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Andrea GABRIELI & Claudio MONTEVERDI: "Madrigali accomodati per concerti spirituali"

I Cantori di San Marco
Dir: Marco Gemmani

rec: May 2011, Preganzol, Velut Luna Studios
Tactus - TC 530002 (© 2012) (59'24")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - translation: I
Cover & track-list

Andrea GABRIELI (1533-1585): Bonum est, et suavea [1]; Ego flos campia [3]; Iesu dulcissime [5]; In tribulatione Dominuma [3]; Lucia sponsa Christia [4]; Surge formosa mea [5]; Veni o Jesua [3]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Anima miseranda [2]; Anima quam dilexi [2]; Domine Deus [2]; Gloria tuaa [1]; Iesu dum te [2]; O gloriose martyr [2]; Plagas tuas [2]; Plorat amare [2]; Pulchrae sunt [1]; Qui laudes [2]; Qui pietate [2]; Rutilante in nocte [2]; Tu Iesu Christe [1]

Sources: [1] Musica tolta da i madrigali di Claudio Monteverde e d'altri autori, a cinque e a sei voci, e fatta spirituale da Aquilino Coppini, 1607; [2] Il terzo libro della musica di Claudio Monteverde a cinque voci Fatta spirituale da Aquilino Coppini, 1609; [3] Fatiche spirituali di Simone Molinari. Libro primo a sei voci, 1610; [4] Fatiche spirituali di Simone Molinari. Libro secondo a sei voci, 1610; [5] Madrigali de diversi auttori accomodata per Concerti Spirituali dal R.P.F. Girolamo Cavaglieri, 1616

Alice Borciani, Elena Modena, soprano; Julio Fioravante, alto; Marco Mustaro, tenor; Yiannis Vassilakis, Marcin Wyszkovski, bass; Nicola Lamon, organa

"Music drawn from madrigals and rendered spiritual" - that is the definition which Aquilino Coppini (?-1629) gave to the kind of music which is the subject of this disc. He himself was one of the main authors of such adaptations. Some of the most famous madrigals were selected, and then the original secular text in the vernacular was replaced by a sacred text in Latin. This was not a new practice: the phenomenon of the contrafactum was quite common in the Middle Ages and in plainchant existing melodies were often used for texts which suited a new feast. In the 16th and early 17th centuries it was still a widespread practice. Several German hymns were given melodies which were originally set to a secular text. One of the most famous is O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden: Hans-Leo Hassler wrote this melody to a secular text, Mein Gmüt ist mir verwirret. In the Netherlands secular melodies were used for sacred songs, such as Dowland's Now o now I needs must part which was included in a songbook with spiritual and political songs by Adriaen Valerius. And Bach's habit of adapting secular cantatas to sacred texts - for instance his Christmas Oratorio - is not fundamentally different from this practice.

Many madrigal adaptations were printed in the north-west of Italy. There was a special reason for that. Until the Council of Trent madrigals were sometimes sung in church. Their content often wasn't that different from sacred music, and stylistically there wasn't much difference between the motet and the madrigal. The Council's purpose was a reform of the liturgy, and this included the expulsion of profane elements, including the singing of madrigals. At the same time the madrigal underwent a considerable change in texts and style. The subject-matter of many madrigals became increasingly and more explicitly profane, and sometimes had a clearly erotic character. Stylistically they also moved away from the motet, especially in regard to the connection between text and music and an expression of affetti. Motets of the late 16th-century increasingly reflect the influence of the madrigal, but hardly go as far in the depiction of texts as madrigals.

However, for the church music was always an important instrument to communicate its message. "At the end of the sixteenth century, choirs were abundant and flourishing everywhere. The production of sacred music had never been so intense, so it was important to give space, in churches, to the finest and most interesting works. While in Venice the motet and the mass evolved in a way that left no reason for regretting the madrigal, this did not happen in the north-west of Italy", Marco Gemmani writes in the booklet. He then points out that Venetian music required too large numbers of performers which were mostly not available in other regions. Therefore "the most viable solution was the creation of the madrigale reso spirituale, the 'madrigal rendered spiritual', that is a combination of extraordinarily expressive music and texts that were particularly close to the Catholic sensitivity of the period".

It is obvious that the replacement of one text by another is anything but easy. There were many aspects to be considered, such as the dominating affetti, the number of syllables and the rhythm. It was almost inevitable that in some cases the music also had to be changed in order to fit the text. Moreover, this kind of adaptations were not only produced for liturgical use, but also for performance in domestic surroundings. This is another factor which explains changes in the music: they had to be within the grasp of amateurs.

One wonders how this kind of 'spiritualized' madrigals went down with the ecclesiastical authorities and with the composers of the originals. Apparently the former accepted this form: the above-mentioned Coppini dedicated his adaptations to the archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Federico Borromeo. This is all the more remarkable since in his diocese "the Catholic reformation had been carried out with the greatest zeal", as Gemmani states. Apparently the urgency of the availability of good music was felt by the autorities and made them overlook the profane roots of these adaptations. Composers seem not to have had any problems with adaptations of their own madrigals. That is understandable when one looks at Monteverdi. How could he object to such adaptations when he himself turned his Lamento d'Arianna into the spiritual Pianto della Madonna?

This disc includes contrafacta of madrigals by him and by Andrea Gabrieli. These were by far not the only composers whose madrigals were adapted, but the selection made for this disc gives a good impression of how madrigals were changed to pieces of a spiritual nature. It would have been very interesting to compare the originals with the adaptations. They could have been performed in turn, or at least the booklet could have included the original texts and the adaptations side by side. It would have allowed a direct comparison and given some idea of the kind of changes the arrangers were forced to apply. Unfortunately that opportunity has been missed here. The lyrics have to be downloaded from the Tactus site, and these include only the Latin texts with an Italian translation. Those who don't understand either of them are a bit left in the cold as they will not be able to fully understand the connection of text and music.

However, it is certainly possible to enjoy the music without fully understanding the texts. Firstly, the music is excellent, and those who know Monteverdi's madrigals will recognize the originals and probably be able to compare them anyway. The madrigals of Andrea Gabrieli are far less known; this disc proves that their neglect is anything but justified. Secondly, the performances do fully justice to the character of these madrigals. They are sung with one voice per part; in some the voices are supported by the organ. The singers have all nice voices which blend perfectly, and the texts are clearly understandable. There is some fine dynamic shading without any exaggeration. After all, the original madrigals are still in the idiom of the prima prattica and don't require the kind of expression which would become common standard in the early decades of the 17th century.

All in all, this is a most interesting release which sheds light on repertoire which may not immediately awaken interest, but is certainly but second-rate. A more thorough exploration of this kind of music would be very welcome.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

I Cantori di San Marco

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