Pastorals, Passepieds, and Pendants: Interpreting Characterization Through Aria Pairs in Handel’s Rodelinda

Decker, Gregory J.

KEYWORDS: pendant, opera analysis, Handel, Rodelinda, opera seria, topics, semiotics, pastoral

ABSTRACT: Like pendant portraits in Baroque visual art, which were meant to be viewed and understood as pairs, contemporaneous opera seria arias may be interpreted with respect to one another. In this article, I illustrate the usefulness of regarding arias as pendants by examining two pairs from G.F. Handel’s opera Rodelinda (1725). Structural and semiotic investigations comprise my musical analyses with a focus on musical topics, voice leading, and musical gestures. The analytical methodology of Matthew Shaftel (2009) coupled with the foundational interpretive frameworks of Robert Hatten (1994 and 2004), Lawrence Kramer (1990), and Wye Jamison Allanbrook (1983) provide a consistent set of strategies with which to negotiate the disparate domains of musical structure and dramatic content. Examples of aria pairs sung by two different characters and by the same character are considered. Viewing two arias as pendants aids in developing specific interpretations and has broader ramifications for understanding characterization throughout the work.

PDF text | PDF examples
Received July 2013
Volume 19, Number 4, December 2013
Copyright © 2013 Society for Music Theory

Table of Contents


Example 1a. Salvator Rosa, Poetry, 1641, oil on canvas

Example 1a thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 1b. Salvator Rosa, Music, 1641, oil on canvas

Example 1b thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

[1.1] Salvator Rosa’s companion portraits Poetry and Music (1641; see Examples 1a–b) suggest a strong connection among the titular art forms and their medium of presentation: visual art.(1) In this time and place—as in any distinct culture—painting, music, poetry, and theatre were linked by similar structures, narratives, and semiotic systems; these, in turn, were governed by common aesthetic goals from the mid-seventeenth through the mid-eighteenth centuries. The principles of Cartesian philosophy that impacted Baroque thought produced the conflicting aesthetic desires for unity of affect and effective use of contrasts, and during this century-long period in Europe artists addressed this inherent friction in a variety of ways. Rosa’s two portraits serve as one example. Together, they form a pendant—a pair of works meant to be viewed and understood together. Although pendants were used in visual art even before this time, they were especially popular from the Baroque through the Enlightenment, often in the form of two portraits.(2) The relationship between pendants is deeper than being superficially complementary. Often making use of sophisticated visual symbolism, each painting provided a context for its pair—the works were meant to reflect two different representations of one idea, two different affects that might be associated with one concept. Author Guy Tal describes the pendant as “a distinctive pictorial format of two interdependent companion pieces of similar dimensions designed to be hung as an adjoining pair. They provided artists with a unique opportunity to demonstrate their visual and intellectual ingenuity by setting up compositional and iconographic analogies and antitheses impossible to present in a single picture” (2011, 20). The ability to present simultaneous unity and contrast between pendants must have intrigued artists, since this type of opposition was central to the Baroque “aesthetic paradox”—the aesthetic need both to elicit movement of the passions in the Cartesian sense and to observe one passion as it is stirred (LeCoat 1971, 220).

Example 2. Lang’s gesture for grief and sadness (1727)

Example 2 thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

[1.2] Composers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries sought to capture in music the permanency of visual art and its resulting ability to convey a unified expression, and their solutions are particularly evident in the structure and staging of Baroque opera seria arias.(3) Each aria is similar to one portrait—it presents a depiction of one idea, one aspect of a character—and each typically makes use of conventional musical symbols for this commentary, in addition to lyrics and dramatic context.(4) Further, in these works, arias were staged in a fairly static manner, creating tableaux in which the character struck conventional poses that were associated with the portrayal of specific emotions. Actors even modeled their stances after those used in visual art and tried to emulate subjects and sitters: “Because of [the] similarity between gesture in painting and sculpture, and gesture in acting, and because painters and sculptors were masters of the graceful and beautiful portrayal of the human figure, actors and singers often studied and imitated their works” (Barnett, Dene and Jeanette Massy-Westropp 1987, 122). Many European treatises from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries described appropriate stage gestures and facial expressions for actors. For example, eighteenth-century German author Franciscus Lang described the gesture depicted in Example 2 as appropriate for expressing grief and sadness (1727, 51). The musical and physical construction of opera seria, then, had structural and aesthetic resonances with portraiture and its visual codes.

