9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Accompanied recitative in seventeenth-century Italy: A brief history

Carolyn Gianturco

Gluck's judgement that "concerted instruments should be introduced in proportion to the interest and the intensity of the words, and not leave that sharp contrast between the arias and the recitative in the dialogue, so as not to break a period unreasonably nor wantonly disturb the force and heat of the action" was intended to encourage composers to write only recitativo obbligato (also called accompanied recitative) and never recitiativo semplice (also known as secco recitative). A desire to diminish the difference between recitative and aria for dramatic reasons continued to concern not only composers contemporary with Gluck but also those of later generations: witness the efforts of Verdi and Wagner, among others. If one then examines the other end of the history of opera, that of its beginnings, one finds here too a preoccupation with recitative, as one realizes even from Peri's preface to his Euridice published in 1601.

However, between the first innovative period which saw the creation of recitativo semplice and the post-Gluck period, when simple or secco recitative began to become outmoded and therefore no longer written, several steps were taken along the path which connected the two, in particular those which concerned the achievement of the type of recitative which eventually replaced the simple kind with that written to be accompanied by instruments other than just the continuo.

As early as 1905 Edward Dent showed that there were accompanied recitatives in the music of Scarlatti and Hasse; in 1980 Jane Glover found them in Cavalli and in 1980 Dale Monson noted suck passages in Cesti. The present paper intends to show that, in the period between Cavalli and Cesti at one end and Scarlatti and Hasse at the other, Alessandro Stradella (163982) experimented continuously with recitative in general, inventing a multiplicity of types of treatment of recitative text, including accompanied recitative. His several kinds of experiments in expression heightened communication of the meaning of a text, but on another level also increased the variety of the music heard during the course of a performance.

The history of accompanied recitative is a fascinating one and Stradella was, without doubt, a prime participant in the seventeenth-century chapter of it.

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Last updated on 21 March 2000 by Yo Tomita