Ever since accompanied monody and opera first appeared at the end of the 16th century, a notational distinction has been drawn between chamber music and music for the theatre in a similar form. However, despite the desirability of a clear definition of the differences between these two types of music no satisfactory distinction has ever been accepted, either by the composers of the day or by latter day scholars. The theoretical quandary was borne out by contemporary practice. Sections of operas, such as Monteverdi's LAMENTO D'ARIANA, were undoubtedly performed at private gatherings; equally, many pieces written for chamber use nevertheless contain strong dramatic declamatory elements. This blurred distinction persisted throughout the 17th century and applied as much to arias as to recitative. Thus when the cantata developed later in the century, which included both recitative and arias, it was regarded as both a particularly elaborate form of chamber music and a miniature opera.
Two compositions in this recording originate from the musical domain of the theatre: the messenger's recital PER QUEL VAGO BOCHETTO, an extract from Jacopo Peri's EURIDICE, written in 1600 in Florence, in which the nymph Daphne tells of Euridce's death, and then the lament with which the fiancé of the Roman noble, Alessio bids farewell to her country , before setting off on her search for her fiancé whom she believes has disappeared abroad, without her realising that he is living the life of a beggar under her stairs. This lamento comes from Stefano Landi's S. ALESSIO which was performed in 1632 in the presence of the pontifical family.
It is more difficult, however, to find a connection between the two other works. Giacomo Carissimi's ILLAMENTO DI MARIA DI SCOZIA is certainly chamber music but, at the same time, in its genre and form, suggests an extremely theatrical piece. Mary Queen of Scots laments in effect her fate before being led to the scaffold. Such laments echoing contemporary events were highly esteemed in Italian chamber music. Monteverdi's LETTERA AMOROSA, taken from the 7th book of madrigals, also belongs to the genre of chamber music. However, this composition, modelled on the declamation of the original text yet, in masterly fashion, following strict form, Monteverdi himself qualified "in genre rappresentativo". The other works in this recording definitely belong to the domain of chamber music. Guilio Caccini's QUEST LAGRIM'AMARE is, with its formal perfection and extremely ornamental refinements, a soloist's madrigal typical of the early monody. MENTRE CHE'L COR by Sigismondo d'India is composed on a sonnet in which Petrarch laments the unfulfilled vows of love of his youth. TORNA IL SERENO is a strophic song, whose form already in various parts announces, however, the cantata; and the sad PIANGONO AL PIANGER MIO is constructed on a ground bass, la Romanesca, traditionally used for the musical declamation of epic texts.
In Luigi Rossi's QUANDO SPIEGA LA NOTTE and Barbara Strozzi's UDITE, AMANTI UDITE the new genre for the chamber cantata really appears, alternating "open" and "closed" forms, recitatives and airs. Finally, no more satisfying a combination of theatre and chamber cantata can be found than in the magnificent HOR CH'E TEMPO DI DORMIRE by Tarquinio Merula. It is constructed entirely on a ground bass of only two notes which, in the manner of the popular songs, accompany the song of the virgin in a rocking movement - the musical evocation of a theatrical scene, but capturing, equally well, the simple melody of the song.