1 Datilar

Listening Assignment 3 Tu Se Morta From Orfeo

Volume 9 (2003) No. 1

Deconstructing Gender in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo

Jeffrey Kurtzman*


Susan McClary has argued that Monteverdi has represented typically masculine and feminine gender conceptions in his treatment of characters, especially Orfeo and Euridice, in his first opera. This article argues the contrary: that Orfeo and Euridice respond to the dramatic circumstances, both immediate and in the context of the entire libretto, in a universally human manner that surpasses gender. It seeks to replace McClary’s overtly political and polemical critique with one based on a more objective analysis of the music, and offers methodological suggestions for adhering to a more objective and non-political approach to musicology.

1. Monteverdi’s Reference to the Gender of Arianna and Orfeo

2. Susan McClary’s Article “Constructions of Gender in Monteverdi’s Dramatic Music” and Her Book Feminine Endings

3. McClary’s Reductive Method

4. McClary and Foucault’s “Archeological” Substratum

5. McClary’s Politically Charged Vocabulary

6. McClary’s and My Contrasting Analyses of Rosa del ciel

7. McClary’s and My Conception of Orfeo’s Masculinity

8. McClary’s and My Contrasting Analyses of Euridice’s Response

9. McClary’s and My Contrasting Analyses of Proserpina and Plutone

10. Objectivity, Subjectivity, and the Relationship between Scholarship and Politics

11. Epilogue on My Title



Musical Examples

1. Monteverdi’s Reference to the Gender of Arianna and Orfeo

1.1 “How, dear Sir, am I to imitate the speech of the winds if they don’t speak! And how am I to move the affections by means of winds? Arianna was moving because she was a woman, and Orfeo likewise was moving because he was a man and not a wind …” 1 These words, from a letter by Monteverdi in Venice to Alessandro Striggio in Mantua on December 9, 1616, in response to Duke Ferdinando’s project for a favola marittima, Le nozze di Tetide, to celebrate the wedding of the duke with Catarina de’ Medici, are among the most frequently quoted in the Monteverdi literature. As was often the case, Monteverdi penetrated right to the heart of a matter with a pithy phrase, brightly illuminating the issue at hand.

1.2 Monteverdi’s emphasis on Arianna as a woman and Orfeo as a man, and therefore the sources of affective speech—one might say, musically composable speech—in contrast to the inarticulate and unemotional winds, has found a resonance in modern gender studies, where efforts have been made to identify Monteverdi’s conception of womanhood and manhood in his operatic characters, especially Arianna and Orfeo. And since these studies have been undertaken by sophisticated musicians, they have gone well beyond the words themselves to the nature of their musical setting. Arianna was addressed by Suzanne Cusick in an article in Early Music,2 which eventually engendered an issue of that journal devoted largely to the question of laments by expanding broadly on Cusick’s focus.3 Various articles in that issue, but especially the one by Anne MacNeil, demonstrate that the conception of gender roles and gendered forms of expression in the early seventeenth century may not have been quite so direct and clear-cut as Cusick originally thought.4 But even if others have extended the scope of this investigation, Cusick deserves the credit for having initiated and stimulated the discussion in the first place.

2. Susan McClary’s Article “Constructions of Gender in Monteverdi’s Dramatic Music” and Her Book Feminine Endings

2.1 In this paper I want to turn my attention to the other figure mentioned in Monteverdi’s letter, and to the efforts of Susan McClary in her article “Constructions of Gender in Monteverdi’s Dramatic Music” to define Monteverdi’s representation of manhood and womanhood in L’Orfeo through discussion of the characters Orfeo, Euridice, Plutone, and Proserpina.5 McClary’s article was subsequently reprinted as the second chapter of her book Feminine Endings.6 The title of my own paper obviously refers to McClary’s title and suggests that my own views diverge from hers in many fundamental respects.

2.2 Feminine Endings is a stimulating book whose brilliance, courage, and insights I admire, but it is a work I also find aggravating and even downright maddening in its biases, overly simplistic generalizations, and narrow perspective.7 It is a collection of essays that are all gender oriented, not only in the sense of concentrating on gender issues, but also in the sense of promulgating a gender-oriented political agenda. It is one thing to discuss music in its political context and to talk about how political views, including power relationships between male and female, are reflected in music. It is quite another, however, to write about music for the purpose of proving a priori conceptions of politics and power, and critiquing the way in which music as a cultural product interprets and promotes these a priori conceptions. This is placing musicology in the service of politics, and it is a line McClary crosses often in the essays of Feminine Endings, quite consistently in her introductory chapter, and as a fundamental principal in her chapter “Constructions of Gender in Monteverdi’s Dramatic Music.” Part of the problem is her commitment to an excessively reductive critique. All kinds of general characteristics of music, as well as forms of musical expression and particular passages in individual compositions from 1600 onward, are subjected to single-minded interpretations that are far too specific in terms of their social significance. And the social significance of McClary’s interpretations has already been determined a priori.8

3. McClary’s Reductive Method

3.1 McClary is well aware of the hazards of an overly reductive, or what has also been called an “essentialist,” critique. In her introduction she discusses the role of the “Other,” which, she says, “need not always be interpreted strictly as female.” 9 Nor must the tensions between the principal point of reference and the “Other” be necessarily between male and female. McClary notes that “the paradigms of tonality and sonata have proved effective and resilient in part because their tensions may be read in a variety of ways. I do not want to reduce two centuries of music to an inflexible formula.” 10 In her commentary on Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, she shies away from a purely homosexual critique:

This is not to suggest that the piece should be understood only as the narrative of a homosexual male, or even less that what I have presented is the only possible reading from a homosexual viewpoint.… Certainly the complexities of the composition ought not to be reduced to a single totalizing label. The movement can also be heard, for instance, as portraying a more “universal” oedipal pattern, or as a nonspecific struggle with both power and sensual enticements, or in any number of other ways.11

Likewise, in speaking of Janika Vandervelde’s Genesis II, McClary says:

What has this piece to do with gender? It should be clear by now that Genesis II calls into question more than simple male/female roles in society. Indeed, the piece address a very basic level of Western culture’s metaphysical foundation, a level at which many of the essential binary oppositions underlying our value system are laid distressingly bare: culture/nature, progress/stability, individuality/community. As has been implied throughout this reading of Genesis II, one can read its tensions in terms of the various excessive qualities of modernity—the capitalist undermining of more mercantile economic processes, imperialist invasions of ‘primitive’ societies, scientific quests that replace ecologically grounded philosophies of nature with threats of nuclear destruction, the programs of urban renewal that destroy traditional communities.12

3.2 This paragraph exposes the problematic aspects of McClary’s critique. On the one hand, she recognizes that the principal form of musical expression in Genesis II is binary opposition. But then she mentions a number of ways in which binary opposition can reflect a variety of social issues, and in the next paragraph she extends it to male and female: “the opposition that is probably the most ancient and most fundamental of all and that lurks behind all the others mentioned.” 13 However, if a composition presents in musical terms a general state of affairs, such as binary opposition, the only justification for assigning the meaning of this dichotomy to any specific representative of binary oppositions must be a reference explicit in the composition itself or explicitly stated by the composer. Secondly, McClary reveals an a priori bias in the last sentence quoted—that the male/female opposition lurks behind all the other oppositions she mentions. I cannott argue that the male/female opposition is not an ancient one nor that it does not incorporate many others as well, but I cannot admit it as the Ur-Widerstand that allows any binary opposition in an art form to be referred immediately to sexual criteria. This is surely putting the cart before the horse.14 And throughout her book McClary not only reads tensions solely in terms of gender but seems to derive the very notion of tension from gender difference rather than recognizing gender difference as only one of a host of tensions that characterize life and culture.15 After all, the outward expansion of the universe and the contrary pull of gravity, both resulting from the Big Bang, must be seen as among the original binary oppositions and tensions, reflected in innumerable aspects of humankind’s earthly experience, including the opposition and tension between up and down, or between night and day. Other such original tensions are the attraction and repulsion of the electromagnetic force or the tension between the strong force and radioactive decay. Binary tensions are inherent in the physical universe we inhabit and, by extension, in the mental life we experience in coping with that physical universe. Sexual difference is not the ground of such oppositions, though, of course, such oppositions can be used as metaphors for sexual tension.