[1.3] Those resonances could also be interpretive. Pendants present a unique opportunity for complex interpretation because the mutual context they create allows for the depiction of both narrative parallels and divergences. Similarly, opera seria arias, viewed as musical portraits, can often be interpreted more effectively in pairs than alone, since understanding a character requires consideration of more than just one moment in the world of a dramatic work. In the remainder of this article, I propose a methodology and a set of goals for the hermeneutic interpretation of opera seria arias; further, I demonstrate the efficacy of regarding arias as pendants by analyzing two pairs from G.F. Handel’s opera Rodelinda, Regina de’Longobardi (1725).

Subject Matter and Methodology

[2.1] The pairing of opera seria arias creates what Lawrence Kramer would refer to as a “hermeneutic window,” specifically, a “structural trope” (1990, 9–10). The structural trope “functions as a typical expressive act within a certain cultural/historical framework” (1990, 10). Following Kramer’s approach, aria pairs form both a structural unit and a meaningful cultural phenomenon, and a contemporaneous historical aesthetic grounds the structural unit. Kramer presents a structural trope similar to the Baroque aria pair that he calls “expressive doubling . . . a form of repetition in which alternative versions of the same pattern define a cardinal difference in perspective” (1990, 22). For Kramer, expressive doubling is, at its core, a Romantic re-contextualization of the same musical material, and he situates the structural and expressive notion within the intellectual climate of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. The pendant pairings I present in this article, although based in a different culture and historical period, are similar to Kramer’s expressive doublings because they involve multiple and sometimes polarized perspectives of the same situation, emotion, or subject (as visual pendants often do). Each pair in my examples shares a musical topic; the arias’ strategic employment of the given topic invites comparison and provides a common narrative strand through its conventional semantic content.(5)

Figure 1. Shaftel’s (2009) analytic levels in opera analysis (modified)

Figure 1 thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Figure 2. The intersection of Shaftel’s and Kerman’s models

Figure 2 thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

[2.2] Identifying pendants as a structural trope is only the first step in the interpretation of these arias. Once an aria pair is established—through dramatic and musical characteristics that suggest the comparison—a deeper dramatic understanding becomes possible. The interpretive methodology involves the integration of structural, expressive, and dramatic analyses, following Matthew Shaftel’s model in his study of The Marriage of Figaro (2009). Shaftel proposes four levels of musical and dramatic analysis that begin with basic structural information and generalized associations and move to meanings that are specific to the character or situation in the opera (see Figure 1). In Robert Hatten’s (1994) terminology, the interpretation moves from “type” to “token.”(6) For my investigation, I consider the possible associations that the musical topic, gestures, and voice-leading procedures found in each aria might call forth and speculate on how those associations relate to the character and context at hand.

[2.3] Joseph Kerman (1956) implicitly suggests that character, atmosphere, and action are the primary components of drama that enter into a relationship with music in opera. Shaftel (2009) codifies Kerman’s theory of how music can interact with drama, showing four distinct functions that music has in this capacity (see Figure 2). Following Kerman’s premise and Shaftel’s analytical methodology, I propose that in Baroque opera, characterization is the principal aspect of the drama to be enhanced through music. Musically accompanied on-stage action is generally lacking in Baroque opera, and elements that establish atmosphere typically occur where characterization is also taking place. I focus my analyses on arias not only because they are musical analogues to pendant paintings, but also because they are the richest and most expressive musical expanses in the operas of the time period. Opera seria typically lacks dramatic action but is rich in dramatic expression (Rosen 1971, 43). In other words, most action in opera seria takes place in recitatives or offstage, but information about the characters’ thoughts, feelings, and relationships is abundant in the arias. Further, topical references to place or stylistic level, which could impart a sense of atmosphere, occur mainly in the arias, and these strategic references reveal character as well. In addition to shared topics, musical gestures and voice-leading procedures offer valuable interpretive information. Each aria in a pair provides interpretive context for its companion, and together the pair sheds light on the character or characters. For each pair of arias, I also offer a set of visual pendants with narrative and interpretive parallels.

