The University of Mississippi

Music 502: Baroque Music

Thomas Coryat on Venetian Music (1608)

The Feast was upon Saint Roche's Day ... where I heard the best musick that ever I did in all my life both in the morning and in the afternoon, so good that I would willingly go a hundred miles afoot to hear the like. The place where it was, is near to saint Roche's Church, a very sumptuous and magnificent building that belongeth to one of the six Companies in the city .... In this room are two or three fair Altars. For this room is not appointed for merriments and banquetings but altogether for devotion and religion, therein to laud and praise God and his saints with Psalms, Hymns, spiritual songs and melodious musick upon certaine days dedicated unto Saints. The second is very spacious and large, having two or three fair Altars more: the roof of this room which is of a stately height, is richly gilt and decked with many sumptuous embossings of gold, and the walls are beautified with sundry delicate pictures, as also many parts of the roof; unto this room you must ascend by two or three very goodly pair of staires .... The feast to the honour of Saint Roche consisted principally of Musick, which was both vocal and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so superexcellent, that it did even ravish and stupify all those strangers that never heard the like. But how others were affected with it I know not; for mine own part I can say this, that I was for the time even rapt up with Saint Paul into the third heaven: Sometimes there sung sixteen or twenty men together, having their master or moderator to keep them in order; and when they sung, the instrumental musicians played also. Sometimes sixteen played together upon their instruments .... These two Theorbists concluded that nights musick, which continued three whole hours at the least. For they began about five of the clock, and ended not before eight. Also it continued as long in the morning: at every time that every several musick played, the Organs (whereof there are seven fair pair in that room, standing all in a row together), played with them.

Of the singers there were three or four so excellent that I think few or none in Christendom do excel them, especially one, who had such a peerless and (as I may in a manner say) such a supernatural voice for sweetness, that I think there was never a better singer in the world, insomuch that he did not only give the most pleasant contentment that could be imagined to all the hearers, but also did, as it were, astonish and amaze them. I always thought he was an Eunuch, which if he had been, it had taken away some part of my admiration, because they do most commonly sing passing well; but he was not, therefore it was much the more admirable. Again, it was the more worthy of admiration, because he was a middle-aged man, as about forty years old. For nature doth more commonly bestow such a singularity of voice upon boys and striplings than upon men of such years. Besides it was for the more excellent because it was nothing forced, strained, or affected, but come from him with the greatest exactitude that ever I heard. Truly I think that had a Nightingale been in the same room, and contended with him for the superiority, something perhaps he might excel him, because God hath granted that little bird such a privilege for the sweetness of his voice, as to none other; but I thinke he could not do as much.

Thomas Coryat. Coryat's Crudities hastily gobbled up in five months travells in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia commonly called the Grisons country, Helvetia alias Switzerland, & some parts of high Germany, and the Netherlands; newly digested in the hungry aire of Odcombe in the county of Somerset, & now dispersed to the nourishment of the travelling members of this kingdom (1611).

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