4. McClary and Foucault’s “Archeological” Substratum

4.1 Tensions are basic to Western music of the period McClary considers. McClary describes them as

features of composition and reception that are taken for granted as aspects of autonomous musical practice, as simply ‘the way music goes.’ They are usually not considered actively by composers, are not ‘intended.’ They simply are the elements that structure his or her musical (and social) world. Yet they are perhaps the most powerful aspects of musical discourses, for they operate below the level of deliberate signification and are thus usually reproduced and transmitted without conscious intervention. They are the habits of cultural thought that guarantee the effectiveness of music—that allow it to ‘make sense’—while they remain largely invisible and apparently immutable.16

While McClary doesn’t mention Michel Foucault in connection with the ideas in this paragraph, she does reference him on a number of other occasions. This paragraph, in fact, is a good summary, in musical terms, of the principal premises behind Foucault’s The Order of Things: that creative cultural activity embodies within it certain principles, world outlooks and values that the authors of that activity take for granted and utilize unconsciously.17 “These fundamental codes of a culture … establish for every man, from the very first, the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within which he will be at home.” 18 And “between the use of what one might call the ordering codes and reflections upon order itself, there is the pure experience of order and of its modes of being.” 19 These ordering principles constitute what Foucault calls the “archeological” substratum of a culture.20 As a cultural historian and critic, Foucault has sought to excavate and reveal these archeological substrata through several epochs of Western history, beginning with the sixteenth century.

4.2 McClary seeks to uncover the archeological substratum of musical discourse and finds gender at the root of everything. But I would argue that her method is different from Foucault’s. Foucault makes broad-based comparisons between and among biology, language, and economics in order to establish his archeological premises.21 His conclusions emerge from the characteristics of these subjects as found in historical sources. McClary, however, reverses the process in her essay on Monteverdi’s dramatic music. While claiming that her gender-based interpretation is embedded in Monteverdi’s music, her approach is to take a modern conception of tonality and gender and impose it on Monteverdi. While it might be argued that modern tonality was already in place by the late seventeenth century, I certainly find 1607 too early to speak in such terms. This is the danger in Foucault’s assumption that the archeological basis of a culture is unknown to its practitioners, for if it is unknown to them, the way is left open for anyone to claim that he or she has discovered that unconscious archeological basis. The proof of the pudding is in whether or not the cultural artifacts will support the interpretation, and it is my contention that in the case of McClary’s discussion of L’Orfeo, they do not.

5. McClary’s Politically Charged Vocabulary

5.1 The problems begin, I think, with the very title of McClary’s article: “Constructions of Gender in Monteverdi’s Dramatic Music.” “Constructions of gender” is common phraseology in contemporary gender studies, but the phrase can mean a variety of things, depending on what is understood by the words “gender” and “construction.” “Gender,” apart from its grammatical significance, means simply “sex” (referring to the sex of a living organism) according to Webster’s Third International Dictionary.22 Gender studies, however, have expanded the meaning of the word, implicating it in the somewhat amorphous term “sexuality” and in numerous social phenomena where the sex difference between individuals or groups of individuals is a factor in the determination of social relationships.23 This extension vastly complicates the connotations and understanding of the term “gender.” McClary does not, however, attempt to define what she means by gender, leaving it to the reader to intuit the significance from her context. That context is embedded in the unconscious archeological substratum discussed above in section 4 and delimited in part by her phrase “constructions of gender.”

5.2 Construction means “to build, to fabricate, by combining parts or elements” or “to create by organizing ideas or concepts logically, coherently, or palpably” as in a well-constructed argument.24 By this definition, construction requires an act of conscious will; however, as with gender, recent writers have extended the meaning to elaborate systems built up by unconscious processes as well, like those postulated by both Foucault and McClary.25 But whether generated by conscious or unconscious processes, “construction” implies some kind of relatively fixed edifice characterized by some degree of permanence.

5.3 This is not the place for an extended investigation of all the most recent uses and nuances of the words “gender” and “construction,” but I do not believe that as individuals we construct gender any more than we as individuals construct our language. Individual language usage is inherited from the family circle and from the culture at large, and the practical daily use of language by its community of speakers gradually modifies what that community inherited to meet the needs of developing and changing experiences and purposes, leaving a somewhat altered form of the language to subsequent generations. Witness, for example, the general adoption in contemporary English of the possessive pronoun “their” as a gender-neutral singular in addition to its long-standing role as a plural in order to avoid having to use the gender-specific “his” or “her.”

5.4 Similarly, I believe our individual conceptions of gender (and sexual differentiation) are inherited from the family circle and the culture, though gender differs from language in having a non-cultural, biological dimension that is absent in language.26 These conceptions are modified and evolve through the ways that people interact in culture as they think about and react to sexual differentiation, and this evolution is also passed on to succeeding generations. There is no question that conceptions of gender find their way by many different routes into all sorts of cultural activities and products, whether family life, education, law, economics, arts or any other category of social activity. Thus conceptions of gender give rise to both cultural products and social arrangements, some fluid, some more fixed (constructed) relating to gender. But gender, conceptions of gender, and social constructs regarding gender are not identical terms. Biological gender differences are the same in all societies, while conceptions of gender may differ from person to person or one group of persons to another in a single culture as well as from one culture to the next. Gender-oriented social constructs, on the other hand, are by definition cultural and differ among societies or subcultures within a society. The complex interactions among these various aspects of gender and society are still the subject of ongoing study and debate and will be for many years to come. None of these complexities enter into McClary’s simplistic, ambiguous formulation, however.

5.5 I certainly agree with McClary when she says that cultural products teach members of a society and its subsequent generations ways of thinking and feeling about the issues they present and embody. Thus conceptions of gender exemplified or expressed in cultural products play a didactic role and through these products are passed on from one generation to the next. Conceptions such as these, as both Foucault and McClary suggest, are often unconscious, or only dimly conscious in their representations, rather than forming the clearly and articulately held ideas that would be required for the willful act of construction. And while artists do under certain circumstances consciously construct specific representations of gender, the interaction between unconscious and conscious conceptions and unconscious and conscious construction is often quite convoluted and not easily sorted out.27 But whether the result of conscious or unconscious processes, the word “construction” is a term heavily charged with socio-political overtones in gender studies and other recent social studies, chosen precisely because it implies a certain arbitrariness in the values represented by the artifacts and social systems of Western culture. In other words, the expression “constructions of gender” imposes a priori, negative political connotations on the subject matter from the very outset, prejudicing in advance the nature of the conclusions that will be reached.

5.6 The word “construction” is just the first in a broad set of vocabulary choices by McClary that are both distorting and manipulative. Another fundamental premise of McClary’s is that tonality is “coercive.” In describing changes in musical style in the early seventeenth century, she says, “Witness, for example, the brand of tonality that emerges at this time: a sure-fire method for inciting and channeling expectations that easily supplants the less coercive procedures of modality.” 28

5.7 McClary recognizes that the music-drama is rooted in sixteenth-century interests in rhetoric, but I believe she misconceives the purposes of the musical rhetoric of early seventeenth-century monody and recitative when she describes their tonal underpinnings as “coercive.” “Coerce” means to control or dominate by nullifying individual will or desire, to compel, to bring about by force, threat, or other pressure.29 But this is the role of laws, of the police, or of the military, not of rhetoric. Rhetoric’s function is to persuade, not to coerce. It is the strength of argument and/or the induction of emotion that is at the heart of rhetoric. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony arouses the crowd to action against Caesar’s assassins, but it is virtuosic, rhetorical speech, marvelously effective in its persuasive power, not the spears of Roman soldiers, that sets the mob after the conspirators.30 Rhetoric as persuasive speech and rhetorical music as emotionally persuasive heightened speech are indeed manipulative, sometimes highly manipulative, but they are not coercive.31 They may cause individual will to bend, but they do not nullify individual will. Once again, “coercion” is a politically charged word, implying the employment of irresistible force, which is tacitly assumed to have generally negative social consequences and reflect societal gender ills. McClary’s own language is, itself, rhetorical and manipulative. It attempts to persuade by manipulating the reader with emotionally charged words, but it does not coerce her readers by nullifying their will.

5.8 McClary saves her strongest language for tonality itself, where the tonic key is viewed as a power that must overcome and vanquish all challengers in the form of other keys. Thus, the return to the tonic after modulations to two or three other keys becomes a victory, a conquest in a struggle for power.32 There may, indeed, be compositions in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in which the relationship between the tonic and other keys was viewed by the composer in just those terms. The contrast between tonic and other keys can certainly be adopted as a metaphor for struggle and victory, but I would argue that conceptions of struggle and conquest are not the underlying principles of tonality.

5.9 The metaphor of the “home key” comes much closer, I think, to describing the fundamental relationship between the tonic and other keys. If the tonic is “home,” it is the location of familiarity, comfort, and stability. Movement away from the tonic is like visiting other locations outside the home. They are of intrinsic interest, they provide variety of experience, and they take us away from the familiarity and comfort of the home base. As a consequence, other keys introduce a degree of tension and instability, the kind of tension and instability we feel when away from home, and the more remote the key, the greater the tension, generally speaking. So, returning to the tonic is not the conquest by the home key of these other keys; it is the return to the familiarity, comfort, and stability of the home base, the resolution of the tensions generated by traveling away from home. McClary seeks to manipulate our understanding of and response to tonality by describing it with emotion-laden words—words that imply force, violence, and conquest—words that have decidedly negative connotations in the context of the gender power struggle. It is not that tonality cannot be employed in this fashion—it certainly can be—but that is a specific and limited metaphorical application of tonality, not the nature and substance of tonality itself.

