The wedding of Ferdinando de’Medici to Christine of Lorraine was a spectacular Florentine affair. It took place in 1589, two years after Ferdinando became Grand Duke of Tuscany. The wedding was lavish and spared no expense. This included its principal entertainment: a performance of Girolamo Bargagli’s comedy La Pellegrina, which is remembered today not for its drama but for the musical interludes that accompanied it. Those six interludes, better known as intermedi, are comprised primarily of music by court composers Cristofano Malvezzi and Luca Marenzio.
The intermedio was a musical interlude unique to the Renaissance. It could be placed during feasts, processions, tournaments, or before, after and in between acts of a play, as is the case for La Pellegrina. However, contrary to the belief that they were secondary compositions, La Pellegrina’s interludes were anything but typical. Ther were, in fact, the pinnacle of all intermedi. With a budget relative to that of the feature flims of today, the six intermedi were truly something to behold; their enormous sets and grand compositions offering an experience that was nothing short of stunning.
There were other composers who contributed music to the intermedi. They included Giulio Caccini, Giovanni de’ Bardi, Jacopo Peri, and Emilio de’ Cavalieri—four men who were a part of a movement that ushered in the Baroque Era.
Fortunately for us, Ferdinando ordered the music of the intermedi to be published shortly after its premiere. That act not only preserved it for posterity, but helped to populize the one tune that became a hit across Europe in the decades that followed. Better known as the Ballo del Gran Duca, it was the closing movement to the sixth and final intermedio.
Here’s video of a performance by the Chamber Choir of Namur and La Fenice (Jean Tubery, dir.) of the final movement from the sixth intermedio—Emilio de’ Cavalieri’s O che nuovo miracolo: