to break away from, polyphonic traditions. Le Roy’s Airs de Cour, published in 1571, may be cited in proof of this statement. Of these airs “Je suis amour” is somewhat in the declamatory recitative style of Caccini’s Nuove musiche (see Sammelbände, Int. Musik Gesellschaft, article “Airs de Cour of Adrien le Roy,” by Janet Dodge). Generally speaking, it may be said of early French songs that they were longer in shaking off the influence of the past than the songs of the Italians, many tricks of expressions, belonging to polyphonic times, surviving both in voice parts and accompaniments. In the voice parts sometimes the influence of popular song is evident, at others they are neither melodious nor yet declamatory, but merely suggest a single part in a polyphonic composition, while the accompaniments for the lute are generally a mixture of chords used with harmonic effects, and certain polyphonic tricks inherited from the past two centuries. In England two books of “Ayres,” for a single voice with lute accompaniment, one by Jones, and another by Campion and Rosseter, were published in 1601; Jones in his preface claims that his songs were the first of the kind, and Rosseter says that those of Campion had been for some time “privately imparted to his friends.” Both sets therefore seem to be independent of Caccini’s Nuove musiche, the influence of which was not felt for some years. In England the break with the past was less violent and sudden than in Italy; for the established practice of arranging popular songs and dances as lute solos led naturally to, and profoundly influenced, the later “ayres” with lute accompaniment. As Dr Walker remarks (History of Music in England, p. 121, Clarendon Press, 1907), “A folk-song of 1500, a song of Thomas Campion and a song of Henry Lawes are all bound together by a clear and strong tie.” In a simple and unpretentious way these first English attempts at solo-song were singularly successful. The best of them, such as Rosseter’s “And would you see my Mistress’ face?” and Campion’s “Shall I come if I swim?” rank as masterpieces of their kind. Both in structure and in feeling they exactly catch the essentials of the lyrics of the period. Their daintiness and charm make it easy to forgive an air of artificiality, which was after all inevitable—if the songs were to represent the spirit of their environment.
Meanwhile Italian composers, who, in spite of the frottole, villote, villanelle, balletti and falalas (arrangements in vocal parts of popular melodies common in the last half of the 16th century) seem to have been unaffected in the new song movement by popular influences, went straight from the polyphonic to the recitative style, and advanced with extraordinary rapidity. Melody was quickly added to relieve the monotony of recitative which must have been acutely felt by the hearers of the early operas, and considerable advance in this direction was made by Cavalli and Cesti (see Oxford History of Music, vol. iii., for details of their methods). Monteverde, though a greater genius than either of them, did not succeed in forcing the daring qualities of his own conceptions on others. The famous lament of Ariadne was the expression of an individual genius casting all rules aside for the sake of poignant emotional effect rather than the beginning of a new epoch in song. Carissimi and Rossi in oratorio and cantata (a word which then merely described a piece that was sung, as sonata a piece that was played, and consisted generally of alternate recitative and aria) brought the organization of melody to a high degree of elaboration, far beyond anything attempted by Cavalli and Cesti. In their hands the declamatory methods of Monteverde were made subordinate to larger purposes of design. A broad and general characterization of emotional situations was more natural to them and to their successors than a treatment in which points are emphasized in detail. It was moreover inevitable in these early developments of musical style, in which melody had to play the leading part, that such sacrifices as were necessary in balancing the rival claims of expression and form should be in favour of the latter rather than the former. But the formal perfection of melody was not the only problem which 17th-century Italian composers had to face. The whole question of instrumental accompaniment had to be worked out; the nature and capacities of instruments, including the voice itself, had to be explored; the reconciliation of the new art of harmony with the old art of counterpoint to be effected. It speaks volumes for the innate musical sense and technical skill of the early Italian composers that the initial stage of tentative effort passed so quickly, and that at the close of the 17th century we are conscious of breathing an atmosphere not of experimental work, but of mature art. Alessandro Scarlatti (1659–1725) sums up the period for Italy. That much of his work is dry, a mere exhibition of consummate technical skill without inspiration, is not surprising when the quantity of it is realized, and also the unfavourable conditions under which operatic composers had to work, but the best of it is singularly noble in conception and perfect in design. The same is true of the best work of Legrenzi, Stradella, Caldara, Leonardo Leo, Durante, work which was of incalculable importance for the development of musical, and particularly of vocal, art, and which will always, for minds attuned to its atmosphere of classical intellectuality, severity and self-restraint, possess an abiding charm: but comparatively few specimens have retained the affections of the world at large. Carissimi’s “Vittorta,” Scarlatti’s “O Cessate” and “Le Violette” are the most notable exceptions (“Pietà, Signore” is not included, as no one now attributes it to Stradella).
The almost universal preference of the Italians in the 17th and 18th centuries for the aria in da capo form involved serious sacrifices on the dramatic and emotional side: for although this form was but an elaboration of the folk-song type, ABA, yet it involved, as the folk-song type did not, the repetition note merely of the melody of the opening part, but of the words attached to it. It is this double repetition which from the point of view of dramatic sincerity forms so disturbing an element. But composers, as has been remarked, were too much occupied with exploring the formal possibilities of melody to establish a really intimate connexion between music and text (Monteverde being a notable exception), a detailed interpretation of which lay outside their scheme of song. Elaboration of melody soon came to involve much repetition of words, and this was not felt as an absurdity so long as the music was broadly in accord with the atmosphere or situation required. A few lines of poetry were thought sufficient for a fully developed aria. Exceptions are however to be found in what is known as the recitativo arioso—of which remarkably fine specimens appear in some of Scarlatti’s cantatas—and in occasional songs in slighter form than the tyrannous da capo aria, such as Caldara’s “Come raggio di sol”—which foreshadows with its dignified and expressive harmonies the Schubertian treatment of song.
Before Scarlatti’s death in 1725 symptoms of decline had appeared. He was himself often compelled to sacrifice his finer instincts to the popular demand for mere vocal display. A race of singers, who were virtuosi rather than artists, dominated the taste of the public, and forced composers to furnish opportunities in each rôle for a full display of their powers. An opera was expected to provide for each favourite five kinds of aria! (aria cantabile, aria di portamento, aria di mezzo carattere, aria parlante and aria d’ agilità). It was not long before easier and more obvious types of melody, expressing easier and more obvious feelings, became the fashion. The varied forms of accompaniment, in which a good contrapuntal bass had been a conspicuous feature, were wasted upon a public which came to hear vocalists, not music; and stereotyped figures, of the kind which second-rate art after the first half of the 18th century has made only too
familiar, took the place of sound contrapuntal workmanship,
- John Dowland, the chief of English lutenists, published his first book of songs and ayres in four parts in 1597, “So made that all the parts together or either of them severally may be sung to the lute, orpherion or viol da gamba.” Though not strictly speaking solo-songs they are too important not to be mentioned. Three other books followed in 1600, 1603 and 1612, in the second of which appears the famous “Flow my tears” (Lachrymae) for two voices, but almost equally effective as a solo, and doubtless often used as such. It is published in vol. vii. of Euterpe (Breitkopf & Härtel, London), which also contains a valuable monograph on English lutenists and lute music by Miss Janet Dodge. Dowland’s few solo-songs are unimportant.