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Gregor AICHINGER (1564 - 1628): Virginalia, 1607

Concentus Vocum; Riccardo Quadri, organa
Dir: Michelangelo Gabbrielli

rec: Oct 2019, Blevio (CO), Chiesa a lago dei SS. Gordiano ed Epimaco
Tactus - TC 560101 (© 2023) (53'39")
Liner-notes: E/IT; lyrics - translations: IT
Cover & track-list

Gregor AICHINGER: [in order of appearance] Virgo, Dei mter pura; Virgo, quae salutata; Virgo, quae charitate ardens; Virgo, Mater benigna; Virgo, quae tuum Natum; Virgo, cui post dolores; Virgo, quae benedictum filium tuum; Virgo, quae dulcis nati; Virgo, quae caput sanctum; Virgo, cuius dilectus filius; Virgo, quae clavis nudum; Virgo, quae prima sole; Virgo, quae triumphantem filium; Virgo, quae comitata Apostolis; Virgo, cuius in coelum anima assumpta fuit; Virgo, quae coronata a Sancta Trinitate; Virgo, coeli Regina; Virgo, sole vestita; Virgo, cuius stat luna sub pedibus; Virgo, sublime exemplum
Andrea GABRIELI (1510-1586): Ricercare dell'ottavo tonoa; Toccata dell'ottavo tonoa; Giovanni GABRIELI (1554-1612): Fuga del 7° tonoa; Toccataa; Toccata (attr)a; Toccata del 2° tonoa

Sources: Gregor Aichinger, Virginalia: Laudes æternæ Virginis Mariæ, Magnæ Dei Matris complexa, et quinis vocibus modulata, 1607

Lidia Basterretxea, Marinella Boggia, Letizia Petrungaro, Roberta Riccardi, soprano I; Anna Milani, Stefania Nevosi, Grazia Santoriello, soprano II; Milena Costa, Elena Guarneri, Gaia Leoni, Lina Morstabilini, Cristina Solcà, Angela Verallo, contralto; Francesco Albarelli, Francesco Bussani, Ambrogio Cantaluppi, Antonio Pagani, Luca Ratti, Giuseppe Sagona, Danilo Santoriello, tenor; Mauro Canali, Fulvio Peletti, Alfonso Sodano, Luigi Villa, bass

For the most part of the period we use to call Renaissance, the music scene in Europe was dominated by the composers of the so-called 'Franco-Flemish school'. In the course of the second half of the 16th century, this gradually changed, as the Italians started to overtake their status. It was in particular the Italian madrigal that exerted a strong attraction on composers across Europe. As far as sacred music is concerned, Venice developed into one of the main musical metropoles, especially thanks to the splendour of the music performed at San Marco. Both Andrea Gabrieli and his nephew Giovanni were for most of their lives connected to the basilica, and both attracted pupils from other parts of Europe, especially Germany. It is generally known that Heinrich Schütz was a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli; among others were the his compatriot Hans Leo Hassler and the Danish Mogens Pedersøn. Lesser known is the south German Gregor Aichinger; during many years of reviewing not a single disc with his music has crossed my path. His name only appears in anthologies and some of his music may be part of programmes of live concerts. That makes the disc under review all the more important.

Aichinger was born in Regensburg, and in 1578 he enrolled at the University of Ringolstadt, which was under strong Jesuit influence. A fellow student was Jacob (II) Fugger, member of the most powerful family in southern Germany at the time. They became friends, and this resulted in Aichinger's being appointed organist to Jacob (I) Fugger, his friend's uncle. He also became organist at the Benedictine convents of the Saints Ulrich and Afra in Augsburg. His employer sponsored a trip to Italy, where he first became a pupil of Andrea Gabrieli, and then, after the latter's death in 1586, of Giovanni Gabrieli. Andrea Gabrieli and Aichinger seem to have developed a close relationship, witness a letter of the Italian master. When in 1587 Giovanni Gabrieli published a collection of sacred music by himself and his uncle, he dedicated it to Jacob (I) Fugger, and that may well be due to Aichinger. (It needs to be said that Andrea Gabrieli had been in Germany, where he may have become acquainted with the Fugger family). Aichinger moved to other cities in Italy: Siena and then Rome. This way he became acquainted with different ways of performing sacred music, often with large ensembles of singers and players. In 1588 he returned to Ingolstadt, but ten years later he was again in Italy. In 1599 he enrolled at Perugia University and then went to Rome, where he experienced the Holy Year 1600; at that time he was ordained a priest. He returned to Germany probably early 1601; he worked in Augsburg until his death.

As the dates of his birth and death show, Aichinger was a composer at the brink of Renaissance and Baroque. His sizeable oeuvre reflects the stylistic developments of that time. The early collections are written in the stile antico, and show the influence of Giovanni Gabrieli. Later he composed sacred concertos with basso continuo; Aichinger was the first German composer who published sacred music with basso continuo in the Cantiones ecclesiasticae, which also includes a treatise on the notation and performance of the basso continuo. The present disc is devoted to another collection printed in 1607: Virginalia: Laudes æternæ Virginis Mariæ, Magnæ Dei Matris complexa. It consists of twenty pieces for five voices (SSATB) in the style of the canzonetta, devoted to the Mysteries of the Rosary. Today, the most famous musical expression of these mysteries are the sonatas by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, known as Mystery Sonatas or - in German - Rosenkranz-Sonaten. The mysteries are divided into three sections, each consisting of five mysteries: the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries respectively. In Aichinger's collection, they are preceded by an introductory piece: "Virgin, pure Mother of God, singular decoration of virginity, take care of me while I want to praise you, and prepare roses and flowers for you." The last four are contemplations on the Virgin Mary, where she is referred to as a mediator between God and the world.

These pieces bear the traces of various genres in vogue at the time, such as the canzonetta, the motet and the madrigal. The texts include several 'madrigalisms', on words such as "flamma" (Virgo, quae comitata) and "in coelum" (Virgo, cuius in coelum). Aichinger makes use of homophony and polyphony; each piece consists of two sections, and homophony is especially used in the first sections. The pieces are very short: only a few take more than two minutes. As one may expect, the way they are written is different, according to their content: the pieces connected to the Sorrowful Mysteries are more restrained than those expressing the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries; the latter are the most jubilant. Although the collection was printed in 1607, the pieces may have been written earlier, probably during his stay in Rome. This may well explain the lack of a basso continuo part.

In this recording the five sections of the collection are separated by organ pieces from the pen of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. Given Aichinger's connection to both of them, this makes much sense. It also puts Aichinger into his historical context.

As I wrote in the first paragraph, there are hardly any recordings of Aichinger's oeuvre. That is regrettable; I would like to hear more. This collection is probably not representative, because of the specific nature of the texts. Even so, it is well-written and these pieces deserve to be recorded. Concentus Vocum consists of 24 singers (4/3/6/7/4), which blend well and master the legato way of singing that this music requires, without overlooking the 'modern' elements, including madrigalisms. The differences in atmosphere between the various Mysteries come off very well. Riccardo Quadri is responsible for the excellent performances of the organ pieces.

This disc is a substantial contribution to our knowledge of south German music history around 1600, which is lesser known than it deserves to be. Aichinger is definitely more than a footnote in history books.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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