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Cupid, Love, and the Baroque

Depictions of Cupid in baroque music from France, Italy, England, and Latin America.

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statue of cupid

Photo: Edgley Cesar

A statue of Cupid by Alfred Gilbert (Piccadilly Circus, London, England).

The little winged boy and Roman god known as Cupid is the son of Venus, goddess of love. He carries a bow and a quiver of arrows, and is sometimes depicted in a blindfold. Cupid’s name comes from the Latin word cupido, meaning “desire.” When Cupid shoots an arrow into your heart, he inspires romantic feelings.

Many operas and songs from the Baroque Era set Cupid alongside his mother or the goddess Psyche.

England

In John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, he appears in the second act receiving a lesson from Venus in the art of love and, in turn, passes on the lesson to several little cupids or Amorini.

Blow wasn’t the only composer from Restoration England to put Cupid in a story. Henry Purcell wrote the song “Cupid, the slyest rogue alive” in which little Cupid gets his just desserts. He’s stung as he tries to steal honey from a beehive.

Hurting, Cupid runs to Venus in order to elicit sympathy, but she has none of it and reminds him that he is, perhaps, no different than the bee. Both Cupid and the bee deliver a sting with serious consequences

Latin America

Juan de Hidalgo revisits the story of Cupid and Psyche in his ironically upbeat song Disfrazado de pastor vaja el amor (“Disguised as a shepherd Cupid wanders about”). Having been rejected by Psyche, Cupid is described as hopelessly depressed and as someone who doesn’t know what to do with himself. The chorus sums up the sentiment of the song:

“But, ah, how distressing! / How the birds weep / How the wells swirl / When they see Cupid lamenting about love.”

In Tomás de Torrejon y Velasco’s opera La Purpura de la Rosa, a setting of the Venus and Adonis story, Cupid is instructed by Venus to shoot an arrow at Adonis’ heart while he sleeps. As expected, Adonis awakens and is powerfully attracted to Venus. They enjoy their time together before fate intercedes and forces Adonis’ inevitable demise.

Italy

In Italian song, Cupid and his arrows were sometimes used in a symbolic fashion. In Monteverdi’s melancholy Voglio di vita uscir (“I want to leave this life”), we find Cupid rejected and despair embraced.

Luigi Rossi, on the other hand, sets words by Domenico Benigni which ask the question: “To which dart is the heart indebted?” Apparently, the many darts or arrows that Cupid shoots can have various side-effects.

France

Like England, Italy, and Latin America, depictions of Cupid in France vary from the symbolic to the literal.

A grand and joyful argument between to choruses ensues in Lully’s comedy-ballet George Dandin. Followers of Cupid battle it out against those of Bacchus. In the end, a lone shepherd convinces both parties to admit that Cupid and Bacchus are equally great.

Many years later, in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s setting of Pigmalion, about a statue that comes to life through a sculptor’s deep love of it, Cupid is instrumental in bringing the statue to life.

New Release

Our new release of the week features the American harpsichordist Elisabeth Wright in a new release of early Spanish keyboard works entitled “Flores de Musica” on the Musica Ficta label.

Music Heard On This Episode

Juan Cabanilles : Pasacalles de primero tono
Elisabeth Wright, harpsichord — Flores de Musica (Musica Ficta , 2009)
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Juan Cabanilles : Pasacalles de primero tono
Elisabeth Wright, harpsichord — Flores de Musica (Musica Ficta , 2009)
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John Blow: Act II: “You place with such delightful care,” “The insolent, the arrogant,” “Choose for the formal fool,” and A Dance of Cupids
Orchestra of the Age of Elightenment/Rene Jacobs — Venus and Adonis (Harmonia Mundi , 2008)
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Henry Purcell: “Cupid, the slyest rogue alive”
Sylvia McNair, soprano, and Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood — The Echoing Air: Music of Henry Purcell (Polygram, 1995)
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Juan de Hidalgo: Tono humano: “Disfrazado de pastor”
Musica Temprana — Avecillas Sonoras: Villancicos from 18th-century Latin America (Etcetera, 2008)
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Tomas de Torrejon y Velasco: Cupid “Que quieres oh tu, cuyo gemir?” and “Favor, cielos divines”
Ensemble Elyma/Gabriel Garrido — La Purpura de la Rosa (K 617 , 1999)
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Claudio Monteverdi: “Voglio di vita uscir”
Emma Kirby, soprano, and Various Artists — The Emma Kirkby Collection (Hyperion, 1993)
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Luigi Rossi: “A qual dardo”
Suzie Leblanc, soprano, and Tragicomedia/Stephen Stubbs — Amor Roma: Roman Cantatas c. 1640 (Challenge, 2003)
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Jean Baptiste Lully: George Dandin: Choeur “Chantons tous de l'Amour”
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie — Les divertissements de Versailles (Erato, 2002)
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Jean-Philippe Rameau: From Pygmalion: “Du pouvoir de l’Amour”
Carolyn Sampson, soprano, and Ex Cathedra/Jeffrey Skidmore — Regne Amour: Love Songs from the Operas (Hyperion, 2004)
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Juan Cabanilles: Tiento de 8 tono: Punto alto de falsas
Elisabeth Wright, harpsichord — Flores de Musica (Musica Ficta , 2009)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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  • Bernard Gordillo

    Our apologies, but the audio won’t be available for another week as is our usual practice with new programs. The ones that have been available recently were re-runs. Come back in seven days and enjoy. -bg

  • rotifera

    I would love to listen, but the link to the audio appears to be blank!

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