“Music is text and rhythm, and sound last of all”
Born in a small village near Pisa, Caccini initially went to Rome to study the lute, the viol and the harp, and he quickly developed a reputation as a singer in the Cappella Giulia. He was recruited by the Florentine ambassador to perform in the festivities for the wedding of Prince Francesco de’ Medici and Johanna of Austria in Florence in December 1565, and he continued his studies with the famed virtuoso singer Scipione delle Palle in Florence. Caccini performed at weddings and affairs of state, and he began training younger singers for court service. He entered the list of employees at the Medici court in 1579, and participated in elaborate musical, dramatic and visual spectacles called “intermedi.”
Antonio Archilei: La Pellegrina
Significantly, Caccini became associated with the writers, musicians and scholars—among them Girolamo Mei and Vincenzo Galilei—who gathered at the home of Count Giovanni de’ Bardi. As they were trying to recover the presumed glory of ancient Greek dramatic music, Caccini’s musical abilities helped the group to develop the concept of monody. That concept, essentially a precursor of dramatic representations in early opera—relied on an emotionally affected and frequently embellished solo vocal line accompanied by simple harmonies. Caccini continued his activities as a singer, teacher and composer by crisscrossing Italy and according to his own recollections, “his music and singing met with an enthusiastic response.” In 1592 he severely injured the lover of one of his students and was removed from the court payroll. Three Florentine noblemen came to his rescue and offered him a yearly salary to stay in Florence. Apparently, he had a similar offer from Genoa, but he remained in Florence and supplemented his earnings teaching private students.
Guilio Caccini: La Pellegrina, Intermedio IV, “Io che dal ciel cader farei la luna”
Caccini’s rivalry with Emilio Cavalieri and Jacopo Peri was intense. He schemed to have Cavalieri removed from his post as director of the musical festivities for the wedding of Henry IV of France and Maria de’ Medici in 1600. He also rushed into print his opera Euridice before Peri’s opera on the same subject could be published. In fact, everybody claimed to have been the inventor of new styles of lyrical and dramatic solo song. Caccini published his most influential work called Le nuove musiche in 1602. In the introduction to this collection of monodies and songs for solo voice and basso continuo, he explicitly claimed to be the inventor, “Having thus seen music and musicians offered no pleasure beyond that which pleasant sounds could give…it occurred to me to introduce a kind of music in which one could almost speak in tones.”
Giulio Caccini: Le nuove musiche, “Dovrò dunque morire”
The primary goal of this new style of singing was to “move the passions.” Melodies were set to the rhythms of speech and inflected by dissonances and chromaticism. This type of musical expression, which later developed into operatic recitative, became hugely popular throughout Italy. In addition, the introduction also contains the first attempt to describe the figured bass of the basso continuo style. In essence, Caccini’s 1602 explanations can be regarded as the first theoretical treatise on singing and performance practice. Together with his second wife and his famous daughters Francesca and Settimia—alongside his illegitimate son Pompeo—Caccini performed throughout Italy and also in Paris in 1605. Plans to extend their concert tour to England did not materialize, and the troupe returned to Florence. Caccini continued to be involved in all manner of musical activities, and he published his second collection of songs in 1614. A violent quarrel with Ottavio Archilei led to Caccini’s house arrest, and he turned to gardening as a source of income. A stroke severely damaged his health, and after signing his will on 6 December 1618 he passed away shortly thereafter.
Giulio Caccini: Le nuove musiche, “Amarilli mia bella”