Although the title may suggest otherwise, this is not a paper about any specific musical images of melancholy, which many late Renaissance composers--most notably John Dowland--wrapped themselves in. It is instead about a philosophy that venerated the concept of melancholy, if not the actual state, and how that philosophy transformed the world. Dowland's intimate familiarity with Hermetic symbolism--there is no evidence that Dowland ever studied any Hermetic arts or traveled in the circles of those who did--indeed demonstrates how accessible and powerful this philosophy was.
|Blood||Sanguine||Spring||Warm + moist||Air|
|Yellow bile||Choleric||Summer||Warm + dry||Fire|
|Black bile||Melancholic||Autumn||Cold + dry||Earth|
|Phlegm||Phlegmatic||Winter||Cold + moist||Water|
The most important concept to the Greeks was that these humors
be kept in balance, that health entailed possessing these bodily
fluids in equal measure. But even from the start there was a
sense of "good" and "bad" fluids: Blood was
not a surplus humor, indeed, there isn't even a word for "sanguine"
in Classical Greek. Excessive amounts of the others, however,
produced illness. But among the three remaining was yet another
distinction: Melancholy was characterized predominantly by mental
symptoms--from fear to depression to madness.
Plato, in the fourth century BCE, was the first to find a silver lining in the nimbus cloud of melancholy, in so doing becoming the first writer to associate it with the now well-known flip-side of depression--mania. In Plato's taxonomy of mental health, a surplus of black bile made one prone to such frenzy that divine inspiration could be achieved in music and poetry. In the dialogue Phaedrus Socrates states, "...in fact frenzy, provided it comes as the gift of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings." [Plat, p.46] This notion became immediately popular, and this popularity was to be sustained for almost two millennia. What Plato had hit on was the timeless conceit that those sensitive enough to be afflicted by the fundamentally oppressive nature of life are those who can and do express it in their art. Gellius, a contemporary, commented that melancholy had become "a disease of heroes." The idea was coopted and refined by the systematic Aristotelian view of natural philosophy, which carefully wrapped the Galenic medical conception of melancholy around the Platonic conception of frenzy. [KPS, p.17]
This dilemma of how a person could be both great and sick was
posed directly as Aristotle's Problem XXX (from the Problemata
Physica, ultimately attributed to "pseudo-Aristotle",
most probably the work of Theophrastos, but believed well into
the Seventeenth Century to be genuine): "Why is it that
all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or
poetry or the arts are clearly melancholics...?" And the
question was answered in characteristic Aristotelian idiom:
"To sum up, the action of black bile being variable, melancholics
are variable, for the black bile becomes very hot and very cold.
... Since it is possible for this variable mixture to be well
tempered and well adjusted in a certain respect...therefore all
melancholy persons are out of the ordinary, not owing to illness,
but to their natural disposition."
"To sum up, the action of black bile being variable, melancholics are variable, for the black bile becomes very hot and very cold. ... Since it is possible for this variable mixture to be well tempered and well adjusted in a certain respect...therefore all melancholy persons are out of the ordinary, not owing to illness, but to their natural disposition." [KPS, p.29]
In contrast to the Classical outlook, Medieval theologians conceived of Melancholy as an illness, with only a few exceptions: To William of Auvergne, an Aristotelian, it represented a state of grace, and for Chrysostom it was a spiritual trial which only deep introspection and prayer could make bearable or even understandable. Most, like Hildegard of Bingen, reinforced the Augustinian sentiment that melancholy reflected not a state of grace but the Fall from Grace--the ultimate object of despair [KPS, p.79]--describing melancholy not merely as mental illness, but as a judgment, like God's of Adam, of the entire temperament. Thus, melancholy became associated not simply with day-to-day suffering, but with original sin. A competent physician could produce some relief from the pain, but the disease was incurable, hereditary, and universal. Is it thus any coincidence that the long period of Aristotelian hegemony, which could be placed between the end of the Alexandrian school and the neo-Platonic revival, corresponds so closely with what is popularly called "The Dark Ages"?
