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Carlo Maria Cella


... the order in which all of the Airs divided into three segments should be sung. The first part requires few and simple ornaments in order that the air’s composition remains faithful. The second part requires that a singular artifice is added to the original purity, in order that the listener recognizes the art of the singer. Repeating the da capo of the Airs, he who does not vary the musical phrases, bettering them from previous phrases, can not be considered a great Man”.

(P.F. Tosi, Opinioni de’ Cantori Antichi e Moderni, 1723)



When the works of the “Cantatas and Motets” by Vivaldi appeared, for Arion in 1982, the precept of Pier Francesco Tosi, first commandment of the tables of the law inscribed in the “Opinioni de’ Cantori Antichi e Moderni” in the year 1723, obtained a value before unknown. Not through the fault of Tosi. The parameter of measurement from a moral point of view for those who merit the term singer of Italian music of the highest level, in the Music tout court, changed the threshold of tolerance not because the force and clarity of the precept changed, but because appeared a song that clung like a glove to its models and around it mutated automatically the landscape of sound, its examples and values. The “classifications” that consciously or unconsciously were drafted, had to be rewritten. In other words the grade had to be lowered. That this did not occur as well and as much as it should have been, is an other chapter in the history of interpretation that goes under various titles: Decline of the Empire, Barbaric Invasions, a choice without pretence of originality.

It seems almost that the portent of the cantata “Cessate, omai cessate” attacks us: the rotund sound heavy with “affections” in the Largo e sciolto; the pearly spiccato, trills with staccato notes in the Andante molto and Larghetto, on the polished syllabifications of “Dorilla”, “ingrata”, “astringe” and “lagrimar” and to end the inexorable progression of the reprises, like Tosi enjoined, the crescendo of the embellishments of the Allegro, chasing and following hard on each other in the “orrido”, “albergo”, “ricetto”, “tormento” and again “Dorilla”, “spietata”, “ingrata”, “morire”, “potrò”, colliding in a disciplined manner in the circle of R’s and T’s, above and beyond the melodic material, that recalls an other masterpiece an Air by Prete Rosso, “Sorge l’irato nembo”, one of the most beautiful by “Orlando Furioso”.

A voice of unheard-of extension and virtuosity insinuated in a melodic line by the soloist, infecting the instrumentalists that launched Vivaldi to stardom, leaving any listener with ear and “taste” to conclude that the performance had to be like this. Nella Anfuso expressed the commandments of Doni and Tosi. The others have false and insecure steps.

The works of Vivaldi, to which will follow the “Mottetti a canto solo con istromenti” in 1990 and Opera Omnia of the Cantate for the Stilnovo edition of 1991, is only one of the stations in the opus Anfuso, to be considered exclusively in it’s totality to value the significance and consequences of her contribution to the musicology as a pratical conclusion.

Many things put this work at the centre of a prism of whose faces are called Peri, Caccini, Monteverdi, Carissimi, Cara, Tromboncino, Cavalli, Frescobaldi, Scarlatti, Porpora, Mozart, Bellini: they are the relationship with the violin, the symbiosis with this instrument Doppelgänger of the human voice, the voyage in time and places where the music is destined to undergo a migration of body and soul, to wards north, that would change her fundamentally.



The work of Nella Anfuso on her instrument, the Voice, and in general on Italian vocalism comes from the roots. These are not gaps and this is the strong musicological character of a thirty year path, thirty four CD’s and nine videos, supplied and sustained by precious and decisive essays by Annibale Gianuario.

Originally we find a few precious pieces that amaze us even today, and their origin are the “environment” of art and culture, bound together, that constitute the highest aesthetics “of synthesis” that man has created for himself, faithful to Platonic humanism. “Quant’è bella giovinezza” and “Il Canto alla Corte di Isabella d’Este” take us back in time to the heart of the Renaissance period. The vocalism that follow like a shadow, the dictation of the poetic verse, reconstruct in front of our eyes, through the ears, the echo of the halls of the Medicean courts in Florence and those of Este in Mantua; recalls the gatherings where some used words, others sung, others played the lute, the viola, others used the pencil and brush, finding themselves in a magical circle, on the same flying carpet. These are the places where the story of Art came alive that history divided one and a half centuries later.

Chronologically we are at the beginning of everything. We see Lorenzo il Magnifico that sings with Marsilio Ficino and Baccio Ugolini, first interpreter of Orfeo by Poliziano. In a letter dated 1488 what he describes is what we hear in the singing of Nella Anfuso, thanks to the era of reproducibility: his voice was almost like the voice of one who was reading and at the same time was singing yet one could hear both and distinguish one from the other: at the same time the voice was soft of the same intonation (as in plain chant) or modulated or changed as the phrase warranted. At times the voice was varied at others sustained, at times excited at other times calm, intense, now slowing down and now quick, accelerated, always precise, always clear and always pleasant to the ear”.

