There is no formal evidence that it was intended for a theatral representation. Opera wasn’t born yet, when Berchem decided to set the Furioso’s stances to a strict polyphonic music. But the dramatic conception of the work seems exceptionally obvious. Its gigantic dimensions if compared with the contemporary criteria, seems to appeal more to theater than madrigal. The composer divided Ariosto’s poem in three books or « acts ». The famous incipit of the first book of Orlando Furioso, is set as a prologue. A synoptic stance placed at the beginning of the second book, gives a summary of the plot situation and serves as another prologue.

The choices made by the composer in the fabulous set of episodes of the Furioso is even more significant. Berchem chose and arrange his stances according to narrative criteria borrowed from dramatic art. Alfred Einstein showed that a part of the Capriccio’s ottave have been selected because of their brevity.


Others intend to represent the vast theater of human passions, as opera does. In fact Berchem conceives affect in a plural version, as a series of feelings frozen in time like incarnations of a potential continuous and infinitely divisible movement: joy, indignation, melancholy, fury. The emblematic mottos printed in the madrigals’ frontispiece evidentiate this: « Lamento d’Orlando », « Lamento di Angelica », « Follia d’Orlando ».


An analysis of the work shows that the madrigals play the same role as the choir in Greek tragedy: it comments on the action, lectures or moralizes, questions history, human nature, the world and the work’s substance; it also reacts to the action in a more lyrical manner. As the representant of collectivity on stage, the choir takes part, as a worried witness, to the sequence of events: it asks questions to the world and history, shows its sympathy or contempt towards the events, gets worried for the fate of the characters. As a passive element, it is subjected to the passion and it expresses it lyrically by singing, dancing and by body language.


Consequently the idea of a theatrical representation of the Capriccio seems logical to us. Berchem united the essential elements of a vast choral drama, only expecting to be brought to the stage. It has been sufficient to invent an adequate form, relating to the conventions of that time. To stage it as an opera would have been a completely wrong historical assumption. Recitative is unthinkable in 1561, such as the fusion between music and drama. But there was a common form adopted by playwrights during the Renaissance for unifying text and music before the birth of lyrical drama: a declaimed action punctuated by musical intermezzi. Before inventing a totally sung action, humanist theater used a sort of prose representation where a clear separation was carefully maintained between words and music: pastorals, intermezzo pieces, ballets, masquerades, farces intertwined with madrigals, monodic singing, dances and instrumental interludes. In fact this repertory is closely related to Berchem’s madrigals in his Capriccio. To re-invent what might have been its original production context, it has been necessary to reconstruct a declaimed action assuming the function of the choir in tragedy. A Sicilian cuntastorie (storyteller), among the last ones still active in the south of Italy, performs the declamation of Ariosto’s stances. Of course, this choice could be viewed as a fancy or a « caprice ». But it wouldn’t take into account the historical value of such a form of declamation, clearly attested in 16th-century practice. The fame of Orlando Furioso very quickly brings it out of the perfumed atmosphere of aristocratic and educated circles. Orlando was everywhere in the streets in every range of poetry, be it literary or popular. At the beginning of the 16th-century, it was used as a basis for numerous frottole – less refined form than the madrigal – improvised by itinerant musicians. According to a member of the Academy of the Alterati – one of the Florentine circle where opera was born – Arioste was sung in the streets and in the taverns. During his Italian travel in 1580-1581, Montaigne met Italian farmers with a lute, humming Ariosto’s poems. They were heard everywhere, in Venice, Florence, Naples and Rome. Melodic formulas used as the basis of such improvisations and known as aria di Genoa, aria di Fiorenza, or aria di Ruggiero (from the name of a character in Orlando Furioso) were born this way.


The Composer

Jacquet Berchem (1505-1565) remains an elusive figure in 16th century music history. He was born in Flanders, in the town of which he bears the name : Berchem-les-Anvers. Nothing is known of his early years until he crossed the Alps to discover the bright and new ideas advocated by the humanists and settled in Venice in the 1530s, studying in St-Marc with Adriano Willaert, the master of a generation of famous madrigalists such as Cipriano de Rore, Nicola Vicentino, and Gabrieli. A dedication of 1546 describes Berchem as « all-loving servant » of Giovanni Bragadino, Venetian nobleman. From 1546 until ca. 1550, he is chapel master in San Zeno in Verona, a position that will be held later by Marcantonio Ingegneri, master of Monteverdi. He became a respected figure in the circle of Venetian madrigalist thanks to his numerous publications: Madrigali a cinque voci (1546) published by Scotto, Primo libro degli madrigali a quattro voci di Iacchetto (1555) and Primo, secondo  et terzo libro  del Capriccio di  Iacchetto  Berchem con la musica da lui composta sopra le stanze del Furioso dedicated to Alfonso d’Este, not by the composer but by the publisher Gardano. The cycle on Ariosto was published in 1561 but most probably composed much earlier. Antonfrancesco Doni praised him in the Dialogo and Lettere, and Rabelais counted him among the celebrated musicians of the age. He moved further south as evidentiated by the preface of his madrigals in 1555; he was at the service of Andrea Marzato, gentiluomo napolitano, governor of Monopoli, the city where he died in 1567.



