ISSN: 1089-747X
Copyright © 1995–2012 by the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 9, no. 1:

Robert L. Kendrick*

What’s So Sacred about “Sacred” Opera? Reflections on the Fate of a (Sub)Genre


This paper considers the aesthetic background and literary themes of the early examples of sacred opera in Rome. It focuses on the philosophical background to their plots, their representations of characters (especially demons and Christian heroes/heroines), the mixing of rhetorical levels in their texts, and some of the musical manifestations of such themes.

1.  Introduction: Themes and Occasions

2.  The Poetics of Sacred Drama

3.  Operatic Reflections of Contemporary Approaches

4.  The Demonology of Early Opera

5.  Rhetorical Levels in Sacred Opera

6.  Psychology and Agency



1. Introduction: Themes and Occasions

1.1 Any student of the explicitly religious in early seventeenth-century music cannot fail to be struck by a lexigraphic emblem: the four columns devoted to the term “sacred opera” in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera (written in sections by Graham Dixon and Richard Taruskin) as opposed to the lack of such an entry in the revised edition of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart or the second (2000) edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.1 That this reflects not simply differences in Anglo-American versus continental approaches seems no accident. Our view of the nature of early opera on religious themes is also evident in the selection of pieces that might be subsumed under such a category. The seventeenth-century section of the Grove “sacred opera” entry lists the classic examples, obviously starting with Agostino Tassi’s and Emilio de Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo. It summarizes the work of Margaret Murata on the Barberini operas, and then passes on to later examples, all having to do with Jesuit-sponsored music: works of Kerll and Biber, written for German institutions, and the very important case of Charpentier’s David et Jonathas.2 Perhaps most striking is its bibliography, whose latest entry is Silke Leopold’s article of 1978 on sacred libretti of the 1620s.3

1.2 In the course of preparing this paper, it became impossible to avoid the conclusion that anything to be noted about this repertory had already been said some time before by Murata and Leopold. The latter’s article, taking off from her earlier work on Landi’s Sant’Alessio, deals with issues that are still fundamental to the understanding of sacred opera: the lack of theoretical sources for a specifically sacred musical dramaturgy; the problems of generic classification and the relations to pastoral; the role of spectacle and chorus; and the differing approaches to structure evident in two operas of the 1620s, both entitled La Giuditta, by Francesco Giorgio and Andrea Salvadori.4 Indeed, any view of sacred opera has to be informed by, even dialogic with, the work of Murata and Leopold. My aim here is only to build on their fundamental insights into the aesthetics of the genre. And the question of my title could be rephrased in a somewhat less flip way: which are the characteristics of sacred artistic production in the early Seicento, and in which ways (besides their subject matter) might any piece that we define as a sacred opera share in them? Was there such a genre? Did a sacred thematic area exist only on the margins in early opera? What might have marked them as specifically “sacred,” other than plot and setting? And given the intense religiosity of culture in the early Seicento, why are there so few examples?

1.3 On the level of patrons and their ideology, there would have seemed to be no reason why more sacred works were not produced. Francesco Gonzaga, Ferdinando de’ Medici, and the Barberini clan were highly religious men, not simply formally so. Nor were subjects lacking: given the massive interest in paleo-Christian hagiography, and the very immediate experiences of martyrdom from England to Japan in the late sixteenth century, any number of melodramatic plots based on sanctoral suffering could have been crafted. One thinks immediately of the very large homiletic literature on Catholic martyrs, such as Paolo Aresi’s Le rose giapponesi (Tortona, 1628) in honor of the Franciscans and Catholic laypeople executed at Nagasaki. It seems, however, that the interest in the musico-dramatic depiction of martyrial suffering was a development of the 1640s, with such pieces as Sant’Eustachio and Tronsarelli-Domenico Mazzocchi’s Il martirio de’ Santi Abundio prete, Abundantio diacono, Marciano, e Giovanni suo figliuolo, cavalieri romani (1641).5