The nature of melancholy had become somewhat schizophrenic. To the Classical philosophers it was desirable; to the Medieval theologians it was anathema. This dilemma was particularly acute to followers of Plato, for whom melancholy had taken on a spiritual dimension; it was not merely good, it was divine, and yet from the Church's perspective it was Satanic. A resolution to this dilemma was proposed in the late Fifteenth Century by Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino, ushering in almost a century of neo-Platonist revival in art and science.
The story of creation in Pimander has the magical flavor of the Gnostic Gospels. The Egyptian Adam "is more than human; he is divine and belongs to the race of the star demons, the divinely created governors of the lower world. It is true that he falls, but this fall is in itself an act of power. He can lean down through the armature of the spheres, tear open their envelopes, and come down to show himself to Nature... In short, the Egyptian Genesis tells the story of the creation and fall of a divine man, a man intimately related to the star-demons in his very origin, Man as Magus." [Yat1, p.28] Ficino passionately embraced Hermetic doctrine, the pristine font of illumination flowing from the divine Nous, which would lead him to regard the core of Platonism as truth derived from Egyptian wisdom. In his seminal 1489 work, De vita triplici, Ficino sets out a Hermetic theory of melancholy: "Melancholia, id est, atra bilis est duplex: Altera quidem naturalis a medicis appellatur, altera vero adustione contingit." [Fic2, unnumbered] Melancholy has two distinct natures, the one a medical pathology in which the humor just sits there, the other a spiritual nirvana in which the humor fiercely burns. (And thus is a definition of the word "adust" still given as "melancholy".) It would be well into the Seventeenth Century before all the Hermetic writings would be shown to be the work not of an ancient Egyptian but of a Second or Third Century Christian (and thus their eerie similarity to the Gnostic Gospels), but by that time the alchemical cat had long been out of the epistemological bag.
Melancholy had long been associated astrologically with the planet Saturn, the dimmest of the planets visible to the naked eye and the slowest moving, and to which was attributed analogous attributes of crystallization, depression, and fear. In explaining the causes which produce melancholy in scholars, Ficino also redefined the role of Saturn, which now took on the virtues of perseverance, patience, and concentration. In De vita Ficino notes this influence of Saturn coupled with the mental energy of Mercury (the other Hermes) as a cause of the drive for scholarship. And Saturn's nature is presumed to be cold and dry, which is the same as that of melancholy.
Other influences reinforce the cold-and-dry motif: Ficino presents an almost Buddhist conception of study, comparing it to the journey from a circle's circumference into its center. But the property of being centered is principally that of the earth itself, to which black bile has a very close resemblance. To ice the argument, Ficino notes that a hard day of contemplation turns the brain cold and dry through an excess of thought, depleting the spirits. Though Ficino is closely identified (and identified himself) with Plato, in making this argument he actually binds together the Aristotelian conception of the melancholy of the outstanding intellect with Plato's divine frenzy. Black bile "obliges thought to penetrate and explore the center of its objects, because the black bile is itself akin to the center of the earth. Likewise it raises thought to the comprehension of the highest, because it corresponds to [Saturn] the highest of planets." [KPS, p.259]
It was very important to Ficino that melancholy throw off the evil associations that had been made to it in the Middle Ages. His theory is most understandable from a psychological perspective: He himself claimed to be of melancholic temperament and occasionally experienced deep depressions, [Kris, p.212] so the fusion of the spiritual characteristics of unrest and frenzy with the clinical characteristics of depression and immobility melded naturally in his mind. And yet, when the same state of mind was placed against a mundane rather than metaphysical backdrop, it was simply sadness, caused by any manner of earthly and heavenly imbalances. Ficino thus incorporated the Medieval view of melancholy as original sin, a condition that could not be overcome and thus had to be accepted and worn as a badge of honor. Melancholy's dual nature was one of static and dynamic components, which though they shared a common foundation were never logically linked very well. Nevertheless, this conception of the tortured artist, stretched on the philosophical rack between the depths of sorrow and the heights of genius, a figment of Ficino's own psyche and very much a reflection of the Hermetic macrocosm-and-microcosm, is still with us today.
