The early seventeenth century, when the first operas were written and technical advances with far-reaching consequences—such as tonal music—began to develop, is also notable for another shift: the displacement of aristocratic music-makers by a new professional class of performers. In this book, Andrew Dell’Antonio looks at a related phenomenon: the rise of a cultivated audience whose skill involved listening rather than playing or singing. Drawing from contemporaneous discourses and other commentaries on music, the visual arts, and Church doctrine, Dell’Antonio links the new ideas about cultivated listening with other intellectual trends of the period: humanistic learning, contemplative listening (or watching) as an active spiritual practice, and musical mysticism as an ideal promoted by the Church as part of the Catholic Reformation.
Listening as Spiritual Practice in Early Modern Italy
I turn to you, most blessed winged spirit, as you prepare to restore and comfort the languid and lovesick Francis with your song; ah, hold back the accenti, no longer play that harmonious instrument, which in being too lively brings him death and in lifting him too high oppresses him. Have mercy by stopping the course of so much mercy. If one more note comes out, it will relieve him of all life breath. If you wound that thin string one more time, you will cut the string of his life; nor can you handle that sweet bow again, for he will remain slain by its arrows. Thus Francis states when the music ends: the sensation of one more sound would render him senseless.
Lelio Guidiccioni, Discorso sopra la musica
Since song and sound come from an intimate thought of the mind, and from the impetus of fantasy, and from an affettuoso delight of the heart, and striking with the air the already broken, distempered listener's spirit, the connection between soul and body, easily it can move the fantasy, delight the heart, penetrate to the deepest parts of the mind; and having penetrated, it works its effects, according to the disposition, and complexion of those who savor and delight in musical harmony.
Lodovico Casali, Generale invito alle grandezze, e maraviglie della musica
The goal of expressing or evoking affetto-a term loosely but imprecisely translatable as "affect" that suggests the ineffable nature of human emotional/spiritual response-was introduced by advocates of early modern Catholic reform to justify the increasing focus on the recipient of a spiritual message rather than its creator. In this chapter, I will briefly discuss connections between the various uses of the concept of affetto in post-Tridentine discourse on preaching, the visual arts, and musical practice, particularly in the evocation and contemplation of mystical delight and transcendent union with the divine. I will then focus on musical manifestations associated with the presentation of the Eucharist, the moment in the Mass considered most crucial to early modern Reformed Catholic spirituality, drawing a connection from eucharistic devotional practice to a specific image of mystical transport through instrumental music: the iconography of the ecstasy of Saint Francis, who is often depicted in early modern Italy as responding to the sound of a violin-playing angel. The implications of this musical iconography will lead us through an examination of the role played by Jesuit ideas and institutions in reinforcing particular models of mystical contemplation and to some initial observations about spiritually informed listening and its role in the construction of ideal elite listening practices in early seventeenth-century Italy.
Some version of the claim that the goal of music is to "move the affetto of the spirit" (muovere l'affetto dell'animo) was invoked by many early modern composers of vocal and instrumental, sacred and secular music alike: for example, Adriano Banchieri suggests that modern composers "must work to imitate with harmony the affetti of the discourse/rhetoric/speech [gli affetti dell'oratione], so that the song may delight not only its composer but likewise the singers and the listeners." The term was frequently used as a descriptive indication in the introductions to musical scores as well as within the scores themselves. Performers were encouraged to sing, or were described as singing, "with the greatest possible affetto"; and instances of the term affetto to denote passages of instrumental works are as widespread as they are idiosyncratic. Given the variety and potentially contradictory nature of these usages, perhaps rather than attempting to determine a contemporary consensus on the precise meaning of the term it might be more useful to observe that claiming the existence of affetto in one's musical practice seems to have been an overriding concern in early seventeenth-century discourse on music.
This is understandable, for the term affetto permeated the discourse of post-Tridentine Catholic reform as an element of neo-Ciceronian theories of rhetoric and oratory. A straightforward instance is provided by Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti's 1582 commentary on visual images, in which the cleric (an active participant in the Council of Trent and strong proponent of Tridentine reform) affirms that the artist must create a work apt "to give delight, to teach, and to move the affetto of the beholder" (a dare diletto, ad insegnare e movere l'affetto di chi la guarderà), echoing the tripartite purpose of rhetoric (docere, delectare, movere) as defined by Cicero and claimed for Christian oratory by Augustine. Paleotti does not, however, place sole onus on the creator of the work for the effectiveness of its meaning. In the passage immediately preceding his statement about the artist's rhetorical task, he asserts that "the goal [to persuade] is not within the power of the creator; his role [ufficio] is the endeavor and the use of means proportionate to that goal. ... Thus concerning the painter, just as is appropriate for the writer, it can be said that his role is to shape the painting in such a way that it be suited to engender/give birth to [partorire] the goal that is expected from sacred images" (1961, 214-15). Thus the recipient and creator had equal responsibility in the proper cultivation of affetti.
In the generations following Paleotti's treatise, affetti became understood as "gestures and expressions that communicate the soulful feeling of the senses," and for the commentators of the Catholic Reformation affetti were closely linked with "the depiction of themes of moral significance that elevate the soul" (Spear 1982, 1:29, 36). An early seventeenth-century definition of the term, from the Florentine Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca, specifically highlights the spiritual nature of affetto: "a passion of the soul, born of the desire for good, and the hatred of evil."
