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Cambridge Opera Journal, 16, 1, 1–22  2004 Cambridge University Press

DOI: 10.1017/S0954586704001764

She descended on a cloud ‘from the highest

spheres’: Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’*

Abstract: Taking the opening solo song from the Florentine intermedi of 1589 as its focus, this
article engages with questions regarding musical ownership, authorship, and the culture of print
as it relates to musico-theatrical performance. The song, ‘Dalle più alte sfere’, was performed
by the Florentine court’s prima donna Vittoria Archilei and the version she ostensibly sang
appeared two years later in a commemorative print. While calling into question rigid
distinctions between performer and composer during this period, the article nonetheless
suggests that Archilei likely ‘composed’ the song, for which there are conflicting attributions.
Evidence for this assertion includes disjunctions between the song as it appeared in print, its
likely mode of ‘composition’, and the song’s realisation through the process-oriented act of live
performance. These issues stand in stark relief to the likely incentives for publishing the
Medici-commissioned music: harnessing the possibilities of print technology, the Florentines
could effectively distill – and thus claim as their own – a primarily Roman/Neapolitan-
associated performance practice, at the same time as attempting to rival the female-centred
musical traditions of competing courts.
When the Florentine court’s prima donna Vittoria Archilei descended on her cloud,
in singular display, from the flyloft of the Uffizi theatre on 2 May 1589 she
inaugurated the performance of a set of intermedi that were perhaps the most
spectacular yet produced in Florence. As is well known, the intermedi for Girolamo
Bargagli’s comedy La pellegrina formed the centrepiece of a series of celebrations of
particular political import: the wedding of Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici and the
French princess Christine of Lorraine. Three subsequent performances of the
intermedi took place during the wedding festivities.1 Two years after the wedding,
at the request of Duke Ferdinando, a musical print was issued that was (like
the numerous printed descrizioni of the festivities) both commemorative and
propagandistic in function.2
This study considers ‘Dalle più alte sfere’ – the song that Archilei sang as she
descended on her cloud – as the centrepiece of a discussion regarding musico-
theatrical performance and its relationship to print culture, specifically to the
Medici-commissioned print that ostensibly preserved Archilei’s performance. The
* This article is based on papers presented at meetings of the Society for Seventeenth-Century
Music, Princeton University, April 2002 and the International Musicological Society, Leuven,
Belgium, August 2002. I would like to thank Tim Carter, John Walter Hill and Massimo Ossi
for comments and suggestions that helped me refine some of the ideas presented here. All
translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.
The performances took place as follows: 6 May for La zingara with Vittoria Piissimi, 13 May
for La pazzia with Isabella Andreini, and 15 May with La pellegrina again.
Intermedii et concerti, fatti per la Commedia rappresentata in Firenze nelle nozze del Serenissimo Don
Ferdinando Medici, e Madama Christiana di Loreno, Gran Duchi di Toscana (Venice, 1591). See D.
P. Walker’s edition Musique des intermèdes de ‘La Pellegrina’ (Paris, 1963). There are numerous
sources pertaining to the intermedi, both primary and secondary. For a recent bibliography
that includes sources relating to the festivities at large, see James Saslow, The Medici Wedding
of 1589 (New Haven and London, 1996).
2 Nina Treadwell

prominent role granted Archilei in the intermedi and the impetus to publish the lavish
embellishments she apparently sang needs to be understood, I suggest, within the
context of rivalry between competing courts regarding female performance of this
‘new’ repertory. Harnessing the possibilities of print technology two years after the
performances enabled the Florentine court to capture and claim as its own what
were more likely to have been semi-improvised renditions by Archilei that should
be distinguished, to some extent, from practices at neighbouring courts, particularly
that of Ferrara. Furthermore, the song’s ‘accompaniment’ as notated in the musical
print is a far cry from what would have been realised in musico-theatrical
performance by Archilei or her backstage musicians. In light of these considera-
tions, I discuss Archilei’s performances of ‘Dalle più alte sfere’ in relation to
conflicting evidence regarding the song’s attribution, suggesting that she herself may
have ‘composed’ the setting. Noting the increasing desire for a discrete distinction
between performer and composer, and the concomitant push for codification of an
improvised tradition through the medium of print among her male contemporaries,
I elucidate Archilei’s central role in the creation of this work through the
process-orientated act of musico-theatrical performance.
As Anthony Newcomb has shown, beginning with the famed concerto delle donne
at Ferrara in the early 1580s, the establishment of small groups of highly trained
female singers at rival Italian courts became widely recognised as a sign of courtly
prestige.3 The Florentines, like other neighbouring courts, took a special interest
in music-making at Ferrara. Alessandro Striggio was dispatched to Ferrara by
Duke Francesco de’ Medici to listen to and emulate the style of music written for
the concerto by Luzzasco Luzzaschi; the series of letters from 1584 between
composer and patron are peppered with references to vocal embellishment.4
Despite the fact that Ferdinando did not retain his brother Francesco’s original
concerto, leading up to the 1589 festivities Ferdinando showed special interest in
the Ferrarese concerto, using composer Luca Marenzio’s association with Ferrara to
glean information.5 He also attempted to secure some of the most outstanding
female singers in Italy in order to rival those at the Ferrara.6 A further reflection

See especially Anthony Newcomb, The Madrigal at Ferrara, 1579–1597, 2 vols. (Princeton,
1980), and Newcomb, ‘Courtesans, Muses, or Musicians? Professional Women Musicians in
Sixteenth-Century Italy’, in Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150–1950, ed.
Jane Bowers and Judith Tick (Urbana and Chicago, 1986), 90–115.
The letters are cited and discussed in Newcomb, The Madrigal at Ferrara, I, 53ff. See also
David Butchart, ‘The Letters of Alessandro Striggio: An Edition with Translation and
Commentary’, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 23 (1990), 32ff.
For further information see Iain Fenlon, ‘Preparations for a Princess: Florence 1588–89’, in
In cantu et in sermone: For Nino Pirrotta on his 80th Birthday, ed. Fabrizio Della Seta and Franco
Piperno (Florence and Perth, 1989), 259–81, at 267ff. See also Steven Ledbetter, ‘Luca
Marenzio: New Biographical Findings’, Ph.D. diss. (New York University, 1971), 109ff., who
cites additional evidence (drawn from the dispatches of the Ferrarese ambassadors at
Florence) demonstrating the Florentine–Ferrarese rivalry.
See Marco Bizzarini, Luca Marenzio: The Career of a Musician Between the Renaissance and the
Counter-Reformation, trans. James Chater (Aldershot, 2003), 176–9.
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 3

of the close Ferrarese connection is the dedication of Bastiano de’ Rossi’s

description of the festivities to Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.7
The Ferrarese concerto was characteristically known for performances in private
apartments for a select few;8 by way of contrast, the recently completed Uffizi
theatre at Florence – the setting of Archilei’s 1589 performances – was far grander
and more extensive than any private royal apartment.9 According to Rossi the
rectangular salone was 95 bracci in length (approximately 180.7 feet or 55 metres),10
indicating a relatively large theatre by contemporary standards.11 James Saslow has
speculated that such a floor area likely held a maximum of 1,300 spectators;12 this
number would be in addition to the tiered gradi that accommodated roughly
800–900 persons. If the audience in the floor area was standing the capacity might
almost triple,13 but we know from Giuseppe Pavoni’s account of the 1589
performances in the Uffizi that the floor-area audience was indeed seated.14
Regardless of exact numbers, there is no question that within the courtly sphere the
Uffizi was the most public of venues – a far cry from the private and domestic
settings with which women’s music-making had been traditionally associated. In
addition, given the myths surrounding the ‘secret music’ of the concerto at Ferrara,
attending dignitaries from nearby courts – those who were ‘in the know’ – would

