harmonically, cadencing unexpectedly on DF#A.  Musically, the spirit is lifted from the body, as it were.

Following, in the second quatrain of the sonnet, are delicate, quick notes in imitative polyphony as if petals of the "Candida rosa" (white rose) which are supplanted by ponderous half-notes in a homophonic texture at "dure spine" (sharp thorns), and then, with the word “prego” (I pray or beg), we hear sustained, imploring tones.

The sestet of the sonnet (at the volta) — the Seconde Parte of the madrigal being a reflection of the poem’s binary form — begins imitatively, but in a much more measured manner than at any point in the Prima Parte, as if the composer is helping adduce Petrarch’s claim.  At “né l'alma” (neither the soul), all five voices fall into homorhythmic syncopation (agreeing together to fall out of the meter, so to speak), and at the repetition of these words the rhythm is again syncopated, yet in a different rhythmic configuration.  Then, at “che pensar d'altro non vòle” (without thought of any other), the parts break up contrapuntally again, as if the thoughts are scattering. 


The homorhythmic syncopation at the words ‘né l’alma” (neither the soul), highlighted in black, is followed by a more diverse contrapuntal texture with the succeeding words, “che pensar d'altro non vòle” (without thought of any other), highlighted in green.


Marenzio’s  madrigal concludes with the sweet sound of what would come to be called the tierce de Picardie (the transformation of a minor chord into a major one), at the words “l'oneste sue dolci parole” — her sweet virtuous words.



Next:  The continuing aftermath of a 40-year crush: Petrach's sonnets and mathematics and art





The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

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Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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