No Comment, Quotation — January 31, 2010, 12:37 am

Rinuccini/Monteverdi – Lamento della ninfa

apollo_d

Non havea Febo ancora
recato al mondo il dì
ch’una donzella fuora
del proprio albergo uscì.

Sul pallidetto volto
scorgease il suo dolor,
spesso gli venia sciolto
un gran sospir dal cor.

Sì calpestando fiori,
errava hor qua, hor là,
i suoi perduti amori
così piangendo va:

“Amor,” dicea, il ciel
mirando il piè fermò
“dove, dov’è la fé
che ‘l traditor giurò?

Fa che ritorni il mio
amor com’ei pur fu,
o tu m’ancidi, ch’io
non mi tormenti più.”

Miserella, ah più no,
tanto gel soffrir non può.

“Non vo’ più che i sospiri
se non lontan da me,
no, no, che i suoi martiri
più non dirammi, affé!

Perché di lui mi struggo
tutt’orgoglioso sta,
che sì, che sì se ‘l fuggo
ancor mi pregherà?

Se ciglio ha più sereno
colei che ‘l mio non è,
già non rinchiude in seno
Amor si bella fé.

Né mai si dolci baci
da quella bocca havrai,
né più soavi; ah, taci,
taci, che troppo il sai.”

Sì tra sdegnosi pianti
spargea le voci al ciel;
così ne’ cori amanti
mesce Amor fiamma e gel.

Read an English translation here

Ottavio Rinuccini, Lamento della ninfa (1614?)

Listen to Claudio Monteverdi’s setting of the Rinuccini canzonetta in L’ottavo libro de madrigali: Madrigali amorosi altri canti di Marte (1638), the solo is sung by Emma Kirkby:

Monteverdi’s eighth book of madrigals, published in 1638, represent, in many ways, the culmination of this art form. The dramatic expressiveness of the genre is pushed to its outermost limits. Moreover, we see the emergence of a cycle as madrigals composed over a long period are skillfully strung together creating a magnificent tableau. Monteverdi attaches the name “madrigals of war and love” to the work, but there is a sense of progression to it. It owes something to the intermedio tradition of the Renaissance, but it moves in the direction of the early Baroque opera. The war-like madrigals are composed in a style that conveys great agitation and pumping adrenalin. Blows fall, heroes triumph, but they also make fatal mistakes. Monteverdi develops new techniques to convey this through the medium of the human voice, especially the rapid-fire repetitions of the stil concitato. But for pure theatricality and for dexterity that foreshadows the grand operatic tradition, nothing competes with the Nymph’s Lament found in the second part of the book. War, devastation, death are quickly followed by pity, expressions of loss and lamentation. The turning of the wheel of human emotion proceeds in a smooth glide. And while Monteverdi’s initial madrigals in the series aim to get the blood pumping and to build apprehension, the second group tug relentlessly at the heartstrings. The lament is certainly one of Monteverdi’s absolute masterpieces, its tonalities are rich and dynamic, and it marks a breakthrough for the early Baroque style. The truly operatic soprano solo is juxtaposed against a male trio, and all of this is built over a continuous, hypnotic four-note ground bass (similar to the technique used in many of the duets in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, but here to better effect). In Monteverdi’s instructions, the soprano is given license to vent passionate expression (a tempo dell’affetto dell’animo e non a quello della mano, he writes), while the trio adhere to a rigorous tempo. The effect is like nothing else in the madrigal literature, and indeed, Monteverdi is breaking out of it—opera is being born.

This performance of the lament, by Emma Kirkby, is probably the best now available. It takes several listenings to appreciate Kirkby’s brilliant nuances.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
No Slant to the Sun·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“She didn’t speak the language, beyond “¿cuánto?” and “demasiado,” but that didn’t stop her. She wanted things. She wanted life, new experiences, a change in the routine.”
Photograph © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos
[Browsings]
Burn After Reading·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971. He spent the next four decades fighting to take it out of print.
“The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years.”
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
Article
The Fourth Branch·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw student politics as a proxy battleground for their rivalry.”
Photograph © Gerald R. Brimacombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Hours per day that a death-row inmate in China wears hand and ankle restraints:

24

A multidisciplinary team detected cardiac arrhythmia in the works of Beethoven.

There was a run on cases of 5.56mm M855 green-tip rifle bullets, after the White House moved to ban their manufacture and sale because they can pierce police armor.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today