musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Leonardo da Vinci and his music

[I] "Leonardo da Vinci - La musique secrète" (The hidden music of Leonardo da Vinci)
Doulce Mémoire
Dir: Denis Raisin Dadre
rec: Sept 2018, Bruère-Allichamps, Abbaye de Noirlac (Centre culturel de rencontre)
Alpha - 465 (© 2019) (78'05")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
[The Annunciation] Frater Petrus: Ave Maria [4]; Marchetto CARA (c1470-c1525): Ave Maria a 4 [4]; Vergine immaculata [4]; Ave Maria a 5 [4]
[Portrait of a musician] JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450-1521): Planxit autem David [2]
[La Belle Ferronnière] Francesco PATAVINO (1478-1556): Donne, venete al ballo; Marchetto CARA: Tante volte si si si [5]
[The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne] Jean L'HÉRITIER (c1480-c1551): Ave mater matris Dei
[The Virgin of the Rocks] Domenico DA PIACENZA (c1390-c1470): Bel fiore; Francesco SPINACINO (fl 1507): Recercare [3]; anon: Poi che t'hebbi nel core (after Fortuna desperata); Fortuna desperata; Johannes DE PINAROL (c1467-c1536): Poi che t'hebbi nel core; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-c1517): Fortuna desperata/Sancte Petre, ora pro nobis
[The Baptism of Christ] Jacob OBRECHT (c1457-1505): Missa Fortuna desperata (Agnus Dei)
[La Gioconda ('Mona Lisa')] anon: [Vergognando talor ch'ancor si taccia [Petrarca, Rime: Sonetto XVIII]] [1]; Lucrecia pulchra [Mona Lisa pulchra]
[Portrait of Ginevra Benci] HAYNE VAN GHIZEGHEM (c1445-1497) / anon / Alexander AGRICOLA (1445/46-1506) / JOSQUIN DESPREZ: De tous bien playne
[Portrait of Isabelle d'Este] Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (c1470-1535): Non val' acqua [1]; Michele PESENTI (1475-1521): L'acqua vale al mio gran foco [1]; Marchetto CARA: Gli pur gionto el giorno [1]; Firminus CARON (fl 1460-1475): Le despourvu infortuné [Tanto l'afano]
[Saint John the Baptist] Johannes de LA FAGE (fl 1520): Elisabeth Zachariae [6]

Ottaviano Petrucci, ed., [1] Frottole libro tertio, 1504 [2] Motetti C, 1504 [3] Intabulatura de lauto libro primo, 1507 [4] Laude libro secondo, 1507 [5] Frottole libro undecimo, 1514 [6] Motetti de la corona, libro secondo, 1519

Clara Coutouly, soprano; Marnix De Cat, alto; Hugues Primard, tenor; Matthieu Le Levreur, baritone; Marc Busnel, bass; Denis Raisin Dadre, recorder; Nolwenn Le Guern, viola d'arco, 6-string viola; Baptiste Romain, vielle, lira da braccio; Bérengère Sardin, harp; Pascale Boquet, lute, guitar

[II] "Leonardo - Shaping the Invisible"
I Fagiolini
Dir: Robert Hollingworth
rec: July 2012, Oxford, Tom Dick and Debbie Productionsa; Sept 20 - 22, 2018, London, Angel Studios
Coro - COR16171 (© 2019) (71'34")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
[Salvator mundi] Thomas TALLIS (c1505-1585): Salvator mundi [2]; Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983): Requiem (Salvator mundi)
[La Gioconda ('Mona Lisa')] Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Era l'anima mia (SV 96) [4]
[Saint John the Baptist] Jean-Yves DANIEL-LESUR (1908-2002): Le cantique des cantiques (Le jardin clos)
Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548-1611): Unus ex discipulis [4]; Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986): Amicus meus, op. 72,4 [7]
[Portrait of a musician] Claudio MONTEVERDI: Tempro la cetra (SV 117) [5]
[The Five Grotesques] Orazio VECCHI (1550-1605): L'Amfiparnaso (exc)
[The Vitruvian Man] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Die Kunst der Fuge (BWV 1080) (fugue No. 1)
[The Battle of the Anghiari] Clément JANEQUIN (1485-1558): La guerre
[Fantasia dei vinci ('Knot Design')] JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450-1521): Missa L'homme armé 6. toni (Agnus Dei)a
[The Annunciation] Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA: Alma redemptoris matera [3]
[Head of a young woman] Cipriano DE RORE (1515/16-1565): Or che'l ciel e la terra [1]
Adrian WILLIAMS (*1956): Shaping the invisible