1.4 In a broader context, the polystylism and aesthetic innovation of Italian religious culture in the early Seicento also would have seemed to favor the musico-theatrical representation of religious values. This field of study is one which has taken off in recent years. One might cite Frederick McGuiness’ book on the creative re-use of classic rhetoric and the emphasis on inculcating morality to be found in Roman sacred oratory, Giovanni Pozzi’s lifelong study of emblematics and poetic theory, Pamela Jones’ highlighting the Christian optimism inherited from Philip Neri to be found in the aesthetics of a prelate such as Federigo Borromeo, and Simon Ditchfield’s study of hagiography and historiography in Piacenza as both the creative expression of the local and as historicist beginnings.6 In the 1990s, adecade of Catholic reaction and revival, it is also no surprise that some of the less-nuanced scholarship in this vein tends towards the hagiographic and triumphalist.7

1.5 Despite the problems inherent in adopting the categories of ecclesiastical historians, often not concerned with such “details” as musical style or patronage, it would seem that enough is valid in the revisionist historiography of religious culture to warrant a view of early sacred operas from such a perspective. The tensions in sacred artistic production in the early Seicento are several: first, the overall philosophical contest between Neri’s brand of Christian optimism, on one hand, and Stoicist-inspired rejection of the world; second, the general openness to the mixture of rhetorical levels and literary registers found in the other preaching orders (and in such poets as Angelo Grillo) versus the Jesuit insistence on the separation of styles and the homogeneity of tone; third, the contest of psychological veracity and material realism versus the abstraction of apotheosis; and fourth, the admixture of popular styles and artistic refinement.

2. The Poetics of Sacred Drama

2.1 The first problem, then, might have been an aesthetic one: not only the lack of an Ottavio Rinuccini to create texts that could sustain and indeed elicit large sections of innovative kinds of recitar cantando, but a more structural problem in the production of sacred dramatic texts for music. Since Marc Föcking’s work on the innovations in Italian sacred poetry around 1600 due to Gabriele Fiamma and especially Grillo, it has become evident that the essential impulse to new forms of religious literature was lyric, not dramatic or even narrative. Pozzi’s works have also underlined how homiletics became the preferred theater for innovation later in the century.8 An analogous process to the mixing of literary register and to epigrammatic scale, familiar to us all from Guarini’s secular poetry and Pastor fido, were carried out only in the subgenres of sacred verse by Grillo. It is thus no surprise that the musical reflections of the changes in sacred aesthetics should be found in motets and spiritual madrigals. But there was no dramatic form into which Grillo’s essentially lyric inspiration was carried.

2.2 Thus on the purely theatrical level, there were also broader issues. The lack of any models even in an earlier generation is evident in the character of Federico della Valle’s works for the Savoyard court. With their ponderous chorus, arcane literary references, and long monologues, Iudit, Ester, and La Reina di Scozia represented no model, nor even a source, for a possible dramma sacro per musica.9 Nor does much sacred tragedy of the early Seicento fit the bill. If anything approaching the mixture of literary levels found in Rappresentatione or Rospigliosi’s dramas can be found in sacred theater of the time, it must be in the ways in which the sacra rappresentazione tradition was carried in the works of the comico Giovanni Battista Andreini, such as his three treatments of the Mary Magdalene story.

2.3 I would like to restrict the time frame to the first half of the century, and to concentrate on two differing pairs of Roman examples (for all of which we have scores): the early cases of Rappresentatione along with Agostino Agazzari’s Eumelio, and Rospigliosi’s sanctoral spectacles: Landi’s Sant’Alessio and Virgilio Mazzocchi’s Sant’Eustachio.10 This group of works takes us from the beginning of the operatic genre as a whole to the final collaboration at the end of Urban VIII’s reign, a relatively delimited period. In this perspective, the genre of the oratorio is largely irrelevant, its two-part structure and generic norms seeming very much a late innovation. Similarly, even the most extended examples of sacred dialogues, in Latin or Italian, seem to participate in other generic norms, and I will not consider them here.