5.10 Another of McClary’s emotionally charged words is “desire.” Frequently she refers to tonal music as arousing and manipulating desire.33 In the sentence just before the one I quoted in paragraph 5.6, above, where McClary refers to tonality as inciting and channeling expectations, she finds that “in the seventeenth century, the new public arts all develop techniques for arousing and manipulating desire, for ‘hooking’ the spectator.” 34 But throughout the book, desire is defined only as sexual desire—no other kind of desire seems possible. On the contrary, desire is a very broad category, of which sexual desire is only one subspecies. McClary, however, would make sexuality the very source of all desire, rather than admitting that sexuality is but one type of desire among many.35 This narrowing of the conception of desire, then, opens the way for her to seize on the fact that tonally oriented music does, indeed, arouse expectations—in terms of direction and cadential goals—and to force that fact into an equation between tonality and the arousal and fulfillment of sexual desire. Again, I am not arguing that tonality cannot be used metaphorically for this purpose; indeed it can, as McClary convincingly demonstrates in several of her essays. What I am arguing is that the arousal and fulfillment of expectation in tonally oriented music is not ipso facto a metaphor for specifically sexual desire, and that sexual desire per se is not the underlying “archeological” premise behind tonally oriented music and its inherent set of expectations. McClary’s sexual politics, once again, cause her to elevate a subspecies to the level of the all-embracing fundamental category.

5.11 McClary’s approach to terminology also leads her to describe Monteverdi’s treatment of Orfeo and the other characters of the drama in semiotic terms: the semiotics of gender encoding. McClary refers to the “semiotic codes born on the seventeenth-century stage.” 36 Now, the term “semiotics” implies a systematic use of signs and symbols to convey particular concepts. Indeed, not only stage spectacle but many forms of non-theatrical music do gradually develop a kind of semiotic code in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, although this code is articulated principally by German rather than Italian theorists.37 I have discussed Monteverdi’s semiotics, myself, in connection with his Eighth Book of Madrigals of 1638,38 but I do not find a clear and fully developed set of semiotic principles in Monteverdi’s recitative in 1607. Rather, I find a very sophisticated method of heightening the rhetorical and emotional aspects of natural speech by generating musical analogues to the ways an orator manipulates the voice, vocabulary, and syntax for the purpose of persuading both the reason and the affections of the listener. Those analogues are used not only to project the moment-to-moment affects of the text, but also to contribute to the creation of rhetorical structure. Important aspects of music’s rhetorical structure, however, are of a somewhat different nature from the rhetorical structures of speech, and tonally oriented music offers a form of musical rhetoric that powerfully enhances the persuasiveness of the speech it projects by harnessing music’s own unique formal resources.

5.12 This is just the point that McClary wishes to make in her analysis of the music of Orfeo, Euridice, Proserpina, and Plutone. My argument is not with the principle of employing tonal analysis to understand the rhetoric of each character’s speech in L’Orfeo; it is with McClary’s premises regarding her analysis, her method of analysis itself, and her employment of this analysis to demonstrate the a priori notion that Monteverdi has constructed representations of gender in his music.

6. McClary’s and My Contrasting Analyses of Rosa del ciel

6.1 McClary begins with an analysis of Orfeo’s initial appearance in Act I, the symmetrically centered recitative, Rosa del ciel (text and translation in Appendix).39 This is our first introduction to Orfeo, and it is Monteverdi’s opportunity to present us with a figure whose significance and stature must be sufficient to sustain our interest through the adventures and misadventures that follow. This recitative and Euridice’s response form the central numbers in the symmetrical structure of Act I, and they are surrounded on both sides by the same choral balletto with ritornello, Lasciate i monti, in G (more about this balletto later).

6.2 McClary sees Monteverdi as creating two kinds of rhetoric for the character of Orfeo in order to move the passions of listeners. The first of these she calls “the rhetoric of seduction—a process of artificially arousing expectations and then willfully channeling the desires of listeners. The sexy, arrogant, charismatic Orfeo is best illustrated in his first utterance—the wedding song ‘Rosa del ciel.’” 40 I grant that not only Monteverdi’s conception of Orfeo, but also that of writers as far back as antiquity, is charismatic. But McClary’s characterization of Orfeo as sexy and arrogant is far more subjective, without any precedent that I know of in the vast quantity of representations of Orpheus from ancient times up until the early seventeenth century.41

6.3 McClary divides this song into three sections, “each with a different rhetorical strategy.” According to McClary, “In the opening section, Orfeo commands that the sun stand still to listen to him as he spins his virtuosic apostrophe out over a single chord” (example 1). Presumably, her notion of Orfeo’s arrogance follows from her contention that “Orfeo commands that the sun stand still to listen to him.” 42 But that is not quite what the text says, nor do I find an actual command in the opening of this recitative, although there is an imperative verb, dimmi, as the text changes direction. The text reads, in literal translation, “Rose of heaven, life of the world and worthy progeny of him who governs the universe; Sun, that circumscribes everything and sees everything from your starry rounds, tell me, have you ever seen a lover more joyful and fortunate than I?”

6.4 Rather than a command to stand still and listen, this is an invocation to the sun, which, as has been widely noted in the literature on L’Orfeo, is a metaphor for Apollo, the sun god and Orfeo’s father.43 From a seventeenth-century rhetorical point of view, this is the exordium of the oration, whereby the speaker seeks to attract the attention of his listener, in this case the sun-god. McClary apparently understands Orfeo’s virtuosic windings over a sustained G-minor triad in this invocation as evidence of his sexy and arrogant character. But while Orfeo is speaking, he is addressing the sun, and the form of his verbal and musical speech does not represent his own character so much as it refers to the nobility and dignity of the deity he is addressing. And even if the invocation of the sun is simply taken as a vehicle for his outpouring of personal joy, it is his joy that is being expressed, not sexiness or arrogance. In fact, virtuosic windings over a sustained triad are practically a topos for sacred joy, as can be seen in the beginning of the Doxology from the Magnificat for seven voices from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers (example 2). Here, the underlying triad is the same G-minor chord, and the soloist is again a tenor voice. I would describe this long melisma as a passionate exclamation about the glory and, perhaps, even the power, of God but with no overtones at all of sexiness or arrogance.44

6.5 Now, I would agree that Orfeo’s noble invocation, while addressed to the sun, also reflects on the character of Orfeo, himself, since it does present him singing in masterful expostulations over the solid stability of the sustained basso continuo—the kind of musical expression unique to Orfeo in the opera and the kind of expression one might expect of a demigod, the singer and rhetorician capable of moving animals and stones, who is worthy to address the sun-god. But apart from being a topos for sacred joy, this extensive oration over a single, sustained minor chord is not specifically masculine in Monteverdi’s oeuvre. Just one year later, Venere (Venus), in the Ballo delle ingrate, sang in extenso over sustained G-minor and D-minor triads (example 3). If there is a semiotic significance to Monteverdi’s operatic characters singing extensively over an unchanging, sustained chord (especially a minor triad), it is the lofty stature of the character, whether male or female. This semiotic significance is dependent on the stability of the fundamental harmony, which serves as a suitable metaphor for the permanence and stability of the role such a personage plays, in this case, in the Greek pantheon.

6.6 McClary subjects this invocation (example 1) and Orfeo’s question to an interesting technical analysis. According to McClary,

Underlying Orfeo’s opening strain is one of the most familiar and most predictable progressions for that time: the generating modal line initiates a descent through the G-dorian diapente from the fifth degree to the mediant and is harmonized in the strongest fashion available. Yet instead of simply singing that modal line as his melody … Orfeo embellishes its first element to an extreme that is almost unbelievable, given the expectations of the day. Listeners (including Apollo—the sun) must wait until he is ready to move on before the syntactical progression may proceed. We are instilled with a longing to hear motion, yet dazzled by the audacity and control with which he stretches out … and out … his initial appeal.45 [These last ellipses are in McClary’s text.]

At the root of McClary’s analysis is the assumption, of Schenkerian origin and first pursued in her dissertation, that the principal melodic structure employed by Monteverdi in his madrigals and in his recitatives is the descending diapente, in this instance from d' to g.46 Indeed, this is true for many of Monteverdi’s compositions; both Geoffrey Chew47 and Tim Carter48 have published analyses of Monteverdi’s music based on the role of the descending diapente, and I have applied McClary’s analytical method myself.49

6.7 McClary sees the first third of this long-term diapente descent completed in the first part of Rosa del ciel (example 1). The d' appears at the very beginning, a structural c' is reached in m. 7 at dimmi, and the passage cadences on a B-flat triad with b-flat in the voice. I have marked these scale degrees beginning with 8 rather than 5, a difference to which I shall return below. McClary offers an analytical reduction of this passage, including the harmonic underpinning of these three structural pitches (example 4).