Creating works that would excite the recipient's affetto was the artist's task-but not only, indeed not primarily, the artist's. Preaching, also a crucial aspect of the Catholic program of reform, was perhaps the most explicitly theorized of the vehicles by which spiritual affetto could be evoked. As a consequence, the ability to deploy eloquence and rhetoric in the service of the divine was considered essential to the task of moving the emotions to rectitude. Franciscans embraced the role of "professional" preachers in the post-Tridentine reform, and by the 1570s Rome was described as "a city flooded with preaching," in which clergy "mounted the many stages there to practice and perfect their art." Many preachers were highly sought after (both in and beyond Rome), and contemporaneous commentaries speak to their effectiveness and popularity. Scholars have identified particular preaching schools associated with different orders or individual preachers and their followers. Indeed, the professionalization of the preacher proceeds in an interestingly parallel way to that of the visual artist and musical performer in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Italy.
The preacher was increasingly characterized as a mediator between divine grace and human understanding, and that mediation was in keeping with one of the crucial principles of Catholic faith reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in opposition to the central-European Christian reformers, the concept of justification, or the process of acquisition of divine grace through righteous living. As McGinness (1995, 32) observes, "Like justification, preaching assumed that the grace to reform one's life is offered to every individual (indeed, the preacher is mediator of this grace), but there was the delicate matter of human co-operation with divine grace. The role of the preacher, then, was to move listeners, to persuade them, to cooperate with that grace." Thus the preacher was charged, not with forcing the faithful to worship, but with "persuad[ing] them to cooperate with [divine] grace," to choose freely the path to salvation, since this was an essential aspect of Catholic theology. The need for active cooperation on the part of the listener implied a need for oratory to serve not just as a tool for providing information but also as a resource for learning to listen, to assist the listener-recipient in becoming properly disposed toward God's message of grace.
A widely circulated "guide to delivering a sermon" by one of the most renowned and highly esteemed Franciscan preachers of the day (Girolamo Mautini da Narni, to whom we will return in chapter 4) specifies that "[the preacher's] oratory is not meant to astonish but to predispose the listeners to the word of God, to meditation on the truths suggested by sacred scripture." Unlike Reformed-Evangelical or Calvinist preachers, Catholic preachers did not have as a goal of their practice their listeners' direct acquisition of the scriptural Word. Rather, they were charged with interpretation of scriptural text, and the ultimate goal was for the listener to perceive a glimpse of the transcendent Truth that words could only imperfectly adumbrate. Thus the preacher's message had to be not only doctrinally accurate and verbally persuasive but also "listener-friendly" beyond verbal content, containing within its structure and flow the incentives and instructions for the fruitful acquisition of the transcendent grace that surpassed the specific content of the preacher's earthly speech. Accounts of successful preachers (and many were popular and highly sought-after, especially recruited for events such as the Quarantore, on which more below) dwell at least as much on the sonic expressive power of the preacher's voice-and its effect on the listeners-as they do on the specific content of the sermon. One example of such an account will suffice here:
The sonorousness of his voice has never been heard in others, it is not fully bronze nor fully silver, it shatters the air from afar and disperses opposing opinion, but in such a way that it soothes with thunder and sweetens with lightning.... He speaks with pauses as much as with words. Every one of his motions and his glances works effectively. ... In excited actions he is fearsome, graceful in calm and composed ones.... A turn of his eye, a lift of his hood, his gathering or extending his body, with all of which (gravely) he accompanies the affetti of his discourse, configure others' spirits as he wishes. If he becomes heated in admonishing, out of the small pulpit comes a tempest as from a military machine. If he sweetens and comforts, there is no song more dear to the ears than his speech. All in all, in his presence, words, and actions, he is venerable, sublime, and penetrating, and altogether sweet, graceful, and lovely.
The descriptive imagery is analogous to that used to praise contemporary singers by such contemporary chroniclers as Pietro Della Valle and Vincenzo Giustiniani, whose writings on music and the arts will be explored in subsequent chapters. For example, Della Valle writes that Modern Roman singers display "the art of soft and loud, of increasing the voice bit by bit, of softening it with grazia, of expressing affetti, of following with good judgment the words and their meanings; making the voice happy or sad, pitiful or bold as needed" (1903, 162). And according to Giustiniani, the female singers of Mantua and Ferrara distinguished themselves by "diminishing or enlarging their voice, now loud, now soft, narrowing or widening it phrase by phrase, alternatively drawing it out and speeding it up. ... [Roman/Florentine singers] sang bass and tenor with a very wide range, with exquisite ways and passaggi and with extraordinary affetto and a special talent in letting the words be heard clearly" (1628/1878, 17-19). Indeed, Giustiniani links the sonic expressiveness of sermonizing and singing very directly: "A close acquaintance of mine chose to frequent a confraternity, prioritizing it over many others that were perhaps better, because the leader and rector had a beautiful voice in making his sermons, and sang the litanies well, with grazia and a delightful sonorous voice" (27). The term grazia recurs in these and other contemporary authors' texts as a central tenet underpinning gusto, and its appearance in a sacred context underlines the continuity between taste for beauty and divine understanding.
