During the late Renaissance and early Baroque, composers setting poetic texts experimented with various ways to balance the demands and structures of text and music. A fundamental problem was that the syntactical laws of music and poetry are opposed. Musical syntax demands a stronger and more frequent sense of closure than poetic syntax; poetry, although it shares music’s concern for the beauty of sound and rhythm also shares with prose a tendency to be expansive and discursive.
One of the most intriguing solutions to this dialectic was what I call “strophic discourse,” that moment of balance when the laws and demands of both poetic and musical syntax are respected equally in musical settings, so that the rhetoric and narrative force of the text is accommodated in a flexible and changing musical line, while the musical setting has its own clear and satisfying shape.
“Strophic discourse” finds its foremost champion in Stefano Landi, particularly in examples from his Arie of 1620 and in his first opera La morte d'’Orfeo. In an attempt to trace the path to Landi’'s solution of “strophic discourse,” Vol. I reviews the textual and musical shapes of the cinquecento and seicento in the madrigal and in Landi'’s Arie. Vol. II analyzes examples of “strophic discourse" within La morte d'’Orfeo, emphasizing Landi'’s approach to balancing text and music within recitative, arioso, and strophic forms. A complete edition of the score and libretto with translation is provided in an appendix. Landi'’s opera illustrates a critical moment during the early history of opera, when music and literature were equal and interdependent components of a new Baroque aesthetic.