Guilio Roman, aka Giulio Caccini, may not be a household name, but this Italian composer, singer, teacher and instrumentalist was one of the most influential figures in the creation of the baroque style and a founder of opera as a genre.
Born in Rome, Caccini was the middle son of Michelangelo Caccini, a carpenter from a town near Pisa. Caccini sang as a boy soprano in Cappella Giulia in Rome, studying the lute, viol and harp. By 1565, he had gained a reputation for his voice, ultimately earning a position as a tenor in the Florentine Medici Court. In addition to his musical duties, Caccini was given the unsavory task of court spy, leading to the murder of an adulterous courtier by her husband.
Caccini eventually gained the patronage of Giovanni de' Bardi who, along with Girolamo Mei and Vincenzo Galilei, formed an intellectual group in 1578 called the Florentine Camerata. Hoping to reattain the reputed power of ancient Greek music over human emotions, Caccini and the Camerata moved away from the prevalent polyphonic (harmonized) style of the Renaissance to monody -- solo song with instrumental accompaniment that put emphasis on clear declamation of the text.
In 1602, Caccini published "Le Nuove Musiche" (New Music), one of the earliest collections of monody, but the motivation behind this publication was not entirely honorable. For the wedding of Maria de' Medici to Henri IV of France in 1600, Caccini inserted some of his own music into Jacopo Peri's new opera "L'Euridice." Caccini then rushed his version of the opera into print in 1601, beating Peri by only two months.
The publication of "Le Nuove Musiche" was partially a response to the resulting barrage of complaints from Peri. While Peri's version of "L'Euridice" ultimately became the more influential version, Caccini's two collections of monody remain definitive examples of the new baroque style.
-- Arielle Basile