Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

Ferrari [Ferrari ‘dalla Tiorba’; Ferrari ‘della Tiorba’], Benedetto

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Ferrari [Ferrari ‘dalla Tiorba’; Ferrari ‘della Tiorba’], Benedetto

(b Reggio nell’Emilia, probably in 1603 or 1604; d Modena, 22 Oct 1681). Italian librettist, composer, instrumentalist, impresario and poet. Together with Francesco Manelli he established the tradition of public operatic performances at Venice.

1. Life.

Most biographers have followed Tiraboschi in giving Ferrari’s date of birth as about 1597. Tiraboschi deduced this date from his reading of the libri camerali of Modena, in which Ferrari is recorded as having died in 1681 at the age of 84. He supported his conclusion with the (groundless) conjecture that a portrait with the inscription ‘aetatis ann. XXXX’ which appeared in the 1644 edition of L’Andromeda might have been reproduced from the first (1637) edition of the libretto. An earlier portrait does survive, in the first edition of the favola la maga fulminata (1638), in which Ferrari’s age is given as 34; both inscriptions thus suggest a birthdate of 1603 or 1604, and this seems to be confirmed by the earliest evidence of Ferrari’s career as a musician. Between 1617 and 1618 he was a member of the choir of the Collegio Germanico, Rome. The few references to him in the college archives for these years suggest that he was still a choirboy, since they record payments made to the rector of the college for clothing him and paying for his journeys to Parma (and once for rescuing his father from prison). By 17 July 1618 he had left the choir, and from 1 January 1619 until 31 March 1623 he was employed as a musician at the Farnese court at Parma. He may also have revisited his native town at this period: a ‘Benedetto da Parma’ was listed among the singers at Reggio nell’Emilia Cathedral in 1618 and 1620. The course of Ferrari’s career between 1623 and 1637 is uncertain, though he seems to have been known at the Modenese court. On 8 August 1623 he wrote from the home of his uncle, the governor of Sestola, near Lucca, to Alfonso d’Este, enclosing examples of his compositions for two and five voices (lost); ten years later he dedicated his first book of Musiche varie to Duke Francesco I d’Este.

Between 1637 and 1644 Ferrari was active mainly in Venice, working both as librettist and composer to produce a steady stream of operas for the new commercial theatres. His Andromeda, set to music by Manelli and staged in 1637 at the Teatro S Cassiano, was in fact the earliest Venetian opera to which the paying public was admitted and it was staged, according to the libretto, largely at the performers’ expense. For this production he also acted as impresario and played the theorbo in the orchestra. The success of Andromeda prompted Manelli and Ferrari to collaborate again in 1638 to produce the opera La maga fulminata. After this their partnership lapsed, at least as far as Venice was concerned. In 1640 and 1641, however, they were both active in a touring company which presented Venetian opera at Bologna: Ferrari’s virtuosity as a theorbo player was again noted in 1640, when he played in the Bolognese revival of Manelli’s Delia; and in 1641 La maga fulminata and Il pastor regio, an opera with both text and music by Ferrari, were performed at Bologna. Little is known for certain of Ferrari’s career between 1644 and 1651, though it has been suggested that he was employed at Modena during these years. Certainly he wrote the ballet La vittoria d’Imeneo for performance there in 1648. His presence is also noted at other centres. He seems to have been responsible for productions at Genoa in 1645 of Delia and of Cavalli’s Egisto, and at Milan in 1646 of Delia and Il pastor regio. His Il pastor regio and Armida were revived at Piacenza on 15 April and 22 and 26 May 1646, respectively, and the same city saw a production of his setting of Egisto on 22 January 1651 (Bianconi and Walker). In 1651 he travelled to Vienna to serve the Emperor Ferdinand III as instrumentalist and director of court festivities. He arrived there on 12 November 1651, having broken his journey at Innsbruck where he was given gifts by Archduke Ferdinand Karl (see letter of 18 November 1651 in I-La). His L’inganno d’Amore, set to music by Antonio Bertali and given before the imperial electors at the Diet of Regensburg in 1653, effectively marked the introduction of Italian opera into imperial court circles. He returned from Vienna to Modena after 31 March 1653 and, according to Tiraboschi, was appointed court choirmaster there on 1 September 1653. At Modena his Andromeda was revived for the opening of the Teatro della Speltà in 1656. Apart from renewing his contact with the court at Parma in 1660, he remained at Modena until July 1662, when he was dismissed for economic reasons. He spent the next 12 years in his home city of Reggio nell’Emilia. When, in 1674, Duke Francesco II d’Este succeeded to the duchy and began the process of reconstituting the musical establishment at Modena, Ferrari was not immediately given his former position. On his behalf the court archivist Lodovico Tagliavini sent the duke a long and interesting petition (transcribed by Tiraboschi) in which he refuted charges that Ferrari was a dull, old-fashioned composer and gave an account of his career and achievements. In addition to Ferrari’s theorbo playing Tagliavini drew attention to his skill in performing accompaniments on the spinet. Ferrari was reinstated on 1 December 1674 and served as choirmaster, jointly with Giuseppe Paini, until his death. He was buried in the church of the Paradiso in Modena.

