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Volume 12, no. 1:

Le origini dell’opera a Milano (1598–1649). By Davide Daolmi. Studi sulla Storia della Musica in Lombardia 2. Turnhout: Brepols, 1998. [xvii, 626 pp. ISBN 250350664X. €99.]

The Sounds of Milan, 1585–1650. By Robert Kendrick. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. [xxi, 528 pp. ISBN 0195135377. $95.]

Reviewed by Christine Getz*

1. Introduction

2. Le origini dell’opera a Milano (1598–1649)

3. The Sounds of Milan, 1585–1650


1. Introduction

1.1 Over the past ten years, the widely held perception of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Milan as a cultural backwater resting upon the laurels of its Sforza ancestry has gradually been replaced by the picture of a vibrant urban society responding creatively to the pressures of forging its modern civic identity. This radical transformation of our conception of cultural life in early modern Milan owes much to the efforts of Italian and American scholars who have challenged the time-honored perceptions, patiently sifted through the archival documentation, identified the heretofore unexplored cultural artifacts, and considered those artifacts in light of the extant documentary evidence. Research devoted to musical life in seventeenth-century Milan is now flourishing,1 but the two recent contributions under review stand out as especially formidable.

1.2 In addition to focusing upon the first half of the seventeenth century, these two monographs share a number of other similarities. Both attempt to be fairly comprehensive in nature. Both rely heavily upon previously unexplored archival documents and early printed books as a means of bridging gaps left by other scholars. Moreover, both afford visual sources—architecture, sculpture, painting, engraving, and drawing—sources usually attended to only by theater and art historians. Finally, both feature a presentation that combines the conceptual with the chronological. Here, however, the commonalities end, for Daolmi focuses exclusively on theatrical music where, despite a few attempts to integrate secular issues into his discussion, Kendrick is interested primarily in the sacred tradition. More importantly, while Daolmi renders the documentary evidence the story itself, Kendrick uses the extant archival and early printed sources to support a narrative that incorporates much of the research that has been conducted to date. As is inevitable in any study of the scope attempted in these monographs, there are both strengths and weaknesses in the approach adopted for each.

2. Le origini dell’opera a Milano (1598–1649)

2.1 Following an introduction which sets the stage by analyzing several iconographical representations of public spectacles held in Milan during the seventeenth century, Daolmi opens his study proper by calling for a reconsideration of the facts surrounding the reported construction of the first theater of the Palazzo Reale for the entry of Marguerite of Austria in 1598, the event with which earlier Italian scholars of the Milanese theater associated the advent of opera.2 By considering the unpublished archival documentation surrounding the 1598 events, as well as the surviving designs of the Palazzo Reale and the extant maps of the city of Milan dating from the late sixteenth century through approximately 1739, Daolmi skillfully navigates the heretofore unacknowledged complexities in the dating of the evidence regarding the construction of the theater, while at the same time recognizing that the entry itself served as an impetus for the introduction of several theatrical spectacles that presumably included musical recitation. The methodology introduced in the initial chapter establishes the tone for the remainder of the monograph, for in the successive, chronologically organized chapters Daolmi similarly examines the roles of other public events, including solemn entries of members of the Hapsburg family, the celebrations of the births of Hapsburg children, and the canonization of Saints Ignatius and Francesco Saverio, in bringing Milanese operatic theater to life. Yet while these events and the productions related to them enjoy the lion’s share of Daolmi’s attention, he does not neglect to discuss the activities of the theater troupes that passed through the territory nor the ways in which city officials attempted to accommodate their productions.3 At every turn, moreover, he questions the extant archival evidence by carefully examining all of the possibilities suggested by it.

2.2 The documentation presented by Daolmi is staggering in variety and scope and includes maps of the city, designs of the various palace theaters, paintings and engravings of apparati for civic spectacles, portraits of the famous comici, segments from contemporary treatises and seicentini, and archival documents, the bulk of which are housed in I-Mt and I-Mas, the two institutions whose sources receive the least attention from Kendrick. All of the previously unpublished archival documents of note are presented chronologically and in extenso in the appendix, which itself also includes portraits of the Milanese governors and archbishops of the period, a comprehensive, and therefore quite useful alphabetical list of the libretti published in Milan between 1598 and 1649, and a chronological summary of the major historical and theatrical events that occurred in Milan during the same period. In fact, Daolmi’s prose text is comparatively rather short; he allots at least three-fourths of the monograph to the presentation and analysis of the documentary evidence. In this book Daolmi establishes himself as a formidable archival scientist, and his talent for examining the documents from every historical angle and potential cultural context and thereafter allowing them to speak for themselves is borne out both here and in his subsequent contribution, Don Nicola Vicentino.4

