Canzone "O primavera, gioventù de l'anno"

Giaches de Wert
for five voices (SSATB)
Choir a capella
A4, 28 pages


Theatre of Voices Edition is a publishing initiative founded by and under the artistic leadership of the singer and conductor Paul Hillier. Each publication is prepared carefully to meet the standards of professional choir singers and conductors of the 21st century.

* * *

Giaches de Wert was one of the most important composers of Italian secular music between Cipriano de Rore and Claudio Monteverdi (his eventual successor as music director at the court of Mantua). Altogether Wert published eleven books of five-voice madrigals between 1538 and 1595. A twelfth, published posthumously – only the bass partbook survives – contains works by Wert and Mantuan colleagues, including Monteverdi. As music director at Mantua and frequent visitor to the court of Ferrara, Wert came into contact with the leading poets of his day. He was the first to set dramatic texts from Tasso’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata (e.g., Giunto alla tomba, Seventh Book, 1581), and was involved in preparations – later abandoned – to stage Guarini’s pastoral drama, Il pastor fido, at Mantua in 1591.

Il pastor fido is admired for the grace, inventiveness and fluidity of its language. Composers, beginning with Marenzio (Sixth Book, 1594), were attracted to its pathos-laden monologues and it is the source of four texts set in Wert’s Eleventh Book of madrigals: Cruda Amarilli (from Act 1), Ah dolente partita, O primavera, gioventù de l’anno, and Udite, lagrimose spirti d’Averno (from Act 3). All of these texts are spoken by Mirtillo (the Faithful Shepherd of the title). It is improbable that Wert’s settings were intended for the 1591 production. The only music Guarini envisaged, apart from the intermedi which are extraneous to the action, was for the danced choruses of the Giuoco della cieca (game of blind man’s buff), the texts of which Guarini wrote only after the choreography and music had been fully worked out by the ballet master (a setting survives in Gastoldi’s Fourth Book of five-voice madrigals of 1602). Wert’s music is not “representative” in the theatrical sense but music that projects the sentiments expressed by the speaker by a process of musically mimetic “resemblances” of these.

O primavera, gioventù de l’anno sets lines 1- 45 of the soliloquy that opens Act 3 in which Mirtillo laments the vicissitudes of his love for Amarilli. By partitioning Guarini’s continuous text into units, Wert creates a narrative cycle articulated musically by means of a sequence of five discrete yet interrelated madrigals. In the print, the prima parte of each voice is marked CANZONE. Its usage here does not refer to the canzone proper, a poetic form usually comprised of five to seven stanzas (e.g., Petrarch’s Vergine bella, che di sol vestita); thus the heading canzone probably refers more generally to the lyric expression that constitutes Mirtillo’s poetic “song.” Guarini may have conceived of O dolcezze amarissime d’amore, Mirtillo’s apostrophe to love, as a song: in some contemporary Italian editions this section is set off by quotation marks, a distinction disregarded in modern editions of Il pastor fido but recognizable as such in the elegiac music of Wert’s seconda parte. Wert’s setting is restrained and elegant, a mature example of the composer’s narrative style. His craft is perhaps best displayed in the invention of word-generated motifs, sometimes plyed simultaneously, and in the subtle yet affective turns of harmony that ellucidate the shifting sands of Mirtillo’s introspective thoughts.

My transcription reproduces the music and text of the 1600 reissue of Wert’s Eleventh Book in the unique existant copy owned by the Biblioteca del Conservatorio, Bologna (where I obtained a photocopy) and where I compared it to the editio princeps of 1595. The 1600 edition, novamente ristampato & corretto (newly printed and corrected) has been reset in a slightly smaller typefont; textual variants are insignificant. I have modernized some spellings (hoggi = oggi; aventuroso = avventuroso; de gl’occhi = degl’occhi) and added punctuation after Luigi Fassò’s edition (Opere di Battista Guarini, Turin: UTET, 1950). The most poetic, though far from literal, English translation remains that of Richard Fanshawe (The Faithfull Shepherd, 1647) from which I have borrowed a few choice phrases (a parallel Italian-English edition with Fanshawe’s translation can be consulted in the Edinburgh Bilingual Library, vol. 11, ed. J.H. Whitfield, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1976). The most complete study to date of Wert is Carol MacClintock, Giaches de Wert (1535-1596): Life and Works, Musicological Studies and Documents, 17 (American Institute of Musicology, 1966). Wert’s collected music is available in Giaches de Wert: Opera omnia, eds. Carol MacClintock and Melvin Bernstein, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae, 24 (American Institute of Musicology, 1961 - 77); a transcription of O primavera, unfortunately marred by numerous typographical errors, appears in vol. 12, pp. 3-14. This work, in accordance with the aims of this series, can be performed by a small choir with only the wide range of the Alto part (best sung by high tenors) posing difficulties. Singers who find this music attractive but wish to experience the more adventurous side of Wert’s music may wish test their mettle with the composer’s outrageous but stunning setting of Petrarch’s Solo e pensoso (Seventh Book, 1581; ed. in CMM 24/vii, p. 32).

David Nutter
University of California, Davis August, 1995 / 2008 


  • Score DKK66.25(€ ~9.00)
    (Prices incl. 25% EU VAT)

QR Code