3. Operatic Reflections of Contemporary Approaches

3.1 If we look at this repertory of four operas, then, from the first overall perspective, that of Christian optimism versus Stoicism, the differences in world-view are evident. Rappresentatione and Eumelio end with communal rejoicing at a lieto fine, the salvation of the soul or of the shepherd, while the two sanctoral pieces conclude with the death of the protagonists and a very abbreviated apotheosis.11 If the choices in Rappresentatione and Eumelio seem relatively clear, with demarcated spheres of the heavenly and the infernal, the difficulties for the Christian protagonists in the Roman works of mid-century are far more complex, with family ties seeming to oppose the dictates of faith (both Sant’Alessio and Sant’Eustachio). Clearly the intellectual world of the century’s first decade had changed remarkably by the 1630s.

3.2 The pieces are of their time in other ways, as well. Given the emphasis on reasoned persuasion in Rappresentatione, the eventual winning of Corpo to Anima’s side in the famous dialogue of Act II, and the typically Oratorian polystilism evident in Cavalieri’s use of a panoply of forms and styles, the opera of 1600 seems like a musical enactment of Neri’s Christian optimism.12

3.3 One section exemplifies this. Act I of Rappresentatione begins with a moralizing prologue, then sandwiches Intelletto’s epistemological statement and the colloquy of Anima and Corpo (won fairly quickly by the former) in between two strophic choruses, the first on the transitoriness of the world, the second on God’s benignity. Thus the end of the act underscores the positing of not only reason, but also emotion, as “naturally” inclining towards the divine. This latter was of course set by Cavalieri as a large-scale finale, thus shifting the emphasis from the penitential tone of the mystery-play tradition to Oratorian optimism. To do so, however, so early in a counter-Carnival play was by no means an uncontroversial choice.

3.4 On the other hand, the long domestic laments of Sant’Alessio and the extended preparations for martyrdom in Sant’Eustachio reveal a far different world-view: one concentrated on the difficulties of life, the lack of human understanding, and the misguided counsel of even believing Christians, such as Alessio’s family who cannot understand his behavior. Despite the common coin of “Roman Baroque triumphalism,” Rospigliosi’s dramas inhabit a world fundamentally changed from that of the Jubilee.

4. The Demonology of Early Opera

4.1 Another level on which operatic dramaturgy also changed was that of demonology. The early Seicento was a time of interest and codification of works on the nature, orders, and efficacy of demons. Perhaps the longest treatment, although by no means the only one, was Antonio Rusca’s treatise on the origin and status of demons before their Fall, De inferno et statu daemonorum.13 Rusca’s book noted the universality of belief in the demonic, and investigated the ways in which they interacted with the perceptual world. Special attention was paid to the ways in which they were able to deceive humans, namely their sharing of language and epistemology combined with their infernal goals. In a departure from previous demonologic theory, Rusca admitted the possibility for devils to feel “human” emotion, as their degeneration had led to a degradation of their angelic nature.14

4.2 In the light of such theories, the appearance of demonic figures in early sacred opera is striking. Their complete absence from Rappresentatione, and their presence as stereotypical Vices in Eumelio, contrasts sharply with their psychological depiction in Sant’Alessio. The role of Demonio in the latter is marked by Landi not only in the obvious ways, but also in the characteristically bass vocal writing. Although the association with the Underworld was obvious, most recently in Landi’s own La morte d’Orfeo (Caronte), here the special treatment of the demon signals the presence of another order of being on the stage. This relatively sympathetic devil speaks in three different linguistic registers: his “official” role as tempter of Alessio in Act I, scene 4 (figure 1); his deceiving appearance as a holy hermit in Act II, scene 6 (figure 2); and as a very hopeful organizer of further schemes, thus using emotions (hope, regret) that he technically was not supposed to be capable of feeling (figure 3). Landi responded to Rospigliosi’s uncharacteristically versatile devil by providing three kinds of bass vocal writing: virtuoso leaps, florid and differentiated phrases of persuasion, and a very undemonic parlando.

