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What happened today - October 6th, 1600 The first opera is performed

October 6th, 2016 by Anette Unger

It was commissioned for wedding celebrations. The opera, composed by Jacopo Peri a good 400 years ago, is considered the oldest surviving opera in musical history: "L'Euridice favola drammatica" - "Euridice" for short.

Florence, October 6, 1600

The city celebrates the wedding of Maria de 'Medici to Henry IV, and Count Jacopo Corsi, who is interested in art, also shows his homage to the future Queen of France: with a memorable performance. From the harpsichord in the Palazzo Pitti, he conducts the first surviving opera in musical history: "Euridice". It was created by the organist and singer, court conductor and composer Jacopo Peri, together with his colleague Giulio Caccini and the lyricist Ottavio Rinuccini.

Revival of ancient Greek music

The three men know each other from the Camerata, a private academy that regularly meets with the Corsis. A revival of ancient Greek music has been discussed here for some time. The return to the natural, the striving for harmony of language and rhythm, the connection between Greek theater practice and music - these are topics that are on the nails of the musicians, directors, poets and classical philologists who frequent them.

Creating a new art form

But first and foremost, they all want only one thing: a new art form. Rinuccini, Peri and Corsi had already tried their hand at it around 1594 - with "Dafne", a work that has now disappeared and which, astonishingly, does not take an ancient tragedy but an Arcadian poem as its model. The trio is primarily concerned with singing: "Un nuovo maniera di canto" is their dream. The singing should adapt to the language in terms of structure, tone and emphasis, the monody should follow the natural rhythm of speech, while the strings, harpsichord, lute and flute improvise over a figured bass.

First surviving opera in music history

With "Euridice" Peri tries again to make the dream come true. And his opera is well received. Rinuccini has rewritten the Orpheus myth for the festivities at court society in such a way that Euridice's return from the realm of the dead is not tied to any conditions. Only the form, the role of the choir, the monologue and the recitative reveal the influence of ancient theater, while the action takes place again in idyllic Arcadia. Rinuccini is still adapting, but the musical drama is not long in coming. A few years later, Rinuccini co-founded it with the tragedia "Arianna" - together with the grand master of affect composition Claudio Monteverdi.

What happened today

You can also listen to our series "What Happened Today" on remarkable events in music history at 8:30 am and 4:40 pm on BR-KLASSIK on the radio. You can find more episodes to listen to here.