Bastiano de’ Rossi, Descrizione dell[’]apparato e degl’intermedi fatti per la commedia rappresentata in
Firenze nelle nozze de’ Serenissimi Don Ferdinando Medici, e Madama Christina di Loreno, Gran Duchi
di Toscana (Florence, 1589).
It is possible, however, that the Ferrarese concerto sang on the stage in Florence for the
wedding of Cesare d’Este and Virginia de’ Medici in 1586. The Ferrarese concerto
accompanied Virginia de’ Medici to Florence and Ottavio Rinuccini wrote five poems for
the group. See Angelo Solerti, Gli albori del melodramma, 3 vols. (Milan, 1904), II, 6. If,
indeed, the Ferrarese singers did perform in the Uffizi theatre in 1586, this set an important
precedent for the incorporation of the Florentine concerto in the 1589 festivities, explaining
not only Archilei’s prominence in the opening intermedio, but more importantly the
participation of the three donne in the final ballo ‘O che nuovo miracolo’. On the latter see
Nina Treadwell, ‘The Performance of Gender in Cavalieri/Guidiccioni’s Ballo ‘‘O che
nuovo miracolo’’ (1589)’, Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture, 1 (1997), 55–70.
There is some disagreement as to whether the Uffizi’s Salone grande was set up as a
permanent theatre. See, for example, the opposing viewpoints of Nino Pirrotta and Elena
Povoledo in Music and Theatre from Poliziano to Monteverdi, trans. Karen Eales (Cambridge and
New York, 1982). A useful summary of the evidence regarding this issue is provided by
Massimo Ossi in ‘Dalle macchine . . . la maraviglia: Bernardo Buontalenti’s Il rapimento di Cefalo
at the Medici Theatre in 1600’, in Opera in Context: Essays on Historical Staging from the Late
Renaissance to the Time of Puccini, ed. Mark A. Radice (Portland, Oregon, 1998), 298 n. 12.
See Rossi, Descrizione, 6. As Ossi has pointed out (‘Dalle macchine’, 299–300 n. 18), the braccio
was not an exact unit of measurement and thus interpretation has varied significantly. I
have followed Povoledo’s conversion at 22.83 inches (58 cm) to the braccio.
The Medici theatre might be compared, for example, to the more modest theatre built in
1588 at Sabbioneta near Mantua which was approximately 107 feet (32.6 metres) long. See
Ossi, ‘Dalle macchine’ (see n. 9), 18.
Saslow, The Medici Wedding, 150.
This possibility is suggested by Ossi, ‘Dalle macchine’, 24. He refers to the engraving by
Jacques Callot for the first intermedio of La liberazione di Tirreno e d’Arnia (performed in the
Uffizi in 1616) which shows the floor audience standing. For comparison of various
contemporary estimates, see Saslow, The Medici Wedding, 150, 300–301 n. 4.
Giuseppe Pavoni, Diario (1589), cited in Il teatro italiano, vol. 2, La commedia del Cinquecento,
ed. Guido Davico Bonino (Turin, 1977), 496.
4 Nina Treadwell

have been well aware of the privilege of seeing and hearing the Florentine singer
perform in the context of a large court theatre.
This point was clearly one that those involved in creating and staging the intermedi,
particularly Giovanni de’ Bardi and Emilio de’ Cavalieri, did their best to capitalise
on.15 For although there was a large cast of singers and instrumentalists16 – the bulk
of the intermedi consisted, in fact, of large ensemble numbers, not solo song –
performances by the Florentine court’s three leading ladies were granted particular
prominence.17 Indeed, casting Archilei for the very opening number of the
intermedi – in singular display on the stage of the Uffizi theatre – was no casual
decision. The Ferrarese reputedly had their ‘secret music’ but the Florentines had no
qualms about allowing their female singers to grace the stage of the large Uffizi
theatre on this important occasion.18 The decision to have Archilei open the show
was a carefully calculated gesture intended to display to best advantage the talents
of the court’s foremost singer. It was a clever dramatic ploy that would serve as a
visual and vocal foil to the upcoming ensemble numbers, placing Archilei centre
stage before complicating the visual field with Sirens and other cloud-borne deities.
And Archilei’s role as Dorian Harmony, for all its mythological significance, was
inextricably tied to the concerns of the Medici; indeed, the fundamental stage action
placed the Medici firmly and squarely at the centre of the theatrical venture, with the

As superintendent of fine arts for the Medici, Cavalieri was the director/producer of the
events; Bardi was the trovatore or inventor of the intermedi. For a thorough discussion of
Cavalieri’s role in the 1589 festivities, see Warren Kirkendale, Emilio de’ Cavalieri ‘Gentiluomo
romano’: His Life and Letters, His Role as Superintendent of all the Arts at the Medici Court, and His
Musical Compositions (Florence, 2001), 159–78.
The more prominent of these musicians are listed by Cristofano Malvezzi in the ninth
partbook of Intermedii et concerti. Two important documentary sources also include
information regarding musicians: the Libro di conti is a ledger containing expenses for labour
and costumes maintained by Cavalieri’s staff; the Memoriale e ricordi 1588–89 is the
production logbook maintained by Girolamo Seriacopi. A complete transcription of
Seriacopi’s Memoriale is included in Annamaria Testaverde Matteini, ‘L’officina delle nuvole.
Il Teatro Mediceo nel 1589 e gli Intermedi del Buontalenti nel Memoriale di Girolamo
Seriacopi’, Musica e Teatro (Quaderni degli amici della Scala), vols. 11/12 (1991). The classic
study drawing on the Libro di conti is Aby Warburg’s ‘I costumi teatrali per gli intermezzi del
1589. I disegni di Bernardo Buontalenti e il Libro di Conti di Emilio de’ Cavalieri’,
reprinted in Gesammelte Schriften, 2 vols., ed. Gertrud Bing (Leipzig, 1932).
Archilei’s position as prima donna, indeed as leading vocalist per se, is evidenced by the fact
that she was the only performer granted two solo songs and by the strategic positioning of
those solos: opening the entire set of intermedi as well as the fifth intermedio. These carefully
placed solos are supplemented by her participation in two ensemble numbers in which she
sings as soloist.
While the Ferrarese concerto may have performed in the Uffizi theatre in 1586, it was
certainly not the norm for concerti di donne to display their vocality in the context of a large
court theatre. Citing the all-male cast of Monteverdi’s Orfeo and Federico Follino’s remarks
regarding the exceptional involvement of women singers in the 1608 Mantuan festivities,
Tim Carter stresses Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga’s unwillingness to allow his female singers in
public. This makes the involvement of the Florentine concerto in the Medici wedding
festivities almost two decades earlier an all the more striking precedent. See Carter,
‘Lamenting Ariadne?’, Early Music, 27/3 (1999), 395–405, at 401 and 405 n. 25. See also
Compendio delle sontuose feste l’anno MDCVIII nella città di Mantova (Mantua, 1608), 73–4;
Solerti, Gli albori, III, 208.
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 5

