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 IN THEIR OWN WORDS


Giovanni Maria Artusi, On the Imperfections of Modern
Music (1600), and Claudio and Giulio Cesare Monteverdi,
Scherzi musicali (1607)
The Artusi-Monteverdi controversylike the Wagner-Brahms contretemps about
the music of the future (see In Their Own Words for Chapter 55)was one of
several important debates in the history of music in which the participants argued
about the correct path that modern music should follow. Giovanni Maria Artusi
(c15401613) was a worldly monk and music theorist who had studied with Gioseffo
Zarlino in Venice. Zarlino, as we have seen (Musical Interlude 4 and In Their Own
Words for Musical Interlude 4), was perhaps the most important music theorist of
the late sixteenth century, and he took a conservative approach in his writings, at
least with regard to the rules of good counterpoint. He stipulated, for example, that
dissonant intervals such as the second, fourth, and seventh should be prepared and
resolved in a carefully prescribed manner. When equally conservative Artusi heard
several of the progressive madrigals of Monteverdi in Ferrara in the late 1590s, he
felt compelled to reach for his pen and defend the old way of doing musical business,
the values that his master Zarlino had taught him. Accordingly, in 1600 he issued
On the Imperfections of Modern Music. Artusis objections to the latest musical fashions center on the part-writing errors (imperfections) that he found in Monteverdis
then still-unpublished madrigal Cruda Amarilli (Chapter 28; Anthology, No. 78).
Here Artusi, assuming the personage of Vario, the wise instructor, castigates
Monteverdis piece, likening it to a musical monster.
Luca: Yesterday, after I left you and made for the square, some gentlemen invited me to
hear some new madrigals. Swept away by camaraderie and the novelty of the compositions, we went to the home of the Ferrarese nobleman Sir Antonio Goretti, a young
virtuoso and a music lover if I ever knew one. Sir Luzasco [likely madrigal composer
Luzzascho Luzzaschi, 1545?1607] and Sir Hippolito Fiorini were there, decent fellows
(proved by the many noble spirits gathered around them) and educated in music. The
madrigals were sung and repeated, but the composers name was not given.
The writing was not badthough, as you will see, it introduces new rules, modes,
and idioms that are harsh and hardly pleasing to the ear. It could not be otherwise,
for these new rules break the [established] good rules, which are founded in experience (the mother of all things), derived from Nature, and confirmed by demonstration.
These new rules must therefore be deformations of nature and the propriety of correct
harmony. They are far from the purpose of music, which, as you said yesterday, is to
delight. But so that you should see it all and tell me how it seems to you, here are the
passages scattered here and there in those madrigals. I drafted them on this sheet yesterday evening, for my own amusement.
Vario: Sir Luca, you [always] bring me new things that amaze me more than a little. And,
it pleases me, at my age, to see a new way to compose. Still, it would please me much
more, if I saw these that these passages were based on a rationale that could satisfy the
intellect. I do not like castles in the clouds, chimeras built on the sand, [and so] these innovations are worthy of censure, not praise. However, let us see the passages. . . .

To see two of these, turn to Examples 28-4A and 28-4B in Chapter 28, showing portions of Claudio Monteverdis madrigal Cruda Amarilli. In these imperfect passages
Monteverdi allows a voice to enter with or jump to the interval of a seventh without
any preparationwithout preparing the seventh as in a 7-6 suspension figure, for


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example. All seven of the passages that offend Artusi can be found in the complete
madrigal as given in Anthology, No. 78, in bars 13, 19, 21, 36, 3738, 41, and 52;
they involve unprepared sevenths, seconds, or fourthsall dissonant intervals at
this time that had, according to the rules of traditional Renaissance counterpoint, to
be properly prepared and resolved.
Vario: Compositions of this kind are borne of ignorance. They spring like monsters from
the hands of this or that [composer]. They themselves do not have an understanding of
[their own compositions]. It is enough to make a racket, an uncouth muddle, an assemblage of imperfectionsall this is borne of obscuring ignorance. . . . Our ancients never
taught that sevenths should be used in this way, so absolute and uncovered, as we see in
examples 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. They bring no grace to the composition. Furthermore, as I
said previously, the high part does not match its whole, its beginning, and its foundation.
Luca: This is a new paradox.
Vario: If this new paradox were built on some reasonable rationale, it would be worth
much praise and live in perpetuity. But it will have a short life because it can prove
nothing without going against the truth.

