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Antonio VALENTE (c1520 - c1580): Intavolatura de Cimbalo

Paola Erdas, virginal, harpsichord

rec: March 19 - 21, 2019, Corcelles (CH)
Hitasura - HSP005 (© 2019) (67'52")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT
Cover & track-list

Carlo GESUALDO da Venosa (c1561-1613): Canzon Francese del Principe; Luys MILÁN (c1500-after 1560): Pavana IV; Alonso MUDARRA (c1510-1580): Conde Claros en doze manera; Antonio VALENTE: Ballo Lombardo; Bascia Flammignia; Chi la dirra, disminuita; Fantasia del primo tono; Gagliarda Lombarda & Gagliarda Lombarda con alcuni fioretti di Paola Erdas; Gagliarda Napolitana con molte mutanze; La Romanesca con cinque mutanze; Lo Ballo dell'Intorcia con sette mutanze; Pisne, disminuita; Recercata del primo tono; Recercata del terzo tono; Recercata del settimo tono; Recercata dell'ottavo tono; Sortemeplus di Filippo de Monte con alcuni fioretti d'Antonio Valente; Tenore del passo e mezo con sei mutanze; Tenore grande alla Napolitana con sei mutanze; Tenore de Zefiro con dodeci mutanze; Luis VENEGAS DE HENESTROSA (c1510-1570): Cinco diferencias sobre Conde Claros

Antonio Valente was one of the first keyboard virtuosos in music history who published pieces of his own hand. He can be considered one of the founders of the Neapolitan keyboard school, with which also the names of Giovanni de Macque, Giovanni Maria Trabaci an Ascanio Mayone are connected. One aspect is of special importance: the pieces in the Intavolatura di cimbalo are notated in a tablature which Valente had developed himself, and which Frat'Alberto Mazza de Napoli, Dominican monk and author of the preface, claimed to give every amateur the opportunity to play the pieces within a couple of months, without the help of a teacher. Taking into account the virtuosity of many pieces, which undoubtedly reflects the composer's own skills, this claim has to be refuted.

This tablature has also raised the question how Valente could have developed it, considering that he was blind; he was known as Cieco Napolitano, "the blind Neapolitan". Paola Erdas, in her liner-notes, states that "[today] he would be called visually impaired, but in the sixteenth century he was considered blind. Consequently, I asked for medical advice on the basis of the Intavolatura and the possible diagnosis of Valente's condition was retinitis pigmentosa or evolved glaucoma. Both diseases are genetic and result in a progressive narrowing of the field of vision, down to the so-called 'tunnel vision', that is only frontal vision, and then to full blindness".

As Naples was under Spanish rule, it can hardly surprise that Spanish influence is notable in Valente's music. First of all, his tablature system was based on Spanish organ tablatures. In them every note was given a number (unlike in German tablatures, which used letters). Stylistically he was inspired by the recercadas which Diego Ortiz had published in his Trattado de glosas, printed in Rome in 1553. Ortiz worked in Naples from the end of the 1550s until his death (1570). A further feature of Valente's keyboard oeuvre is that he was probably the first who explicitly conceived the pieces in this book for the harpsichord, basically excluding the organ. Although it probably goes too far to say that these pieces cannot be played at the organ, most of them would not fare that well on another instrument than a stringed keyboard, such as the harpsichord or the virginal, the two instruments Paola Erdas plays in the present recording.

The Intavolatura di cimbalo includes a wide variety of pieces, some of them in a more or less 'learned' style, dominated by counterpoint, others of a more 'popular' nature. The latter category includes dances, the former pieces such as fantasia and recercata. The only fantasia of the collection may well be the first which has ever appeared in print. All but one of the recercatas have several subjects. The pieces called tenore are based on a basso ostinato, a single motif in the left hand which is consistently repeated - with minor alterations - from beginning to end. Other specimens of this genre are Bascia Flammignia and La Romanesca.

Valente is also one of the first who composed diminutions on secular subjects; considering the popularity of madrigals and chansons at the time one can count them among the 'popular' part of the collection. Chi la dirra is based on Adrian Willaert's chanson Qui la dira, whereas Pisne disminuita is an arrangement of the chanson Pis ne me peut venir by Thomas Crecquillon. Philippe de Monte was also famous for his chansons; Valente included two different arrangements of his Sortez mes pleurs, of which only Sortemeplus con alcuni fioretti is included here.

Lastly we find some dances in this collection: Lo Ballo dell'Intorcia, Ballo Lombardo and Gagliarda Lombarda. The latter is followed by fioretti (embellishments) by Paola Erdas herself.

I was expecting a complete recording of this collection, which would have been possible, given the duration of this disc. I already mentioned one of the pieces omitted here. Also left out are a second recercata in the first mode, the Recercata del sesto tono and a Salve Regina. On the other hand, Erdas included some pieces by contemporaries. The programme opens with two Spanish pieces, documenting the influence from Spain in Valente's keyboard music. The Gagliarda Lombarda is preceded by another Spanish work, by Luis Milan, a composer of music for the vihuela. The last work is the only keyboard piece from the pen of Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa, who was a Neapolitan of the next generation, and a contemporary of several representatives of the Neapolitan keyboard school mentioned above.

Paola Erdas is well known for her unconventional programming, often including pieces that are little known. That is the case here as well. Valente's collection has been recorded complete several times before, but most of these pieces are rarely played and certainly not familiar stuff. Erdas is a very imaginative player, with a good sense of rhythm and clarity of articulation. As she shows here, she is not afraid to add something of her own, when she thinks that makes sense. Her playing here is a joy to listen to. The way the programme has been constructed guarantees a maximum of variety. What makes this disc even more special is the use of two splendid historical instruments, both dating from the 16th century. The virginal's maker is not known, but it is assumed that the instrument was built in Naples in the late 16th century. The harpsichord can also not be dated, but is one of a group of instruments built between the first half of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century. It is hardly possible to find more 'authentic' instruments for Valente's music than these two.

In every respect, this is a splendid disc, which deserves a special recommendation.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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Paola Erdas

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