2.3 Nonetheless, the sheer quantity of archival, early printed, and iconographical sources employed also unwittingly contributes to the only substantial flaw in Le origini dell’opera a Milano. Each chapter is followed by a detailed analysis of a group of major sources that relates in some way to the chapter itself. Unfortunately, however, there is very little integration of the chapter narrative and the source analyses, and thus the reader is left to draw many of the connections. As a result, the overall effect is often that of a rather disjointed narrative. Moreover, at the close of Chapter 3 the pre-established order of the presentation of materials is inexplicably reversed so that the documents and designs for the 1622 canonization festivities of Saints Ignatius and Francesco Saverio actually precede Chapter 4, the section in which the event is discussed, and this reversal in the ordering of the narrative and its related source materials is maintained for the remainder of the monograph. Daolmi’s source analyses are absolutely fascinating and often overshadow the chapter content in detail and insight, so a careful reading of them with an eye towards connections with the corresponding chapters is well worth the effort.

2.4 Daolmi states that he intends Le origini dell’opera a Milano to serve as an easily negotiable reference book that will support, through the systematic presentation of the documentary evidence, further exploration of early opera in Milan, and this monograph certainly fulfills the stated goal.5 Daolmi introduces many compelling topics that warrant further investigation:

The historical and symbolic import of the inclusion of certain actors, musicians, and musical instruments in Dionisio Minaggio’s Scapino and Spinetta (1618), an odd taxidermy treatise that Daolmi suggests was dedicated to governor Gomez Saurez de Figueroa.6

The role of the Accademia degli Inquieti, a Milanese literary academy that provided the impetus for the production of drama and devotional music, in defining the character of the libretti preferred in Milanese opera.7

The function of the Casa delle Vergine Spagnoli in the production of opera at the gubernatorial court; the history of the theater at San Fedele, which presumably served as the site for the productions associated with the canonization festivities of 1622.8

The circumstances surrounding the 1649 productions of Giasone and Teseo by the Febiarmonici, a traveling company that had previously presented La finta pazza and Egisto elsewhere in Italy.9

The influence of Monteverdi on the early Milanese theatrical style.

This last subject has, of course, already been broached by a number of scholars who have reported on Monteverdi’s 1607 and 1612 visits to Milan and the popularity of his works there as contrafacta,10 but a fuller treatment of the subject is still lacking in the scholarship devoted to music in Milan during the early Seicento.

3. The Sounds of Milan, 1585–1650

3.1 Like Daolmi’s monograph, Kendrick’s book takes 1598 and Marguerite of Austria’s entry as its point of departure; here, however, the entertainments that interested Daolmi from a theatrical perspective serve as a means of exploring the relationship between space and spectacle in Milanese urban culture. This mode of framing the discourse by considering the role of visual stimuli in inspiring compositional themes is particularly strong in the earlier sections of the book, where various architectural spaces and their decoration serve as a basis for organizing the discussion of musical activity, but it seems to lose force as a thematic principle as various tangentially related threads are taken up in the latter stages and chronological organization gradually assumes primacy. The subtle shifts in thematic terrain are perhaps due to a certain tension between the initially proposed exploration of sound in its appropriate urban space and the author’s desire to provide a comprehensive study of music, or at least sacred music, in Milan during the first half of the seventeenth century.

3.2 Despite such tensions, Kendrick quite successfully provides a detailed and comprehensive survey that will serve as an important reference for scholars of North Italian music for many years to come. The first three chapters examine the various institutions which supported musical organizations of some stature, including the Duomo, Santa Maria presso San Celso, Santa Maria della Scala, San Simpliciano, and Sant’Ambrogio, as well as number of minor churches, monastic orders, and confraternities. Musical compositions known to have been associated with each institution are considered as potential exegetical and symbolic products of the individual architectural and visual space for which they were conceived, and biographies of the composers who were employed by each institution are expertly interwoven into the discussion of its sounding space and corresponding repertoire. Where Daolmi focuses largely upon maps and drawings to reconstruct the spaces themselves, Kendrick prefers photographs of the decoration, and this approach assists the reader greatly in conceptualizing the inherent symbolism at play in the related repertory. Kendrick’s attempts to connect space to repertory are, in fact, among the most daring yet compelling aspects of the study. By their very speculative nature, his fascinating observations often lead the reader to advance yet further interpretations of the evidence. Given the prominence of the Confraternity of the Rosary in Milan after 1584, for example, why would Andrea Cima’s motet “Gaudete filiae Syon” (1627) necessarily have been intended for Santa Maria della Rosa? Might it not also have been composed for one of the other institutions that sponsored the confraternity, such as the Duomo, the Castello di Porto Giovio, San Lorenzo, or even possibly Sant’Eustorgio?11