royal couple themselves depicted as gods. As she descended little by little on her
cloud, Archilei sang:
Dalle più alte sfere19
Di celeste Sirene amica scorta
L’armonia son, ch’a voi vengo, ò mortali,
Poscia, che fino al Ciel Battendo l’ali
L’alta fama n’apporta,
Che mai si nobil coppia il sol non vide
Qual voi nuova Minerva, e forte Alcide.
[From the highest spheres, / As friendly escort to the celestial sirens, / I, Harmony, come
down to you, O mortals: / Because beating their wings / Important tidings have come all
the way up to the sky, / Because the sun has never seen such a noble couple, / As you new
Minerva, and strong Hercules.]
Let us now turn to the Medici-commissioned musical print of the intermedi in
order to understand exactly what was being represented through this medium.
Cavalieri was charged with publishing the print, a task he delegated to Cristofano
Malvezzi. As the musician assigned to bring together the music of the intermedi
performed some two years previously, Malvezzi had the opportunity to make
choices regarding the manner of presentation of individual pieces within the print,
and the layout of particular pieces seems to reflect a curious mixture of
commemorative and pragmatic incentives. For example, the pieces that we know
were rendered as solo song are presented either in traditional madrigal format, that
is, in partbooks (as was typical in 1591) or in score (four untexted parts included in
the ninth partbook) with the addition of a separate embellished part apparently sung
by the soloist. As it happens, the pieces in partbooks were composed by Malvezzi
himself;20 thus, one explanation for the partbook format is that the composer was
leaving performance options open in order to create an opportunity for his own
pieces to be more readily performed.21 Less attention, however, has focused on the
unusual decision to print the remaining solos, including ‘Dalle più alte sfere’, in
score rather than partbook format.22 The score for Archilei’s song incorporates a
simplified version of her vocal part in the upper voice, but does not include the
There is a slight distinction between the opening line of the text as printed in both Rossi’s
Descrizione and Malvezzi’s ninth partbook (‘Dalle celesti sfere’), and the text underlaid in the
canto partbook of Malvezzi’s print (‘Dalle più alte sfere’). I reproduce the text as it appears
in poetic form in the ninth partbook (p. 7), with the exception of the opening line for
which I substitute the more well-known (sung) opening from the canto partbook.
The pieces by Malvezzi rendered as solo song and printed in partbooks were V. Archilei’s
‘Io che l’onde raffreno’ which opened intermedio five, Archilei’s solo portion in the sectional
madrigal that followed, and the opening of ‘Dolcissime Sirene’ from the first intermedio.
See Hugh Keyte, ‘From De’ Rossi to Malvezzi: Some Performance Problems’, in The Golden
Age [programme booklet for the 1979 performance of these intermedi in St John’s, Smith
Square, London], 29.
The other pieces presented in score format were Peri’s echo piece ‘Dunque fra torbid’
onde’ from the fifth intermedio and Cavalieri’s solo for the castrato Onofrio Gualfreducci
‘Godi turba mortal’ in intermedio six. Giulio Caccini’s solo ‘Io, che dal Ciel cader’ sung by
his wife Lucia was omitted from Malvezzi’s print for political reasons, but is found in two
manuscript sources with the embellished solo line and bass line.
6 Nina Treadwell

song’s text (see Ex. 1a). I will return to this question in some detail, but at this point
we might note Malvezzi’s incentive to provide a more detailed record of these select
performances by also including an embellished solo part for each song. In the case
of ‘Dalle più alte sfere’, the elaborate passaggi that herald the opening of Malvezzi’s
canto partbook (Ex. 1b) mirror the prominence given Archilei in the performances
themselves. (It is noteworthy that the passaggi apparently rendered by the castrato
Onofrio Gualfreducci – recorded on a single page towards the end of the canto
partbook – are far less impressive and extensive than those of Archilei.) It was
clearly Malvezzi’s task to capture as far as possible through the medium of print the
spell-binding virtuosity displayed by Florence’s virtuosa when she opened the
intermedi some two years earlier. The less-than-practical aspect of the song’s
presentation – at least for a self-accompanying singer such as Archilei – is suggested
by the score’s absence of text. That the text was only supplied along with the
elaborate passaggi in the canto partbook not only precluded a self-accompanying
singer from utilising the print with ease, but would have deterred any singer who was
not on a par with Archilei from performing from the print.23 Thus, through its lack
of utility, the printed song calls attention back to itself, boasting the extraordinary
nature of Archilei’s performances. One is immediately struck by another interesting
point of comparison between Ferrarese and Florentine practice. While the Ferrarese
largely restricted their female singers and the circulation of their music from
common observation – only a few privileged auditors were granted the opportunity
to follow certain pieces in performance from a book24 – the Florentines placed
Archilei at centre stage and proclaimed her involvement and musical prowess
through the medium of print.
The next important question concerns the canto part in Malvezzi’s print, and its
relationship to what Archilei sang at the 1589 performances. For reasons I will
outline below, it seems we should be somewhat cautious about assuming a direct
relationship between the embellishments on the printed page and what Archilei
actually sang in performance. Again, we might turn to what is known regarding
Ferrarese practice by way of contrast to Archilei, and here we should distinguish
between solo and ensemble singing. As Newcomb has shown, one of the most
striking innovations of the Ferrarese concerto during the early 1580s was not so much
the application of diminution to a single voice but to two or three voices – ‘virtuosic
diminution [that was] carefully composed, rehearsed, and written down’.25 (This was
the style that Striggio came to Ferrara to imitate and that Caccini encouraged
Striggio to continue providing him for his Florentine singers.) It is perhaps no
surprise, then, that there are relatively few references in ambassadorial reports to the

Even negotiating the use of basso and canto partbooks simultaneously was no easy task.
See the reference to this practice cited in Laurie Stras, ‘Recording Tarquinia: Imitation,
Parody and Reportage in Ingegneri’s ‘‘Hor che’l ciel e la terra e ‘l vento tace’’ ’, Early Music,
27/3 (1999), 358–77, at 361.
On this point see Newcomb, The Madrigal at Ferrara, 59 and 63ff.
Newcomb, The Madrigal at Ferrara, 59.
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 7

Ex. 1: (a) Opening of ‘Dalle più alte sfere’ from the ninth partbook of Intermedii et concerti
(Venice: G. Vincenti, 1591), 4. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek,
Vienna, S.A.78.B.48.)
8 Nina Treadwell

Ex. 1: (b) Opening of Archilei’s embellished solo part for ‘Dalle più alte sfere’ from the
canto partbook of Intermedii et concerti, 4. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbiblio-
thek, Vienna, S.A.78.B.48.)
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 9

Ferrarese concerto practising the art of improvisation;26 indeed, Newcomb goes

further, suggesting that even in solo singing at Ferrara diminution may have been
worked out and written down prior to performance.27 Although I am by no means
suggesting that the Ferrarese singers were less-than-adept as improvisers,28 it is
interesting to note that the practice was rarely singled out by those who frequently
witnessed and commented upon daily performances. Clearly, much of the novelty
and prestige of the concerto resided in their ability to render intricate notation with
exacting skill, allowing set diminution to constitute part of the composer’s craft.
Archilei, on the other hand, belonged to an older generation of singers renowned
for their improvisational skills, and Archilei’s own ability is frequently noted by her
contemporaries. In their respective prefaces to Euridice, both Giulio Caccini and
Jacopo Peri comment on Archilei’s style of vocal ornamentation, but their remarks
differ in interesting respects. For Peri, Archilei is the singer
who has always made my music worthy of her singing, by adorning it not only with those
gruppi and those long windings of the voice, both simple and double, that her liveliness of
invention29 can devise at any time – more to obey the usage of our time than because she
regards the beauty and force of our singing to rely upon them – but also with those
pleasantries and beauties that cannot be written down, and even if written, cannot be learnt
from written [examples].30