6.8 In McClary’s analysis, this segment forms the first rhetorical section of Rosa del ciel (example 1). But I find a number of things troublesome about this analysis and interpretation. To begin with, I am not at all convinced that a listener of Monteverdi’s day was necessarily “instilled with a longing to hear motion, yet dazzled by the audacity and control with which he stretches out … his initial appeal.” As I’ve already indicated, this invocation is neither a command nor an appeal, nor do I see it as audacious, though it does exhibit the kind of control that I prefer to equate with the stability and permanence that Monteverdi ascribes to Venere as well as to Orfeo’s initial appearance, and then only in these initial moments. As a semiotic gesture of permanence, it does not instill in us a longing for motion. In fact, a change of harmony would represent a disruption of that stability.

6.9 Indeed, while McClary’s analytical segmentation matches the first grammatical unit of Striggio’s text—the first sentence—it does not match the rhetorical functions of the sentence, which divides into two distinct parts. The first part invokes the sun, while the second part is the rhetorical conceit of exclaiming how wonderful Orfeo’s own joy is by asking the sun if it has ever seen greater happiness in anyone else while making its eternal rounds. Only by asking the all-knowing sun for a comparison can Orfeo adequately express the extent of his happiness. A simple and direct declarative sentence could never accomplish the task.

6.10 It is precisely at the point of demarcation between these two rhetorical functions, at the word dimmi, that Monteverdi changes harmony in support of what McClary calls the fourth degree of his structural melodic descent. In changing harmony at this point, he fulfills precisely the description of the movement of the basso continuo found in Peri’s preface to his Euridice:

I knew likewise that in our speech some words are so intoned [emphasized] that harmony can be based upon them and that in the course of speaking it [the speech] passes through many others that are not so intoned [emphasized] until it returns to another that will bear a progression to a fresh consonance. And having in mind those inflections and accents that serve us in our grief, in our joy, and in similar states, I caused the bass to move in time to these, either more or less, following the passions, and I held it firm throughout the false and true proportions [melodic dissonances and consonances with the bass] until, running through various notes, the voice of the speaker came to a word that, being intoned [emphasized] in familiar speech, opened the way to a fresh harmony.50

6.11 Monteverdi does exactly what Peri describes: he maintains a single harmony for the entire invocation, addressing the sun through its attributes, and as soon as the imperative dimmi appears, altering the direction of the discourse, Monteverdi alters the harmony to F major. From that point on, the bass moves at least once every minim, and the F major chord clearly serves as dominant in preparation for the cadence on B-flat at amante. Thus, when Orfeo turns his attention away from the heavenly sun toward his own earthly joy, the entire character of the music changes to a much less imposing and less elevated style, devoid of the sense of lofty nobility and permanence attached to the sun. This change, of course, is one of the dramatic arguments of the opera—Orfeo’s joy is impermanent and unstable, and this destabilization of the harmony is the first hint of that fact. McClary’s reduction (example 4) obscures this rhetorically and dramatically critical internal divide. I’ll return to McClary’s reduction of this first section in the context of a larger portion of the recitative. At this point, I want to proceed to her second section (example 5).

6.12 About her second segment McClary says,

The second section teases us—repeatedly moving purposefully through the standard Romanesca progression toward the final, g.… Twice the listener is encouraged to expect the promised resolution, and twice—after tricking us into investing libidinally in hearing that final—Orfeo interrupts the descent on the penultimate pitch. …51

McClary also provides a reduction of this passage (example 6). In keeping with her claim of an overall diapente descent and its support by a Romanesca bass, McClary assumes that the ultimate goal of Orfeo’s melodic motion is g and that any diversion from resolution to that goal is an interruption, which causes a libidinal reaction in the listener. Why the desire for resolution to g is necessarily sexual in nature is not clear to me, but I do not even believe that g is the final toward which the melody and harmony are directed. But let us first consider how McClary deals with this passage (example 5). She views Monteverdi as interrupting the descent to g on the pitch a in two places: at giorno mio (m. 9) and two measures later at l’hora, che per te.52 These interruptions she finds extremely significant, since Orfeo’s “self-consciously Petrarchian figures” (referring to Fu ben felice il giorno and E più felice l’hora as invoking Petrarch’s Benedetto sia ’l giorno, e’l mese, e l’anno)

are sung with the forthright confidence we might expect of the orator who sang the opening section. But when he approaches the source of his happiness—Euridice and her responses to his sighs—his forthrightness is sidetracked by eros. Gradually that moment of rupture on a becomes the pivot to another pitch center that lies deep within his modal ambitus: d. After the second interruption deflects him toward d, he submits himself to this alternate reality—the site where he abandons his G-dorian orientation to join with Euridice—through an elaborate cadential confirmation of d. He thus delivers a different final from the one promised, but he does it so compellingly (and for such agreeably sentimental reasons) that the listener cannot object. We are seduced along with him as he reports this most crucial event through the stammering resimulation in music of his desire-laden frisson.53

But is g really the final toward which Orfeo originally tends, and is d an alternate reality? McClary has imposed on Monteverdi the notion that the harmony underlying the opening melodic pitch sets the tonality of the piece, to which it must return at the end for there to be a sense of fulfillment and completion. Since that opening harmony is based on G, then G must be the final to which both the melody and the harmony resolve. This conception is then outlined by the Schenkerian reduction leading to g as the melodic final and G as the harmonic goal of a Romanesca bass progression (example 6). But I find this an anachronistic application of a late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century approach to tonality rather than Monteverdi’s method in 1607.

6.13 First, let us consider Rosa del ciel in its immediate context. The surrounding balletto, as McClary notes, is in G, which she sees as the “bottom-line tonic” of this entire section of Act I.54 But the framing G of Lasciate i monti does not require that Orfeo be thought of as adhering to a G tonic. Indeed, Orfeo and Euridice are set off from this frame in virtually every other musical parameter. Inserted between the end of the first balletto’s ritornello, concluding in G major, and Rosa del ciel is a brief arioso by a shepherd asking Orfeo to sing a lieta canzon as testimony to his heart’s joy in contrast to his earlier lamentations. This short passage for the shepherd marks an abrupt shift from the G of the balletto and ritornello to A minor (changing halfway through to A major and concluding there). Thus, the central part of this group of three numbers begins by moving abruptly away from the G tonality of the framing balletto and its ritornello. There are many such abrupt shifts from the end of one number to another in L’Orfeo, but there are also many instances where the end of one number serves as the dominant to the next. Such is the case at the end of Euridice’s recitative, with a cadence in D major that serves as the dominant for the return of Lasciate i monti in G. If the conclusion of the shepherd’s arioso in A major is conceived as such a dominant to the next number, then the anticipated tonality of Rosa del ciel would be D. And indeed, Orfeo begins on d', but it is harmonized with the sustained G-minor triad rather than a D-minor chord. It is this opening G-minor triad (and the framing balletto in G) that causes McClary, following the expectations of eighteenth-century tonality, to identify Rosa del ciel as in G-Dorian.55 But from a modal standpoint, the range and flat signature suggest, rather, G-Hypodorian, that is, the Hypodorian scale transposed up a fourth by a one-flat signature. This still suggests G as final, but now accounts for Orfeo’s range of d–f'. The question is whether or not Monteverdi actually viewed (and composed) Rosa del ciel as if the final were G, which is then diverted toward D in response to Euridice.

6.14 In fact, Rosa del ciel may also be understood in terms of the ninth (eleventh) mode in Zarlino’s twelve-mode system.56 Zarlino describes this mode, an authentic mode based on the A octave, as ancient, since there are a number of chants and polyphonic compositions written in this mode, whether in its original disposition or transposed by a one-flat signature down a fifth or up a fourth to D. Indeed, after citing some transposed chants, Zarlino concludes his discussion of this mode with the statement “The ninth mode, like the other modes, can be transposed down by a diapente with the help of the note B-flat.” 57 If Rosa del ciel is viewed as in the ninth mode transposed, then D is the normal final, and the diapente is on the bottom, making A the reciting tone. Following Zarlino, the regular initial tones and cadences in this mode, when transposed, are D, F, and A. Other initial and cadence tones are termed “irregular.” One of the ninth-mode chants discussed by Zarlino, the Nicene creed, begins on the fourth degree and concludes on the final, coinciding with the harmonic pattern of Rosa del ciel when considered in this mode. Thus, Rosa del ciel may, in terms of modal theory, be assigned to the transposed Hypodorian mode with G final or to Zarlino’s ninth (eleventh) mode with a D final rather than McClary’s G-Dorian.

