Tag Archives: Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection

Sertor’s Conclave dell’anno 1774 revisited

The cataloging workflow works in mysterious ways.

Earlier this year, when Benedict XVI’s resignation triggered a papal conclave, I took the opportunity to write a post about Gaetano Sertor’s Conclave dell’anno 1774, two copies of which I had recently cataloged.  That very week, elsewhere in Collection Services, a manuscript of the libretto (Case MS V 461 .7743) landed on someone else’s desk.  The flurry of research by Alan and Jessica revealed nuances about the work’s history and publication that were necessary to distinguish its incarnations in our collection, which actually number five: the manuscript, an authentic edition, two counterfeit editions, and a French edition.

In the Bibliografia universale del teatro drammatico italiano, Salvioli and Salvioli attribute the work not to Sertor — who went to prison for its content — but to Prince Sigismondo Chigi.  They also go into detail about the distinguishing characteristics of the counterfeit editions.  The pictures below show our three Italian editions: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775 (BLC 14); Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775c (BLC136); Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775b.  The French edition (F 46 .655 v. 23 no. 16), cataloged in January, is in our collection of Dutch pamphlets, also cataloged as part of the CLIR project.

Second counterfeit: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775 (BLC 14); first counterfeit: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775c (BLC136); authentic edition: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775b


In contemporary wrappers. Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775 (BLC 14), Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775c (BLC136), Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775b.

Lutozzo Nasi and Antonio de’ Pazzi, circa 1556

The Newberry Library’s copy of Luigi Alamanni‘s comedy La Flora, published in 1556 and recently cataloged as part of the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC), bears contemporary inscriptions in two hands.

Case ML50.2.F61 A43 1556 : La Flora, comedia di Luigi Alamanni, con gl’intermedii di Andrea Lori.

The inscription at the foot of the page is clear enough, and is still clearer and in slightly fuller form the end of the dedicatory letter: “Questa comedia è di Ant.o de Pazzi [romanized from Greek:] kai ton phyōn” (This comedy belongs to Antonio de’ Pazzi [...]).

Case ML50.2.F61 A43 1556, dedicatory letter: "Questa comedia è di Ant.o de Pazzi"

Returning to the title page, the fainter writing at mid-page is in a different hand and partially worn away.  It is also a bit curious.  The portion I can make out with the naked eye reads: “Di Lutozzo Nasi non è vero” (of Lutozzo Nasi, is it not?).

Case ML50.2.F61 A43 1556, title page: "Di Lutozzo Nasi non è vero"

The Pazzi and Nasi were prominent Florentine families (the former infamous for the fifteenth-century conspiracy that often bears their name).  I dare not hazard a guess as to which Lutozzo and which Antonio ours might be.  Any thoughts?  (Also most welcome: any thoughts on the Greek!)



not-so-revolutionary diagnostics

For your consideration: a handbill (Case FRC 27552) describing the medical training and expertise of physician Antoine-François Maillet.

Case FRC 27552

Dr. Maillet lists a copious repertoire of maladies he is capable of treating and, at the end, invites prospective patients to send him urine samples for diagnosis.  It would seem he was peripatetic (or perhaps just prudent), since the printed text leaves his domicile blank.  In the Newberry’s copy, “Il est logé chez” is completed in manuscript with “Bonnet a Riom”– presumably Saint-Bonnet-près-Riom.

Case FRC 27552

Uroscopy, a diagnostic method practiced since antiquity, was still in use at the turn of the 20th century, as this doctor’s test case shows.  For every 500 pamphlets in FRC with the Library of Congress Subject Heading of, say, “Taxation–France–Early Works to 1800,” there will  be one with completely novel subject matter.  This pamphlet was the first “Urine–Diagnostic use–France–Early works to 1800 ” that I’ve come across in two years.  It is rivaled in novelty only, perhaps, by the subject heading  “Uterus–Religious aspects–Drama–Early works to 1800 ” that came up for two oratorios in the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection.