Caccini, by way of contrast, remarks on

the new style of passaggi and raddoppiate invented by me, which Vittoria Archilei, a singer of
that excellence to which her resounding fame bears witness, has long employed in singing
my works.31
One such reference is cited by Newcomb (The Madrigal at Ferrara, 270, Document 57),
although his translation (on 55) omits the reference to improvisation: ‘E quelle signore
cantano eccellentemente et nel lor conserto e a libro, alimproviso son sicure’. See also
Vincenzo Giustiniani’s reference in his Discorso (1628) cited in Angelo Solerti, Le origini del
melodramma (Turin, 1903; rpt. Bologna, 1969), 108.
Newcomb, The Madrigal at Ferrara, 57.
There is ample evidence of a different type indicating that Tarquinia Molza, a member of
the Ferrarese concerto for a brief period, was especially skilled as an improviser. In addition,
the sheer duration of the nightly performances given by the concerto would suggest that
variety through the practice of improvisation was essential. See Stras, ‘Recording Tarquinia’,
363, and Stras, ‘Musical Portraits of Female Musicians at the Northern Italian Courts in the
1570s’, in Art and Music in the Early Modern Period: Essays in Honor of Franca Trinchieri Camiz,
ed. Katherine A. McIver (Aldershot, 2003), esp. 158–61.
The word ‘ingegno’ can mean variously imagination, inventiveness or wit.
‘. . . la quale ha sempre fatte degne del cantar suo le musiche mie, adornandole non pure di
quei gruppi e di quei lunghi giri di voce semplici e doppi, che dalla vivezza dell’ingegno suo
son ritrovati ad ogn’hora, più per ubbidire all’uso de’ nostri tempi, che perch’ella stimi
consistere in essi la bellezza e la forza del nostro cantare, ma anco di quelle e vaghezze e
leggiadrie che non si possono scrivere, e scrivendole non s’imparano da gli scritti’. Le
musiche sopra L’Euridice (Florence, 1600; rpt. New York, 1973 and Bologna, 1973), iii–iv. I
have deliberately translated ‘leggiadrie’ as ‘beauties’ rather than using terms such as ‘graces’
or ‘ornaments’ which today are often equated with the idea of embellishment. In the
sixteenth century ‘leggiadrie’ did not necessarily suggest ornamentation.
‘. . . la nuova maniera de’ passaggi e raddoppiate inventate da me, quali ora adopera,
cantando l’opere mie, già è molto tempo, Vittoria Archilei, cantatrice di quella eccellenza
footnote continued on next page
10 Nina Treadwell

Caccini links Archilei with vocal ornamentation supposedly ‘invented’ by him, while
Peri refers to the ‘liveliness of invention’ the singer brings to his music, suggesting
a true collaboration between performer and composer in the creation of the work.
The contrasting perspective of the two composers could not be more marked, but
their comments need to be understood within the context of the supposed
development of monody in late sixteenth-century Florence, and the jockeying for
precedence and claims to ‘invention’ by composers moving in these circles. That
material need not be rehearsed here; suffice to say that Caccini’s claims to
precedence and originality have drawn a fair degree of scepticism from scholars
such as Howard Mayer Brown and Tim Carter.32 For our purposes, it is important
to note that the style of vocal ornamentation Archilei practised was neither invented
by Caccini nor necessarily characteristic of the donne at Ferrara, although pieces
featuring diminution for two and three sopranos were especially associated with the
Ferrarese court during the 1580s.33 In fact, as John Walter Hill has demonstrated,
elaborate improvised embellishment had been employed by singers from southern
Italy for decades, especially those from Roman-Neapolitan circles.34 Archilei,
sometimes known as ‘La Romanina’, spent her early career in Rome, and indeed, as
Hill has observed, Vincenzo Giustiniani’s Discorso sopra la musica (1628) posits
Archilei as the exemplar or model that other Roman singers followed, Caccini
included.35 From Giustiniani’s perspective, Archilei the performer – rather than

footnote continued from previous page

che mostra il grido della sua fama’. L’Euridice composta in musica in stile rappresentativo
(Florence, 1600; rpt. Bologna, 1976), i–ii. The Italian text is also found in Solerti, Le origini
del melodrama. The translation given here is drawn from Leo Treitler, ed., Strunk’s Source
Readings in Music History (New York, 1950; rev. edn, 1998), 606.
See Brown, ‘The Geography of Florentine Monody: Caccini at Home and Abroad’, Early
Music, 9 (1981), 147–68; Carter, ‘On the Composition and Performance of Caccini’s Le
nuove musiche (1602)’, Early Music, 12 (1984), 208–17; and H. Wiley Hitchcock, ‘Caccini’s
‘‘Other’’ Nuove musiche’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 27/3 (1974), 438–60.
A letter of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga (11 December 1605) describes the practice whereby
the Ferrarese singers learnt by rote: ‘[Luzzaschi] faceva una bozza della Musica et poi a
mente l’insegnava alle d.e Dame’. The letter is transcribed in Susan Parisi, ‘Ducal Patronage
of Music in Mantua, 1587–1627: An Archival Study’, Ph.D. diss. (University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, 1989), 184–5 n. 67.
John Walter Hill, Roman Monody, Cantata and Opera from the Circles Around Cardinal Montalto, 2
vols. (Oxford, 1997).
Giustiniani’s remarks regarding Archilei occur in the context of a discussion of Roman
singers during the period 1571 to 1587. He notes: ‘Nell’istesso tempo il Cardinale
Ferdinando de’ Medici, che fu poi Gran Duca di Toscana, stimolato e dal proprio gusto e
dall’esempio degli altri suddetti Prencipi, ha premuto in aver musici eccellenti, e
specialmente la famosa Vittoria, dalla quale ha quasi avuto origine il vero modo di cantare
nelle donne, perciocchè ella fu moglie d’Antonio di Santa Fiore, così cognominato perchè
era stato fino da fanciullo musico per eccellenza del Cardinal di Santa Fiore. E con questo
esempio molt’altri s’esercitarono in questo modo di cantare in Roma, in guisa tale che
prevalsero a tutti gli altri musici dei luoghi e Prencipi suddetti, e vennero in luce Giulio
Romano, Giuseppino, Gio. Domenico et il Rasi, che apparò in Firenze da Giulio Romano;
et tutti cantavano di basso e tenore con larghezza di molto numero di voci, e con modi e
passaggi esquisiti e con affetto straordinario e talento particolare di far sentir bene le parole’.
See Solerti, Le origini del melodrama, 109–10. See also Hill, Roman Monody, I, 107.
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 11

Caccini the self-proclaimed composer – was the leading exponent of a style that
only later found its way into written form.
In light of Archilei’s reputation as an improviser par excellence, it seems unlikely
that her performances for the Medici wedding would have consisted of note-for-
note renditions of the passaggi found in Malvezzi’s 1591 print (or in any other
notated source that may have existed). Yet the performance context that Archilei
negotiated – the Uffizi theatre – was exceptional, a far cry from the more intimate
performance rooms with which the singer was familiar, settings that were
undoubtedly more conducive to the ‘liveliness of invention’ for which she was
known. Coordinating a theatrical performance in a large hall for this most important
of occasions no doubt confronted Archilei with a whole range of logistical concerns
not typically encountered. She had to contend with a shaking cloud that was
presumably rectified by the time of the première,36 and she also had to manage her
self-accompaniment on the larger bass lute37 while dressed in a velvet costume of
considerable weight, in addition to the elaborate headdress that she wore (see Fig.
1).38 More to the point, Archilei’s self-accompaniment needed to be coordinated
with that of two backstage musicians – her husband Antonio Archilei and Antonio
Naldi – both of whom played chitarroni.39 The chitarrone certainly had the edge on
the bass lute with regard to sustaining power, but in Archilei’s case the logistics of
descending on a cloud with the long-necked chitarrone while singing an elaborate
solo, coupled with regard for Bernardo Buontalenti’s balanced visual conception of
Harmony, may have precluded the use of the more cumbersome chitarrone. At any
rate, Archilei demonstrated the ideal of the self-accompanying singer with her bass
lute, while the accompaniment was reinforced by chitarroni out of eyesight of
Yet how difficult might it have been to coordinate this accompaniment, and to
what extent might this difficulty have impaired Archilei’s potential for ‘liveliness of
invention’? I am by no means suggesting that Archilei’s performance was
spontaneous, which would have been nearly impossible in the context of the Uffizi
theatre. Not only did she need to coordinate the chordal structure over which her
passaggi were delivered with her backstage musicians,40 with whom she likely had