As observed without possibility of objection professor Gianuario states: “this document anticipates by more than a century the sprezzatura of Caccini and the ‘singing without measures’ of Monteverdi in the monody and polyphonic form”.

It is the same spirit that we hear and breathe in the “Canto alla Corte di Isabella d’Este”, in the album of 1988, that demonstrates another aspect of the culture and Renaissance music: the migratory speed of the ideas and practice. If from Rome Poliziano testifies that in the city of Popes they sing similar to the court of Medici, Isabella d’Este, born in Ferrara of Ercole in 1474 and moved in 1490 to Mantua with her husband Francesco II, surrounded with artists like Giulio Romano and for a while with Raffaello and Leonardo da Vinci (who painted her), with poets like Ludovico Ariosto, Pietro Bembo and Baldassarre Castiglione, with musicians like Marchetto Cara, Bartolomeo Tromboncino, Michele Pesenti, Ludovico da Milano, and with cantors that remain in the history for brief citations of their art, Isabella d’Este demonstrates the magnetic force, consistency and firmness that are the aesthetic bases on which the expression of the Italian song reaches great splendour.

Another magical place that Nella Anfuso has brought to light by authentic aspects is the Rome of the Baroque Cantata: five examples, two by Carissimi, one each from Marco Marazzoli, and Francesco Tenaglia and, the most extraordinary by Luigi Rossi - the “Lamento della Regina di Svetia”, Eleonora, in occasion of the death of king Gustavo Adolfo - were sufficient to understand in the music that which corresponded to the reality of the city acquiring an architectonic printing inspired by a prodigious fantasy, with strong roots in the spatial equilibrium of antiquity. (Various equilibrium also impressed in colours: in the first years of the twentieth century, Igor Stravinskij would recognize familiar the Roman shade of ochre, because his St. Petersburg, great folly of Peter the most baroque of all the Czars, was constructed in the Italian style to the point that he called not only the architects Quarenghi and Rastrelli for the project, but even the artisans, that impressed the chromatism of the plasters, in the same way as the city of the Popes. Stravinskij writes: “I ask if being born in an ‘Italian’ city did not in some way influence my music”. Instinctively we think of Pulcinella, the turning point in Neoclassicism).

In the album “La Cantata Romana ossia il vero Barocco”, we find the testimony of how the flight of the “fiorituras” asserting itself like a natural necessity of the new aesthetics, great and unpredictable, were not separated from fundamental principles of the expressive song like in other traditional places - Florence, Ferrara, Mantua - impressed in the history.

Nella Anfuso gave voice to the rank of cantatrici, sacred (nuns) and profane, that began to substitute in the church the falsettisti with a fixed voice (false, like the name flaunts) and the pueri cantores; to Vittoria, Adriana, Leonora that Della Valle finally describes masters “of the piano and forte, increasing the voice little by little, lowering it with grace, the expression of the affections and indulging the words and their sense with good judgement and gladdening the voice or rendering it melancholic, from make it piteous or bold as required”.

Well, the virtuosity that fixes the polar star of Expression, at the time that school books reduces again the infantile angle of excess and stupor. If musical demonstration is given back to us with its authentic value, it can give us an instrument of interpretation concrete also for the other arts.



The heart of the musicological research by Nella Anfuso, first focalized then radiated in every direction, has however precise names and surnames. For the barycentre of the registers by chest and head, from a figurative and material point a view, are proposed the album dedicated to the Divine Claudio: “Parlar Cantando I” and “Parlar Cantando II”, “Mottetti”, “Scherzi e Arie”, “Musica Sacra”, “Madrigali scelti”. Six pieces in a number of thirty-four.

Monteverdi is indisputably the pivot and the bases on which the opus Anfuso is jointed. It would be incomprehensible and inconceivable of all the work on the instrument the voice and song as the concentration of aesthetics, technique, philosophy and thought, without understanding this moment in the history of music were by a composer conceived the word, its meaning, his own sound, as a genesis self-sufficient, self-referring and self-regenerating to make music.

In these six albums - and video “Claudio Monteverdi - La Poiesis” the journey to the centre of the voice arrives to the target. We have not notice in other European musical circles or the rest of the world, a research so profound and aware of the historic coordinates of the Second Practice by Monteverdi; we have not any comparisons, except mediocre or misleading, of a vocalism that is capable to determine and illuminate with security the point of contact between the literary and musical words.

