musica Dei donum

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Claudio MERULO (1533 - 1604): Missa Virginis Mariae 'In Annuntiatione Domini'

Roberto Loreggian, organa; Schola Gregoriana 'Scriptoria' (Nicola M. Bellinazzo)

rec: Oct 12 - 15, 2000, Treviso, Chiesa di S. Caterina & Carpi (Verona), Chiesa S. Margherita
Tactus - TC 533801 (© 2002) (62'48")

Claudio MERULO: Missa Virginis Mariae a 4ab [1]; Toccata I del 5° tonoa [2]; Toccata II del 5° tonoa [2]; Toccata VIIIa; plainchantb: Ave Maria, offertory; Diffusa est gratia, alleluja; Ecce virgo, communion; Tollite portas, gradual; Vultum tuum, introit

Sources: [1] Messe d'intavolatura d'organo, 1568; [2] Toccate d'intavolatura d'organo, libro secondo, 1604

The Missa Virginis Mariae is one of the three organ masses which Claudio Merulo published in 1568 as Messe d'intavolatura d'organo. The organ mass is an example of the alternatim practice, meaning the division of a liturgical text between distinct forces, for example choir and organ, like in this organ mass. This practice has its roots in the antiphonal psalmody of the early church. Alternate sections of liturgical chants could be divided between, for instance, soloists (cantores) and choir (schola). The practice to use the organ to play in alternation with the choir developed during the renaissance. The earliest known organ versets date from the beginning of the 15th century.

The alternatim practice was accepted and regulated by the church in the Caeremoniale episcoporum of 1600, which contained detailed prescriptions as to which parts of the mass could be played. In his Missa Virginis Mariae Merulo has set sections of the mass which, according to the rules of 1600, were to be sung. But he omits the Credo, which the Caeremoniale also ordered to be sung in its entirety. In his publication Merulo added alternatim settings of the Gloria, but the fact that two of them have different names from the masses suggests they were not intended to be included in the mass settings.

The setting of the Gloria contains several tropes, which are additions to the liturgical chants, meant to connect the text of the Ordinary of the Mass more closely to specific feasts. The title page of this disc refers to the liturgical context in which this organ mass is performed: In Annuntiatione Domini, which is also reflected in the Propers which are added here - among them the offertorio Ave Maria.

Claudio Merulo was one of the most prominent musicians and composers of his time. He was born in Correggio and it is assumed he got his main training as a musician in Venice from Adrian Willaert or Gioseffo Zarlino. In 1556 he was appointed organist at the cathedral in Brescia, and in 1557 he replaced Girolamo Parabosco at the San Marco basilica in Venice. For the next 27 years he played a key role in Venetian musical life, both as organist and as composer of music in all genres. He was a much sought-after composer of music for private and official celebrations. He was also active in the field of music publishing and the construction and development of musical instruments. He had a wide circle of pupils from Italy and abroad. His teaching was described by his pupil Girolamo Diruta in his book Il transilvano of 1593, one of the most important publications of the time.

In 1584 he moved to Parma, where he acted as musician at the court of the Farneses, and also in Parma Cathedral. In 1591 he was appointed organist at the Madonna della Steccata, which position he held until his death. In Parma he lived as a wealthy man, and when he died he was honoured with many tributes, in which he was called the greatest keyboard player of his time.

Merulo's toccatas are considered to be of crucial historical importance. They are marked by contrasting sections, imitation, ornamentation, and a strong improvisatory character. Those qualities are amply demonstrated in Roberto Loreggian's bold and colourful performance of the three toccatas on this disc. In comparison the toccata which opens Frédéric Muñoz' recording (Naxos 8.553335-6) is played unbelievably slowly. The tempo takes away all the brilliance of the piece. This characterises his whole recording: the tempi are too moderate, and their is a lack of contrast and colour. Roberto Loreggian's playing has much more to offer, and is much more exuberant and extraverted. The music on the Tactus disc isn't only better played, but also better recorded, with a more brilliant and direct sound. And the schola on this disc is singing a lot better than the choir on the Naxos disc.

In short: this new recording is a winner in every respect. I hope Merulo's other two organ masses shall be recorded by Tactus in the future.

Johan van Veen (© 2005)

Relevant links:

Roberto Loreggian

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