ODI ET AMO The occasions longed for, lost, delayed; the need to fall in love, the danger of hurtful farewells, and of those more blissful...
Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior. (I hate and love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask? I know not, but I feel it, and I am in torment.)
Odi et Amo is the title of carmen 85 by the Latin poet Gaius Valerius Catullus (84-54 BC), maybe his most famous distich. The torment of love is but the starting point for the concept of this program, that soon widens to include the torment felt by many intellectuals at the end of the sixteenth century, when they were confronted with the birth of the new style of singing that took the name of ‘Recitar Cantando’. The new style was attacked bitterly by many, among them Girolamo Borsieri who in the copies of his letters, that miraculously survived the negligence of man, described it as the disintegration of the supposed fundaments of art. Yet this new style marked the point of departure of an epoch-making change, that once it took off, could not have been stopped by anyone:
"Today music usually comes into being without music, as if not founded anymore in consonances, but in little touches of tremolo, in sighs, or in breaths already passed before they are heard, and if they are heard, they are heard most often with restless ears; especially when they come from those who sing ‘alla moderna’, without having learned previously to sing ‘all’antica’, those who act as if the dissonances barely accepted as fleeting by our ancestors are both the vocabulary, and the foundations (...)"
So, here we read about singers who knew the ancient arts and were able to perform any kind of composition, like the famous singer and nun Claudia Sessa evoked by the same Borsieri; they are juxtaposed to the new champions of song, Claudio Monteverdi and every other recitative musician, who are considered deprived of musical fundaments. Also evoked, even if they are not mentioned in clear terms, are the Florentine musicians; Borsieri certainly alludes to them when he ironically speaks of ‘little touches of tremolo’ (accentucci di tremoli). After the first experiments of recitar cantando at the end of the sixteenth century, and notwithstanding the claims of other influential authors, it was Giulio Caccini who clearly defined the new poetics, to write down the new creed in black and white and to publish it without fear. Caccini aimed to accomplish an epoch-making work of codification, essentially expressed in his famous Prefazione contained in the Nuove Musiche of 1602. Music becomes a vehicle for the affects and of a deep feeling the singer is bound to express, contributing in a fundamental way to the success of the work. One of the founding concepts of Caccini’s poetics is based on an age-old tradition, that like other key themes in history tends to reflourish every now and again: la sprezzatura. Both Cicero and Quintilian speak in clear terms of how ‘ars est celare artem’, it is art to conceal art. The little book that suggested the revival of this theme to Caccini must have been Il libro del Cortigiano by Baldassarre Castiglione, in which he nonchalantly states:
"[Grace] consists in avoiding as much as one can [...] affectation, and, to maybe use a new term, in displaying in everything a certain sprezzatura, that hides art, that shows what one does, and says it is done without effort and almost without thinking about it."
The term sprezzatura appears for the first time in the preface of Caccini’s Euridice (1600):
"And in this style of song I have used a certain sprezzatura, and I considered it has something noble about it, for it seemed that with it I have most approached natural speech (...)"
The early seventeenth century in Italy is the period that runs through our program like a winding, living river: it is not only the music that decides its course, but also the verses of the often anonymous poets, who with their passions determine their emotional impact. The passions of love, true and authentic, and therefore shared by us all in our everyday life. And so the verses of Catullus return to mind, cleared of the dust of centuries and shining brightly in their immediate force: Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.