Photo: Francesco Cera
The organ is an instrument that is most readily associated with sacred music and the Church. But a new recording places the organ in a secular light: Francesco Cera’s 2016 Brilliant Classics release called The Organ at European Courts. Dances, transcriptions, variations and intabulations were all part of the secular organ repertory from which this present recording gathers an anthology of 16th and 17th century music from Italy, Austria, Spain, Germany, France and England. Pieces include works composed by, Antico, Frescobaldi, Gabrieli, Pasquini, Antonio de Cabezon, Hofhaimer, Scheidemann, Scheidt, Hugh Aston, Pierre Attaingnant and Henri Du Mont.
Many royal and aristocratic households throughout Europe had their own chamber organs, or portative organs, that could be moved from one room to another. These organs may have been small, but could be mightily ornate with intricately carved or painted cabinets, ivory inlay, and even silver and alabaster pipes. The nobility used these small organs in their homes and chapels for banquets and court events and for chamber music.
A keyboard elaboration of the franco-Flemish chanson “Je n’en dirai mot” by the Venetian composer, Andrea Gabrieli is heard on this recording. When listening, it’s fun to imagine yourself in Renaissance Venice, hearing this played on one of the richly decorated organs of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
Hand Operated Bellows
For this recording, organist Francesco Cera, plays a rare and well preserved original positive organ built in 1772 by an unknown maker. The instrument is kept at the Franciscan Convent of Lustra Cilento in Italy. It is a single manual instrument with hand operated bellows. The inherent unevenness of air of the non-mechanized bellows lends a wonderful complexity to the sound as the instrument itself, literally, breaths.
Organ Book of 1531
The back cover of the CD booklet reprints a detail of a French tapestry depicting a lady in the garden with her organ, surrounded by woodland creatures and accompanied by her attendant (operating the bellows, of course!) Oh, if these walls could speak! Perhaps we would hear the Lady playing a courtly Pavenne from Pierre Attaingnant’s organ book of 1531.