Jacopo Peri, Giulio Caccini, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, and Claudio Monteverdi used plainchant formulas in their compositions for solo voice: Peri used psalm tones in Euridice; Caccini used Tenebrae chant melisma in Le nuove musiche; Cavalieri quoted the Lamentations chant in his Lamentationes; Monteverdi evoked plainchant psalmody in the Lamento d’Arianna. Chant recitation was clearly a familiar model that could inform how to compose in the celebrated speech-like manner. As this dissertation demonstrates, chant and monody were also contiguous musical practices, united by imitation of ancient speech-like song.
The evocation of chant in early monody may have had a pointed purpose: to gesture musically towards antiquity, and to formulate a distinct melodic character for solo-voiced music. In writings that circulated among creators of solo song and early opera, both Girolamo Mei and Vincenzo Galilei posited plainchant as a vestige of ancient music. In doing so, they imagined ecclesiastical recitation as a bridge between ancient music and modern attempts to revive the power of ancient singing. This was by virtue of chant’s apparently “antique” remnants: use of mode, extended recitation, and centrality of text. Vatican chant reformer Giovanni Guidetti, contemporary with Mei and Galilei, also connected antiquity and chant. In a previously unknown edition of his work that I have discovered, Guidetti compared Christian plainsong with Pythagorean theories of music, including its power to move affections and reform the soul. Mei, Galilei, and Guidetti thus espoused similar ideas about chant and antiquity, leading alternately to early solo song and opera, and the reform of Catholic liturgy and devotion. The idea of chant as a vestige of ancient song thus had strong cultural currency, operating across sacred-secular boundaries.
By revealing how sacred and secular spheres intersected in early modern Italy, and by examining chant, monodies, and theoretical writings from ca. 1600, this dissertation highlights the previously obscured triangle of chant, ancient song, and monody. It furthermore provides new tools for analysis of music in the formative years of the first operas, and reframes 16th-century plainchant—largely neglected in music histories—as a significant creative force in early modern musical culture.