5. Rhetorical Levels in Sacred Opera

5.1 The problems of the representation of demons in opera also leads to a second point, the overall ways in which these pieces mix rhetorical levels. In odd ways, the earlier ones seem more homogenous than Rospigliosi’s, as Rappresentatione uses an essentially popular style, while Eumelio works largely on a more formal register. There is no particular stylistic shift, in Act III of Rappresentatione, between the damned and the blessed souls. Nor is there any striking contrast in Eumelio between the musical writing for Apollo and for the Vices, and the relative homogeneity of tone seems typical of the homiletics of the two respective orders: the popular tone of the Oratorians and the emphasis on classical rhetoric of the Jesuits.

5.2 Obviously, Rospigliosi’s dramas take as an aesthetic premise the mixing of rhetorical levels. Hence the long emphasis on Martio and Curtio’s buffoonery results in complete incomprehension in their encounters with both Alessio and the Demonio, the two representatives of otherworldly planes in the opera. It is this dramatic presupposition of different “langues,” not just different “paroles,” in the same work that allows Landi to contrast and balance musical characterization.15 In sharp contrast, the relatively elevated tone of Sant’Eustachio, couched in tragic terms throughout, is all the more striking after the experiments of the preceding decade. Its literary homogeneity may also be in the background of Rospigliosi’s characterization (first given by Murata’s study) as “cosa assai più positiva, e più ordinaria del solito” (“a piece more ordinary, and more ordinary than normal”), a seemingly odd description of a tale of family martyrdom.16

6. Psychology and Agency

6.1 The issue of psychological veracity on stage, the third point, is also raised by the move from purely allegorical modes of discourse in Cavalieri and Agazzari to mixed modes in the Barberini pieces. In some ways, Tassi’s logical display of the vanities of worldly life require a spectator whose ratio takes in the argument and whose sensus is simultaneously conquered by the scenic and musical display of the piece. The issue of allegory also raises a basic question about Eumelio: that of the Christian content of its allegory. Although its plot would seem to be moralizing, the allegorical equation between Apollo and Christ would have been present in its audience’s minds, as the idea of a god who descends into the Underworld to rescue a beloved child (who had been betrayed by masked demons in a pastoral setting) would have had Christian soteriological resonance in a Jesuit institution. As a counter-Carnival entertainment, the mission of Eumelio’s narration would have been to show the Seminario’s audience that, in the pre-salvational mythological world being enacted in the adjoining streets, issues of grace, fall, and redemption were just as present as in the Rome of 1606. In that sense Eumelio was an opera morale in the same sense that cantate morali were published in the same volumes, later in the century, as cantate spirituali. Christian morality (and here the emphasis on natural law seems typical of the Jesuit order) was simply the most complete version of natural morality.

6.2 The issue of psychological veracity also raises the question of agency in the Rospigliosi operas. The early Seicento also witnessed the de facto distancing of the possibilities for sanctity, as the missions closed down in Asia, Europe lurched towards confessionalization, and the canonization process became more slow. If the historical context made the domestic heroism of Alessio more relevant to the opera’s audience, Rospigliosi’s characterization of the saint as an example “più ammirabile che imitabile,” for his seeming unnecessary and insensitive refusal to reveal himself to his family, also rings quite true. Alessio seems to be one of the extraordinary figures in Catholic reform, to use McGuiness’s words, “a model of Christian sainthood wherein the heroic, virtuoso achievement becomes expressed in a passion for holiness, an insatiable thirst for “the more” (magis) for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.” 17 Certainly the removal of Alessio from the stage well before any emotional catharsis is reached contributes further to his removal from the level of human emotions, a realm shared by all the other characters, demons included.

6.3 Perhaps Rospigliosi’s reference to Sant’Eustachio as a “dramma più commune” (presumably than Alessio or San Bonifazio) thus also refers to the more normal level of its protagonist’s heroism. His interchanges with the Emperor Adriano in Act III, scene 3, at the classical epicenter of the drama) seem to represent Rospigliosi’s efforts to incorporate a more familiar martyriological discourse into a dramatic situation:

Adriano: Andianne e là nel Tempio,

Hadrian: Go, and there in the temple,

ove ondeggia a guerrieri il popol misto,

where the varied people wave [tributes] to the warriors,

mand’ in sacre fiammelle fumi odorati,

send perfumed smoke in sacred flames

a venerar le stelle.

to venerate the stars.