A widely influential manual on preaching by one of the most esteemed practitioners of early modern Italy-Francesco Panigarola's On the Way to Compose a Sermon (Del modo di comporre una predica), first printed in Italian in 1581 and quickly translated into Latin and French-draws on a specifically musical image to describe the opening section of a sermon: he compares it to a performer's opening ricercata, from which "those who are present can immediately derive what they can hope from the [musical] performer's skill." To be sure, metaphors connecting verbal and rhetorical expression to music permeate the controversies over the "second practice" and "new style" in early modern Italy, but in this case the metaphor is reversed, and the rhetorical power is seen as sonic and as building on nonverbal immediacy rather than as dependent on text and critical reason.
If moving affetto was an essential goal of the preacher, Paleotti also specified a further purpose: as Anton Boschloo (1998, 47) frames it, "As far as affetto is concerned ... artworks must be created in order to achieve two objectives: 'move the senses' and 'excite the spirit to devotion.'" Indeed, for those who wished to build devotional rhetoric (preachers, visual artists, musicians), clarity of meaning was evidently less important than evocation and inspiration. "Preachers no longer look to impart a clear and distinct apprehension of doctrine (though in other circumstances this was important)," observes McGinness (1995, 106), "but instead to proclaim it, to draw out the affections, and address the heart." And it is to the importance of spiritual understanding based in the heart (which housed affetto-rather than the brain, home of intelletto) that we now turn. With the increasing concern for the recipient's predisposition and response to rhetorical stimuli, in the decades following the Council of Trent Catholic Church leaders began to make a distinction between different levels of affective response. In the process, they privileged specific models of response that became associated with the cultivated, upper-class individual. Perhaps as a reaction to the Evangelical Reformation's highlighting of textual study as a path to spiritual connection, we can see in late sixteenth-century Italy an encouragement to seek another path: in the words of one turn-of-the-century commentator, "the way of affetto and of love, which is found more through inspiration than through reflection." This path was recommended not only for illiterate individuals (who would naturally not have access to texts for reflection) but also, and perhaps more directly, to the increasingly literate upper classes, who might otherwise have been tempted by the Protestant championing of humanism and individual textual interpretation. The scholarly, text-based path to divine understanding was increasingly characterized as long, difficult, and even pedantic-qualities entirely opposed to the ideal of effortless grazia that the Italian ruling classes had been cultivating as a defining trait in the decades following Castiglione's Cortigiano and Dalla Casa's Galateo. Better to gain inspiration to transcendent understanding through images-again quoting Paleotti (1961, 228; I have retained the construction of the original, despite its awkwardness in English, to highlight the image of the devout viewer/listener's body being penetrated by the breath of the depiction), "If words that are heard or read have such power to move our senses, with much greater force will penetrate us those images, from which we can see the breath of piety, modesty, saintliness, and devotion." This is not a circumstance governed by rational response but certainly one that has the power to move the emotions-though the agency in this case is interestingly obscured, since the paintings do not, of course, "breathe." Implicit in Paleotti's description is the "active reception" of the spiritual message on the part of the viewer of the image: we will return below to the implications of this notion of "active receptivity."
A new conception of the self was fostered in this period by the resurgence of Augustinian theories of spirituality: in William Bouwsma's words, "a view of the self as a mysterious and undifferentiated unity, its quality a reflection of another faculty previously little recognized, 'the heart'" (2000, 22). Preachers encouraged their listeners to draw on the power of the heart rather than to rely on the intellect in reaching a deeper understanding of grace. New theories of art and artistic response were directed at this privileging of the heart as the locus of an individual's spiritual essence. For Archbishop Federigo Borromeo of Milan, visual images had the power to destabilize the heart, causing rapture or ecstasy and thus opening a direct path to divine insight. Borromeo's valuing of visual art was paralleled by his estimation of music as a conduit to spiritual understanding, and in his sermons he praised those individuals (primarily nuns) whose musical activity became a path to ecstasy.
Those who theorized the power of the heart in the reception of spiritual or artistic messages also emphasized the importance of a pure or well-disposed heart, associating such purity with the refined individual, since Catholic dogma maintained that faith was a learned trait rather than an innate one. A link was thus established between "correct" spirituality, artistic understanding, and refinement of training, with a further connection to class status-issues that will concern us in subsequent chapters.
Certainly strong arguments were made-and not just by musicians-concerning the power of music to enhance devotion, if only by drawing parishioners in and exposing them to the multisensory persuasive power of the church. Here is a concise summary from the end of the sixteenth century by Lodovico Zacconi: "People leave the public square and their homes to go to the holy Temple, invited by the sacred musical concerti; thus beyond those universal effects, which are by now known by all the world (which are to cheer our afflicted and saddened spirits, to console our soul, to please us, to make us well-disposed, and to entertain us with delight), [music] incites and pushes us also to devotion and to divine tribute. Because while God is praised in the churches with sweet and lovely sound, people run there, and running there they obtain mercy, since they never run there in vain, nor do they ever depart without having gained something." Arnaldo Morelli has discussed the systematic increase in sacred musical activity in post-Tridentine Rome in the context of a renewed focus on drawing the faithful to rituals and spaces of worship. Others (especially Culley 1970) have traced the growing dedication to music in key Jesuit institutions, particularly the Collegio Germanico, as an energizing component of the young pupils' attention to worship as well as a source of attraction to outsiders.