3.3 Aside from the royal ducal chapel at Santa Maria della Scala, the activity of the gubernatorial court is largely ignored in Kendrick’s text, probably because the bulk of his archival work was conducted at the Duomo and the diocesan archives, and little other recent research of substance on music at the gubernatorial court currently exists.12 As a result, secular elements are downplayed in favor of the tremendous sacred contributions of the period, which themselves are illumined by the rich and variegated tapestry of historical, architectural, decorative, and musical detail that Kendrick, already widely admired for his mastery of a large body of diverse detail, has provided unflaggingly throughout. Kendrick’s comparative inattention to the gubernatorial court, however, does lead to the occasional statement that does not appear, at least on the face of it, grounded in any evidence presented. Is it, in fact, possible, to “map musical practice onto the city” and arrive at the conclusion that the Castello contributed little to nothing (p. 87) without considering fully the documentation of state activities found in the Archivio di Stato?13 In the absence of corroborating documentary evidence, moreover, can we be certain that the gubernatorial palace ensemble was housed at San Gottardo in Corte as early as the first two decades of the seventeenth century? The surviving documentation reveals that the “ducal chapel” at San Gottardo comprised a single ducal beneficiary,14 and, further, that the church was responsible for hosting Holy Week services for the governor’s retinue during the early seventeenth century.15 While there is adequate evidence to support an assertion that the palace ensemble was housed at San Gottardo during the tenure of Sammartini,16 it is unclear just when the ensemble was actually transferred there. Barblan, who was the first to report on the documents regarding the court instrumentalists dating from approximately 1633 to 1667 that are found in a fondo associated with San Gottardo in Corte, does not hypothesize that the ensemble was housed in the church, perhaps because the instrumentalists are typically described simply as “musici di questo Regio Palazzo.”17 As Daolmi has reported, moreover, the extant chancery registers from the first decade of the seventeenth century similarly contain several orders to pay the gubernatorial ensemble of seventeen to nineteen instrumentalists,18 while two documents from 1650 order payment of the gubernatorial chapel’s musicians and chaplains simultaneously.19 Like those reported by Barblan, none of these documents makes specific reference to San Gottardo. Thus, the extant documents support the existence of a large palace consort during the first decade of the seventeenth century, but they do not clearly indicate that this ensemble was a function of San Gottardo. In the absence of additional evidence, it, in fact, seems more likely that San Gottardo in Corte gradually eclipsed Santa Maria della Scala in its role as the primary royal ducal chapel during the latter half of the seventeenth century, and, for that reason, the palace ensemble was eventually installed there.

3.4 The second part of Kendrick’s study departs, to a certain degree, from the theme of sonic space to explore some tangentially related issues of some import, including plainchant rites, conventional civic rituals, Marian devotion, theoretical writings, practical training, and the Milanese print culture. While some of the material, particularly regarding the content of theoretical treatises of the period and the attendant training of musicians, bears little obvious relationship to the sounding spaces discussed in the first third of the book, this section is a rich compendium of factual information regarding the actual practice of making, printing, and writing about music in Milan during the first half of the century. In addition, Milan’s strong Marian tradition is effectively explored through a survey of the surviving Marian polyphony that promises to spur further investigation of the influence of specific Marian cults upon the compositions associated with them. The chapter devoted to “Rite and Ritual,” moreover, is uncommonly rich in detail for a monograph on urban music, and attempts not only to fully describe local plainchant and ritual practices, but also to link local rites, where possible, directly to the polyphonic tradition. Here Kendrick begins to grapple with the unusual tension between the Ambrosian rite observed at such institutions as the Duomo and Santa Maria della Scala and a Milanese polyphonic practice that often favored Roman items over Ambrosian ones. Because he focuses so heavily upon the Ambrosian rite in this chapter, a glaring light is thrown on the disconnection between the rite itself and much of the surviving polyphony discussed in the successive chapters. Although Kendrick by no means attempts to reconcile the two in the final third of the monograph, it must be noted that the inexplicable anomalies between the Ambrosian rite and Milanese polyphonic practice reach back to the Milan Choirbooks20 and perhaps even beyond them, and few scholars have heretofore actually attempted to address the issues at any length.

