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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 6 (2000) No. 1

Response to Noel O'Regan

Robert R. Holzer*


A response to Noel O'Regan, "Asprilio Pacelli, Ludovico da Viadana and the Origins of the Roman Concerto Ecclesiastico." Noel O'Regan's essay is placed in the larger context of revisionist historiography of post-Tridentine Rome, where the music of Pacelli, Viadana and others represents the culmination of new directions stimulated by oratorios and lay confraternities. Suggestions follow for further research in music history and theology on the subject of musical fashions and taste and the role of a simplified style of music, reflecting the humble beginnings of the Jesuit order, in arousing devotion.

1. O'Regan's Revisionist View of Roman Sacred Music in the Late Sixteenth Century

2. Suggestions for Further Investigation

1. O'Regan's Revisionist View of Roman Sacred Music in the Late Sixteenth Century

1.1 Nothing is more bracing than revisionism, at least for historians. Noel O'Regan's article exemplifies the practice at its best, further rendering unto late Cinquecento Rome—and the Society of Jesus—that which had long been rendered elsewhere. As such, his words counter those of Manfred Bukofzer, who asserted half a century ago that "While Venice was the center of progress in sacred music, Rome was the bulwark of traditionalism," and they continue the work of others, such as Graham Dixon, who cited this very statement to launch one of his own revisionary essays.1

1.2 Prof. O'Regan and like-minded musicologists are not alone in rethinking post-Tridentine Italy. As this last modifier suggests, historians now take a more dispassionate view of the period than did their predecessors in the century leading up to Bukofzer's book. Risorgimento thinkers and their heirs, who found in Trent the source of all their woe, cast the period into the fiery historiographical pit. As one distinguished scholar and combatant put it in the heady days of Italian unification:

The foreigner took away our political life, Rome took away our mental life, our interior freedom, whence we fell into the final misery, and lost the name of nation. . . .

Jesuitism castrated minds, tearing the will out of them: and this it did more easily in Italy, where the Spanish were foreign and superstitious masters.2

Likewise, those Catholics who hoped to square their faith with Liberalism had no use for the Curia's excessive temporal pretensions, a failing they also blamed on the Jesuits.3 At the same time many saw in Venice, home to Sarpi and for a time to Galileo, the shining exception—a legacy found in Bukofzer.4

1.3 Such views, formed by those who dreamt "a mutilated Italy made whole," were less than ideal history.5 Rethinking them has been the work of historians, foreign and domestic, of the last half century. Their progress was celebrated nearly thirty years ago by Eric Cochrane, himself a vibrant revisionist.6 Though mindful of the many failings of Catholic Reform, he argued that its effects on culture were anything but stultifying. His final words, which focus on Rome, are relevant here:

Guitar Masses and parish councils are not inventions of the 1960s. They have ample precedent in Filippo Neri's sing-ins at the Oratorio and in the lay confraternities that were given control of many Roman parishes at the time of Pius V. Nor is the use of modern art for ecclesiastical and religious purposes: that was the common practice in the age of Caravaggio and the Caracci. The theologians and the liturgists of the twentieth century might therefore profit from the experiences of their Counter-Reformation forefathers, just as the [Niccolò] Ormaneto's and Aldobrandini's once profited from the experiences of Basil, Ambrose, and Augustine.7

1.4 O'Regan's own concluding remarks place Cochrane's statement on a firmer footing. And by identifying "informal devotional use" and "ornamented performance by solo singers" as engines of stylistic change he raises fresh questions about what it meant to be a composer in the years around 1600. Pacelli and Viadana were as much codifiers as creators, responding to practices matured in the previous three decades. Thus, as O'Regan observes, determining the chronology of their works matters less than understanding the cultural forces that conditioned them. To that end, I suggest three avenues of further investigation.

2. Suggestions for Further Investigation

2.1 My first suggestion, crudely put, is the investigation of fashion. The need to be up-to-date, to be galante, was a concept as dear to Italians of the Seicento as it was to those of the Settecento.8 In the preface to Chorici Psalmi et Motecta Pacelli proclaimed his pieces in line with those "which today are used in Rome."9 Such attention to taste may also help explain the composer's decision to have his works printed, to move them from his own "private use" to the public at large. Earlier in the preface Pacelli mentioned the rage for devotional music among nobles middle and high: by the end of the sixteenth century there were apparently enough of them to make such an undertaking worthwhile.10

2.2 At the same time, publication could also signal a modern music grown old. O'Regan notes the "long time-lag between the appearance of new styles in practice and their manifestation in publications." The resulting historical distorting lens is itself a result of fashion. As Tim Carter writes of secular monody in this period, "there is a clear sense that such music was printed only as it ceased to have currency in more immediate performance contexts."11 This tendency may also help explain why Viadana so pressed his own claim to priority, and why he was so dismissive of earlier reductions of other music.12 O'Regan notes the analogy with the "Peri-Caccini-Cavalieri rivalry over who was first to use the stile recitativo."13 Such claims, however, were also staked at the very moment when a fashion, as it almost invariably does, shifted from elite novelty to mass conformity.