Church functionaries were quick to respond to the usefulness of music to please the crowd not only on customary high feasts but also on other occasions. In an account of activities at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, we read that "after we had received [the pope after vespers on Friday of Passiontide, March 17, 1617], we went to the choir and sang compline in polyphony, and the organ was played almost continuously, [and] even though it is Passiontide and [scripture commands that] 'the sound of the organs should cease,' nonetheless it is tolerated because it draws a great number of people." There were certainly dissenting voices within the church hierarchy who were suspicious of the potential for abuse in the deployment of "sensual" resources for divine purposes. However, other strong voices echoed the sentiment that "it is delight, after all, that prompts the soul to ascend to higher realms of the spirit" (McGinness 1995, 106) and that pleasure could be "an access" to spiritual transport (Holzer 1996; 2000).
Richard Goldthwaite (1994, 147) has remarked on the early modern Catholic tendency to intensify "the use of luxury to enhance the entire liturgical apparatus and ... the further development of the pictorial arts to appeal to religious sensibilities." As we have discussed, one can easily extend Goldthwaite's nod to the pictorial arts into the entire multisensory sphere of Catholic devotion. And according to Louis of Grenada, one of the most widely read and esteemed Catholic mystics in the late sixteenth century, the interior experience of the divine and the experience of beauty are linked-in particular, they are not reflexive but active and are "ways of gaining perfection in love." Active engagement in divine grace, as briefly discussed above, was an essential aspect of perceiving and contemplating the union between beauty and the divine: this was especially evident in rituals surrounding the Eucharist.
One of the elements of post-Tridentine reform was to respond to Evangelical challenges by explicitly championing crucial elements of faith and practice that the Evangelicals had rejected. Among the most important of these practices was a renewed emphasis on the cult of the Eucharist. The council encouraged the public worship of "this sublime and venerable sacrament"; indeed, during its closing statements on December 4, 1563, the Council of Trent "declared the Eucharist the holiest and most divine work that Christian faithful could do" (Wandel 2006, 230). The Tridentine Catechism reinforced the importance of celebratory excitement, stating that it was the principal duty for the religious leader "to procure with all due diligence that the faithful be excited to love the immense goodness of God toward us, so that, fired up with divine ardor, they be enraptured to that highest and most perfect Good, in which they will find true and ultimate happiness." Specifically, the catechism stated that faith was conceived from hearing, and while the meanings of the words of faith must certainly have been the primary focus of that dogma, nonetheless we have seen above that the intense concern with other sonic effects-ranging from rhetorical gestures to noise to musical sound-provided the potential for a broader understanding of the resources available to move spiritual affetti in a well-prepared listener.
Examples of music accompanying eucharistic display, whether at the elevation of the Host at Mass or in the course of special eucharistic devotions such as the Quarantore or Forty Hours' Service, became frequent at major Catholic churches in the last quarter of the sixteenth century and expanded widely into minor churches, especially in Rome, in the first part of the seventeenth. The musical expression that became associated with the elevation is a particularly interesting case in point. Clement VIII's ceremonial guidelines of 1600 indicated the elevation as a place for "music of particularly solemn character" (Hammond 1994, 155). The most substantial collection of concerted music for the Mass Proper-the Sacrae modulationes published by Lorenzo Ratti, chapel master at the Jesuit Collegio Germanico, in 1628, probably under Barberini sponsorship-contains a full cycle of graduals and offertories for the liturgical year, each grouping also containing a paraliturgical motet specifically designated for the elevation (Chauvin 1970, 30 and passim; see also Culley 1970, 168-69). This would appear to indicate an institutional understanding that the elevation required specific attention as an occasion for sonic triggers to transcendence.
While motets continued to accompany the elevation through the seventeenth century, instrumental music also played an increasingly important part in the sonic framing of this most crucial ritual. Girolamo Diruta, in his organ manual Il Transilvano, calls for the organist to imitate "with his playing the hard and bitter torments of the Passion" during the elevation (see Tagliavini 1998, 87); and Frescobaldi's elevation toccatas provide a remarkable example of sonic intensity in their use of dissonance and chromaticism. Stephen Bonta has also convincingly shown the increasing association of ensemble instrumental music-and specifically instrumental genres or styles that become associated with the term affetto or affettuoso-with the elevation in Italian liturgical practice of the first half of the seventeenth century.
The use of music to assist in focusing the affetti of the faithful on the Eucharist was a key aspect of the Quarantore, a practice that was instituted in Rome in the last decade of the sixteenth century and that initially came under the leadership of the Congregazione Mariana, a confraternity of Roman noblemen. At the core of the Quarantore was the display of the consecrated host for forty hours on a specially prepared altar, accompanied by regular alternation of preaching and music; the goal was to create an intense and unbroken rhetorical space to encourage the faithful to connect with the sacrifice of Christ. The visual display of the host was designed to bewilder the viewer with its magnificence, and other artworks were frequently added to those regularly on display in the church to saturate the visual expression of affetti. Similar intensity was provided by the musical resources, which often framed the "headline" event-preaching by a featured preacher, recruited especially for the occasion by the leadership of the parish.
