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Giovanni Battista DALLA GOSTENA (1558? - 1593): "Genus cromaticum - Organ Works, 1599"

Irene De Ruvo, organ

rec: July 8 - 10, 2015, Mantua, Basilica di Santa Barbara
Arcana - AD 102 ( 2016) (77'47")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Fantasia I - XXV; Mais que sert la richesse a l'homme (Costeley); Pis ne me peult venir (Crecquillon); Susane un jour (Lassus)

New Grove spends just three paragraphs to Giovanni Battista dalla Gostena. That is quite surprising, if Irene de Ruvo is right in stating that he "is considered one of the most important composers of Genoa and has a key role in the Italian music history between the XVI and XVII century (sic)". Maybe more recent research has brought something to light that the author of the article in New Grove did not know?

Gostena spent his entire life in Genoa, except for a stay in Vienna where he was a pupil of Philippe de Monte. In 1584 he became maestro di cappella at Genoa Cathedral, a post he held until 1589. In 1593 he was murdered.

His oeuvre is not large and comprises mostly madrigals. Between 1582 and 1595 five books with madrigals and canzonettas for four and five voices were published. Five further madrigals were included in several anthologies. In addition he composed some sacred music: three Magnificats, five motets and two contrafacta.

This disc is devoted to his organ music, but the work-list in New Grove only mentions music for the lute, 28 pieces in total. They were included by Simone Molinaro in his Intavolatura di liuto which was published in 1599. One may wonder why Gostena would write music for lute; as far as we know he did not play the instrument. Molinaro was Gostena's nephew and pupil. Irene de Ruvo believes that these pieces were not originally intended for the lute. "[The] study and analysis of these pieces reveal a conduct of the voices in a quite strict polyphonic style, rather different from the lute compositions of that time characterized by a freer and more lively polyphony. Furthermore, the particular sonority of the lute, short and feeble, doesn't help to appreciate all the polyphonic lines, the dissonances and suspensions because the long notes stop very quickly." She adds that lute virtuosos consider Gostena's works extremely difficult to play.

In De Ruvo's view these features point in the direction of the organ which does much more justice to the polyphony as well as the dissonances included in a number of them. The three canzonas are typical keyboard intabulations of chansons as were common at the time. According to De Ruvo it is likely that Molinaro transcribed Gostena's organ pieces as a tribute to his uncle. This seems to be confirmed by the preface: "How can I fully honour God first, Creator of everything, if not with a big heart, and second my uncle, my mentor; how will I be grateful, if not with a great tribute?"

The difference in tone production between the two instruments, as De Rivo pointed out in the quotation given before, forced Molinaro to adapt them to the lute. In order to be able to play these pieces at the organ De Ruvo had to reconstruct them which she indicates was a demanding task.

Having heard these pieces it was worth the effort. Fantasias are pieces in which the composer can give free reign to his imagination. This explains why they have strong improvisatory features. Gostena didn't eschew harmonic experiments. The harshest dissonances are included in the Fantasia XII which opens the programme. These come especially well to the fore here thanks to the meantone temperament of the organ. It was built by Graziado Antegnati, one of Italy's most important organ builders of the 16th century, in 1565. It was erected in the basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua during the reign of Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga. It has seven broken keys for D-sharp/E-flat and G-sharp/A-flat.

The combination of music, organ and interpreter is a happy one. These are technically immaculate and musically compelling performances. Obviously this is the very first time these pieces have been recorded complete; some of them are available on disc in performances on the lute. I don't know whether these organ transcriptions are or will be available in print. That would be nice, because they are an important addition to the repertoire of early Italian keyboard music.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

Relevant links:

Irene De Ruvo


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