musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

"Stalpart's Italian journey"
Camerata Trajectina
concert: Feb 2, 2024, Zeist, Church of the Community of Moravian Brethren

anon: Passomezo d'Italye; Stefano FELIS (c1538-1603): [De soete slaep quam neder, de slaep quam neder / Van d'hemelsche genuchten] (Sonno, scendesti in terra / Tu la ritorni a riva); Giovanni FERRETTI (c1540-after 1609): [Ic plagt mijn tijd voorleden] (Un tempo sospirava); Giovanni Giacomo GASTOLDI (c1554-1609): [Een Jager nieu te veld, sagh ick dees dagen] (Un niovo cacciator); [S. Alloynus Bavo] (Scacciam l'antico sonno); Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): [Maegd maegden kroon] (Susanne ung jour); [Na dien u tranigh schreyen] (Poi che'l mio largo pianto); Giovanni DE MACQUE (c1550-1614): [Jesu! Ick voel een aantocht van uw' minne] (Amor io sent'un respirar si dolce); Partite sopra Ruggiero; Luca MARENZIO (1553/54-1599): [Adieu, ich schey van aerde] (Parto da voi, mio sole); [De Salamander op den dach van S. Laurens, Martelaer] (Qual vive Salamandra); [Hoe vrolijck, hoe blijde maeckt nu lucht en aerde] (Gią torna a rallegrar l'aria e la terra); [Ick sloeg mijn betraent gesicht na de zee-sterre] (Dissi a l'amata mia); [Lacht en verheugt u nu / Gracy Jesu Meester] (Riden gią per le piagge / Piagge, herde, fiori, augelli); [Verblijdt u aen de Serafinsche danssen] (Ecco che'l ciel a noi chiaro e sereno); [Voor 't graf des Heeren 's avonds versch begraven] (Giunto a la tomba); [Ziet hier de morgen met haar roode wangen] (Ecco l'aurora); Giovanni Maria NANINO (1543/44-1607): [Mijn hart en kan niet sterven] (Morir non puo 'l mio core)

Wendy Roobol, Klaartje van Veldhoven, soprano; Sytse Buwalda, alto; Nico van der Meel, tenor; Berend Eijkhout, bass; Saskia Coolen, recorder, viola da gamba; Constance Allanic, viola da gamba, harp; Cassandra Luckhard, viola da gamba; Arjen Verhage, lute

It is often said that the world has become a village. Borders have become less important, and especially social media have a strong impact on what we know about what is going on across the globe. It is not so new as one may think. Musically speaking, Europe has been a village since the Middle Ages. Some tunes, mostly anonymous and monophonic, travelled across the continent, and were reworked and arranged in many different ways. This practice lasted for many centuries, until the time that copyright made its entrance.

One way of arranging music was what is known as contrafactum, which means that the text of a vocal work is substituted by another one. There could be different reasons for this practice. A secular text could be replaced by a sacred one, as the singers or listeners wanted to enjoy good music, but not to be embarrassed by texts of a morally dubious nature. In Italy, Aquilino Coppini replaced texts of Monteverdi's madrigals with sacred lyrics. The motivation could also be to bring a piece closer to a particular audience, as happened in England at the end of the 16th century, when Italian madrigals were published with English texts.

That brings us to the programme that was performed by the ensemble Musica Trajectina, which specialises in Dutch music from the renaissance until the late 18th century, with a special interest in music that may never be part of the programmes of most ensembles. In the 17th century and for most of the 18th century music life in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was different from that elsewhere in Europe. There were several reasons for that. One is the consequence of the name of the country: the Netherlands were a republic, and there was no royal court. Most of the Republic was ruled by a stadholder, but his position was in no way comparable to that of the kings of France and England, or even the Electors in Germany. The country was also not divided in units that were ruled by counts or dukes, unlike Germany, where court composers could move from one court to another to improve their position, and wrote music that was required by their employers. Another important factor has to do with the ecclesiastical situation. The dominant church was the Reformed Church, which allowed only the singing of psalms by the congregation. Motets, sacred concertos and cantatas were not required.

