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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 16 (2010) No. 1

A Muse of Music in Early Baroque Florence: The Poetry of Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane. By Janie Cole. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2007. [xiii, 389 pp. ISBN 978-88-222-5704-8. €48.]

Reviewed by Paul Schleuse*

1. Overview

2. Biography and Networks

3. The Poetry Collection

4. Sources Found and Settings Lost

5. Textual Variations and Musical Settings: Whose poesia per musica?

6. Meter, Dance, and balli

7. Conclusion


1. Overview

1.1 The production of poetry, music, and theater in early modern Florence was dependent on public transactions and private interactions whose finest details are often invisible to us today. Janie Cole’s work on the poetry of Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane (1568–1647) is commendable for the degree of this detail that she recovers in bringing to light the five-volume poetry collection of this well-connected author. The present study, based in part on her 2005 dissertation at the University of London (Royal Holloway College), presents an edition of selected poems by Buonarroti and a catalogue with indices of the complete collection, preceded by five chapters exploring Buonarroti’s personal and professional relationships, his poetic influences and style, and musical settings of his poetry, including eighteen new poetic attributions.

1.2 As insightful as these chapters are, many of the most fascinating passages—the footnotes tell us—will be further developed in Cole’s forthcoming Cultural Brokerage and Music-Theatre in Early Modern Italy: Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane. [This has since been published with the title Music, Spectacle, and Cultural Brokerage in Early Modern Italy: Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane, 2 vols. (Florence: Olschki, 2011).—Ed.] Repeated citations of this monograph imply that it will supersede much of the present book’s Part One. Even readers of that book will, however, need to refer back to this one, since it presents many of Buonarroti’s most important poems in full in Part Two. This review first considers Cole’s introductory chapters on Buonarroti’s life and the sources of his poetry, then the edition and catalogue in Part Two, and finally the chapters in Part One dealing with musical settings.

2. Biography and Networks

2.1 Buonarroti was prominent both as an advocate for his famous great-uncle’s lasting reputation and as a poet and courtier in his own right; Cole’s first chapter traces his path through various layers of courtly Florentine society. His important friendships—most notably with Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII) and Galileo Galilei—date to his youth in Florence and his education at the University of Pisa, and both are commemorated in later poems included here.

2.2 The poet held memberships in the Fiorentina and Crusca academies, among others, as well as in more informal groups such the Pastori Antellesi, but his most important patrons were the Medici. Although he never held an official courtly position, Cole argues that his role at court gave him access to networks through which he secured various favors, gifts, and civic appointments for himself, his friends, and his family. He wrote the official Descrizione for the 1600 wedding of Maria de’ Medici and Henry IV of France, and he later produced a number of large-scale theatrical works performed in connection with state occasions—Il natale d’Ercole (1605), Il giudizio di Paride (1608), La Tancia (1611), Il passatempo (1614), and La fiera (1619)—as well as more than fifty smaller-scale balli, mascherate, and other stage pieces. The manuscript collection studied here is a rich source for texts associated with these stage works.

3. The Poetry Collection

3.1 The poetry collection of Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane consists of five manuscript volumes containing around 1500 poems (not counting revisions and replica copies), now housed at the Casa Buonarroti in Florence, where they are catalogued as Archivio Buonarroti (hereafter AB) 82–6. The collection includes lyric, spiritual, occasional, and panegyric poems, as well as several short plays, fragments intended for insertion into larger works, and rough sketches. The poetry spans Buonarroti’s adult life, from 1584 to 1646, but although some of the individual poems can be dated (either from annotations in the manuscripts themselves or publication in Buonarroti’s lifetime), the haphazard and apparently unplanned organization of the books makes general dating difficult. Cole does not attempt to resolve these problems, which (as she observes) would require analysis of paper types, gathering structures, changes in Buonarroti’s handwriting, and an exhaustive examination of the poetry itself.

3.2 The catalogue of the five volumes in Appendix I (253–356) is a valuable reference tool, along with its indices of first lines and names appearing in dedications and headings. The edition, though only a selection of eighty-eight poems in all, is of interest both to musicologists and to other students of the period. It is divided into four parts, beginning with a selection of occasional and panegyric poetry that reveals both the range of Buonarroti’s social networks and the intimacy of many of his friendships. The second part includes all the poems that were published in musical settings, where Cole catalogues variants between the manuscript texts and the music prints. The third includes eighteen poems “Set to Music (Musical Sources Unknown and/or Lost),” including some canzonettas for which the evidence of musical settings is somewhat speculative. The editorial criteria are sensible and clearly presented.