3.5 The final section of Kendrick’s book features a chronological study of the music composed in Milan during the era that is further organized, in at least a loose way, by genre and institution. Kendrick’s impressive mastery of the vast body of sacred literature emanating from seventeenth-century Milan shines through here, for he deftly negotiates the cross-pollination and transference of diverse sacred and secular genres and skillfully compares settings of the same text by different composers in order to underscore larger developments in style. Despite a rich associative narrative that is illustrated with numerous well-chosen examples, however, the reader needs a thorough working knowledge of classical rhetoric and its attendant terminology, as well as a more than passing familiarity with the scriptures and the liturgy, in order fully to appreciate the weight of Kendrick’s contribution. He frequently applies appropriate rhetorical terminology to his analyses of the musico-poetic discourse, and unfailingly provides a liturgical or scriptural context for his rhetorically driven analysis. Although the adoption of rhetorical terminology for musical analysis has always provided fodder for debate in some circles, Kendrick’s methodology is a model of consistency and clarity. Moreover, he often circles back to the original urban theme by referencing the economic, social, or institutional context for composers’ decisions regarding musical texture, instrumentation, and scriptural exegesis. The analytical net is sometimes weighted to the breaking point with proverbial fishes, and this aspect perhaps slightly diminishes the potential impact of the sounding spaces theme by occasionally dissolving the discussion into too many technical details of minor import to support a strong sense of closure.

3.6 In any event, Kendrick’s Sounds of Milan promises to serve as the chief reference book on Milan during the first half of the seventeenth century for decades to come. The contributions of every significant musician who trod Milan’s civic stage during the era are covered at least to some degree, and the most influential theoretical movements, institutions, patrons, and printers are, by and large, represented as well. The monograph’s well-organized appendices feature, among other things, an especially useful Milanese festal calendar and concise summaries explaining various aspects of the Ambrosian Vespers, while its extensive bibliography includes an impressive number of Italian theses and dissertations, as well as a plethora of published materials for further reference. In short, The Sounds of Milan, 1584-1650, is both a lifetime achievement for the author and an essential text for the library of every serious scholar of north Italian polyphony.


* Christine Getz ( is Associate Professor of Music and Dean’s Scholar at The University of Iowa. She has published Music in the Collective Experience in Sixteenth-Century Milan (2006) as well as several articles on musical activity in Milan during the sixteenth century.

1 In addition to the monograph series inaugurated by the Fondazione Pietro Locatelli, consider the number of Lombard topics represented at the tenth and eleventhth international conferences “sulla musica sacra in area Lombardo-Padana,” sponsored jointly by the A.M.I.S.-Como and the Società Italiana di Musicologia in 2001 and 2003, respectively, as well as the frequent conferences on specific Lombard topics announced by the Società Italiana di Musicologia.

2Daolmi, 29–31, traces the widely accepted perception that the origins of opera in Milan were bound to the entrata of 1598, and more specifically to the construction of a special theater to host the attendant entertainments, to a statement found in Giambatista Castiglione, Sentimenti di san Carlo Borromeo intorno agli spettacoli (Bergamo: Lancellotti, 1759), 22–3.

3 Among the most important comici discussed are Gian Battista, Francesco, and Isabella Andreini, all of whom receive much fuller treatment in Anne MacNeil’s Music and Women of the Commedia dell’arte in the Late Sixteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

4 Davide Daolmi, Don Nicola Vicentino, arcimusico in Milano, il beneficio ecclesiastico quale risorsa economica prima e dopo il Concilio di Trento: un caso emblematico, Quaderni dell’Archivio per la Storia della Musica in Lombardia 1 (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 1999) offers a fascinating study of Vicentino’s acquisition of eight benefices in Milan while in the service of Ippolito II d’Este, Archbishop of Milan, and his subsequent service as a rector at San Tommaso in Terra Amara in Milan during the tenure of Cardinal Carlo Borromeo.

5 Daolmi, Le origini, x–xi.

6 Daolmi, Le origini, 105–9.

7 According to Paolo Morigia, La nobiltà di Milano (Milan: Pacifico Pontio, 1595), vol. 3, 181–2, the Accademia degli Inquieti was founded in 1594 at the palace of Muzio Sforza Colonna, Marchese di Caravaggio. Its members included cavaliers and letterati from all over Italy, and its purpose was to forward the study and composition of Latin and Italian texts. In addition to sponsoring a staged joust and the play I falsi dei, as Daolmi reports (85, 498), members of the Inquieti provided dedicatory madrigali and canzoni for Cesare Negri’s Le gratie d’amore (Milan: Pacifico Pontio e Giovanni Battista Piccaglia compagni, 1602; reprint, New York: Broude Brothers, 1969); see the opening dedicatory pages and 3:271. Aquilino Coppini, who arranged four collections of sacred contrafacta of Monteverdi’s madrigals, was also a member of the academy. See Daolmi, Le origini, 85, and Mariangela Donà, La stampa musicale a Milano fino all’anno 1700 (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 1961), 112–5.

