Harmonia Early Music

Da Vinci a la Mode: Music from the Time of Leonardo Da Vinci

Composers and music from the time of Leonardo da Vinci.

soprano sings and musicians accompany

Photo: George Imirzian

La Donna Musicale in performance at Sanders Theater, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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.

New Release

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.

Music Heard On This Episode

Josquin Des Prez: Missa “Hercules Dux Ferrariae," Sanctus
De Labyrintho (Walter Testolin, conductor) — Josquin: Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae; Miserere mei Deus; Mottetti (Stradivarius, 2004)
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Josquin Des Prez: Missa “Hercules Dux Ferrariae," Sanctus
De Labyrintho (Walter Testolin, conductor) — Josquin: Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae; Miserere mei Deus; Mottetti (Stradivarius, 2004)
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Erasmus Lapicida: Tandernaken
Fretwork — Ottaviano Dei Petrucci: Harmonice Musices Odhecaton (Harmonia Mundi, 2008)
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Isaac: La Morra
Fretwork — Ottaviano Dei Petrucci: Harmonice Musices Odhecaton (Harmonia Mundi, 2008)
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Francisco de la Torre: La Spagna
His Majestie's Clerkes (Paul Hillier, director) and The Newberry Consort (Mary Springfels, director) — Cornago: Missa de la mapa mundi. Secular Music of 15th Century Spain (Harmonia Mundi, 1993)
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Heinrich Isaac: La Spagna (setting of Agnus Dei II from Missa "La Bassadanza")
His Majestie's Clerkes (Paul Hillier, director) and The Newberry Consort (Mary Springfels, director) — Cornago: Missa de la mapa mundi. Secular Music of 15th Century Spain (Harmonia Mundi, 1993)
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Alexander Agricola: Ay je rien fet
Ensemble Unicorn (Michael Posch, director) — Alexander Agricola: Fortuna Desperata – Secular Music of the 15th Century (Naxos, 1999)
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Alexander Agricola: Guarde vostre visage
Ensemble Unicorn (Michael Posch, director) — Alexander Agricola: Fortuna Desperata – Secular Music of the 15th Century (Naxos, 1999)
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Alexander Agricola: Sonnes muses melodieusement
Ensemble Unicorn (Michael Posch, director) — Alexander Agricola: Fortuna Desperata – Secular Music of the 15th Century (Naxos, 1999)
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Bonifacius Amerbach: Tota pluchra es
René Clemencic — Clemencic Plays Late Gothic & Renaissance Masterworks on Clavichord, Vol. 1: Cabezon & Desprez (Arte Nova, 2004)
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Alexander Agricola: De tous bien plaine II
Ensemble Unicorn (Michael Posch, director) — Alexander Agricola: Fortuna Desperata – Secular Music of the 15th Century (Naxos, 1999)
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Josquin Desprez: Mille regretz
Various — Da Vinci: Music from his Time (Sony, 2006)
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Josquin Desprez: El Grillo (Frottola)
Various — Da Vinci: Music from his Time (Sony, 2006)
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Josquin Desprez: Pauper sum Ego: Adieu Mes Amours
Musica Antiqua of London — Master of Musicians: Songs and Instrumental Music by Josquin des Pres, His Pupils and Contemporaries (Signum, 2000)
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Antoine Brumel: Communion: Luceat eis Domine (Missa)
The Clerks Group — Pierre de la Rue: Requiem; Antoine Brumel: Requiem (Gaudeamus, 2006)
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Pierre de la Rue: Lux Aeterna: Misso Pro Defunctis
New London Chamber Choir — New London Chamber Choir: Choral Works by La Rue/Josquin (Amon Ra, 1995)
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Jean Mouton: Ave Maria Gemma Virginum
Paul Hillier & Theatre of Voices — Josquin Desprez: Missa de Beata Virgine; Jean Mouton: Motets (Harmonia Mundi, 1995)
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Josquin des Prez: Ave Maria
The Sixteen (Harry Christophers, conductor) — Renaissance: Music for Inner Peace (Decca , 2005)
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Jacquet de la Guerre: Prelude in A minor
La Donna Musicale — The Seven Psalms of David (La Donna Musicale, 2005)
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Antonia Bembo: Psalm XXXVII: Domine, ne in furore
La Donna Musicale — The Seven Psalms of David (La Donna Musicale, 2005)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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