Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett, Chapter 1, part 2

(This is the third part of my dissertation series. Previous: Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett, Chapter 1, part 1)

Chief Claims of this Paper

Studying ’s use of the cornett offers insight into the symbolism of the cornett as well as himself. A study of ’s usage offers a contribution toward a greater understanding of the cornett, because his exceptional specificity in the scores of Orfeo and the collection known as the 1610 Vespers provides a good focal point both in terms of chronology (this was the height of the cornett’s popularity) and in terms of artistic quality (Monteverdi was arguably the best composer of his day). At the same time, a study of cornett symbolism offers a greater understanding of Monteverdi, revealing new insights into his aesthetics and personal life. Certainly in his Mantuan period, Monteverdi thought of the cornett in rich, symbolic terms, in the same way that he thought of most musical instruments. This symbolism came from both a common usage of the cornett in the late Renaissance and his own personal ideas of orchestration.

2nd-century Sarcophagus with tibia being played.  Mantua, Ducal Palace

2nd-century Sarcophagus with tibia being played.
Mantua, Ducal Palace

As will be seen in chapter 2, the cornett’s role in Orfeo draws primarily upon two traditional symbolic themes: the use of the cornett in the theater and the cornett as a symbol of the infernal. Monteverdi’s conviction that the cornett was a modern incarnation of the tibia, and therefore was in opposition to string instruments, draws upon a stereotype established by Plato. Monteverdi’s text painting in the famous aria, “Possente spirto,” is an entirely personal use of the cornett.

The cornett’s role in Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers collection will be shown in chapter 3 to draw from three traditional symbolic themes: the use of the cornett in sacred music, the cornett as a dance instrument, and the cornett as a symbol of social status. Monteverdi’s personal use of the cornett in Deposuit showed that he used the cornett to evoke the harshness of the powerful and corrupt.

The fourth chapter will re-examine these claims and look into the ancillary issue of Monteverdi’s non-use of the cornett in his Venetian period. Again, the method of argument will be to compare possible personal reasons for Monteverdi not specifying the cornett against the general decline of the cornett in Italy beginning around 1630. Aside from economic issues, Monteverdi’s non-use of the cornett in his Venetian period is a harbinger of a shift in Monteverdi’s aesthetic values and possibly a deliberate move away from what had become a personal symbol for the Mantuan duchy.

Before proceding further into the symbolic use of the cornett in Orfeo and the 1610 Vespers, some preliminary information about the cornett will prove helpful to most readers. In addition, this introductory chapter will lay out the general trends of cornett symbolism over time, geography, and types of media.

(next, “General Characteristics of the Cornett Family“)

 

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