Jacob van Eyck Quarterly


2004, No. 3(July)



'Amarilli mia bella' : Jacob van Eyck's melodic model


Many of the themes used by Jacob van Eyck were international top hits of the time. 'Amarilli mia bella' from Le nuove musiche (1602) by Giulio Caccini (c1545-1618) was certainly was one of these, and not without reason. It is a moving song, addressed to the passionately beloved Amarilli. Its opening sequence D"A'Bb'F#'G'A'A' expresses languishing love. The quality of this device was also recognized by other composers. Claudio Monteverdi, for instance, used it at the end of the three-part madrigal 'Parlo, miser', ò taccio' from his Settimo libro de madrigali (1619), on the concluding words 'Chi puo mirarmi, e non languir d'amore?' ('Who can behold me without languishing for love?').

Van Eyck composed two sets of variations on 'Amarilli' [NVE 36 & 67]. His melody version differs in some respects from Caccini's solo song. The most dramatic moment in the opening device, a descending diminished fourth (Bb'-F'#), was changed into Bb'-A', sounding much more everyday. Van Eyck seems to have de-dramatized the notes, which he also did in other melodies. It is not as simple as that, however. He followed an existing model, a model even predating Le nuove musiche.


According to Ruth van Baak Griffioen, 'Amarilli mia bella' arrived rather late in the Netherlands: 'The first surviving printed source is from 1623.' (1) This is not true. A six-part version appeared already in 1601 in a collection called Ghirlanda di madrigali, printed by Pierre Phalèse the younger in Antwerp. This is one year prior to the edition of the Italian 'original', Le nuove musiche.

Remarkably, 'Amarilli' is the only anonymous piece of the 33 madrigals included in the Ghirlanda collection. Van Eyck's version clearly mirrors this polyphonic model. [facsimile] This is not surprising. A version published in the Netherlands undoubtedly found an easier way to Utrecht than a print from Italy.

The Ghirlanda di madrigali seems to have been the most important source for the dissemination of 'Amarilli' north of the Alps. That the Phalèse edition was known in the Dutch Republic during Van Eyck's lifetime, is evident. A four-part arrangement based on the six-part madrigal was printed by Van Eyck's publisher Paulus Matthijsz in a 1644 edition of the Livre septième. (For the score, click on 'more' and then go to 'ensemble music'.) Matthijsz used the bass part when he turned a solo variation by Van Eyck into a duet arrangement [NVE 84].

Of the six parts, the quinto has disappeared, but all the others have survived. In the opening device, the Bb' is followed by A' (the F#' appearing in the sesto part). Apart from a few minor differences, Van Eyck's version is identical to that from the Ghirlanda. Both have the deviant canzona form
||:a:||:b:|| and both lack the small coda that appears in Le nuove musiche.

The relationship between Caccini's solo song and the six-part Ghirlanda version remains unclear. Tim Carter devoted a well-wrought article to it, paying attention to other contemporary multi-part versions as well. (2) His conclusion is that there are many questions and only a few answers. Caccini, in his preface to Le nuove musiche, complained that his songs circulated 'tattered and torn'. Was the six-part version an example of this practice, or did he try to obscure that his song, couched in the new monodic style, was originally a multi-part composition? Were different authentic versions allowed to figure side by side? Whatever the case may be, no mistake can exist about Van Eyck's model. It goes back to the Ghirlanda di madrigali, not to Le nuove musiche.


(1) Ruth van Baak Griffioen, Jacob van Eyck's Der Fluyten Lust-hof (1644-c1655), Utrecht 1991, p. 91. [back]

(2) Tim Carter, 'Caccini's Amarilli, mia bella: Some Questions (and a Few Answers)', in: Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 113 (1988), 250-273. Reprinted in Tim Carter, Monteverdi and his Contemporaries, Aldershot 2000.


Thiemo Wind


 No. 2004/4 will be available on 1 October, 2004

Interested to receive a reminder? Send an e-mail: