In fact the famous poem refers to the popular tradition typical of the courtly romance in octave, whose traces we can find till today in the ‘contrasts’ of the Central Italy’s extemporary poetry.
Since the end of the sixteenth century a lot of painters and musicians tried to translate in their own artistic language, in different historical and cultural context, the sensations that the Jerusalem Delivered’s places, characters and subjects inspired them. In such a way they contributed to build up popularity of the poem.
Tiepolo, the Carracci’s, Tintoretto, Van Dyck among painters and Monteverdi, Händel, Haydn, Rossini among musicians have depicted majestically the Armida and Rinaldo’s love affairs or the Tancredi and Clorinda’s anguishes.
But The Enchanted Forest by Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) is very peculiar.
The autograph score is an instrumental composition absolutely independent. From the formal point of view, it can be considered like an extension of the structure of the concerto grosso. In the printed edition made by Geminiani himself at Johnson in London, the heading already reveals clearly the inspiration of the poem: The Inchanted Forrest – An Instrumental Composition Expressive of the same Ideas as the Poem of Tasso of that Title – by Francesco Geminiani.
The humanist Enrico Careri who more than any other has studied Geminiani, and editor of the score utilized in this recording, leads us through the reconstruction of the genesis of that composition:
“…the printed edition we got, datable around 1756 is the concert version of a composition conceived as an accompaniment of a five-acts pantomime, La Forest Enchantée, played in Paris at the grand Théâtre du Palais des Thuilleries in 1754 the 31st of March.
By taking into account the music only, we could be misdirected if we don’t consider the verses from which the subject is drawn out, that is to say the XIII and XVIII books of the Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso, and also the programme of the concert-hall and the reviews.
The subject is the following: the Christian army needs a new ‘conqueror machine’ to lay siege again to Jerusalem, but the forest which must provide the wood required for the construction of that machine, has been enchanted by Ismeno the Wizard and it is crowded by ‘numerous, countless ghosts’ making it impenetrable; Goffredo di Buglione tries in vain to break the spell, so he asks Rinaldo to do it who is able in the end to take advantage of forces of evil.
The story is very simple also because the pantomime itself is based on an elementary plot, but full of possibilities for Niccolò Servandoni (1695-1766), author of the show and also painter, architect, stage designer. He is one of the more interesting personalities of the late French Baroque, known for the illusionistic effects used in his optical performances”.1
The Careri’s comparative study of music in the score version for concert together with the Servandoni’s pantomime libretto on the one hand, and the study of XIII and XVIII Jerusalem books on the other hand, enables us to bring up again two seemengly heterogeneous elements but also two different purposes, the narrative and the musical, both contained in the Tasso’s poetry and in the Geminiani’s music.
By supporting this study without succumbing to the temptation in considering The Enchanted Forest as ‘music-programme’, we can suggest a narrative pattern of the Geminiani’s score. Of course that scheme is only one of the possible traces we have. The evocative power of music can and must be set free to fire the listener’s imagination.
Part 1 • Saron’s forest
Numbers 1-7 of the score
(Delivered Jerusalem XIII book)
Ismeno the wizard sees the Christian with no machines and he thinks of enchanting the wood, so as not to permit them in constructing others. The enchantment is described… (T. Tasso)
Description of the forest, darkness, moon. Music seems to be inspired by Tasso’s versos:
From Godfrey’s camp a grove a little way
Amid the valleys deep grows out of sight,
Thick with old trees whose horrid arms display
An ugly shade, like everlasting night;
There when the sun spreads forth his clearest ray,
Dim, thick, uncertain, gloomy seems the light;
As when in evening, day and darkness strive
Which should his foe from our horizon drive.
n° 2 allegro moderato
Arrival of the wizards
United there the ghosts and goblins meet
To frolic with their mates in silent night,
With dragons’ wings some cleave the welkin fleet,
Some nimbly run o’er hills and valleys light,
A wicked troop, that with allurements sweet
Draws sinful man from that is good and right,
And there with hellish pomp their banquets brought
They solemnize, thus the vain Parians thought.
n° 3 andante
Arrival of Ismeno and the enchantment of the forest
Thither went Ismen old with tresses hoar,
When night on all this earth spread forth her wing,
And there in silence deaf and mirksome shade
His characters and circles vain he made.
n° 4 allegro moderato
Gathering of all the wizards of the forest congratulating Ismeno
Legions of devils by thousands thither come,
Such as in sparsed air their biding make,
And thousands also which by Heavenly doom
Condemned lie in deep Avernus lake
n° 5 andante-adagio
n° 6 allegro moderato
n° 7 andante spiritoso
Return of Ismeno and assembly of the Aladino’s Council
When thus his cursed work performed was,
The wizard to his king declared the feat,
“My lord, let fear, let doubt and sorrow pass,
Henceforth in safety stands your regal seat,
Your foe, as he supposed, no mean now has
To build again his rams and engines great:”
And then he told at large from part to part,
All what he late performed by wondrous art.