Music making in a domestic environment - the homes of aristocrats and the higher bourgeoisie - or in social gatherings was the main feature of music life. The music that was performed had an international character. The recorder player Jacob van Eyck played variations on internationally known tunes, among them English melodies that we also find in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Another source of inspiration was Italian music. And here we come to the figure that inspired the Camerata Trajectina to put together a programme of madrigals on Dutch texts. These were from the pen of the poet Johannes Baptist Stalpart van der Wiele (1579-1630), who first had settled as a lawyer, but then decided to study theology. As he was a Roman Catholic, he went to Rome, where he not only became a doctor in theology, but also became acquainted with the musical culture. As he seems to have been a very good singer, it is likely that he took part in musical performances. He undoubtedly achieved a thorough knowledge of the Italian language, which allowed him to adapt the texts of Italian madrigals in such a way that they fitted the music.

After his return he worked as an archpriest in Delft, where he was the spiritual guide of klopjes (religious women). For their gatherings, in which singing together was one of the main activities, he created Dutch texts of a mostly spiritual content on music by Italian madrigal composers. So in his contrafacta we see a mixture of the two main motifs mentioned above: texts in the vernacular, with a spiritual content replacing the original secular substance.

As he returned from Rome in 1611, Stalpart van der Wiele must have known mainly madrigals written in the stile antico. They were taken from colletions which were printed in Antwerp. This shows that a substantial part of the madrigal repertoire was internationally known. Among the composers whose music he used, Luca Marenzio took first place. He must have been very impressed by his madrigals, and he was not the only one: the English composer Peter Philips also was strongly influenced by Marenzio. Other composers whose music Stalpart van der Wiele used, are Orlandus Lassus and Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi. Notable is that he also turned to composers who are hardly known today, such as Stefano Felis and Giovanni Ferretti.

Stalpart van der Wiele did not only have a thorough knowledge of Italian, he was also a very good poet (who, by the way, is hardly known in the Netherlands). During the concert it was striking to note how well he dealt with what is the main problem of creating contrafacta from madrigal repertoire: the close connection between text and music. In the late 16th century the likes of Marenzio frequently used what is known as 'madrigalisms': musical figures that illustrate words or phrases. Setting a given text with new music is much easier than making a text that fits an existing piece of music. That makes Stalpart van der Wiele's efforts all the more impressive. Lacht en verheugt u nu / Gracy Jesu meester, an adaptation of Marenzio's Riden gią per le piagge / Piagge, herde, fiori, augelli, was just one example. This piece also documented a feature of music of the renaissance and (early) baroque eras: there was no watershed between the sacred and the secular. This piece opens as a celebration of nature and then turns to a reference to Jesus's resurrection, from which the conclusion is drawn that man has to repent for his sins.

Obviously, the Virgin Mary plays a major role in his texts. There are also texts which express a mystic love for Jesus, there are pieces referring to stages in the ecclesiastical year, such as Passiontide, and pieces about saints. And as Stalpart van der Wiele was a convinced Catholic, he could not avoid criticism of Protestantism, which was dominating in the Netherlands of his time.

The Camerata Trajectina always performs with enthusiasm and conviction, and makes use of a variety of performing conveniences which are known from the time the music was written. In this case that meant that some pieces were sung a capella, others with instruments playing colla voce or substituting voices. It worked out mostly well, although sometimes the recorder was a bit too prominent. The ensemble's singers are not always the same, and that may be the reason that they don't always blend that well. That was the case here too, especially due to the vibrato in some of the voices. However, it did not spoil my enjoyment; the performers did well in exploring the expressive features of these madrigals. This was the first time I heard these madrigals with Dutch texts, and I think this is a real enrichment of the repertoire. It would be nice if they were available in printed editions, which would allow other ensembles to perform them as well. Basically these pieces, with Stalpart van der Wiele's texts, can be counted among the genre of the 'spiritual madrigal', which was highly important in the late 16th century and some time beyond.

Considering that this repertoire is little-known, it was encouraging that at the concert I attended, the audience was larger than usual. The ensemble was rightly rewarded with a long and enthusiastic applause.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Concert reviews