Realising Arianna: the Problematic Accompaniments of Claudio Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna

Matsumoto, Naomi. 2023. Realising Arianna: the Problematic Accompaniments of Claudio Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna. In: Marcello Mazzetti, ed. Basso Continuo in Italy: Sources, Pedagogy and Performance. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, pp. 3-29. ISBN 9782503608501 [Book Section] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

In Italy during the first half of the seventeenth century, there were two concurrent but seemingly ambivalent approaches to vocal accompaniment: (1) adding elaborate and contrapuntally conceived lines over a bassline and (2) providing a ‘vertically’ worked-out, harmonic framework based upon a bass. The surviving notational type of a work – either in tablature/scores or in basso continuo format – itself does not necessarily tell us which type of approach originally expected of the work. We usually consider the compositional function to be the main factor to determine those matters: the former type with its ‘learned’ contrapuntal nature for serious and sacred repertoire; the latter for what Agostino Agazzari – one of the most important early theorists of basso continuo – called « stile moderno di cantar recitativo».

This article aims to cast new light on the dangers of accepting such a simplistic division, by exploring the changing practices of accompaniment for the repertoire defined as ‘stile rappresentativo’ in 17th-century Italy, with Claudio Monteverdi’s ‘Lamento d’Arianna’ as a central case study. That lament is the only portion surviving from Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Arianna premiered in 1608. It is also now one of the most well-known compositions by the composer, and we are familiar with its modern performances accompanied by the ‘basso continuo’, usually executed simply by a theorbo, chitarrone or the like as is advocated by Agazzari. However, my investigation of performance traditions relevant to the work will strongly suggest that the accompaniment of Arianna’s lament seems to have subtly metamorphosed as it followed the developmental history of stile rapprensentativo during the first thirty years or so of its life. It will soon become clear that the accompaniment of Arianna’s lament that we often hear today, which is clearly founded on chordal harmonies, reflects not so much Monteverdi’s ‘original’ conception, but a later type of practice – a practice which eventually found its way into mid-century Venetian public opera. As these arguments will problematise not only our contemporary view but also customary editing methodologies for early music (selecting the ‘best’ source and producing a faithful modern version of it), I will examine briefly the history of modern editions of Arianna’s lament. Through these investigations I will seek a new approach to ‘realising’ Arianna.

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Book Section


Claudio Monteverdi, Dante Alighieri, Arianna, Basso continuo, Monody, Baroque music, performance practice,

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30 September 2023Accepted

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Date Deposited:

18 Sep 2023 08:54

Last Modified:

19 Sep 2023 08:04


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