Eustachio: Ben di pietà con non volgare esempio,

Eustachio: Though you are no common example of piety,

tu nel bramato acquisto di popoli soggetti,

you hasten, in your desired acquisition of subjected peoples

di rivolgerti affretti,

to turn

le gratie al Nume onde ogni gratia viene,

graces to the deity from Whom all grace derives.

ma là non le rivolgi ove conviene,

But you do not address [your devotions] where it is appropriate;

vive un sol Dio; gli altri son numi estinti.

there lives one sole God, the others are dead idols.

Numi di cieco orror, più che di luce,

Idols of blind horror rather than of light,

hor qual devot’ adduce,

now you use them as [objects of] devotion,

che si usurpin gli onori dovuti al Rè superno,

they who usurp the honors due to the supreme God;

simulacri d’abisso, ombre d’inferno.18

they are simulacra of the abyss, shades of hell.

Thus, in its renunciation of the spectacular, and its move away from the innovative, it also seems to encapsulate the end of the innovation typical of Urban’s early years, thus again marking an end to a cultural moment in operatic production.

6.4 One trait that unifies the works was the romanità of all the operas. Again here, the closing chorus of Sant’Alessio, “Felice Roma,” seems like the most typical example. Yet it is also true that Rome is present in Rappresentatione because of the inescapable association of the Jubilee year and its attendant festivities. The presence of Rome in Eumelio is seemingly more absent, but the pastoral mode itself implied reference to the city. The city had another kind of presence in the Barberini operas. If the invocation of Rome in the final chorus of Sant’Alessio comes as something of a surprise, Sant’Eustachio foregrounds the role of the city as the seat of Imperial power but also the preferred locus of conversion and early Christian martyrdom. Thus Eustachio’s sons, Agapito and Teopisto, actually owe their conversion to Christianity to their presence in Rome. Thus the idea of the civitas sancta carried with it an unmistakable idea of Roman antiquity being redone in “better,” saved fashion, in the same way that cardinals “redid” their titular churches in the city.19

6.5 The presence of Rome as a force in the Barbarini operas sheds indirect light on another parmeter of characterization. For all that women were absent from the stage in the performance venues (actually, of all four operas discussed here), still the social presence of two kinds of Roman Christian matrons—namely, the martyr, as in Eustachio’s wife Teopiste, and the pious widow, his daughter-in-law Eufrasia—recalls the ways in which Roman noblewomen of the time attempted to model themselves on such early Christian matrons.20 Teopiste and Eufrasia thus provided models for the active and contemplative female life, respectively. If the social reality of Rome in the 1640s increasingly favored the latter, it is still noteworthy that Rospigliosi’s affective universe had, by this point in his career, widened to the point of offering diverse kinds of female characterization.

6.6 Finally, there is one other historiographic point that an overview of sacred opera might provide. Even though it was destined to have no immediate progeny, it might encourage us to revisit the historiography of Latin oratorio. If early opera on Christian subjects was of its time, in terms of narrative, literary style, and musical devices, then the relationship between opera and oratorio later in the century might become clearer (without, of course, drawing any teleological or evolutionary conclusions). As his own innovation of mid-century, Arcangelo Spagna claimed that opera and oratorio were essentially theatrical genres, dialects of the same language, differentiated not by individual characters but only by thematic material and the lack of the visual in the latter.21 For all that Spagna declared himself inventor of this procedure, the interplay between sacred and secular in musical drama earlier in the century suggests that continuity was also present in the musical dramaturgy of sacred subjects during the arc of the entire century.

6.7 In this light, the maintenance of older traditions, use of a narrator, and exclusive reliance on Old Testament topics found in the works of Carissimi and Graziani seem to mark something of a different path, and suggest that the norms of Latin oratorio represent something of an exception to the aesthetic norm, seen (and heard) in the longue durée of stage works in the Seicento.