Sources: [1] Cipriano de Rore, Il primo libro de madregali cromatici, 1542; [2] Thomas Tallis/William Byrd, Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, 1575; Tomás Luis de Victoria, [3] Cantica Beatae Virginis vulgo Magnificat, una cum 4 antiphonis Beatae Virginis per annum, 1581; [4] Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae, 1585; Claudio Monteverdi, [5] Concerto: settimo libro de madrigali, con altri generi de canti, 1619; [6] Scherzi musicali cioè arie, & madrigali in stil recitativo, con una ciaccona, 1632; [7] Edmund Rubbra, Nine Tenebrae Motets, op. 72, 1951-61

Anna Crookes*, Rebecca Lea*, Helen Leeves, Kirsty Hopkins, Elspeth Piggott, Ana Beard-Fernandez, soprano; Eleanor Minney*, Clare Wilkinson*, Laura Baldwin, Rosie Parker, Sarah Lucy Penny, contralto; Peter Gritton, Guy James, alto; Nicholas Mulroy*, Matthew Long*, Nicholas Hurndall Smith*, Christopher Bowen, Mark Dobell, Simon Wall, tenor; Greg Skidmore*, Charles Gibbs*, Ben Rowarth, Jack Comerford, Stuart O'Hara, William Gaunt, bass
with: Charlotte Mobbs, soprano; Richard Wyn Roberts, alto; Jimmy Holliday, bass
Catherine Martin, Naomi Burrell, violin; Stefanie Heichelheim, Rachel Stott, viola; Peter McCarthy, bass violin; Kirsty Whatley, harp; David Miller, Eligio Quinteiro, chitarrone; Catherine Pierron, harpsichord

This year (2019), two world-famous painters are commemorated. In 1519 Leonardo da Vinci died, who was not only a painter, but a true uomo universale, as was the ideal of the time. 150 years later, in 1669, Rembrandt van Rijn, the most famous exponent of what is known as the Dutch 'Golden Age', died. Ironically, both painters have become particularly famous for one of their paintings: Leonardo for his 'Mona Lisa' and Rembrandt for his 'Night Watch'.

How do you commemorate a painter with music?

In Rembrandt'ss case, this is usually done with music from his time, without any specific connection to him or his drawings and paintings. For a long time it was assumed that music was not a particularly important part of his life and he did not stand in contact with the main musicians and composers of his time in the Netherlands. Recent research by Bob van Asperen, as part of his recording project 'A Playlist for Rembrandt', shows otherwise. "It was no little surprise to discover that musical elements play a role no less than eighty times in his oeuvre (...), while a considerable group of music lovers and musicians could be either traced or assumed within the painter's circle", he states in his liner-notes. Moreover, in several paintings there are references to music.

In a way, Leonardo is easier to commemorate with music, as his skills in this department have been well documented. He not only was knowledgeable about music, he was also a skilled player of the lira da braccio, an instrument widely used in the 15th century. However, it was mostly used to accompany a singer or reciter of poetry, and such accompaniments were usually improvised. Therefore it can hardly surprise that not a single note from Leonardo's pen has come down to us. And that leaves today's performers with the question how to illustrate his life with a musical programme that makes some sense.

