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The 'Sack of Rome' Set to Music

  • Don Harran (a1)


The texts of the early sixteenth-century madrigal are markedly uniform in their content. Love is the main theme, treated in as many variations as issue from the vagaries of the amorous condition (longing, despair, concupiscence, hate, disenchantment, etc.). So uniform, in fact, is the subject matter that when a poem departs from convention, it warrants attention as something of a rara avis. This is the case with the sonnet Trist’ Amarilli mia set to music by Philippe Verdelot, a French (or Netherlandish?) composer residing in Italy during the second and third decades, or more, of the century. Its (anonymous) poet delineates the sort of bucolic scene one happens upon more often in the later madrigal, and peoples it with Amaryllis, Tityrus, Atalanta, and a company of shepherds and flocks.



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1 It appears, with an ascription to this composer, in the earliest printed collection of madrigals (de nomine), dated 1530: Madrigali de diversi musici libro primo de la Serena (Rome: Valerio da Bressa), fol. 3.

2 The Italian Madrigal (Princeton, 1949).

3 I, for one, am not at all ‘certain’ what is meant by the compositions being ‘spurious.’ Nor does Einstein go on to explain. I assume that by ‘composition’ he had the music in mind, though there is the slight possibility that he was referring, instead, to the poetry. Either way, the sentence is not easily construed.

4 Einstein transcribed the madrigal from Plinio Pietrasanta's edition (1557) of a 1540 anthology of Verdelot's madrigals (Di Verdelotto tutti li madrigali del primo, et secondo libro a quatro foci. Con lagionta de i madrigali del medesmo auttore non più stampati...). Its first signed printing, as mentioned above (n. 1), is dated twenty-seven years earlier, and Einstein, for some reason, seems to have overlooked this. This may explain why he was unable to square the oddities of the text with a composer as usually levelheaded as Verdelot.

5 The grouping into hendecasyllabic verses, the accents, and the punctuation are the present writer's. Note that the last word read, in the original, ‘chiami.’ As subjunctive mood (present tense, third person), ‘chiami’ is grammatically correct. However, it must be changed to the rarer, though non uncommon, form ‘chiame,’ for reasons of rhyme. The same reasons obtain for rewriting the original ‘libertade’ as ‘libertate.'

6 The last six lines set up a certain number of lexical obstructions. After having consulted two experts on the subject, the writer suggests the above translation as the one which, like Leibnitz’ ‘best world of all possible worlds,’ seems to him ‘the best* (i.e., most intelligible in the present context) of all possible translations. It deviates twice from the original printing: i) by placing a comma after ‘cacciata,’ and not after ‘fame,’ as might be inferred from the musical break after ‘fame,’ and the setting of'cacciat'in mez'i campi’ as one phrase; and 2) by adding an ‘n’ to ‘spogha,’ which, as it stands (imperative, second person), makes little sense. (Note that were ‘ti spoglia’ to be construed as an imperative, it would ordinarily be followed by ‘di.’) I read the ‘ch'al’ of the last line as ‘chè al,’ the ‘chè’ an abbreviation, perhaps, of ‘cosicchè.'

7 Clement held up in the Castel Sant'Angelo for seven months. Thereafter he managed to escape, disguised as a pedlar, to Orvieto. In June 1528 he took up residence in Viterbo. Only in October of the same year did he return to Rome. If we are to take ‘leaving the Tiber’ literally, then, the period referred to in the poetry might be narrowed down to that between December 1527 and October 1528.

8 The two madrigals by Arcadelt are printed in Jacobus Arcadelt: Opera Omnia (Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae, series 31), vi, pp. 4 and 6 respectively.

9 As an example of ‘Peter pasturing his flock’ in a madrigal from the same period as Trist''Amarilli mia, see Arcadelt's Viva nel pensier (in his second book of four-voice madrigals, 1539), printed ibid., III, 40.

