Research Stream


Elizabeth Younan
The University of Sydney

Alan Maddox (2012-2016)
The University of Sydney

Peri, Caccini and Monteverdi Orfeo drama: An analysis of the compositional techniques used to express the affect of anguish

This thesis investigates how composers Peri, Caccini and Monteverdi expressed the emotional affect of anguish in their respective settings of the Orfeo legend.

Peri Caccini And Monteverdi Orfeo Drama An Analysis Of The Compositional Techniques Used To Express The Affect Of Anguish

Image: Musical excerpt taken from the 2nd act of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607)

The purpose of this thesis is twofold: to explore the conceptual and artistic goals of Jacopo Peri, Giulio Caccini and Claudio Monteverdi in setting text to music, and to investigate how these composers achieved their theoretical goals in their respective settings—Peri’s L’Euridice (1600), Caccini’s Euridice (1602) and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607)—of the Orfeo legend.

Whilst the ambition of achieving artistic perfection through a restoration of the ideals of ancient Greek drama was by no means a new phenomenon, it is the ways in which Peri, Caccini and Monteverdi realized these ideals that presented such a stark contrast with the prevailing practice of polyphony. Through elevating the importance of the text above that of the music, they produced musical dramas in which the affect of the text dictated the musical form and texture.

An analysis of the scenes in which Euridice’s demise is announced will not only demonstrate how the three composers expressed the affect of anguish through monody; it will also show how the composers created musically coherent compositions despite making the music subordinate to the text. In this thesis I argue that previous assessments of Peri’s and Caccini’soperas tend to apply inappropriate criteria and thusdevalue them. Assessed in terms of their stated goals, Peri and Caccini do in fact realize their conceptual and artistic aims, despite creating works whose music has long been considered inferior to that of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo.

Thesis Supervisor
Dr. Alan Maddox, Senior Lecturer in Musicology, Associate Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (project number CE110001011)