Ficino melds his fascination and reverence for melancholy into an Hermetic taxonomy of succeeding cosmological spheres expanding up to the Nous. In De vita triplici he posits three levels:
|1||Mens imaginatio||Mars||Invention, creativity|
|2||Mens ratio||Jupiter||Discursive reasoning|
|3||Mens contemplatrix||Saturn||Transcendent intuition|
In what would become a quintessential characteristic of Hermetic doctrine in the Renaissance Ficino manifested the Augustinian view of inevitability. Although there were three levels, one had no choice but to be stuck at whichever level the frenzy left him; the system was grand but static, neither evolution nor learning were possible. Because melancholy was simultaneously at both the center and the apex of intellectual life, thus could only contemplation--no longer bound by imagination or even logic--truly deserve the title of melancholy. This view that it was impossible for the merely imaginative mind to rise to true melancholy was reinforced, ironically, by those philosophers who associated melancholy strictly with illness; they too claimed that the afflicted mind could not rise above imagination.
De vita was a standard reference among Renaissance scholars. It was natural, therefore, that this theory of melancholy should be discussed and modified. Henricus Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim was born in Cologne in 1486. His fascination with the occult was equaled only by his skill as a mercenary, and he served in both the courts and military campaigns of Maximillian I, Louis XII, Henry VIII, and Popes Julius II and Leo X. There is no record of his ever meeting Ficino, but he was lecturing in Germany on the Pimander in 1511. In spite of his Byzantinely picaresque life, Agrippa was a highly contemplative and liberal man, openly friendly to Jews during an era when it was dangerous to be so, and somewhat of a feminist, authoring a treatise entitled On the Pre-eminence of Women. His De Occulta Philosophia, which spelled out his interpretations of the Hermetic arts, was over 20 years in the making, finally published in 1531. But there were drafts in circulation as early as 1510, and in these Agrippa posited a more dynamic theory of melancholy. He embraced Ficino's three levels, calling them melencholia imaginativa, melencholia rationalis, and melencholia mentalis, but inserted--presaging the Mannerists--the dynamism of the focused, animist search for the Nous. To Agrippa, the frenzy of melancholy was thus the source of inspired creative achievement, and the faithful and disciplined student could graduate to its highest level. [KPS, p.357]
There are many paintings through the Sixteenth Century that echo the same intellectual passions as Melencholia I. Vasari's Melancholy, surrounded by a number of mathematical instruments, on a 1553 fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, and Doni's ca. 1570 Disegno are obvious imitations. Doni, known to have owned a copy of the Dürer engraving, [KPS, p.387] anticipated a central theme of the Baroque, the integration of the Platonic image of melancholy with that of vanity. These etchings share Dürer's conception of melancholy as despair arising from an emotional state, but add a focus, a sharp edge to it. Superseding diffused grief appears a definite object. In a much later imitation by Domenico Feti, ca. 1610, the brooding woman holds a skull. Thus is the human dream mere folly; man has become divorced from the cosmos. Such sentiment was no mere affectation--it reflected the reality of an uneasily evolving understanding of that cosmos, especially among visual artists, whose craft, in stark distinction to the aural arts, was never well integrated into the Hermetic schema.