6.15 However, Monteverdi does not necessarily adhere to the basic theoretical principles of modality. Some compositions, with wider vocal range, encompass both the plagal and the authentic ranges of a given final.58 Nor does Monteverdi always begin and end a composition with the same harmony (leaving aside the distinction between parallel minor triads and cadential major triads) or even in the same tonality. In fact, his willingness to end elsewhere than where he began was one of the bones of contention between Monteverdi and Giovanni Maria Artusi in their eight-year-long controversy.59 In L’Orfeo, itself, there are several numbers that end in a tonality other than the one in which they began, or other than their opening harmony. Orfeo’s own Tu sei morta in Act II begins, like Rosa del ciel, with a G-minor triad and, likewise, concludes with a cadence in D. The same may be said regarding the Act II shepherd’s duet, Chi consola ahi lassi?60 And throughout the opera, Orfeo’s range is similar to that of Rosa del ciel, so that his range is independent of the tonality or tonalities with which the pitches in his basic octave d–d' are harmonized at any given time.61 Thus, the Hypodorian modal implications of the one-flat signature and opening harmony of Rosa del ciel mean little, if anything at all, in regard to Monteverdi’s conception of tonality in this piece.

6.16 Proceeding from these observations, I would like to examine Rosa del ciel from a point of view different from McClary’s, one that I think reflects more accurately Monteverdi’s actual compositional process as demonstrated by the music itself, not by an externally imposed theory and analytical method. While Monteverdi does indeed, as McClary says, often use a descending diapente as the basis for melodic structure in his music, there are also numerous instances where the structural basis is a descending octave, and the diapente simply divides that octave into an upper pentachord and a lower tetrachord, generating a plagal octave. Likewise, Monteverdi sometimes divides the descending octave into an upper tetrachord and a lower pentachord, creating an authentic octave. In still others, as in Rosa del ciel, the division can be ambiguous, sometimes focusing on the fourth degree, sometimes on the fifth, depending on the harmonization and harmonic direction of the moment.62

6.17 Now let us look at McClary’s second section (example 5) from the perspective of the descending melodic octave, without the preconception that the harmony must begin and end in the same place. In fact, in this passage, the descent down the d'–d octave from beginning to end is manifest, as is the importance of the fifth degree. However, this descent is not entirely smooth. In the first two measures of the example the descent is stepwise by quarter-note units to a. This pitch, first supported by a D-minor harmony, yields to an A-major harmony as dominant of the cadence in D major at the end of the measure and continuing into the next measure (m. 10). The a functions as mediant, dividing the descending octave into an authentic octave with the tetrachord on top. The lower d of this cadence, however, does not represent completion of the descent, since it is merely an octave displacement of an anticipated d', approached by the ascent from a through b-natural to c'-sharp.

6.18 Affirming that the final goal of the entire segment represented by example 5 has not yet been reached, Monteverdi reiterates in m. 10 the same pitches with which the example begins, but scrambled, again coming to rest on a as dominant of D major. The descent then continues, but g is skipped as a structural melodic pitch. At sospirai (m. 12) and in the following measure f-natural appears and continues downward to e and d in the final measure . The ascent from f-natural to c', mirroring the ascent from a to c'-sharp in the second measure, is, at this point, clearly an interruption in the overall descending motion. The pitch g does appear twice in this latter ascent, but only as a passing dissonance.

6.19 When we look at the harmonic support for this melodically descending octave, we find that the passage begins in the tonality of B-flat, which supports the short-term descent d'–c'–b-flat in the first measure (m. 8), and that the short-term continuation to a in the next measure turns the harmony towards D. In m. 10, at e più, the harmony is again B-flat to support the melodic structural pitch b-flat, and it again turns toward D to support the structural a at che per te. The final descent through f-sharp, sliding past f-natural and then completing the motion through e to d is supported by a simple I–V–I progression in D. G appears, not as a melodic structural pitch, but as the root of a subdominant chord inserted as part of the melodically ascending interruption into the cadential progression to form a I–IV–V–I cadence. The overall harmonic structure of this passage is, then, B-flat, A, D. Here we have another instance of a passage starting out in one tonality and concluding in another. But it is not the harmony that defines the direction—the beginning, middle and end—of this passage: it is the melodic descent through the octave. If we think of this passage as based on the d'–d octave rather than as representing the Dorian (as McClary asserts) or the Hypodorian mode transposed to G, then the fulfillment of the melodic motion is indeed to the concluding d and this final is not a diversion in the direction of Euridice, nor is its dominant, a, an interruption in the tonal direction—it is the tonal direction.

6.20 My analysis of this passage only treats the central portion of Rosa del ciel, which I have placed first because it clarifies the sections both preceding and following it. Now let us connect this passage with the opening of Rosa del ciel for a larger structural picture. This opening (example 1) has already been reduced melodically for us by McClary (example 4). The initial d' descends structurally to c' at the point where Orfeo changes focus with his plea, dimmi, and the structural descent continues to the cadence on B-flat. Now we can view the second section (example 5) in a different light from the way McClary describes it. It is no longer rhetorically or musically separate from the concluding portion of the first section, for the B-flat harmony at the beginning of example 5 is merely the continuation of example 1. This is an instance in which Monteverdi, as he often does, articulates the structure of the text differently from the way the poet did. McClary divides the music where Striggio divides the text, at amante, but Monteverdi has made his principal point of articulation earlier, at the word dimmi, when the exordium is completed and where Orfeo changes the entire direction of his discourse. And even though Monteverdi provides a caesura after the word amante to let the question ring and to indicate the beginning of a new, declarative sentence, the larger musical structure continues uninterruptedly in the same tonality with which example 1 ended.

6.21 Now we can see the first measure of Fu ben felice (example 5) as simply a continuation and not as an articulation of the larger structural motion at all. In fact, the next structural pitch after the closing b-flat at amante is the a at che per te, emphasized as a diversion by McClary, but viewed in my analysis as the resting point that subdivides the authentic octave. In other words, the structural dominant has been reached at this point. With the cadence to the lower d at the end of example 5, we can see that Monteverdi has generated a large-scale structural descent down the d'–d octave and has supported the first three pitches in this descent with three different harmonies, all typical harmonizations in a one-flat signature concluding on d. Underlying the first d' is a G-minor triad, but there is no cadence in G minor to establish it as even a temporary tonic. The c' at dimmi is supported by the radical shift to an F-major chord, which serves as dominant for the first cadence of the piece, on B-flat.

6.22 Continuing in example 5 in B-flat, Monteverdi’s next point of harmonic articulation and rest is on the dominant A-major triad; and the passage ultimately concludes with completion of the authentic cadence to d. The role of the opening G minor as an invocation, an exordium, is quite clear, and that is why it is harmonically separated from the rest of the recitative. The address to the sun requires a different harmony, and once the invocation is completed, G minor appears no more, as Orfeo turns his attention to his own circumstances. The role of the G-minor invocation is not to establish a tonic but, rather, to present a unique harmony supporting a unique rhetorical function.

6.23 Recognition that Monteverdi’s structural melodic descent is from d' to d immediately calls our attention to numerous short-term descents down this octave. Looking again at the beginning of example 1, the arpeggiated descent of an octave is obvious and uncomplicated in mm.1–4. The descent from d' to a at the beginning of example 5 is simply a short-term reiteration and continuation of the original d' c b-flat of example 1, with only the a assuming a prominent structural role. As in many other pieces, Monteverdi identifies his long-range structural melodic outline by short-term presentations of the same pattern.

6.24 Now, if we continue with McClary’s third section (example 7), we can see that the continuing descent to the lower d at the end of the previous section (example 5) does not represent the final completion of the overall melodic structural descent of Rosa del ciel. As noted in my discussion of example 5, the descent from a to d skips g and employs f-sharp, since example 5 is principally in D major, not the D octave with B-flat that characterizes Rosa del ciel as a whole. In other words, the descent from a to d in example 5 is not really adequate, and the larger structural descent from the fifth-degree a at che per te in example 5 to d as structural final continues in the third section (example 7).

6.25 Let us first follow McClary’s analysis of this passage:

The third section begins verbally as though it is but the third member of a rhetorical triad (felice, più felice, felicissimo), but its musical setting marks it as a distinctly new realm. It both absorbs the deferred energy of the previously unfulfilled progressions and serves as a final push for cadence. The organizing context remains G-dorian (Ex. 3b [= example 7]) though this becomes clear only with the reestablishment of the Romanesca-based progressions beginning at “Se tanti cori havessi.” Instead of moving methodically toward g as in earlier instances, in this section the progression rushes impulsively, exuberantly through the whole cycle (Ex. 3b [= example 7]). Orfeo pauses only once (at “tutti colmi sarieno”) and, as he does so, we learn how truly manipulated we are: we hang on his every pitch as though he constructs reality for us—which indeed he does. Once again at the last moment he surrenders his own final (g) for an unexpected, dramatic yet somewhat self-effacing conclusion on d, thus opening the way to Euridice’s answer.63

My own analysis of this section, depending on d, not g, as final, differs significantly in several respects. The passage again begins with the upper d'. Monteverdi’s scalar descents are often complicated by dropping a third and then rising a second, or dropping a fourth and then rising a second or a third, scrambling the order of a stepwise descending scale.64 We can see this kind of scrambling in the first three measures of example 7, which outline a descent from d' to f, but in the sequence d'–a–b-flat–c'–g–a–f, with the f supported by a cadence in F, which is repeated. In the next measure of the example (m. 17), at a me porgete, Monteverdi outlines another, much shorter descent, this time leading from d' as far as f before returning through g to a. The descending diapente d'–g, is then presented directly at se tanti cori havessi (m. 18) and subsequently reiterated in various forms all the way to the antepenultimate measure. The pitch g is harmonized with a G-minor triad in mm. 18 and 19, preceded by its own dominant, but there is no reason to consider this as the final rather than as the triad on the fourth degree of the D octave, as is clear in the closing three measures where the descent from g to d is completed with a supporting IV–V–I cadential progression.