Berchem’s works :

- Il primo libro de Madrigali a 5 voci, presso Scotto (1546)

- Il Primo libro de’ madrigakli a 4 voci di Iacchetto (1555)

- Il Primo, secondo  et terzo libro  del Capriccio di  Iacchetto  Berchem con la musica da lui composta sopra le stanze  del Furioso nuovamente  stampati & dati in luce all'illustrissimo et eccellentisimo Duca di Ferrara (1561 – seconda edizione).




The madrigals of Ariosto and the Capriccio of Iacquet de Berchem

Among the madrigals composed during the Renaissance, those which set the rhymes of Ariosto occupy a singular position. Ariosto, who was certainly not an author of amorous madrigals, chose for his Orlando Furioso the verse of eight lines - a form already used in the preceding centuries by the rhymers and kitharists throughout Italy. The octave had inspired the music of a large part of the secular repertory of the first Italian Renaissance, but at the time when Ariosto composed the songs of his poem, this form was used more by the popular poets than by those of the court. Ariosto’s choice must obviously be attributed as much to the subject matter of his poem as to the ease with which the octave can be used and adapted to the purposes of the narration. Also in Orlando Furioso we detect a slight air of popularisation, which will leave traces, as we will see, in the music which accompanies the verses.


Orlando Furioso, which, at the outset, enjoyed a resounding success, was rapidly taken to heart by a public as vast as it was diverse. In his

IOURNAL DE VOYAGE in Italy of 1580/81, Montaigne tells of having everywhere met "peasants with a lute in their hands and the pastorales of Ariosto on their lips”.


A cycle, which, in the fashion of Ariosto, encompassed the epic poem, the amorous lyric and pastorale, adventure and fantasy, could never leave the musicians untouched. That is why, in the anthologies and collections of madrigals, innumerable examples appear which illustrate the fascination that this work exercised on his contemporaries.


It seems sensible to cite, from the madrigals produced during the Italian Renaissance, three works dedicated entirely to Ariosto’s poem. The first two, TUTTI I PRINCIPII DI CANTI DELL’ARIOSTO POSTI IN MUSICA by the Sicilian Salvatore di Cataldo (1559), and I MADRIGALI DEL REVERENDO DON FRANCESCO RICCIARDO, MAESTRO DI CAPPELLA DELLA CITTA DI CASSANO, SOPRA LI PRINCIPII DELL’ARIOSTO (1600), are organised in a similar manner; they are, in fact, collections of madrigals consisting only of music composed for the first octave of each of the songs of the Furioso.


Quite different are IL PRIMO, SECONDO E TERZO LIBRO DEL CAPRICCIO of Iacquet de Berchem. Berchem was one of a number of Flemish musicians active in Italy in the 16th Century. Initially living in Venice, he was appointed choir master at the cathedral of Verona, a post which he left in 1552, when he chose the town of Monopoli, in Apulia, as his new home. He directed the cathedral choir there until his death in 1565. Berchem was, without any doubt, the first composer to use the term capriccio in a musical connotation. In the edition published in 1561 by A. Gardano there is only a dedication by the editor to the Duke of Ferrara. In the absence of a preface by the composer, it is impossible to understand the reason which persuaded Berchem to use the term capriccio to describe the contents of his work.


The Capriccio contains‘ music to 94 of Ariosto’s verses. But, in contrast to Ricciardo and Cataldo, the material is organised in three parts, as if it was a work conceived for the stage. The three books, however, are planned as acts complete themselves. Berchem must have foreseen the possibility that they performed separately.


In order to preserve the narrative continuity of the story, Berchem characterized specific episodes by the choice of particular modes and different vocal tessituras. Playing with different keys as well as different vocal colours, the composer enables-us to follow events easily.


The humanist Benedetto-Varchi, in his LEZZIONI, defined the capricci as "ingenious fan- tasies, divine inventions ”. Moreover, in the sixth decade of the 16th Century, we are witnessing a proliferation of compositions so named. One has only to think of the CAPRICCI IN MUSICA of V.Ruffo, and those of L.Balbi, P.Fonghetti and G.Bassano which followed them. As regards the composers active in northern Italy, we can at least deduce that the genre was specific to this geo-graphical area. Certainly the capricci present in the collections cited are based on pre-existing material, and, in several of Berchem's madrigals also, it is possible to find traces of older Arie per cantar stanze . This is the case in the madrigals Tu m’hai lasciato, Ruggier or Dunque fizz ver, to name but two. This illustrate saunique hypothesis which we could formulate, in the present state of research, to understand Berchem's choice of the term capriccio to describe the contents of his work.


Certainly all we have left of the ancient Arie per cantar stanze are recognizable traces of the" classic works of the Renaissance- These belong to the repertory of popular singers, and the need to transcribe them for posterity was never felt.