The two productions under review here have several things in common, but are still very different. The directors of the ensembles, Denis Raisin Dadre and Robert Hollingworth respectively, could have taken a relatively easy path and select pieces Leonardo could have heard, or music by composers he may have known. However, such a programme would have been highly speculative. Moreover, the catalogue includes many discs with music from his time. Interestingly, both Raisin Dadre and Hollingworth took the same starting point: not Leonardo's biography, but rather his paintings and drawings. Both selected music, which in their view could give us some insight into the meaning of those creations of art or illustrate them.

Raisin Dadre confined himself to the paintings, whereas Hollingworth also included some drawings, and as their selection of paintings is also partly different, the choice of music also differs. Moreover, whereas Raisin Dadre selected only music from Leonardo's time, Hollingworth not only included some pieces from the 20th century, but even commissioned a poet and a composer to create a new piece for this project.

Raisin Dadre selected ten paintings and ordered them chronologically. "I gave myself the task of looking for pieces corresponding with the paintings I had chosen, while rejecting any anachronism. By that I mean that the music of 1470 is not at all the same as that of 1519 (...). This project was even more of a challenge due to a particuliarity of Italian music during Leonardo's creative period (1470-1519): no one can name an important Italian composer who was his contemporary, because between the brilliant culmination of the 14th-century Ars Nova and the extraordinary flowering of the madrigal in the 16th century, Italian music was virtually a musical desert." In his choice of music he was inspired by the character of a painting rather than by its subject. That can be illustrated by his choice of music to 'The Annunciation'. The most obvious choice would be a polyphonic setting of the text Ave Maria gratia plena. "To me, however, the Annunciation does not suggest that sort of music. There is such an intimacy, such a degree of concentration, such an air of mystery between the Angel and Mary, that I was thinking of something musically unpretentious, and without liturgical pomp." He therefore turned to the genre of the lauda, a relatively simple song in the vernacular, which was sung in the gatherings of the confraternities and reflects the piety of the common people. From this genre we hear several versions of the Ave Maria text, but very different from the many sophisticated motets written by representatives of the Franco-Flemish school. Hollingworth rather turned to a motet by Tomás Luis de Victoria, Alma redemptoris mater. "The Marian text of this motet is a perfect match for Leonardo's Annunciation, also including Song of Songs references [which appear in the painting]: but there are also textural comparisons. Two choirs in dialogue begin separately but become increasingly entwined as a voice from one is woven into the other group, and vice versa. The resultant musical texture is a rich aural fabric, mirroring Leonardo's famously opulent drapery." Not only is this a much more sophisticated piece, it also is from a much later time as it was published in 1581.

There is also an interesting contrast in the treatment of the second painting in Raisin Dadre's selection, called 'Portrait of a musician'. This is also part of the selection of Hollingworth. It has inspired him to focus on Leonardo's skills at the lira da braccio, and therefore he turned to Claudio Monteverdi's Tempro la cetra, published in 1619, which is about the lyre: "I tune my lyre, and to sing the honours of Mars I uplift my style and songs". Raisin Dadre, on the other hand, states: "For a long time it was thought that the subject was either Franchino Gaffurio, the maestro di capella of Milan, or Atalante Migliorotti, a young musician and lira da braccio player who accompanied Leonardo. Recent research suggests that on the contrary, the man depicted is probably the composer Josquin Desprez, who was in Milan between June and August 1484 together with Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, the brother of Ludovico il Moro. Desprez returned there in 1489 for the marriage festivities of Giangaleazo Sforza and Isabella of Aragon, in which Leonardo also participated." This explains his selection of Josquin's motet Planxit autem David.