6.26 The pitch f is nearly absent from this descent, appearing only near the end of the penultimate measure as an ascending passing tone between e and g. One is tempted to think that the anticipatory e in the final cadence should be f, as in the cadence at the end of the second section. However, both the 1609 and 1615 editions give this note unequivocally as e, so we will never know if it was a compositional oversight, an uncorrected printing error, or the correct note. But whether the f is present or not, it is clear that Monteverdi’s overall melodic direction descends not only from d' to g but beyond to the lower d. Indeed, the final three measures outline the d'-d octave, first as a descending G-minor chord at traboccanti, then as an ascending diatonic scale, skipping c', and finally as an octave leap downward, with the second melodic degree, e, inserted to represent the dominant harmony.

6.27 In trying to make the case for g as melodic goal and tonic, McClary asserts that “in this section the progression rushes impulsively, exuberantly through the whole cycle [the Romanesca] … Orfeo pauses only once (at ‘tutti colmi sarieno’) ….” But this description scarcely matches the music. At the beginning of the section, Monteverdi’s bass moves down the circle of fifths: d–G–c–F–B-flat in an alternately falling and rising sequence. After this circle of fifths, the bass alternates principally between cadences in which the bass motion is F–B-flat and non-cadential bass motions of D–g (example 7, mm. 17–20). Although portions of the bass resemble the Romanesca, the insertion of c–f cadences and the absence of any firm cadences in G do not suggest a syntactical reduction to the simple Romanesca pattern outlined by McClary in example 6. McClary says that Orfeo pauses only once, at sarieno. But there are actually several pauses in this passage: in m. 16 on pura fede with a cadence to F major; at porgete in m. 17, with another cadence to F major; at ciel eterno in mm. 18–19, with a cadence to B-flat major; and again to B-flat major at verde maggio in m. 20. There is neither a pause nor a cadential progression at sarieno in m. 21, although the g of the voice does complete a diapente descent from the previous d' before continuing immediately by outlining the D octave and completing its final descent to the lower d.

6.28 What McClary might have emphasized is that for the first time since the beginning of Rosa del ciel, g is a significant melodic pitch in this final section, and we may now see this g as the continuation of the background structural descent that paused on a in the second section. That descent is then completed in the final two measures. In fact, we might say that Monteverdi reverses the order of the background structural pitches f and g in this third section, just as he often reverses the order of pitches in short-term scalar descents, as we have already observed at the beginning of this passage. The structural f, then, may be seen to fall in mm. 16 and 17, followed by the structural g first introduced at the passing cadence on havessi and filling an even more prominent melodic role at sarieno in the antepenultimate measure.

6.29 McClary describes Orfeo’s expression in this passage as impulsive and exuberant. However, I find the long phrase given him at the beginning of this section to be rather matter-of-fact in its presentation, with its somewhat complicated, but nevertheless systematic scalar descent and its corresponding descending circle-of-fifths bass. But Orfeo pauses for emotional emphasis when he recalls that Euridice offered him her hand in faith—a me porgete. The following contrary-to-fact comparisons between the number of Orfeo’s hearts and, at first, heavenly stars (identified metaphorically as occhi, “eyes”), then foliage on the green hills (identified as chiome, which refers to tresses as well as foliage), lead to parallel melodic structures whereby d', harmonized with B-flat, descends to g with its momentary passing cadence before returning to d'. The conclusion to this contrary-to-fact conditional is tutti colmi sarieno e traboccanti, “they would all be filled and overflowing,” which again descends from d' to g but leaps immediately back up to d' instead of rising by step, in order to continue and complete this portion of the thought by overflowing precipitously down the G-minor triad to the lower d. Thus, g is only an incomplete way-station, emphasizing the conditional form of the verb sarieno, en route to the completion of the conceit. That completion, beginning at di quel piacer, is articulated by the stepwise ascent to d' followed by the precipitous fall to the final d, confirming Orfeo’s contentment and outlining by this leap downward the overall melodic motion of the entire piece in the most abbreviated fashion possible.

6.30 Throughout this analysis I have used the term “structural” to refer to pitches I have singled out as prominent by virtue of their duration and their support by cadences or dominant chords (numbered in examples 1, 5, and 7). They are clearly prominent points of articulation in the overall octave descent of Rosa del ciel. Indeed, after the opening d', every pitch in the long-range structural descent of the octave I have identified is supported by either a cadential tonic chord (b-flat, g, f, d) or the dominant of a structurally important cadential tonic (c', a, e). The opening d' is supported by the anomalous G-minor triad for the reasons described above. But even this anomalous triad serves a long-range structural harmonic function, for in the authentic octave descent d'–d, the opening note, if the overall tonality is understood as D, is supported by iv, the mediant fifth degree is supported by V and i (I) and the final by I, generating a standard cadential progression encompassing the entire piece. Moreover, the fifth degree appears in its structural position as divisor of the octave (harmonized by i (I) –V6) for the last time in example 5, m. 11, precisely at the middle of the composition (the structural a governs the entire passage in mm. 9–11). In between these architecturally crucial points, structural cadences occur on F and B-flat in the upper tetrachord, and on F in the lower pentachord. In the lower pentachord there are also passing cadences to G minor supporting the fourth degree, g (example 7, mm. 18 and 19), and phrase-ending cadences on B-flat (mm. 19 and 20). Thus, both the upper tetrachord and lower pentachord feature intermediate cadences on F and B-flat as well as harmonizations by G minor, establishing a basically symmetrical harmonic focus on either side of the mediant, a.

6.31 It seems clear that Monteverdi composed in terms of long-range melodic direction based on descending scale patterns, whether the diapente or the octave, and that each pitch in this descent is articulated along the way by means of both harmony and duration. It is even possible occasionally to reverse the order of structural pitches, as Monteverdi does with f and g in example 7, without disrupting the principal melodic direction and goal. Within this long-range structural descent, shorter-term representations of the pattern may occur with some frequency, preparing the listener for the longer-range pattern and ultimate goal, and lending melodic coherence to the entire passage. And, contrary to McClary’s dependence on harmony as the determiner of tonality (Monteverdi’s opening G-minor triad), I see melodic direction as the source of tonality, and harmony as a means of articulating the principal pitches in that melodic direction. That is why those pitches may be harmonized with diverse triads and in diverse tonalities that do not themselves necessarily generate a consistent teleological progression toward the final cadence.

6.32 This analysis, which I believe reflects more accurately Monteverdi’s actual compositional process, reverses the thrust of McClary’s interpretation. Her analysis is motivated by a different agenda: the attempt to demonstrate that Orfeo, “sexy and arrogant” at the outset, has been seduced and diverted from his stable center by his focus on Euridice. My findings are quite the opposite. Orfeo’s invocation to the sun represents the significance and nobility of the sun-god and reflects, as well, the mythical stature of Orfeo himself, before he embarks on his expostulation of personal happiness, fulfilling his contentment with his final descent to the cadence on the lower d. But even more significant than our differences in analysis are our differences in method. McClary approaches Monteverdi with a social objective to prove. I try to approach Monteverdi in an effort to understand what he has created musically and how and why it is so effective.

7. Monteverdi’s Conception of Orfeo’s Masculinity

7.1 What might Monteverdi’s conception of masculinity have been as far as Orfeo is concerned? McClary sees Monteverdi as constructing a sexy, arrogant, charismatic, teleological, coercive, seductive, and confident Orfeo who is, nevertheless, sidetracked by eros. Of these, my analysis suggests only that his mode of expression in Rosa del ciel is teleological and confident. But I would add that his presentation is also ecstatic, emotionally expressive, and rhetorically complex and sophisticated. Moreover, in terms of early seventeenth-century thought, his rhetorical expression is persuasive, precisely because it is teleological and sophisticated in its complex of short-term and long-term octave descents. In this opera, sophistication of expression and teleological, persuasive rhetoric are reserved, except for one passage by Proserpina, for Orfeo, since not only is he the principal character, but purpose and rhetorical virtuosity define his very nature in the original myth.