2.3 The "race-to-the-patent-office mentality," then, existed long before "techno-essentialist historiography and its values" were here to exalt it.14 Two other lines of inquiry may answer the more pressing question raised thereby: what drove the race?15 Pacelli's listeners were not supposed to live by the bread of fashion alone; the new styles, "these most pure delights of the ears, [were to] reawaken their devotion."16 This is the patristic spirit Cochrane saw at the heart of post-Tridentine piety, an echo of Augustine's celebrated praise of music:

When they are sung these sacred words stir my mind to greater religious fervor and kindle in me a more ardent flame of piety than they would if they were not sung. . . . I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion.17

2.4 The music of Pacelli and his contemporaries is Augustinian in a broader sense as well. In the same passage of Confessions, the Bishop of Hippo no less famously shunned the allures of excessively elaborate music.18 What O'Regan describes as "the breaking down of older contrapuntal style," its transformation into a "more suitable vehicle for the transmission of sacred texts," is a response to the same anxiety.19 Moreover, works such as Pacelli's are musical realizations of Augustine's teachings on Christian eloquence. As Erich Auerbach explained, another Augustinian text, De doctrina christiana, reconfigured ancient rhetoric:

In the Christian context humble everyday things, money matters or a cup of cold water, lose their baseness and become compatible with the lofty style; and conversely . . . the highest mysteries of the faith may be set forth in the simple words of the lowly style which everyone can understand. . . .

[The elementary simplicity of Biblical Latin] possessed a new and more profound sublimity. . . . at once offensive and defensive, this dialectical position lived through the Middle Ages and into the modern era; it played a significant part in molding European views on style and style levels.20

Works such as Pacelli's Chorici Psalmi et Motecta represented a new musical sermo humilis, products of a culture newly aware of the low style's power.21 Indeed, O'Regan's archival findings show that as early as 1580 vocal music with organ was worthy of papal ears, as it was when Gregory XIII visited Santa Maria dell'Anima that year. Not dissimilarly, at that very moment preachers, though prized for their mastery of Ciceronian Latin, were exhorted to brevity and the avoidance of tedium when holding forth coram papa.22

2.5 Such exhortations were surely felt by the very Jesuits Pacelli served, for during the reign of Gregory (1572-1585) they became the papacy's favorite orators.23It is this duality, of simplicity in the midst of splendor, that brings forth my final observation. The Society of Jesus is the most learned order the Church has ever had. Its humble origins, though, were never forgotten; from the first its leaders stressed simplicity to convey divine truth.24 Yet simplicity could be too attractive for its own good, as the post-Tridentine Church's tormented relations with vernacular languages shows. And as O'Regan's citations illustrate, the actions of Michele Lauretano while rector of the Collegio Germanico bespeak similar worries. On the one hand he encouraged flexible reductions of the sort later found in the Chorici psalmi et motecta. Yet he also complained that "nimble and effeminate voices of men, and the soft instruments of musicians [could] disturb the gravity of the divine offices."25

2.6 Lauretano allayed his fears in good Augustinian fashion, declaring such music at least fit "to restore the waning devotion of men of the world."26 Just as he was passing from the scene, though, a new set of attitudes would accord such music unencumbered praise. Students of post-Tridentine Italy have coined the term "Christian optimism" to describe this outlook, which began to flourish in the 1580s. It "thrived in Rome . . . [and stressed] an optimistic view of the world that emphasized spiritual joy and increased sensuality."27 In similar fashion, Pacelli twice lauded in his preface the "sweetness" (dolcezza) of religious music, the second time writing that "the sweetness of the gentle [soavi] songs yields up delights no less virtuous than pleasant."28 Consolation now joined spiritual utility, as could be seen in those nobles who "return[ed] time and again to sweeten [raddolcirsi] and to calm their heart, shrunken before the weighty thoughts and cares of things public and private."29 The "spiritual delight" of which Pacelli wrote likely inspired the sensuous simplicity of works such as the Chorici Psalmi et Motecta.30That we now know to include that collection in further research is the merit of Noel O'Regan.