Papal conclave in satire and song

Papal coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See

In light of the papal conclave that commences in earnest today, I give you this:

Il conclave dell’anno MDCCLXXIV : dramma per musica da recitarsi nel Teatro delle dame nel conclave del MDCCLXXV.

The piece is an operatic satire of the epically long conclave (October 1774 to February 1775) that resulted in the election of Giovanni Angelo Braschi (Pius VI).  The Newberry has two editions of this work, both in the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection and recently cataloged (see below for details).  Though attributed to Pietro Metastasio and Niccolò Piccini in the introductory matter, Il conclave dell’anno MDCCLXXIV is actually by Gaetano Sertor who, according to Oscar Sonneck (Librettos, I, p. 307), “simply used the two names then most in vogue.”

Our two editions — slight variants, both printed by Gian Francesco Chracas — are

If you are curious about Sertor’s satire but can’t get to our reading rooms, one of these is now available online via Google Books:

Title page of Il conclave dell'anno MDCCLXXIV (via Google Books)

Il conclave dell'anno MDCCLXXIV (via Google Books)


Curious tail-pieces in BLC 623

Throughout the process of cataloging the materials in the French Pamphlet Project I have seen quite a number of interesting title vignettes, head- or tail-pieces (see my previous post on the Head-pieces of the Imprimerie royale), and other interesting type ornaments, but the tail-pieces that I encountered while cataloging BLC 623 (ML50.2.P76 L85 1683) seemed particularly worthy of a short blog post.

Howard Mayer Brown Libretto collection 623 is a bound-with volume containing 18 libretti printed between 1672-1695. Of these, ten were printed by the Amsterdam printer Abraham Wolfgang (fl. 1658-1694):

And three by his cousin and successor, Antoine Schelte (1673-1698):

Those printed by Abraham Wolfgang only indicate that he was the printer through the use of his printing device: a tree with bee’s next and fox with the motto, Quaerendo (see below). Those issued by Schelte include his name along with the Wolfgang device.

Abraham Wolfgang printer's device.

What is most interesting, however, about the Wolfgang/Schelte libretti are the curious tail-pieces printed throughout these 13 libretti.  By far the most common is a monkey-like creature, appearing at least five times.

Monkey-like creature tail-piece

Other creatures include a fox,  a spider and three bees on a rose, a rather demonic looking squirrel, and a dog defecating on a violin (which seemed to be almost as popular as the monkey, I counted three instances in these libretti).

Fox tail-piece.

Rose with bees & spider tail-piece.

Squirrel tail-piece.

Dog & violin tail-piece.

There are also several tail-pieces featuring birds.  The remainder of the tail-pieces found in these libretti are more traditional, usually with some sort of floral or vegetal design.  It seems that there should be some research done (if not already — I looked but was unable to come up with anything) on the use of these animal tail-pieces by the Wolfgang press, or at least a list of known designs.


Embroidered bindings from Barcelona

Because most of the libretti in the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC) are housed in archival envelopes, the process of cataloging feels a bit like unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning.  Every  item has the potential to be a treasure.

Recently there were three in a row that were unusually thick and that grated strangely against their housing — what could these be?  They were the first of seven libretti in jewel-like bindings: boards covered in silk embroidered with metallic thread, ribbon, and sequins.

The first three jewels: Case ML50.2.A78 P53 1763 (BLC 439), Case ML50.2.P67 S33 1761 (BLC 440), Case ML50.2.M67 G65 1765 (BLC 441).

All of the works were published in Barcelona by Francisco Genéras. Although library collocation numbers on the inside front covers indicate that they came from the same library, no further evidence of provenance is immediately apparent.

Case ML50.2.A78 P53 1763 (BLC 439). Embroidered binding, detail.

