The Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC) reflects Prof. Brown’s capacious interest in the ways that theater and music intersected. The collection comprises not just opera libretti and playbills but a great many plays, collections of poetry, and other literary material of the early modern era that in some way inhabited the realm of musical performance. Since this “other” material falls outside of the cataloging templates we’ve established for the CLIR project, it can be slightly less straightforward to catalog. These moments of pause frequently become (at least for me) downright detours, as the workflow renders up some title ripped from the music-historical headlines. Take for example these two volumes.
The item on the right is an account of the intermedi performed for the wedding of Ferdinando I, grand-duke of Tuscany, and Christine of Lorraine in 1589. These intermedi were lavish spectacles in music and dance and are considered important precursors to opera.
For music historians, the 1589 wedding was a signal event, due in no small part to the detailed descriptions not just of the stage machinery and costumes but the performers, the instruments, and the composers. From the description of the fifth intermedio, pictured below:
…cominciarono a sonare gli strumenti, ch’elle avevan condotti seco, che erano viole, e lire arciviolate, e Anfitrite, sonando sopra alla nicchia un liuto, cominciò soavamente a cantare …
(they began to play the instruments that they had brought with them, which were violas and arch-lyres, and Anfitrite, playing a lute from a niche above, began to suavely sing)
Perusing a book of such import–from the collection of a towering scholar, to boot–would be a treat for anyone with an interest in early music.
The other item pictured above, labeled “Ecloghe di Calmo,” has a more esoteric appeal. The volume actually consists of three titles bound together, all by the16th-century Venetian actor, playwright, and poet Andrea Calmo. This was the volume I’ve been waiting to cross my desk (I knew it was in the BLC), for the work of Calmo figures prominently in the Venetian singing tradition which is the subject of my dissertation.
Calmo calls his poems “rime pescatorie” — pescatorian (fisherman) rhymes — and notes that they are “in antiqua materna lingua,” which is to say, Venetian. These comic verses, along with his letters, provided much of the material for the emerging commedia dell’arte character of Pantalone, the Venetian magnifico. The two comic epitaphs in this image — “Zangarin Zazzareta Buranelo” and “Cuffeto Bon Haver, zentil brigae” — are alluded to in a comic, quasi-theatrical song called an “aria giustiniana” first published in 1566.
The text of this volume is sadly pristine (oh, for some revealing marginalia!), the only trace of a previous owner being this tidy monogram: