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

Volume 9, no. 1:

John Walter Hill


1.1 This issue of The Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music is devoted to the papers presented at In Armonia Favellare, an International Conference on Early Opera and Monody to Commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the Italian Music Dramas of 1600, held at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, October 5–8, 2000. The earliest plans for it were formulated and discussed by Tim Carter, Silke Leopold, Sara Mamone, and John Walter Hill at a meeting at Heidelberg in January of 1998. Fellow scholars who saw our program on the Web commented on the high profile of its participants. This did not happen by accident. Most of us realize that many of the most famous names in musicology have been associated with the problems of early opera and monody: Addemollo, Ambros, Arnold, Bianconi, Brown, Dent, Eggebrecht, Einstein, Fabbri, Kellerer, Flotzinger, Fortune, Ghisi, Gianturco, Grout, Haar, Hitchcock, Kirkendale, MacClintock, Osthoff, Pirrotta, Reiner, Rose, Schmitz, Schrade, Solerti, Sternfeld, Stevens, Strainchamps, Tomlinson, Walker, and Weaver, as well as the illustrious participants in this conference.

1.2 There are certain reasons why the study of early opera and monody has been a locus classicus in musicology.

    1. The advent of opera marks the beginning of at least the early phase of the Modern Period of music history, because for the next 400 years opera, and musical theater more generally, provide the impetus and breeding ground for an impressive series of developments in the areas of musical style, aesthetics, cultural focus, social construction, and financial basis that heavily influences the history of all other musical genres.

    2. The advent of opera was chronicled and explained by the participants in it to an extent unparalleled in the history of music. Since their histories and commentaries were, to a greater or lesser extent, self-serving, much modern research has focused on deconstructing the early, contemporaneous accounts of the events.

    3. The participants placed the birth of opera squarely within the context of late Humanism, and they prominently claimed ancient Greek precedents for their modern innovations. Thus, classical philology and philosophy became part of this history from the outset.

    4. The literary genre of the earliest operas—pastoral tragicomedy—was the subject of an intense academic debate about the year 1600, and this debate included important questions about the nature of the passions and their connections to literary and musical genres and styles.

    5. Modern scholars have supplemented contemporaneous explanations of the birth of opera with research on the political use of the arts in Medici Florence, on the role of myth and allegory in the process of legitimization of absolutist rule, on the series of celebratory musical spectacles that preceded the earliest operas, and on the role of an unwritten tradition in the formation of the essential innovative music style feature: recitative.

    6. Partly because Giulio Caccini, one of the two Florentines responsible for the earliest operas, left unusually detailed instructions about singing technique, early opera has been a focal point for research into the performing conventions that must be understood in order to interpret the musical score and perform these works as the composers conceived them. Thus, early opera has become a central genre in the trend toward the historically informed performance of Baroque music.

    7. Because of its rich interdisciplinary tradition, research on the origins of opera invokes several types of post-modern, post-structuralist critical theory.

1.3 I want to return to three names from the list of scholars in paragraph 1.1. Howard Brown certainly would have participated in this conference, but he is well represented by his students—Margaret Murata, Louise Stein, and John Walter Hill—and by his successor at Chicago, Robert Kendrick. Nino Pirrotta wanted to participate, too. Just after the early planning meeting mentioned earlier, John Hill traveled from Heidelberg to Rome in order to present Professor Pirrotta with a copy of his new book. Pirrotta, however, was already in Palermo at that point, but on the telephone, he was eager to know if there would be a conference session in Rome. He died three days later. But he also was represented at the conference by his students—Ellen Rosand, who chaired a session, and John Walter Hill—and by his successor at Harvard, Mauro Calcagno. In this respect, we were especially fortunate to have Claude Palisca represented by himself as well as by his student Barbara Russano Hanning. Not long after the conference, however, Professor Palisca, too, passed away. His paper published in this report was his last. Barbara Hanning has written a memorial, Ai Lettori, as part of this report.

1.4 In effect, a generous sampling of these issues, problems, and approaches are represented in the papers of the conference, brought together here as a special issue of The Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music and dedicated to the memory of Claude V. Palisca.

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