Signifying Nothing: On the Aesthetics of Pure Voice in Early Venetian Opera
Operas written in Venice in the 1640s feature surprisingly long melismas often setting seemingly insignificant words, in opposition to (although concurrently with) traditional madrigalisms. This magnification of pure voice over word meaning is consistent with the aesthetics presented by members of the Venetian Accademia degli Incogniti, known for its pro-opera stance. In previously unexplored works the academicians advocate the controversial concept of Nothing as an all-embracing phenomenon. This includes language, in which the Incogniti emphasize sound as independent from meaning-a claim with significant consequences for music aesthetics. The academy's emblem articulates a parallel discourse on voice through visual means. By musical means, passages from works by Barbara Strozzi, Claudio Monteverdi (an oft-discussed melisma in Poppea, I, 6), and Francesco Cavalli also articulate Incogniti aesthetics. In elaborating their ideas the academicians relied upon a work that indeed presented a manifesto for sheer vocality, L'Adone (1623) by Giovanbattista Marino, an academy member. The Incogniti's Marinist aesthetics was to dominate the rest of the century until its object, pure voice, came under sharp criticism by members of yet another academy, the Arcadia.
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Journal of Musicology
Fall 2003, Vol. 20, No. 4, Pages 461-497
Posted online on June 14, 2004.