Influences | Cortegiano | Renaissance | Classical
Baldassare Castiglione’s Il libro del cortegiano (‘The Book of the Courtier’) was published in 1528 and became the most influential book of manners of its time. It was still being reprinted well into the eighteenth century and was translated into many languages. The Courtier presents a series of evening conversations purported to have taken place at the court of Urbino, some 20 years before the book’s publication, in 1506–07, during the reign of the musical duchess Elisabetta Gonzaga. The discussions, as represented by Castiglione, centre around the task of defining the ideal courtier. There are scattered references to musical performance as an important accomplishment for the well-rounded courtier. Improvisation to the accompaniment of the lute is recommended, as well as the reading of music.
Equally interesting for musicians is Castiglione’s term sprezzatura, an Italian word with no exact English equivalent implying a certain nonchalance. It was adopted by Giulio Caccini in 1602 to describe, in his opinion, the ideal way of singing the solo song of his day – with expressiveness and rubato. Its implications for music are richer than this, however. The ideal of competence with no sign of effort, which Castiglione applies to all endeavours in his writings, gives an idea of contemporary performers’ attitude towards their art.
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