* Robert Holzer <robert.holzer@yale.edu> received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Alabama, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, and is now Assistant Professor of Music at Yale University. His work on Italian music and poetry of the Seicento has appeared in Studi musicali, Cambridge Opera Journal, the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and in the volume The Sense of Marino. He has also published articles on the Second Viennese School. Return to beginning

1. See Manfred Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era from Monteverdi to Bach (New York: W. W. Norton, 1947), 68, quoted in Graham Dixon, "Progressive Tendencies in the Roman Motet during the Early Seventeenth Century," Acta musicologica 53 (1981): 205. Elsewhere, Dixon has used the passage to similar ends; see "G. F. Anerio (1567-1630) and the Roman School," The Musical Times 121 (1980): 366. Return to text

2. "Lo straniero ci tolse la vita politica, Roma ci tolse la vita dell'anima, la libertà interiore: onde noi sprofondammo nell'ulitma miseria, e perdemmo il nome di nazione. . . .    Il Gesuitesimo castrò le anime, strappandone il volere: e questo fece più facilmente in Italia, dove erano gli Spagnuoli padroni forestieri e superstiziosi."  Luigi Settembrini, Lezioni di letteratura italiana dettate nell'Università di Napoli, 2nd ed. (Naples: Antonio Morano, 1870), II, 219, 228. Return to text

3. See, for example, Vincenzo Gioberti's Il gesuita moderna, written on the eve of the 1848 uprisings. The supreme statement of Catholic Liberalism is Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi. Return to text

4. Later in the same passage cited above, Bukofzer played Rome off Venice, to the latter's benefit. Roman church music "reflected the pomp of the church ritual in the counter-reformation, but the affective spirit of the Venetian concertato was conspicuously lacking." Music in the Baroque Era, 68. In our own time Venetian exceptionalism has received its most eloquent portrayal in William J. Bouswma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty: Renaissance Values in the Age of the Counter Reformation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968). Return to text

5. The phrase is Amy Clampitt's. See "Margaret Fuller, 1847," in The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 231. Whatever their scholarly shortcomings, Italy's founders were nonetheless practicing a form of what some now call "contemporary history," which "begins when the problems which are actual in the world today first take visible shape." Geoffrey Barraclough, An Introduction to Contemporary History (New York: Basic Books, 1964), 12. Return to text

6. Eric Cochrane, "New Light on Post-Tridentine Italy: A Note on Recent Counter-Reformation Scholarship," The Catholic Historical Review 56 (1970-71): 291-319. For a more recent survey of the historiography of this period, see William V. Hudson, Marcello Cervini and Ecclesiastical Government in Tridentine Italy (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1992), 3-17. Important revisionary works of recent years include Paolo Prodi, The Papal Prince: One Body and Two Souls: The Papal Monarchy in Early Modern Europe, trans. Susan Haskins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Brendan Dooley, "Social Control and the Italian Universities," Journal of Modern History 61 (1989): 205-39; and idem, ed., Italy in the Baroque: Selected Readings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995). Return to text

7. Cochrane, "New Light on Post-Tridentine Italy," 319. Return to text

8. I have explored this topic in my "'Sono d'altro garbo . . . le canzonette che si cantano oggi': Pietro della Valle on Music and Modernity in the Seventeenth Century," Studi musicali 21 (1992): 253-306. Return to text

9. "Quali hoggidì si usano in Roma."  My rendering differs slightly from O'Regan's "such as is nowadays the custom in Rome." Return to text

10. The same obviously goes for his publisher, Nicolo Mutii, himself quick to capitalize on new trends: a year later he published Emilio de' Cavalieri's Rappresentatione di anima, et di corpo. Return to text

11. Tim Carter, "Printing the 'New Music,'" in Kate van Orden, ed., Music and the Cultures of Print (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), 4. Return to text

12. To be sure, Viadana was also an unpleasant fellow. While Father Guardian of the monastery of S. Francesco in Viadana, for example, he beat his inferiors. See the letter of 19 June 1607 from one Fra Andrea to the Duke of Mantua, cited in Susan Helen Parisi, "Ducal Patronage of Music in Mantua, 1587-1627: An Archival Study" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois, 1989), 2:671, n. 678. Return to text

13. Carter makes a similar point about these composers. Publication "helped them set several records straight over the authorship, content, and performance of their songs." See "Printing the 'New Music,'" 28. Return to text

