musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Italian music for 'common people'

[I] "Sacred Music for the Poor at Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome"
Concerto Romano
Dir: Alessandro Quarta
rec: Nov 2 - 4, 2011, Rome, Convento di S. Isidoro (Aula Magna)
Christophorus - CHR 777373 (© 2013) (66'49")
Liner-notes: E/D/I; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

Giovanni Francesco ANERIO (c1569-1630): Dio ti salvi, Maria [8]; O penitenza, gioia del core [8]; Torna la sera bruna, aria a 3 [8]; Giovanni ANIMUCCIA (1514-1571): Deh, venitene, pastori, lauda a 4 [2]; anon: Canzona; Fuggi fuggi quel ben, aria a 2 (?Giacomo Carissimi, 1605-1674); La santa allegrezza, tarantella napoletana popolare (18th C; [bonus track]); Mentre il mio spirto langue, lauda a 3 [6]; Mentre lo sposo mio, lauda a 3 a Santa Maria del Refugio [7]; Perché m'inviti pur, lauda a 3 [4]; Perder gl'amici, lauda a 3 [4]; Sinfonia; Sinfonia Sancta Maria; Emilio DE' CAVALIERI (1550-1602): La Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo (Il ciel clemente); Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651): Canario [9]; Luca MARENZIO (1553-1599), arr Giovanni Giovenale ANCINA (1545-1604): Pietro così dicea (after Ero così dicea) [1]; Virgilio MAZZOCCHI (1597-1646): Dove ti porta il cieco affetto, cantata (Deh, ritorna al tuo Signore, frottola a 5); Francisco SOTO DE LANGA (1534-1619): Cor mio dolente e tristo, lauda a 3 [5]; Faticosa à la via, lauda a 3 [3]; Nell'apparir del sempiterno sole, lauda a 3 alla Madonna del Presepio di Santa Maria Maggiore di Roma [7]; Signor, ti benedico, lauda a 3 [4]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Giovenale Ancina, ed., Canzona Profana a quattro voci ... ridotta in Sacra, [n.d.]; [2] Giovanni Animuccia, Il primo libro delle laudi ..., 1563; [3] Francisco Soto de Langa, Il Primo Libro delle laudi, 1577; [4] Giovanni Animuccia, Il Terzo Libro delle laudi, 1577; Francisco Soto de Langa, [5] Il Primo Libro delle laudi spirituali, 1583; [6] Il Quarto Libro delle laudi, 1591; [7] Giovanni Giovenale Ancina, ed., Tempio Armonico, 1599; [8] Giovanni Francesco Anerio, Selva Armonica, 1617; [9] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Libro quarto d'intavolatura, 1640

Monica Piccinini, soprano; Lucia Napoli, mezzo-soprano; Luca Cervoni, Vincenzo Di Donato, Baltazar Zuniga, tenor; Giacomo Farioli, bass; Alessandro Quarta, voice; Serena Bellini, flute; Andrea Inghisciano, cornett; Paolo Perrone, violin; Alfonso Martin, cello; Luca Marconato, Francesco Tomasi, theorbo, guitar

[II] Francesco RATIS (? - 1676) (ed): "Dialoghi con l'Angelo - Dramatic cantatas & popular songs (1657)"
Chiyuki Okamura, Cornelia Samuelis, soprano; Franz Vitzthum, alto; Christian Dietz, tenor; Yorck Felix Speer, bass
Nuovo Aspetto
Dir: Michael Dücker
rec: July 17 - 20, 2013, Cologne, WDR Studio 2
Accent - ACC 24290 (© 2014) (60'44")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Bernardo GIANONCELLI (?-before 1650): Vana Bergemasca (arr F. Ratis); Stefano LANDI (1587-1639): Snfonia 2; Sinfonia 3; Francesco RATIS (attr): Ciaccona di Paradiso e d'Inferno; Dialogo frà l'Angelo, l'Anima, il Mondo, la Carne, & il Demonio; Dialogo frà l'Angelo, l'Anima, & il Demonio; Dialogo frà l'Angelo, & un Musico; Dialogo frà l'Anima, & la Conscienza; Fuga del mondo; Non si và al Cielo; Ruger confuso; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): La Ruggiera; Per malum velle (arr F. Ratis); Marco UCCELLINI (1610-1680): Aria III sopra un Balletto; Aria IV sopra la Ciacona