It was not always easy to find an appropriate piece for every painting, such as 'The virgin and child with Saint Anne', which is illustrated here by the motet Ave mater matris Dei by Jean L'Héritier. In some cases the performers have taken the liberty to adapt the music. That goes, for instance, for the music to the first painting I already mentioned (The Annunciation). "After several different experiments with the Ave Maria of Frater Petrus, we decided to keep only the upper voice, accompanied by the lira, a widespread practice at the period, with the lira creating a harmonic halo around the voice, but with no underlying bass part. This kind of vocal accompaniment challenges the way we always hear music as a relationship between the bass and the upper parts, and displaces our customary way of listening." In the case of the music selected to illustrate 'Mona Lisa', in the text of the anonymous Lucrecia pulchra, the name of Lucrecia was changed to 'Mona Lisa'. The second piece to this painting is improvised, and that documents another common practice in Leonardo's time, in which he almost certainly was involved himself.

'The Hidden Music of Leonardo' is a marvellous project. I am very impressed by the way Denis Raisin Dadre has connected his selection of ten paintings with music from Leonardo's time. It is most interesting to read his notes to every painting and his explanation of his selection of music. The performances by singers and instrumentalists are superb. Just everything is right here. The whole production deserves a ten out of ten: the book includes magnificent pictures of the selected paintings, all of them with an additional picture of a particular detail. It also includes introductory liner-notes and an interview with Raisin Dadre and Vincent Delieuvin, who is responsible for the preservation of the 16th-century paintings in the Louvre in Paris. If you are interested in the music of the renaissance, and especially if you like renaissance visual arts too, this production is a must-have.

In comparison, the Coro disc is much more modest. It includes pictures of the paintings and drawings selected for the programme, but much smaller. There are some interesting notes to the paintings, but much more concise. The lyrics of the pieces are omitted; they are available at I Fagiolini's website, where the musical items can also be listened to. I have already pointed out that the two productions are quite different in several ways. One of the differences is that Hollingworth chose several paintings that Raisin Dadre excluded. One of them is 'The Last Supper'. Raisin Dadre deliberately omitted it: "[This] fresco seems incredibly modern and ahead of its time. The busily movement it conveys is almost like a dramatic scene, reminding me of the Italian 'stile concitato' - the 'agitated style', a term invented by Monteverdi for his operatic scena Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in 1628. But no music contemporary to Leonardo's painting can match it. In the 15th and early 16th centuries, music had no way of expressing psychological turmoil, agitated passions. All that was still to be invented in the baroque era." For this painting Hollingworth made a rather obvious choice: two of the Tenebrae Responsoria, set by Victoria (Unus ex discipulus mei) and Edmund Rubbra (Amicus meus) respectively, ignoring the dramatic character of the painting and rather focusing on one aspect of the Last Supper as depicted by Leonardo.

Among the paintings Hollingworth selected are the so-called 'Five Grotesques'. These are examples of Leonardo's studies of human faces. He seems to have had a special preference for ugly men and women. This is illustrated by an excerpt from Orazio Vecchi's madrigal comedy L'Amfiparnaso. The painting 'The Vitruvian Man' documents the scientific side of the painter. "Leonardo saw the proportional harmonies of the human body and the proportional harmonies of music as originating from the fundamentals of God's design", Martin Kemp writes in his notes to this drawing. Taking into account the overall concept of this production, it was a good idea to perform here the first fugue from Johann Sebastian Bach's Kunst der Fuge, here performed in a vocalized version by four singers of I Fagiolini.

However, from a musical point of view I find this recording rather disappointing. I Fagiolini consists of fine singers, but several of them use too much vibrato, which damages the ensemble. In some items the blending of the voices leaves something to be desired. The selection of a fragment from Vecchi's L'Amfiparnaso was not such a good idea; this piece is too much a unity. Moreover, the performance is rather bland; I have heard better performances. The same goes for Clément Janequin's chanson La guerre. It is included here in two versions: one with soundscape, the other with just the music. I prefer the latter, but that does not make any difference as far as the quality of the performance is concerned. The Ensemble Clément Janequin has recorded this work in a much more theatrical manner. Lastly, as I am not interested whatsoever in modern music, too much space is taken by pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries. Moreover, most of the early music items are available in other recordings. Even without such a splendid alternative as the production of Doulce Mémoire, I can't see any reason to recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Doulce Mémoire
I Fagiolini

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