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Saturday morning quote #49: Count Bardi

April 28, 2012

can belto

As we approach our first complete year’s worth of Saturday morning quotes, sharing the historical ideas that inspire us, we find that the choice of nourishing possibilities is limitless if one only takes the time to read the menu.

This morning, we dip into the writings presumably authored by Giovanni de’ Bardi, Count of Vernio (1534 – 1612), from his correspondence with Giulio Caccini (1551 – 1618). Bardi is credited by posterity as a cheerleader for the simpler, more dramatic and expressive monody that led to what we have come to know as Baroque music, in opposition to the headier polyphony that  characterized much music from the 16th century.

From circa 1573 to 1587, Bardi was responsible for hosting the Camerata, a gathering of Florentine musicians and amateurs who had time on their hands, ideas in their heads, and a bone to pick with overly-complex music that they thought stood between the performer and the listener.   So we can blame Count Bardi for encouraging the likes of Monteverdi and, by extension, Paganini, Mick Jagger, and Lady Gaga.

Getting to the point, Bardi’s correspondence, which may actually have been written by our old friend  Vincenzo Galilei, touched upon some important aspects of ensemble singing—whether in the old style or the new—which we share with some amusement.

Let us now speak of the great distinction that should be made between singing alone and and singing in company and of how one should not imitate those who, when they sing in parts, as though the whole company had come only to hear their creaking, think only of making their own voices heard, not knowing or perhaps not remembering that good part-singing is simply joining one’s voice with the voices of others and forming one body with these; the same may be said of those others who, to complete their passages, disregard the time, so breaking and stretching it that they make it altogether impossible for their colleagues to sing properly.

Sound familiar?  Ensemble singing is today no different from what it was 400 years ago.  Now, about those entrances:

The singer ought also to take care to enter softly after a rest, not imitating those who enter so noisily that they seem to be finding fault with you for some mistake, or those others who, to avoid the bass parts, sing so loudly in the high register that they seem like criers auctioning off the pledges of the unfortunate; [or else they sing] like little snarling dogs stealing silently through the streets of others and imagining that they are making no end of noise.

Back to solo singing and the concept of time, Bardi’s correspondence addresses when it’s proper to stretch things a bit:

When singing alone, whether to the lute or the gravicembalo or to some other instrument, the singer may contract or expand the time at will, seeing that it is his privilege to regulate the time as he thinks fit.

But of course, bad taste is timeless, and extrovert performers of music old or new may seek to use crumbs of historical thought as justification for their displays of ego. 

Expressive singing does not necessarily equate with, require, nor justify extrovert singing.

Rather than just nibbling at historical crumbs, or worse, indulging in modern fast food, we prefer to consider the full-course meal of ideas in the broader context, and gain more satisfaction from having spent the time savoring each morsel.  We hope that our sharing some of these bits will lead our readers to examine the sources themselves.  Now to breakfast…

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