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Girolamo CAVAZZONI (1506/12? - after 1577): "Complete Organ Works"

Ivana Valotti, organ; Gianluca Ferrarini, chant

rec: June 2013, Mantua, Basilica palatina Santa Barbara
Tactus - TC 510391 (2 CDs) (© 2016) (2.26'40")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics (abridged) - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Canzon sopra Falt d'argent [2]; Canzon sopra I le bel e bon [2]; Hymnus Ad coenam agni providi [2]; Hymnus Ave, maris stella [2]; Hymnus Christe, redemptor omnium [2]; Hymnus Deus tuorum militum [3]; Hymnus Exultet coelum laudibus [3]; Hymnus Hostis Herodes impie [3]; Hymnus Iste confessor [3]; Hymnus Jesu, corona virginum [3]; Hymnus Jesu, nostra redemptio [3]; Hymnus Lucis creator optime [2]; Hymnus Pange lingua gloriosi [3]; Hymnus Veni, creator Spiritus [3]; Magnificat 1. toni [2]; Magnificat 4. toni [3]; Magnificat 6. toni [3]; Magnificat 8. toni [2]; Missa Apostolorum [3]; Missa de Beata Virgine [3]; Missa Dominicalis [3]; Recercar [4]; Recercar I [2]; Recercar II [2]; Recercar III [2]; Recercar IV [2]; Ricercare [1]

[1] Musica nova accomodata per cantar et sonar sopra organi et altri strumenti, composta per diversi eccellentissimi musici, 1540; G Cavazzoni, [2] Intavolatura cioe recercari, canzoni, himni, magnificati ... libro primo, 1543; [3] Intabulatura d'organo, cioe misse, himni, magnificat ... libro secondo, 1543?; [4] Antonio Gardano, ed., Fantasie, Recercari, Contrapunti a tre vocidi M. Adriano et de altri Autori appropriati per cantar et sonare d'ogni sorte di stromento, 1551

The organ has played a major role in the liturgy of the Christian church since ancient times. However, very little music for the instrument has come down to us, in comparison to what was played on a daily basis across Europe. That is not so much due to compositions having been lost - although some have certainly disappeared through disasters like fire and war - but mainly because the main art of organists was improvisation. As a result there was no market for printed editions of organ music. What has come down to us - certainly until the 18th century - was often educational material, written down for or by pupils. Even printed editions often had a pedogogical purpose, such as Samuel Scheidt's three volumes of Tabulatura Nova.

The present set of discs includes the complete output for organ of Girolamo Cavazzoni, one of the most important organists of 16th-century Italy. They are included in two books, which were printed in Venice, the Italian centre of music printing. The first came from the press in 1543, the second - the only extant copy bears no date - probably in that same year. Girolamo was the son of Marco Antonio (c1490-c1560) who was from Bologna and worked for some time in Rome, but spent most of his time in Venice where he also died. According to New Grove Girolamo was born around 1525, but the booklet of the Tactus production puts the year of his birth between 1506 and 1512. This has to remain unconfirmed. It is interesting to note that in the first book Cavazzoni refers to his father which - according to the liner-notes - "may mean that when it was published he was still under age". Nothing is known about Cavazzoni's activities until 1565, when he was employed as an organist at the Gonzaga court in Mantua, in the Basilica di Santa Barbara. Here he supervised the building of the organ by Graziadio Antegnati, which is still in use. The last traces of his activities as organist of the Basilica date from 1577. From that one may conclude that he held this position until his death.

As with most organ music of the time, Cavazzoni's two books were printed in the form of tablatures which show the position of the fingers rather than the pitch and duration of the notes. The first book opens with four recercares; this was a most common form of keyboard music. These pieces belong to the category of the imitative ricercare which was largely modelled after vocal pieces, such as motets. However, Giovanni Acciai and Ivana Valotti point out that Cavazzoni's Recercares show a growing independence: "the various thematic cells of the individual sections are enriched by a more diversified and complete series of imitations." The two canzone are more strictly connected to their vocal origins. One is based on the chanson Il est bel et bon by Pierre Passereau - a real evergreen in the early days of the revival of early music - whereas the other is based on the famous chanson Fault d'argent by Josquin Desprez.

The rest of the first book and the entire second book comprise liturgical music. The first includes four hymns which refer to liturgical chants and two settings of the Magnificat. Cavazzoni's music is intended for an alternatim performance. This means that the various verses are alternately sung - in plainchant - and played at the organ. This was one of the ways in which such pieces could be performed. An alternative performance practice was the alternation between plainchant and polyphony. Often only the organ sections of alternatim compositions are played, for instance in French organ masses of the 18th century (such as by François Couperin). However, their true meaning comes only to the fore when the remaining verses are sung, and that is the case here.

The second book opens with three organ masses. The Missa Apostolorum is the longest, partly due to the fact that the Gloria include tropes, extensions of the standard text related to a specific feast, in this case a feast dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Missa de Beata Virgine is much shorter, which can be explained by the omission of the Credo. The composer indicates that here the Credo of the first Mass can be performed; in this recording it has understandably been omitted. Organ verses in alternatim compositions were usually based on the plainchant. It is interesting to note that Cavazzoni took more freedom in his treatment of the material than previous composers. "In the composition of short four-part, imitation-style pieces, the bold Girolamo not only breaks up the cantus firmus into several fragments, but sometimes also changes both its melodic line, with diminutions and embellishments, and its diastemazia, thoroughly exploiting the rhythmic resources. The result is a sort of variable treatment of the plainchant, whose original configuration undergoes inevitable modifications in the interweaving of the counterpoint." In this Cavazzoni is an innovator who paved the way for the diminutions which would become common practice at the end of the 16th century. The second book ends with more hymns and two further Magnificat settings. The second disc comes to a close with two pieces which were included in anthologies, printed in 1540 and 1551 respectively.

The plainchant used in this recording is taken from a Graduale published in Venice in 1525. It is performed according to the the then "prevailing mode of performance of the neumes" which was mensural, and divided into three values: longa, brevis, semibrevis. These aspects contribute to the high degree of authenticity of this recording. Obviously an even more important factor is the use of the organ Cavazzoni played himself, in the Basilica di Santa Barbara in Mantua. A notable feature of the instrument is its 'enharmonic keyboard' which means that some chromatic keys are split, making it possible " to overcome the limits of the tuning 'in pure thirds' that was customary in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and offered sounds that were valuable for achieving a perfect harmony even in the boldest modulations, and above all for transposing vocal pieces." In her notes on the performance Ivana Valotti emphasizes the importance not only of written sources from the period - for instance by the organ builder Antegnati - but also what the instrument itself teaches the interpreter.

All these factors result in a brilliant interpretation which carries the listener to the time Cavazzoni created his masterful organ music. Ivana Valotti is a very fine player who feels completely at home in this repertoire. Gianluca Ferrarini deserves much praise for his performance of the plainchant.

This is a fascinating release and lovers of early organ music should not miss it.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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