At first glance Leonard Meldert’s Primo libro a cinque (1578) seems to represent a synthesis of the composer’s activity at the court of Guidubaldo II Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino—where the composer arrived in 1573—and his private service, beginning late in 1574, to the duke’s brother, Cardinal Giulio Della Rovere, to whom his madrigal collection is dedicated. But a deeper investigation of the book’s structure and content reveals that it tells another story. Almost all of the pieces were composed either in Pesaro for Guidubaldo—or, rather, for Guidubaldo’s beloved daughter-in-law Lucrezia d’Este from Ferrara—or in Fossombrone or Urbino for Cardinal Giulio, and the selection of texts appears consistent with the literary tastes of the Urbino court (where the young Tasso, too, lived for a while and staged, for the first and only time, his pastoral comedy Aminta). But the inner structure of the book appears, surprisingly, to be modeled according to a sort of autobiographical plan. The twenty madrigals are clearly divided, by modal as well as literary strategies, into three sections: the outer ones, in cantus durus, set conventional happy love scenes to music; the central one, in cantus mollis, presents an incredible series of texts expressing deep suffering due to a bad situation (the composer forced to silence, an angry “signore” ignoring the composer’s words, etc.). The importance given to the affect of suffering is partly explained by Meldert’s dedication letter, in which he says that Guidubaldo’s death in September 1574 left him without “speranza di protezione” (without any hope of protection) and that some time elapsed before he was able to recover thanks to the patronage of Cardinal Giulio. Thus the three parts of the book may respectively refer to a) an initial happy period with Guidubaldo, b) a second period of uncertainty under the new duke Francesco Maria II (who dismissed his father’s musical chapel along with many of his former servants), and c) a third newly felicitous period in the cardinal’s service. Moreover, a philological study of the texts chosen by Meldert reveals that during the troubled and painful period he was probably trying to establish connections with other musical circles (in particular that of Antonio Londonio in Milan) in an attempt to redirect his life and career. Taking this data as my starting point, in this paper I will reconsider the common view of the relations between a madrigal book and its patron/dedicatee as well as the new idea of “authoriality” (i.e., authorial presence) that is reflected in a musical publication of the second half of the sixteenth century.
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