* Robert Kendrick ( has been on the faculty of the University of Chicago since 1997. His Ph.D. is from New York University. Professor Kendrick’s specialization is in music of early-modern Europe and its intersections with religion, politics, gender, urban culture, and the fine arts. His principal publications include Celestial Sirens: Nuns and Music in Early Modern Milan (Oxford, 1996); Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: The Complete Motets (A-R Editions, 1998); Milanese Sonic Culture, 1580–1650 (Oxford, forthcoming); and an edition of works in Women Composers: Music through the Ages (1995–).

1. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie, 4 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1992), 4:118–120 (hereafter cited as NGO).

2. Murata’s work is to be found in Operas for the Papal Court, 1631–1668 (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981), and her entry for Rospigliosi in NGO 4:50.

3. Silke Leopold, “Das geistliche Libretto im 17. Jahrhundert: zur Gattungsgeschichte der frühen Oper,” Die Musikforschung 31 (1978): 245–57.

4. This does not exhaust the scholarship; for instance, one outstanding example is Kelley Harness’ work on women’s agency, female hagiography, and court spectacle in the Florence of the 1620s: “Amazzoni di Dio: Florentine Musical Spectacle under Maria Maddalena d’Austria and Cristina di Lorena (1620–30)” (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois
Urbana-Champaign, 1996).

5. On musical representations of martyrdom, my own “Martyrdom in Seventeenth-Century Italian Music,” in P. M. Jones and T. Worcester, eds., From Rome to Eternity: Catholic Culture and the Arts in Early Modern Italy (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2002, 121–41) attempts to trace some reflections of the topic in oratorio and motet repertories.

6. Frederick J. McGuinness, Right Thinking and Sacred Oratory in Counter-Reformation Rome (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995); Giovanni Pozzi, La parola dipinta (Milan: Adelphi, 1981); Pamela M. Jones, Federico Borromeo and the Ambrosiana: Art Patronage and Reform in Seventeenth-Century Milan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Simon Ditchfield, Liturgy, Sanctity, and History in Tridentine Italy: Pietro Maria Campi and the Preservation of the Particular (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

7. For instance, the interpretation of the biography of one nun (also an organist) as a “conversion experience” offered in Danilo Zardin, Donna e religiosa di rara eccellenza (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1992), seems to miss out on the changing conditions of cultural policy around her. In some ways, the recognition of the influence of neo-conservative thought on recent scholarship on early modern Catholicism is a mirror of Adriano Prosperi’s analysis of the political background to Paolo Prodi’s work (summarized in Ditchfield, “In search of local knowledge: Rewriting early modern Italian religious history,” Cristianesimo nella storia 19 [1998]: 255–296). Prosperi (and perhaps even more so Ditchfield) would trace Prodi’s use of the categories of “modernization” and “social discipline” to the Italian scholar’s own political disappointment with the experience of contemporary Italian Christian Democracy.

8. Marc Föcking, “Rime sacre” und die Genese des barocken Stils: Untersuchungen zu Stilgeschichte geistlicher Lyrik in Italien, 1536–1614 (Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag, 1994); Pozzi (alias Padre Giovanni da Locarno), Saggio sull’oratoria sacra del Seicento, esemplificata sullo stile del P. Emanuele Orchi (Rome: Institutum Hist. Ord. Fr. Min. Capp., 1954).

9. This is all the more remarkable considering the interplay between theatrical and musical genres typical of Turin.

10. On Rappresentatione, see Arnaldo Morelli’s paper in this issue; on Eumelio, M. F. Johnson, “Agazzari’s Eumelio, a Pastoral Drama,” Musical Quarterly 57 (1971): 491–505; for the Rospigliosi dramas, Murata, Operas.

11. Although only the scenario survives for the Tronsarelli/Mazzocchi Martirio, similar observations would seem to apply.

