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Luca MARENZIO (1553 - 1599): Madrigals

[I] "L'amoroso & Crude stile"
Dir: Walter Testolin
rec: Feb 22 - 25, 2015, Bosaro (Rovigo, I), Chiesa parrocchiale di San Sebastiano
Arcana - A 449 (© 2018) (79'30")
Liner-notes: E/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Come inanti de l'albaabcefg [2]; Cruda Amarilliacefg [11]; Crudel, perché mi fuggiabcefg [7]; Crudele, acerba, inexorabil morteacdeg [13]; Dolorosi martiracefg [1]; Due rose frescheaij [6]; Fuggito è'l sonnoacefg [8]; Liquide perleij [14]; Non vidi mai dopo notturna pioggiaacegij [5]; O fere stellegij [8]; O verdi selveabcefg [10]; Occhi lucenti e belliacefg [3]; Qual vive Salamandraabcefg [2]; Questa di verd'erbetteij [1]; Scendi dal paradiso Venereabcfg [4]; Senza il mio Soleacegh [8]; Solo e pensosoacefg [13]; Zefiro torna e'l bel tempo rimenaaceg [5]

Francesca Boncompagnia, Alicia Amob, soprano; Elena Carzaniga, contraltoc; Matteo Pigato, altod; Massimo Altierie, Giacomo Schiavof, tenor; Mauro Borgionig, Walter Testolinh, bass; Massimo Lonardii, Michele Pasottij, lute

[II] "Il pastor fido"
La Pedrina
Dir: Francesco Saverio Pedrini
rec: June 2017 & Jan 2018, Zurich-Oberstrass, Reformierte Kirche
Claves - 50-1814 (© 2018) (52'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Ah, dolente partitadk [9]; Anima cruda sìbcdfgl [9]; Arda pur sempre o morabcdegl [11]; Care mie selve, a Dioacdfgk [11]; Com'è dolce il gioire, o vago Tirsibcdegj [11]; Cruda Amarillibcdegk [11]; Deh, poi ch'era ne' fatibcdegk [11]; Deh, Tirsi mio gentiladefgk [12]; Deh, Tirsi, Tirsi, anima miacdefgjk [9]; O dolcezze amarissime d'amorecdefgj [11]; O fido, o caro Amintabcdefgijl [11]; O Mirtillo, Mirtillo, anima miabcefgj [11]; Ombrose e care selvebcdegijl [11]; Quell'augellin che cantabcdegj [11]; Se tu dolce mio ben saettastibij/chk [12]; Tirsi mio, caro Tirsibcdegl [11]

Maria Dalia Albertinia, Francesca Cassinarib, soprano; Gabriel Jublin, altoc; Paolo Borgonovod, Matthias Degere, Akinobu Ônof, tenor; Davide Benetti, bassg; Amélie Cheminh, Teodoro Baùi, viola da gamba; Chiara Granata, harpj; Juan Sebastián Lima, lutek; Francesco Saverio Pedrini, harpsichordl

Sources: Luca Marenzio, [1] Il primo libro de madrigali a 5 voci, 1580; [2] Il primo libro de madrigali a 6 voci, 1581; [3] Il terzo libro de madrigali a 5 voci, 1582; [4] Il quarto libro de madrigali a 5 voci, 1584; [5] Il primo libro de madrigali a 4 voci, 1585; [6] Il quinto libro de madrigali a 5 voci, 1585; [7] Il quarto libro de madrigali a 6 voci, 1587; [8] Madrigali a 4, 5 et 6 voci, libro primo, 1588; [9] Il sesto libro de madrigali a 5 voci, 1594; [10] Il sesto libro de madrigali a 6 voci, 1595; [11] Il settimo libro de madrigali a 5 voci, 1595; [12] L'ottavo libro de madrigalia 5 voci, 1598; [13] Il nono libro de madrigali a 5 voci, 1599; [14] Giovanni Antonio Terzi, Il secondo libro de intavolatura di liuto, 1599


Luca Marenzio was one of the most admired and prolific composers of the late 16th century in Italy. Although his oeuvre includes a number of motets, he was mainly known for his secular music. In 1580 he published his first collection of madrigals; it was followed by no fewer than 22 further books of madrigals as well as villanellas and canzonettas. The last book came from the press in 1599, the year of his death. In addition, a number of his pieces were included in anthologies.

