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Giovanni DE MACQUE (1548 - 1614): "Madrigali & Organ Works"

Weser-Renaissance Bremen; Edoardo Bellotti, organa
Dir: Manfred Cordes

rec: Jan 16 - 18, 2015, Bassum, Stiftskirche
CPO - 777 977-2 (© 2018) (63'03")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Cantan gl'augelli; Canzon francesea; Capriciettoa; Capriccio sopra re fa mi sola; Consonanze stravagantia; Deh se pietosa sei; Fuggia la notte; I tuoi capelli o Filli; Incenerito è'l petto; La mia doglia s'avanza; O gran stupore; Quella vermiglia rosa; Ricercare del 4° tonoa; Seconde Stravaganzea; Sono aqua viva; Tu segui o bella Clori; Tu ti lagni al mio pianto; Tutta leggiadra e bella; Vidi Fillide mia

Source: Sesto libro de madrigali de cinque voci, 1613

Margaret Hunter, soprano; David Erler, alto; Achim Schulz, Bernd Oliver Fröhlich, tenor.; Ulrich Staber, bass; Margit Schultheiß, harp

Giovanni de Macque is one of the lesser-known composers of the late renaissance. Only his keyboard works now and then appear on disc, but unfortunately only a relatively few number of pieces have been preserved. In comparison, his output in the madrigal department is much larger, but hardly any of that is available on disc. Even madrigal ensembles seem to have overlooked his madrigals, which is especially surprising as they are stylistically quite close to those by Carlo Gesualdo, which are very frequently performed and recorded.

Little in his early career pointed in this direction. De Macque was born in Valenciennes in the north of France, and was undoubtedly musically educated in the Franco-Flemish style of polyphony. He started his musical career as a singer in the imperial chapel in Vienna. He studied with Philippus de Monte, and in 1574 he moved to Rome. In the early 1580s he acted as organist there. In 1585 he moved to Naples, where he entered the service of the Gesualdo household. He became part of a social network of local aristocrats, to whom he dedicated his madrigal books. He took several postions as organist, for instance at the chapel of the Spanish viceroy; in 1599 he was appointed maestro de cappella of the chapel. De Macque was also active as a teacher: among his pupils are some who were to become some of the main composers of keyboard music, such as Trabaci and Mayone. Other famous pupils were Falconieri and Luigi Rossi.

One of the features of his keyboard music is his sense of experiment in the field of harmony. His pieces include dissonances and chromaticism on a scale only known from Gesualdo's madrigals. Four pieces stand out in this respect: Consonanze stravaganti, Durezze e ligature and the Prima e seconda stravaganze. Two of these are included in the programme of the present disc. The other pieces bear witness to his command of counterpoint, especially the Canzon francese. The Capriccio sopra re fa mi sol and the Capricietto reflect the time's appreciation of contrasts within a short space.

In his experimental keyboard pieces, Macque basically translates the harmonic progressions in his madrigals to the keyboard. What in keyboard music may give the impression of being little more than experiments for experiments' sake, is part of the ideal of text expression in vocal music. The madrigals by Macque - and those by Gesualdo, for that matter - are stages in a development towards a more graphic illustration of the text and its affetti. The first composer who moved in this direction was Cipriano de Rore. Other composers followed in his footsteps, and around 1600 the ideal of text expression resulted in the seconda pratica, which in vocal music was particularly promoted by Giulio Caccini. However, whereas the latter saw a scoring for solo voice(s) and basso continuo as the best way to achieve this ideal, Gesualdo stood by the tradition known as stile antico, in which all the voices were treated on strictly equal footing. The same goes for Macque. His last two books of madrigals came from the press in 1610 and 1613 respectively, but they are strictly polyphonic and omit a basso continuo part. In the present recording of madrigals from the latter set, a harp does participate in the performance of some madrigals, but it does not play a basso continuo part, but rather a basso seguente, following with the lowest voice of the vocal ensemble.

The madrigals performed here are fine examples of what can achieved with 'traditional' means. Katelijne Schiltz, in her liner-notes, gives several examples. She focuses mainly on musical figures and metre. About Son aqua viva, she writes: "The poem gave Macque an opportunity for an expressive and varied setting in which isolated words and phrases are emphasised over and over again. The pleasure-loving Muses, for example, are accompanied by a lilting triple metre; the tempo suddenly slows down at the description of the sleeping Endymion; and the madrigal ends with a garland of fast notes symbolising the stranger's departure from the scene." A composer has to make a choice about which element in a text he wishes to emphasize. Take the last phrase from Fuggia la notte: "And all the birds in the surrounding fields burst the silence of the new day". A composer may focus here on the movements of the birds by increasing the tempo through shorter note values, but here "Macque (...) manages to highlight particular concepts in his music, employing an undulating melody to depict the circling birds in 'et ogn'augel per le campagn'intorno' (and all the birds in the surrounding fields) and using rests effectively to frame the image that follows: 'rompea'l silentio' (burst through the silence of the new day)." Harmonic progressions are used for expressive reasons in some madrigals about the torments of love, such as La mia doglia s'avanza ("My torments come closer, the more my hope recedes"), which includes a descending chromatic figure. Sharp dissonants are used in the third section of I tuoi capelli: "These verses are low, wretched and poor, my if my weeping is valued in heaven, even death must be moved by such fidelity". Another example is O gran stupore: "O great stupidity, o grave error, that mortal man pays scant attention to such great evil that lasts eternally".

As far as I know, this disc is the first that is entirely devoted to the oeuvre of Giovanni de Macque. I can't remember ever having heard any of his madrigals. They have found an eloquent advocate in Weser-Renaissance Bremen, whose five outstanding voices blend perfectly and whose precise intonation makes sure that the harmonic peculiarities have their full effect. The keyboard pieces are not included for relaxation, because here De Macque sings the same tune as in his madrigals. They only further document his inventiveness and sense of adventure. They are beautifully executed by Edoardo Bellotti.

In particular those who like the madrigals of Gesualdo, are well advised to investigate this disc. They will hear much that sounds quite familiar and I am sure they will enjoy what De Macque has to offer.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Weser-Renaissance Bremen

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