4. Sources Found and Settings Lost

4.1 Cole is able to attribute eighteen poems in printed musical settings to Buonarroti; adding two attributions previously made by Tim Carter accounts for twenty poems set by eight composers, namely Giovan Domenico Montella, Jacopo Peri, Piero Benedetti, Antonio Brunelli, Marco da Gagliano, Amante Franzoni, Girolamo Frescobaldi, and—most notably—Francesca Caccini. Indeed, eleven attributions are of poems set in Caccini’s Primo libro delle musiche a una, e due voci (1618), confirming documentary evidence of a close working relationship between composer and poet. The new attributions are detailed in Chapter 5, Table 1 (113–5).

4.2 Many more poems were set to music that is now lost, sometimes indicated by annotations in the manuscripts. Cole also suggests that strophic texts laid out in multiple columns on the page may indicate poems intended for musical settings: all surviving settings of strophic texts appear in this format in the manuscripts, as do those whose musical purpose is indicated by annotations.

5. Textual Variations and Musical Settings: Whose poesia per musica?

5.1 The concordances between printed musical settings and poems in the manuscript collection offer Cole a rich resource with which to explore the question of poesia per musica. An instructive example is the poem “Non più d’amore,” a five-strophe canzonetta which appears in AB 84. The first strophe is set by Piero Benedetti in his Musiche (1613) as it appears in the manuscript, but the print continues with four completely different poetic strophes written in a simpler style and more playful tone. The authorship of these stanzas is unknown, but Cole makes a reasonable argument that they are likely by Buonarroti himself. If this is true, and leaving aside the question of which version came first, we may suppose that Benedetti’s version represents poesia per musica, while the manuscript version is something else (poesia per leggere? poesia per recitare?).

5.2 A more complex case is Buonarroti’s “Se tu parti da me, Nisilla amata” in AB 84, described in the manuscript as “per la med[esim]a aria” as the preceding poem, “Poiché de’ Toschi al fortunato impero,” which itself carries the rubric, “Per Jacopo Peri per porvi su l’aria fatta sopra il Coro de Giudizio del Giudizio [sic] di Paride che comincia quando la notte con l’oscure piume p[er] cantarsi all’Arc[iduches]sa – non servi.” Since Peri published his setting of “Se tu parti da me, Fillide amata” in Le varie musiche (1609), Cole examines the assumption that the same music, with its distinctive use of triple-meter aria style at the end of each stanza, had originally been used for the Act III chorus in Il giudizio di Paride.1 Considering details of text underlay and word emphasis, she concludes that at least some recomposition—and possibly a great deal—must have occurred in setting “Se tu parti da me” to the aria of “Quando la notte.” This seems likely, especially given the annotations to “Se tu parti da me” in AB 84 that refer to minor textual variants in Peri’s setting (including the use of “Fillide” for “Nisilla”), revealing that Buonarroti himself conceived of two different states of the poem—written and sung. The relationship between poet and composer, and between their various treatments of these texts, was more complex than the phrase “per la medesima aria” can express.

6. Meter, Dance, and balli

6.1 Cole is surely right that many of Buonarroti’s poems were set to music that does not survive, as some poems bear indications that they were intended for dancing. More speculatively, Cole proposes that poetic meters and strophic forms may imply texts intended for dance music and even for specific choreographies. For example, quinari are easily adapted to gagliarda rhythms, and ottonari to the corrente.2 However, as the texts which carry the rubric corrente (including three poems written in settenarii) suggest, many different poetic meters could be adapted to various dance rhythms, making this a highly unstable correlation.

6.2 Cole also reads unusual poetic forms with highly irregular syllable counts as suggesting possible use in choreographed balli, following the well-known example of the giuoco della cieca in Act III, scene 2 of Guarini’s Il pastor fido. In that case the choreography was conceived first, after which Luzzasco Luzzaschi wrote music; only then did Guarini finally add the text, which resulted in the irregular poetic structures and varying line lengths in that scene.3 However, that highly idiosyncratic example seems unlikely to represent the compositional process or the poetic style of most balli in the early seventeenth century, which favored the regular rhythms of Chiabreresque poetry. Proposing that irregular poetic forms were written for balli, as Cole does for Buonarroti’s “Crudel che mi spregi e fuggi” (headed “Aria per una corrente”), is thus plausible, but hardly decisive.