Part 2 • Monster and boasters
Numbers 8-11 of the score
(Delivered Jerusalem XIII book)
The machines-makers run away from the wood, the enchantment of the forest is no better than a disappointment.
n° 8 adagio
Forest by daylight, the Christians sleep, black fumes spread around
n° 9 allegro
The machine-makers try to cut down the trees of the forest but they are forced back by monsters vomiting flames
When from the grove a fearful sound outbreaks,
As if some earthquake hill and mountain tore,
Wherein the southern wind a rumbling makes,
Or like sea waves against the scraggy shore;
There lions grumble, there hiss scaly snakes,
There howl the wolves, the rugged bears there roar,
There trumpets shrill are heard and thunders fell,
And all these sounds one sound expressed well.
n° 10 grave
The entrance of Alcasto who haughitly intends to defeat the monsters
The hardiness have I that wood to fell,
And those proud trees low in the dust to lay
Wherein such grisly fiends and monsters dwell
n° 11 allegro moderato
Alcasto proceeds fearless but he is opposed by a wall of fire
Oh what strange monsters on the battlement
In loathsome forms stood to defend the place?
Their frowning looks upon the knight they bent,
And threatened death with shot, with sword and mace:
At last he fled, and though but slow he went,
As lions do whom jolly hunters chase;
Yet fled the man and with sad fear withdrew,
Though fear till then he never felt nor knew.
Part 3 • The Christian field
Numbers 12-14 of the score
(Delivered Jerusalem XIII book)
An unbearable heat comes; the river – Siloé – gets dry; water is poisoned. The Christians languish. Everybody accuses Goffredo of being stubborn… Goffredo prays God the rain to come. God looks at the field and moves to pity… It begins to rain in torrents; the course of the river rises and the air gets cooler (T. Tasso).
n° 12 andante affettuoso
Sadness, dryness, thirst
Thus languished the earth, in this estate
Lay woful thousands of the Christians stout,
The faithful people grew nigh desperate
Of hoped conquest, shameful death they doubt,
Of their distress they talk and oft debate,
These sad complaints were heard the camp throughout:
“What hope hath Godfrey? shall we still here lie
Till all his soldiers, all our armies die?”
n° 13 (6/8 without any indication of time)
Father and Lord, if in the deserts waste
Thou hadst compassion on thy children dear,
The craggy rock when Moses cleft and brast,
And drew forth flowing streams of waters clear,
Like mercy, Lord, like grace on us down cast;
And though our merits less than theirs appear,
Thy grace supply that want, for though they be
Thy first-born son, thy children yet are we.
n° 14 allegro moderato
So they the streaming showers with shouts and cries
Salute, which heaven shed on the thirsty lands,
The falling liquor from the dropping skies
He catcheth in his lap, he barehead stands,
And his bright helm to drink therein unties,
In the fresh streams he dives his sweaty hands,
Their faces some, and some their temples wet,
And some to keep the drops large vessels set.
Part 4 • The disenchantment of the forest
Number 15 of the score
(Delivered Jerusalem XVIII book)
At dawn Rinaldo is praying on the mountain. The nature around is wonderful. After praying Rinaldo goes to the forest, he doesn’t fear it. He hears a beautiful sound and the running water of a river; he crosses a passage. A nymph gets out from an oak and hundreds of nymphs gets out from other hundreds of plants and begin to dance. He seems to see the Armida’s face talking to him in a soft voice, then he embraces a myrtle tree (symbol of love): Rinaldo brandishes his sword and the Armida’s face turns into the hundreds-arms monster Briareo, equipped with fifty swords and fifty shields; but Rinaldo takes by storm the forest and the enchantment vanishes.
n° 15 andante-allegro-andante-adagio-affettuoso-allegro-allegro moderato
The river is calm, then impetuous; nymphs, seduction, Armida, successful undertaking.
Forward he passed, mid in the grove before
He heard a sound that strange, sweet, pleasing was;
There rolled a crystal brook with gentle roar,
There sighed the winds as through the leaves they pass,
There did the nightingale her wrongs deplore,
There sung the swan, and singing died, alas!
There lute, harp, cittern, human voice he heard,
And all these sounds one sound right well declared.
Lightened the heavens above, the earth below
Roared loud, that thundered, and this shook;
Blustered the tempests strong, the whirlwinds blow,
The bitter storm drove hailstones in his look;
But yet his arm grew neither weak nor slow,
Nor of that fury heed or care he took,
Till low to earth the wounded tree down bended;
Then fled the spirits all, the charms all ended.
Numbers 16-18 of the score
At this point the story can be considered finished, but Servandoni adds an epilogue describing the Rinaldo’s triumphal entry at the field (n° 17) which doesn’t justify the music of 16 and 18.
The crying (descending semitone) as figure of speech can be easily related (andante n° 16) to the Armida’s lament that we find in the same XVIII book, but also in XVI and XX books. Similarly, the affettuoso n° 18, which seems to be an interlude between the two concluding movements (n° 17) can easily evoke the touching Armida and Rinaldo reconciliation at the end of the tassian poem.
n° 16 andante
The Armida’s lament
n° 17 allegro
The Rinaldo’s triumphal entry at the field
(…) Appeared the man, bold, stately, high and great,
His eagle’s silver wings to shine begun
With wondrous splendor gainst the golden sun.
The camp received him with a joyful cry,
A cry the dales and hills about that flied;
n° 18 affettuoso
Thus plaineth he, thus prays, and his desire
Endears with sighs that fly and tears that fall;
That as against the warmth of Titan’s fire,
Snowdrifts consume on tops of mountains tall,
So melts her wrath; but love remains entire.
“Behold,” she says, “your handmaid and your thrall:
My life, my crown, my wealth use at your pleasure;”
Thus death her life became, loss proved her tensure.
n° 17 da capo