Cavalieri was born in Rome
of an aristocratic and musical family. He was the son of
Tommaso de' Cavalieri (ca. 1509–1587), the close friend of
Michelangelo. He probably received his early training there,
and was working as an organist and music director in the
period from 1578 to 1584. He spent much of his time in Rome
as an organiser of Lenten oratorios. While in Rome he became
associated with Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici.
In 1587, Ferdinando de' Medici succeeded his brother as
Grand Duke of Tuscany, and in 1588 he brought Cavalieri to
Florence as an overseer of artists, craftsmen and musicians.
Cavalieri was master of ceremonies for the extremely opulent
intermedi that the Medici family required for events such as
weddings. Count Giovanni de' Bardi, the founder and patron
of the Florentine Camerata, also collaborated on these
productions. In May 1589, the festivities for the marriage
of Grand Duke Ferdinando to Christina of Lorraine included a
performance of Girolamo Bargagli's La pellegrina, with six
especially elaborate intermedi. The 1st number of the final
intermedio (6) was initially a piece by Bardi but was
replaced in the actual intermedio by Cavalieri's virtuosic
number based on the Aria del Gran Duca which became popular
all over Europe and occurs in many arrangements and
variations such as that made by Peter Philips in Antwerp.
Cavalieri may have gotten some of his ideas for monody
directly from Bardi, since Cavalieri was not a member of the
Camerata during its period of activity a few years earlier.
He may have developed his rivalry with Giulio Caccini,
another extremely important and influential early monodist
during this period.
In the 1590s, while still in Florence, Cavalieri produced
several pastorales (a semi-dramatic predecessor to opera,
set in the country, with shepherds and shepherdesses as
common characters). In addition to his musical activities,
he was employed as a diplomat during this time, assisting in
papal politics, including buying the votes of key cardinals
for the elections of popes Innocent IX and Clement VIII who
were expected to favour the Medici.
During the 1590s he made frequent diplomatic trips to Rome,
remaining active in the musical life there. He premiered his
famous Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo... in February
1600; this piece is generally held to be the first oratorio.
According to Roman records the piece was produced twice that
year at the Oratorio de Filippini adjacent to Santa Maria in
Vallicella, and was witnessed by thirty-five cardinals.
In 1600 Cavalieri produced Euridice, one of the first
operas, by Jacopo Peri (libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini); this
was part of an elaborate set of festivities for the wedding
of Henry IV of France and Maria de' Medici. Unfortunately
for Cavalieri, he was not given control of the main event,
the production of Il rapimento di Cefalo—his rival Giulio
Caccini took over from him—and he left Florence in anger,
never to return.
Cavalieri claimed to be the
inventor of the stile rappresentativo, what is now usually
known as monody, and he made the claim with considerable
irritation: "everyone knows I am the inventor of [this
style]," he said in a letter of 1600, "and I said so myself
in print." Caccini seems to have gotten more of the credit,
perhaps deservedly so, because of his early association with
Bardi and Vincenzo Galilei in the 1570s in Florence, where
the style was first discussed and probably invented.
Comparing himself to Caccini, he said of their two styles:
"[my] music moves people to pleasure and sadness, while
theirs [i.e. Caccini's and Peri's] moves them to boredom and
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Among Cavalieri's secular compositions were madrigals,
monodies, and pieces he wrote for intermedi; his sacred
compositions included a setting of the Lamentations of
Jeremiah, and the Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo.
This work, probably the most historically important
composition of Cavalieri to survive, consists of alternating
speech, strophic songs, recitative-like sections and
madrigalian parts; subsequent oratorios often used it as a
starting-point. It is the first work to be published with a
figured bass. Most importantly, however, it was an attempt
to demonstrate, at musically conservative Rome, that the
modern monodic style was consistent with the aims of the
Counter-Reformation and could be adapted to a religious as
opposed to a secular purpose. The quick adoption of the
modern musical style by other Roman composers attests to its
effectiveness in this regard. Cavalieri was followed by
other Roman School composers of the 17th century who
included Domenico Mazzocchi, Giacomo Carissimi and
Most of his music is in the most advanced style of the time.
His four-part vocal music usually has a highly ornamented
and expressive melodic line; the differentiation of the
melodic line from the others is one of the defining features
of the early Baroque. Sometimes he experimented with
enharmonic chromaticism which required microtonal tunings;
apparently he built a special pipe organ in the 1590s for
playing this kind of music.