The configuration of this devotional practice allowed for an unbroken forty-hour aural stimulation of affetti through speech and sound, which combined with other multisensory triggers (incense for the nose, visual decoration for the eyes, etc.). Accounts of the Quarantore describe the role of the musical component of the devotion as a directly transcendent force in conjunction with the sermon: for example, the advertisement for an upcoming Quarantore at San Lorenzo in Damaso in Rome in 1604 specified that "once all are kneeling and the doors are closed, music will begin in order to raise spirits to God; then Father Fedele will deliver the sermon, and will act as mediator between the soul and God, in order to reconcile all with His Divine Majesty, and all will dispose themselves as our Lord God will inspire." The significant spread of these devotions throughout Catholic Italy in the seventeenth century reveals the church's perception of the spiritual effectiveness of this intensified assault upon the affetti. Furthermore, the local nobility (whether in Rome or in other cities from which we have descriptions of Quarantore celebrations, such as Siena and Bergamo) tended to play a significant role in the sponsorship of, and attendance/participation in, the Quarantore-indicating their wish to appear especially engaged in (and appreciative of) this manifestation of transcendence through sound.
In the early decades of the seventeenth century, Franciscans gained a reputation as expert Quarantore preachers. Consequently, many of the most sought-after preachers were Franciscans, and an individual from the Franciscan Capuchin order was often symbolically chosen as the official preacher to the pope (the predicatore apostolico). Indeed, Franciscan models of piety were resurgent during the post-Tridentine reforms and were deeply influential on the development of the Jesuit order, as we will discuss below. These models encouraged imitatio Christi, the direct emulation of Jesus's actions and emotional travails advocated by Francis; the goal of such emulation was a transcendent, mystical union with Christ. Franciscan models of devotion also drew extensively on the new emphasis on the Eucharist: as the religious scholar Steven Ostrow (1996, 109) observes, "In his Testament, [Saint Francis] extolled the Eucharist as the only means through which mortals could see God on Earth." More generally (and also following the saint's teachings), Franciscan preachers pointed to the presence of the Eucharist as a potential trigger for ecstatic transport.
An interesting association of Saint Francis with music, and particularly music that fuels transcendence, provides the basis for an iconographic tradition that flourished in the decades around the turn of the seventeenth century-a tradition that has intriguing implications for an assessment of listening as a spiritual practice. There are several accounts of Saint Francis's encounters with music in the stories of his life that developed and became standardized in the generations following his death. Some of these stories involve Francis seeking out music as comfort from his travails, others tell of his direct involvement with performance (one story relates that Francis was prone to singing the praises of Christ while "accompanying" himself on a stick held and "played" like a bowed string instrument). The episode that caught the fancy of early modern Italian artists and their patrons derives from a devotional text that dates from long after the saint's death and that seems to have reached the height of its popularity in the sixteenth century: the so-called "Considerations on the Stigmata" appended to the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. These five "considerations" (one for each of the five wounds of Christ, "stigmata," that Francis received on his body as proof of his devotion and saintliness) consist of short episodes from the life of Francis around the time he received the stigmata on Mount Verna, with simple commentary on the spiritual message of those episodes. The following episode closes the "second consideration":
When Saint Francis was very weak in body, from abstinence, and his battles with demons, and since he wished to comfort [his] body with the spiritual nourishment of the soul, he began to think of the unmeasurable glory and bliss of those blessed with eternal life, and thus prayed to God that he give him the grace to taste a small portion of that bliss. And while he was thinking thus, suddenly there appeared to him an angel with great splendor, which had a violetta in its right hand [sic] and the bow in the left. And while Saint Francis was astonished at the presence of that angel, it drew the bow only once over the violetta, and immediately such sweetness and melody sweetened his soul, and relieved all bodily sensation, that as he later told his comrades [the saint] believed, that if the angel had drawn the bow [again], his soul would have left his body from the unbearable sweetness.
The theme of Saint Francis and the "violetta"-playing angel was taken up by several artists in this period, in some cases repeatedly, and we shall consider two prominent examples below. Unsurprisingly, given its attribution of transcendent spiritual power to music, it is also mentioned by a number of musician-commentators, such as Lodovico Casali:
In the chronicles of Saint Francis, my protector, the tale is told that because [the saint] delighted in music, he desired to savor the sound of a viola, which was in the property of his dear companion, a holy man named Friar Pacifico ... but since that friar refused, out of respect, God the Highest Provider of all things, who is pleased to console his servants, sent to him from heaven an angel, who, playing a viola as Saint Francis had desired, with the sweetness that can come only from a heavenly hand, consoled the soul and the afflicted body of the holy father.
