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Antonio VALENTE (c1520 - c1580): Intavolatura de Cimbalo, 1576

Rebecca Maurer, harpsichord

rec: June 2005 & August 2008, Berlin, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (Kleiner Sendesaal)
Christophorus - CHR 77307 ( 2009) (67'28")

Ballo lombardo; Bascia Flammignia; Chi la dira, disminuita (Willaert); Fantasia del primo tono; Gagliarda lombarda Gagliarda napolitana; La romanesca; Lo ballo dell'intorcia; Pisne disminuita (Crecquillon); Recercata del primo tono; Recercata del primo tono 5; Recercata del terzo tono; Recercata del sesto tono; Recercata del septimo tono; Recercata del ottavo tono; Salve Regina; Sortemeplus con alcuni fioretti (De Monte); Sortemeplus disminuita; Tenore de zefiro; Tenore del passo e mezzo; Tenore grande alla napolitana

When you have ever had harpsichord lessons there is a good chance you have played a piece by Antonio Valente pretty early on. It is not too difficult to play, and because of its dance rhythm it is a quite popular piece. I am referring here to the Ballo dell'intorcia which also appeared in recordings of renaissance music in the 1960's and 1970's, as the historical performance practice and the rediscovery of early music was still in its early stages.

This harpsichord work is much better known than its composer. That is not surprising as we don't know that much about him, not even the years of his birth and death. But he was a man of reputation and is one of the early representatives of the Neapolitan keyboard school, to which also belonged composers like Giovanni de Macque, Ascanio Mayone and Giovanni Maria Trabaci. What is characteristic of these composers, in particular their experiments with harmony, is largely absent in Valente's oeuvre. But although his first collection of keyboard music, which has been recorded by Rebecca Maurer, was aimed at amateurs, some of his compositions are anything but easy.

Valente, who was blind from his childhood, worked in Naples as an organist. Two collections of keyboard music is all what he has left. The first, the Intavolatura di cimbalo, was printed in 1576 and contains various forms of keyboard music which were in vogue at the time. On the one hand there are one fatasia and six recercate which are dominated by polyphony, on the other hand the collection contains dances, all but in name gagliardas. In these the left hand mainly plays chords whereas the left hand plays figural passages.

As the tracklist shows there are also some arrangements of vocal works by contemporaries. The addition of the word disminuita indicates that they belong to the category of diminutions, one of the most popular forms of instrumental music in the second half of the 16th century.

The Intavolatura di cimbalo is historically important for two reasons. First of all, it is written in a form of tablature which was Valente's own invention, despite its strong similarity to the Spanish tablature. One of the reasons to publish his collection was to make sure no one else could claim this tablature as his. It was also his aim to make it as easy as possible for people without any experience in music and not able to read notes to learn to play the keyboard.
The second interesting aspect of the Intavolatura di cimbalo is that it is the first collection of keyboard music in history which was specifically conceived for the harpsichord, with the exclusion of the organ. Unlike in other collections the titlepage doesn't mention the organ, and most of the pieces it contains are written in an idiom which strongly points into the direction of the harpsichord, or, as Rebecca Maurer writes in the programme notes, "a stringed keyboard instrument".

The pieces are, as usual, ordered according to genre, but Rebecca Maurer has wisely not followed the order in the print. The programme begins with the Gagliada napolitana, which is followed by diminutions on a madrigal by Willaert, the Tenore grande alla napolitana and then the Fantasia del primo tono. The way the programme has been put together guarantees a maximum of variety.

A complete recording of a collection - and in this case even of all harpsichord works by Valente - can easily be dismissed as a kind of academic undertaking. But nothing is further from the truth here. It isn't only the way the music has been programmed, but even more the way Rebecca Maurer plays Valente's music which results in this disc being highly entertaining and captivating. She plays with panache and imagination, and she uses a beautiful instrument by Bernhard von Tucher, based on Italian models of the 17th century, and - as far as I can hear - tuned in meantone temperament.

Rebecca Maurer also wrote informative programme notes which put Valente in a historical perspective and the programme has been well recorded. So there is every reason to strongly recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen ( 2009)

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Rebecca Maurer

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