Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa

Lamento della Ninfa (the Nymph’s Lament), written anywhere between 1614 and 1638, year of its publication in the Eight Book of Madrigals, is one of the most known and appreciated compositions of Monteverdi.

The text is divided in three parts with the nymph lamenting her fate in the middle and the choir of pastori (shepherds; 2 tenors and 1 bass) on either side. The choir introduces and concludes the sad story of the nymph, and also take part in the lament, commenting (with compassion) the scene that takes place before our eyes.

Unlike the nineteen other works appearing in the Eight Book, Monteverdi adds introductory notes to the Lamento specifying how the piece has to be performed. Interestingly enough, when it comes to the nymph he writes ‘she has to sing according the her emotions’ (al tempo dell’affetto del animo), while the pastori were expected to sing at a regular beat (al tempo della mano).

I think that giving the soprano licence to follow her passions and moods is what makes this piece timeless, as every interpreter gives a personal and unique rendition of it. When it comes to profound matters, not setting strict instructions and rules is the wisest thing to do because no language (including music, painting, and mathematics) can faithfully transmit the essence of humanness. This in turn shows that Monteverdi had a deep knowledge of human emotions.

The text by Ottavio Rinuccini of the lament (with an english translation) is:

Non havea Febo ancora
Recato al mondo il dí,
Ch’una donzella fuora
Del proprio albergo uscí.
Sul pallidetto volto
Scorgeasi il suo dolor,
Spesso gli venia sciolto
Un gran sospir dal cor.
Sí calpestando fiori
Errava hor qua, hor là,
I suoi perduti amori
Cosí piangendo va.
Phoebus had not yet brought
The day to the world,
When a maiden so angry
Came out of her house.
On her pale face
Her pain could be read,
And every so often
A heavy sigh came from her
Stepping on flowers,
She wandered from here to there,
Bewailing her lost love
With these words.
(il ciel mirando,
il piè fermo,)

Dove, dov’è la fè
Ch’el traditor giurò?
Fa che ritorni il mio
Amor com’ei pur fu,
O tu m’ancidi, ch’io
Non mi tormenti più.
(Miserella, ah più, no,
Tanto gel soffrir non può.)
Non vo’ più ch’ei sospiri
se lontan da me,
No, no che i martiri
Più non dirammi affè.
(Ah miserella, ah più, no, no)
Perché di lui mi struggo,Tutt’orgoglioso sta,
Che sí, che sí se’l fuggo
Ancor mi pregherà?
(Miserella, ah più, no,
Tanto gel soffrir non può.)

Se ciglio ha più sereno
Colei, che’l mio non è,
Già non rinchiude in seno
Amor sí bella fè.
(Miserella, ah più, no,
Tanto gel soffrir non può.)

Ne mai sí dolci baci
Da quella bocca havrai,
Ne più soavi, ah taci,
Taci, che troppo il sai.
(She said)
(gazing at the sky,
Standing still)

Where is the troth
that the traitor vowed?
(Unhappy one)
Make him return to my
Love, as he once was,
Or else kill me, so I
Can no longer torment myself.
(The poor girl, ah no more, no,
can she suffer so much ice.)
I no longer want him to breathe,
unless far from me
so that he can no longer say the
things that torture me
(Ah, the poor girl, ah no more, no,
Because I destroy myself for him,
so full of pride as he is;
but if I flee from him,
again he entraits me.
(The poor girl, ah no more, no, can
she suffer so much ice)
A more serene eybrow
has she than mine,
but love has not planted in his
breast so fair a faith.
(The poor girl, ah no more, no, can
she suffer so much ice)

Not ever such sweet kisses
will he have from that mouth,
not softer, a quiet,
quiet, he knows it only too well.
(The poor girl)
Sí tra sdegnosi pianti
Spargea le voci al ciel;
Cosí ne’ cori amanti
Mesce amor fiamma, e gel.
Thus with indignant complaints,
the voice rose up to the sky; thus,
in loving hearts, love mingles
flame and ice.

From a seemingly trivial tragedy, Monteverdi takes us deep into our own human nature.

One can find many interpretations of the Lamento on youtube and each one of them is special and unique. Here are two of my favourite ones:


I’d be glad to listen to your favourite version. Feel free to put it in the comment section!

Further reading
For more info on music theory: Rinuccini/Monteverdi—Lamento della ninfa, Harpes magazine.
Madrigals, Book 8. Scores.


17 thoughts on “Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa

  1. Good evening, thank you for this post, explanation and lyrics.
    I’d suggest this a beautiful cover:

    And my favorite “clssic” versions are: Montserrat Figueras

    and Mariana Flores:


  2. Thanks for this remarkable article. I really enjoyed reading it.

    My favourite interpretation of all times is by Christina Pluhar:

  3. Beautiful! Heard it on the radio today, and found this text. I quite enjoy this video, the setting is rather fitting

  4. Someone should arrange this in flamenco style.
    Flamenco fission.

    Music (this music) is the only thing that makes sense in the world.

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