8 Daolmi, Le origini, 169–70 and 185–9.

9 On the history of this important troupe see Lorenzo Bianconi and Thomas Walker, “Dalla Finta pazza alla Veremonda: storia di Febiarmonici,” Rivista italiana di musicologia 10 (1975): 379–454.

10 On Monteverdi’s 1607 and 1612 visits see Paolo Fabbri, Monteverdi (Torino: Edizioni E.D.T., 1985), 123 and 176–7, and Jeffrey Kurtzman, The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 52. The contrafacta, which were arranged by Aquilino Coppini and published in four books issued by Tradate of Milan between 1607 and 1611, are discussed in several essays, including Claudio Sartori, “Monteverdiana,” The Musical Quarterly 38 (1952): 399–413; Margaret Ann Rourke, “Sacred Contrafacta of Monteverdi’s Madrigals and Cardinal Borromeo’s Milan,” Music and Letters 65 (1984): 168–75; and Uwe Wolf, “‘Prima Arianna, poi Maria’: rielaborazioni religiose di musica vocale profana degli inizi del XVII secolo” in Intorno a Monteverdi, ed. Maria Caraci Vela and Rodobaldo Tibali (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 1999), 351–66.

11 On 25 March 1584 Cardinal Carlo Borromeo issued a proclamation instituting the Confraternity in the Duomo and enjoining the Milanese to participate (I-Mca Metropolitana LXXX-454 [Visite pastorali e documenti aggiunti]), q. 24. A branch was thereafter quickly established at the Castello di Porto Giovio. In addition, a branch was erected at San Lorenzo Maggiore in 1627, and Sant’Eustorgio boasted one by 1635. See Christine Getz, “L’altare della Vergine nella Milano della Controriforma e La donna vestita di sole (1602)” in Barocco padano III (Como: Antique Musicae Italicae Studiosi, 2004), 92–3. Maria Luisa Cecilia Visentin, La pietà mariana nella Milano del Rinascimento (Milano: N.E.D., 1995), 66 and 104–5, suggests that a branch of the Confraternity of the Rosary was active at Sant’Eustorgio as early as 1551, but I have not yet found documentation that adequately supports the claim.

12 A basic survey of the secular activity of the period is found in Guglielmo Barblan, “La musica strumentale e cameristica a Milano dalla seconda metà del Cinquecento e tutto il Seicento” in Storia di Milano (Milan: Giovanni Treccani degli Alfieri, 1962) 16:588–618, but this source is obviously a bit dated.

13 The documents presented in Daolmi, Le origini, 263–344, suggest that the fondi I-Mas Registri della Cancelleria dello Stato series XXII (Mandati), Spettacoli pubblici, and Pontenze sovrane yield much useful information. Other pertinent documents are likely to be found in I-Mas Registri della Cancelleria dello Stato, series IV (Grazie, privilegi, e donazioni) and XV (Missive), as well as in I-Mas Cancelleria dello Stato and Notarile, all of which are rich in documentation of musical activity during the sixteenth century.

14 I-Mas Culto p.a. 2126 (Patronati Regi P.G.-1530), fasc. 3, fols. 70–1. According to this source, which is a manuscript copy of a “Libro Economale di tutti li Iuspatronati fondati e dotati dalli signori Duchi di Milano” prepared by Don Agostino Bassanini in 1651, the benefice was founded on 3 June 1524 by Francesco II Sforza. The beneficiary was to say a mass on all feasts, as well as masses for the Senate, and earned an entrata of 450 lire per annum. No musical activity is mentioned.

15 I-Mt Codice 1252 (Ceremoniale Spagnolo Milanese), 5r–8v.

16 I-Mas, Culto p.a. 1079 (San Gottardo in Corte: Musica, Corte ducale).

17 Barblan, 612–4.

18 Daolmi, Le origini, 276, 278, 281, 436.

19 Daolmi, Le origini, 343.

20 See, for example, the editorial comments of Luciano Migliavacca regarding the commixture of Ambrosian and Roman practice in the fourth Milan Choirbook in Liber cappelle ecclesie maioris: quarto codice di Gaffurio, eds. Angelo Ciceri and Luciano Migliavacca, Archivium Musices Metropolitanum Mediolanense 16 (Milan: La Musica Moderna S.p.a., 1968), xi–xii.



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