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"Luca Marenzio e il suo tempo"

Angela Alesci, soprano; Domenico Cerasani, Massimo Lonardi, lute

rec: Oct 2013, Badia Cavana (Langhirano, Parma), Chiesa abbaziale di San Basilide
Tactus - TC 531302 (© 2014) (56'04")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

anon: La rocca e il fuso; anon, arr Vincenzo GALILEI (?-1591): Contrappunto I; Fabritio CAROSO (c1527/35-after 1605): Canario [7]; Spagnoletta nova [7]; Vincenzo GALILEI: Contrappunto 13 [3]; Duo tutto di fantasia [3]; Ricercare del nono tuono [3]; Giacomo GORZANIS (c1520-1575/79): Padoana detta Chi passa per 'sta strada; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Fantasia quarta [1]; Fantasia sesta [1]; LORENZINO del Liuto (?-1608): Fantasia; Praeambulum; Luca MARENZIO (1553/54-1599) Al primo vostro sguardo a 3, villanella [4]; Che fa oggi il mio sole a 5, madrigal [2]; Con la fronte fiorita a 3, villanella [4]; Degli occhi il dolce giro a 3, villanella [5]; Dolorosi martir a 5, madrigal [2]; Fuggirò tant'amore a 3, villanella [4]; Io son ferito e chi mi punse il core a 3, villanella [5]; Lasso, non è cor mio a 3, villanella [4]; Occhi dolci e soavi a 3, villanella [6]; Questa di verd'erbette a 5, madrigal [2]; Se 'l raggio dei vostr'occhi a 4, canzonetta; Tirsi morir voleaa 5, madrigal [2]; Cesare NEGRI (c1535-after 1604): Bianco Fiore [8]

Sources: [1] Orlandus Lassus, Moduli duarum vocum, 1577; [2] Luca Marenzio, Il primo libro de madrigali, 1580; [3] Vincenzo Galilei, Fronimo: dialogo ... sopra l'arte del bene intavolare, et rettamente sonare la musica negli strumenti artificiali si di corde come di fiato, & in particulare nel liuto, 1584; Luca Marenzio, [4] Il primo libro delle villanelle, 1584; [5] Il terzo libro delle villanelle, 1585; [6] Il quarto libro delle villanelle, 1587; [7] Fabritio Caroso, Nobiltà di dame, 1600; [8] Cesare Negri, Le gratie d’amore, 1602

Luca Marenzio was one of the most admired and most prolific composers of his time. In a letter to the King of Poland Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini wrote that he was "second to none in Italy". That was after the death of Palestrina in 1595. However, the two were hardly competitors: Palestrina almost exclusively composed sacred music, whereas Marenzio devoted himself mostly to the writing of secular music: madrigals, canzonettas and villanellas. He was on the brink of a new era in the history of music: the birth of the seconda prattica, which included the writing for solo voices, the use of basso continuo and a close connection between text and music. However, this disc attests to the fact that there was no real watershed between the 'old' style and the 'new'.

Marenzio was born in a village near Brescia. It seems that early in his career he was in the service of the Gonzaga family in Mantua for some time. He then entered the service of Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo in Trent, and followed his employer to Rome in the 1570s. When the Cardinal died in 1578 he became a member of the household of Cardinal Luigi d'Este, until the latter's death in 1586. At that time he made a name for himself as a composer of secular vocal music. Several collections of his works were published and his fame disseminated across Europe. He was also in demand as a performer: he not only was a professional singer, but also played the lute.

From 1587 to 1589 Marenzio was in Florence. There he participated in the festivities to mark the occasion of the wedding of Ferdinando de' Medici and Christine of Lorraine. These included the six intermedi to La Pellegrina, under the direction of Emilio de' Cavalieri (the composer of the Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo). Marenzio composed the music for two of these intermedi. He then returned to Rome where he moved in the circles of cardinals and aristocrats. Around 1593 he entered the service of the above-mentioned Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini who was a nephew of Pope Clement VIII. As a result he enjoyed a high standing at the papal court. In 1595 he became maestro di cappella at the court of the King of Poland. A year before his death he returned to Rome.

Marenzio's madrigals were well known across Italy and beyond. This explains why foreign composers were interested in meeting him. The most famous of them is John Dowland; it is not known whether that meeting ever took place. Marenzio's madrigals also had a strong influence on the oeuvre of another English composer: Peter Philips. Although he was praised for "having used affects appropriate to the words", as the composer and writer on music Severo Bonini (1582-1663) stated, the poet Alessandro Guarini emphasized the "sweetness and lightness" of Marenzio's compositions and that he was "determined above all not to offend the ear". That was in strong contrast to Luzzasco Luzzaschi, who "does not fear harshness, does not fear bitterness, nor does he even shun dissonance contrary to a well formed style". It comes as no surprise that Carlo Gesualdo who made a habit of offending the ear, used Luzzasco as a model rather than Marenzio.

This disc presents the music of Marenzio in its historical context. On the one hand we hear several pieces from genres for which Marenzio was especially famous in his time: the villanellas and canzonettas, representing the more light-hearted forms of secular vocal music. These mostly date from his earlier years and were all published before 1590. In the last ten years of his life he published a number of books with madrigals which are more serious in nature and were mostly appreciated by connoisseurs. Today that part of his oeuvre is given much more attention than the canzonettas and villanellas.

The second interesting aspect of this programme relates to performance practice. Marenzio's works are all written in the stile antico which was dominated by counterpoint. The madrigals are scored for five or six voices, the villanellas and canzonettas for three. Here they are performed as solo pieces: the soprano sings the upper part and the plucked instruments realise the remaining parts. This was common practice at the time and puts the novelty of the monody as it was created in the early 17th century by the likes of Caccini in some perspective. Not only the lighter genres, but also madrigals could be performed this way.

Plucked instruments, and in particular the lute, played a significant role in music life of the 16th century. As we have seen Marenzio was a lutenist himself and so were various other composers, such as Gesualdo. It therefore makes sense to include music for one and two lutes in this programme. This must have been part of the musical world of Marenzio. The variety of the composers represented here reflects the dissemination of his works and his fame across Italy and the continent.

Angelo Alesci has a very pleasant and agile voice which is excellently suited to this repertoire. The delivery is very good; unfortunately the texts which can be downloaded from the Tactus side, come without translations. As far as the canzonettas and villanellas are concerned that seems not that much of a problem as in such pieces there is little connection between text and music. Even so the lack of translations is regrettable, and that certainly goes for the madrigals. It shouldn't dissuade anyone from purchasing this disc and enjoying the music. This is a most entertaining disc, thanks to the quality of the music of Marenzio as well as the instrumental pieces and the fine singing and playing of the three artists.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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