14. The quotes come from Richard Taruskin, "Scriabin and the Superhuman," in Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 315. To be sure, these shared values may further explain why Viadana is as celebrated as Pacelli is forgotten. Return to text

15. As Leonard B. Meyer argues, "it is not primarily the advent of novelty that needs to be explained, but its use and, even more importantly, its subsequent replication." Style and Music: Theory, History, and Ideology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), 135. Return to text

16. "Risvegliare la devotion loro con questi purissimi diletti dell'orecchie." I have modified O'Regan's "their devotion rekindled by means of this most pure delight of the ears." Return to text

17. Confessions, 10.33. I quote the translation of R. S. Pine-Coffin (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), 238-39. Return to text

18. "It seems safer to me to follow the precepts which I remember often having heard ascribed to Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who used to oblige the lectors to recite the psalms with such slight modulation of the voice that they seemed to be speaking rather than singing. . . . When I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin." Augustine, Confessions, 238-39. Return to text

19. This phenomenon, of course, is linked to religious reform within Catholic countries and without. For its origins, see Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs: Savonarola's Musical Legacy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998); sixteenth-century Italy is discussed on pp. 146-49. It is also worth noting in this regard that at the turn of the seventeenth century, the very moment when Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass gained its mythic status as the savior of Church music, composers began producing four-part reductions of the piece. See Giovanni Francesco Anerio and Francesco Soriano, Two Settings of Palestrina's "Missa Papae Marcelli", ed. Hermann J. Busch, vol. 16 of Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era (Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions, 1973). Return to text

20. Erich Auerbach, "Sermo humilis," in Literary Language and its Public in Late Latin Antiquity and in the Middle Ages, trans. Ralph Mannheim, with a new foreword by Jan M. Ziolkowski (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 37, 47. The article first appeared in 1941. For Augustine's text in English, see On Christian Teaching, trans. R. P. H. Green (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). Return to text

21. I have explored the implications of sermo humilis in secular music of the time in my "Criticism after 'The Age of Criticism': Genres of Poetry and poesia per musica in the Early Seicento," paper read at the Third Annual Meeting of the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music, Danville, Ky., 28-30 April 1995. Return to text

22. See Frederick J. McGinness, Right Thinking and Sacred Oratory in Counter-Reformation Rome (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 70-71. Return to text

23. McGinness, 65. Return to text

24. See John W. O'Malley, The First Jesuits (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 101-102. Return to text

25. Thomas D. Culley, Jesuits and Music: I: A Study of the Musicians connected with the German College in Rome during the 17th Century and of their Activities in Northern Europe (Rome and St. Louis: Jesuit Historical Institute, 1970), 77. Return to text

26. Culley, 77. Return to text

27. Pamela M. Jones, Federico Borromeo and the Ambrosiana: Art Patronage and Reform in Seventeenth-Century Milan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 9.  For musicological treatments of the topic see Robert L. Kendrick, "'Sonet vox tua in auribus meis': Song of Songs Exegesis and the Seventeenth-Century Motet," Schütz-Jahrbuch 16 (1994): 99-118; idem, Celestial Sirens: Nuns and their Music in Early Modern Europe (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1996), 155-56; and my own "Beyond the (Musical) Pleasure Principle: Sanctifying the Sensuous in Early Seicento Rome," paper read at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society, Baltimore, 7-10 November 1996.. Return to text

28. For his part, Viadana also mentioned sweetness in the preface to the Cento concerti ecclesiastici: "I have, to the very best of my ability, endeavored to achieve an agreeable and graceful tunefulness [la dolcezza, & gentilezza dell'arie] in all the parts by making them singable and coherent."  Source Readings in Music History, ed. Oliver Strunk, rev. ed., ed. Leo Treitler, vol. 4: The Baroque Era, ed. Margaret Murata (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), 111.  The original is found in Lodovico Viadana, Cento concerti ecclesiastici, ed. Claudio Gallico (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1964), 121. Return to text

29. "Ritornano di quando in quando à raddolcirsi, e rallentarsi il cuore ristretto dianzi da' severi pensieri, e noie delle publiche, e private cose."  Once again, my translation differs slightly from O'Regan's. Return to text

30. Jesuit rhetoricians of the next generation made similar declarations about artistic pleasure. Tarquinio Galluzzi, for example, declared pleasure "an access" to virtue. See "De rhetorum ornamentis ab oratore divino non abhorrentibus," in Galluzzi, Orationum Tomus I (Rome, 1611), quoted in McGinness, 189. Return to text

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