from Dialogo della musica antica e della moderna (1581)
Music was numbered by the ancients among the arts that are called liberal, that is, worthy of a free man, and among the Greeks its masters and discoverers, like those of almost all the other sciences, were always in great esteem. And by the best legislators it was decreed that it must be taught, not only as a lifelong delight but as useful to virtue, to those who were born to acquire perfection and human happiness, which is the object of the state. But in the course of time the Greeks lost the art of music and the other sciences as well, along with their dominion. The Romans had a knowledge of music, obtaining it from the Greeks, but they practiced chiefly that part appropriate to the theaters where tragedy and comedy were performed, without much prizing the part which is concerned with speculation; and being continually engaged in wars, they paid little attention even to the former part and thus easily forgot it. Later, after Italy had for a long period suffered great barbarian invasions, the light of every science was extinguished, and as if all men had been overcome by a heavy lethargy of ignorance, they lived without any desire for learning and took as little notice of music as of the western Indies. And they persisted in this blindness until first Gafurius and after him Glarean and later Zarlino [Renaissance music theorists] (truly the princes in this modern practice) began to investigate what music was and to seek to rescue it from the darkness in which it had been buried. That part which they understood and appreciated, they brought little by little to its present condition, but from what can be learned from countless passages in the ancient histories and in the poets and philosophers, it does not seem to any who are intelligent that they restored it to its ancient state, or that they attained to the true and perfect knowledge of it. This may have been owing to the rudeness of the times, the difficulty of the subject, and the scarcity of good interpreters. . . .
For this reason, . . . it has pleased me to publish some thoughts of mine on ancient music and that of our times, which until this day have been (in my opinion) little understood by any who have discussed them . . . . And now, since long continuous speaking, flowing on like a torrent, seems not to have the force and vigor in concluding sentences and arguments which dialogue has, I have judged it most to this purpose to treat my present discourses in that manner, and this I can easily believe to have been one of the potent causes that induced Plato to treat the subjects of divine philosophy in this way. I have accordingly chosen to discuss the subject the very illustrious Signor Giovanni Bardi, . . . and with him Signor Piero Strozzi, as being both most zealous for the true music and great lovers of such speculations as these and moreover qualified to sustain this or even a weightier argument.
Jacopo Peri: from Foreward to Euridice (1601)
Seeing that dramatic poetry was concerned and that it was therefore necessary to imitate speech in song (and surely no one ever spoke in song), I judged that the ancient Greeks and Romans (who in the opinion of many sang their tragedies throughout in representing them upon the stage) had used a harmony surpassing that of ordinary speech but falling so far below the melody of song as to take an intermediate form. And this is why we find their poems admitting the iambic verse, a form less elevated than the hexameter but said to be advanced beyond the confines of familiar conversation. For this reason, discarding every other manner of singing hitherto heard, I devoted myself wholly to seeking out the kind of imitation necessary for these poems. And I considered that the kind of speech that the ancients assigned to singing and that they called "diastematica" (that is sustained or suspended) could in part be hastened and made to take an intermediate course, lying between the slow and suspended movements of song and the swift and rapid movements of speech, and that it could be adapted to my purpose (as they adapted it in reading poems and heroic verses) and made to approach that other kind of speech which they called "continuata," a thing our moderns have already accomplished in their compositions, although perhaps for another purpose.
I knew likewise that in our speech some words are so intoned that harmony can be based upon them and that in the course of speaking it passes through many others that are not so intoned until it returns to another that will bear a progression to a fresh consonance. And having in mind those inflections and accents that serve us in our grief, in our joy, and in similar states, I caused the bass to move in time to these, either more or less, following the passions, and I held it firm throughout the false and true proportions [consonances and dissonances] until, running through various notes, the voice of the speaker came to a word that, being intoned in familiar speech, opened the way to a fresh harmony. And this not only in order that the flow of the discourse might not distress the ear (as though stumbling among the repeated notes that it encountered because of the rapid succession of the consonances) and in order that it might not seem in a way to dance to the movement of the bass (especially where the subject was sad or grave, more cheerful subjects naturally calling for more rapid movements), but also because the use of false proportions would either diminish or offset whatever advantage it brought us, because of the necessity of intoning every note, which the ancient music may perhaps have had less need of doing.
And therefore, just as I should not venture to affirm that this is the manner of singing used in the fables of the Greeks and Romans, so I have come to believe that it is the only one our music can give us to be adapted to our speech.
from Oliver Strunk, Source Readings in Music History (New York, 1950) 374 - 375.