Different Subjects/Different Characters

[3.1] Pendants in visual art are often found in the form of husband-and-wife portraits. Imagery, setting, and even pose are juxtaposed so that a comparison creates a coherent narrative between the portraits and provides commentary on each individual sitter.(7) The pendant portraits of Frederick, Duke of York and his wife, Frederica, exemplify this codependence (Examples 3a–b). Although they were painted by John Hoppner in 1792, close to the end of the eighteenth century, the symbolism and the manner in which they provide context for one another were common features of pendant portraits throughout the century. As Kate Retford has pointed out, these paintings share narrative and formal parallels (2006, 20): both sitters are depicted outdoors, accompanied by attendants and an animal. The differences between the portraits then have clear interpretive significance.

Example 3a. John Hoppner, Portrait of H.R.H. Frederica Charlotte Ulrica, Princess Royal of Prussia and Duchess of York, 1792, oil on canvas

Example 3a thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 3b. John Hoppner, Portrait of H.R.H. Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, 1792, oil on canvas

Example 3b thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

[3.2] The Duke, standing in front of his horse and holding his sword, is shown as a man of both martial and personal power. Less obvious, perhaps, is the importance of the outdoor setting—Frederick, as son of the King of England, is shown to hold dominion over a vast area that includes both human subjects and the natural world. His influence and authority are public. The Duchess, on the other hand, wears a billowing dress while her small Pomeranian looks on. In contrast to her husband, she is the picture of conventional femininity, and her outdoor setting is diminished by the floor, railing, and column. The extent of her power is more limited than Frederick’s; her domain is more private. Her symbolism creates an interesting opposition to Frederick’s. The natural world in the background, coupled with the column to her left and the urn just behind her, suggest something of Classical Greece and Arcadia. Her three ladies-in-waiting might be the Three Graces. These elements, again, according to Retford, “associate the sitter with Venus, goddess of love and beauty” (2006, 19). Though her realm is the private, even the domestic, the Duchess is still imbued with power. The pendants share compositional similarities and work together to create an account that explores two poles of gender roles at the time of their creation; concurrently, each presents information about the individual sitter. Each portrait has its own symbolism and narrative, but a more complete picture is created when both are viewed together.

Example 4a. Salvator Rosa, A Witch, 1655, oil on canvas

Example 4a thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 4b. Salvator Rosa, A Soldier, 1655, oil on canvas

Example 4b thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

[3.3] Pendants may also depict two sitters without such an obvious relationship to one another. In another set of pendants by Salvator Rosa, A Soldier and A Witch from 1655, the narrative must be construed first from independent analysis of each painting (Examples 4a–b). Here, the similar size and shape of the paintings, size of the sitters, color scheme, and craggy, outdoor setting with both sitters resting on a rock all suggest the pairing. Several elements within the individual paintings, though, help to establish a connection. First, the soldier—often an indexical sign for virility, power, and righteousness—is sitting alone with his weapon resting back between his legs. The reverse-phallic imagery is clear: he is certainly not ready to strike and may indeed feel impotent. Further, he looks toward the viewer, forlorn. The typical associations that a soldier might evoke are reversed. The witch seems to hold power that the soldier does not. She is in the midst of an incantation, reading her book of spells and surrounded by candles. A pentagon—a longtime symbol of witchcraft and magic—is clearly visible in the book. The witch herself seems to be without emotion, neither troubled nor joyous, and she is depicted with very masculine features (note the muscular arm and the hint of facial hair).(8) The two subjects, then, have switched traditional gender roles of dominance and submissiveness. All this suggests that the witch has somehow overpowered or defeated the soldier. This reading is further supported by an observation from Guy Tal (2011), who points to the pendants’ orientation with respect to one another. In European visual art, the dominant figure is usually portrayed on the left (the sitter’s right), while the submissive figure is placed on the right (the sitter’s left). This is why, at the time, husbands or men were generally placed to the left of wives or women.(9) In Rosa’s paintings here, though, A Witch should be placed to the left of A Soldier—since most pendants involving human sitters were composed so that their bodies were turned toward one another—and this puts the witch in the dominant position (Tal 2011, 21–24).

