Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/20

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8
INTERMEZZO.
 

especially to that of the Opera Buffa, with the gradual development of which it is very intimately connected. The origin of both may be traced back to a period of very remote antiquity. It is, indeed, difficult to point out any epoch, in the chronicles of Dramatic Art, in which the presence of the Intermezzo may not be detected, now in one form, and now in another. Its exact analogue is to be found in the Satiræ of the old Roman Comedy. In the Mysteries and Miracle Plays of the Middle Ages—those strange connecting-links between old things and new—it assumed the form of a Hymn, or Carol, sung, either in chorus, or by the Angelo nunzio, to a sort of Chaunt which seems to have been traditional. In a rare old work, by Macropedias, entitled, 'Bassarus. Fabula festivissima' (Utrecht, 1553), some verses, adapted to a melody by no means remarkable for its festive character, are given at the close of every scene. And the popularity of the Tune is sufficiently proved by its persistent reiteration in other works of nearly similar date.

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These rude beginnings contrast strangely enough with the highly finished Intermezzi decennially presented in the course of the Passion-Play at Ober-Ammergau. But, the Passion-Play is known to have undergone many important improvements, within a comparatively recent period; and its case is, in every way, so exceptional, that it is no easy task to determine its true position as a historical landmark.

Almost all the earlier Italian plays were relieved by Intermezzi. Many of these were simply Madrigals, sung by a greater or less number of voices, as occasion served. Sometimes they were given in the form of a Chorus, with instrumental accompaniment. The most favourite style, perhaps, was that of a Song, or Canzonetta, sung, by a single performer, in the character of Orpheus. In no case was the subject of these performances connected, in any way, with that of the pieces between the Acts of which they were interpolated. Their construction was extremely simple, and their importance relatively small. We first find them assuming grander proportions, at Florence, in the year 1589, on the occasion of the Marriage of the Grand Duke Ferdinand, with Christine de Lorraine. To grace this ceremony, Giovanni Bardi, Conte di Vernio, produced a new Comedy, entitled L'Amico fido, with Intermezzi, à grand spectacle, prepared expressly for the festival, and presented with a degree of splendour hitherto unknown. For the first of these, called 'The Harmony of the Spheres,' the poetry was written by Ottavio Rinuccini, and the music composed by Emilio del Cavaliere, and Cristofano Malvezzi. The second, also written by Rinuccini, and called 'The Judgment of the Hamadryads,' was set to music by Luca Marenzio. For the third, called 'The Triumph of Apollo,' invented by Bardi, and written by Rinuccini, the music was composed, partly by Luca Marenzio, and partly, it is said, by the Conte di Vernio himself. The fourth, entitled 'The Infernal Regions,' was written by Pietro Strozzi, and accompanied by sombre music, composed, by Giulio Caccini, for Violins, Viole, Lutes, Lyres of all forms, Double Harps, Trombones, and 'Organs of [1]Wood.' The fifth—'The Fable of Arion'—was written by Rinuccini, and set to music, by Cavaliere and Malvezzi.

This grand performance naturally gave an extraordinary impulse to the progress of dramatic music. Within less than ten years, it was followed, in the same city, by the production of the first Opera Seria, at the Palazzo Corsi. Meanwhile, the Intermezzo steadily continued to advance in interest and importance, Guarini (1537–1612) wrote Intermezzi to his own Pastor Fido, in the form of simple Madrigals. In 1623, L'Amoroso Innocenza was produced, at Bologna, accompanied by Intermezzi della Coronazione di Apollo, per Dafne convertita in Lauro, set to music by Ottavio Vernizzi. This work introduces us to a new and extremely important epoch in the history of the branch of Dramatic Art we are now considering. By degrees, the Intermezzi were made to embody a little continuous drama of their own. Their story—always quite unconnected with that of the principal piece—was more carefully elaborated than heretofore. Gradually increasing in coherence and interest, their disjointed members rapidly united themselves into a consistent and connected whole. And thus, in process of time, two distinct dramas were presented to the audience, in alternate Acts; the character of the Intermezzi being always a little lighter than that of the piece between the divisions of which they were played, and on that very account, perhaps, better fitted to win their way to public favour. The merry wit inseparable from the Neapolitan School undoubtedly did much for them; and, before long, they began to enter into formidable rivalry with the more serious pieces they were at first only intended to relieve. Their popularity spread so widely, that, in 1723, a collection of them was printed, in two volumes, at Amsterdam; and so lasting was it, that, to this day, a light Italian Operetta is frequently called an Intermezzo in Musica.

The next great change in the form of the Intermezzo, though really no more than the natural consequence of those we have already described, was sufficiently important, not only to mark the culminating point in its career, but to translate it, at once, to a sphere of Art little contemplated by those who first called it into existence. Already complete in itself, all it now needed was independence: an existence of its own, apart from that of the graver piece to which it owed its original raison d'être. Such an existence was obtained for it, by the simple process of leaving the graver piece—

  1. Organi di legno.