10 See The Creek Bucolic Poets, with English trans, by J. M. Edmonds, The Loeb Classical Library, Vol. 28 (London, 1912), pp. 42-47.

11 Apples were used sometimes in the art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as symbolic attributes of such amorous figures as Venus, Cupid (son of Venus), and the Graces (a threefold exposure of the unity of Venus). Bronzino's Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time (London, National Gallery) or Raphael's Three Graces (Chantilly, Musée Condé) illustrate this well. See Guy de Tervarent, Attributs et symboles dans I'art profane 1450-1600 (Paris, 1958), cols. 311-313. Angelo Poliziano described the ‘Garden of Venus’ as having trees that sprout as their fruit pomi d'oro ﹛Stanze per la Giostra 1, cxiv). No wonder, then, that Botticelli, who patterned his Spring (Florence, Uffizi) after Poliziano's verses, situates the figures in a dense thicket whose trees are laden with apples.

12 Ipse ego cana tenera lanugine mala castaneasque nuces, mea quas Amaryllis amabat.

13 The Last Florentine Republic (London, 1925), p. 45.

14 The music, to a certain degree, reflects the unusual content of its verses. Just as the verses conveyed meanings beyond those implicit in their literal reading, so the music as printed requires alteration in performance by the application, here and there, of musica ficta (chromatic lowering or raising of pitches); in its way, musica ficta acts as a form of musical double meaning. (The main reason for these chromatic changes is the presence of a B-flat in the key signature. To avoid tritones, it must often be complemented by an E-flat, thus changing the transposed Dorian mode of the madrigal to a transposed Aeolian. Still other accidentals called for are C-sharp and F-sharp.) Trist'Amarilli mia is not too far removed, then, from those (Northern) examples of musicaficta where latent textual meanings are exposed by advanced chromaticism in the music. See Edward Lowinsky, Secret Chromatic Art in the Netherlands Motet, 1st ed. (1946; rpt., New York, 1967).

15 Lowinsky writes about this work: ‘I have no doubt that the motet was written by Festa on the devastation and pillage of Rome by the army of Charles V in 1527.’ See his study ‘A Newly Discovered Sixteenth-Century Motet Manuscript at the Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome,’ Journal of the American Musicological Society, III (1950), 181.

16 See the reproduction in The Horizon Book of the Renaissance (New York, 1961), pp. 406-407.

17 Printed in Verdelot's second book of five-voice madrigals: De i madrigali di Verdelotto et de altri eccellentissimi autori a cinque voci, libro secondo (Venice: O. Scotto, 1538), no. 18.

18 ‘Italy, Italy, you who for so long / Slept in the midst of your greatest storm, / Wake up, raise your honored head, / And heed well now your latest woes. / Observe how wickedly your Pharisees / Have deprived you of the shadow of your remaining authority / And Rome of all its amusements and festivities / Whence it is ever sad and wretched. / Grasp, grasp, bold one, the righteous sword / To avenge yourself of a thousand other abuses, / And remove so much infamy from your sight, / For if you are unable to recover your well-being, you are quite able (if I err not) / To recover your honor, exterminating the wicked faction / And its cruel, evil tyrants.'

19 Printed as no. 13 in De i madrigali (see above).

20 ‘My Italy, though speech is of no avail / To the mortal wounds / Which I see so thickly spread over your fair body, /1 rejoice, however, that my sighs are / The hopes of [the peoples of] the Tiber and the Arno / And the Po, where I now sit grave and sorrowful. / Ruler of the heavens, I ask / That the compassion which guided you on earth / Make you turn to your fair beloved country. / Behold, kind Lord, / What slight causes brought on so cruel a war, / And the hearts that were hardened and shut / By Mars proud and fierce / Open, Father, soften and unbind; / In them see to it that your truth— / For as much as I am worth—may be heard from my tongue.'

The 'Sack of Rome' Set to Music

  • Don Harran (a1)


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