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CD reviews

Bernardino BOTTAZZI (fl c 1614): Choro et Organo

Federico Del Sordo, organ; Nova Schola Gregoriana (Alberto Turco)

rec: August 2022, Verona, Chiesa di San Bernardino da Siena
Brilliant Classics - 96823 (© 2023) (1.59'12")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Beatae Mariae Virginis Antiphonae (Alma redemptoris mater; Ave Regina caelorum; Regina caeli laetare; Salve Regina)
Credo Cardinale; Credo Dominicale
Hymni per totum annum occurrentes (Ad coenam agni providi; Aurea luce; Ave maris stella; Christe redemptor omnium [conserva tuos]; Christe redemptor omnium [ex Patre Patris]; Deus tuorum militum; Exultet caelum laudibus; Hostis Herodes impie; Huius obtentu; Iesu corona virginum; Iesu nostra redemptio; Iste confessor; Lucis creator optime; O lux beata Trinitas; Pange lingua gloriosi; Pater superni luminis; Quicumque Christum quaeritis; Sanctorum meritis; Tibi Christe splendor Patris; Urbs Hierusalem beata; Ut queant laxis; Veni creator Spiritus)
In Dominicis diebus; In Festis Beatae Mariae Virginis; In Missis Apostolorum & in festis duplicibus
Ricercar cromatico sopra il terzo tuono

[NSG] Gennaro Becchimanzi, Andrés Montilla Acurero, Manuel Scalmati, Mariano Zarpellon, chant

In the course of history much music has been written for the liturgy. The heart of the liturgy in the Christian church - since the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church - is what is generally known as plainchant, or Gregorian chant. The repertoire consists of the Ordinary of the mass as well as chants - propers, hymns, canticles, antiphons, responsories - which are connected to a specific time of the ecclesiastical year. Some parts could be performed polyphonically, whereas plainchant could be performed in alternation with polyphony or with organ. This alternatim practice, as it has become known, has its roots in the antiphonal psalmody of the early Christian church.

Basically all chants could be performed this way, even when they did not have an antiphonal character. Especially the Magnificat was often performed in alternatim with polyphony. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, for instance, has left a large number of Magnificat settings in the various modes. In the work-list in New Grove they are listed with the addition odd and even, which refers to the verses that Palestrina has set. The other verses should be performed in plainchant. Likewise composers have left organ versets that can be used in alternation with plainchant during mass or Vespers. Organists were expected to improvise; the art of improvisation was a fixed part of their education. Some organists decided to publish material that could teach up-and-coming organists how to make versets that could be used in alternation with plainchant. Such pieces were expected to be based on the melody of a chant. The disc under review here is an example of such a publication.

Nothing is known about Bernardino Bottazzi, except that he was an Observant Franciscan friar. In 1614 he published his treatise Choro et Organo in Venice. It includes only one independent piece: the Ricercar cromatico sopra il terzo tuono. All other pieces are based on plainchant. The preface includes 18 notices, which illustrate the principles of canonic counterpoint, which aim at instructing the organist in composition and improvisation based on cantus firmus, and suggestions on particular aspects like diminution of melodies and the application of ornamentation.

The collection does not offer material for all parts of the liturgy; versets for the Magnificat and the Te Deum, for instance, are not included. The book comprises - apart from the ricercar just mentioned - three masses, two Credos, 22 hymns for the entire ecclesiastical year and the four Marian antiphons. It is notable that in the three masses the Credo is omitted. "[This] is probably due to the prohibition imposed in the Cæremoniale Episcoporum promulgated by Clement VIII (1600), which over the course of a few decades saw to it that the alternatim performance of this part of the ordinary of the mass fell by the wayside (...)." (booklet) The two separate Credos may be intended as compensation. The organ works are notated in the Italian organ tablature (here eight-line staves for the left hand and five-line staves for the right hand).

It is notable that some of the hymn versets are identical. That is due to the fact that the chants have the same melody, such as the two with the incipit Christe redemptor omnium, whose texts are slightly different. The same goes for Pater superni luminis and Iesu corona virginum as well as Pange lingua and Urbs beata Hierusalem. Federico Del Sordo mentions that Bottazzi offers far fewer hymns than were sung during the year and one can find in other collections. "Matteo Asola includes the melodies of as many as 77 hymns in his anthology Canto fermo sopra messe, hinni et altre cose ecclesiastiche […] (Venice, 1592). Such a striking discrepancy is undoubtedly due to the prohibition of the use of the organ during certain periods of the liturgical year (for example, from Septuagesima up to the end of Lent as well as on particular occasions (for example, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December) which, in fact, reduced the number of hymns that it was possible to alternate between organ and choir to around 20 to 30."

Each verset is preceded by the plainchant melody in cantus firmus, which makes sure that the organ verset and the chant are performed at the same pitch. In this recording the Nova Schola Gregoriana performs the plainchant, and does so admirably. The recording of the chant and the versets has taken place in the same space and at the same time, which results in a strong coherence between chant and organ, as may have been the case in the liturgy. An isolated performance of the organ versets would not have made much sense, as they are mostly very short. Federico Del Sordo is an expert in early music, and knows exactly how to bring this material to life. The organ is a beautiful instrument from 2003, built after historical models from Bottazzi's time. The temperament is mesotonic 1/4-comma and the pitch a'''=496Hz.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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