This week ABC Classic FM is exploring some of the music from the Medici wedding of 1589. The music was composed for the wedding by court composers Christofano Malvezzi and Luca Marenzio, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, Giulio Caccini, Mathias Werrecore and Jacopo Peri. Today we heard excerpts from Intermedio I – Gods of Harmony by Christofano Malvezzi, and Intermedio II – The Muses defeat the Pierides in a singing contest, by Luca Marenzio. We love baroque music so it was easy listening.
The wedding celebrations of Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Christine of Lorraine were held in Florence in 1589, as a veritable Theatrum Mundi. Officially, they had already been married since 1586, but it was not until Christine travelled to Florence in 1589 that the wedding would be celebrated. The preparations required a full year and mobilized most of the artists and artisans in the city of Florence to create a landmark event in the realms of art, architecture, theatre, music and political ceremony. The festivities themselves, consisting of pageants, balls, games and performances, lasted all throughout the month of May. They started with the official entrance of Christine into the city of Florence on April 30th, a series of triumphal arches marking her route into the city.
The festivities continued on May 2nd, when Girolamo Bargagli’s comedy La pellegrina was staged in the recently completed Teatro Mediceo degli Uffizzi, before an audience of about three thousand.
La pellegrina (The Pilgrim Woman) is a 1579 play written by Girolamo Bargagli of Siena that was performed for the first time on 2 May 1589 in Florence, after the author’s death in 1586. The play was revised for the occasion by the author’s brother Scipione, and acted by a company of Sienese amateurs who called themselves l’Accademia degli Intronati.
The evening’s performance was given further length and importance by the inclusion of six intermedi, staged musical interludes performed as prologue, epilogue, and entr’actes of the spoken comedy. Supplementing spoken comedy with musical tableaux had been the regular practice in northern Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, and by 1589 elaborately composed and staged intermedi were an expected part of ducal weddings. The intermedi originally formed just one element in a complex experience designed to evoke a sense of ‘wonder’, induced by costumes, lighting, scenic effects and the music itself, which was intended to stupefy the listeners through the virtuosity of the performers and the unparalleled size of the forces required.
The intermedi of 1589, however, set a new standard in magnificence and complexity of design. They were such a success at their premiere that Ferdinando had them performed again, probably twice, during the wedding celebrations. The intermedi were composed primarily by court composers Christofano Malvezzi and Luca Marenzio.
Intermedio primo: l’Armonia delle sfere
Emilio de’ Cavalieri: Dalle più alte sfere
Cristofano Malvezzi: Noi che cantando
Cristofano Malvezzi: Sinfonia
Cristofano Malvezzi: Dolcissime Sirene
Cristofano Malvezzi: A voi reali amanti
Cristofano Malvezzi: Coppia gentil
Of the various intermedi that were performed, an almost complete version of La Pellegrina are known to have survived through a 1591 printed edition by Cristofano Malvezzi. Not all the intermedi were masterpieces. Some, such as Malvezzi’s Sinfonia, were written simply to disguise the creaking of the stage machinery as the sets were changed!
Artists for the performance on May 2nd, 1589
Giovanni de’ Bardi (Organiser)
Bernardo Buontalenti (Architect)
Lorenzo Francini (Painter)
Francesco Rosselli (Painter)
Emilio de’ Cavalieri (Composer)
Cristofano Malvezzi (Composer)
Ottavio Rinuccini (Poet)
Luca Marenzio (Composer)
Giulio Caccini (Composer)
Mathias Werrecore (Composer)
Jacopo Peri (Composer)
The details of the festivities are well-known courtesy of 18 contemporary published festival books and sets of prints that were financed by the Grand Duke.
Festival books were produced as souvenirs of lavish festivities and contained detailed descriptions of the festivities (286 costumes were made for the Medici wedding). Although some of the music written specially for this occasion has survived, this is usually not the case. The subject matter of the intermedio was usually a mythological or pastoral story, which could be told in mime, by costumed singers or actors, or by dance, or any combination of these. There was invariably a political message, even if this was limited to general glorification of the ruling family; at times more specific messages were intended. Some thematic connection with the main play might be made, though intermedi could be repeated with different plays from the one they were written for.
Numerous drawings and engravings of the stage sets survive, as well as texts of the libretti and descriptions of the music and action; the 1589 Medici intermedi were especially well recorded, and “were to be the fount of Italian baroque scenography as well as influencing the development of the stage north of the Alps, above all the Stuart court masques designed by Inigo Jones”. Further significant sets of Medici intermedi were produced for the weddings in 1600 of Henry IV of France and Marie de’ Medici, and then in 1608 of Grand Duke Cosimo II and a Habsburg princess, Maria Magdalena of Austria.
On May 9th, a demonstrative soccer match was hosted in front of the church of Santa Croce, and the same arena was used on May 10th for a joust.
The festivities were continued on the other bank of the river Arno, at the Medici stronghold Palazzo Pitti. On May 11th, the inner courtyard was turned into a water basin for the staging of a ‘naumachia’, or sea battle.
The final event took place on May 28th: the so-called Chariot procession of Neptune. It was organized by young nobleman from the city of Florence who dressed up as rivergods to accompany the Sea God Neptune as he was driven around the city of Florence in his chariot. The party would stop at the houses of prominent gentlewomen and break out in a song which explained how the waters of the world had come to pay tribute to the new Grand Duchess.
The multi-media events staged to celebrate the marriage of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Christine of Lorraine are painstakingly reconstructed, along with the year-long planning and production process, in The Medici Wedding of 1589 by James Saslow. Art history, music and theatre history and social and cultural history come together to document what was described by contemporaries as “astonishing marvels surpassing description”.