- Music and the Myth of Arcadia in Renaissance Italy
In Western music, canonic composers have exploited the conventions associated with pastoral themes for centuries: Vivaldi, Rameau, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, and Debussy, among others, have written music clearly identifiable as "pastoral" (Owen Jander and Geoffrey Chew, "Pastoral," Grove Music [End Page 107] Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com [accessed 26 May 2010], at 3: "Secular vocal forms"). Through recurring musical reinterpretation, "pastoral" has transcended genre and style to become a "musical topic" in the sense described by Raymond Monelle: a reference that "carries a literal meaning together with an accumulation of associative meanings" (Raymond Monelle, The Musical Topic: Hunt, Military and Pastoral [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006], 3). As such, pastoral represents a seemingly transhistorical convention that transcends the strictures of nationality, genre, and musical idiom, and which serves composers as a continual reservoir of inspiration. Acknowledging the revered status of pastoral themes in musical practice, Giuseppe Gerbino analyzes the topic at its resurgence in Renaissance Italy, providing a valuable historical investigation of the pivotal connection between music and pastoral, a study to which future musicological research on this topic will undoubtedly return.
Gerbino shows that pastoral themes functioned in the Renaissance as a self-reflective characterization of "a distinctive aristocratic culture in which the classicizing fantasy of an exotic community of shepherds provided the backdrop to a complex set of social rituals" (p. 361). In other words, through performance the musical pastoral movement stylized Renaissance culture and social hierarchy. Gerbino's contextual scholarly approach to the topic, one of the most attractive features of this book, culminates in this intuition, which allows him to draw an insightful portrait of the society behind the Renaissance pastoral revival convincingly faithful to the original.
The layout of Gerbino's book displays sensitivity to cultural forces surrounding the musical development of the pastoral movement. For example, he analyzes the madrigal, the musical genre with the nearest chronological and stylistic kinship to Renaissance pastoral poetry, in part 3 of the book, only after the two parts "Music in Arcadia: An Unsettled Tradition" and "Theater" lay the contextual foundations for the reemergence of pastoral themes in the Italian Renaissance literary and cultural scene. Moreover, each of the book's three parts includes five chapters, of which the first few primarily describe cultural context, philosophical and epistemological trends, and historical currents. Chapters concerning musical issues follow, ending with a final chapter or two of further contextual and historical discussion. For example, part 2, "Theater" begins by describing "The Boundaries of the Genre" (chap. 6), and closes with a chapter entitled "The (Female) Performance of High Culture." The three middle chapters discuss the most important musical developments resulting from the Renaissance incorporation of music into drama. This includes a full score transcription and musical analysis of Giulio Fiesco's 1563 madrigal "Non senza gran ragion" as well as a discussion of its role in an intermedio that represented a defining moment in the musical and dramatic history of the pastoral movement.
Gerbino analyzes fifteen different music examples in a similar manner throughout the book, though not all scores are reproduced in full. These analyses serve a twofold purpose. First, they refer the reader to some of the most important musical compositions of the Renaissance and show how Gerbino derives his conclusions about the social role of pastoral compositions from the musical evidence. Second, his analyses underline the special relationship between the musical features of the music examples and the texts on which they are based, demonstrating sensitivity towards the aesthetic criteria that originally impelled the composition of the pieces themselves. Gerbino's concentration on the connection between text and music emphasizes the central issue of Renaissance aesthetic debate surrounding the musical pastoral movement, elucidating the ways in which larger social and cultural discourses informed many of the musical developments that we now take for granted. The texts of the music examples analyzed in the book are...