Falconieri, Feminine Endings, and Synchronicity
A very 2009 moment occurred the other day when, allowing myself to be distracted from working on the score for La Liberazione di Ruggiero, I noticed a tweet from @krashangel about the fact that the ciaconna used in Rene Jacobs’ recording and DVD of Cavalli’s La Calisto was actually not by Cavalli, but rather by Tarquinio Merula. Before I had a chance to marvel at the fact that Tarquinio Merula had actually been mentioned in Twitterspace, there was a follow up tweet observing, accurately, that “it was the custom to use ritornelli and sinfonie composed by others as a contingent ‘filler’ in Venetian operas in the 17th century”.
What made this tweeting encounter remarkable was that at that very moment (or at least before being distracted) I was in the process of doing just that: inserting incidental music into an opera score (albeit a Florentine opera) to allow for scene changes, extra long sword fights, flights of hippogryphs and the like. Synchronicity!
For the upcoming Francesca Caccini opera I decided to turn the necessity of incidental music into an opportunity to explore a composer that Magnificat’s audiences hadn’t had the chance to hear before. I was fortunate that I could draw almost all the music I needed from a single collection by the lutenist and composer Andrea Falconieri – obscure even by Magnificat standards, though he does pop up sometimes in programs of early Italian music. (There are no known images of Falconieri, so the painting here is not him – but it’s a terrific expression!)
A talented lutenist and composer, Falconieri (sometimes written Falconiero) was born in Naples in 1585 or 86, making him a contemporary of Francesca, who was born in 1587. He had a long career working as a singer and composer in several Italian cities including Parma, Mantua, Rome, and Florence. He employed in Modena in 1620, where he married, and then spent the next seven year traveling widely about France and Spain, apparently without his wife.
Falconieri was employed by the Medici court on two occasions. The first was in the period after 1616, just after his first collection music, a set of villanelles, was published and around the time that Francesca was preparing her Primo libro delle musiche. He returned to Italy in 1628 to perform in the festivities surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Parma and Princess Margarita de Medici. After several years in Genoa, Falconieri returned to his native Naples in 1639 where he remained until his death in 1656.
After several publications of vocal music, Falconieri’s first and only collection of instrumental music appeared in 1650, though many of the 58 pieces were no doubt written years, and in some cases decades, before. While the works contained in the collection are almost all relatively brief, the title is not: Il primo libro di canzone, Brandi, Correnti, Gagliarde, Alemane, Volte per Violini e Viole overo alto stromento a uno, due, e tre con il Basso continuo. While the pieces are arranged by type, as Willi Apel has pointed out, it is in fact somewhat difficult to distinguish among the correnti, canzone, and capricci; they are all brief sectional pieces with repeats – ideal for filling the gap during a scene change and creating the time for puppets to get on and off stage. Most of the pieces are unlike the emerging Italian sonata, which was characterized by structural meter and affect changes which eventually grew into the multi-movement sonata form.
One compositional technique found throughout Falconieri’s collection is the preference for so-called “feminine” endings, i.e. cadences that finish on a weak beat rather than the downbeat. I hasten to add that I noticed this conspicuous trait only after deciding to use Falconieri’s branles and canzone as incidental music in the earliest opera by a woman, but perhaps it is not entirely inappropriate!