[3.4] Just as both pairs of paintings can be understood as pendants, arias sung by two different characters can be interpreted this way. The outdoor settings and themes of power, dominance, and gender roles in each individual portrait invite comparison with its companion. In the following analysis, the use of the same musical topic (the siciliano), the outdoor, pastoral setting, and the theme of the loss of power in both arias suggest interpreting them as a pair as well. As with Rosa’s paintings, each aria must be examined individually and compared before a narrative emerges. I focus first on the character Grimoaldo’s final aria “Pastorello” (and, to a lesser extent, the preceding accompanied recitative) in Handel’s opera Rodelinda. The paired aria is “Con rauco mormorio,” sung by the character Bertarido, Grimoaldo’s political and personal rival. The analytical narrative that follows considers dramatic and musical analysis separately at first, for ease of reading.

[3.5] Grimoaldo begins the opera as the perceived villain but quickly becomes “a sheep in wolf’s clothing,” as Winton Dean and John Merrill Knapp have quipped (1987, 577). He has usurped the throne from Rodelinda’s husband Bertarido, but he is also deeply in love with Rodelinda. The inner conflict he feels between his desire for power and his desire for Rodelinda to return his love characterizes him for much of the opera. Bertarido goes into hiding; but at the time Grimoaldo sings “Pastorello,” Bertarido has been captured and taken prisoner. The preceding recitative is notable for its allusion to operatic mad scenes, although it is not actually one. It does, though, present a kind of dramatic progression, first reinforcing Grimoaldo’s inner conflict over whether to have Bertarido killed, then outwardly expressing a desire—before only implicit—for respite from the pressure of ruling. The aria builds upon this expression by supporting the dramatic surface presented in the text and by providing a subtext that suggests Grimoaldo will ultimately choose to relinquish his power.(10)

[3.6] When the scene opens, Grimoaldo is still conflicted about his decision regarding Bertarido: if he has Bertarido killed, he will retain his power but lose all hope of persuading Rodelinda to marry him; if he frees Bertarido, he loses Rodelinda and risks the throne as well. Here, he expresses not only the emotional conflict he feels, but also a degree of paranoia and regret:(11)

Fatto inferno è il mio petto: di più flagelli armate ho dentro il core tre furie: gelosia, sdegno ed amore. E da più gole io sento, quasi mastin crudele il rimorso latrar, per mio tormento, chiamandomi infedele, spergiuro, usurpator, empio e tiranno.

[My breast is made an inferno; I have within my heart, armed with several scourges, three furies: jealousy, anger, and love. And from many a throat I hear that cruel Cerberus tormenting me with its howling, calling me disloyal, perjurer, usurper, wretch, and tyrant.](12)

At this point, the music abruptly changes key, tempo, and mood. The new material could potentially be the introductory ritornello for an aria, though this is not realized. Here, Grimoaldo suddenly turns his attention to the natural world and the thought of finding peace of mind, not in a palace, but among “fountains and grasses”:

Ma pur voi lusingate le stanche mie pupille ad un breve riposo, aure tranquille. Sì, dormi, Grimoaldo, e se ritrovi pace tra i fonti e l’erbe, delle regie superbe le mal sicure soglie in abbandono lascia, ché prezioso è dell’alma il riposo al par del trono.

[But you lure these tired pupils of mine to a brief rest, tranquil breezes. Yes, sleep, Grimoaldo, and if you again find peace among the fountains and grasses, abandon any thoughts of the haughty palaces and their uncertain thrones, for rest is more precious for the soul than any throne.]