ORLANDO FURIOSO, a voyage between literature and tradition  

As Italo Calvino notes in his introduction to Orlando Furioso, among numerous wars which Charle-magne undertook and won against the Bavarians, the Friesans, the Slavs, the Avars, the Bretons and the Lombards, those against the Arabs were relatively minor in the history of the Frankish emperor; by way of revenge, in literature they grow to the extent of filling whole libraries. To trace the origins of this extraordinary mythological proliferation, it is usual to refer to one obscure and unhappy historical event; in 780 Charlemagne mounted an expedition to relieve Saragossa, but was rapidly forced to retreat. The Frankish rearguard was attacked and defeated near Roncevalles. Among the names of the dead dignitaries the chronicles mention that of Hruodlandus.


The Song of Roland was in fact only written three centuries after the historic defeat, by an author unknown except for-the name appearing in the last verse of the poem, Turold.


We are in the time of the first Crusade, and Europe is entirely imbued with the spirit of the Holy War, which sets the Christian against the Muslim world. We do not know if Turold is drawing on a firmly established tradition; in other words if the legend of Roncevalles had become part of the trouvere repertory. What is certain is that a long tradition was born with the Song of Roland, and that the deeds of the paladins of Charlemagne were widely disseminated, at first in France and later in Spain and Italy.


Across the Pyrenees, Roland became Rodlan, and, south of the Alps, Orlando. The centres for the propagation of the Chansons were the roads travelled by the pilgrims, -the route of St. James of Compostella, which passed through Roncevalles, where one visits the supposed tomb of Roland, and the road to Rome taken by Charle-magne in his wars against the Lombards and on his visits to the Pope. In Italy the deeds of the knights were only partially broadcast by the French trouveres. In Venice, for example, the French - Chansons were translated into a language closer to the dialects of the Paduan plain. Thus was born a Franco-Venetian literature, which was transformed and enriched by the new adventures of the old French stories. They were succeeded by Tuscan translations of the Carolingian songs, the old metrical structuretsthenbeing supplanted by the octave, with its more ample and more dynamic rhythm.


Of Roland the French tradition related the last battle and his death. All the rest of his life - birth; genealogical tree, childhood, youth, adventures - would take him to Italy, under the name of Orlando. It is established that his father was Milon of Clermont (Chiaromonte), Charlemagne’s standard-bearer, and his mother was Berthe, sister of the King. Having seduced the young girl, Milon, to avoid the anger of his royal brother-in-law, took off and fied to Italy. Some sources give‘ Orlando's birthplace as Imola, others say it was Sutri, but there is no doubt that it was in Italy.


If, in the European courts, the world of magical and amorous stories from the Breton cycle of the Round Table was substituted for the more austere Carolingian cycle, in Italy people remained faithful to Orlando (Roland), Gano (Ganelon) and Rinaldo (Renaud). The rivalries of the paladins became part of the very conservative cultural sediment which is folklore.


In the 15th Century, however, the fantastic adventures of Orlando and the paladins reverted to a more refined style in two Italian courts, that of the Medicis in Florence and of the Estes in Ferrara. The tales of chivahy from the Renaissance start with the MORGANTE of Luigi Pulci (1432-1484), a work commissioned by the mother of Lorenzo the Magnificient. At Ferrara, Matteo Maria Boiardo, Count of Scandiano (1441-1494) wrote ORLANDO INNAMORATO, an unfinished poem which was the forerunner, the prologue to the poem of chivalry of Ludovico Ariosto, who undertook his Orlando Furioso in 1504. Having had a first version of forty songs published in 1516, Ariosto committed himself to a long revision of his work, which can be seen, in fact, in the second edition of Furioso in 1521.


 The only way to enrich a poem with the polycentric and synchronic structure of the Furioso, in which the events branch out in every direction, constantly joining and separating, was to dilute the content, adding episode after episode, creating new symmetries and new contrasts. The poem, certainly, was constructed in this way from the outset, and the author continued to add to it right up to his death. The definitive version dates from 1532.


If it is certain that, in the Renaissance, the deeds of the paladins enjoyed a great popularity spread throughout a widely diverse public, in more modern times they did not only find a place in traditional culture. Their popularity was extended to our own day by the Neapolitan cantastorie (storytellers), by the pupari (puppeteers), and the decorated carts and stories of the cuntastorie of Sicily.


Our presentation about Orlando Furioso involves the participation of eighteen musicians and a cuntastorie. The declamation has two precise functions. On the one hand it gives a narrative unity to our performance, conceived as a story told both in notes and words. The second function - equally important - of the reciter is to establish a thread between the old culture of the Renaissance madrigal and the living tradition of the cuntastorie and puppeteers of Sicily. The beauty of the traditional Orlando, and the fascination which he exercises, resides in a very particular use of the voice, a typical and exclusive attribute of popular Sicilian actors. The cuntastorie improvise a text in Sicilian dialect, syncopating the delivery, brightening the words, shaping the phrases, seeking to recreate the rhythm and pathos of the story.


In the puppet theatre, by way of revenge, the text is performed in Italian. The puppeteer has to perform all the parts in the performance, adapting his own voice equally to masculine and feminine roles.





Roberto Festa

translation: Christopher S. Cartwright