The great magistrate and professor Daniel Avelar, from the 2nd Court of the Jury Court of Curitiba, asked me to write a text about Othello. It will be part of a larger work, with texts from those involved in the paradigmatic jury simulated about the play, which took place in late 2016. On that occasion I made the incidental soundtrack (piano), along with the incredible talent of the incredible Luna Venceslau (flute and percussion) . We tried something baroque / renaissance, and I think it worked!
Immediately I imagined writing on that soundtrack. And it was inevitable to think of a certain contextualization of the Shakespearean work, for we have that Othello was written in 1603, and placed the plot around the 1570s, when the Turks followed their invasive incursions into Europe. One of the endless battles for Cyprus (then under the domination of the Republic of Venice) sets the stage.
We are, therefore, from history to literature, in the temporality of the second half of the sixteenth century. It is the Renaissance musical aesthetic that we need to investigate if we are to suggest or intuit a soundtrack for Othello.
And what is the renaissance?
The pages of the work emanate love, envy, intrigue, racism, jealousy, betrayal, and as such, this mixture of human passions that leads to murder and suicide has a necessary sound! As words develop in the text, whispers, cries, cries and cries, sea waters and storm, thunder expresses the perception of the feelings so incredibly manipulated by Shakespeare in the midst of renaissance.
Of course, it is a concept unknown to Shakespeare, even though he has lived it! The term was suggested only by later historiography, which sought to organize time from the paradigmatic ruptures seen in the past.
Such a controversial organization credits the renaissance time with the moment of transition between economic systems, that is, the feudal system and the capitalist system. And that time is slow to pass: from the late fourteenth century to the end of the sixteenth, when culture reveals itself (as much as economics and politics) as of substantial importance for change.
Renaissance culture is a return to the classical Greek past. Italian art, the forerunner of this movement, spreads throughout Europe a kind of return to art – and to reality – Greek. Colors open, shapes and harmonies expand, musical notes decline and combine (chords).
Philosophy is vigorously resumed, science develops and discovers a “new” world, the Church is rebuilt, and the Reformation focuses are increasingly vigorous and decisive, the newly discovered Americas are invigorating the public coffers of Europe. The Western world, therefore, in full boiling, is revealed, in the sixteenth century, and from this Renaissance , a new possibility to face human life and history.
But what is the sound of this humanism? A humanism that is completely impregnated in the work of Shakespeare, having Othello, perhaps, its maximum expression of passion? What is the possible Othello soundtrack, anyway?
A sound of several simultaneous notes, tense chords, full orchestration and chorus, newly born polyphony in the sixteenth century: Othello is polyphonic! In the play we hear the whispers of intrigue and the groans of carnal pleasure; the turbulent waters of the sea of jealousy and the storm thunders of jealousy and betrayal; we hear the cry and regret of unrequited love; the silence (the musical pause) of cynicism and derision; the cry of despair of death!
But Othello is also visible and palpable: we not only hear the sea, the thunder, the storm, the whispers, moans and cries of love … We see all this, too! Othello is an opera! It’s complete art. It is a Renaissance humanist opera from the second half of the 16th century.
The opera is born precisely in the second half of the sixteenth century, in Italy. It is, at the same time, polyphony and drama. Music and staging. It’s Othello!
Where is the founder of the Italian opera, one of the greatest operatists of all time, the precursor of polyphony, dissonance, tension and drama in Renaissance music, a composer who, exactly at the end of the sixteenth century, master Claudio Monteverdi? In Venice, the city of the Moor!
The soundtrack of Othello, the moor of Venice is, after all, the opera of Monteverdi, the maestro of Venice . From Shakespeare to Monteverdi, the drama of love that brings death is present in both Othello and Orpheus.