Saslow, The Medici Wedding, 152 and 301 n. 9 and Matteini, ‘L’officina delle nuvole’, 212.
Malvezzi refers to a ‘leuto grosso’, undoubtedly a larger, lower-pitched lute commonly
tuned in D or sometimes E. The designation ‘leuto’ suggests that Archilei’s instrument was
to be distinguished from the (recently ‘invented’) chitarrone with its extension neck.
Regarding the weight of Vittoria’s dress, see Saslow, The Medici Wedding, 62 and 278 n. 26.
Intermedii et concerti, nono, 7. Apparently, not all solo songs in the intermedi required the
accompaniment to be reinforced: Jacopo Peri’s famous echo piece ‘Dunque fra torbid’onde’
from intermedio five was supported only by chitarrone played by Peri himself, according to
It seems likely that the backstage musicians would have had the piece’s chordal structure
memorized by the 2 May performance; on 21 November the Ferrarese ambassador Cortile
reported that rehearsals were taking place twice daily. See Ledbetter, ‘Luca Marenzio’, 115.
12 Nina Treadwell

Fig. 1: Costume design by Bernardo Buontalenti for Vittoria Archilei in the role of Doric
Harmony. The harp was replaced in performance by a bass lute. (Biblioteca Nazionale
Centrale, Florence, Palatina C.B.3.53, vol. II, c. 11r. By permission of the Ministero per i
Beni e le Attività Culturali. The image may not be reproduced by any means.)

little or no visual contact,41 but the length of her song was also no doubt timed to
coordinate with her cloud’s slow descent. What I am suggesting is that Archilei’s
performances would have displayed her imaginative capacity for finely nuanced
‘windings of the voice’ while the broad outline of her song would have remained
constant. By ‘broad outline’ I refer to both the general affective qualities that
distinguish the song’s major sectional divisions, as well as the key structural pitches
In the 1589 performances in the Uffizi, the rear terrazzino was the only non-stage space
reserved for musicians, necessitating instrumental accompaniment entirely from behind the
scenes. This was an unusual setup, as musicians were frequently accommodated in the front
of the stage area or in boxes on side walls, ensuring eye contact between singers and
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 13

that determine its trajectory. The latter was evidently more complex than the simple,
unadorned version of the melody supplied in Malvezzi’s score, because the text’s
syllables in the embellished part cannot be easily transferred to the simple version.42
‘Broad outline’ also refers to the general chordal structure that served as Archilei’s
support. With regard to the latter, the tactus would have likely remained steady,
allowing Archilei ease of coordination with her backstage accompanists and thus
maximum flexibility and creativity in the execution of her chosen passaggi. In this
respect, the exigencies of the performance context as outlined above would have
precluded (or at least been unfavourable to) the more subtle devices of expression
for which Archilei was also renowned; indeed, contemporary reports of perform-
ances of Euridice and Il rapimento di Cefalo confirm the sprezzatura characteristic of the
stile recitativo as less than effective in the theatrical context.43
While Malvezzi’s print is a clear reminder of the inevitable gap between notation
and performance, it can provide clues to aspects of at least one of Archilei’s 1589
performances that have otherwise remained unclear. It has been assumed that
Malvezzi included two endings for Archilei’s song, a more extended first ending,
and a shorter ending characterized by echo effects. Example 2 shows these ‘endings’
as they appear in Malvezzi’s print: the concluding section of the longer first ‘ending’
(which builds momentum through increasingly complex passagework) as well as the
second ‘ending’, beginning with the decorated initial.
Both endings set the concluding line of the song’s text, a not-so-veiled reference
to the Duke and new Duchess of Florence – ‘new Minerva and strong Hercules’. In
the shorter ‘ending’, repeated melodic cells and reiterated syllables in the text
suggest that the second of each cell was performed as an echo. That Archilei
performed the music in this fashion on at least one occasion is confirmed by several
accounts, including that of Giuseppe Pavoni:
There were two cloths covering the front of the stage. The first one which went down was
red; the perspective remained but was also covered by another cloth which was blue, in the
middle of which a woman seated on a cloud with a lute began to play and sing a madrigal
very sweetly. And thus playing and singing she came, being lowered down little by little,
hiding herself among certain rocks, and finishing the madrigal among those rocks with an
echo so wonderful that it seemed like its reflection was a good mile away.44

The ‘certain rocks’ to which Pavoni referred were the Doric temple (which was part
of the set – a view of Rome) into which Archilei and her cloud finally disappeared.
A manuscript description by an anonymous Frenchman who attended the première
in the Uffizi confirms the details as given by Pavoni:
See n. 66 below.
See Ossi, ‘Dalle macchine’, 23–7, 301–02 n. 35, and 303 n.58.
‘Innanti alla Scena vi erano due tele che la coprivano. La prima era rossa: la quale mandata
giú, rimase la prospettiva pur’anco coperta d’un’altra tela azzurra: nel mezo della quale vi
era una donna, che stava a sedere sopra una nuvola, e con un liuto cominciò a sonare, e
cantare molto soavemente un madrigale: e cosí sonando e cantando venne calando giú a
poco a poco, nascondendosi in certi scogli, finendo tra quelli il madrigale in un’eco tanto
maraviglioso, che pareva fosse discosto il ref[l]esso un buon miglio’. Pavoni, Diario (1589),
cited in Il teatro italiano, ed. Bonino, 496–7.
14 Nina Treadwell

Ex. 2: The two apparent ‘endings’ for ‘Dalle più alte sfere’ as presented in the canto
partbook of Intermedii et concerti, 6. The reiterated text and melodic cells in the final ‘ending’
suggest the use of echo effects. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek,
Vienna, S.A.78.B.48.)
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 15

At the front of the stage, which is very large and high, there were two cloths that covered
the entire stage. When they wished to begin, in an instant the first, which was red, fell to
the ground. The second cloth, which was blue like the sky, remained, right in the middle of
which appeared a woman who was seated in a cloud holding a lute in her hand. She sang
and little by little descended to the stage, where she immediately disappeared. She played and
sang so well that everyone admired her, and at the end of her song there was heard an echo
that responded to her, which seemed to be quite far away from the stage, a mile or more.45
Both accounts confirm the use of echo effects, suggesting that the second, shorter
‘ending’ in Malvezzi’s print concluded the première performance in the Uffizi
theatre. But it is also possible that the apparent second ending was not an alternative
to the first at all but rather was clearly set off in Malvezzi’s print because it was a
separate, concluding section, to be sung out of sight of the audience. Pavoni’s
description confirms that Archilei concluded her performance by singing the echo
while hidden among ‘certain rocks’. Thus, what might appear on the printed page
as the more vocally spectacular and longer first ‘ending’ would have been the
culmination of Archilei’s cloud-borne descent; the second ‘ending’ performed
from inside the Doric temple, while seemingly less flashy, exploited echo effects that
in the context of the Uffizi theatre were clearly wondrous in effect – both
commentators marvelled that the echo seemed to bounce back as if from a mile
away.46 Such meraviglia-inspiring effects were not only designed to elicit the auditor’s
amazement but also his or her curiosity about how they were accomplished. The
actual means of executing such wonders, however, was to remain undetected, as
part of what Nino Pirrotta has called the ‘theatrical game’ between spectator and
(theatrical) architect. We can be almost certain that Archilei’s echo was rendered by
a singer at the back of the hall in the balcony above the main entrance, a position
that would explain the emphasis in both descriptions on the echo’s return from a
considerable distance.47 The logistics of coordinating the ‘echo ending’, then, clearly
push the concluding section of the song closer to the realm of composition than
‘Au devant du theatre, qui est fort grand et hault, y avoit deux toilles qui couvroient tout le
theatre. Quand l’on voulust commencer tout à ung instant la première, qui estoit rouge,
tomba par terre. La seconde, qui estoit comme azuree, demeura, tout au millieu de laquelle
parust une donne [sic] qui estoit assise dans une nuee tenant ung luct en sa main, laquelle
chantoit et peu à peu descendit jusques sur le theatre, dont elle disparut incontinant. Elle
jouoit et chantoit si bien que chacun l’admiroit; et sur la fin en son chant fust ouy ung esco
qui luy respondoit, lequel paroissoit estre bien loing du theatre d’un mil ou plus’. The
source is: F:Pn ms.fr.5550, fols. 64v–68v (at fol. 65r–v), transcribed in Luigi Monga, Voyage
de Provence et d’Italie, Biblioteca del Viaggio in Italia, 49 (Geneva, 1994).
It is striking that in recent recordings of the song the echo ‘ending’ has either been omitted
(as in Katelijne Van Laethem’s rendition) or the ‘endings’ as they appear in Malvezzi’s print
have been reversed. By reversing the endings Emma Kirkby evidently favoured what
appears to be the more vocally spectacular ending to conclude the piece, yet in the context
of the Uffizi theatre Archilei’s echo clearly produced its intended effect. Kirkby’s
performance can be found on Una ‘Stravaganza’ dei Medici: Intermedi (1589) per ‘La Pellegrina’,
Taverner Consort, A. Parrott, EMI compact disc CDC 7 47998 2; the rendition by
Katelijne Van Laethem is on La Pellegrina, Huelgas Ensemble, P. Van Nevel, Vivarte
compact disc S2K 63362.
See Rossi, Descrizione, 7: ‘Ne fu questo terrazzino fatto solamente per ornamento, ma anche,
perchè sopra vi potessero stare i Musici à risponder, cantando, all’armonia della Prospettiva’.
16 Nina Treadwell

In light of my suggestion that Archilei’s performance was in large part

quasi-improvised, it may now appear somewhat superfluous to consider questions
surrounding the ‘composer’ of the piece. Yet Archilei’s primary role in the creation
of the work through the act of performance brings questions of authorship to the
fore, all the more so because of her gender. The song is attributed to Cavalieri in
Bastiano de’ Rossi’s official description of the festivities and to Antonio Archilei,
Vittoria’s husband, in Malvezzi’s musical print. Scholars have tended to favour
Antonio Archilei as composer over Cavalieri for various reasons, including the fact
that Rossi’s description was still in press at the time of the first performance, hence
last-minute changes to the programme could not be taken into account; most
convincingly, Warren Kirkendale argues that since Cavalieri himself was responsible
for delegating the print’s preparation to Malvezzi, it is unlikely that Cavalieri would
have allowed his own setting to be credited to Antonio Archilei.48 Kirkendale
speculates that Cavalieri may also have composed a setting (now lost) and that
Vittoria Archilei ‘may have applied some persuasion to have her husband be
allowed to participate also as a composer, resulting in his only known work’, thereby
proposing a tentative resolution to the conflicting attributions.49 Yet Kirkendale’s
passing observation that if composed by Antonio Archilei ‘Dalle più alte sfere’
would be his only known composition raises the possibility that Antonio was
credited with a composition that may actually have been by his wife.50 It was not
uncommon during this period for either a husband or father to take credit for
compositions by a wife or daughter: among the numerous contemporary instances
those involving the Caccini family are the best known.51 And if Vittoria had indeed
‘composed’ ‘Dalle più alte sfere’, what was the likelihood that she would have been
publicly credited with composing the opening number of one of the most
extravagant court entertainments Florence had witnessed in decades? Unlikely at
best, we have to assume, since the wave of enthusiasm for female court singers
during the 1580s did not yet extend to their official recognition as court composers.
We know from a less auspicious source than Malvezzi’s 1591 commemorative
print, however, that on at least one occasion Vittoria Archilei composed music that
she sang in another Florentine entertainment: a Rinuccini mascherata performed at
court on 14 February 1611. In a letter that includes the details of the mascherata and

Kirkendale, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, 166–7.
Ibid., 167.
Indeed, Tim Carter has already made this suggestion. See ‘Intriguing Laments: Sigismondo
d’India, Claudio Monteverdi, and Dido alla parmigiana (1628)’, Journal of the American
Musicological Society, 49/1 (1996), 50 n. 37.
For example, Giulio Caccini considered the young Francesca Caccini’s first commission for
theatre, the 1607 torneo La Stiava, to be directed to his household rather than Francesca
personally. Suzanne Cusick suggests that this may explain the anonymity of Francesca
Caccini’s contribution to this entertainment and subsequent theatre pieces by Michelangelo
Buonarroti. See The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers, ed. Julie Anne Sadie and
Rhian Samuel (London, 1995), s.v. ‘Caccini, Francesca’. There is also confusion
surrounding several compositions possibly by Settimia Caccini that are attributed to her in
one source, and her husband Alessandro Ghivizzani in another. See The Norton/Grove
Dictionary of Women Composers, s.v. ‘Caccini, Settimia’. See also Carter, ‘Intriguing Laments’,
50 n. 37.
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 17

its text, Jacopo Cicognini makes note of four ottave rime that ‘were composed in
music by the same women who sang them’.52 The first of the four – ‘Donne, dal cui
sembiante’ – was composed by Vittoria Archilei. In addition, we might note (as Tim
Carter already has) that Giulio Caccini was more generous regarding his working
relationship with Archilei in his private correspondence than in his public
acknowledgements.53 In a letter of 14 February 1596 Caccini speaks of the madrigal
he is sending Virginio Orsini, Duke of Bracciano, stating that Vittoria heard it
several times, and that he completed the piece according to her taste.54 Caccini’s
passing remark muddies the waters, of course, blurring any discrete categories of
composer and performer in this repertory. Yet as a composer-performer himself,
Caccini was well aware of the advantages of marketing himself as composer through
the medium of print. As a female performer who emerged at a time when women
were only just beginning to be recognised as so-called professionals, Archilei would
have had little official claim to the title ‘composer’.
Yet if Archilei was the ‘composer’ of ‘Dalle più alte sfere’, what relationship does
Malvezzi’s print bear to the process of composition and to Archilei’s performances
as realized in the Uffizi theatre? As I mentioned earlier, the song’s presentation in
the print is unusual: the basic setting (minus passaggi) is presented in score format
rather than the more common partbook arrangement. In one sense, the layout of
the song is suggestive of the actual mode of performance – solo song – whereby the
supportive, chordal nature of the accompaniment is made visibly apparent. From
this perspective, the song’s presentation might be viewed as one step closer to the
upright folio formats characteristic of monodic publications from some ten years
later. As Tim Carter has noted, score format allowed the ‘leisurely contemplation or
study of a composer’s works in ways not possible with partbooks’;55 the three
score-format solos in Malvezzi’s commemorative print, a limited edition of only
116 copies, were perhaps motivated by this consideration.56
Yet the score format of Archilei’s accompaniment is generally suggestive of the
manner in which the song was likely to have been conceived. We know little
about Archilei’s musical training, but as an accomplished guitarist and lutenist it is
likely that she would have composed the relatively straightforward chordal
accompaniment that characterises ‘Dalle più alte sfere’ with lute in hand. In this
respect the song’s layout might be seen as both revealing and deceptive: on the one
hand it edges close to what might have been more economically printed in tablature
form (or several years later as figured bass); on the other hand, the score’s

‘Furon le soprascritte ottave composte musicalmente dall’istesse donne che le cantarono: la
prima fu cantata con la solita sua grazia e voce angelica dalla signora Vittoria Archilei,
romana’. The letter is transcribed in its entirety in Solerti, Gli albori, II, 283–94; see also
Kirkendale, The Court Musicians, 220 and 265.
See Carter, ‘Finding a Voice: Vittoria Archilei and the Florentine ‘‘New Music’’ ’, in
Feminism and Renaissance Studies, ed. Lorna Hutson (Oxford, 1999), 450–67.
The letter can be found in Kirkendale, The Court Musicians, 132 and 264; see also Carter,
‘Finding a Voice’, 451.
Carter, ‘Printing the ‘‘New Music’’ ’, in Music and the Cultures of Print, ed. Kate van Orden
(New York and London, 2000), 18.
See Kirkendale, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, 162.
18 Nina Treadwell

part-writing diverges from the accompaniment as it was performed in the intermedio.