6.3 In Cole’s analysis of Buonarroti’s “Soffrir non posso” an error in scansion contributes to a more problematic proposal of this kind (137–43). Cole follows the line breaks in Buonarroti’s manuscript (Fig. 10, p. 141) and scans the poem as a highly idiosyncratic mixture of six different verse types, misreading tronco lines according to the number of syllables they contain, rather than by their accentuation patterns:4


Soffrir non posso


L’affano del cor,


e morrò senza pietà.




il dolor


e disciorassi quest’anima, ahimè.

d7 [sic]

Ahimè, mercè, mercè.

6.4 Based on this analysis, Cole proposes that the text might have been intended for a staged ballo in the style of Il giuoco della cieca, although the setting of “Soffrir non posso” by Frescobaldi in his Il secondo libro d’arie musicali (Florence, 1630; presented here as Example 10, p. 140) does not reflect this style. It has a fairly regular sense of compound duple meter, and the poetry was almost certainly written first. Moreover, an alternative reading of the poem that follows both metrical conventions and the poem’s syntax (though admittedly reading four lines in Buonarroti’s manuscript as emistichi) yields a far more regular metrical structure:


Soffrir non posso l’affano del cor,


e morrò senza pietà


M’ucciderà il dolor


e disciorassi quest’anima, ahimè


Ahimè, mercè, mercè.5

6.5 This reading throws Buonarroti’s exclusive use of tronco endings into sharper relief by revealing a less unusual underlying strophic pattern of endecasillabi, ottonari, and a concluding settenario. It also more closely reflects the phrasing of Frescobaldi’s setting.

6.6 In cases like this, one comes away from Cole’s study with an appreciation for the myriad problems that beset a scholar of poesia per musica. Whether the term is used to refer to poetry written specifically for a musical setting or to poems chosen for such a setting at a later time, identifying poesia per musica on the basis of textual analysis alone can scarcely proceed beyond informed speculation. Similarly, poems known to have been set to music that is now lost tell us little or nothing about that music.

7. Conclusion

7.1 The organization of the book into monograph-plus-edition is very handy, especially since many of the poems in the edition are referred to in several different places in the opening chapters. The writing is often a bit awkward, marked by quirks such as Cole’s repetition of the verb “constitute” in the opening sentences of several of the chapters and many of the sub-chapters. Cole also tends to paraphrase poems at the expense of interpreting them; while this will be helpful to readers with a limited knowledge of Italian, a direct English translation would have served that purpose more effectively.

7.2 Quibbles with details of poetic analysis aside, however, Cole’s primary interest clearly lies less in the details of poems and musical settings themselves than in the “thick” social contexts in which their authors and composers moved. Her biographical work connecting Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane’s poetry to both Florentine and foreign institutions and individuals is remarkable; along with the reference guide to the collection, it represents the book’s greatest asset. Cole’s oft-cited recent study of Buonarotti in a broader context of cultural exchange promises further revelations along these lines; I look forward to reading it.


* Paul Schleuse (schleuse@binghamton.edu) is an Assistant Professor of Music at Binghamton University, State University of New York.  He is the editor of Orazio Vecchi, Selva di varia ricreatione, Recent Researches in Music of the Renaissance 157 (Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2012), and the forthcoming Singing Games: Recreation and Imitation in the Music Books of Orazio Vecchi (Indiana University Press).

1 See Tim Carter, Jacopo Peri, 1561–1633: His Life and Works (New York: Garland, 1989), 251.

2 Putnam Aldrich, Rhythm in Seventeenth-Century Italian Monody (New York: W.W. Norton, 1966), 85–103.

3 On the ballo della cieca see Anthony Newcomb, The Madrigal at Ferrara: 1579–1597, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 1:44–5.

4 See Aldo Menichetti, Metrica italiana: Fondamenti metrici, prosodia, rima (Padua: Antenore, 1993), 109.

5 On this convention of identifying tronchi lines thus: [x’8], see Menichetti, Metrica italiana, 109.

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