Grimoaldo’s accompanied recitative helps to characterize him through its musical and textual content and by its placement within the act. The first half of the recitative solidifies Grimoaldo’s internal conflict over the decision to either kill Bertarido and risk losing Rodelinda or not to kill him and risk losing the throne. He declares that he is tormented by jealousy, anger, and love—these emotions no doubt refer to his love for Rodelinda, his jealousy of her love for her husband, and his fury regarding Bertarido’s reappearance and the hopelessness of his situation. The recitative, though, also intensifies and qualifies his emotional expression. The reference to Cerberus’s accusations and the abrupt musical changes between the first and second half of the recitative, seen within the context of his conflicting emotions, are in the spirit of a mad scene since they suggest delusions and erratic behavior.(13) Grimoaldo does not enter into a full mad scene, but the similarity suggests self-doubt and a loss of control over the situation at hand. The text of the second half indicates that Grimoaldo is unable to handle the pressure of choosing between power and love. The placement of the scene just after Bertarido’s final bravura aria, in which he declares that he is prepared to retaliate, highlights the characters’ exchange of positions: Bertarido now feels empowered, whereas Grimoaldo feels helpless. Ultimately, the accompanied recitative is important because it reveals the extent of the toll this decision has taken on Grimoaldo and begins to suggest the possibility that he will relent and set Bertarido free.(14)

[3.7] Grimoaldo’s aria “Pastorello” begins at this point in a lilting 812 time, and in it he continues to express his desire for rest. He connects his inability to find relief from emotional and political pressures with his position as king, and he supposes that a simple shepherd would live life without such troubles:

Pastorello d’un povero armento pur dorme contento, sotto l’ombra d’un faggio od alloro. Io, d’un regno monarca fastoso, non trovo riposo sotto l’ombra di porpora e d’oro.

[(The) shepherd of a poor flock sleeps contentedly under the shade of a beech or laurel tree. (While) I, the lavish monarch of a kingdom cannot find rest under the weight of my purple and gold (mantles).]

Example 5a. Voice line attempts to ascend. “Pastorello,” measures 5–7

Example 5a thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 5b. Voice-leading sketch. “Pastorello,” measures 5–7

Example 5b thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 5c. Descent above obligatory register and structural closure. “Pastorello,” measures 13–16

Example 5c thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 5d. Voice-leading sketch. “Pastorello,” measures 13–16

Example 5d thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 5e. Tonicization of III. “Pastorello,” measures 7–11

Example 5e thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Several salient features of the introductory ritornello contribute to the dramatic expression. Probably the most pervasive gesture is the sautillant rhythmic figure: dotted eighth, sixteenth, eighth (see Example 5a). The subsequent aria, “Pastorello,” provides support for the text and dramatic context and also supplements the text through its topical associations. The 812 meter, slow tempo, parallel thirds and sixths, and almost constant use of the sautillant rhythmic figure identify the aria as a siciliano, which is closely associated with the pastoral (Monelle 2006, 215–20; Allanbrook 1983, 44; and Ratner 1980, 15). This topic and its pastoral connotation are clear musical references to Grimoaldo’s imagined shepherd and his carefree life. Further, Grimoaldo wishes to fall asleep, as he mentions in the preceding recitative, and the slow lilt of the siciliano creates perfect musical conditions for a lullaby; in this way, the aria helps to fulfill Grimoaldo’s immediate dramatic objective.(15) The text in both the recitative and aria indicate that Grimoaldo desires to be amidst nature and to connect to it, though the connection currently does not exist for him. In the eighteenth century, this lack of connection to the natural world would have suggested that his behavior was “unnatural” or perverted, and even that his status as king was unnatural (Tayebi 2004, 135).