Marenzio was born in a village near Brescia. It seems that early in his career he was in the service of the Gonzaga family in Mantua for some time. He then entered the service of Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo in Trent, and followed his employer to Rome in the 1570s. When the Cardinal died in 1578 he became a member of the household of Cardinal Luigi d'Este, until the latter's death in 1586. At that time he made a name for himself as a composer of secular vocal music. Several collections of his works were published and his fame disseminated across Europe. He was also in demand as a performer: he not only was a professional singer, but also played the lute.

From 1587 to 1589 Marenzio was in Florence. There he participated in the festivities at the occasion of the wedding of Ferdinando de' Medici and Christine of Lorraine. These included the six intermedi to La Pellegrina, under the direction of Emilio de' Cavalieri (the composer of the Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo). Marenzio composed the music for two of these intermedi. He then returned to Rome where he moved in the circles of cardinals and aristocrats. Around 1593 he entered the service of Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini who was a nephew of Pope Clement VIII. As a result he enjoyed a high standing at the papal court. In 1595 he became maestro di cappella at the court of the King of Poland. A year before his death he returned to Rome.

Recently two discs with madrigals from his large oeuvre were released. They both confine themselves to the genre of the madrigal, but are different in their choice of repertoire. Rossoporpora, directed by Walter Testolin, offers a survey of his madrigalian output. It shows his development as a composer, which is considerable, despite his relatively short life. That development does not so much concern a stylistic change: his entire vocal music is written in the stile antico. However, the subject matter did change. Early in his career Marenzio was especially admired for his villanellas and canzonettas, which represent the lighter genres of secular music. In his later years he turned to more serious stuff.

Walter Testolin, in his notes in the booklet, sums up the change in Marenzio's compositional style. ""Where is my amorous style being led?", asks Marenzio, making the words of Francesco Petrarca his own, at the beginning of his most complex and challenged work, the Madrigals with four, five and six voices of 1588. Hence, in a way, it is the musician himself who defines as 'amorous' the style of his early years, the one of that fluid, light and engaging writing which had been so successful. From that capital and heartrending book, "tending towards, I shall say, a somber gravity", that was to be the turning point for the Brescian master's entire career, the style would change, veering towards more melancholic, at times dark, atmospheres. Marenzio himself will be the one to define this new attitude, using the words of Jacopo Sannazzaro, right at the end of that saturnine book: "O fierce stars, now give me peace / And thou, Fortune, change thy cruel style"."

However, one should not overestimate the difference. After all, the pieces included in the programme are all madrigals, by nature representing a more 'serious' form of secular music. Take for instance Dolorosi martir: "Grievous martyrdoms, fierce torments, harsh shackles, cruel bonds, bitter chains, whence I the night, and days, the hours and the moments spend wretchedly mourning my lost love". This piece is included in the first book of five-part madrigals of 1580. From early on there is quite some text illustration in his madrigals, such as the descending line on the opening phrase of Scendi dal paradiso: "Descend from heaven, [Venus]". Fuggito è 'l sonno opens in a slow tempo: "Sleep has fled my cruel nights". There are marked contrasts in the fourth line: "[Thus] my singing has turned into weeping". However, in the course of time Marenzio starts to use harmony for expressive reasons. That is the case, for instance, at the close of Crudel, perché mi fuggi: "Ah, one cannot die if one does not suffer, and suffer cannot he who has no heart." The most experimental piece with regard to harmony is Cruda Amarilli, especially at the opening and the closing phrases. This is hardly less unconventional than what we hear in Gesualdo's later madrigals. Occhi lucenti e belli is an interesting example of 'eye music', defined by New Grove as "[musical] notation with a symbolic meaning that is apparent to the eye but not to the ear". The madrigal describes the eyes of the beloved, and here Marenzio only writes pairs of semibreves in the part of the upper voice, as the outline of these musical figures (o o) resembles a pair of eyes.