Accompanied in the 1589 performances by plucked strings, and likely also
conceived on one of the same family of instruments, the four-part writing in
Malvezzi’s print is merely a formal mode of presentation, the manner in which the
piece was encoded in notation. In other words, the four-part writing in Malvezzi’s
print would not have been realised in performance in the intermedio as written; rather
the chordal implications of such writing would have informed its idiomatic
‘realisation’ on plucked instruments as distinct as the bass lute and chitarrone. In
fact, it is unlikely that notation resembling that in Malvezzi’s print even existed at
the time of performance; a tablature accompaniment may have existed but, as
discerning lute players knew, the bass line alone was sufficient, indeed preferable,
in terms of practical ease of reading in performance and the flexibility it allowed
in terms of chosen instrumentation, especially when a number of ‘continuo’
instruments were involved simultaneously.57 In the case of ‘Dalle più alte sfere’
where both bass lute and chitarroni were employed, the differing chord shapes and
voicings produced by the unique tuning and stringing arrangements of each
instrument would have made for quite distinctly sonorous accompaniments. How
Archilei might have chosen to notate the song, if indeed she chose to notate it
at all at this initial stage, is in this sense somewhat irrelevant. As Donna
Cardamone has demonstrated, the practice of the self-accompanying female singer
improvising block chords had a long history, and in most cases these female
composer-performers would not have committed their labours to paper.58
While it might be tempting to see the remnants of a lute intabulation in Malvezzi’s
score – the unusual score format does, to be sure, hint at a conceptual connection –
a realisation of such tablature would bring us little closer to the accompaniment as
it was performed in 1589. An exact intabulation of the lower three voices in
Malvezzi’s print for the instrument that Archilei apparently played – a bass lute
presumably in D or E – would result in awkward, little-used chord shapes in the
highest range of the instrument, thus defeating the purpose of employing the larger
lute with its resonant lower range. A smaller lute in G tuning, however, could
replicate the three lower parts in Malvezzi’s print through a good deal of the piece,
with the exception of a few untenable (unsustainable) voicings. Yet here again we
miss the point if we imagine that we are any closer to the song in its ‘original’ state.
For a start, sustaining a consistent three-part texture throughout the piece for what
was essentially a continuo accompaniment was not the norm; varying the number
of voices in chords allowed the lutenist or chitarrone player to match the
accentuations (or lack thereof) in the singer’s part as well as utilise fuller chords in

Relying on a bass line alone in order to realise a chordal accompaniment appears to have
been common practice throughout the sixteenth century. For iconographical evidence
regarding the practice earlier in the sixteenth century, see David Nutter, ‘Ippolito
Tromboncino, ‘‘Cantore al Liuto’’ ’, I Tatti Studies, 3 (1989), 134–5.
Donna Cardamone, ‘Lifting the Protective Veil of Anonymity: Women as
Composer-Performers, ca. 1300–1566’, in Women Composers: Music Through the Ages, I, ed.
Martha Furman Schleifer and Sylvia Glickman (New York, 1996), 110–15.
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 19

Ex. 3: Transcription of the opening of ‘Dalle più alte sfere’. The accompaniment would not
have been realised as presented here in score, but adapted to suit the plucked-string
instruments used in performance.

their most idiomatic and resonant configurations.59 In the context of the Uffizi
theatre the latter consideration was paramount; as we have seen the hall was
extremely large and Archilei and her accompanists likely had to rely solely on their
ears for coordination.60 A lute reproducing the lower three voices as they appear in
Malvezzi’s print would have been all but inaudible. More likely, at the opening of
the song (see Ex. 3, bars 1 and 3), a lutenist (playing an instrument in G) would
naturally incorporate the appropriate notes falling on adjacent strings to fill out the
chord, thus using where possible the top three strings of the instrument.61 The same
principles would apply on the bass lute that Archilei herself played in performance
(the parts would have been completely revoiced to suit the lower pitched
instrument), and a good deal of the bass line would have been played at the lower
octave (again, to capitalise on the instrument’s inherent qualities). It is no accident
that the instruments specified for the singer’s accompaniment were the lower-
ranged chitarrone with its re-entrant tuning and the bass lute. As Agostino Agazzari
pointed out some years later, playing in a low register helps to avoid doubling the
upper part; it was especially important not to ‘obscure the excellence of the note

There is plenty of evidence for this practice, the most obvious being the manuscript
tablatures containing some of the earliest Florentine monodies. In his Fronimo, Vincenzo
Galilei, though emphasising the importance of keeping the parts intact for instrumental
intabulation, is much freer with his accompaniments. For an explication of the procedure,
see Claude Palisca, ‘Vincenzo Galilei’s Arrangements for Voice and Lute’, in Studies in the
History of Italian Music and Music Theory (Oxford, 1994), 364–88. With the score-format solos
of the 1589 intermedi we are not dealing with a reverse process of the careful intabulations
of all voices of a polyphonic composition that we find in many lute tablatures throughout
the sixteenth century, such as the relatively strict intabulations by Willaert of Verdelot’s
madrigals published in 1536.
See n. 41.
See Nigel North, Continuo Playing on the Lute, Archlute, and Theorbo (Bloomington and
Indianapolis, 1987), 56ff.
20 Nina Treadwell