The Sixteenth Century was a period that reveled in cosmic harmony, and music was at the heart of this magic. The occult force of musical modes reflected and reinforced the natural harmonies of the planets; it was a terrestrial manifestation of the stars and the perfection of the entire cosmic system. Agrippa carefully related the musical scale to the planets and the elements in De Occulta Philosophia, crafting a design of expanding circles that would later be pictorialized by Robert Fludd as the harmony of the world. The neo-Platonist theorists were in agreement with the Aristotelians with respect to the modes and ethical effects of music, but Plato had posited the existence of universal harmony, and Ficino went even further, noting that there were two kinds of divine music--one in the motions and order of the heavens and the other entirely in the mind of God. Music was a fundamental part of Ficino's Orphic magic. He claimed to have sung Orphic songs--which he believed to have been written by Orpheus himself in extreme antiquity--to invoke the powers of the planets and focus their influences. [Fic1, p.110]
What concerned astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, leading to his publication of De revolutionibus orbium coelestrum libri VI in 1543, was not so much the now Byzantine complexity of the Ptolemaic system of epicycles used to compute planetary orbits as its use of equants to account for their variable proper motion. These were lines which radiated not from the exact centers of the planets but instead had to be skewed slightly to one side or the other. With a sun-centered system the orbits could be reduced to simple and perfect circles, which were much more pleasing to Hermetic sensibilities. These circular orbits still could not predict planetary positions accurately, and the end result was a system of computations as complicated in aggregate as the Ptolemaic one, but the elegance of orbital circles and the clear geometrical explanation for retrograde planetary motion led to the quick acceptance of this view by most Hermetic scholars. Both Giordano Bruno and Campanella embraced the sun-centered Copernican theory as a vindication of Hermes Trismegistus's foretelling in the Asclepius of the sun as the visible manifestation of God. [Yat1, p.238] And Copernicus, though he never considered himself a Hermetic, explicitly associated Hermes with his discovery of heliocentrism. [Yat1, p.168]
Further rips in the universal fabric came, ironically, from the universe itself. On August 21, 1560 the weather was clear in Denmark, and there was a partial eclipse of the sun--exactly as predicted. It was not an especially rare nor spectacular sight, but the accuracy of the prediction so captivated a young law student that he decided to give up that field entirely and study astronomy. The student was Tycho Brahe, who as an astronomer viewing the heavens on a November night twelve years later noticed a star in the constellation of Cassiopeia that had never been there before. He made careful observations and published them in his 1573 treatise De nova stella, but he could not come up with an explanation. (It would be more than 300 years before models of stellar evolution would be proposed, but Brahe's label "nova" immediately stuck and is still used.) By all Classical epistemology, Platonic or Aristotelian, the stars were immutable.
Brahe's precise planetary observations were picked up by Johannes Kepler, who used those data in his quintessentially Hermetic attempt to prove that the orbits of the six Copernican planets of the sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) were circles etched upon spheres that were spaced one from the other by each of the five Platonic solids in turn. He failed, of course, but while making further planetary observations for this grand taxonomy he observed in November 1604 in the constellation Ophiucus another supernova, this one so bright it remained visible to the naked eye for 17 months. Kepler, well-versed in Hermetic doctrine, had delayed publication of his Harmonice Mundi for decades as he struggled to accept the meaning of the elliptical geometry of planetary orbits which he had proven instead of his desired, nested spheres, but the birth of another new star convinced him that there was truly a new order, and in 1607 he published it. Still the Renaissance magus, however, he concluded that even though planetary orbits were not circular, they were nevertheless elegantly describable, and that in the mathematical simplicity of his descriptive equations he had found the music of the spheres.
Coincident with this instability in the order of astronomy came one in the theory of music. Pythagoras had described the relationships between particular musical intervals, based on his hearing the pleasing harmonies of some forging hammers which he subsequently claimed to have weighed, as follows:
The neo-Platonist theorists passionately embraced Pythagoras, whose simple, even, musical ratios reflected the universal harmony. Tellingly, few of them were actually musicians. (Beyond the perfect 4ths, 5ths, and octaves Pythagorean tuning is very dissonant.) Pico della Mirandola, a contemporary and student of Ficino, "studied music as a boy and is said to have composed in his youth. A nephew later wrote that he 'accompanied his verses with song and instrumental sound'. Although he possessed a number of important Greek musical sources, his writings do not give any evidence of his having read them." [Pal2, p.30] And vice versa--few of the scientists of music in the Renaissance specifically advanced the axioms of neo-Platonism. Among the more widely read were Franchino Gaffurio, whose 1492 treatise Theorica musice presents analyses of all the major Classical sources with little attempt to reconcile them, and Gioseffo Zarlino, who although more sympathetic to Plato than Aristotle presents in his Le istitutioni harmoniche of 1558 an entirely rational explanation for musical aesthetics. [Pal2, p.230 ff.]