7.2 But what kind of masculinity does he represent? There is certainly nothing in the long history of the Orpheus legend and the various conceptions of Orpheus in the ancient world, the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance, to suggest that he was viewed as a particularly manly figure, representing the coercive nature McClary ascribes to tonality and masculinity.65 Indeed, the Platonic ideal of the masculine as expressed in The Republic, with which we know Monteverdi was familiar, is a combination of physical strength, derived from gymnastics, and contemplative emotional sensitivity, derived from music. Excessive emphasis on gymnastics made a man savage, and too much emphasis on music made a man effeminate. As with everything in Plato’s value-system, it was moderation created by the balance of opposing forces that produced what was good and beautiful.66 A similar perspective informs the twentieth-century psychology of Carl Jung, who sees both the masculine and feminine in all individuals of either sex, with psychological health resulting from an appropriate balance between the two.67

7.3 In fact, as we learn through the course of the opera, Orfeo’s ecstatic outpourings of joy become matched by outpourings of grief, which cause his confident and teleological modes of expression to disintegrate as he himself disintegrates psychologically. This aspect of Orfeo is described very well by McClary, and she identifies it as his second type of rhetoric.68 I have no problem at all with her discussion of this side of Orfeo’s personality, and I have also treated this psychological collapse through the disintegration of Orfeo’s music in an article of my own.69 However, McClary suggests that Orfeo’s laments are somewhat discomforting in the mouth of a man, since laments were a more characteristically female mode of expression.70 That is apparently statistically true, though in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mad scenes and laments, which are closely related genres, are not as rare for male figures as McClary implies.71

7.4 What such mad scenes and laments by men suggest is that composers, like poets and visual artists, did not necessarily view male figures in a wooden, single-minded manner, but recognized that male characters were subject to the same kinds of emotional forces and emotional breakdowns as women. And I see no reason why a seventeenth-century audience would have been any more discomfitted by Orfeo’s weeping on the plains of Thrace than they would have been by Arianna’s lament on the shores of the island of Naxos. Orfeo was well known to Mantuan audiences for the strength of his emotions and his rhetorical power in expressing them, as well as for his mental breakdown after his second loss of Euridice. However the story concludes, and there were several traditional endings, including the two considered by Monteverdi, what Monteverdi has constructed with his music is not a representation of gender but changing images of a wide range of emotions representing Orfeo’s own fatal emotional extremes—emotions and extremes that are neither inherently or even, according to early seventeenth-century artistic conventions, masculine or feminine, but human, representing both sides and multiple dimensions of the sexual spectrum. We will understand Orfeo better, I believe, if we see him as a human being with human frailties first, and only secondarily as a man.

8. McClary’s and My Contrasting Analyses of Euridice’s Response

8.1 This is not the end of the gender story, however, because McClary seeks to interpret Monteverdi’s setting of Euridice’s short entrance in terms of a rhetoric different from that of Orfeo. According to McClary,

The extraordinary difference between modes of rhetoric traditionally available to men and to women is evident in Euridice’s reply.… Euridice … is an untouched maiden. If her speech were too compelling, her innocence might well come into question (how did she learn to manipulate—or even to express—desire?).… Monteverdi has the difficult task of creating music for this moment that is lovely yet self-deprecating, that lacks rhetorical force but that charms us all the more for that lack.72

In this quotation, McClary seems to equate rhetoric with forcefulness and to exclude charm from its domains. In fact, she refers to Euridice’s short speech as “composed out of the available rhetorical devices to produce anti-rhetoric.” 73 But sixteenth- and seventeenth-century rhetoric includes all forms of persuasion and all levels of emotional expression, and any effort Euridice makes at charming the audience is certainly rhetorical. McClary declares that Striggio “creates a kind of speaking void of Euridice, as she beings haltingly with ‘I cannot say,’ then tells Orfeo her heart is with him and he must look to himself for her answers.”74 Striggio is using here a common conceit of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century madrigal poetry, whereby a feature of the beloved has transferred itself to the body of the lover, so that Euridice’s heart can only be interrogated there.75 Recall that Orfeo has just spoken in the contrary-to-fact conditional about how all his hearts would be full and overflowing even if he had as many as there are stars in the sky and leaves of grass on the green May hills. Euridice’s reply affirms that her happiness is equal to and conjoined with his by means of the poetic conceit. Her response is, “I will not say what is, in your joy, Orfeo, my joy, since I do not have my heart with me, but it resides with you in the company of love. Inquire, therefore, of him if you want to understand what happiness I enjoy and how much I love you.”76

8.2 Euridice has always been a somewhat shadowy figure in the Orpheus myth. In Hellenic times this aspect of the myth received little attention, and the outcome of Orpheus’s descent into the Underworld is often left ambiguous. He may have led many souls out of Hades. Euridice is not even named as the wife of Orpheus until the third century A.D.77 In Poliziano’s Orfeo she appears first as a silent figure fleeing Aristeo and subsequently speaks only six lines, lamenting her second parting from Orfeo after he has violated Plutone’s prohibition.78 In Rinuccini’s version, as set by Peri and Caccini, she has only two speeches of seven and nine lines at the beginning of the opera, singing of her joy in conversation with the nymphs of the chorus, and three more speeches of three lines, seven lines, and one line again at the end, where she celebrates her resurrection together with these nymphs and Dafne. She never engages with Orpheus in a direct exchange.79 In Striggio’s libretto, however, she has only the few lines quoted above and a few lines in Act IV lamenting her second loss of Orfeo, light and life.80 It is as if Orfeo’s love for Euridice is a symbolic representation of overweening love in the abstract, for there is no real personality established in these versions of the story for Orfeo to love.81

8.3 McClary is absolutely correct in her statement that “whereas Orfeo’s speech is intensely teleological, Euridice finds it difficult to move directly toward a goal,” though McClary adds the unfortunate qualification, “without apologizing.” 82 There is no apology by Euridice in Striggio’s libretto, but Monteverdi composes music for her that does not characterize at all Striggio’s equation of her happiness and her love with Orfeo’s.

8.4 Euridice’s music (example 8) is indeed full of equivocation and uncertainty. She begins on d'' , an octave above Orfeo’s beginning, and descends to g', as Orfeo does, but the g' is, in fact, g'-sharp, and the underlying harmony, rather than a sustained G-minor triad, moves from an opening D-minor chord to a radically foreign-sounding E-major chord as dominant of A minor. Euridice gradually rises back up to d'' and then descends the entire octave to d', cadencing there at the end of the sentence in compagnia d’Amore. But the underlying harmony is unstable, leading after the cadence on A minor, to cadences on C major (gioia mia) and G major (il core), before cadencing in D at d’Amore.

8.5 In the last sentence, which begins on a D triad (presumably major) and ends there, another cadence to A minor appears at the end of the first line (brami), and the final cadence is “problematized” by the unanticipated addition of b'-flat and conclusion in the voice on a'. In this last sentence, Monteverdi ascends melodically from a' to the original d'' (upper tetrachord of an authentic subdivision of the octave) and then descends down the octave again (once again reversing g' and f'), but only as far as non-harmonic e', so that Euridice’s conclusion on a', without completing the octave descent, has a particular sense of irresolution. The concluding D-major cadence then serves as dominant to the reiterated choral balletto in G major.

8.6 The harmonic equivocation in this short passage is matched by an equivocation in the division of the octave into tetrachord and pentachord. The opening of the passage identifies the octave as authentic, with the d''–a' fourth on top. But in the ensuing octave descent, the cadence on g' at il core, supported by a V–I cadence in the bass, identifies a plagal octave with the fifth on top (d''–g'). Then the final phrase, beginning with chiedilo, once again utilizes an authentic octave with the a'–d' pentachord on the bottom. McClary’s view is that Monteverdi’s “musical construction of ‘maidenhood’ is informed by what his audience would expect to hear as the utterance of a young girl.” 83 But why would the audience expect to hear such musical ambiguity and lack of direction when Striggio’s text does not present any such utterance? Apparently Striggio did not see equivocation and uncertainty as characterizing the “construction of ‘maidenhood’.” The answer, I believe, is that Monteverdi’s music is not at all a bow to “what his audience would expect to hear as the utterance of a young girl” but, rather, a statement of the relationship between Orfeo and Euridice, or rather, what that relationship will become. McClary, in a footnote to this passage, acknowledges and accepts Robert Donington’s identification of A as the pitch-center of death in this opera and his suggestion that Euridice foreshadows her doom in this short recitative, but McClary also insists on it delineating Euridice’s gender identity.84 But if Euridice is expressing a constructed identity in this passage, that would also require that she is simultaneously telling us that her love for Orfeo is equivocal and uncertain. Such an interpretation is not sustained either by her text at this point in the drama or by her response to losing Orfeo and life a second time in Act IV.

8.7 Donington goes beyond simply identifying A as the pitch-center of death in his essay on L’Orfeo. In fact, it is Euridice’s initial melodic motion, the descent of a tritone, that is key to his interpretation, since the d'' – g'-sharp tritone appears over and over again in connection with Euridice’s death, Orfeo’s sorrow, and Orfeo’s mental disintegration. If Orfeo’s opening d'–g fifth, supported by a static G-minor chord, represents the certainty, stability, and permanence of the sun as rosa del ciel, Euridice’s opening descent from d'' – g'-sharp, accompanied by a quick diversion from D minor to A minor through the radical sharp-side triad on E, is an immediate signal of the uncertainty, instability and impermanence of their fate.85 This is confirmed by the several musical means both McClary and I describe. What Monteverdi is characterizing here is not Euridice as a young girl, but the dramatic nature of her relationship with Orfeo, which will very shortly be dissolved by the snake bite.