itself or of the passaggio that the good singer improvises on it’.62 These kind of
adjustments were part and parcel of the musician’s trade, yet musicologists still often
find the lack of direct correlation between the score and its realisation in
performance problematic, perhaps because of the anxiety about what remains when
the apparent sureties of the printed page or ‘the music itself’ seem to disappear into
thin air. Yet a more extensive understanding of performance practice can surely
recoup any such loss.
As I have suggested above, Malvezzi’s score – as it would have been realised in
performance – is best understood as a supportive, chordal accompaniment designed
to foreground Archilei’s elaborate passagework to best advantage.63 Composing this
kind of accompaniment to the lute was a relatively simple affair, especially in
this case, where root-position and first-inversion chords predominate, with the
occasional added seventh, and where few dissonances occur aside from standard
cadential suspensions. The most striking effect of the accompaniment is probably its
occasional shifts from major to minor modes, for example in bar 4 where the
decorated line accentuates the shift to the minor with a dramatic rise to the seventh
on the second syllable of ‘alte’ (see Ex. 3). While it is certainly possible that the song
was given to Malvezzi in tablature form (which the composer then arranged and
notated in strict four-part writing), the score bears little evidence of such a
procedure. The absence of a number of accidentals from Malvezzi’s score would
seem to indicate that he was not using tablature as his guide, for in the tablature
system there is no ambiguity regarding the raising or lowering of specific pitches. I
would suggest that Malvezzi probably had the very bare minimum to work with:
Archilei’s elaborate passaggi and a bass line.
Treitler, Strunk’s Source Readings, 624.
In this respect I differ from Kirkendale (Emilio de’ Cavalieri, 164–6), who believes that
‘these instrumental accompaniments to vocal solos all sustained a number of real parts in a
polyphonic complex and therefore have little in common with the chordal filling of the
basso continuo in the later monody, with its polarization of solo melody and bass
accompaniment’. (Kirkendale admits that the ‘bass parts in 1589 do begin to assume a
more instrumental character (e.g. with larger leaps and few rests)’. While he is certainly
correct in linking these pieces back to the earlier practice of performing polyphonic pieces
as vocal solos (he cites the important theatrical examples), it is important to note (as he
does) that the polyphonic lines in these earlier examples were invariably sustained by bowed
string instruments. By contrast, the solos in the 1589 intermedi were predominantly
accompanied by plucked strings. (Occasionally, a bowed instrument supplemented plucked
strings, particularly chord-playing instruments such as the lirone which was used in ‘Io che
l’onde raffreno’; the occasional use of bowed strings in this context was undoubtedly a
response to the theatrical performance context, as it was not a feature of chamber
monody.) Given the preponderance of plucked-string instruments assigned to the solo
songs in 1589, it is highly unlikely that the ‘accompaniments . . . all sustained a number of
real parts in a polyphonic complex’. Questions of audibility and sustainability (the rapid
decay of a single plucked string), not to mention coordination between the various
accompanists who, if one follows Kirkendale’s reasoning, were plucking single notes, cast
serious doubt on his assertion. In addition, the chordal orientation that reveals itself in the
solo songs of the 1589 intermedi is supported by the use of the newly introduced chitarra
spagnola in the finale of the work. Although not associated with solo song in the intermedi,
the instrument’s usage is significant since it points to the renewed interest in chordal
sonorities. Unlike the lute, the basic technique of the chitarra at this time was one of a
strummed chordal accompaniment.
Florentine monody ‘alla Romanina’ 21

It would make sense that Malvezzi, as compiler and editor of the musical print,
would have notated Archilei’s song in a manner that was familiar to him, but that
also suggested (through the visual layout) some connection to the song’s mode of
performance in the intermedi as solo song or monody. John Walter Hill has recently
suggested that Malvezzi’s score is in fact a keyboard partitura. Four-staff open score
was commonly used to print keyboard music in Italy at this time, particularly when
moveable type was used, as was the case with Malvezzi’s partbooks.64 Yet this fact
flies in the face of all we know regarding the use of instruments in the Pellegrina
intermedi: aside from several organs, no keyboard instruments were employed,
according to Malvezzi’s instrumentation listings.65 For solo song in particular the
flexibility of lute-family instruments was favoured (they were also the preferred
instruments for the accompaniment of non-theatrical monody at this time). Thus
Hill reinforces the hypothesis that the Medici-commissioned print is but a mode of
presentation that does not bear absolute correlation with the performances in the
Uffizi theatre as we have been able to reconstruct them. I would also add that the
choice of keyboard partitura to capture Archilei’s performance in print was likely
prompted by another non-theatrical consideration: the fact that Malvezzi himself
was an expert keyboard player. In the fullest sense, then, Malvezzi was the arranger
of Archilei’s song which he probably received in much abbreviated form, as
previously suggested.66
Questions regarding compositional and notational procedure aside, in the context
of the Uffizi theatre, ‘Dalle più alte sfere’ might best be understood as ‘composition
through performance’; in this regard Archilei’s quasi-improvised rendition might be
likened to the spoken improvisations of the commedia dell’arte actress. Both worked
within a guiding framework, but the work itself could only be realised through the
creative and ever-variable process of performance. It is striking that Peri uses the
term ingegno to describe Archilei’s imaginative capacity to invent or fashion the new.
The faculty was understood as a masculine attribute suggesting imagination,

I am indebted to John Walter Hill who kindly provided me with a copy of his forthcoming
article ‘The Solo Songs in the Florentine Intermedi for La pellegrina of 1589’, which will
appear in Studi in onore di Agostino Ziino (Lucca, forthcoming). Hill’s article is, in part, a
response to the paper presentation from which this article derived. I would also like to
thank him for his comments and discussion at that time.
In his address to the reader, Malvezzi makes the elusive comment: ‘Intervenivano in tutti gli
concerti tre Organi di legno dolcissimi due all’unisono, & uno all’ottava bassa’. It is unclear
which pieces Malvezzi deemed ‘concerti’; he may have been referring to only those musical
numbers requiring large forces. It is possible, however, that the organ’s sustained sound
reinforced the lute-family instrument accompaniments associated with the solo songs, even
though none of Malvezzi’s specific instructions mentions the use of the organ in this
Additional points made by Hill, including the fact that the text of Archilei’s song cannot be
easily fitted to each of the ‘voices’ of Malvezzi’s partitura (including the unadorned version
of the vocal line), also support the notion that the piece was conceived as monody rather
than as a four-voice madrigal that was later adapted as solo song.
22 Nina Treadwell

inventiveness, initiative.67 Regarded in literary circles as a poetic faculty par excellence,

we also find the term describing one of Archilei’s ‘predecessors’, the actress La
Flaminia who during the late 1560s staged intermedi of her own devising. In that
context, the term is used to describe the actress’s ingenuity in directing and
creatively devising all aspects of her intermedio.68 While Archilei surely did not have
the opportunity to stage her own intermedio as did actresses less immediately
dependent on courtly sponsorship, her performances did involve a high degree of
flexibility and creativity that was concentrated in the realm of her vocal production
and in the manner she chose to realise her self-accompaniment. As a Florentine
court musician, and thus representative of the Medici, Archilei’s staging lay more
directly in the hands of her patrons and their representatives – especially Bardi and
Cavalieri. And as I have suggested, her central position in the intermedi (and the
musical print) needs to be understood within the context of the veritable craze for
concerti di donne at this time, at the same time as Archilei’s accomplishments should
be distinguished from Ferrarese tradition in several respects. As Archilei descended
on her cloud praising the royal couple – ‘new Minerva and strong Hercules’ – she
had an opportunity to flourish in a very general sense by taking centre stage, but also
in a very specific way, through the semi-improvised fioriture that characterised her

See John Florio’s definition of ingegno in Florio, Queen Anna’s New World of Words (London,
1611; rpt. Menston, England, 1968). When the term was used to refer to women it might
be qualified to indicate a pejorative connotation. For example, Torquato Tasso writes of a
disdain for femineo ingegno, suggesting that it may help protect the male singer Giulio Cesare
Brancaccio from the female-dominated musical sphere in which he was engaged. (Altro
diletto forse ed altro amore, / e de’ tuoi propri vanti / gioia e vaghezza e sdegno / di
piacer folli e di femineo ingegno?’) The poem is discussed in a forthcoming article by
Richard Wistreich, ‘Real Basses, Real Men’ – Virtù and Virtuosity in the Construction of
Noble Male Identity in Late Sixteenth-century Italy’. I would like to thank Wistreich for
sending me a copy of his essay.
See the letter of 6 July 1567 by the Gonzaga court secretary Luigi Rogna. The letter, at the
Archivio di Stato, Mantua (Archivio Gonzaga, Busta F.II.8.2577), is transcribed in
Alessandro d’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano (1891; rpt. Rome, 1966), II, 451. For more on
La Flaminia, see Treadwell, ‘Restaging the Siren: Musical Women in the Performance of
Sixteenth-Century Italian Theatre’, Ph.D. diss. (University of Southern California, 2000),
chap. 3.