Marenzio uses texts written by some of the most famous poets of his time, such as Luigi Tansillo (author of the Lagrime di San Pietro, set by Orlandus Lassus), and Torquato Tasso, but also from the past, such as Francesco Petrarca and Jacopo Sannazaro. The programme includes just one piece by Battista Guarini, from his famous poem Il pastor fido. However, Marenzio composed seventeen madrigals on fragments from this long poem; sixteen of these have been recorded by La Pedrina, directed by Francesco Saverio Pedrini.

Although this was a poem, published in 1589 in Venice, it was in fact a kind of play about two pairs lovers from the world of Arcadia: Martillo and Amarilli and Silvio and Dorinda respectively. The work was not universally embraced, as for instance the mixture of tragic and comic elements was criticized. A contemporary called it a "hotchpotch of little madrigals", and in fact that was how composers treated it. Several attempts to perform it on the stage did not succeed; this only happened in 1598. Marenzio was just one who took stanzas from the poem for his madrigals. They are for five voices (except one) and were included in the sixth book of 1594, the seventh book of 1595 and the eight book of 1598. Rather than performing them in the order of publication, Pedrini opted for the order in Guarini's poem, from the first, Quell'augellin che canta to the last, Ombrose e care selve. The only madrigal not included here is Baci e soavi, which is for six voices and was included in the fifth book of six-part madrigals of 1591; that makes it the very first madrigal on a text by Guarini from Marenzio's pen. Fortunately this entire book has been recorded by La Compagnia del Madrigale.

The nice thing is that these discs are no competitors but rather complementary. Only Cruda Amarilli is included in both programmes. La Pedrina takes a considerably swifter tempo than Rossoporpora: 4'33" vs 6'37". This is no coincidence: although the two ensembles perform different madrigals, Rossoporpora's performances have more depth than those of La Pedrina. They delve deeper into the texts, are not afraid to slow down or to speed up the tempo, according to a madrigal's content or the meaning of a phrase, the way of singing is more declamatory and there are also more and stronger dynamic contrasts. In addition, the harmonic peculiarities come off better in Rossoporpora's performances. Cruda Amarilli is a good example: the dissonances in the opening phrase are much more marked in the recording by Rossoporpora than in the account by La Pedrina. On the other hand, as far as ensemble is concerned, the latter are just ahead of their colleagues. In Rossoporpora's performance the individual voices make themselves heard a bit too much now and then, and there is a slight vibrato in the upper voices. However, considering the overall level of performances and the amount of expression, it didn't bother me that much.

Both ensembles make use of instruments, but in different ways. In La Pedrina's performances at least one instrument participates in every madrigal. Rossoporpora is more restrained here: in some madrigals the singers are supported by a lute, but most of the madrigals are sung a capella. Two pieces are performed in the way of intabulations on two lutes; they also accompany Francesca Boncompagni and Mauro Borgioni in two madrigals which are performed as solos. The reduction of voices is also applied in Se tu dolce mio ben mi saettasti in La Pedrina's recording. This is a dialogue between Silvio and Dorinda. This way it is turned in a kind of theatrical piece, and although that is the character of Il pastor fido, I am not sure that Marenzio intended this madrigal to be performed as such.

On balance I rate Rossoporpora's recording higher than La Pedrina's, especially for reasons of expression. The latter is a bit smoother, but also a bit more light-weight. However, we should take into account that the kind of madrigals the two ensembles have chosen is a bit different, and that partly explains the different ways of performing. At the end of the day I would like to recommend both discs. We should be grateful that two fine discs are devoted to one of the greatest madrigal composer of the late renaissance.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

La Pedrina

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