- Orpheus in the Marketplace: Jacopo Peri and the Economy of Late Renaissance Florence by Tim Carter and Richard A. Goldthwaite
The only image we have of Jacopo Peri (1561–1633), inventor of recitative and composer of the first extant opera, is the one of him costumed as the legendary musician Arion in the fifth of the intermedi performed in Florence in 1589. This is the image that graces the jacket of the book under consideration, one that goes a long way towards remedying that visual lacuna by painting a portrait in words of the singercomposer, partly through his own written remarks, via a trove of more than two dozen of Peri’s personal account books. Discovered serendipitously by the economic historian Richard Goldthwaite in the Archivio di Stato, Florence, the Peri Archive had been subsumed into a much larger fondo of private account books that had never been completely inventoried. This new information has allowed Goldthwaite and his coauthor Tim Carter to place Peri in his social, economic, and musical worlds more completely than any other composer of the late Renaissance. The result is a fascinating complement to the more limited studies published earlier by Tim Carter (Jacopo Peri, 1989) and Warren Kirkendale (The Court Musicians in Florence, 1993).
Peri’s 1589 appearance on stage as Arion was soon eclipsed by a different image—that of Orfeo, the role he portrayed in his Euridice, [End Page 454] written for the wedding of Maria de’ Medici and Henry IV of France in 1600. And that is how this new biography encourages us to see him—as a self-fashioned Orpheus who continued his performance ‘on the real stage of life, the local marketplace’ (p. 2). In fact, we learn less about his musical activity, mention of which is largely absent from his account books, than we do about his financial dealings and about music as a commodity in the church, court, and private sectors of the marketplace. However, in the course of tracing the two parallel trajectories of Peri’s life—one musical and the other civic—the authors reveal a great deal about the person and the image he wished to project.
That image was of a nobil fiorentino, a noble Florentine (implying dilettante), as he styled himself on the title page of the published score of Euridice, a reticent performer and composer who resisted the more artisanal aspects of music with an attitude that reflected his perceived social standing and ambitions. While his musical talents enabled his initial admittance to Medici court circles (as singing teacher to the princesses) and he remained in the roles of the Medici musical establishment during his long lifetime, he nevertheless exercised a good deal of independence within the constraints of courtly patronage as he simultaneously pursued an apparently purposeful agenda to acquire property, make investments, and hold public office. He certainly benefitted from the favour of the grand-ducal family, which eventually brought him status, a lifetime stipend, and sufficient material wealth to place him in the ‘middling’ economic stratum of Florentine society. Such favours came by way of their recommending him for public office in many branches of government, culminating in his appointment in 1621 (at the age of 60) to the Consiglio dei Duecento, a lifetime tenure on one of the two supreme councils of state.
Peri also prided himself on having an exceptionally large family—three wives who brought him handsome dowries that successively propelled him into a higher economic class, and twenty children (though only twelve reached adulthood). There are other indications that he viewed himself as more than a musician: among them are his having married outside of musical circles and showing no interest in training his daughters as singers (unlike Giulio Caccini and other court musicians). Lacking large dowries, Peri’s daughters were all placed in convents and only one of his sons became a musician by profession. But Peri did use music...