Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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2. Early oratorio in Italy: Anerio's ‘Teatro’.

In the 16th century and the first half of the 17th, the word ‘oratorio’ most commonly referred to the building (the oratory) and the spiritual exercise that took place within it. The meaning of the word was eventually broadened, however, to include the new musical genre used in the services, and the earliest documented use of it to mean a musical composition was in 1640. In that year the Roman Pietro della Valle wrote in a letter to the Florentine theorist G.B. Doni that he had composed an ‘Oratorio della Purificatione’ for the oratory of the Chiesa Nuova. The work is only about 12 minutes long, however, and is called a dialogue rather than an oratorio in its manuscript source. Della Valle's use of both terms, ‘dialogue’ and ‘oratorio’, illustrates the kind of terminological ambiguity that was prevalent in the mid-17th century.

About 20 years before della Valle's Purificatione a number of works appeared in Anerio's Teatro armonico spirituale di madrigali (Rome, 1619) that closely resemble many of those called oratorios in the 1640s and 1650s. The 94 compositions in this ‘Spiritual Harmonic Theatre of Madrigals’ all have poetic texts that are dramatic at least in a general sense, and all are based on biblical or hagiographical sources. The texts show some relationships to those of the 16th-century laude, but they tend to be longer and more dramatic. 14 of the madrigals are marked ‘dialogo’, and at least seven of these are sufficiently extended and close enough in conception to the oratorio of the mid-century to be termed oratorios: Deh non vedete voi, Deh pensate ò mortali, Diteci pastorelli, Due figli un padre havea, Eccone al gran Damasco, Il vecchio Isach and Mentre su l'alto monte. The longest and most dramatically developed of these, requiring about 20 minutes in performance, is Eccone al gran Damasco, based on the story of the conversion of St Paul. This work employs soloists for individuals (Narrator, tenor; Saul, tenor; Voice from Heaven, bass; and Ananias, tenor), a double eight-part chorus for groups within the drama (soldiers and angels) as well as for non-dramatic comments and reflections, and a five-part instrumental ensemble to play a ‘Combattimento con voci & instromenti’ and to double the final chorus. The music of this work, and of the Teatro compositions in general, is in a concertato madrigal style, with relatively conservative, contrapuntally influenced sections for solo voice and organ bass accompaniment. It is chiefly this conservative element, and the lack of distinction between recitative and aria styles, that distinguishes these early oratorios from those of the 1640s and 1650s. These works from the Teatro are oratorios not only in general conception but in function as well, for Anerio composed this book at the request of Oratio Griffi, the maestro di cappella of S Girolamo della Carità, for use in the vespertino services of the oratory of that church; there is also clear evidence that the book was used in the oratory at the Chiesa Nuova. Griffi was the author of the book's dedication to the deceased Neri, in which he spoke of Neri's use of music ‘to draw, with a sweet deception, the sinners to the holy exercises of the Oratory', and this was the purpose of the Teatro.

Other works that appear to have been performed in the oratory at the Chiesa Nuova are more than 100 pieces found in three Roman manuscripts (I-Rn Mus.25 and 26 and I-Rv Z.122–30; Morelli, 1991, pp.67–72). All have Italian texts set for four to eight voices and continuo. Some are laude, but others are madrigali spirituali in the form of dramatic dialogues comparable with those in Anerio's Teatro. Among the composers represented in these manuscripts are Felice and G.F. Anerio, Giovanni de Macque, Ruggiero Giovannelli and Francesco Martini. Further evidences of the repertory of the Roman oratory are found in two inventories (dated 1620 and 1622) of music owned by the Congregazione dell'Oratorio in Bologna, which generally sought to follow the practices of the original congregation in Rome. These works suggest that a considerable amount of monodic music, some with dramatic texts, was used in the oratories of both Rome and Bologna during the second decade of the 17th century. Among the printed volumes listed in the inventory are Paolo Quagliati's Affetti amorosi spirituali (Rome, 1617), and G.F. Anerio's Selva armonica (Rome, 1617), Ghirlanda di sacre rose (Rome, 1619) and Teatro.


3. ‘Oratorio volgare’.

By the mid-17th century two closely related types of oratorio had developed, the oratorio latino and the oratorio volgare, using texts in Latin and Italian respectively. In Rome at this period the oratorio latino appears to have been fostered exclusively in the services of the aristocratic Oratorio del SS Crocifisso (see below), not related to but probably influenced by the oratories at the Chiesa Nuova and S Girolamo della Carità. The last-named oratories, on the other hand, seem to have concentrated on the oratorio volgare, which aimed at a broader spectrum of the Roman public.

