Tag Archives: poems

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)

The Less naughty work of Théophile de Viau

Sometimes, the organization of the Saint-Sulpice Collection makes for interesting juxtapositions.  I mentioned in a previous post how the FRC pamphlets enable readers to piece together the stories of these, occasionally insignificant, historical figures.  The subject-based organization of Saint-Sulpice makes piecing these stories together even easier (as I touched on in my previous post regarding Louis IX). This time around I have a series of nine pamphlets on a more obscure individual, famed writer of blue poetry Théophile de Viau.  Viau was celebrated during his life, surpassing even Maleherbe as the most popular poet of 17th century France, but for reasons explained below, was largely ignored once classicism took hold in France until a brief rediscovery during the Romantic period instigated by swashbuckler author Théophile Gautier.

The pamphlets concerning Théophile de Viau represented in the Saint-Sulpice Collection pick up after his imprisonment and exile from France by Louis XII.  Viau’s relationship with the powers-that-be in France was complicated. One of the original libertines, Théophile de Viau was even more controversial than his contemporaries due to his Huguenot background. He fought against the French monarchy during the Protestant revolts of the early 17th century, but was pardoned and became a famed poet at the French court. This acceptance lasted less than five years, and Viau was officially banished in 1619. He left for England, only to be un-banished in 1620 when he returned to Paris only to be denounced by the Jesuits in 1623 and sentenced to being burned alive.  Viau prudently decided not to appear before Notre Dame as the Jesuits demanded, and after attempting to flee to England was captured and thrown in the Conciergerie. This point is where the Saint-Sulpice Collection begins to chronicle Viau’s life.

Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 75 no. 5

Uniquely, these pamphlets (many written by Viau himself or at least published under his name) are predominantly poetic in nature, and despite the controversy surrounding the sexually explicit and often heretical content of his work, the Sulpitians seem to have collected only pamphlets published in support of Viau.  (I’ll leave an analysis of why this might have been the case to the reader’s imagination) These poems are generally entreaties to the King, insisting that Viau has changed his ways, accepted Catholicism, and now understands that it was inappropriate to write so many naughty verses.

Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 75 no. 9

One rather interesting item amongst these pamphlets concerning Théophile de Viau is one written in response to his “apologetic” poetry by Tircis, a pseudonym of an as-yet unidentified friend of Théophile (Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 75 no. 9). This item expresses concern that Viau is more concerned with his own entertainment than he is with actually defending himself or getting out of prison.  Unfortunately, this item is incomplete. Indeed, the situation concerning Viau’s imprisonment was deadly serious: Jesuit François Garasse was attempting to prove that Viau’s poems contained coded references to homosexuality, an offense that could have incurred the death penalty.

Ultimately, Garasse’s efforts were unsuccessful, and support for Viau from other influential thinkers increased, spurring many of the pamphlets collected at the Newberry on the subject. Viau was permanently exiled from Paris in 1625 and died only one year later. His irreverent poetry was not well received by the classicists, and thus languished in obscurity until the romantic period.

Yes, there’s something for everone in the Saint-Sulpice Collection!

Assuming, of course, everyone is interested in the history of France and/or the Catholic Church.

The vast majority of the pamphlets collected in the Saint-Sulpice Collection (at least so far) are funeral addresses of clergy or political figures, interspersed with some other biographical material (largely circular letters to/from various French monasteries). Aside from the obvious genealogical interest generated by these biographical materials and fortunately for those with short attention spans, or those for whom learning obscure biographical details about the various abbesses of the Abbaye du Val-de-Gif is not a priority, the Saint-Sulpice Collection includes various other, occasionally quite interesting, items.

Tail-piece of Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 5 no. 14

For those who are interested in engraving or heraldic devices, the Saint-Sulpice Collection is a veritable treasure trove. Many of the funeral addresses include engravings of the coat of arms of the decedent, occasionally in quite elaborate detail (see Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 8 no. 15). Additionally, there are works hidden here and there that focus entirely on armorial bearings. Occasionally, there are explicitly genealogical works on specific families which also include descriptions and illustrations of coats of arms (for example, Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 4 no. 16).

For those who are fans of French literature, there are more reasons to be excited about the Saint-Sulpice collection. Perhaps you have recently (or not so recently) read Aldous Huxley’s underrated gem The Devils of Loudon, or one or more of the d’Artagnan romances of Alexandre Dumas. Well, the Saint-Sulpice collection includes items written by and for the famous Armand Jean du Plessis, cardinal-duc de Richelieu (see Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 4 no. 5). From the world of fairy tales, there is poetry translated by Charles Perrault, author of the original Mother Goose collection (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 4 no. 39). In fact, poetry is very well represented in the collection, with translations of classical era poetry in addition to a great number of memorial poems for various political and religious figures, frequently in multilingual collections.

There are also exciting opportunities to explore the history of medicine and scientific inquiry in the Saint-Sulpice collection. There are requests to the Académie royale des sciences to study dwarfism, including attempts to ascertain whether the causes are hereditary or perhaps due to some action taken by the mother while pregnant (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 4 no. 34). There are also scientific analyses of apparently miraculous behavior, including close scrutiny and rejection of the phenomena of anorexia mirabilis (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 8 no. 4). The collection even includes a eulogy of Bernoulli, given by his son! (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v.  4 no. 8)