The Pythagorean scale worked for a limited number of fixed pitches
in a single scale, such as would be found on a lyre, and proved
adequate through the Middle Ages and Renaissance with the superposition--as
noted by Gaffurio, Zarlino, and others--of other consonant ratios
(5:4 for the major third,.6:5 for the minor third, etc.). As
harmonies migrated through different musical keys employing the
same pitches, however, they fell apart. The "circle of fifths"
through the twelve tones of the chromatic scale is very close
to seven octaves, but actually exceeds that range by about 1.2%.
That may seem an insignificant difference, but the ear is exquisitely
sensitive: the result when sounded is noticeable and unpleasant.
This difference--the Pythagorean Comma--was well understood;
the circle of fifths could not be expected to come out even with
respect to any number of octaves because the numbers 2 and 3 have
no common factor. Such near-misses abounded--the octave exceeds
three perfect thirds by a similar percentage (this called the
Diesis). But in order to make the scale fold seamlessly back
on itself compromises had to be made in some of the intervals
for at least some of the scales, and that was what much debate
in the study of music was about. The reason the debate had come
about at this juncture was that composers, like visual artists,
had gotten caught up in the wave of Platonic frenzy, and such
expression begat harmonic invention.
The key player--literally--in this musical revolution was the famed lutenist Vincenzo Galilei (1520-1591). Galilei had studied music with the great Zarlino, but as a performer he was nagged by the discrepancies between the ancient Greek and Sixteenth Century harmonic theory. The lute is a fretted instrument--it produces sounds at the fixed pitches determined by the tension, thickness, and length of the strings between the instrument's bridge and the fret behind which the player is fingering. Lute players are stuck with not only whatever pitches their strings have been tuned to, but also whatever scale their frets have been placed at. Galilei had been trying to create a system to tune a lute in equal temperament--a musical scale that would enable all fixed-pitch stringed (e.g., plucked and keyboard) instruments to sound good together in any key. Such a system is now known to be impossible with any ratios of whole numbers, but familiarity with irrational numbers was another century away, so Galilei just plugged away at it, and in so doing got caught up in published debates with his mentor, Zarlino, and with self-taught music theorist Girolamo Mei.
Mei's frenzy to revive Greek monody, and thus revive the storied cathartic effects of Greek song, led him to read essentially every ancient treatise extant, and he came to believe that what could not be described harmonically in whole numbers as described in those texts was simply not musical. Zarlino went even further than that, claiming that an exact intermediate interval (e.g., an equal division of the 9:8 whole tone) was not even possible. Galilei had sought Mei out--Galilei himself went back to the old references, but he was a performer, not a scholar; he could not read Greek, and Mei (who admitted that he could neither play, sing, nor dance) had become known as the authority on them. Galilei lacked completely the Classical learning of Zarlino and Mei, but he nevertheless proclaimed that even though the compromises made routinely by performers causa pulchritudinis seemed to violate the Classical rules, it was the musical effect that was important and not the theory, essentially, as Dizzy Gillespie was to so succinctly state four centuries later, "If it sounds good, it is good."
Galileo's new perspective on motion did nothing less than blow away all preceding conceptions of the physics of forces and change forever the scope and power of science. In the Classical schema science was called "natural philosophy", explicitly limited to the observation of "natural" events. Such events occurred only as a consequence of direct and incidental physical contact among objects. In such an episteme the notion of experimentation was absurd--to permit contrived conditions or actions meant that anything could be made to happen, which was not at all the same as what might occur if things were left to bump into each other of their own devices. Galileo's work demonstrated irrefutably that physical forces could and did act predictably and at a distance, and that meant that objects could and did respond--predictably--to all manner of unseen influences. It was no longer necessary to perchance come along as the fruit happened to drop from nature's tree--one could shake it passionately.