8.8 The return of the balletto in G major after Euridice’s short recitative is not a return to Orfeo’s original tonic, as McClary would have it,86 but a return to the role of G major and the balletto as a frame in which the nymphs express the naive notion of perfect happiness. Within that external frame of the pastoral idyll, the foundations of the sorrowful drama are exposed, first by Orfeo’s overly ecstatic expressions of supreme happiness, descending down the d'–d octave—expressions that will eventually be criticized as inappropriate by Apollo—and then Euridice’s intuitive, unconscious insight into the impending instability of their relationship.

8.9 I do not wish to imply by “Euridice’s intuitive, unconscious insight” a characterization of the persona of Euridice—a different one from McClary’s—but rather an interpretation by Monteverdi not only of the forthcoming dramatic action but also of the way the role of Euridice was traditionally understood in the long history of the Orpheus myth. Orpheus’s excessive lamenting after the second loss of Euridice was invariably viewed in a negative light, whether he was torn apart by the Bacchantes, as in Poliziano’s version and Striggio’s original libretto, or, as in Monteverdi’s final version, he was criticized but then rescued by Apollo.87 Two major threads of allegorical interpretation of Orfeo’s excessive attachment to the deceased Euridice were proposed by influential medieval authors. One, rooted in Neoplatonism and transmitted by Boethius, was that Euridice and her presence in Hades represented Orfeo’s attachment to earthly things, which kept him from rising above the mundane and ascending to a higher level.88 This view is related to Monteverdi’s ending, since Monteverdi’s Apollo criticizes Orfeo’s excessive emotions, both in love and in sorrow, and it is only by elevating Euridice out of Hades into the stars that he can carry Orfeo up with him into the heavens. The second allegorical approach, particularly strong in the late Middle Ages, sees Orfeo’s lament over Euridice as an excessive attachment to the flesh, to sin,89 and in that light, it is revealing that Monteverdi begins Euridice’s recitative with a tritone, the diabolus in musica, which serves as the harbinger not only of her first death but also as the vehicle of her second death. And the death of Orfeo, that is, his psychological disintegration at this second loss in Act IV, is fraught with this interval.90

8.10 Rather than seeing the tritone and the instability of Euridice’s short recitative as indicative of her gender, I understand it as Monteverdi’s (not Striggio’s) assertion of the symbolic role of Euridice in this story as the attraction of the flesh, which must die and which, if not eventually overcome, will bring with it the instability and death of the spirit that we see unfolding in Orfeo’s reaction to this death and his inability to grow beyond it.

9. McClary’s and My Contrasting Analyses of Proserpina and Plutone

9.1 The relationship between Proserpina and Plutone also comes under McClary’s scrutiny in terms of gender. According to McClary,

The rhetoric of seduction is also practiced by a female character in L’Orfeo, Proserpina, who intercedes with her consort, Plutone, as an advocate for Orfeo’s case. The text of her intercession seeks very frankly to arouse and manipulate Plutone’s desire, as she recalls her own courtship and the joy of their marriage bed.91

Just as McClary wants to attribute all desire to sexuality, she wants to call all forms of persuasion seduction. While I do not find McClary as much off the mark in her interpretation of Proserpina as with Orfeo and Euridice, I do think that describing Proserpina’s recitative as seductive is overly strong, and McClary has re-ordered the sequence of events to support her thesis.

9.2 The dialogue between Proserpina and Plutone is divided into two segments. In the first segment (example 9), Proserpina asks that Plutone accede to Orfeo’s plea: “if ever you were attracted by loving sweetness from these eyes, if you were pleased by this serene brow, which you call your heaven, for which you swear you do not envy Jove his good fortune.” 92 In brief, Proserpina says, “If ever you loved me and my beauty, do what I ask.” Plutone responds that he cannot deny the combination of her beauty and her plea, and he grants Orfeo’s request with the proviso that Orfeo not look back.

9.3 Only after Plutone has conceded and two infernal spirits carry out Plutone’s command, does Proserpina remind him of her abduction at his hands, and only then does he respond with chromatic melodic pitches and diversification of harmony. In other words, her most seductive remarks are saved for after she has persuaded Plutone to grant her wish. From an emotional and psychological point of view, Proserpina first reminds Plutone of her charms as part of her persuasive technique, and only after he has yielded does she emphasize her own pleasure in his desire for her and his abduction of her. Another way to put this would be, “Once you’ve granted my request, then we can talk of our own pleasure and desire.”

9.4 In terms of Proserpina’s recitative, I find very little in her appeal to Plutone that can be called seductive in the sense of sensuous, chromatic melodic lines or chromatic harmony. McClary emphasizes that Proserpina, like Orfeo, unfolds her first plea to Plutone over a sustained G-minor harmony. As Orfeo addressed the sun, Proserpina addresses Plutone, whom she later calls her sun, but in the rising accents of the vocative, not in the expostulating celebration of the devotee. G-Hypodorian, which this time is clearly the principal tonality of Proserpina’s plea both at the beginning and the end, connects Proserpina with Orfeo in its opening harmony and its initial octave descent from d'' to d', subdividing the octave at g'. Her appeal, as yet unanswered, is three times left hanging on the dominant of G (at tanta pietà, at core, and at porger preghi), before she closes her first sentence with a I–IV–V–I cadence to G (recall, however, that Orfeo’s opening does not cadence in G, but shifts instead to B-flat).

9.5 It is at this point, beginning with deh, that Proserpina reminds Plutone of her charms as another approach in her attempt to persuade him. This entire passage is harmonized in B-flat instead of G but is based melodically on the Hypodorian diapente descent from d'' to g'. Thus, the same melodic pattern by which Proserpina at first tried to persuade Plutone to grant Orfeo’s request is repeated again in this passage, but now harmonized in the more amenable B-flat, and when Proserpina closes the passage by bringing the subject back from her charms to reiteration of her plea with the word pregoti, Monteverdi immediately returns to G. Rather than seductive, her music in this passage is what I would call narrative, descending the diatonic scale in a clear melodic and harmonic pattern with the rhythms following closely the natural accents of the words without any rhetorical interruptions or striking syncopations. Only her pauses on g', harmonized with an E-flat-major triad, serve to underline the words dolcezza and fronte.93

9.6 As Proserpina continues by repeating her plea, the harmony remains centered in G-Hypodorian, with the exception of a momentary return to B-flat, reached through a descending circle of fifths in the bass, as she begs per quel foco con cui già la grand’alm’ amore t’accese

Presentation on theme: "Title: Tu Sei Morta from “Orfeo” Composer: Claudio Monteverdi Period: Baroque (1600-1750) Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening."— Presentation transcript:

1 Title: Tu Sei Morta from “Orfeo” Composer: Claudio Monteverdi Period: Baroque (1600-1750) Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

2 Title: Anch’il mar par che sommerga Composer: Antonio Vivaldi Period: Baroque (1600-1750) Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

3 Title: Frondi tenere - Ombra Mai Fu from “Serse” Composer: Georg Frideric Handel Period: Baroque (1600-1750) Genre: Aria Opera Listening

4 Title: Der Holle Rache from “The Magic Flute” Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Period: Classical Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

5 Title: Hai Gia Vinta la Causa from “The Marriage of Figaro” Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Period: Classical Genre: Aria Opera Listening

6 Title: Largo Al Factotum from “The Barber of Seville” Composer: Giacchino Rossini Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

7 Title: Pour Mon Ame from “Daughter of the Regiment” Composer: Gaetano Donizetti Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

8 Title: Bella Siccome un Angelo from “Don Pasquale” Composer: Gaetano Donizetti Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

9 Title: O Mio Babbino Caro from “Gianni Schicchi” Composer: Giacomo Puccini Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

10 Title: Nessun Dorma from “Turandot” Composer: Giacomo Puccini Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

11 Title: Votre Toast (Toreador Song) from “Carmen” Composer: Georges Bizet Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

12 Title: L’Amour est un Oiseau Rebelle (Habanera) from “Carmen” Composer: Georges Bizet Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

13 Title: Libiamo Ne’ Lieti Calici from “La Traviata” Composer: Giuseppe Verdi Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

14 Title: La Donna e Mobile from “Rigoletto” Composer: Giuseppe Verdi Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

15 Title: Ride of the Valkyries from “Die Walkure” from “Des Ring der Nibelungen” Composer: Richard Wagner Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

16 Title: Bridal Chorus from “Lohengrin” Composer: Richard Wagner Period: Romantic Genre: Opera Chorus Opera Listening

17 Title: Summertime from “Porgy and Bess” Composer: George Gershwin Period: Modern Genre: Opera Aria Opera Listening

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