Casali here conflates the Celano and Bonaventure stories (both of which involve Francis being soothed by angelic music after requesting and being denied earthly music), cross-pollinating them with the "viola" of the Little Flowers (the other two stories involve a plucked-string instrument). Furthermore, while the wording in Casali's reference to "sweetness" is somewhat ambiguous, the story plays up the agency of the angel and his (its?) role in creating heavenly sounds. Likewise, André Maugars-a virtuoso bowed-string instrumentalist who visited Rome in the late 1630s and provided an account of musical activity in cardinal family circles-clearly focuses on the significance of the instrument chosen by God to bring comfort to Francis: "Saint Francis, when he asked God-in the fervor of his meditation-to let him hear one of the joys of the blessed, heard a consort of angels who played the viole, since it is the sweetest and most charming of all the instruments" (1993, 18-19). The single angel with the single bow stroke from the Little Flowers has here become several angels playing "en concert." While the idea of an angelic ensemble may be Maugars's own elaboration, it has striking parallels with an image that Maugars might well have encountered during his stay in Rome and that we will discuss below. In any case, as in Casali's account, the emphasis is on the performers and the power of the instrument to charm.
While these musicians' perspectives on the scene of Saint Francis and the musical angel are interesting, the popularity of the iconographic tradition is probably more closely connected to its potential for a focus on the listener, since Franciscan spirituality-which generalized the saint's own practice of imitatio Christi to the goal of following Francis's own practice and spiritual focus-would probably have led the viewer to identify with the listening saint rather than with the performing angel. The opening epigraph for this chapter provides a particularly striking verbal description of the scene from the listener's perspective, and we will return to that description in chapter 4. Here we will dwell on two images of the musical consolation of Saint Francis by two individuals who were among the most celebrated painters in early modern Rome: Domenichino and Guido Reni.
Guido Reni's version of the scene is the earlier of the two, dating from about 1606-7 (fig. 1). It was possibly commissioned or sponsored by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, since Reni was "on retainer" in the cardinal's household (famiglia) by 1608 (Spear 1996, 554-56). The saint is pictured in a landscape, in a state of quiet repose. In his hand is a skull, and nearby is a crucifix, both common iconographic attributes of Francis's contemplative life. The saint's head is tilted to the side, almost as if Francis were turning his ear to the miraculous sound. The angel's performing pose is somewhat fanciful but reasonably close to a realistic gesture. In describing another Franciscan image by Reni, with the saint deep in contemplation of the crucifix, Marc Fumaroli (1998, 337) provides a description that I think resonates with this painting as well: "Reni invites the spectator of his paintings to view them inwardly just as Saint Francis views his sculpted crucifix, as a point of departure for the soul's ascent toward the inward vision and savoring (gusto) of the divine presence that is really experienced or, at least, 'considered.'" In this case the point of departure is not a visual image but a sonic event-one, I would argue, meant to evoke concrete events experienced by the early modern viewer. Reni invites his spectator to join Saint Francis's transcendent enjoyment of angelic music by depicting a very real sound, one that the Roman elite would have been able to recall from personal experience and might have associated with the expression of intense emotion, given the increasing presence of instrumental music at moments of spiritual intensity such as the elevation.
The second image is by Domenico Zampieri, known as "Domenichino," considered a chief contemporary rival of Reni among the students of the Bolognese Carracci school (fig. 2). As the art historian Stephen Pepper (1984, 24) observes, while Reni was described by his contemporaries as embodying the sophistication of image and color associated with the term grazia, Domenichino was often called the master of affetti, credited with being most concerned with the didactic depiction of spiritual messages. The image is a fresco from a cycle depicting episodes from the life of Saint Francis in the chapel of Ippolito Merenda in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. The church was rededicated in 1622 to incorporate an icon of the Virgin that had inspired the victorious Catholic armies in the Thirty Years' War. Merenda was a wealthy lawyer in the Barberini circle who had chosen Francis as his saintly protector and another Francis (Cardinal Francesco Barberini) as his earthly patron. Decoration of the chapel was probably begun in 1626, to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the saint's death.
Just as in the Reni depiction, here the saint is shown with his attributes-the crucifix and the skull-but now instead of one angel we have an entire angelic consort, fully in keeping with a performing ensemble for Roman concert music of the early seventeenth century. Entirely unlike Reni's quiet and still Francis, Domenichino's saint is reeling under the unbearable power of the heavenly sound, "falling" toward the altar of the chapel. The experience of transcendent connection with the divine through listening is shown here not as a refined enjoyment but as an irresistible transport, one that involves the entirety of the body in connecting with divine power. Through the power of the listening experience, Francis is brought into a position much like that of the crucifix at his side, fulfilling his task of imitating the experience of Christ. The viewer is thereby encouraged to think of the listening experience as a vehicle for the imitation of Christ's passion, at least through an understanding-perhaps physical as well as spiritual-of divine intensity. Domenichino, like his patron Merenda, was associated with the Barberini protectorate, and his more spectacular approach fits well with the Barberini program of spiritual theatricality. However, Reni was arguably more favored by the Barberini, and as the art historian Anthony Colantuono observes, "It appears that the Barberini were promoting a form of diplomatic oratory rooted in Tassesque ethical and stylistic principles. ... In Tasso's formulation, the quest for perfect beauty was inextricably linked to the end of perfect moral instruction. As the Barberini must certainly have recognized, Guido [Reni] was capable not only of portraying a sweetly lyrical kind of beauty but also of using that beauty as a rhetorical device, a device with which to persuade the beholder to accept virtually any moral argument" (1997, 174-75). In any case, notwithstanding the very different characterizations of the listening experience in the two paintings, both artists draw on contemporary musical images in depicting the musical angel(s), and both draw the viewer's attention to the personal experience of a saint whose example was repeatedly presented as a model for emulation in early seventeenth-century spiritual manuals.
