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Cavalieri, Emilio de’locked

  • Claude V. Palisca

(b Rome, c1550; d Rome, March 11, 1602). Italian composer, organist, singing teacher, dancer, choreographer, administrator and diplomat. He was the composer of the first surviving play set entirely to music, the Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo (Rome, 1600), the score of which is the earliest one printed with a figured bass.

1. Life.

Cavalieri was the son of Lavinia della Valle and Tommaso Cavalieri (1512–87), an architect and intimate friend of Michelangelo Buonarotti. His brother, Mario (d 1580), coordinated the Lenten music in the Oratorio del SS Crocifisso in S Marcello, Rome, between 1568 and 1579. He himself also participated in this Oratorio both as an organist and as a coordinator of Lenten music from 1578 until at least 1584 (the account books are missing for 1584–94); during his administration the yearly expenditure on music rose from 51 to 140 scudi.

Meanwhile, Cavalieri was active also on the diplomatic front. In late 1590 he coordinated from Florence the efforts of the grand duke's agents in Rome, who helped engineer the election of Pope Urban VII and shortly afterwards of Gregory XIV. When the latter became ill Cavalieri was dispatched to Rome in September 1591 on the first of several secret missions to buy the votes of key cardinals in the forthcoming papal conclaves with the object of securing a pope who would support Ferdinando's foreign policy. He served in this capacity in the conclaves that led to the election of Innocent IX (in October 1591) and Clement VIII (in 1592). He made several other extended trips to Rome, combining personal business with artistic and diplomatic missions, between October 1593 and March 1594, during Lent in 1597 and during Carnival and Lent in 1599–1600.

Cavalieri was associated in Rome with Giangiorgio Cesarini and Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, and when in 1587 the cardinal became Grand Duke of Tuscany on the death of his brother Francesco, he made Cavalieri overseer of artists and craftsmen and of vocal and instrumental musicians. He was officially appointed on 3 September 1588 at a salary of 25 ducats a month, a horse and an apartment in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence. He soon began the preparations for the wedding of Ferdinando to Christine of Lorraine. He oversaw the staging of the most lavish series of intermedi ever conceived. The account books recording every item of expense for costuming, scenery and music are witnesses to his orderly administration. Those who collaborated in the production were Giovanni de’ Bardi, who conceived the allegorical plan and wrote some of the poetry and music, Bernardo Buontalenti, who designed the sets and costumes, the poets Ottavio Rinuccini, Giovanni Battista Strozzi and Laura Guidiccioni Lucchesini, and the composers Malvezzi, Marenzio, Caccini, Peri and Cavalieri himself. Whereas these intermedi reflected the humanistic Platonism of Bardi, Cavalieri in the 1590s gave impetus to the newer vogue of the pastoral. For Carnival 1590 he produced Tasso’s Aminta, with sets and machines by Buontalenti and possibly including some of his own music, and his own musical pastorals (now lost) on texts by Laura Guidiccioni, Satiro and La disperazione di Fileno, the latter featuring his protégée, the virtuosa Vittoria Archilei, whom he brought with him from Rome.

Another of the poets that he favoured was Guarini, whose Il pastor fido was the source of the pastorella Il giuoco della cieca, adapted by Laura Guidiccioni and set entirely to music by Cavalieri for the visit of Cardinal Montalto on 29 October 1595 in the Hall of Statues of the Palazzo Pitti and revived there on 5 January 1599. Guarini was also the poet of La contesa fra Giunone e Minerva, which Cavalieri set to music for the banquet on 5 October 1600 in honour of the wedding of Henri IV of France and Maria de’ Medici. Cavalieri also produced for the occasion the Euridice of Rinuccini: most of the music was by Peri, and some was by Caccini. The main nuptial spectacle, Il rapimento di Cefalo, slipped from his control into the hands of Giovanni de’ Medici and Caccini. He considered the wedding festivities, apart from the banquet, a disaster and went to Rome disillusioned, never to return to Florence. During diplomatic sojourns in Rome in the 1590s he had continued to be active at the Oratorio del SS Crocifisso – he is mentioned in the archives as overseeing the Lenten music of 1597 – and during Carnival in February of the Holy Year 1600 he twice presented at the Oratorio de S Maria in Vallicella (Chiesa Nuova) his Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo, which is said to have been seen by 35 cardinals.