Thus did orthodox neo-Platonism give way to Mannerism, in which empirical methods were at the command of the inspired Nous, not simply in the pursuit of logos but of gnosis--the divine search for truth--and this new-found power now enabled the aspiring magus, scientist and artist alike, to see the cosmos from new perspectives and to interact with it. The Aristotelian conception of art as a reflection of nature now begged the question of what exactly nature was. One could now work from and represent conditions that did not previously exist in nature in the glory of the pursuit of its meaning.
This new world was still very much a world of magic, but now the magic had become exceedingly charged; Mannerist philosophers as separated as Pico della Mirandola, Paracelsus, and Bruno created elaborate taxonomies of the powerful magic at their disposal. But if they were powerful, they were also dangerous. The Church had tolerated the Renaissance Hermetics: there weren't many of them, and besides, their inward-directed, melancholic belief system was essentially meditative. Now, however, they were becoming both gnostic and cocky, traveling widely and declaiming their discoveries. And it didn't matter whether they were popular or not--the idea that even a single mystic could through his inspired Nous attain the universal truth was intolerable to a religious institution that already had a tough fight on its hands.
The difference between the Hermetic and Mannerist world views was a crack in the world--the new system was as exuberant as it was unstable. In an appendix to the fifth volume of Hamonice Mundi (1619) Kepler attacked English Hermetic Robert Fludd, who responded in 1621 with a treatise in his Utriusque Cosmi Historia. Kepler answered with Apologia (1622) to which Fludd again followed up the same year with Monochordum Mundi. It was a long and public battle; the argument--a comparison of cosmological harmonies--was about the meaning of numbers. Unlike Fludd, Kepler had had no trouble with heliocentricity, since it was supportable in Hermetic writings, and he came not only to accept but to embrace his discovery about the elliptical shape of planetary orbits as a confirmation of the grand design. But to do that was both to lose the elegant symmetry of macrocosm and microcosm and to adopt an entirely new vision of mathematics. With this view Kepler placed mathematics, as a tool, separate from and outside of the harmonic unity. Number was no longer a reflection of the cosmos but a method for understanding and describing it. In such an episteme names were no longer integral qualities of objects but representations, mere labels. It was the beginning of the decoupling of nomos and logos, of objects and symbols. [Tom2, p.192] With the legitimacy of representations of reality came myriad hypothetical universes that might have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Knowledge became a figment of something, no longer a reflection of everything. "Your harmony does explain the planetary orbits," Fludd protested to Kepler, "but what good is a model that does not describe the whole cosmos?" [Flu1, p.7]
Into the breach of this epistemological turmoil charged the members of the Florentine Camerata, who walked the same streets as Ficino barely 80 years after his death, who were familiar with those paintings of melancholy in the Palazzo Vecchio, and who may well have seen or even owned copies of the Dürer engraving. The renewed study of Greek music (which, as the work of Gaffurio and Zarlino shows, had never really stopped) has a distinctly Hermetic tinge to it. It was, after all, a return to the imagined ancient roots of harmony to extract its purest essence. In this incarnation it concentrated on melopoeia, the tradition of poetic song, and not merely harmonic theory. In so doing it naturally came to deal with melancholy, as the sources under scrutiny derived from Greek tragedy, and it was a Platonist conceit to be fascinated specifically with this genre because the great Euripides had been a contemporary (though just barely) of Plato's. Although the term "Florentine Camerata" has come to denote the whole movement behind the secunda prattica, these were real academies that were founded in Florence between about 1576 and 1582. Among these convenors were Jacopo Corsi and Emilio de Cavalieri, but the most important and influential, indeed the founder, was Giovanni dei Bardi, Count of Vernio. [Pirr, p.218]
Bardi (1534-1612) was the eminence grise of the movement. He, who summoned Vincenzo Galilei to Florence, would hold court with his fellow theorists (including Mei) and musicians until he left for Rome in 1592. He was a neo-Platonist--one of the last. Bardi's Intermedi of 1589 reveal his passion for the Hermetic system just in their names: The Harmony of the Spheres, The Rivalry of the Muses, The Song of Arion, The Descent of Apollo and Bacchus Together with Rhythm and Harmony. In these pieces he pays homage, magnificently costumed and staged, to the supreme harmony of the cosmos; they constitute a definite linkage, looking both ahead to the conception of opera and behind to the sounds of antiquity. Bardi was philosophically conservative, but hardly fossilized. In his essay On Ancient Music and Good Singing addressed to Caccini, he stated that in the gradual return of music to monodic expression rigid theorizing must give way to sweetness. [Pirr, p.230] And this was the clarion call of the Baroque: the triumph of substance over form, the text over the music. In that seminal essay Bardi charted a new course for music, beginning not with the then-current theorists but with definitions straight from Plato. He went so far as to suggest that the current modal system should be scrapped and replaced with the Ptolemaic one. But then, after much analysis of how that system could be adapted to modern use, he cautioned Caccini that all of these mechanics exist only so that the text can be all the more clear, that he should resist temptations to use counterpoint, to respect the natural flow of the language, and to avoid passagi except on long syllables specifically to enhance their affect.