The idea that the violin could represent (embody?) angelic intervention as an aid to transcendence finds interesting resonance in a passage from an Easter dialogue motet by the Milanese composer Girolamo Baglione (discussed in Kendrick 2002, 237ff.), in which the violin anticipates the voice of the angel calling to Mary Magdalen at the tomb of the risen Christ. Kendrick suggests that this is intended to be "the expression of joy at the Resurrection highlighted by the 'popular' use of the instrumental genre [canzona] and scoring." While Kendrick's point is well taken-the musical language of the violin in the Baglione motet is, after all, more akin to the diatonic and lively canzona than to the more chromatic and affetto-inflected instrumental styles generally associated with elevation-specific works-the violin may be doing double valence here for those listeners who could perceive its connection with Franciscan iconography. And indeed, there is at least one noteworthy depiction of musical-angelic consolation of the Magdalen, in a painting by Marcantonio Franceschini that shows the saint lying down with her ear turned to a concerto of two singing putti and two angels playing lute and violin (Gentili 2000, 65-67, 207).
The characterization of earthly music as an analogue to heavenly sounds is not unique to these cases, of course; indeed, it could be considered a commonplace in Catholic commentary from the church fathers to the present day. Yet as Burke (1987, 21) has observed, "The commonplaces and stereotypes so frequent in autobiographies and memorials are not so much hindrances to the historian as aids in the reconstruction of the rules or norms of the culture." The commonplace of musical transcendence does appear to be more intensely described and frequently evoked in early modern commentary and, even more significantly, becomes increasingly linked to subjective spiritual transcendence in an age in which the valorization of the self became a crucial concern of the ruling classes.
Individual connection with the divine, a hallmark of Franciscan spirituality, was also at the core of the teachings of Saint Ignatius and the Jesuit order that arose from his leadership. While Jesuits also took part in the late sixteenth-century resurgence of preaching that has been briefly discussed above, their primary mission was pedagogical and was directed at the ruling classes. Underpinning Jesuit spiritual and pedagogical practice was Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. One of the crucial texts of early modern Catholic spirituality and the core text of Jesuit religious pedagogy, Spiritual Exercises is based on the principle of "the spirituality of the heart" explored above, drawing on an individual's ability to harness the power of his or her own affetti in feeling the love and suffering of Christ. This approach was deeply indebted to the Franciscan tradition of the imitatio Christi.
As Philip Endean (2008, 53) observes, "Spiritual Exercises is not a book to be read; Ignatius is quite explicit that the person making the Exercises should not have the full text to hand, and not know what is coming." The individual undertaking the Exercises (in Jesuit parlance, the "exercitant") must do so aurally, guided by a more experienced master (the "spiritual leader"), whose deployment of rhetorical imagery should aim to surprise (unbalance?) the ear and the imagination. The analogy with preaching is clear, though the frame is now changed from public to private. But the focus is still on the exercitant and his ability to look inwardly to achieve the identification with Christ that is the ultimate aim of the Exercises-perhaps all the more so since, unlike the preacher, the spiritual leader can and should tailor each phase of the exercises to the exercitant's specific path and "taste." The individual response, however-as Loyola himself was careful to specify-had to be consonant with the hierarchical message of the Church Militant. Thus the choice of images and rhetorical strategies had to be very carefully managed by the spiritual leader, and the exercitant's journey had to be carefully monitored to avoid any appearance of heresy. This explains the remarkable efflorescence at the turn of the seventeenth century of Jesuit texts on rhetoric, which carefully analyzed and codified the means by which the discourse of transcendence and identification with the divine was to be framed. Scholars have remarked on the emphasis placed, within this systematic concern with rhetoric, specifically on elocutio-the oral delivery (both structural and sonic) of the spiritual message, whether in public preaching or in private exercise leading, and its reception by the listener. This emphasis on listening as the path to the acquisition of faith is certainly in keeping with the variety of cases we have examined to this point.
While the Jesuits continued to advocate that the initial practice of the Exercises be aurally driven and led by a well-trained spiritual leader who could both deploy rhetoric effectively and ensure adherence to established dogma, the popularity of the Exercises led to their broader use in regular devotional practice. This expansion necessarily transferred the responsibility for rhetorical deployment of devotional ideas from the (now absent) spiritual leader to the exercitant himself and-even more importantly-made the exercitant further responsible for monitoring his own response to the transcendent moment.
