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"Un' arpa straordinaria - Italian music of the 17th century for arpa doppia"

Das Kleine Kollektiv
Dir: Vera Schnider

rec: Sept 17 - 20, Oct 16, 18 & 19, 2018, Waldenburg (CH), Studio Karl Valter
Ars Produktion - ARS 38 568 (© 2020) (64'46")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Sigismondo D'INDIA (c1582-1629): Musica a due voci sopra l'aria di Ruggiero [1]; Piange Madonna [1]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzon I à 2. Canto e Basso [6]; Canzon IV à 2. Canto e Basso [6]; Francesco LAMBARDO (c1587-1642): Toccata; Giovanni DE MACQUE (1548/50-1614): Seconda Stravaganza; Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Invito all'Amoroso riposo [3]; Le Rugiade [3]; Sonata IV per sonar con due corde [5]; Ascanio MAYONE (c1565-1627): Recercar sopra il Canto Fermo di Costantio Festa [2]; Toccata IV per il Cimbalo Cromatico [2]; Domenico MAZZOCCHI (1592-1665): Lagrime amare [7]; Gregorio STROZZI (c1615-after 1687): Toccata I [8]; Ippolito TARTAGLINO (c1587-1642): Canzon sopra Susanna; Giovanni VALENTINI (c1582-1649): Sonata enharmonica; Ti lascio anima mia [4]

Sources: [1] Sigismondo d'India, Le musiche, 1609; [2] Ascanio Mayone, Secondo libro di diversi capricci per sonare, 1609; [3] Biagio Marini, Scherzi, e canzonette a una, e due voci ... accomodate da cantarsi nel chitarone, chitariglia, et altri stromenti simili, op. 5, 1622; [4] Giovanni Valentini, Musiche, 1622; [5] Biagio Marini, Sonate, symphonie, canzoni, passe'mezzi, baletti, corenti, gagliarde e retornelli, a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 voci, per ogni sorte d'instrumenti, op. 8, 1626/1629; [6] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Canzoni da sonare a una, due, tre et quattro, libro primo, 1634; [7] Domenico Mazzocchi, Dialoghi, e sonetti, 1638; [8] Gregorio Strozzi, Capricci da sonare cembali, et organi, op. 4, 1687

Lina López, soprano; Eva Saladin, violin; Fred Uhlig, violone; Vera Schnider, harp; Johannes Kelller, harpsichords

The harp has played an important role throughout music history. It was especially revered in Italy in the first half of the 17th century, where it was used not only as a solo instrument, but also for the realisation of the basso continuo. This was all made possible by technical developments in the previous century, especially the invention of the arpa doppia, a harp with two parallel rows of strings, which made the previously diatonic instrument fully chromatic. The present disc explores the repertoire for the harp and the various roles it played at the music scene in 17th-century Italy.

We need to precise the wording of "repertoire for the harp". Relatively few music was specifically written for the instrument. Some composers mentioned it expressis verbis, such as Giovanni Maria Trabaci, in his Ancidetemi pur, Per l'Arpa. However, harpists usually played music that was also suitable for performances at keyboard and plucked instruments. The harp was sometimes specifically mentioned as one of the alternatives in the titles of printed editions. Collections of vocal music frequently mentioned the harp as one of the instruments that could be used to support a singer.

The introduction of chromatic strings went along with experiments in the field of harmony, which resulted in the construction of the chromatic harpsichord, which had split sharp keys. It reflected the ideal of pure thirds. For this recording, Johannes Keller plays the reconstruction of such an instrument, called clavemusicum omnitonum, after an instrument built in 1609 by Vito Trasuntino, and preserved in Bologna.

Vera Schnider, in her liner-notes, points out the possibilities of the use of the harp in combination with this keyboard. "The Arpa Doppia has 21 strings per octave, consisting of a central row of seven strings tuned to the chromatic scale and two outer rows tuned to the diatonic scale. If the fundamental concept of the two equally tuned outer rows of strings is broken, it is then possible to experiment with different tunings in accordance with the music at hand. It also opens up a range of possibilities whose exploration of particularly interesting in connection with the Clavemusicum".

Although some pieces of instrumental music seem to be about the exploration of harmonic possibilities as such, harmony was in the first place a tool of expression, certainly in vocal music. The ideal of the time, propagated first by Giulio Caccini, was the expression of affetti, the emotions which the text aimed at communicating to the audience. The emotions of a protagonist could ideally be depicted by the use of dissonances and chromaticism. The present disc includes several fine examples, such as Domenico Mazzocchi's Lagrime amare, with the subtitle "Magdalene appeals to her tears". It opens with these words: "You bitter tears, take pity and come to the aid of a languishing soul". Composers had a strong preference for texts of a lamenting or languishing nature. Sigismondo d'India's Piange Madonna says: "My angel weeps and I take pleasure in her weeping as if it were my own". Giovanni Valentini's Ti lascio anima mia includes the phrase: "[With] my parting your pain hurts me more than death".

Some instrumental pieces specifically refer to their use of harmony, such as Ascanio Mayone's Toccata IV per il Cimbalo Cromatico, here played at the harp. A frequently used term was stravaganza, which generally refers to a piece with an uncommon character, mostly in harmonic matters. Michael Tilmouth, in his description of this word in New Grove, refers to "harmonic mannerisms" with regard to a piece by Giovanni de Macque, who is here represented with a similar piece, Seconda stravaganza, which is full of dissonances. He is one of the professional harpists included in the programme. The others are Francesco Lambardo and Ippolito Tartaglino; it is telling that they were also organists, which further underlines the connection between the harp and the keyboard and their repertoire.

Not all the music is played as it was probably intended in the first place by the composer. Two canzonas by Girolamo Frescobaldi for a treble part and a bass are performed here in different ways: in one of them, the violin takes the upper part, whereas the harp plays the bass. In the other it is the harp which plays the treble, and the violone takes +care of the bass part. Gregorio Strozzi's highly experimental Toccata I is shared by harp and clavemusicum. Giovanni Valentini's Ti lascio anima mia is a duet for two voices. Here one part is sung, the other played at the violin.

Valentini is also the composer of the intriguing Sonata enharmonica, a basically rather simple piece, with a "seemingly monotonous compositional structure", as Vera Schnider writes. However, "[due] to the extended meantone temperament, micro-intervals (B flat and A sharp, E flat and D sharp etc.) collide at the end of each phrase".

This is indicative of the many surprises one is going to meet while listening to this disc. This programme is a perfect illustration of what happens in a time of change in musical aethetics. Composers like to leave the well-trodden paths and discover news grounds, not only technically, but also in the field of expression. The harp, with its harmonic possibilities, but also its range of colours and dynamics, is the perfect instrument to bring the world of the early 17th century to life. The result is a highly fascinating recital, performed by experts on their respective instruments. The performances are brilliant, without exception, and Lina López deserves praise for her expressive performances of the vocal pieces.

The liner-notes are very informative and help the reader to put this music into its historical context. The booklet also includes details about the instruments, as well as the lyrics with translations. The production standard is exemplary.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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