In 1605 Monteverdi responded to Artusi by publishing Cruda Amarilli as the first piece
in a new collection of five-voice madrigalsan in your face act if there ever was one.
Two years later, Monteverdis brother, Giulio Cesare, appended a lengthy defense of
his brothers music at the end of the latters next publication (Scherzi musicali, 1607).
Here appears Monteverdis now-famous dictum: the words should be the boss (padrona)
of the harmony, and not the harmony the boss of the words. It is here, too, that
Monteverdi justifies his deviation from standard contrapuntal practice by categorizing
modern music within a seconda pratica, one that allows a more flexible approach to the
rules than had the traditional style of Renaissance counterpoint (the prima pratica).
I have, nonetheless, written the response to make known that I do not make my
works by chance.
My brother says that he does not leave things up to chance. He affirms that his intention was (in this genre of music) to make it so that the text be the patron of the harmony
and not the servant, and, in this way, to make his composition justified in the make-up of
the melody. Plato says the following about melody: melody is composed of three things:
text, harmony, and rhythm and it is consonant if rhythm and harmony follow the text
and dissonant the other way around. Then, to give greater force to the text, he continues as follows: Is it not true that the way of speaking and the text proceed from the
disposition of the soul? And, further: Truly, everything else follows from the text.
But here the good maestro Artusi grabs little bits or passages (as he calls them)
from the madrigal Cruda Amarilli by my brother, completely ignoring the text, but disregarding them as though they had nothing to do with the music. He then shows these
passages not only without the text but also without all their harmony and rhythm. But
if, in the passages he calls false, he had given their text, then the world would certainly
have known where his judgment veered off, and he would not have said that they were
chimeras and castles in the sky for not entirely following the rules of the prima pratica.
But it would certainly have been a good rationale if the same were done with Cipriano
de Rores madrigals Dalle belle contrade, Se ben il duol, Et se pur mi mantieni, Amor, Poiche
minvita amore, Crudel acerba, Un altra volta, and, finally, with others with harmony
that serves the text exactly, for these would indeed be like bodies without souls, remaining without that more important and principal part of music. In criticizing these
passages without their text, my brothers opponent is saying that the good and the
beautiful [in music] are achieved by following the rules of the prima pratica exactly,
making harmony the master of the text. My brother certainly knows that music, especially in vocal genres such as this one, hinges on the perfection of melody. Harmony,


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once considered the master, becomes the servant of the text, and the text the master
of the harmony. The seconda pratica tends toward this way of thinking. On the true
foundation of the seconda pratica, my brother promises to show, in opposition to his opponent, that the harmony of the madrigal Cruda Amarilli is not made by chance but by
beautiful art and solid learning of a kind his adversary does not understand or know.
And when the set is rewritten it will be published bearing on its cover the name
of the seconda pratica.
[My brother writes this,] because his opponent intends to condemn modern music
and defend the old. They are indeed different (in the manner of dealing with consonances and dissonances, as my brother will make very clear), but this difference is not
known to his opponent. Therefore, to clarify matters, so that everyone may understand which [practice] is whichboth being honored, revered, and celebrated by my
brotherhe names the old prima pratica, being the first usage in practice [chronologically], and he names the modern seconda pratica being the second usage in practice.
The prima pratica depends on the perfection of harmony: it deems the harmony not
the commanded, but the commandernot the servant, but the master of the text. The
prima pratica was begun in our notation by those who first composed vocal music for
more than one voice, who were then succeeded and surpassed by Ockeghem, Josquin
Desprez, Pierre de la Rue, Jean Mouton, Crequillon, Clemens non Papa, Gombert, and
others of that era, perfected finally by Master Adriano [Willaert] in practice and by
Zarlino in most judicious rules.
Regarding the seconda pratica, as my brother will demonstrate, the first innovator
in our notation was Cipriano Rore, who was succeeded and surpassed not only by the
gentlemen already mentioned, but also by Ingegneri, Marenzio, Giaches de Wert,
Luzzasco, and likewise by Jacopo Peri, Giulio Caccini, and finally by the spirits who are
the most elevated and the most reflective of true art. The seconda pratica depends on
the perfection of melody; that is, it considers harmony the commanded, not the commander, and he makes the text the master of the harmony. For that reason, he calls it
second and not new, practice and [not] theory, because he wants his rationale
to be based on the way to handle consonances and dissonances in actual practice.
He did not call it Treatise of Melody since he confesses that his is not the subject
of such a grand enterprise. Rather, he leaves the composition of such noble writings
to Sir Ercole Bottrigari and the Reverend Zarlino, who called [his work] Treatise of
Harmony [Istitutioni harmoniche; see In Their Own Words for Musical Interlude 4] because he wanted to teach the laws and rules of harmony. By contrast, my brother calls
[his work] second practicethat is, the second usage in practicebecause he wants
to take up its [practical] concerns, which are melody and its rationale, addressing, however, only concerns that are necessary to defend himself from his opponent. . . .
If you trust that the modern composer builds on the foundation of truth, you will
live happy.
My brother said this in closing because he knows that the composition of modern
music, due to the primacy of the text, does not and cannot observe the rules of the prima
pratica. Furthermore, this method of composition is embraced by the world to the extent
that it can with good reason be called a usage. Therefore, he cannot and will not ever
believeeven if his reasons are not good enough to sustain the truth of that usage
that the world would fool itself, even if his opponent should persist. And farewell.
Source: Translated by Zachariah Victor from the original Italian in Artusis Delle imperfettioni della moderna musica (facsimile, 1968) and from Monteverdis Scherzi musicali (as given in G. F. Malipiero, ed.,
Tutte le opera di Claudio Monteverdi, Vol. 10).