12. Again on this point, see Morelli’s article in this issue.

13. De inferno et statu daemonorum ante mundi exitum libri quinque … authore Antonio Rusca Mediolanensis, Collegi Ambrosiani doctore (Milan: Ex Collegi Ambrosiani Typographia, 1621). Rusca, later to be the diocese’s vicar general, was also the brother of Sister Claudia Francesca Rusca (ca.1593–1676), the organist of the convent of S. Caterina in Brera, whose Sacri concerti would be published in Milan in 1630.

14. Rusca, De inferno, 509, admitted the possibility for pride, hate, and jealousy in devils, making the comparison with human emotion: “Quemadmodum enim videtur in hominibus, iram et odium, superbiam, invidiam et alias huius modi pestilentissimas passiones … sic non est mirandum si vehementia malignitatis huiusmodi spiritum, non permittet eos bonum velle.” Further on (529) he also noted that devils could feel “dolor et tristia.” For a discussion of these issues in early modern theological writings, see Armando Maggi, Satans Rhetoric: A Study of Renaissance Demonology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

15. The terminological distinction is familiar from Saussurian linguistics.

16. For the description of Sant’Eustachio, see Murata, Operas, 45–46 and 342–44; for Rospigliosi’s own characterization of his work, ibid., 343.

17. The phrase is taken from McGuinness’s definition of sanctity in early modern Rome, Right Thinking, 27 ff.

18. Rospigliosi / V. Mazzocchi, Sant’Eustachio, III, ii; dialogue excerpts (I-Tn Giordano 9, ff. 55r–56r).

19. On Rome as a holy city, perhaps the best introduction is McGuinness, Right Thinking, 167–90. For one cardinal’s attempts to redo his titular churches in “ancient” style, see Barbara Agosti, Collezionismo e archeologia cristiana nel Seicento: Federico Borromeo e il medioevo artistico tra Roma e Milano (Milan: Jaca Book, 1996), 9–51.

20. The standard study is Carolyn Valone, “Roman Matrons as Patrons: Varied Views of the Cloister Wall,” in C. Monson, ed., The Crannied Wall: Women, Religion, and the Arts in Early Modern Europe (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992), 49–72, together with her “Piety and Patronage: Women and the Early Jesuits,” in E. A. Matter and J. Coakley, eds., Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A Religious and Artistic Renaissance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), 157–84.

21. Spagna’s “Trattato” from his Oratorii overo Melodrammi sacri (Rome: G. F. Buagni, 1706), vol. 1 (the treatise dealing with oratorio volgare) is reprinted in Arnold Schering, “Neue Beiträge zur Geschichte des italienischen Oratoriums im 17. Jahrhundert,” Sammelbände der Internationalen Musik-Gesellschaft 8 (1906–07): 43–70. The passage (pp. 52–54 in Schering’s article) reads: “Consideravo che le attioni di Theatri piacevano egualmente nel veder le rappresentare, che leggendole, e pure in esse non vi era Testo, onde pensai di levarlo, affatto anche da gl’Oratorii … Ben è vero, che in questo modo di comporre è necessario fin da principio, insinuare alla cognitione de gl’Ascoltanti il Thema, che s’intraprende, e successivamente i Personaggi, che parlano, mentre la loro figura non è esposta alla vista, ma solo all’udito, al che mancandosi, ò facendosi tardi, non può conciliarsi l’attentione, la quale una volta perduta difficilmente si riacquista.” Spagna claims to have introduced this way of writing oratorio texts (omitting the narrator) in his Debora of 1656.


Figure 1: Rospigliosi/Landi, Il Sant’Alessio, “official” demonic speech (I, iv; 1634 score, p. 47)

Figure 2: Rospigliosi/Landi, Il Sant’Alessio, “deceptive” holy speech (II, vi; 1634 score, p. 99)

Figure 3: Rospigliosi/Landi, Il Sant’Alessio, “demonically incorrect” reference to past emotions (II, ii; 1634 score, p. 79)

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Noel O’Regan, “Asprilio Pacelli, Ludovico da Viadana and the Origins of the Roman Concerto Ecclesiastico,Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music 6 (2000) <>, par. 4.3.

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