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"Frottole - Songs from the courts of Renaissance Italy"

The Modena Consort
Dir: Boaz Berney

rec: May 2011, Blansingen, St. Peter
PanClassics - PC 10246 (© 2011) (65'52")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: La tromba sona; Recerchar de Benedictus; Surge; Tente alora; Franciscus BOSSINENSIS (fl 1510): Recercar 8; Recercar 12; Recercar 15; Niccolo BROCCO (c1480-1530): Se mia trista e dura sorte; Antoine BRUMEL (1460-1512): Noe noe noe; Vincenzo CAPIROLA (1474-1548): Stavasi amor dormendo (after Tromboncino); Marchetto CARA (1465-1525): Io non compro; Per dolor me bagno el viso; Loyset COMPÈRE (c1445-1518): Alons ferons barbe; Johannes HESDIMOIS (16th C): Tucto il mundo è fantasia; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517), arr anon: Benedictus (a 3); JOSQUIN DESPREZ (1450-1521): Una musca; Jacob OBRECHT (1457-1505): La turturella; Rumfeltier (attr); Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (c1470-1535): Dolci ire; Occhi mei lassi; Su su leva; Vale diva; Juan de URREDE (1451-c1482): Nunqua fue pena maior

Sources: Ottaviano Petrucci, ed, Odhecaton A, 1501; Canti B, 1503; Canti C, 1504; Frottole libro primo, 1504; Frottole libro tertio, 1505; Franciscus Bossinensis, Tenori e contrabassi intabulati ... libro primo, 1509; Tenori e contrabassi intabulati ... libro secundo, 1511; Andrea Antico da Montona, ed, Canzoni nove con alcune scelte, de varii libri de canto, 1510; Canzoni sonett strambotti e frottole libro quarto, 1517; Frottole intabulate da sonare organi, 1517

Ulrike Hofbauer, soprano; Sarah van Cornewal, Hiroko Suzuki, Claudio Santambrogio, Boaz Berney, transverse flute; René Genis, lute
with: Hiram Santos, percussion

The frottola was by far the most popular genre in Italy from roughly 1450 to 1530. It is a collective term for texts of various forms and character: a frottola could be, for instance, a canzona, a sonnet or a strambotto. Its origin is the practice of reciting poems to a musical accompaniment which was widespread in the mid-15th century. Poet, singer and performer were usually the same, and the accompaniment was mostly improvised. The practice of improvising ad lyram, as it was called, was even part of the pastime of the aristocracy: in particular Lorenzo de Medici in Florence greatly enjoyed it.

The centre of the frottola was the court in Mantua, though. This was mainly due to the patronage of Isabella d'Este, who had a broad cultural interest and was musically educated which allowed her to sing and to play instruments. She commissioned poets to supply her with verses which she then handed over to composers to be set to music. Especially interesting is the fact that these composers were all native Italians, rather than the representatives of the Franco-Flemish school. The largest part of the frottola repertoire was composed by Italians, and one of the most famous was Bartolomeo Tromboncino.

He grew up in Verona, where his father was a member of the town´s municipal wind ensemble. Tromboncino was educated as a sackbut player and probably became a member of the wind ensemble himself. Around 1489 he was in the service of Francesco II Gonzaga, but shortly after 1490 he became composer and lutenist to Isabella d'Este. It is likely that he accompanied Isabella when she sang her frottolas. She certainly will have sung some of his, as Tromboncino was the most important composer of such pieces: 170 are attributed to him. Another important contributor to the genre was Marchetto Cara who at the same time worked as lutenist at the court of Francesco II Gonzaga. He was also from Verona. He first served Francesco, and then, after Tromboncino's departure in 1505, also Isabella. More than 100 frottola's from his pen are known.

The lyrics of the frottola are not that important: the music came first. This explains that the texts were mostly not very sophisticated, and the authors are mostly anonymous. Most frottola are about love, but focus mainly on the humorous or frivolous side of it. There are exceptions, though, like Per dolor me bagno el viso by Marchetto Cara: "From pain I bathe my face with such a sweet liquor that weeping is much dearer to me than any joy from which laughter bursts".

The popularity of the frottola is reflected by the collections of such pieces which were printed by Ottaviano Petrucci in Venice. In 1504/05 he published no less than three books with 180 frottolas in total. In 1509 and 1511 he printed two further collections, and in the 1510s his colleague Andrea Antico da Montona in Rome printed various books with frottolas as well. The performance practice of these pieces deserves special attention. Although they were usually printed in four parts, it was mostly only the upper part which was texted. The other voices can't even always be fitted to the text, and that suggests a performance with a solo voice and instruments. In 1520 Petrucci published a volume in which frottolas were printed in an arrangement for solo voice, with the two lower voices intabulated for the lute, with the alto being omitted. This could well be the effect of how many frottolas were actually performed. This recording offers a variety of scorings, from solo voice with lute to voice with a consort of recorders, sometimes supplemented by lute and percussion. In some pieces the flute consort plays an instrumental version between the various stanzas.

It also plays independently, in transcriptions of vocal music from various contemporary sources. In addition, René Genis performs several intabulations of vocal pieces, for instance Tromboncino's Stavasi amor dormendo in the arrangement of Vincenzo Capirola, and also some original pieces for lute.

The whole concept of performing music with a consort of transverse flutes is still not very common these days. Over the years only one a disc with a flute consort has come my way: 'Madame d'amours' by The Attaignant Consort, released in 2007 by Ramée (RAM 0706). Today we mostly hear consorts of viols or recorders, both in concerts and on disc. Playing vocal and instrumental music with transverse flutes was a widespread practice, as The Attaignant Consort's director, Kate Clark, explains in her liner-notes. That makes this disc by The Modena Consort particularly welcome, apart from its importance as a survey of the frottola repertoire.

There is hardly any connection between text and music. This means that the performers shouldn't try to express the text in their interpretations. The Modena Consort seems to have realized that, with one exception. In the first stanza of the last item, Tromboncino's Su su leva, they try to make the text - "Rise, rise, lift up your eyelids". I think that they have got it wrong here, and should have confined themselves to singing and playing the music as it has been written down by the composer.

But that is a little blot on an exemplary recording. Ulrike Hofbauer has the perfect voice for this repertoire. She is known for expressive interpretations of baroque music, but here she needs to sing like an instrument. She does so beautifully, and het voice blends perfectly with the instruments. The playing of the flute consort is excellent, with some nice ornamentation where it is needed. René Genis accompanies with sensitivity.

The booklet includes a list of the sources, but unfortunately there is no indication as from which source the individual items have been taken.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

The Modena Consort

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