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"Laudario di Cortona No. 91"

Armoniosoincanto; Anonima Frottolisti
Dir: Franco Radicchia

rec: Nov & Dec 2013, Jan & Feb 2014, Perugia, Monasterio delle Suore Clarisse di S. Agnese (church)
Brilliant Classics - 94872 (4 CDs) (ę 2015) (4.59'40")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

[in order of the manuscript] Venite a laudare; Laude novella s´a cantata; Ave, donna santissima; Madonna santa Maria; Ave Maria, grat´a plenaa; Ave, regina glor´osa; Dal ciel venne messo novella; Altissima luce col grande splendore; Fami cantar l'amor di la beata; O Maria, d'omelia; Regina sovrana de gram p´etade; Ave, Dei genitrix; O Maria, Dei cella; Ave, vergene gaudente; O divina virgo, flore; Salve, salve, virgo pia; Vergene donšella da Dio amata; Peccatrice, nominate; Cristo Ŕ nato et humanato; Gloria 'n cielo e pace 'n terra; Stella nuova 'n fra la gente; Plangiamo quel crudel basciare; Ben Ŕ crudele e sp´etoso; De la crudel morte de Cristo; Dami conforto, Dio, et alengranša; Onne homo ad alta voce; Ies¨ Cristo glor´oso; Laudamo la resurrect´one; Spiritu sancto, dolše amore; Spirito sancto glor´oso; Spirito sancto, dÓ servire; Alta trinitÓ beata; Troppo perde 'l tempo ki ben non t'ama; Stomme allegro et latioso; OimŔ lasso e freddo lo m´o core; Chi vole lo mondo descprecšare; Laudar vollio per amore; S´a laudato San Francesco; Ciascun ke fede sente; Magdalena degna da laudare; L'alto prenše archangelo lucent; Faciam laude a tutt'i santi; San Iovanni al mondo Ŕ nato; Ogn'om canti novel canto; Amor dolše senša pare; Benedicti et llaudati; Salutiam divotamente

Caterina Becchetti, Elisabetta Becchetti, Paola Bianchi, Alessandra Ligori, Francesca Maraziti, Francesca Piottoli, Roberto Beltrame, Riccardo Forcignan˛, Emilio Seri, Mauro Presazzi, Simone Marcelli, voice; Andreina Zatti, voice, harp; Luca Piccioni, voice, lute; Giovanni Brugnami, flutes; Emiliano Finucci, Fabrizio Lepri, vielle; Massimiliano Dragoni, dulcimer, organistrum, carillon di campane, square frame drum; Matteo Magna, dulcimer, square frame drum; Piercarlo Fontemagi, hurdy-gurdy, gaita; Franco Radicchia, portative organ
with: Rosanna Fedele, recitera; Mauro Borgioni, voice; Peppe Frana, lute

'Classical' music making in our time focuses almost exclusively on what we use to call 'art music'. It seems reasonable to assume that music making in ancient times was dominated by the singing and playing of music that was not composed, but came into existence within a particular tradition. Such music was usually not written down, but handed over orally from one generation to the next. As a result only a tiny part of what was sung and played has come down to us. Inevitably, music that is not written down has no fixed form and can change with time.

Another feature of traditional music is that new texts were often sung to existing music. If such texts were written or - after the invention of printing - were published, they often included a reference to the tunes to which they could be sung. From that perspective it is not surprising that most of the songs in the Laudario di Cortina No. 91 come without music. The manuscript, preserved in the Biblioteca del Comune e dell'Accademia Etrusca in Cortona (Arezza, in the region of Tuscany, Italy), includes 66 lauds; 46 of them contain texts and music at the first verse, and one of them only comes with a text. It is only one of two manuscripts with a musical notation. More such collections may have existed, but these are the only two extant.

The laude are part of a tradition which goes back to the 13th century, and continued to exist well into the 17th century. They were the product of the missionary activities of in particular Dominicans and Franciscans in regions such as Tuscany and Umbria. From ancient times music was seen as an important tool for the dissemination of faith. As in the time the laude came into existence the veneration of Mary became increasingly important, it does not surprise that many - maybe even the majority - of the laude are about her. With time laude became an important part of the repertoire of Marian confraternities as well as penitential processions of flagellants (practitioners of an extreme form of mortification of their own flesh by whipping it with various instruments).

The laude were sung during daily ferial services and annual festal cycles. Most lauda vigils included some combination of prayers, readings, a candle procession and offering with lauda singing, a brief sermon and further lauda singing that led to confession. This explains why the title page of the present production calls this repertoire 'paraliturgical'. Obviously liturgical music - for Mass or Vespers, for instance - was always in Latin. The laude were sung in the vernacular.

The Laudario di Cortona belonged to the Confraternita di S Maria delle Laude attached to the church of S Francesco in Cortona. The laude are grouped in sections devoted to Mary and a cycle for the liturgical year. Unfortunately the texts which can be downloaded from the Brilliant Classics site, come without translations. That makes it impossible for those who don't know Italian to analyse them and get acquainted with their content.

"Like the texts, the melodies of the lauda repertory range freely in style and character from chant to popular song, variously showing traces of processional intonations, dance-tunes, indigenous popular song styles, litanic, hymnodic and sequential structures, troubadour song, the modes of ecclesiastical chant and an incipient majorľminor tonality", according to New Grove. All the music is monophonic; only later in time polyphony made its entry in the lauda repertoire. However, in this recording we often hear various voices and/or instruments. That raises the question how these songs were performed.

Massimilano Dragoni, in his liner-notes, admits that the approach in this recording is not strictly historical. "Granted, there is a degree of philological licence implicit in using female voices for parts that were originally sung by male voices, and in adding an accompaniment using instruments based on copies from the period. But we believe that this is justified by the meticulous phililogical study underlying the transcription and the interpretative understanding that derives from in-depth knowledge of the Gregorian repertoire and 13th-century mensural notation."

It seems likely that we will never know for sure how this repertoire was actually performed in the 13th and 14th centuries. Considering that laude were very much part of a living tradition, it seems reasonable to assume that performance practice may have evolved with time and may have been different from time to time and from one region to the other. As improvisation is a basic feature of traditional music it seems justified to approach this repertoire with a considerable amount of freedom. The use of instruments will always be a matter of debate. How many and which to use, and when - those questions will be answered differently by different interpreters. One of the nice things of this recording is that we get here much variety in the line-up. Some songs are performed by one voice a cappella - probably the way such songs were mostly performed - whereas in others a voice is accompanied by only a lute. On the other hand, there are songs which are performed with more than one voice - in falsobordone or monophonic in the refrains by a choir of several voices - and/or various instruments. The latter sometimes play colla voce, in other instances they add polyphony. In some songs the instruments play a kind of interludes. Many songs are quite long; some could have taken even more time, if they had been performed complete. That is not always the case, unfortunately, but the file with the lyrics at least includes them at full length.

This kind of music was not intended to be performed and listened to at a stretch. I recommend to put together a well-balanced diet of a number of songs. In any case, if you like this kind of repertoire you will be greatly rewarded when you purchase this set. The singing and playing is outstanding, and there is really no dull moment here. That is due both to the repertoire and to the performances. The interpreters are experts in this field and they have done us a great favour with this fine set of laude.

Johan van Veen (ę 2018)

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Anonima Frottolisti

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