Love, Lust and Diversity in the Italian Renaissance

Although spiritual, pure love, considered an experience capable of renewing the human spirit, was undeniably the main subject of Renaissance poetry, another kind of love was also written about, more or less explicitly, in a number of late fifteenth and early sixteenth century sources.  When describing the imaginary land of ‘Arcadia,’ the poets of the Renaissance painted a picture of a place where nymphs, gods and heroes acted without shame or reserve in their relentless pursuit if pleasure.  When describing the joys and heartaches of the complicated love lives of these mythical figures, the heirs of Petrarch did not use the same kind of introspective, yearning tone they employed for courtly poetry.

Poetry devoted to Eros – which, in the Renaissance, following the Classical tradition, was used to describe love as a pure, transcendent force – is set to music in sophisticated madrigals, while those that treat Antieros, the ‘other’ love: physical, free, and void of all sentiment, are usually found in the musical forms considered ‘minor.’ It’s no accident that this kind of poetry was relegated to popular-style music, often written in dialect, even if most of the musicians and poets who composed them were also fully capable of writing refined madrigals and high-toned poems.

The modi of the title are a series of drawings (lost, but the basis of later engravings and woodcuts) that portray gods, nymphs, satyrs and heroes in poses that leave little to the imagination – a kind of Italian Renaissance kama sutra. These modi would be published (and quickly banned) accompanied by a series of licentious sonnets penned by Pietro Aretino. Aretino was just one of the many homosexual or bisexual intellectuals active during the Italian Renaissance.  Indeed, probably inspired by Classical mores, the Italian courts were remarkably tolerant, so that painters, sculptors, thinkers and poets such as Angelo Poliziano, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo da Vinci, Marcello Ficino, and Pico della Mirandola, were able to express their diversity more or less openly in their art and lifestyle.

Repertoire: Here, love will be viewed in all of its guises: romantic, in the madrigal, considered the summit of secular composition. Physical love is expressed in the earthy frottole, canzoni villaneschi, and moresche from late 15th and 16th Italian sources and in settings of texts from the Commedia dell’Arte. Some rather graphic examples are ‘Hora mai che fora son,” where a former nun expresses her joy at being able to finally get out of her habit or  ‘Veni, veni clerici,’ an ode to solitary comfort. Pieces praising diversity include texts by Angelo Poliziano exalting the love of men over that of women, or “A Paris la joyeuse cité” a piece that apparently talks about a celebrated transvestite – reflecting the sometimes surprising broad-mindedness of Renaissance Italy.

7 – 8 performers: Gloria Moretti, Anna Pia Capurso, Lior Leibovici: voice, Avery Gosfield, Marco Ferrari: Renaissance winds, Francis Biggi: plucked strings, Massimiliano Dragoni: percussion, hammer dulcimer (Oleguer Busque Aymami: viola da gamba)

5 novembre 2010 Programs

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Lucidarium is an irresistibly fun group, a light-hearted collection of friends out to relish each other’s company by making music together. That unbuttoned ethos is a welcome intrusion in the concert hall, one that will hopefully infect other performers.

Basler Zeitung

Next to their stylistic confidence and saddle-sure historical interpretation, Ensemble Lucidarium shows us just how contagiously vivacious the reconstruction of medieval sounds can be.


The six members of Lucidarium let their listeners dive into a completely enchanting world… The musical poetry of the Middle Ages was brought back to life in the most beautiful way possible

New York Times

… The Ensemble Lucidarium, an Italian group, in a program of vocal works (and a couple of high-energy saltarellos) on Wednesday afternoon, performed in a style free of vibrato and other forms of modern polish but plentifully adorned with florid vocal embellishments…

American Recorder Society Magazine

Anyone who arrived thinking of Medieval repertoire as “minor” or as music that ‘all sounds alike’ left with changed ideas.

The Arts Desk

There was a naturalness and relaxedness to their performance that was immensely pleasing.

Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace

… it was enough to be swept away, by the refinement and conviction of the performers, to a place where magic reigns.