[3.8] Besides supporting the pastoral surface expression of the aria, the siciliano topic supplements Grimoaldo’s characterization through its connotations of “nostalgia and resignation” (Allanbrook 1983, 44) and through its pastoral associations, which imply longing for an idyllic time and place that has never existed (Monelle 2006, 195–98).(16) The aria’s text suggests Grimoaldo’s aversion to remaining on the throne and enduring the pressure his position engenders; the siciliano topic indicates that his desire for simplicity (and his desire not to alienate Rodelinda) is strong, and that he will abdicate the throne rather than have Bertarido killed. Indeed, Grimoaldo’s employment of the siciliano in this final aria in conjunction with the text all but confirms his decision—because of the use of the siciliano, any other outcome seems improbable.

[3.9] The melodic line also features registral play that figures prominently in Grimoaldo’s characterization at this crucial point in the opera (see Examples 5a–b).(17) Once the voice enters, after the introductory ritornello, a reaching over above G4, the Kopfton, initiates an ascent to 3ˆ in the upper register (G5; see piano reduction, measure 7).(18) After two attempts to reach G5 in measures 6–7, only the orchestra attains the Kopfton in the upper register—the voice only reaches Fsharp5, which acts as a passing tone in the larger motion from E5 to G5. Later, the voice leaps into the upper register and attains 3ˆ in measure 13 (see Examples 5c–d). The perfect authentic cadence in the tonic provides momentary closure in this bar, but this closure is not structural. Interplay between the violins and voice creates a series of 7–6 suspensions (some with a change of bass) in measures 14–15. This decorated stepwise descent from G5 to A4 yields structural closure in the obligatory register in measure 16. Tonicizations of III are also salient throughout the A section. Four of the tonicizations last for two beats, and a more extended tonicization of III occurs in measures 8–10 (see Example 5e). The motions to III provide consonant support for 5ˆ, and support for a consonant skips up to 7ˆ.

[3.10] The structural features of registral play between G4 and G5 (3ˆ) and attempts to move to the key of the relative major support the reading of the topical profile—that Grimoaldo struggles with his contradictory desires for love, power, and simplicity. The upward striving in an attempt to reach 3ˆ in the upper register in measures 5–7 (Examples 5a–b) and the attempt at upper-register closure in measure 13 (Examples 5c–d) may be understood as showing a desire to leave the obligatory register. This striving and desire can be correlated with Grimoaldo’s resistance to the decision that the siciliano topic shows to be inevitable. The aria’s inability to achieve structural closure in the upper register and slow descent down to 2ˆ in turn indicates that Grimoaldo will relent. Similarly, the tonicizations of III might be understood as an attempt to leave the tragic minor mode and find a different solution to his problem. Like the movement into the upper register, though, motion to the relative major cannot be sustained. The melodic gestures and the tonicizations reflect Grimoaldo’s struggle against his situation and the inevitability of its outcome.

[3.11] After a great deal of emotional turmoil caused mostly by his pursuit of Rodelinda, the music of Grimoaldo’s final aria provides support for the text he sings and supplements the dramatic evidence by commenting upon Grimoaldo’s state of mind. The pastoral associations of the siciliano topic explicitly connect with the evocation of the shepherd in the text. The siciliano, though, also implicitly indicates feelings of nostalgia and resignation—Grimoaldo’s use of the topic after so much inner conflict and so close to the final scene in the opera suggests that his desire for simplicity is strong enough that choosing to free Bertarido and abdicate the throne may be the only viable option. Structural musical features and harmonic motion in the aria substantiate this reading; they correlate with Grimoaldo’s struggle against this inevitability. Though Bertarido’s saving Grimoaldo’s life is the catalyst that allows the abdication to take place, “Pastorello” demonstrates that Grimoaldo desires this outcome anyway.(19)