Many texts designed to feed the hunger for daily-use Ignatian practice were published in the early decades of the seventeenth century, several featuring the key word exercises. For example, a book entitled Spiritual Exercises within Which Is Demonstrated an Easy Way to Make Fruitful Prayer to God (Esercitij spirituali nei quali si mostra un modo facile di far fruttuosamente oratione a Dio [Rome: Fetti, 1613]) contains many short meditations and images, with vivid contrasts of intense emotion, and the author/editor suggests that they be spoken out loud or internally as a series of "exclamations" (rather than careful intellectual reflections) designed to jar the devout exercitant into an ecstatic state. Here the reader (or perhaps "user," since silent dispassionate reading is clearly not sufficient to gain proper benefit from the text) is asked to take on simultaneously the roles of preacher (or spiritual leader) and listener/exercitant in a process of "self-oratory." The oral/aural component is explicit, though paradoxically it can occur internally, without the actual sounding out of the rhetorical message. The essential component for the success of this set of exercises is the "active-receptive" state of the exercitant, who is called upon to "listen" internally as well as externally and to respond with the kind of immediacy that characterizes the sense of hearing rather than the distance and cogitation inherent in processing text through the sense of sight.
Fumaroli (1998, 235) rightly observes that early modern Catholics considered meditation a discipline in which "the task is to concentrate attention and to transform it into a spiritual habit," understanding it as sharing with rhetoric "the same goal, which is to persuade, to modify the judgment, the will, the behavior of its 'recipients.'" I would further observe that "meditation" in the case of the recipient of aural rhetoric (whether preaching or music) does not require reflection or rational cogitation, but rather a disposition to the immediacy of transcendent connection with the divine. Jesuit training would have aimed at guiding the individual to reach a "proper understanding" of that transcendent connection within the hierarchical framework of the Church of Rome.
Early modern Catholic rhetoric emphasized the importance of "active receptivity" to stimuli that could trigger transcendent connection to the divine. While the sense of sight was an essential resource for the "active recipient," it was not the most uniformly privileged conduit, and the sense of hearing (in some cases, as we have seen, evoked by the sense of sight) was at least as crucial-perhaps in many cases even more so. The message of the Church of Rome-through preaching and the arts-was designed to "mak[e] clear that membership in the Church depends above all on a 'correct understanding' of Catholic doctrine, and that one's moral progress depends on this as well" (McGinness 1995, 37). Where artistic experience and doctrine are linked-for example, in the depictions or descriptions of musical transcendence/transport-it becomes equally clear that this "correct understanding" (the Latin term is recte sentire) is also related to what we might characterize as protoaesthetic experience and thus that "moral progress" also depends on proper disposition to the reception of affetti through art. Thus the new characterization of the listening experience was designed to highlight the possibility of individual transcendence, to connect that transcendence to the spiritual and social message of early modern Reformed Catholicism, and to further associate that transcendence to a notion of refinement that was becoming the defining trait of the ruling classes.
Post-Tridentine theories of the heart as seat of affective spirituality were directed at fostering a renewal of participatory spirit in the devotional practice of the Church of Rome. However, a key difference between Roman and Evangelical practice lay in the nature of such participation. For if Evangelicals defined participation as personal involvement in the creation of ritual and interpretation of spiritual messages, the Church of Rome had to redefine participation as a receptive activity: in other words, to theorize the notion that the viewer or listener has equal status in the creation of meaning to the person performing the ritual-and by extension, creating the artwork or playing the music. This perspective resonates well with the ideas of "self-oratory" that are reflected in many texts that draw on Loyola's Spiritual Exercises but make the devotional process self-contained, allowing the exercitant/recipient to both initiate spiritual ecstasy and control its interpretation. In fact, when combined with the importance of individual connection to the sacred that was highlighted in the neo-Augustinian heart-based spirituality discussed above, the importance of the recipient/viewer/listener becomes greater still, and the ritual (or artwork, or music) can be understood as a "mere trigger" for the individual's spiritual understanding, which becomes the true measure of social distinction. The process by which this shift is achieved, and its rationales, will be our concern in the next two chapters.
About the Book
"Listening as Spiritual Practice aligns in new ways many of our understandings of early modern musical culture."—Jennifer Thomas Renaissance Quarterly“How might virtuosity make one virtuous? In this new brilliant new study, Dell’Antonio takes the reader into the heart of elite masculine circles in post-Tridentine Rome, where listening to the ‘new music’ was an active process, and music, like the art objects collected by noble patrons, provided a path to spiritual enlightenment. A major contribution that enhances our understanding of seventeenth-century music and its relationship to theology, rhetoric, and the visual arts.”
—Wendy Heller, author of Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice
“This highly intelligent, deeply researched, and fascinating book is an important contribution to the cultural history of early seventeenth-century Italy, and especially to new interdisciplinary approaches to the historiography of musical aesthetics. Its exploration of the construction of late Renaissance and early Baroque cultural and spiritual mentalities through the medium of listening breaks new ground and provides a wealth of fresh perspectives that help to elucidate early modern understanding of the links between senses and sensibilities.”
—Richard Wistreich, Dean of Research and Enterprise, Royal Northern College of Music
Table of Contents
Introduction: Listening as Spiritual Practice
1. Rapt Attention
2. Aural Collecting
3. Proper Listening
4. Noble and Manly Understanding
Envoy: From Gusto to Goût
Appendix: Lelio Guidiccioni, “Della Musica”: Transcription and Translation