Mayumi Hirasaki, violin; Ulrike Becker, viola da gamba, lirone; Elisabeth Seitz, psaltery; Johanna Seitz, harp; Raphael Vang, trombone; Michael Dücker, lute, theorbo, guitar; Wiebke Weidanz, harpsichord, regal, organ; Michèle Claude, percussion

The two discs to be reviewed here are not formally related in any way, but supplement each other quite nicely as they include the same kind of repertoire. It is connected to the reform movement which emerged in Rome in the 16th century and whose main representative was Filippo Neri. He founded the Oratory which was copied elsewhere later in the 16th century and in the next.

Neri was born in Florence and received his education from the friars of the Dominican monastery of San Marco. He went to Rome and continued his studies with the Augustinians. He then started to work among the sick and the poor and travelled across the city to talk to 'common' people. In 1548 he founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims and Convalescents which cared for pilgrims and for those who were relieved from hospitals but were too weak to labour. In 1551 Neri became a priest and in 1556 he founded the Oratory which later found its quarters in the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, a poor neighbourhood in Rome. As it soon was too small a new church was built, together with a hall, called the Oratory. In 1575 the pope gave permission to found the Congregation of the Oratory; the new church was consecrated two years later.

The congregation was not only about care for the poor and the sick. Its aim was also "to make the message of the Gospel comprehensible to uneducated ears", as Alessandro Quarta writes in the liner-notes to his recording of "Sacred Music for the Poor". Music was regarded as one of the most important instruments to achieve this. The present disc includes music by the two first maestri di cappella, Giovanni Animuccia (until his death in 1571) and his successor Francesco Soto de Langa (until 1596). The latter actively collected music which could be sung at the gatherings of the Oratory. An important part of the repertoire consisted of laude, a genre of non-liturgical religious song which had its origins in the Middle Ages.

"The lauda arose in the city-states of central Italy during the 13th century, and was a product of the complementary forces of mendicant (especially Dominican and Franciscan) urban missionary zeal and the emerging guild-based communes of Tuscany and Umbria." (New Grove) The next centuries saw the emergence of confraternities of laudesi and disciplinati where the laude constituted the main part of the musical repertoire. The practice of singing laude disseminated across Italy and became part of popular culture.

Although there is no watershed between the genre of the lauda and other genres, it has a character of its own. The texts are all in the vernacular, "and even - to facilitate understanding for the ordinary people - a rudimentary Italian often blended with dialect expressions", Quarta states. He also writes that "[a] most essential aspect (..) is the elementary sensuality with which religious fervour is expressed". Sometimes the texts included images which probably didn't go down very well with the ecclesiastical authorities. The laude could be original, but there was also a large amount of arrangements. Sophisticated compositions were simplified in order to make them suitable for performances by people without formal musical education. Secular works were adapted in that the original lyrics were replaced by a sacred or moralistic text. One example is Luca Marenzio's madrigal Ero così dicea which is performed by Concerto Romano on a sacred text.

The connection between the various layers in the music culture of the time comes also to the fore in the contributions by various professional composers. One of them was Giovanni Francesco Anerio, the younger brother of Felice, and educated as an organist. He was closely associated with the Oratorians and he composed a collection of dialogues which was published as Teatro armonico spirituale.

This results in quite some variety in the programme which has been recorded by Concerto Romano, and which is reflected by the various ways it is performed. In some pieces the performers are inspired by traditional vocal polyphony which is still sung in some parts of Italy. In other pieces a sophisticated and technically complicated instrument such as the cornett participates. The result is a most compelling disc of repertoire most music lovers are not acquainted with and which will not often be performed in concert halls, not even in festivals devoted to early music. Concerto Romano deserves praise for its creative programming and its engaging performances.