[3.12] Grimoaldo’s political and personal rival, Bertarido, also undergoes considerable hardship throughout the course of the opera, due to his exile and his mistaken belief that Rodelinda has forsaken him in order to form an alliance with Grimoaldo. Bertarido’s emotional low point falls about halfway through the opera with his aria “Con rauco mormorio.” The aria shares its musical topic—the siciliano—with Grimoaldo’s “Pastorello”; the analogous emotional states and shared musical topic suggest considering the arias as a pair. The siciliano reflects the outdoor pastoral setting, the feeling of resignation, and the internal desire for a return to simplicity for both characters. But contrasts between the strategic use of voice-leading procedures and the aria texts reveal that Bertarido and Grimoaldo deal with their situations quite differently. Grimoaldo struggles to reconcile outside forces, his desire for political power, and his love for Rodelinda; Bertarido’s aria reveals that he is more comfortable with and accepting of his own emotions and the actions of others. Although the text of “Con rauco mormorio” mentions his “tears” and “laments” (see below), topic and voice leading procedures—when compared with those in “Pastorello”—demonstrate that Bertarido is more honest with himself and resigned to his situation than Grimoaldo.

Example 6a. Descending gestures in voice line. “Con rauco mormorio,” measures 12–15

Example 6a thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 6b. Voice-leading sketch. “Con rauco mormorio,” measures 12–15

Example 6b thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 7a. Descending gestures in introductory ritornello. “Con rauco mormorio,” measures 1–7

Example 7a thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

Example 7b. Voice-leading sketch. “Con rauco mormorio,” measures 1–7

Example 7b thumbnail

(click to enlarge)

[3.13] The texts of both arias deal with conventionally “pastoral” situations; thus the siciliano topic correlates with the arias and their settings explicitly. But whereas Grimoaldo’s text suggests that he feels removed from what he views as naive communion with the natural world, Bertarido’s text reveals that he is currently surrounded by and interacting with the natural world. In fact, his command over the natural world reflects his status as the legitimate king (Tayebi 2004, 135):

Con rauco mormorio piangono al pianto mio ruscelli e fonti, E in tronchi e mesti accenti fan eco a’ miei lamenti; e gliantri e i monti.

[With a husky murmur, weep at my tears, brooklets and fountains, And in halting and sad accents, echo my laments, caves and hills.]

The difference in mode between the two arias further supports the reading of differences in Grimoaldo’s and Bertarido’s claims to the throne. Bertarido’s major mode siciliano conveys a sense of simplicity, hope, and a gentle stateliness, since major-mode sicilianos were often used to set nativity texts and scenes in the eighteenth century.(20)

[3.14] Differences in voice-leading procedures within the framework of the same musical topic support the pairing of the arias and their contrasting texts. “Pastorello” has a 3ˆ-line structure in which 3ˆ attempts several times to rise above the obligatory register. Musical gestures, voice leading, and harmonic excursions all give the effect of striving and subsequent denial. These attributes work together to depict Grimoaldo’s internal struggle and, when used in conjunction with the siciliano topic, suggest that he will inevitably abdicate the throne. In contrast, “Con rauco mormorio” has a 5ˆ-line with little sense of striving at all: most of the melodic-contrapuntal gestures descend, both at the surface and on the middleground level (see Examples 6a–b). There is no sense that 5ˆ longs to ascend to the upper register. In Examples 6a–b, 5ˆ at the opening of the vocal line easily descends to 1ˆ at the musical surface (measure 12), and to 3ˆ and 2ˆ, respectively, at slightly higher levels of structure (measures 13 and 15). The introductory ritornello (Examples 7a–b) features descending gestures almost exclusively, both on the foreground and the shallow middleground levels. 1ˆ falls an octave through arpeggiation of the tonic triad (e.g., measure 1), and 5ˆ falls a complete stepwise octave in measures 4–5; in contrast, the surface-level ascending thirds in measures 5–6 have no lasting significance at any level of structure and never reappear. The only gesture analogous to those in Grimoaldo’s vocal line occurs in measures 17–20, where F4 rises to D5 in the key of the dominant (see Examples 8a–b). This ascent occurs at both the surface and the middleground, which gives the effect of striving upwards. Unlike Grimoaldo’s line, however, Bertarido’s is able to reach a melodic and harmonic goal through stepwise motion at the middleground. Finally, the music even corrects its own “error” in measures 22–26 (Examples 9a–b). In measure 22,