2. Works.

The first three librettos that Ferrari wrote for the new Venetian public opera houses do not differ fundamentally from earlier, particularly Roman, models, though there is little provision for arias in the text of Andromeda and only a few strophic arias in La maga fulminata. The story of Andromeda was drawn from Greek mythology, while La maga fulminata and Armida followed in the tradition of the chivalric epic, the latter being based on Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. In his treatment of these subjects Ferrari allowed opportunities for elaborate stage effects such as the killing of a sea monster in Andromeda and conjuration in La maga fulminata. At the same time, however, the action was devised to allow for economy through the doubling of roles, as the cast lists for the first two operas show. These early librettos contain few of the subplots, intrigues and comic scenes that were to characterize librettos by Badoaro and Busenello and indeed later works by Ferrari himself. In La maga fulminata, however, he did introduce the figure of a comic governess, Scarabea (a male role), who was to prove the prototype for many similar characters in later Venetian opera and who was in fact borrowed directly (and with humorous acknowledgement) by Giulio Strozzi for his Delia (1639, set by Manelli). Among Ferrari’s later Venetian operas Il pastor regio (written for the modestly-sized Teatro S Moisè, Venice, 1640; revived at Bologna in 1641) is of particular interest. In his preface to the Venetian libretto he evaluated his own work, saying that he considered himself a good musician rather than a poet and that as such he knew how to write the sort of poetry that was appropriate for musical setting. The Bolognese version of the libretto (reproduced in Della Corte) included, as its final duet, the text ‘Pur ti miro, pur ti godo’, a version of which also appears, perhaps with Ferrari’s music, as the final duet in the surviving manuscripts of L’incoronazione di Poppea (1643) by Monteverdi and possibly Sacrati, and (text only) of Filiberto Laurenzi’s carro musicale Il trionfo della fatica (1647). Ferrari appears to have written fewer dramatic works after his departure from Venice. One further opera, or perhaps two, can, however, be added to the usual canon. The first is mentioned by Ferrari himself in a letter dated 3 April 1650 (in I-La), sent from Piacenza to a nobleman at Lucca. He wrote: ‘Enone, which you have received from Bologna, was a bad Enone for me, since that gentleman who put me to the drudgery of writing the music made no recognition of this in words, which cost nothing’. This opera may be identified as Enone abbandonata, the libretto of which was published at Bologna in 1651 without mention of librettist or composer. The letter is found with others addressed to Ottavio Orsucci, a setting of whose poem Questi pungenti spine Ferrari had published in 1637. The date of the letter should probably be read as 1651, since Ferrari also mentioned in it his forthcoming visit to Vienna and discussed the bad reports he had received of the music of ‘Allessandro’ (sic), recently performed at Venice; the rest of the letter makes it clear that this was Cesti’s Alessandro vincitor di se stesso, performed at Venice in 1651. The second new attribution is an opera mentioned in the chronicle of Benedetto Boselli, who noted a performance of Egisto (to a libretto originally set by Cavalli) given at Piacenza on 22 January 1651, with music by Ferrari. The libretto for this performance survives, but does not give the composer’s name.