2. Works.

Besides overseeing the whole production for the intermedi of 1589, Cavalieri contributed some of the music. The music of the opening madrigal on Bardi’s text ‘Dalle più alte sfere’, sung by Vittoria Archilei, was attributed to Cavalieri by the chronicler of the wedding, Bastiano de’ Rossi, but to Antonio Archilei in one of the partbooks published in 1591 by Malvezzi. The attribution to Cavalieri is the more plausible in view of the madrigal’s prominent initial position, its star performer, its poet and its stylistic resemblance to a madrigal certainly by him, ‘Godi turba mortal’ in the sixth intermedio. These are the only monodic pieces in the printed collection. Both are set for a four-part instrumental choir, the top part of which is doubled by a soprano voice that presents a highly embellished version of it. The diminutions give an idea of the graceful manner of Vittoria Archilei. Unlike Caccini, who tended to limit runs to penultimate syllables, the arranger of these pieces put them everywhere. The final ballo, given the text ‘O che nuovo miracolo’ by Laura Guidiccioni after the music was composed, was Cavalieri’s best-known contribution to the festivities. Kirkendale (1972) identified 128 pieces that are based on the ballo’s opening tutti chorus, later celebrated as the Ballo del Gran Duca, Aria di Fiorenza or Ballo di Palazzo. Its well-defined yet varied harmonic scheme which unfolds over six segments each of four semibreve bars was understandably popular with guitarists and other instrumentalists as an air for variations and dancing. Cavalieri himself varied the air – a pavan – in certain of the ritornellos through galliard and corrente rhythms, a technique he was to apply again in the final ballo of the Rappresentatione. The return of segments of the tutti chorus as ritornellos between the risposte of the trios for solo singers and at the end prefigures the later concerto grosso. Cavalieri’s unusually detailed choreography with diagrams was published in the ninth partbook.

To what extent Cavalieri should be credited with the development of the stile rappresentativo or dramatic monody was already a point of contention in his lifetime. Rinuccini in the dedication (dated 4 October 1600) of the libretto of L’Euridice claimed that he and Peri were the first to revive the ancient manner of reciting in music. This angered Cavalieri, because, as he wrote to Marcello Accolti on 10 November 1600, ‘this [style] was invented by me, and everyone knows this, and I find myself having said so in print’ (i.e. in Alessandro Guidotti’s preface, dated 3 September 1600, to the Rappresentatione). Caccini made an even larger claim, boasting in the dedication (dated 20 December 1600) of his setting of Euridice that he had been using this style for 15 years. Peri, on the other hand, in the preface (dated 6 February 1601) to his score for L’Euridice treated Cavalieri quite fairly, acknowledging that it was he who ‘before any other so far as I know, enabled us with marvelous invention to hear our kind of music upon the stage’ (translation from Strunk SR2 151). G.B. Doni, at a distance of some 40 years, judged that there was no stage music worthy of mention before Cavalieri’s. On the other hand he judged Cavalieri’s style to ‘have nothing to do with the good and true theatrical music’, for he found in it only ‘ariettas with many devices of repetition, echoes and the like’ (Trattato della musica scenica, in Lyra Barberina, ed. A.F. Gori and G.B. Passeri, Florence, 1763, ii, 22).

The solo music of the Rappresentatione, like that of the first musical pastorals of Peri and Caccini, includes speech-like recitative, tuneful madrigals, songs in dance metres and strophic songs. The recitative is made expressive by judicious false relations and striking changes of harmony, though it lacks the free dissonance and rhythmic variety of Peri. Among the more conventional pieces are florid madrigals such as Anima Beata’s ‘Eterno, eterno regno’ (no.71) and strophic airs, such as the dialogue between Corpo and Anima, ‘Anima mia, che pensi’ (nos.4–13), the text of which is taken from a lauda by Agostino Manni of 1577. The choruses are mostly in the note-against-note texture of the popular canzonetta, and these were meant to be danced; but some, for example ‘Questa vita mortale’ (no.2), are choral recitatives. After returning to Rome in November 1600 Cavalieri boasted that those who had seen both his modest Rappresentatione in Rome and the more elaborate wedding production in Florence found the former ‘more to their taste, because the music moved them to tears and laughter and pleased them greatly, unlike this music of Florence, which did not move them at all, unless to boredom and irritation’.

