Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Florentine Camerata was a group of humanists, musicians, poets and intellectuals in late Renaissance Florence that gathered under the patronage of Count Giovanni de' Bardi to discuss and guide trends in the arts, especially music and drama. They met mainly from about 1573 until the late 1580s, at the house of Bardi, and their gatherings had the reputation of having all the most famous men of Florence as frequent guests. Known members of the group besides Bardi included Giulio Caccini, Pietro Strozzi , and Vincenzo Galilei (the father of the astronomer Galileo Galilei).
Unifying them was the belief that music had become corrupt, and by returning to the forms and style of the ancient Greeks, the art of music could be improved, and thereby society could be improved as well. They were influenced by Girolamo Mei, the foremost scholar of ancient Greece at the time, who held—among other things—that ancient Greek drama was predominantly sung rather than spoken. While he may have been mistaken, the result was an efflorescence of musical activity unlike anything else at the time, mostly in an attempt to recover the ancient methods.
The criticism of contemporary music by the Camerata centered on the overuse of polyphony, at the expense of intelligibility of the sung text. Ironically, this was the same criticism leveled at polyphony by the Council of Trent which had met in the immediately preceding decades, although the world-view of the two groups could not have been more different. Intrigued by ancient descriptions of the emotional and moral effect of ancient Greek tragedy and comedy, which they presumed to be sung as a single line to a simple instrumental accompaniment, the Camerata proposed creating a new kind of music.
In 1582 Vincenzo Galilei performed a setting, which he composed himself, of Ugolino's lament from Dante's Inferno; it was a was a frank imitation of what he thought to be an ancient Greek type of music (unfortunately, the music for this is lost). Caccini also is known to have performed several of his own songs which were more or less chanted melodically over a simple chordal accompaniment. The musical style which developed from these early experiments was called monody; it developed, in the 1590s, through the work of composers such as Jacopo Peri, working in conjunction with poet Ottavio Rinuccini, into a vehicle capable of extended dramatic expression. In 1598, Peri and Rinuccini produced Dafne, an entire drama sung in monodic style: this was the first creation of a new form called "opera." Other composers quickly followed suit, and by the first decade of the seventeenth century the new "music drama" was being widely composed, performed and disseminated. It should be noted that the new form of opera also borrowed from an existing pastoral poetic form called the intermedio, especially for the librettos: it was mainly the musical style that was new.
Of all revolutions in music history, this one was perhaps the most carefully premeditated: it is one of few examples in music, before the twentieth century, of theory preceding practice.
Both Bardi and Galilei left writings expounding their ideas. Bardi wrote the Discorso (1578), a long letter to Giulio Caccini, and Galilei published the Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna (1581-1582).
- Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0393095304
- The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Randel. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0674615255
- Article Camerata, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1561591742
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