Despite the fact that musicians are some of the most dedicated of professionals, no one really pays sufficient attention to the fact that we are also incredibly strange. I mean it. Musicians are some of the weirdest people you are ever likely to encounter socially, and I like to think it helps. Toronto hero Glenn Gould famously had an obsessive fear of illness which drove him to dress in sweaters and coats in mid-summer, and an equally obsessive desire to hear every possible melody line in a piece of music which led him to record some of the most original recordings of Bach of the 20th century. Obsessive behaviour comes with the artistic territory – if you’re going to devote your life to mastering an instrument, a long-dead composer, or an artistic tradition that’s been lost for several hundred years, it kind of helps if you don’t worry about looking like a bit of a nut socially, or indeed not having much of a social life at all.
Bud Roach: One Toronto-based artist who has let his obsession run wild is Bud Roach, who to the best of my knowledge possesses all of the social graces one needs (like I would know), but is nevertheless very, very dedicated to Italian vocal music circa 1600. I caught up with Roach one evening in January to discuss his next concert with Capella Intima, a re-creation of Marco da Gagliano’s Dafne, which ranked as one of the most avant-garde musical art works of its time when it was premiered in 1608. Dafne, you see, was written in a musical form that da Gagliano’s Italian contemporaries couldn’t understand, and they called the work a favola in musica (a musical fable). Later generations of Italians, like music-lovers elsewhere in Europe, would later find a new name for this sung fable: an opera.
“Marco da Gagliano has all the traits of a composer of the Florentine camerata,” Roach explains, referencing the artistic movement that advocated for a new, dramatic form of vocal music in 17th-century Italy. “His music has long, singing recitatives and focuses on emphasizing the text. His music is really as much about poetry as it is about singing.” Dafne was one of the first operas ever written, but da Gagliano didn’t take that particular prize: he was beaten out by Jacopo Peri, who wrote Eurydice just eight years earlier in 1600.