Giulio Caccini

Giulio Caccini (ca. 1545-1618), an Italian singer and an early opera composer, wrote "Le nuove musiche," the first important and, in the 17th century, most influential publication of the new style of monodic recitative in vocal music with figured bass accompaniment.

Giulio Caccini was born in Rome, the son of Michelangelo Caccini. The only musical instruction that Giulio is known to have received was from Cipione del Palle (or Palla), a noted voice teacher in Rome, and it was as a singer that Caccini first made a name for himself. He was employed at the Medicean court in Florence, principally as a singer, from 1564 to his death on Dec. 10, 1618. He married twice, both wives being voice pupils of his. The first, Lucia, bore him three children: Pompeo, Francesca (called "La Cecchina," also a composer), and Settimia. He had no children by his second wife, Margherita.

Probably about 1579 Caccini became a member of the Florentine Camerata, a literary and musical society founded by Count Giovanni de' Bardi, who implies, in a letter to Caccini (ca. 1580), that he was the first to encourage Caccini to write in the new style. The letter bears out Caccini's claim in the dedication to Bardi (dated Dec. 20, 1600) of his opera Euridice that he had been composing in this style for more than 15 years, that is, at least as early as 1585.

In 1589 Caccini took part, as performer and conductor, in the wedding festivities of Ferdinand de' Medici. Three years later, when he visited Rome with Bardi as the later's secretary, Caccini sang some of the songs performed earlier at the Florentine Camerata, several of which he published in Le nuove musiche (1602).

When Maria de Médici married Henry IV of France in Florence, as part of the celebrations the nobleman Jacopo Corsi staged, on Oct. 6, 1600, what is sometimes regarded as the first opera—Euridice, with a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini and music mostly by Jacopo Peri, also employed as singer and composer at the Medicean court. Caccini, who was in charge of the performance, unscrupulously replaced some of Peri's arias with his own. Three days later Caccini presented Il rapimento di Cefalo, for which he wrote most of the music, but it received little acclaim, unlike Peri's Euridice. Clearly spurred by jealously, Caccini hurriedly composed his own setting of the Euridice libretto and published it, probably in January 1601, shortly before the publication of Peri's version on February 6. Caccini's version was not performed until Dec. 5, 1602; it was not revived.

The success of Peri's Euridice, and his patronization by Corsi, Bardi's influential successor, resulted in Caccini's gradual decline in esteem during his remaining years, despite the importance and popularity of Le nuove musiche, and the publication of two other collections by Caccini— Fuggilotio musicale (2d ed. 1613) and Nuove musiche e nuova maniera de scriverle (1614).

Further Reading on Giulio Caccini

Information on Caccini is available in Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era from Monteverdi to Bach (1947); Donald J. Grout, A Short History of Opera (1947; 2d ed. 1965); and The New Oxford History of Music, vol. 4; Gerald E. H. Abraham, ed., The Age of Humanism, 1540-1630 (1968). There is an interesting chapter on the Florentine Camerata in Zesta De Robeck, Music of the Italian Renaissance (1928; repr. 1969).