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Giovanni ROVETTA (1596 - 1668): "Messe pour la Naissance de Louis XIV" (Mass for the birth of Louis XIV)

Galilei Consort
Dir: Benjamin Chénier

rec: Dec 16, 2015 (live), Versailles, Château (Chapelle royale)
Alpha - 965 (© 2016) (65'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] Giovanni GABRIELI (1554-1612): Toccata del 2° tuono (C 236) [1]; Giovanni ROVETTA: Kyrie a 5 [7]; Gloria a 6 [7]; Giovanni Antonio RIGATTI (c1613-1648): Nisi Dominus (instr) [8]; Giovanni ROVETTA: O Maria, quam pulcra es [5]; Credo a 7 [7]; Salve Regina [6]; Giovanni Antonio RIGATTI: Sanctus a 8 [8]; Sonata for 3 violins and bc; Agnus Dei a 8 [8]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Christe, adoramus te a 5 (SV 694) (instr) [3]; Adoramus te, Christe a 6 (SV 689) [3]; Giovanni ROVETTA: In caelis hodie jubilant sancti [4]; Giovanni BASSANO (c1558-c1617): Omnes gentes plaudite manibus a 8 [2]

[1] Girolamo Diruta, Il Transilvano, 1593; [2] Giovanni Bassano, Concerti ecclesiastici, 1599; [3] Giulio Bianchi, ed., Libro primo de motetti, 1620; [4] Lorenzo Calvi, ed., Seconda raccolte de sacri canti, 1624; [5] Leonardo Simonetti, ed., Ghirlanda sacra, 1625; Giovanni Rovetta, [6] Salmi concertati, con motetti, et alcune canzoni per sonar, 1626; [7] Messa e salmi concertati, 1639; [8] Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, Messa e salmi parte concertati, 1640

[soloists] Chantal Santon, Stéphanie Révidat, soprano; Jean-Christophe Clair, Yann Rolland, alto; Vincent Bouchot, Martial Pauliat, tenor; Renaid Delaigue, Igor Bouin, bass
[ripienists] Aurore Bucher, Marine Lafdal-Franc, soprano; Alice Habellion, contralto; Benoit Porcherot, Randol Rodriguez Rubio, tenor; Guilhem Worms, bass
Benoit Tainturier, cornett; Adrien Mabire, cornett, trumpet; Franck Poitrineau, Stéphane Muller, Abel Rohrbach, sackbut; Marie Rouquié, Odile Édouard, Benjamin Chénier, violin; Mélanie Flahaut, bassoon; Angélique Mauillon, harp; Matthias Spaeter, theorbo; Marc Meisel, organ

Before the mid-18th century most music was written with a reason. Composers were usually in the service of a court, a town or a church and the composition of music for regular services in church but also for specific occasions, like weddings and funerals, was part of their duties. Sometimes we know that music was performed at a particular occasion but not exactly which music. If we are lucky the composer himself has indicated for which occasion he composed a particular piece. That is the case with the mass by Giovanni Rovetta which is the starting point of the present recording.

It is presented under the title of "Mass for the birth of Louis XIV". Why would an Italian composer write a mass to celebrate the birth of a French prince? Let us first turn to the historical circumstances. Louis XIII was married to Anne of Austria in 1615 but their marriage remained childless. In 1637 he placed the kingdom under the protection of the Virgin Mary, in order to secure the royal succession. On 30 January the hoped-for heir was born. In November of that same year the French ambassador to Venice, Amelot de la Houssaye, organised a four-day celebration in honour of the child, the later Louis XIV. Part of the celebrations was a mass sung at the Church of San Giorgio. According to a chronicler Giovanni Rovetta was chosen to write the music. "He has been expressly charged with engaging as many singers and instrumentalists as it is possible to find in the city, in order to satisfy the demand of His Excellency, who desires the most majestic and solemn music that can be composed."

The choice of Rovetta can hardly be surprising as he was one of the most celebrated musicians of Venice at the time. He was born in the city and may have been a choirboy at San Marco, although there is no documentary evidence for that. However, his father played the violin in the cappella of San Marco between 1614 and 1641. Giovanni also first appeared as a player in the cappella in 1614. Until the end of his life he was connected in one way or another with this church. In 1623 he was appointed a bass singer and in 1627 he succeeded Alessandro Grandi as assistant maestro di cappella to Claudio Monteverdi, whom he succeeded after the latter's death in 1643. In his capacity as a composer he was especially active in the field of sacred music. The first collection of psalms, motets and canzonas was published in 1626 as his op. 1.

The 'service' opens with a toccata by Giovanni Gabrieli which is embraced by a fanfare; this is not mentioned in the track-list nor is its composer. As Rovetta dedicated his Messa e salmi concertati op. 4 from 1639 to Louis XIII we know which mass was used. It comprises - according to Venetian practice - only the Kyrie, Gloria and Credo. For that reason the remaining sections have been taken from a collection of Giovanni Antonio Rigatti. He started his career as a choirboy in San Marco and was maestro di cappella of Udine Cathedral. In the 1640s he worked at several of the Ospedali in Venice. He was one of the main composers of sacred music in the Venetian region alongside Rovetta. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei, both in eight parts, are taken from the Messa e salmi parte concertati which was published in 1640. From the same collection is the setting of Nisi Dominus which is performed here instrumentally - called canzona in the track-list - as a prelude to Rovetta's motet O Maria, quam pulcra es which is sung here as a substitute for the gradual. The inclusion of a motet about the Virgin Mary as well as a setting of the Salve Regina can be explained by the fact that Louis XIII dedicated his kingdom to her. As Elevation music a sonata for three violins - the first plays the solo, the others echo effects - and bc. The track-list suggests that this piece is from the pen of Rigatti but from the titles of his collections of music I can't gather whether he has written any instrumental music. The two motets by Monteverdi seem to have no specific liturgical function, also because they are written for the feast of the Holy Cross. They are used here "to mark the birth of the Dauphin, but also as a homage to Rovetta’s teacher and master." Christe, adoramus te is performed instrumentally. We know that the service ended with the psalm Omnes gentes, plaudite manibus. For this recording a setting by Giovanni Bassano was chosen. He seems to have been a prodigy as he was only 15 or 16 years old when he was one of the six pifferi del doge, a group of instrumentalists placed directly under the authority of the Venetian doge. In 1601 he succeeded Girolamo Dalla Casa as head of the instrumental ensemble of San Marco, a position he held until his death.

Obviously a part of this 'reconstruction' is based on speculation: only two elements are historically documented. That is the state of affairs every performer who wants to present music in its liturgical or historical context has to deal with. This is inevitable and should not be criticised as long as the performers don't pretend otherwise. This approach is worthwhile as it greatly increases our understanding of the raison d'être of so much music from the pre-classical era. The pieces selected for this disc show the stylistic diversity of the time. In the mass movements by Rovetta and Rigatti we hear the mixture of elements of the stile antico and the modern concertante style as well as traces of the polychoral tradition of Venice. Rovetta's mass movements include two violin parts. These are used mainly in episodes for solo voices; in the tutti the cornetts and sackbuts play colla voce, a common practice at the time. The motets are for solo voices and bc and are written in the monodic style introduced by Giulio Caccini. The soloists do full justice to the declamatory character of these pieces and there is also no lack of expression. In the tutti the voices blend pretty well, although I noticed a slight vibrato in several voices. Overall this is not that much of a problem and certainly doesn't damage my general positive assessment of this disc.

It is also recommendable from the angle of repertoire: Rovetta and Rigatti are no unknown quantities but are not that well represented on disc. The pieces recorded here makes one want to hear more. That in itself is a good argument for this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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