Case ML50.2.M67 G65 1765 (BLC 441) — Carlo Goldoni’s Mondo della luna — was a particular treat since, in addition to the interesting binding, it offered up one of my favorite clusters of subject headings:

  • Credulity–Drama[/Humor]–Early works to 1800.
  • Marriage–Drama[/Humor]–Early works to 1800.
  • Extraterrestrial beings–Drama[/Humor]–Early works to 1800.

Case ML50.2.M67 G65 1765 (BLC 441). Embroidered binding, detail.


Giovanni Battista Andreini’s ‘La centaura’

Throughout the project to catalog all of the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection I have become more and more interested in the dramas and festival pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries that are scattered throughout this collection.  One of my more recent finds is Giovanni Battista Andreini‘s La centaura (BLC 788 – Case PQ4562.A7 C46 1622).  Andreini (1576-1654) was an Italian actor, dramatist and poet, and son of the famous commedia dell’arte players Isabella and Francesco Andreini.  Anderini himself became a prominent figure in of the commedia dell’arte and by 1604 Andreini had formed his own troupe, Compagnia dei Fedeli, who were a resident company at the Gongzaga court in Mantua.  Andreini and his troupe performed in Paris beginning in 1613, through an invitation from the royal family, and were again in residence in 1622 when La centaura was premiered.

La centaura BLC 788

Andreini’s dramas are known for pushing the boundaries of traditional theatrical practices, and many of his works used music as important component.  La centura  amply demonstrates these qualities as it is divided into three acts, each of which is a different dramatic genre (Act 1-comedy, Act 2-pastorale, Act 3-tragedy) and  contains “substantial provision[s] for musical performance, including a sung prologue, finale, eight choruses and scenes sung in stile recitativo.” (New Grove dict. of music and musicians I, p. 625)

Cataloging this work was interesting because at first it was not clear whether it should be classified as an opera or drama (i.e. Italian literature) as is the case with many works from this time period that blur the line between play and opera. It was obvious from indications in the text that, indeed, there were portions of the work that were intended to be sung, as in the case of the prologue and choruses (as can be seen in the images below), but after a bit of research into Andreini and his works it was clear this work is a play.

La centaura prologue

La centaura - chorus


BLC beyond opera

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.

BLC 694 (Case PQ4617.C15 B59 1553) and BLC 649 (Case DG738.21 .R67 1589)

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.

Descrizione dell'apparato e degl'intermedi fatti per la commedia rappresentata in Firenze nelle nozze de' serenissimi Don Ferdinando Medici, e Madama Cristina de Loreno, gran duchi di Toscana. Case DG738.21 .R67 1589 (BLC 649)

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)

The text goes on to attribute the madrigals to Ottavio Rinuccini and the music to Cristofano (Malvezzi).

From the fifth intermedio, p. 56. Case DG738.21 .R67 1589 (BLC 649)

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.

Le bizzarre, faconde, et ingeniose rime pescatorie. Case PQ4617.C15 B59 1553 no. 1 (BLC 694a)





Two "Epitaphii de molimenti antighi" (epitaphs from old monuments), p. 72. Case PQ4617.C15 B59 1553 no. 1 (BLC 694a)









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:

Title page verso. Case PQ4617.C15 B59 1553 no. 1 (BLC 694a)

Opera parodies

Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection BLC 785 (Case ML50.2.B48 D47 1778)  is a bound-with volume containing five operatic works by French composer Jean Étienne Despréaux (1748-1820).  Despréaux, the son of an oboist, began his career as a dancer in the Paris Opera, later turning to composition.  Despréaux’s operatic works were primarily parodies of the most popular operas of his time including the works of Gluck, Piccini, Rameau, and others. BLC 785 contains four of Despréaux’s parody operas:

- Berlingue, parodie d’Ernelinde (BLC 785a) — a parody of François-André Danican Philidor’s Ernelinde

- Romans, parodie de Roland (BLC 785b) — a parody of Niccolò Picinni’s Roland

- Momie, opera burlesque, parodie d’Iphigenie (BLC 785c) — a parody of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide

- Christophe et Pierre-Luc, parodie de Castor et Pollux (785e) — a parody of Rameau’s Castor et Pollux

Each of the four parodies were performed before the king between 1777 and 1780 and printed by the king’s royal music printer, Pierre-Robert-Christophe Ballard. All four works also include a sub-title “en prose et en vaudevilles” that highlights their comedic nature.

