Monteverdi and Seconda Prattica

In the exchanges with Artusi, both Monteverdi and his brother Giulio Cesare refer to a second, modern method of composition, the seconda prattica,distinguished from the traditional prima pratticaas taught by Zarlino.1 As Giulio Cesare defined it, the guiding principle of the seconda pratticawas that the words should govern the music; this justified the freer dissonance treatment that the reactionary Artusi attacked. The seconda pratticawas viewed as a resurrection of the principles of music as taught by classical antiquity, rediscovered by Peri, Wert, and Monteverdi himself, among others. This modern approach is clearly evident for the first time in the third book of madrigals (1592), with its extensive use of dissonance and attention to individual words. Also of importance is the invention Monteverdi defined as stile concitato,the use of short notes repeated on a single pitch (generally played by string instruments) to express anger and warfare.

Monteverdi was perhaps the first composer to envision opera as a drama in music, a depiction of human psychology; this approach is clearly evident from his correspondence regarding the opera La finta pazza Licori.The great collection of sacred music published in 1610 includes a Mass written in the prima pratticaas well as vesper Psalms and motets written in a more modern style.

VB: Claudio Monteverdi


1. Monteverdi's brother, Giulio Cesare, outlines what Claudio himself meant by the term prima prattica, in a manifesto printed with the Scherzi Musicali published in 1607: "By First Practice he understands the one that turns on the perfection of the harmony, that is, the one that considers the harmony not commanded, but commanding, not the servant, but the mistress of the words, and this was founded by those first men who composed in our notation music for more than one voice, was then followed and amplified by Ockeghem, Josquin Desprez, Pierre de la Rue, Jean Mouton, Crequillon, Clemens non Papa, Gombert, and others of those times, and was finally perfected by Messer Adriano [Willaert] with actual composition and by the most excellent Zarlino, with most judicious rules." Return to Text