Bardi is also believed to have written (his intermedi reveal the depth of his interest in theater and staging), sometime between 1581 and 1589, the Discorso come si debba recitar tragedia. In this essay Bardi focuses on the chorus, to which he felt that modern revivals did the least justice. His suggestions for staging invoke highly Hermetic imagery. Here again Bardi stresses that above all, the text must be intelligible: "Let us now come to discuss the performance. It is of great importance to have the most excellent actors who express the action of the poet well, for a beautiful speech not well delivered or music badly sung will seem less worthy than it is; so a tragedy badly played will not make known its excellence and beauty." [Pal1, p.143]
Bardi uproots the Platonist episteme and replants it in Mannerist soil. The poetic furor and the transcendent states of melancholy are supreme; thus, it is the emotional character of the composition that reigns. But the musician's job is now representational; the music is the method to move the listener to the passion expressed by the text. To use this method correctly the musician must understand the Ptolemaic tonal system, whose rules describe the changing of tones according to the particular feeling to be expressed, and the masterful musician can evoke these passions at will. The dawn of the Baroque era occurred at the dawn of empiricism, so it is important to note that Baroque idiom was decidedly not the scholastic province of an academy. Music had become a tool, in the service of the Nous, and its forms would now evolve through experimentation, not by fiat. This new direction was Bardi's legacy. Into his salon had come Caccini, Peri, Mei, Cavalieri--the great composers of the day--and they greatly admired him. In his forward to Le nuovo musiche (1601) Caccini fondly remembered songs that he composed and performed for those meetings. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Bardi's influence is that when he became involved with the Accademia della Crusca in 1585 the Camerata stopped meeting regularly, and then when he left Florence in 1592, they stopped altogether.
Boldly bearing the torch of the Mannerist perspective, and perhaps more than any other composer of the inchoate Baroque era, Claudio Monteverdi embodied the artistic shift from structural perfection to expressive force. His daring harmonies in support of textual passages generated considerable criticism, the most passionate from Bolognese theorist Giovanni Maria Artusi in a dialogue published in 1600, L'Artusi overo delle imperfettioni della moderna musica. This turned into a polemic that would last seven years. Artusi was the consummate Aristotelian. Admonishing Monteverdi for his glaring dissonances, Artusi asked, "Does he have the permission of nature and art thus to confound the sciences?" [Tom1, p.23] Further, Artusi argued, since concenti were, by definition, sweet sounding, and Monteverdi's constructions were harsh sounding, Monteverdi could not possibly have produced new concenti. In response, Monteverdi made a Platonic defense of the secunda prattica; his aim was "to make the words the mistress of harmony and not the servant." So, if the foremost goal of music was to stir the passions, then he was free to break the rules for expressive ends, to evidence divine frenzy, composing neither by formula nor by chance. The best composition was one that united semantic and syntactic elements so perfectly that the distinction between its musical and non-musical elements would disappear, and one's spirit would thus be in tune--literally--with the cosmos.