The Monteverdi of Nella Anfuso rests, perilously for all foreign singers and a lot of Italians, the mention.

To stand as pages are Jacopo Peri (“Madrigali”, “Arie e Lamenti I and II”) and Giulio Caccini (“Madrigali scelti”): their  research - to take care that the music, the voice, “can penetrate into the intellect of others, to create an admirable effect, admired by Writers” (Caccini) -, coincides with that of Monteverdi. The means for the “representation of the affections” are the same, the art of the variation leans on the same foundations: equality of registers, naturalness of emission, “augment and diminish the voice” in tune with expressive needs, the absolute technical mastery in passages and in trills with notes well detached (spiccato). All elements of a natural vocalism that prolong the life of the instrument and - Nella Anfuso demonstrates - that this can and must applied to any repertoire, in the name of the continuity of song in which the events in history have broken.

And so we have the practical demonstrations in “Il Canto figurato da Mozart a Bellini” and - height - in the reconstruction of art of whom rests in the history of singing as one of the greatest prodigies of nature the unnatural: Farinello.



We take up for awhile the thread of Vivaldi. Why consider this moment crucial in the opus Anfuso?

We know: his and our contemporaries, highly respected, have reinforced the opinion that Prete Rosso treated the voice “like the neck of the violin”. In the interpretation of Nella Anfuso there is no trace of a distort use of this practice. But we know well that the voice can be repeated on an instrument, this instrument is really what Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati made miraculously as great so emblematic of the music: its icon even in the design. Around the violin even to day there is a sense of mystery related to the secrets of real singing. Beyond wind instruments, the violin is a prolongation of the body, vibrations most intimate and “affections”. Could a violinist like Vivaldi claim the voice to be unnatural? Nella Anfuso demonstrated no.

It is also true that from the virtuosity and greatness in the violin of Vivaldi - who died in circumstances not clear in Vienna - begins a migration to the North, a slow process on consignment of pure Italian music freeing them to other Countries. This was the beginning of the birth of the Symphony, the Capitals would no longer be Rome of Corelli or Vivaldi’s Venice, masters of the Concerto form, a perfect instrumental language like no other.



Twenty years ago was born a movement that tried to reintroduce the A (La) at 432 Hertz, based with good reason on a letter well noted by Giuseppe Verdi, of whose knowledge on the instrument the voice we have not doubts. Verdi writes in 1888 to an Italian commission that studied the introduction by law of the diapason: “…since the adoption in France of the normal diapason, I advised the introduction of this example in Italy; formally asking the orchestras in different Italian cities, also at the Scala, to pitch the tuning fork like the French…It would be a grave error to adopt, like Rome proposed, a diapason of 450!!! It is my opinion …that lowering the pitch will not take away the sonority or brio in the performance, but on the contrary will give a more noble, full and majestic sound than the screech of a tuning fork too high. On my part I would like a standard pitch adopted in the musical world. The musical language is universal: why should a note called A (La) in Paris or Milan become a B flat in Rome?”. And what effects would this have, has had and has again on the voice?

The A at 432 vibrations a second corresponds to a central C at 256 Hertz. The correct scientific imposition used by Leonardo and Kepler in the Renaissance period with regards to the acoustic problem demonstrates that the number - 256 - holds an astronomical value unique to the entire solar system.

A period in the cycle of C at 256 (1/256 per second) we can obtain dividing the rotation of the Earth by 24 (2x3x4). Obtaining the hour, we can divide this by 60 (2x4x5) obtaining a minute, dividing this again by 60 we obtain one second. Dividing the second by 256 (2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2) we can verify how the rotation of the Earth corresponds to a G of 16 octaves lower exactly to a C = 256, that this assumes a concrete significance, verifiable in the internal harmony of the universe. The “universal” diapason coincides with the natural voice, agreeing fully with her, living in intensity.

In reality the problem of pitch is variable by nature and history. Different grades exist in the tuning of instruments, also above A at 432, in which the voice can locate it self with harmonic equilibrium. We know, even in the golden age of music, many deformities of pitch in the capitals and provinces of music, in Italy like in Europe.

We must remember en passant that the proposal of A at 432 was opposed and made to founder by the commissions of Berlin and Vienna, capitals of symphonic music, understanding were the centres of power had moved and away from which instrument.


Opus Anfuso, as we like to still call it, just under this light shows its incommensurable value: it is a great monument to the Masters, to places and time when the centre of music was the Voice. Or rather Man.



Nato a Milano nel 1949. Critico musicale del Giorno dal 1984.


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