It is clear from the records of the oratory at the Chiesa Nuova that music became increasingly important and elaborate there in the 1620s and 1630s under the leadership of the well-known soprano virtuoso and oratorian Girolamo Rosini (1581–1644), prefect of music for the oratory from 1623 until his death. Nevertheless, from the time of Anerio’s Teatro to 1630 no extant music is known that documents the further development of the oratorio volgare. Several librettos and musical compositions dating from about 1630 to 1640, however, reveal some of the developments of that decade. The poet Ottavio Tronsarelli's Drammi musicali (Rome, 1632) includes four sacred texts that might have been intended to be set to music for performance in oratories; three of these are in one section or ‘act’ (La figlia de Iefte, La contessa delle virtù and L'essequie di Christo), and a fourth, Faraone sommerso, is a large work in three sections. In Domenico Mazzocchi's Madrigali (Rome, 1638) and his Musiche sacre e morali (Rome, 1640) there appear musical settings of portions of a long epic-lyrical poem by Giovanni Ciampoli (1589–1643), Coro di profeti, per la festa della SS Annuntiata, cantata nell'Oratorio della Chiesa nuova. The entire libretto was first published posthumously in Ciampoli's Poesie sacre (Bologna, 1648). There is reason to believe that Mazzocchi may have set the entire text to music for the oratory and selected only these excerpts for publication. This large libretto in three sections, although not called an oratorio in its source, clearly deserves that name for its remarkable length (over 500 lines of poetry) and its essentially narrative and contemplative character. Della Valle's contribution to the oratorio volgare, his Dialogo della Purificatione (I-Rn Mus.123), is exceptionally brief, as mentioned above, consisting of only 59 poetic lines. Apart from being the earliest extant work to be referred to as an oratorio, it is also a curious piece of experimental music: it is one of della Valle's works in which he attempted to revive ancient Greek tunings, and its performance requires specially constructed instruments if the composer's intentions are to be fully realized. Two librettos by the poet Francesco Balducci (1579–1642), La fede: oratorio and Il trionfo: oratorio, have the distinction of being the earliest printed works to bear the term ‘oratorio’ in their titles as genre designations. Both were published posthumously in the second volume of Balducci's Rime (Rome, 1645–6). La fede is a narrative dramatic poem of over 450 lines in two sections, labelled ‘Parte prima’ and ‘Parte seconda’. The poem is based on the Old Testament story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, and includes long narrative parts marked ‘Historia’, as well as roles for Abraham, Isaac, a chorus of virgins and a chorus of sages. Il trionfo is less than half as long as La fede and consists of only one section; it is essentially a contemplative, lyrical and allegorical work glorifying the Virgin, with a chorus, two brief passages labelled ‘Historia’ and only one other solo role, that of the Virgin.

Among the most advanced examples of the oratorio volgare in the mid-17th century are the following: Carissimi's Daniele; an anonymous Daniele (possibly by Francesco Foggia); Marco Marazzoli's S Tomaso: oratorio à 5; two anonymous works, Giuseppe and Oratorio per la Settimana Santa (the earliest known oratorio based on the Passion); and S Caterina (attributed to Marazzoli in Mischiati, 1962–3). The texts of these works are poetic and are based on the Old Testament, New Testament and hagiography; all are dramatic and include several characters in addition to a chorus (probably sung by an ensemble of the soloists), which represents the roles of groups within the drama and at times comments on the dramatic action. Most of these works include narrative lines labelled ‘Testo’, set for a soloist. All are divided into two sections, identified either as ‘Prima’ and ‘Seconda parte’ or ‘Prima’ and ‘Seconda cantata’, and each section concludes with a chorus, sometimes called a ‘madrigale’ in the manuscript source. Such works were performed without scenery or action, and, when they were given in an oratory, a sermon was preached between the two sections. The time required for the performance of these oratorios ranges from about 30 minutes to slightly more than an hour. The music is like that of operas and secular cantatas of the period; recitative, arioso and aria styles are all used, and the blending of two or even all three of these within a relatively brief passage is common. Among the arias the formal procedures used are the through-composed, strophic variation, ground bass and ABA forms, various rondo-like schemes, and binary forms with repeated sections. Ensembles and choruses use both imitative and chordal styles in the manner of the late polyphonic madrigal. Some of the works call for no instruments other than those used for the basso continuo; when other instruments are specified, they are two violins, normally used for introductions to oratorios, supporting passages during choruses and ritornellos for choruses, ensembles and arias; rarely do they accompany a solo voice.

Among the works of the mid-century that do not conform to the norm of the 17th-century oratorio volgare, generally because of their more contemplative texts, are Carissimi's Oratorio della SS Vergine and Marazzoli's Per il giorno della resurrezione: oratorio à 6. A number of brief compositions (in one section of about eight to 12 minutes) of the mid-century resemble the normal oratorio volgare in virtually every respect except length; although some of these were certainly performed in oratories, they are rarely called oratorios in their sources (e.g. della Valle's Purificatione, mentioned above; Mario Savioni's brief Oratorio per ogni tempo is an exception). Rather, they were usually given a variety of other names, such as ‘cantata’, ‘concerto’ or ‘dialogo’. Examples are Savioni's Concerti morali e spirituali a tre voci (Rome, 1660); in the preface of this publication the composer promised to follow these works with a book of madrigali spirituali for five voices, to be sung at the end of each concerto, ‘thus, cantatas for oratories will be completed’. He made good his promise in his Madrigali morali e spirituali (Rome, 1668). Other works differing from oratorios only in their brevity were published in Agostino Diruta's Poesie heroiche morali e sacre (Rome, 1646) and Teodoro Massucci's Dialoghi spirituali (Rome, 1648).


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