Usually, a vocal piece based on a mournful text, often built over a descending tetrachord ostinato (seeGROUND,
§2) and common in cantatas and operas of the Baroque period.
Originating in ancient Greek drama and further developed in Latin poetry, the lament topos enjoyed a
privileged status in European literature. Set apart as an exceptional moment of emotional climax or particularly
intense expression, it provided an occasion for special formal development and for the display of expressive
rhetoric and of affective imagery. Laments were most often associated with female characters and the female
Madrigals designated ‘lamento’ appeared occasionally during the 16th century; Stefano Rossetto’s Lamento di
Olimpia (1567) and B.S. Nardò’s Lamento di Fiordeligi (1571), for example, each set appropriately dramatic
stanzas from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso. The genre assumed musical importance around the turn of the 17th
century as a focus of the theoretical justifications of the new monodic style. Indeed, in defining the cathartic
purpose of that style, theorists such as Giacomini, Mei and Vincenzo Galilei singled out the lament; because it
expressed a height of emotional intensity, it was the type of text best calculated to move an audience to pity,
thereby purging them of strong passions.
Librettists and composers of early opera acknowledged the special dramatic position and affective
responsibility of the lamento, distinguishing it from the narrative flow of its context: librettists imposed greater
formality through using more strongly metred and rhymed texts in which particularly affective lines often
recurred as refrains; and composers interpreted these texts with greater freedom, repeating or otherwise
enhancing specially affective words or phrases with melodic sequence, dissonance or textural conflicts, often
imposing an overall tonal coherence to create structural self-sufficiency.
One of the most effective and clearly the most influential of early 17th-century lamenti was Monteverdi’s
Lamento d’Arianna from his opera to a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini, performed in Mantua in 1608. The musical
isolation of this lamento from its context was recognized immediately in contemporary descriptions of the
opera’s performance and confirmed by the publication of monodic Ariadne laments by Severo Bonini (1613),
Possenti (1623) and F.A. Costa (1626) and, most conclusively, by Monteverdi’s own reworking of the piece as
a madrigal (1614), the publication of the monodic version (1623) and his adaptation of the madrigal to a sacred
text (1640). His madrigal publication may well have inspired the madrigal laments of Ariadne published by
Claudio Pari and Antonio Il Verso in 1619.
Monteverdi’s monodic lamento, though self-contained, is not a closed form. Its organization develops out of the
internal exigencies of its text: no superimposed formal structure determines its shape. It is not an aria, for arias,
by definition, were fixed, predetermined musical structures and therefore inappropriate to the expression of uncontrolled passion in a lament. Clear distinctions between laments and arias persisted for some time.
Claudio Saracini’s second and fifth monody books (1620 and 1624) each contain one lengthy dramatic
monologue entitled ‘lamento’, in addition to madrigals and pieces marked ‘aria’. Sigismondo D’India’s fourth
and fifth books of Musiche (1621 and 1623), in addition to a large number of ‘arias’, characterized by strophic
structure and simple rhythmic and melodic style, contain a total of five monodic ‘lamenti in stile recitativo’,
highly expressive, irregular settings of lengthy dramatic texts by the composer himself. In a context in which
most lamenting characters were female, portrayed by the soprano voice, three of these are notable for being
scored for tenor and expressing the grief of male heroes: Orpheus, Apollo and Jason. The tradition of the
extended, dramatic recitative lamento persisted until nearly the middle of the century and is exemplified in such
works as Peri’s Lamento d’Iole (1628), Abbatini’s Pianto di Rodomonte (1633) and Rovetta’s Lagrime d’Erminia
At the same time a new stage in the development of the Baroque lamento was achieved i