Ferrari’s three books of Musiche varie include many settings of his own texts. Most of the songs in the 1633 book, madrigals and arias alike, are composites of recitative and smooth, triple-time aria-like writing, as may be seen in Già più volte tremante (ed. in Leopold), but it also includes two sets of strophic variations in an old-fashioned arioso style. The later madrigal setting Udite amanti (1641) also contains much florid writing. Although a piece such as the triple-time aria Eccovi il cor, o bella (1637) shows that Ferrari was capable of writing attractive melodies, he seems to have been more at ease composing affective recitative, as in his setting of Busenello’s Cielo sia con tua pace and the fine strophic recitative and aria Amanti, io son ferito (both 1637). His two later books also include an extended dialogue setting, Amor, io ti consiglio (1637), and sets of variations over ostinato basses: Questi pungenti spine (1637) on a major form of the so-called passacaglia bass and Voglio di vita uscir (1637) and Amanti, io vi sò dire (1641) on the chaconne bass. According to Crowther (1992) Ferrari’s oratorio Sansone (1680) is an effective drama, modest in scale, set in a mid-17th-century style which must have seemed rather old-fashioned in 1680.


Edition: B. Ferrari: Poesie drammatiche (Milan, 1644, 2/1659) [F]

Il Sansone (orat, G.B. Giardini), 1680, I-MOe, Modena, Oratorio di S Carlo Rotondo


first performed in Venice unless otherwise stated

L’Armida (dramma, Ferrari, after T. Tasso: La Gerusalemme liberata), SS Giovanni e Paolo, 1639, lib in F

Il pastor regio (dramma, Ferrari), S Moisè, lib ded. 23 Jan 1640, in F

La ninfa avara (favola boschereccia, Ferrari), S Moisè, 1641, lib in F; perf. with Proserpina rapita (int, Ferrari)

La finta savia [parts of Act 3] (drama, G. Strozzi), SS Giovanni e Paolo, lib ded. 1 Jan 1643; collab. 3 or ?5 others

Il prencipe giardiniero (dramma, Ferrari), SS Giovanni e Paolo, lib ded. 30 Dec 1643, in F

Egisto (G.B. Faustini), Piacenza, 22 Jan 1651

Enone abbandonata (dramma), ?Bologna, 1651, lib ded. 9 Feb 1651

Gli amori di Alessandro Magno, e di Rossane (dramma, G.A. Cicognini), Bologna, 1656

L’Erosilda (drama, C. Vigarani), Modena, Nuovo, 1658, lib ded. 28 Feb 1658

Other dramatic works: La vittoria d’Imeneo (ballet, Ferrari), Modena, 1648, lib (Modena, 1648) [for marriage of Francesco I d’Este to Vittoria Farnese], lost; Dafne in alloro (Ferrari), Vienna, 12 Feb 1652 [introduction to a ballet]; Le ali d’Amore (F. Berni), Parma, ducal garden, 1660 [introduction to a ballet, for marriage of Ranuccio II Farnese to Margherita Violante of Savoy]; La gara degli elementi (Berni), Parma 1660 [introduction to a combattimento a cavallo, for marriage of Rannucio II Farnese to Margherita Violante of Savoy]

Librettos for other composers: L’Andromeda (dramma), F. Manelli, 1637; La maga fulminata (favola), Manelli, 1638; L’inganno d’Amore (drama), A. Bertali, 1653 (Manelli, 1664, as La Licasta)

vocal chamber music

Musiche varie, 1v, bc (Venice, 1633); ed. in ISS, v (1986)

Musiche varie, libro secondo, 1v, bc (Venice, 1637); 1 piece ed. H. Riemann, Kantaten-Frühling, i (Leipzig, 1909), and 2 ed. in Riemann: Handbuch (1912)

