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Adrian WILLAERT (c1490 - 1562): "Musica Nova - The Petrarca Madrigals"

Singer Pur

rec: Jan 25 - 27 & March 24 - 27, 2009, Mnchen-Sendling, Himmelfahrtskirche
Oehms - OC 814 ( 2009) (2.01'40")

Amor, Fortuna 4; Aspro core 6; Cantai: hor piango 6; Che fai alma? che pensi? 7; Giunto m'ha Amor 5; I begli occhi 5; I piansi, hor canto 6; I vidi in terra 6; In qual parte del ciel 6; Io amai sempre 4; Io mi rivolgo 5; L'aura mia sacra 5; Lasso, ch'i ardo 4; Liete e pensose 7; Mentre che'l color 5; O invidia 5; Occhi piangete, accompagnate il core 7; Onde tolse Amor l'oro 5; Ove ch'i posi gli occhi 6; Passa la nave mia 6; Pien d'un vago pensier 6; Pi volte gi 5; Quando fra l'altre donne 5; Quando nascesti, Amor 7; Quest'anima gentil 4

Source: Musica Nova, 1559

Claudia Reinhard, soprano; Franz Vitzthum, alto; Klaus Wenk, Markus Zapp, Manuel Warwitz, tenor; Reiner Schneider-Waterberg, baritone; Marcus Schmidl, bass-baritone

Francesco Petrarca is one of the most famous poets in Italian history, and also in the history of European literature. He was born in 1304 in Arezzo, and went with his father to Pisa and then to Avignon for political reasons. He followed several studies in Avignon, and here he met Madonna Laura who would inspire him all his life. His 366 Rime sparse, which later were called Il Canzoniere, were dedicated to her. He died in 1374.

In the early 16th century there was a renewed interest in Petrarca and his poetry. This explains the fact that all but one madrigals in Adrian Willaert's collection Musica Nova are on texts of Petrarca's Il Canzoniere. Adrian Willaert was born in Flanders, went to Paris where he studied with Jean Mouton, and then went to Italy where he would work the rest of his life. In 1527 he was appointed maestro de cappella of San Marco, and in this position he would lay the foundations of the Venetian polychoral style.

Willaert composed a large amount of sacred and secular music. The collection Musica Nova was printed in 1559, but was written in the early 1540s. It consists of madrigals and motets, and was dedicated to Polissena Pecorina, a Venetian courtesan who was a celebrated singer. It seems that she kept the manuscript in her possession, being well aware of its value. In 1554 she sold the manuscript to the Ferrarese nobleman Alfonso d'Ester at a high price, and as he planned to have the collection printed, it was stipulated that Polinessa's heirs would share in the profit.

The fact that this collection contains secular and sacred music may cause surprise but there are some similarities between the texts of both categories. In the booklet Katelijne Schiltz writes: "Willaert's textual choices reveal many similarities between the two parts of the collection. Issues of penitence and sin, which dominate many of the motet texts, can equally be found in the madrigals (...). Willaert showed that the sacred and the secular could stand on an equal footing". But it can also be explained from the character of Venice, which identified itself with the Virgin Mary, symbol of heavenly love, and Venus, symbol of earthly love. This is reflected in this collection, as Raz Binyamini writes: "The failing aspirations of sacred love and the torments of profane love are discussed in the madrigals, with allusions to Venus and her son Amor, while sacred love is glorified in the motets, with clear references to the equivalent couple of mother and son - the Virgin and Christ". Lastly it is relevant to refer to the fact that Madonna Laura, who inspired Petrarca, was the symbol of the ambivalence of earthly and heavenly love. And there can be little doubt that Willaert identified Polissena Pecorina with Madonna Laura, as a laudatory madrigal shows.

These two discs contain all the madrigals. Petrarca's Canzonieri are all written in the form of a sonnet, consisting of 14 lines, divided over two quatrains (with four lines each) and two tercets (with three lines each). They are written in two sections: the first contains the two quatrains, the second the two tercets. These madrigals are written in purely polyphonic style, and there are hardly any madrigalisms which are a feature of madrigals in the late 16th century. Dissonants to illustrate the text don't show up. The first words of Occhi, piangete would certainly be set to dissonants or to a chromatic descending line by later generations of composers - but not so here. The text of O invidia nimica di vertute is full of bitterness: "O Envy the enemy of virtue, you who gladly fight against good beginnings, by what path did you so silently enter that lovely breast, and with what art do you change it? (...) But though with bitter, cruel gesture she weep at my luck and laugh at my weeping, she cannot change even one of my thoughts." But hardly anything of that is audible in the music.

That doesn't mean there is no connection between text and music at all. The opening of madrigal I' piansi, or canto is set to contrasting musical material: "I wept, now I sing". Interesting are two 7-part madrigals, Liete, e pensose - Petrarca's Canzoniere No 222 - and the last piece, Quando nascesti, Amor?, which is the only text not written by Petrarca, but by Panfilo Sasso. Both pieces are dialogues, and here there is no division into two sections, and both are for two groups of voices, a high 'choir' versus a low 'choir'. This, of course, reflects the cori spezzati technique Willaert had developed as maestro di capella of San Marco.

This recording is probably the first of the complete madrigals from this collection. There is no reference in the booklet of an upcoming recording of the motets, but I certainly hope this ensemble is going to record them, since their performances of the madrigals are very good. The singers have nice voices which blend very well, without any of them disturbing the ensemble with vibrato. The lines are beautifully shaped with perfect legato. The interpretation explores the emotions of the texts quite well. There is only one point of criticism: the tenor Klaus Wenk does sound a bit stressed at the highest notes now and then, and I wonder whether in some pieces his part shouldn't have been sung by Franz Vitzthum instead.

The recording has just the right atmosphere. The booklet contains informative programme notes in German and English, and the lyrics are all printed, with English and German translations. This is a very important recording which does full justice to the high quality of Adrian Willaert's madrigals.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

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