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The Librettist of L’Amfiparnaso – Giulio Cesare Croce

There is no indication of an author for the text of Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso, and some historians have speculated that the composer wrote the libretto himself. However, as early as 1912, the British musicologist Edward Dent suggested that the author may have been the popular Bolognese poet Giulio Cesare Croce.

Born in 1550 at San Giovanni in Persiceto, about 15 miles to the north-west of Bologna, the son of a blacksmith. After his father’s death when Croce was just seven he was adopted by an uncle who followed the same trade who sent him to school at Castelfranco.

Dent relates that the uncle finally realized that Giulio was learning nothing, and he brought him back to the smithy and the boy was adopted up by the noble family of Fantuzzi and was soon noted for his talents as cantastorie, singer and jester. This sort of life suited his tastes better than the trade of a blacksmith, and he finally ran away from his uncle altogether, and came to Bologna, sometime about the year 1586. Here he joined another smith, who shared his preference for good wine and merry living over hard work with hammer and anvil. In some way or other he seems to have learnt to read, for it was at this time that he began to study the works of Ovid.

There were several translations of Ovid then current, the most popular being that of Anguillara. Ovid, Croce tells us, was his first and only teacher. He took to playing the viol, and got the name of Croce della Lira; soon after his first marriage in 1575 he gave up the blacksmith’s trade altogether and devoted himself to poetry alone. His most generous patron seems to have been Cardinal Radziwill, who commissioned Lavinia Fon-tana to paint his portrait.

His fame reached to Mantua, Ferrara and Florence: after his death his works received high praise from various Italian historians of literature. The romantic enthusiasts of the nineteenth century devoted endless labour to the collection of the folk-songs that in various countries have sprung from the soil and have been handed down by generation after generation of the rural population. The poetry of humble life in the towns had no interest for them. It is to this latter class of literature that Croce’s works belong, a class that is represented at its best in the Canti carnascialeschi of Lorenzo de’ Medici and at its lowest in the vulgar riddles and ballads of criminal life that still delight the poorer inhabitants of Italian cities.

Croce wrote more than 400 works in both Italian and the Bolognese dialect. Despite his popularity and the relative success of his works, Croce dies in poverty in 1609.

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