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Falconieri, Feminine Endings, and Synchronicity

January 15th, 2017

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!

A 17th century lutenist, not Falconieri

A 17th century lutenist, not Falconieri

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!

  1. Jeff D
    September 24th, 2009 at 07:54 | #1

    Love the painting! The most common activity of a lutenist 😉 That string he is tuning is obviously falling into the cracks, hence the expression. Luckily he has that cup of Starbucks next to him… (What is that thing, anyway?)

  2. September 24th, 2009 at 08:15 | #2

    I believe it’s a tankard of ale, but I like the thought that it’s a Grande Soy Chai Latte.
    See the uncropped image here: http://bit.ly/15dy0R

  3. October 1st, 2009 at 00:57 | #3

    Speaking of coincidences: I find this e-mail here at my desk in Florence and think of the many times I’ve seen you in the Berkeley library hunting up this and that. Sorry I wasn’t there to send you to Falconieri, but glad you found him on your own. I started inserting his pieces into Venetian operas back in the sixties, continuing with Landi’s Roman opera Il Sant’Alessio (in Hertz Hall with Judy Nelson as the Saint, then in Rome Teatro Valle where Alberto Moravia was spotted in the cue for tickets, then Innsbruck where Alessio is the patron saint) and was still doing it when we did the modern premiere of Sacrati’s Finta Pazza in a specially constructed Baroque theatre in Campo Pisani in Venice. I love getting these e-mails and knowing that obscure Baroque is alive and well in Berkeley! By the way, I did the Francesca Caccini in the Teatro Metastasio of Prato at the time I settled in Florence at the end of the past century. Andrew Porter came all the way from London to review it simply because it was written by a woman. Hope critics (if there are any left!) will do the same for you.

  4. October 1st, 2009 at 05:28 | #4

    Obscurity is indeed alive and well in Berkeley! And Falconieri probably doesn’t even make the top 5 with competition from Giuseppe Pacieri, Lucia Quinciani, Johann Staden, Giovanni Battista Fasolo, and Arnold Grothusius.

    I remember finding my way to your office in Morrison to do an interview with you for the SFEMS newsletter back when Magnificat had just been born, before we were presenting our own concerts. Magnificat was serving as the pit orchestra for your production of Ulisse and you observed that so many of those notes that adorned typical productions of Monteverdi’s operas were by Raymond Leppard. But it wasn’t the insertion of extraneous music that was a problem – it was the particular music that was inserted!

    It was a memorable production – in fact just the other day I was recalling it with another one of the musicians who had played. Working with you on Ulisse was in many ways the primary catalyst for launching Magnificat’s first season in 1992 and the rest, as they say, is history. Thank you!

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