Berlingue (BLC 785a)

Many of the sung portions of each of the four parodies are set to named airs (see example from Berlingue below).  Some of the airs are traditional and some seem to be drawn from other operatic works.  Further research may be able to better identify their origins and provide insight into Despréaux’s compositional process.

Berlingue - Airs

The fifth item in BLC 785 is a short prologue, Prologue pour l’ouverture du Théatre de Trianon, which seems to have been intended as a prologue to Despréaux’s Christophe et Pierre-Luc as evidenced by a short note at the end of the libretto–”le changement se fait, on joue l’ouverture pour la parodie de Castor & Pollux.” Opera, Tragedy, Comic Opera, and Stage Machinery are the main characters in this short work in which the theater represents chaos.

Prologue pour l'ouverture du Theatre de Trianon

As I was researching Despréaux for this post I was somewhat surpised at how short the articles in both the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart were, and how few sources were listed in their respective bibliographies.  I hope that perhaps study of  Despréaux’s works like those included in BLC 785 along with any extant primary source scores by Despréaux and records on royal performances may help contribute to a better understanding of a minor figure in the history of opera in the 18th century as well as contributing to our knowledge of the history and popularity of parody operas. 

Mini-collections within the BLC

The Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC) comprises many smaller collections.  In the process of cataloging, we’ve come to recognize the bookplates of Pietro Gerini (d. 1939) and Pietro Buoninsegno (fl. 1802-1814), for instance, as dozens of their libretti found their way into Howard Mayer Brown’s hands.  There are less formal groupings as well, such as the many early-18th-century oratorios performed at the Oratorio di San Filippo Neri in Bologna, many of which were published by Costantino Pisarri.

Two interesting collections-within-the-collection of this sort are now making their way through the workflow.  The first consists of dozens libretti performed in at the Regio Ducal Teatro in Milan from 1698 through at least the 1750s, organized chronologically (BLC 712-760).

There’s no indication in the pieces themselves who might’ve put together this collection, but it is prodigious in scope and will serve scholars well.


The second mini-collection is pithier.  The ten libretti BLC 632-641 (titles and call numbers below) were used as the basis for new productions in Florence, mostly at the Teatro del Cocomero.  That is to say: they are full to the brim with alterations.  Many of these are made directly in the text, changing title page information and cast lists or altering text and stage instructions.  Some of the changes are so extensive, however, that they burst from the page, with slips of handwritten text pasted in or entire sheaves of alterations sewn up into a messy, wonderful package.  The most jam-packed of these is Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636) La Mariane.  The printed libretto was for a production at the Teatro di S. Angelo in 1724; the new production was at the Teatro del Cocomero in 1726.

Changes to the title page of La Mariane. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)

The cast, of course, changed.

Changes to the cast list of La Mariane. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)

Many of the additions and alterations are pasted in, like the folded slip on the left in the image below.  On the right is a leaf that has been inserted.

Insertions pasted down and sewn into La Mariane. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)

Indeed, in BLC 636, there is a veritable pile of loose sheets which have been inserted and then the whole package sew together–not for use, but to keep everything in one place.

La Mariane -- more loose sheets, some folded. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)

I can’t wait for someone to work on this little collection and reveal all of its secrets.   Someone has!  William C. Holmes’ Opera Observed: Views of a Florentine Impresario in the Early Eighteenth Century.  The third appendix is dedicated to these annotated libretti (plus one or two more).  From this desk in Collection Services, it is easy to forget that, although the BLC has not been fully cataloged, it has been available — and mined by scholars — for decades.