musica Dei donum

CD reviews

A Royal Wedding, Munich 1568

[I] "The Royal Wedding, Munich 1568"
La Capella Ducale, Musica Fiata
Dir: Roland Wilson
rec: June 6 - 7, 2018, Cologne-Zollstock, Melanchtonkirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19075876712 ( 2019) (81'26")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

[Missa festiva] Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Beati omnes qui timent Dominum a 5; Exsultate justi a 4; Laudate Dominum omnes gentes a 12; Laudate Dominum, quoniam bonus a 17; Annibale PADOVANO (1527-1575): Missa a 24
[Banquet] Andrea GABRIELI (1532-1585): O passi sparsi 12; Orlandus LASSUS: Decantabat populus a 7; Domine, quid multiplicati sunt a 12; Laudate pueri Dominum a 7; Quid trepidas a 6; Annibale PADOVANO: Aria della Battaglia 8; Cipriano DE RORE (1516-1565): Mirabar solito laetas a 6; Alessandro STRIGGIO (1536-1592): Ecce beatam lucem a 40; Lasciat'hai, morte, senza sol il mondo 6

[LCD] Magdalena Podkoscielna, Christina Andersson, Gela Birckenstaedt, Ralf Popken, soprano; Bernd Oliver Frhlich, Achim Schulz, Leonhard Reso, Raimund Frst, alto; Julian Podger, Ferdinand Junghnel, Lothar Blum, Bruno Michalke, tenor; Gregor Finke, Thomas Sorger, baritone; Joachim Hchbauer, Martin Wistinghaus, bass
[MF] Anne Freitag, fiffaro, flauto; Elisabeth Champollion, flauto; Josue Melendez, Marleen Leicher, Anna Schall, Julia Fritz, flauto, cornetto; Nora Hansen, flauto, fagotto; Adrian Rovatkay, flauto, bombardone, dolzaina; Sebastian Krause, Alexander Brungert, Michael Scheuermann, Christoph Hamborg, Cas Gevers, Peter Sommer, Clemens Erdmann, trombone; Bernhard Rainer, trombone, cornamuse; Claudia Mende, violin; Uwe Ulbrich, violin, viola; David Budai, viola da braccio, violone; Juliane Laake, Hartwig Groth, Heike Lindner, viola da gamba; Christian Zincke, Antje Plieg-Ohmig, violone; Michael Dcker, lute; Arno Schneider, harpsichord, organ, regal

[II] "Le nozze in Baviera - Music for the 1568 Wedding of Wilhelm of Bavaria and Renate of Lorraine"
Ensemble Origo
Dir: Eric Rice
rec: August 24 - 28, 2016, Roslindale, Mass., Futura Productions
Naxos - 8.579063 ( 2021) (61'04")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Filippo AZZAIOLO (1530/40-after 1570): Chi passa per 'sta strada [1]; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): lla la pia calia 4 [6]; Cathalina, apra finestra 6 [6]; Canta, Georgia, canta 6 [6]; Chi chilichi 6 [6]; Gratia sola Dei a 6 [5]; Hai, Lucia, bona cosa 4 [6]; Lucia, celu, hai biscania 4 [6]; Matona, mia cara 4 [6]; Mi me chiamere 5 [6]; O Lucia, miau 3 [2]; Par ch'hai lasciato 4 [6]; Se s alto pn gir mie stanche rime 5 [3]; Te Deum laudamus a 6 [4]; Zanni! Piasi, Patr? 8 [6]

Sources: [1] Filippo Azzaiolo, Il primo libro de villotte alla padoana con alcune napolitane quattro voci, 1560; [2] Antonio Gardano, ed., Il terzo libro delle villotte alla napolitana de diversi con due moresche novamente stampate, a tre voci, 1560; Orlandus Lassus, [3] Il terzo libro delli madrigali a cinque voci dOrlando di Lasso novamente raccolto et dato in luce, 1563; [4] Selectissimae cantiones, quas vulgo motetas vocant ... sex et pluribus vocibus compositae, 1568; [5] Cantiones aliquot quinque vocum, tum viva voce, tum omnis generis instrumentis cantatu commodissimae, 1569; [6] Libro de villanelle, moresche, et altre canzoni, 1581/1582

Megan Chartrand, Jessica Petrus, soprano; Mary Gerbi, contralto; Ryland Angel, alto, tenor; Michael Barrett, Lawrence Jones, tenor; Paul Guttry, Paul Max Tipton, bass-baritone
Lawrence Lipnik, Sarah Mead, recorder, viola da gamba; Greg Ingles, Mack Ramsey, Erik Schmalz, recorder, sackbut; Nathaniel Cox, cornett, lute
with: Laura Jeppesen, Mai-Lan Broekman, Janet Haas, viola da gamba; Doug Freundlich, lute; Jeffrey Grossman, harpsichord

