Photo: George Imirzian
While the soundtrack to the “Da Vinci Code” film is certainly atmospheric, it doesn’t sound like anything Leonardo might have heard during his lifetime. This week we’ll explore some music that Mr. Da Vinci might actually have heard.
The Sanctus from Josquin des Prez‘ “Missa Hercules,” performed on the release entitled Des Prez: Music for Ercole I d’Este by ensemble De Labyrintho, is a good example of the musical intermingling going on in the Italy of Leonardo da Vinci’s day. Josquin was at the d’Este court in Ferrara in 1503, a time when da Vinci was doing a lot of traveling throughout Italy.
The d’Este family brought English musicians to Ferrara, and the Spanish King of Naples featured composers from the Netherlands at his court. While Leo was well-traveled, he wouldn’t have had to leave his native Florence to hear music in every style of the day. For example, publisher Ottaviano Petrucci produced an anthology in 1501 of popular northern European composers entitled “Harmonice musices odhecaton.” Fretwork recorded these arrangements on the Harmonia Mundi release, Ottaviano dei Petrucci’s “Harmonice Musices Odhecaton.
The presence of Spanish royalty in Naples was felt in the musical trends as well. The basse dance tune known as “La Spagna” was popular for decades. Like Leonardo and other artists of the time who enjoyed playing with images and visual ideas, composers loved playing with such popular tunes in complicated artistic arrangements. His Majestie’s Clerkes and the Newberry Consort perform two such arrangements on the Harmonia Mundi release entitled Cornago: Missa de la mapa mundi.
Alexander Agricola had appointments in Florence and Naples, as well as France. The native Burgundian traveled a great deal by necessity, thanks to various political intrigues and unheavals. Ensemble Unicorn recorded selections by Agricola on the Naxos release, Fortuna Desperata. Flutist René Clemencic performs Agricola’s works on the Arte Nova recording entitled Late Gothic and Renaissance Masterworks, Vol. 2.
The release of both novel and film, “Da Vinci Code,” has brought on a heightened increase in Leonardo da Vinci, which several recording companies have taken advantage of, such as Sony, who has repackaged music by several ensembles into a CD entitled Da Vinci: Music from His Time. The recording includes many selections by Josquin des Prez, including frottola “El grillo,” performed by the Waverly Consort.
Florence was also home to the celebrated Brunelleschi dome over the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, which has only been around for sixteen years when da Vinci was born. Leonardo no doubt would have heard some wonderful liturgical music at Santa Maria and other cathedrals as he traveled throughout Italy. The Clerks Group recorded a mass by Antoine Brumel on their Gaudeamus recording, La Rue/Brumel: Requiems. The New London Chamber Choir performs a mass for the dead by Pierre de la Rue on their Amon Ra release entitled Pierre De La Rue, Josquin des Prez.
Of all of the composers Da Vinci heard throughout his life, Josquin des Prez was perhaps his only living equal in his respective field. Paul Hillier and Theatre of Voices perform pieces by des Prez on their Harmonia Mundi release, Josquin Desprez: Missa de Beata Virgine, and ensemble The Sixteen performs on the CD release from the London label, Renaissance: Music for Inner Peace.
This week’s new release is a recording entitled The Seven Psalms of David by baroque composer Antonia Padoani Bembo. La Donna Musicale performs in a world premiere recording that includes psalm settings alongside works by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre.