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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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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.

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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