Ex.1 Cavalieri: Lamentationes, Prima die, lectio prima, f.7, semitone motion

Cavalieri’s Lamentationes and Responsi for Holy Week are among the most original sacred works of the late 16th century. The manuscript containing them is in four sections: Lamentations for Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy Week; nine responsories for the same days; a second set of Lamentations; and alternate choral settings for the second set. According to Bradshaw, the first two sections were probably written to be performed at the Chiesa Nuova in Rome in 1600, while the third part was probably written in 1599 for S Nicola in Pisa, where the Florentine court usually celebrated the Easter season. Both the Lamentations and Responsories are for one to five voices. While the Hebrew letters are given to the chorus, most of the verses are set monodically, some in a declamatory manner similar to falsobordone, others in a songful yet severe style; neither resembles Florentine recitative. The monodic portions of the Roman sections employ the same figured bass notation and symbols for ornaments as the Rappresentatione. Notes in the third and fourth sections indicate that Vittoria Archilei was to perform some of the choral responses as solos. Explorations of the chromatic idiom, both in the form of semitone motion (ex.1) and of juxtaposed triads with roots a 3rd apart (ex.2), are prevalent throughout. In one place in the Florentine sections Cavalieri gave an alternative enharmonic ending that requires quarter-tone tuning (ex.3), which was possible on one of the special organs that he had built for this kind of experimental music. He told Luzzaschi about it in a letter of 31 October 1592 describing ‘an organ I am having built that will be finished at Christmas, on which it will not only be possible to play enharmonically but which will have the whole tone divided into ten commas’. There is no documentary basis for the belief that Duritio Isorelli, a singer and player of the viola bastarda and longtime associate of Cavalieri, had a share in the composition of the Rappresentatione or of his music for Holy Week, except for certain substitute settings that appear towards the end of the manuscript.


Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo … per recitar cantando (Rome, 1600/R)

ed. in I classici della musica italiana, xxxv–xxxvi (Milan, 1919)

lib ed. in Solerti (1903)

Dalle più alte sfere (G. de’ Bardi), madrigal, S, 4 insts (possibly by A. Archilei); Godi turba mortal, madrigal, S, 4 insts; O che nuovo miracolo (L. Guidiccioni), ballo, insts: composed 1589, pr. in Intermedii et concerti (Venice, 15917)

ed. D.P. Walker, Les fêtes du mariage de Ferdinand de Medicis et de Christine de Lorraine: Florence, 1589, i: Musique des intermèdes de ‘La Pellegrina’ (Paris, 1963)

Lamentationes Hieremiae prophetae, Responsi, 1–5vv, c1599 Early Sacred Monody, iii (Neuhausen-Stuttgart, 1990)