Before the 19th century, when music was part of everyday life, no event of any importance passed by without the performance of music. If that event was particularly important or took place in royal or aristocratic circles, composers were commissioned to write music for that occasion, and singers and players of the highest calibre were brought together to perform it. In some cases we know what was performed, in particular if the music was specifically intended for such an occasion. However, part of the celebrations may often also have been the performance of music previously written, but assembled to be performed at the occasion. In such cases it is mostly not possible to be sure what was performed. Now and then attempts are made to reconstruct the musical part of occasions, such as weddings or funerals, or celebrations of a military victory. In most cases such 'reconstructions' are inevitably highly speculative. With any luck, they may give some idea of what the celebrations may have looked like. The two discs under review here are devoted to the same event, but constructed in entirely different ways.

On 22 February 1586 Wilhelm V (1548-1626), second son of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria (1528-1579), married his first cousin, Renata of Lorraine (1544-1602). The celebrations were lavish and took eighteen days. This already indicates that it is impossible to reconstruct the event: one has to make a choice between the various elements and the days on which the celebrations took place. Each day a mass was celebrated and there were seven banquets, described by Massimo Troiano, one of the singers at the court. Obviously Orlandus Lassus, the Hofkapellmeister, played a central role in the musical part of the celebrations, both as a composer and as the director of the performances. However, he not only performed his own music, but also compositions by colleagues, such as Annibale Padovano and Alessandro Striggio. It is notable that Lassus's name is seldom mentioned as the composer of music, but Roland Wilson, in the liner-notes to his recording, writes that "it is most probable, that the unattributed pieces described by Troiano were all by the Hofkapellmeister himself and presumably Lasso's modesty prevented him from naming himself repeatedly".

The programme that Wilson has put together, is devided into two sections: the first is called 'Missa festiva'; its core is a mass. Wilson mentions that Lassus wrote several masses for the festivities, but selected Padovano's Mass for 24 voices to be performed at the final day. Padovano had been organist at St Mark's in Venice, and was the organist of the court in Graz since 1566. With the Graz court chapel he came to Munich for the wedding celebrations. The mass sections alternate with motets by Lassus, written around the time of the festivities.

The second part comprises music performed during the banquet. The selection of the music is largely based on Troiano's description of the meal on the wedding day itself. Unfortunately he does mostly not indicate which music was performed, but instead the way it was performed, and this gives clues about what might have been sung and played. According to Wilson "completely certain" is the opening with Padovano's Aria della Battaglia, which was followed by a seven-part motet by Lassus, performed by five cornetts and two sackbuts. It is notable that during the meal a number of vocal works were performed instrumentally, and that is also the way the selected items are performed here. There is something interesting about the performance practice, which is discussed in a moment. Mirabar solito laetas is a motet that Cipriano de Rore, who had visited Munich in 1558, had written in honour of Duke Albrecht. Lassus's Domine quid multiplicati sunt has been chosen on the basis of Troiano's descriptions. The (combination of) instruments he mentions fits this work perfectly: three choirs consisting of four viols, four large recorders and cornett, transverse flute, cornamusa and dolzaina respectively. The festivities came to a close with the 40-part motet Ecce beatam lucem by Alessandro Striggio, whose text was rewritten by Lassus's friend Paul Melissus.

I already mentioned the performance practice. It has several notable features. The first is the instrumental scoring, which is often quite unusual, but justified on the basis of Troiano's descriptions. To quote Wilson with regard to Lassus's Quid trepidas, which is performed with six large viols a fourth lower than the standard instruments, six recorders, six voices and a harpsichord: "I would never have dared to perform it in this way if I had not read Troiano's description with the low viols and the high recorders combining with the voices to make a really sumptuous and unique sound like a 3 register - 16', 8' and 4' - organ".

A second aspect concerns the pitch. The booklet includes notes by the German scholar Bernhard Rainer, who has researched the instrumental performance practice at the Bavarian court in Lassus's time, and came to the conclusion that transposition was a common practice. "Compositions that were published at their normal pitch were regularly transposed up or down for the purposes of instrumental performances. Although proscribed by the strict rules governing sixteenth-century compositional technique, the use of unison writing and of octaves in the individual voices was clearly common when instruments were involved. The practice of transposition became clear thanks to an examination of the descriptions of polyphonic works by Alessandro Striggio that were performed in Munich. On the basis of the forces available in the city, it has been possible to demonstrate, for example, that the Missa sopra Ecco beato giorno for forty and sixty voices that was performed in 1567 was transposed down by a fourth or a fifth. This procedure was subsequently used again in the performance of Striggio's forty-part motet Ecce beatam lucem when it was performed at the royal wedding celebrations in 1568. Several hitherto anonymous pieces that were performed at the royal wedding in 1568 have been newly identified as a result of these insights." Lassus's motet Laudate pueri Dominum is an example of a piece that was transposed upwards in order to fit the high instrumental ensemble. It is also notable that instruments of unusual pitch were used, such as the viols already mentioned, but also the sackbuts in Striggio's madrigal Lasciat'hai, morte, senza sol il mondo; the lowest is a contrabass sackbut, which goes an octave lower than the tenor sackbut. An unusual instrument is the dolzaina, which is not a dulcian - Wilson notes that this instrument was always called fagotto at the time - and was specially reconstructed for this recording.