Musiche e poesie varie, libro terzo, 1v, bc (Venice, 1641)

All 3 vols. ed. in Archivium musicum, xxii: La cantata barocca (Florence, 1985)


Poesie drammatiche (Milan, 1644, 2/1659) [incl. libs of Andromeda, La maga fulminata, La ninfa avara, Il principe giardiniero, Armida and Il pastor regio]

Poesie (Piacenza, 1651)

Letters, in I-La, MOs



ES (N. Pirrotta)



Le glorie della Musica celebrate dalla sorella Poesia, rappresentandosi in Bologna La Delia e L’Ulisse (Bologna, 1640)

G. Tiraboschi: Biblioteca modenese (Modena, 1781–6/R), ii, 265–71; vi, 110

N. Pelicelli: ‘Musicisti in Parma nel secolo XVII’, NA, x (1933), 116–26, 233–48

R. Casimiri: ‘“Disciplina musicae” e “mastri di cappella” dopo il Concilio di Trento nei maggiori istituti ecclesiastici di Roma: Seminario romano – Collegio germanico – Collegio inglese (sec. XVI–XVII)’, NA, xix (1942), 102–29

G. Roncaglia: La cappella musicale del duomo di Modena (Florence, 1957)

A. della Corte: Drammi per musica dal Rinuccini allo Zeno (Turin, 1958/R)

T.D. Culley: Jesuits and Music, i: A Study of the Musicians Connected with the German College in Rome during the 17th Century and of their Activities in Northern Europe (Rome, 1970)

G. Casali: ‘La cappella musicale della cattedrale di Reggio Emilia all’epoca di Aurelio Signoretti (1567–1631)’, RIM, viii (1973), 181–224

A. Chiarelli: ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea o Il Nerone: problemi di filologia’, RIM, ix (1974), 117–51, esp. 149ff

L. Bianconi and T. Walker: ‘Dalla Finta pazza alla Veremonda: storie di Febiarmonici’, RIM, x (1975), 379–454

I. Mamczarz: ‘Francesco Berni, Benedetto Ferrari e l’opera comica veneziana’,Venezia e il melodramma nel Settecento, ed. M.T. Muraro (Florence, 1978), 103–30

L. Bianconi: Storia della musica, iv: Il Seicento (Turin, 1982; Eng trans.,1987)

J. Whenham: Duet and Dialogue in the Age of Monteverdi (Ann Arbor, 1982)

H. Seifert: Die Oper am Wiener Kaiserhof im 17. Jahrhundert (Tutzing, 1985)

A. Magini: ‘Le monodie di Benedetto Ferrari e “L’incoronazione di Poppea”: un rilevamento stilistico comparativo’, RIM, xxi (1986), 266–99

J. Southorn: Power and Display in the Seventeenth Century: the Arts and their Patrons in Modena and Ferrara (Cambridge, 1988)

A. Curtis: ‘La Poppea Impasticciata or, Who Wrote the Music to L’Incoronazione?’, JAMS, xlii (1989), 23–54

E. Rosand: ‘The Opera Scenario, 1638–1655: a Preliminary Survey, In Cantu et in sermone: for Nino Pirrotta, ed. F. Della Seta and F. Piperno (Florence, 1989), 335–46

V. Crowther: ‘A Case Study in the Power of the Purse: the Management of the Ducal “Cappella” in Modena in the Reign of Francesco II d’Este’, JRMA, cxv (1990), 207–19

P. Fabbri: Il secolo cantante: per una storia del libretto d’opera nel Seicento (Bologna, 1990)

E. Rosand: Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: the Creation of a Genre (Berkeley, 1991)

V. Crowther: The Oratorio in Modena (Oxford, 1992)

S. Leopold: Al modo d’Orfeo: Dichtung und Musik im italienischen Sologesang des frühen 17. Jahrhunderts, AnMc, no.29 (1995)

B.L. Glixon: ‘Scenes from the Life of Silvia Gailarti Manni, a Seventeenth-Century Virtuosa’, EMH, xv (1996), 97–146


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