Lost works

La disperazione di Fileno (pastoral, Guidiccioni), Florence, 1590

Satiro (pastoral, Guidiccioni), Florence, 1590

Il giuoco della cieca (Guidiccioni, after Guarini), Florence, 29 Oct 1595

La contesa fra Giunone e Minerva (Guarini), Florence, 5 Oct 1600


  • DBI (W. Kirkendale)
  • S. Bonini: Discorsi e regole (MS, c1650, I-Fr 2218); ed. and Eng. trans. M.A. Bonino (Provo, UT, 1979)
  • G. Gaye: Carteggio inedito d’artisti dei secoli XIV, XV, e XVI(Florence, 1840), 3
  • R. Gandolfi: ‘Appunti di storia musicale Cristofano Malvezzi – Emilio de’ Cavalieri’, Rassegna nazionale, anno xv, vol.lxxiv (1893), 297–306
  • A. Warburg: ‘I costumi teatrali per gli intermezzi del 1589’, Commemorazione della riforma melodrammatica: Atti dell’Accademia del R. Istituto musicale di Firenze (1895), 103–46; repr. in A. Warburg: Gesammelte Schriften, i (Leipzig, 1932), 259–300, 394–438
  • A. Solerti: ‘Laura Guidiccioni Lucchesini ed Emilio del Cavaliere: i primi tentativi del melodramma’, RMI, 9 (1902), 797–829
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  • R. Gandolfi: ‘Lettere inedite scritte da musicisti e letterati’, RMI, 20 (1913), 527–54
  • H. Prunières: ‘Une lettre inédite d’E. de Cavalieri’, ReM, 4/8 (1922–23), 128–33
  • U. Rolandi: ‘E. de’ Cavalieri, il Granduca Ferdinando e l’ “Inferigno”’, RMI, 36 (1929), 26–37
  • N. Pirrotta: ‘Temperaments and Tendencies in the Florentine Camerata’, MQ, 40 (1954), 169–89
  • C.V. Palisca: ‘Musical Asides in the Diplomatic Correspondence of Emilio de’ Cavalieri’, MQ, 44 (1963), 339–55 [repr. with Italian texts in C.V. Palisca: Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory (Oxford, 1994)]
  • F. Ghisi and D.P. Walker: Introductory essays, Les fêtes du mariage de Ferdinand de Medicis et de Christine de Lorraine: Florence, 1589 (Paris, 1963)
  • C.V. Palisca: ‘The First Performance of “Euridice”’, Queens College Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Festschrift (1937–1962) (New York,1964), 1–23 [repr. in Palisca, Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory (Oxford, 1994)]
  • T. Antonicek: ‘Emilio de’ Cavalieri und seine Rappresentazione di anima et di corpo’, ÖMz, 24 (1969), 445–59
  • W. Kirkendale: ‘Emilio de’ Cavalieri, a Roman Gentleman at the Florentine Court’, Quadrivium, 12/2 (1971), 9–22
  • H.J. Marx: ‘Monodische Lamentationen des Seicento’, AMw, 28 (1971), 1–23
  • W. Kirkendale: L’Aria di Fiorenza, id est Il ballo del Gran Duca (Florence, 1972)
  • R. Scholz and H. Scholz-Michelitsch: ‘Emilio de’ Cavalieris “Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo”’, De ratione in musica: Festschrift Erich Schenk, ed. T. Antonicek, R. Flotzinger and O. Wessely (Kassel, 1975), 63–102
  • W. Kirkendale: ‘L’opera in musica prima del Peri: le pastorali perdute di Laura Guidiccioni ed Emilio de’ Cavalieri’, Firenze e la Toscana dei Medici nell’Europa del Cinquecento: Florence 1980, 2, 365–95
  • F.A. D’Accone: ‘Marco da Gagliano and the Florentine tradition for Holy Week Music’, IMSCR XIII: Strasbourg 1982, 323–62
  • Z. and A. Szweykowski: ‘Rappresentazione di anima e di corpo Cavalieriego, Muzyka dla sceny’, Muzyka, 28/1 (1983), 13–66
  • T. Carter: ‘Music and Patronage in Late Sixteenth-Century Florence: The Case of Jacopo Corsi (1561–1602)’, I Tatti Studies, 1 (1985), 57–104
  • J. Chater: ‘Bianca Capello and Music’, Renaissance Studies in Honor of Craig Hugh Smyth, ed. A. Morrogh and others (Florence, 1985), 1, 569–79
  • I. Mamczarz: ‘La dimension dramatique de la “Rappresentatione de anima e di corpo” de Cavalieri’, Les premiers opéras en Europe et les formes dramatiques apparentées: Paris 1988, 25–38
  • T. Carter: Jacopo Peri 1561–1633: his Life and Works (New York, 1989)
  • J.W. Hill: ‘O che nuovo miracolo!: a New Hypothesis about the Aria di Fiorenza’, In cantu et in sermone: for Nino Pirrotta on his 80th Birthday, ed. F. Della Seta and F. Piperno (Florence, 1989), 283–322
  • M.C. Bradshaw: ‘Cavalieri and Early Monody’, JM 9 (1991), 238–53
  • T. Carter: ‘“Non occorre nominare tanti musici”: Private Patronage and Public Ceremony in Late Sixteenth-Century Florence’, I Tatti Studies, 4 (1991), 89–104
  • A. Testaverde Matteini: L’officina delle nuvole: il teatro mediceo nel 1589 e gli intermedi del Buontalenti nel memoriale di Girolamo Seriacopi (Milan, 1991)
  • W. Kirkendale: The Court Musicians in Florence during the Principate of the Medici (Florence, 1993)
  • C.V. Palisca: Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory (Oxford, 1994)
  • J.M. Saslow: The Medici Wedding of 1589: Florentine Festival as Theatrum Mundi (New Haven, CT, 1996)
  • W.Kirkendale: Emilio de’ Cavalieri: Roman Artistic and Musical Director in Florence (forthcoming)
  1. See also from The New Grove Dictionary of Opera: Emilio de’ Cavalieri; Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo

Rivista musicale italiana
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H. Smither: A History of the Oratorio (Chapel Hill, NC, 1977-)
Musical Quarterly
Archiv für Musikwissenschaft
Österreichische Musikzeitschrift
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana
International Musicological Society: Congress Report [1930-]
Dizionario biografico degli italiani (Rome, 1960-)
A. Solerti: Musica, ballo e drammatica alla corte medicea dal 1600 al 1637 (Florence, 1905/R)
O. Strunk: Source Readings in Music History (New York, rev. 2/1998 by L. Treitler)
Journal of Musicology
Revue musicale