Scientific soil proved too alien for the Platonic episteme to flourish. It had been rooted in a rich and grand cosmology, but that had eroded away. And thence in both music and art the passionate system also quickly withered, becoming clichéd and predictable. Hermetic learning, not so long ago a connection to real magic, was reduced to little more than stage magic--memory houses, parlor tricks. Lacking the context of a unified system, poetic furor became an instrument of the everyday world, a commodity. In the new epistemology of science melancholy lost not so much its meaning as its purpose. It reverted to a condition to be endured, and now in an emerging free marketplace, to be treated. Books on its identification and cure--music often noted as particularly effective for relief--became all the rage; Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy went through five editions before he died in 1640 and four more after. The understanding of human psychology was as elusive then as now, and the slightly shocking symptomatologies of melancholy people which accompany the careful taxonomy in Burton's tome and others appealed to both medicinal and prurient interest in an entirely legitimate presentation. Composers and pharmacists alike peddled the prescriptions--even the cover of the Anna Magdelena Bach notebook was inscribed with the legend, "Der Anti Melancholicus." But as the Baroque Era gave way to the Age of Reason music too lost its purpose. The mechanical universe, a clockwork of forces and causes, had no more place for divine frenzy. Poetic furor would be rediscovered by the Romantics, but in the service of entirely worldly ends. The magic itself disappeared.
|Agri||Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy (trans. by James Freake, Donald Tyson, Ed.), St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1993.|
|Brig||Timothy Bright, A Treatise of Melancholie (facsimile of 1586 ed.), New York: Columbia University Press Facsimile Text Society, 1940.|
|Burt||Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 6th Ed. (1651), New York: Tudor Publishing, 1955.|
|D&M||Hans T. David & Arthur Mendel, Eds., The Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents, New York: W W Norton & Co, 1945.|
|Drak||Stillman Drake, Galileo at Work, His Scientific Biography New York: Dover Publications, 1978.|
|Fic1||Marsilio Ficino, Epistolae (Translated by members of the Language Department, School of Economic Science), London: Shepherd-Walwyn, 1975.|
|Fic2||Marsilio Ficino, De vita libri triplici, Basel: 1525.|
|Flu1||Robert Fludd, Monchordium mundi symphoniacum, Oxford: 1622.|
|Flu2||Robert Fludd, The Divine Numbers (trans. by Adam McLean), Glasgow: Magnum Opus Hermetic Sourceworks, 1997.|
|Gali||Galileo Galilei, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences (trans. by Henry Crew and Alfonso de Silvio), New York: Dover Publications, 1954.|
|Godw||Joscelyn Godwin, The Harmony of the Spheres, Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1993.|
|KPS||Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy, London: Thomas Nelson and Sons 1964|
|Kris||Paul Oskar Kristeller, The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino (trans. by Virginia Conant), New York: Columbia University Press, 1943.|
|Mani||Maria Rika Maniates, Mannerism in Italian Music and Culture, 1530-1630, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1979.|
|Mei||Girolamo Mei, Letters on Ancient and Modern Music to Vincenzo Galilei and Giovanni Bardi (Claude Palisca, Ed.), American Institute of Musicology, 1960.|
|Pal1||Claude V. Palisca, The Florentine Camerata-Documentary Studies and Translations, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.|
|Pal2||Claude V. Palisca, Humanism in Italian Renaissance Musical Thought, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.|
|Pirr||Nino Pirrotta, Music and Culture in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Baroque, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.|
|Plat||Plato, Phaedrus and Letters VII and VIII (trans. by Walter Hamilton), London: Penguin Books, 1973.|
|Pou1||Diana Poulton, Dowland's Darkness (letter), Early Music, October 1983.|
|Pou2||Diana Poulton, John Dowland, London: Faber and Faber, 1972.|
|Rool||Anthony Rooley, New Light on John Dowland's Songs of Darkness, Early Music, January 1983.|
|Tom1||Gary Tomlinson, Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.|
|Tom2||Gary Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic-Toward a Historiography of Others, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.|
|Well||Robin Headlam Wells, John Dowland and Elizabethan Melancholy, Early Music, November 1985.|
|Yat1||Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964.|
|Yat2||Frances A. Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1979.|