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Divining the Oracle

Monteverdi’s Seconda prattica

Claudio Monteverdi’s historical position in music has been compared to that of Shakespeare in literature: almost exact contemporaries, each worked from traditional beginnings to transform nearly every genre he attempted. In this book, Massimo Ossi delves into the most significant aspect of Monteverdi’s career: the development, during the first years of the seventeenth century, of a new compositional style he called the seconda prattica or "second manner."

Challenged in print for the unconventional aspects of his music, Monteverdi found himself at the center of a debate between defenders of Renaissance principles and the newest musical currents of the time. The principles of the seconda prattica, Ossi argues in this sophisticated analysis of Monteverdi’s writings, music, and approaches to text-setting, were in fact much more significant to the course of Monteverdi’s career than previously thought by modern scholars-not only did Monteverdi continue to pursue their aesthetic and theoretical implications for the rest of his life, but they also affected his dramatic compositions as well as his chamber vocal music and sacred works.

Ossi "divines the oracle" of Monteverdi’s ambiguous theoretical concepts in a clear way and in terms of pure music; his book will enhance our understanding of Monteverdi as one of the most significant figures in western music history.

298 pages | 2 halftones, 30 musical examples, 24 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2003

Music: General Music


Divining the Oracle makes a number of major contributions to Monteverdi scholarship. It brings together insightful analyses of many works; fresh insights into the large-scale planning behind Monteverdi’s madrigal books; brilliant demonstrations of the centrality of elements of the conzonetta to Monteverdi’s thought; and the most incisive treatments yet of the genere concitato. . . .  [Ossi] has provided a cogent guide to Monteverdi’s musical aesthetics, forcing us to ponder anew the considerable compositional and aesthetics range of seventeenth-century Italy’s ‘oracolo della musica’.”

Steven Saunders | Seventeenth-Century News

“The cogency of Ossi’s discussions resides in conducting textual and musical analyses both at the same level of insight. . . . This emerges in Ossi’s extensive examination, in light of Monteverdi’s preface to the eighth book Il combattimento de Tancredi e Clorinda, the most comprehensive and illuminatingdiscussion in the literature about this piece, one that should become required reading for both undergraduate and graduate students. . . . Divining the Oracle provides a new and high standard for any further study on Monteverdi.”

Mauro Calgagno | Notes

“[Ossi argues that] the meaning of the seconda prattica lay in a paradox: ‘that in order for music to truly serve the text, it first had to become independent of it.’ This is the book’s central thesis, one that, however radical it may appear at first sight, has the merit of opening up an entirely new perspective thanks to a small reorientation of our interpretive angle. . . . The implications of Ossi’s interpretation of what the ideal of the secondo prattica meant for Monteverdi and his music are indeed numerous and wide-ranging. They concern the solidification of notions of genre and style, the link between imitation and dramatic representation, the function of music as a textual exegesis, and the relationship between musical structures and linguistic structures. With its lucid simplicity, this book is destined to leave a profound mark not only on Monteverdi scholarship but also on the study of early seventeenth-century music in general.”

Giuseppe Gerbino | Renaissance Quarterly

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prologue: Diving the Oracle
1. The Public Debate, I: Prima and Seconda Prattica
2. Toward a New Conception of the Madrigal Book: Aspects of Large-scale Organization in the
Fourth and Fifth Books
3. The Canzonetta
4. The Blurring of Genres in Individual Madrigals
5. The Public Debate, II: The Philosopher’s Seconda Prattica
6. The Genere Concitato
Appendix of Original Texts

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