Project Archive: Morte i begli occhi

2013, project with Motus Harmonicus

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a wave of new music attested to the increasing opportunities and autonomy available to talented female musicians, writers, artists, and composers in the secular world. This programme focuses on the genius and achievements of four remarkable composers– Francesca Caccini, Settimia Caccini, Leonora Orsina, and Barbara Strozzi—within the context of some of their contemporaries.

One crucial feature of poetic and musical dialogue stemming from the Middle Ages and before is a focus on eyes and seeing, in connection with love. The “eye darts” occurring in medieval romances become an even more paramount theme after poets such as Dante, Cavalcanti, and Petrarch make their inaccessible loves immortal in verse. This theme is found in many texts in this programme, inspiring potent questions regarding the nature of sight and appearance, agency and passivity, in varied and changing ways. ‘Morte i begli occhi,’– ‘Death in beautiful eyes’ can be, as we see, a rapturous experience or a sombre one. This is particularly interesting when considering the reversal of ‘roles’ inherent in the new positions these women composers attained, contrasting to that of male contemporaries: for, when the female (dart-releasing) eye sees, there must be a shift from traditional Petrarchan ideas.

Music for 3-4 musicians: Canto, viola da gamba, basso continuo.
Composers: Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Giulio Caccini, Settimia Caccini, Leonora Orsina