Leonella Grasso Caprioli

Il patetico fra teoria e prassi nel secolo XVIII

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This essay suggests a compared analysis of some theoretical accounts that - in relation to the period between the first two decades and the end of the nineteenth century - tackled to some extent the issue of "patetico" in opera seria from the point of view of dramatic functions and the expressive peculiarities of poetry and music. The topic is important for the French and Italian Illuminists who made it central to their debate on the question of the relationship between poetry and music. This was captured in the crucial shift from the eradicated Metastasian concept to the affirmation of a revised vision of opera. As far as an aesthetic orientation was concerned, the widest and most articulate contribution on the question of patetico was offered in Italy by Antonio Planelli ("Dell'Opera in Musica", 1772). Concurrently there were other extremely interesting examples: the dry, formal definition of "aria patetica" in De Chastellux ("Essai sur l'union de la poésie et de la musique", 1765) and the identification by authors such as d'Alembert and Rousseau of patetico as a distinctive element of the versatile - wholly Italian - ability to reach musically expressive heights through a wide range of means. From a musical point of view, I then go on to survey Italian theoretical and didactic sources on singing in relation to some of the characteristic elements (scivolo and strascino) chosen among those suggested and described by Pierfrancesco Tosi ("Opinioni de' cantori antichi e moderni", 1723) as particularly appropriate for the expressive performance of patetico.

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