Meet Jacopo Peri – Creator of the Opera

March 22, 2014

Jacopo Peri (1561 – 1633)

Jacopo Peri – Creator of the Opera

Never have I heard of this man.  And most likely, neither have you.  But it will be easy for me to remember him from now on.  For on my birthday, October 6, in the year 1600, Eurydice was performed.  It is the first opera that still survives to this day.  (Dafne was composed in 1597, but does not survive)

How amazing!  I’ve never given much thought to opera.  I know I will while on this journey.  But when we think of opera, one hardly ever thinks back to the beginning… how opera came about to begin with.  To me, this is fascinating.

Nevertheless, I’m interested in learning about baroque music this month.  So my first stop is to YouTube to see what pops up.  And no doubt, I was able to find some examples of Jacopo Peri.  So I listened to Eurydice.  I am not a huge fan of opera (at present), mostly because of its length.  But there were certain parts of this one that I liked.  And I did enjoy certain styles of the vibrato that I had not heard before.

Moving on, I clicked on Tu dormi e’il dolce sonno.  I did not think I would enjoy this piece.  But the opening melody of the title is so hauntingly beautiful.  You must hear it to believe it.  A bit minor and sad, and then it takes a turn toward a more cheerful mood, only to return again to the sadness.  Please forgive me if the links to not work.  I can’t control YouTube.  If they do not, a quick search should give you a number of choices to listen to.

As I continued to read through the entry, I ran across other topics of interest:  madrigals, recitatives & arias.  I realize quickly that I can attempt to explain all this stuff, but this journey would spiral into unimportant technicalities.  I’m not here to teach.  Instead, my intent is to share the things that capture my interest and that may capture yours.

While recitatives and arias are of interest insofar as knowing what they are, madrigals on the other hand are totally captivating!  And it is something I have never heard of, well not by this term.

I admit my ignorance.  I thought that a madrigal was an instrument.  But it isn’t.  Madrigals are more or less the predecessor of the barbershop quartet.  They are very, very distantly related, but that is the easiest way to get across the basics of this amazing to the modern music listener of this amazing style of composition.

The barbershop quartet is just four people, singing in harmony, and a cappella (unaccompanied by instruments).  But a madrigal is polyphonic (everyone pretty much singing their own melody, but in sync with each other), a cappella, but usually with between three and eight singers.

Another modern example that might give you a sense of what a madrigal sounds like would be from the Christmas song “Carol of the Bells”  It is very similar except that usually we hear this in the form of a chorus.

But then the best way to experience the madrigal is to listen for yourself!  This is the one I listened to as my first. “This Sweet & Merry Month” by William Byrd.  It was too cool!!!  I just sat there with a weird smile on my face.  And let me link to this page that is full of English madrigals.  I recommend this because while I think music can be enjoyed despite having no knowledge of the language… hearing this form is probably best enjoyed in one’s native tongue.

And then one other very interesting thing about the madrigal is that they are through-composed, which simply means in this context that it is non-repetitive.  There are no repeated melodic passages.  It just carries on straight through.  And you know what, as foreign as that is to the modern ear and the structure of musical composition we have come to know, it is wonderfully different!

So you see, it is easy to get lost in this world.  My first steps of this journey are already full of such promise and such interesting history, culture, and music!!!

So get out there and explore some of these links!  You just might be fascinated, too!

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One Response to “Meet Jacopo Peri – Creator of the Opera”

  1. Liezl Says:

    I am completely amazed that you are able to sleep and maintain your “learning”.

    I am going to look up the song you reference, and though you poke fun at my pop genre. I am always a sucker for sad and haunting. How appropriate that he would create Eurydice! Even though it’s trying to bring someone from the dead with his music…it’s early Zombie stories – Greek style. 🙂

    I feel like I should be calling you professor.

    Thanks for the update! I’m looking forward to learning about others.


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