The reader may have gathered by now that this is a highly intriguing recording, not only because of the music most of which is rather unknown, or the light it sheds on how an important event was celebrated at the time, but also with regard to performance practice. It will be interesting to see what effect the research by Rainer may have on future performances and recordings of what was written and performed at the Bavarian court (and music of the period as a whole, as Rainer suggests). Roland Wilson is one of the most interesting and adventurous performers of music of the 16th and 17th centuries, and always open to new insights in the field of performance practice. Fortunately he also brings together some of the best performers of this repertoire for his performances and recordings, and therefore each of his recordings is a winner. The present one is no exception. The concept has been convincingly worked out and is realised by an outstanding ensemble of singers and players. The performances are pretty exciting, and the combination of voices and instruments is particularly brilliant in Padovano's mass.

The second disc approaches the same event from a different angle. Eric Rice focuses on the secular part of the celebrations, although he does not ignore the sacred music. The programme opens with the Te Deum which closed the day of the wedding. Troiano mentions a six-part setting by Lassus, and Rice chose the one that is included in a printed edition of the same year as the wedding. He decided to include instruments, but that seems questionable: Troiano is rather specific in his indication of the voices and instruments involved, and the fact that he does not mention instruments here may well indicate that it was performed a cappella. It is, as was often the case, an alternatim setting.

This is the first chapter of the four, into which the programme is divided. The second is devoted to Sunday, 29 February, and includes a motet sung during supper. The text is an epithalamium, a poem written specifically for the bride on the way to her marital chamber. The form has its origin in classical antiquity, where it was very popular. Lassus's Gratia sola Dei is interesting with regard to performance practice. The motet consists of three sections. According to Troiano, the first was sung by the entire ensemble, the second by four singers, the third by all six voices together. Rice, in his liner-notes, comments that we have here "a rare description from the era of an alternation between multiple singers and one singer per part in such a context." The two first pieces in the programme are the only ones on a Latin text, and in both cases the singers use the Italian pronunciation, which may well be against the practice in Munich at the time.

The remaining pieces bring us in the atmosphere of the commedia dell'arte. The third chapter is about Saturday 6 March, which saw a performance of moresche as the evening entertainment, whereas the fourth is devoted to the next Monday (8 March), for which Lassus had to create an 'improvised Italian comedy'. In character the pieces performed in these two sections are quite similar, but the morescas have something special about them. The word moresca refers to Moors, a general description of black people at the time. Naples played a substantial role in the emergence and the dissemination of this genre, and as Lassus spent two years there, he must have become acquainted with it. The pieces he has set include words in Neapolitan dialect, but also words that are taken from Kanuri, the main language of the Kanem-Bornu empire (around the Lake Chad), from which at the time many slaves were taken. In these pieces African characters figure prominently. Lassus published his moresche in 1581, and Troiano mentions that they were performed by six voices and six wind players. The texts are of an erotic nature and are quite suggestive; the performances took place in the couple's bedroom. However, they did not need to feel embarrassed, because they were not present.

Some of the pieces included in the fourth chapter are also suggestive. However, the second item is a setting of a text by Petrarch, Se s alto pn gir mie stanche rime, chosen because of Troiano's mention of a five-part madrigal by Lassus. It is followed by a piece by Filippo Azzaiolo, which, according to Troiano, was sung by Lassus, accompanying himself on the lute. The section ends with a dialogue between Pantalone and his servant Zanni, traditional characters from the commedia dell'arte; the text is in (Neapolitan?) dialect.

This disc is a nice and interesting addition to the first reviewed here, as it shows a different part of what took place during the celebrations. Despite the items with regard to the first two pieces of the programme, the performances of this ensemble, that I had not heard before, are pretty good. One may wonder whether the performances of the moresche are not a little too sophisticated, but we may never know exactly how they were performed. The fact that six wind instruments were involved, may indicate that the performances were less 'popular' than may be the custom in, for instance, Naples. The music may be popular, the performances took place at an aristocratic court, and that may well have had some effect on the way the music was performed.

The booklet includes informative liner-notes by Eric Rice as well as the lyrics with English translations.

These two discs are musically compelling and historically interesting. They also contribute to our knowledge of performance practice at the Bavarian court in the time of Lassus.

Johan van Veen ( 2022)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Origo
La Capella Ducale & Musica Fiata

CD Reviews