Love and Folly, the art of Lament

Let us first make a brief survey of the lament in the learned tradition of Western music.

The lament has been born among the marbles of Greek theaters (Threnos); its Latin version (Planctus) survives in the Middle Ages. The Renaissance, searching its roots in the Greek and Latin Antiquity, rediscovers it in its polyphonic Lamentationes and Deplorationes. During the 17th century, the lament becomes the priviledged vehicle for melancholy in the form of the "cantata autonoma". At the same time, it becomes the most intent part of the emerging opera (Monteverdi). It is also to be found in the French tradition of the Tombeau and in the Baroque operas of Sartorio, Cavalli, Purcell, Steffani, Haendel, Rameau, etc.


The reasons for such a flourishing success are simple: the lament constitutes an answer to the vast questions asked by the Humanists on the causes of the legendary affective power of Greek music, able to provoke all the passions of the soul in the listener.

The lament lives in the opera as long as the humanist principle of the Antiques' affects. Not the affect as a synonym of Rousseau's feeling (sentiment), implying that it cannot be argued upon taste (de gustibus non disputandum), but the affect as a formalized expressiveness, rationalized by rhetoric and fed by conventions; a quality of the  musical language that can be isolated by theory in rhythms and intervals. When the sensualist of the 18th century discover taste that cannot be argued upon, the 18th century discovers the subjective value of meaning. Until this point, melancholy was a quality that couldn't be dissociated from form, an integral part of its syntax. In the 18th c., the individual perception of the listener creates meaning in its personal experience. Music does no longer represent the fixed image of melancholy on stage.