Good evening dearest readers – welcome to day 8 of my Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0! For today’s blog I am taking you way waaaaaay back in time to find out about one of the most important women in the Baroque era: Francesca Caccini. I will be looking into her wonderful aria for voice and harp, Lasciatemi Qui Solo – enjoy!
Francesca Caccini was born in Florence in September 1587. Her parents were both musical, so she grew up in the artistic community of the Medici court (one of the most cultured in all of Europe). At a very young age, Caccini, taught by her father, began learning to play the guitar, lute and she also learnt how to sing. She grew up receiving a humanistic education (Latin, literature, mathematics and modern languages). Due to her language training, Caccini sung as a part of a family ensemble called ‘Concerto Caccini’, and they sang before the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de Medici. She began catching the attention of others for her musical talents and she began singing as part of a soprano trio comprised of Francesca, her sister and the famous Italian singer, Vittoria Archilei. Through singing in both chamber ensembles and operas, Caccini became famous and was recognised around Italy for her virtuosi and technique.
Between the years 1604-05, the Caccini family travelled to France, at the request of Maria d’Medici. The king was impressed by the family ensemble, but especially took a shine to Francesca Caccini. He asked her to stay at the French court and proclaimed that “La Cecchina sang better than anyone in France!” She was not able to leave the Tuscan service, so she declined the kind invitation from the king. In 1607, Caccini married singer Giovannibattista Signorini in Florence. During the next few years she began composing music for events for the courts around Italy. It has been shown that Caccini was the first woman to write and publish an opera – which is a massive achievement in such a competitive business.
In 1618, Caccini had her first volume of works published – Il primo libro delle musiche. A lot of her works sadly have not survived, but a large proportion of this collection has been saved and archived. There is a lot of literature on Caccini’s father, Giulio who taught her everything she knew about music. A lot of works in Francesca’s Il primo libro reflect the characteristics of her father’s music. One of the main things that Caccini took from her father’s music was the use of vocal ornaments to embellish the melody. Although on the manuscripts there are no clear direction for these ornaments, Caccini uses words such as ‘trillo’ and ‘passaggi’ to infer a vocal trill of some sort. If we look back at Giulio’s music, he uses a technique called ‘gorgheoggiao’, which consists of stopping the vocal sound by the quick opening and closing of the vocal folds whilst air is passing through. The technique is tricky to master as it requires a lot of breath and vocal control to create the desired effect. The effect is often called referred to as ‘trembling of the voice’, which lies on a single note, and often ends as a cadential ornament. There are some notable differences in their compositions, however, for example most of Caccini’s father’s music were more song-like, whereas Francesca’s collection reflects an early attempt at recitative style.
Il primo libro is a big indicator to how the Florentine musical style was shaped over this period. The book is divided into two sections (and is absolutely massive!). The first section, ‘spirituali’ is characterised by sacred texts, thus includes sonnets, madrigals, arias, motets and hymns. The second section, ‘temporali’ consists of secular texts and lighter melodies. Lasciatemi Qui Solo is number 12 in the book, and is an aria. Here is the text (with translation) below:
Lasciatemi qui solo – Leave me here alone,
Torante augelli al nido – Return, birds, to your nests,
Mentre l’anim’e ‘l duolo – While my soul, and my pain
Spiro su questo lido – I give up on these shores.
Altri meco non voglio – I want no one else with me
Ch’un freddo scoglio – Other than a cold rock,
E ‘l moi fatal martire – And my fated death.
Lasciatemi moirire – Leave me to die
Dolcissime sirene – Sweetest sirens
Che’n si pietoso canto – Who with such merciful song
Raddolcite mie pene – Sweeten my sufferings and
Fate soave il pianto – Soften my weeping
Movet’ il nuoto altronde – Go elsewhere to swim
Togliete all’onde – Dampen the waves’
I crudi sdegni, e l’ire – Cruel scorn, and their ire
Lasciatemi morire – Leave me to die.
Placidissimi venti – Calmest winds
Torante al vostro speco – Return to your cave
Sol miei duri lamenti – I ask that only my harsh laments
Chieggo che restin meco – Remain with me
Vostri sospir non chiamo – I do not call upon your sighs
Solingo bramo – Alone I wish
I miei dolor finire – To end my sufferings
Lasiatemi morire – Leave me alone to die.
Fekicissimi amanti – Happiest lovers
Torante al bel diletto – Return to your beautiful pleasures
Fere eccels’o notanti – Wild beasts, whether birds or fish
Fuggite il mesto aspetto – Flee from this sad countenance
Sol dolcezza di morte – Only the sweetness of death
Apra le porte – Should open its doors
All’ ultimo Languire – To this final languishing
Lasciatemi morire – Leave me to die.
Avarissimi lumi – Most avaricious eyes
Che su ‘l morir versate – That on point of death spill
Amarissimi fiumi – The bitterest rivers
Tard’e vostra pietate – Your pity comes too late
Gia mi sento mancare – Already I feel myself fail
O luci avar’e – Oh eyes, stingy
Tarde al mio conforto – And slow to comfort me
Gia sono esangu’e smorto – I am already bloodless and lifeless.
Some consistencies can be found throughout these lyrics, and that is the last line of all but the last stanza which reads ‘Lasciatemi morire’ (‘leave me to die’). The emphasis of this line runs deep throughout the veins of this aria, which make it an incredibly effective piece of music. It seems that Caccini was very meticulous and particular as to where syllables of words were placed in coherence with the harmonic development. Her use of ornaments, especially the ‘gorgheoggiao’ technique can be heard throughout the aria, which alludes back to the style that both dominated her father’s music and the musical style within Florence. Full of vocal melismas, Lasciatemi Qui Solo powerfully communicates every single word that Caccini has placed. The beautiful harp/lute/continuo accompaniment is a mere harmonic tool, so that the voice can stand out and take centre stage. This hauntingly beautiful aria is an absolute diamond, and it has been such a pleasure to look into it in more detail.
Throughout the rest of her life, Francesca Caccini composed music for courts around Italy and also around Europe, which makes her one of the most successful women composers to have ever lived. There is no record of when Caccini actually died, although it is certain to be after 1641, as that is when she left Medici service. Throughout her life, Caccini achieved many things: composition, teaching and performance opportunities, as well as being regarded as a woman who has given more to early Baroque music than most.
This blog is dedicated to the fabulous soprano and queen of early music, Annie Page. Annie suggested to me about writing a blog about Francesca Caccini, as well as teaching me about certain vocal techniques in compositions such as these in a presentation she gave last year in a university module (see I do listen!). Thank you for your wonderful choice!
Join me tomorrow to see what lies in store for us on day 9!