Giulio Caccini, one of music's true pioneers, was an important Italian composer of the early Baroque era, noted for his songs and lone opera Euridice. In the former genre he was most influential, leading the way in establishing the new monodic style that flourished in Italy after 1600. He may have been the first Florentine composer to write an opera; certainly Euridice was the first published (1602).
After vocal and instrumental studies in Rome, Caccini was taken to Florence by the influential arts patron, Cosimo I de Medici, who was captivated by the youth's singing. Caccini would be accepted into the Medici Court there, though he first took further vocal instruction from Scipione delle Palle at Cosimo's expense. It appears Caccini developed a considerable reputation as a singer in Florence either before beginning service in the Medici Court or concurrently with his early years there.
Around 1574 Caccini became associated with the Camerata, a Florentine musical association headed, in effect, by Count Giovanni de' Bardi. This group would wield great influence in the arts and produce the first operas. By the time Caccini reached his early thirties he was a famous tenor, well-connected with the Medici family and with other artists and prominent Florentine citizens. Caccini regularly sang and performed on viol and other instruments in Court masques during this period. Still, he would not attain an important position in the Medici Court until 1600.
By the early 1580s Caccini was working on a new song style whose manner typically consisted of an elegant melodic line sensitive to the inflections in the text, supported by rather subdued diatonic chordal accompaniment, and colored by improvisatory embellishments. He may not have actually introduced many compositions before 1589, the year when Court records first make reference to his compositional activities, in this instance relating to the celebrations surrounding the marriage of Grand Duke Ferdinando I. Caccini had also become a respected teacher by this time, though his foremost pupil would be his daughter, Francesca (1587-1640), who became a well-known singer and composer in the first half of the seventeenth century. Caccini's two other children, Pompeo and Settimia, studied under him as well, the latter, like her sister, achieving fame as both a singer and composer.
On a trip to Rome in 1592, Caccini's new song style was reportedly well-received. In the next decade his reputation as a composer, as well as his standing at the Medici Court increased dramatically, in the latter venue culminating in his elevation to music director in 1600. He completed his opera, Euridice, by that year, too, probably to edge out his famous rival Peri, who was also doing a setting. Caccini's opera was first staged in Florence on December 5, 1602, with success.
1602 was also the year that Caccini's presented his most famous collection of vocal music, Le nuove musiche (The new music). It contains madrigals, arias, and some additional music to an earlier work, Il rapimento di Cefalo (1600), a so-called pastoral drama, something of a precursor to opera.
In 1604 Caccini and his family were invited to the French Court, where Henry IV tried to enlist the vocal services of his daughter, whom he called the greatest singer in France. After Caccini returned, he remained in the service of the Medici Court, but became far less active as a composer. Caccini died on or about December 7, 1618, and was buried three days later.