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Emilio DE' CAVALIERI (c1550 - 1602): "Lamentations"

Profeti della Quinta
Dir: Elam Rotem

rec: March 2023, Versam, Église Réformée
Pan Classics - PC 10451 (© 2023) (72'03")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance]
[Prima Die] Lectio I: Incipit Lamentatio Hieremie prophete - Aleph. Quomodo sedet; Lectio II: Vau. Et egressus est; Lectio III: Jod. Manum suam; Responso I: Eram quasi; Responso II: Una hora; Responso III: Seniores populi
[Secunda Die] Lectio I: De Lamentatione Hieremie prophete - Heth. Cogitavit Dominus; Lectio II: Lamed. Matribus suis dixerunt; Lectio III: Aleph. Ego vir videns; Responso I: Tradiderunt me; Responso II: Jesum tradidit; Responso III: Caligaverunt;
[Tertia Die] Lectio I: De Lamentatione Hieremie prophete - Heth. Misericordie Domine; Lectio II: Aleph. Quomodo obscuratum est; Lectio III: Incipit oratio Hierimiae prophete - Recordare Domine; Responso I: Astiterunt; Responso II: Aestimatus sum; Responso III: Sepulto Domino
[Lamentations (add. incomplete)] [Prima Die] (exc) Incipit Lamentatio Hieremie prophete

Source: Lamentationes Hieremiae Prophetae cum Responsoriis Officii Hebdomadae Maioris

Perrine Devillers, soprano; Doron Schleifer, alto; Loïc Paulin, Jacob Lawrence, tenor; Elam Rotem, bass, organ; Elizabeth Rumsey, lirone; Orí Harmelin, theorbo

The name of Emilio de' Cavalieri is inextricably connected to one work, the Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo, a morality play that was first performed in 1600 and is sometimes considered the first opera in history. It was a work of groundbreaking importance, especially for its scoring for solo voices and basso continuo. The dialogues take the form of recitatives which are required to be sung according to the principle of recitar cantando, speechlike singing. This guaranteed that the text was communicated to the audience as clearly as possible. In a way the music for Holy Week which is the subject of the present disc, is even more forward-looking; it is not known when it was written, but even if it dates from about the same time, it was highly unusual, as the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the Tenebrae Responsories were traditionally set in the stile antico, such as those by Carlo Gesualdo and Tomás Luis de Victoria, the best-known settings of about the same time.

Cavalieri was born and died in Rome, but was closely connected to the Medici court in Florence. Apart from being active in music, as an organist, composer and singing teacher, he was also a dancer and choreographer, and worked as a diplomat. He was one of the composers involved in the creation of a series of Intermedi to be performed at the wedding of Ferdinando de Medici to Christine of Lorraine in Florence in 1589. His contributions are part of the little music from his pen that has been preserved. Apart from the Rappresentatione and the Intermedi we only have the Lamentations and Responsories recorded by Profeti della Quinta. Given the character of this music, it is surprising that the last recording dates from more than twenty years ago, when Harry van der Kamp recorded it with his Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam (Sony, 2002). As far as I know, only two recordings were made before that one, by I Madrigalisti del Centro di Musica Antica de Padova, directed by Livio Picotti (Tactus, 1990) and Le Poème Harmonique, directed by Vincent Dumestre (Alpha, 2001). A new recording is therefore most welcome, especially as it is based on a new edition by the director of Profeti della Quinta, Elam Rotem. It is available for free at the Petrucci Music Library.

As mentioned above, the date of composition of the Lamentations and Responsories is not known. Cavalieri was responsible for the performance of music during Holy Week at the Medici court from 1576 to 1584 and again in 1597, but it cannot be proven that his own compositions were performed at those occasions. Given the character of these pieces, it seems very unlikely that they did exist already before the 1590s. 1597 would be a possibility, since we know that two harpsichords and an organ took part in the performances. As Cavalieri died in 1602, they must have been written in the latest years of the 16th century, and that makes them very modern and forwarrd-looking. Elam Rotem, in his introduction to the printed edition, points out that they are written in a style which is in accordance with the ideas Cavalieri expressed in the preface to the Rappresentatione. "Among other things, we find in this text a description of how similar 'rappresentationi in musica' should be composed. The point which is repeated most frequently in this description concerns diversity in every possible aspect, i.e. quick alternations between affects, tonalities, soloists, forms, etc. And indeed, excluding dances, and in spite the fact that the Holy week's music is by no means a 'rappresentatione in musica', the complete set of Lamentations is very much composed according to these ideas; short and varied sections follow one another." The Lamentations are the first sacred monodies in history, written in a declamatory style for one or several solo voices with an accompaniment of basso continuo. The role of the latter is varied: in solos it is figured, in duets sometimes, in five-part sections it is not figured; in the latter case, the basso continuo is a basso seguente, which follows the lowest vocal part.

As far as the Responsories are concerned, they are part of the complete set of Lamentations, but Rotem mentions an interesting difference between them. The Responsories include abbreviations of ornament signs that also appear in the Rappresentatione but not in the Lamentations. This suggests that they were not written at the same time, and the Reponsories may date from the time Cavalieri composed his Rappresentatione. However, there is no firm evidence of this. Another difference is that the Responsories include fewer solos, which also explains why there are fewer figured bass lines.

In Cavalieri's Lamentations and Responsories we find the traces of the monody, which was to become the standard after 1600, but there are also similarities with the madrigals written in the last decades of the 16th century, such as Cipriano de Rore, Luzzasco Luzzaschi and Carlo Gesualdo. These concern the use of musical figures to depict words and phrases, known as madrigalisms, but also the application of harmony for expressive reasons, especially chromaticism. The latter is regularly used by Cavalieri.

This disc offers the complete Lamentations for the first Nocturne of each of the three days of Tenebrae and the Responsories for the third Nocturne of each of the three days. The manuscript also contains an incomplete set of Lamentations including Lessons for only the first and the second days of the Tenebrae, whose texts are not part of the canonized Roman liturgy of Holy Week. A part of the music may be from the pen of the copyist, Duritio Isorelli. There are also alternate settings for the incomplete set without an indication of the composer. As a 'bonus', this recording offers a compilation of lessons from these parts of the manuscript.

The information in the booklet and the preface to the printed edition, both from the pen of Elam Rotem, and summarized above, should suffice to convince the reader that Cavalieri's music for Holy Week is groundbreaking and highly interesting from a historical-stylistic point of view. That is reason enough to investigate it. What is more important is that the music is compelling: the texts include strong emotions, and the new style, which Cavalieri applied in his Lamentations and Responsories, was tailor-made to communicate these emotions to an audience. Whether that really comes off as intended by the composer, depends on how it is performed. The interpretations by Profeti della Musica deserve the highest praise. One does not often encounter such incisive performances, which are not only stylistically entirely convincing, but also do full justice to what the composer wanted to achieve. They make a lasting impression and are a substantial addition to the discography of music for Lent and Passiontide. It is to be hoped that Rotem's edition - which is available for free - may encourage ensembles to perform these brilliant and moving Lamentations and Responsories.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Profeti della Quinta

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