The second disc attests to the dissemination of the Oratorian movement in the 17th century. Its starting point is a collection of Canzonette spirituali e morali che si cantano nell'Oratorio di Chiavenna published anonymously in Milan in 1657. "Written at the instigation of members of the confraternity who had created an autonomous musical repertoire 'for the spiritual recreation of all', this music was different from what was otherwise making the rounds in the numerous Italian confraternities", Maria Rosa Moretti writes in the booklet. The confraternity of the Oratory of Chiavenna - under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Como, but belonging to the Swiss Canton of Graubünden - was founded in 1664. Francesco Ratis was a priest, born in Como, who came to Chiavenna in 1638 as organist of the collegiate church of San Lorenzo and lived there for about 30 years. He was responsible for the publication of the collection of 1657. Whether he has composed any music himself is impossible to establish.

The music in this collection was written "for the spiritual recreation of all", and that explains the moralistic nature of the texts. That comes to the fore, for instance, in the dialogues which constitute its most sophisticated part. Angels play an important part here; they lead to the moral of the dialogue. In the Dialogo frà l'Angelo, & un Musico the angel states that musicians are in danger of becoming the victims of pride and vanity. The piece ends with a duet in praise of God. The Dialogo frà l'Angelo, l'Anima, & il Demonio is comparable to the moralities such as Emilio de' Cavalieri's Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo. The soul has to choose between good and evil, represented by an angel and the devil respectively. In the Dialogo frà l'Anima, & la Coscienza the soul is asked by his conscience why he is sad, and the soul finds out that it is his sin. The dialogue ends with the soul finding redemption by asking forgiveness for his sins. Lastly, in the Dialogo frà l'Angelo, l'Anima, il Mondo, la Carne, & il Demonio the soul is promised grace in the afterlife, but he is tempted by the worldly delights which are promoted by the Flesh and Satan. But they come at the cost of eternal damnation in hell. The soul decides to serve only Jesus and in a chorus he is encouraged to remain true to his resolution.

Again we meet the practice of adaptation and arrangement. A number of pieces are based on secular vocal works or instrumental compositions. Only in one case the title of the original composition is given. Per malum velle is based on Tarquinio Merula's canzonetta Quand'io volsi l'altra sera, scored for solo voice and basso continuo. In this collection it is arranged for three voices of equal importance; the melody and rhythm are simplified. Fuga del mondo is an example of an arrangement of an instrumental piece. The booklet says that Fuga del mondo is based on a song for voice and bc by Giuseppe Cenci, but it seems rather derived from a melody used by various composers and also known as Ballo del Mantova or La Mantovana. The same melody turns up in Uccellini's Aria III. Then popular bassi ostinati are the foundation of pieces such as Ruger confuso (Ruggiero) and Ciaccona di Paradiso e Inferno.

The documentation of this disc leaves something to be desired. It is not clear where the instrumental items come from. Are they included in the collection of 1657 or are they added as a kind of context to the programme? Vana Bergamasca is performed instrumentally, but the liner-notes add "Sent'ognun ciò che vuol dir" to its title suggesting that this is a vocal piece. Another issue which is not mentioned is the instrumental scoring. In many pieces percussion is used, and the psaltery is also played in almost every piece. To what extent does the edition give any clue as to which instruments have to be used and where? Recordings by this ensemble always include a psaltery, but I would like to know whether the use of this instrument is based on documentary evidence. In addition, the use of the word psaltery is rather confusing. Psaltery and dulcimer are very similar instruments, but the strings of the psaltery are plucked rather than struck with hammers. From pictures it is clear that Elisabeth Seitz plays with hammers. Therefore the correct term for her instrument seems dulcimer.

The repertoire on this disc generally seems a little more sophisticated than that of Concerto Romano's disc. The performers have also followed a somewhat different path as far as interpretation is concerned. There is no use of traditional singing techniques, and that is just as well as the singers are not Italian. If they had attempted to sing like Concerto Romano in some items, it probably would have gone spectacularly wrong. Even so, they have captured the character of this repertoire quite well. There is little of the virtuosic ornamentation which was used in more sophisticated repertoire of the time. The performances are more straightforward and down to earth, but that makes them all the more effective. Several questions in regard to performance practice notwithstanding, this is a delightful disc which takes the repertoire fully seriously without making too much of it.

Considering the obscurity of the repertoire it is highly regrettable that the Christophorus disc includes only German translations of the lyrics, and the Accent disc even omits any translation.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Concerto Romano
Nuovo Aspetto

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