The ensemble Circa 1500 was founded in the early 1980s by American flutist Nancy Hadden. She brought together a group of American and European musicians with the singular goal of performing music from the Renaissance. Nearly three decades later, the ensemble has produced an impressive discography of works from 16th-century England, the Italian and Iberian Peninsulas, and the early-German baroque.
Their first recording, produced in 1984, was an auspicious beginning, to say the least. The program featured some of the most famous works from the Renaissance courts of Mantua and Ferrara.
The ensemble’s director and founder, Nancy Hadden, is a scholar and performer on early transverse flutes, including ones from the Renaissance, baroque, and classical periods. Her special focus on the Renaissance flute has garnered her recognition as an authority on its repertoire and playing techniques.
Nancy also holds the distinction of being the first to record an entire program of music devoted to the Renaissance flute, including solos as well as works for a consort of flutes. Entitled Flute Music of the 16th and 17th centuries, her 1988 Hyperion release was acclaimed for its artistry and program innovation.
But this was not the only recording Nancy was producing at the time. The year preceding her solo release came Circa 1500’s second recording centered on music from 16th-century England… “The Flower of All Ships,” subtitled “Tudor Court Music from the Time of the Mary Rose.”
Although recordings of music from early Spain and the New World are pretty accessible today, it wasn’t necessarily the case two decades ago. The ensemble’s 1989 CRD label release “Music from the Spanish Kingdoms” had little company. Nevertheless, its lively program of music from Renaissance Spain and Naples included works by some of the period’s greatest composers such as Juan del Encina and Diego Ortiz.
The music of Tudor England has featured prominently in Circa 1500’s history. Their second recording to focus on its vast repertoire was called “‘New Fashions’: Cries and Ballads of London.” The title says it all and includes many pieces that were popular in late 16th-century London.
The ensemble’s latest offering on the CRD label is a program entitled “Sacred Concerti,” which includes German motets and instrumental works from the late Renaissance and early baroque. The program centers on German works from Leipzig for voices and instruments that specifically include the rare appearance of transverse flute.
Here’s a video of part 1 from the BBC production “Mary Rose,” which was developed to feature Circa 1500: