This week, we travel back in time to the Italian city of Venice. Lined with gondola-filled canals, stunning architecture, and mystical glass, Venice still enchants visitors with its multi-layered history and culture, not to mention its many centuries of splendid music. And it wasn’t just Monteverdi – we’ll hear music from several centuries by other musicians who worked in Venice. Plus, music from the ensemble Le Miroir de Musique from their 2015 release, The Voice of Orpheus.
“Calami sonum ferentes,” by Cipriano de Rore, arranged for cornetts and sackbuts by William Dongois. We heard Ensemble Ventosum on their 2015 Pan Classics release L’Arte dei Piffari: Cornetts & Sackbuts in Early Baroque Italy.
Church of Gold
“It is the city of mirrors, the city of mirages, at once solid and liquid, at once air and stone.” That quote from author Erica Jong was describing the Italian city of Venice. At the heart of Venice is San Marco, or St. Mark’s Basilica, sometimes nicknamed “Chiesa d’Oro”—or “Church of gold”—for its elaborate Byzantine mosaics and striking façade. For much of Venetian history, the music in the space rivaled its architectural majesty.
Often, groups of vocalists and instrumentalists would set up in various parts of the organ lofts above the congregation, as well as on the floor and, occasionally, on temporary stages. This created a multi-directional experience for the congregants, who would be bathed in sound, as it were.
Italian composer Girolamo Dalla Casa worked at San Marco. His motet Jubilate Deo, for 12 voices, would have been heard in the “church of gold” at the turn of the 16th century.
Ensemble Ventosum performed Jubilate Deo, from Girolamo Dalla Casa’s first book of motets. That was from their 2015 recording, L’Arte dei Piffari: Cornetts & Sackbuts in Early Baroque Italy.
Claudio Merulo is somewhat overshadowed today by his contemporaries Antonio and Giovanni Gabrieli; but in his day, he was considered by some to be the greatest keyboard composer and teacher of his age. Like Dalla Casa, he worked at San Marco, composing music for church use as well as for private and official celebrations. Merulo developed an interest in instrument technology, also– so much so that later in life, he built a small chamber organ for use at the Parma conservatory. Here is a ricercar from Merulo’s Intavolatura d’organo, or organ tablature, Book 1.
We heard “Ricercar del quarto tuono” by Claudio Merulo, performed by harpsichordist Glen Wilson, from the 2017 Naxos release Marco Antonio Cavazzoni.
The Republic of Venice, or La Serenissima, was ruled by a doge, or chief magistrate, for over a millennium. By the 14th century, the Doge employed musicians to celebrate state events as well as to show the wealth and might of the republic.
Doge Francesco Dandolo was head of the Venetian government for a decade in the mid-14th century. In order to expand Venice’s hold on inland territories, Dandolo conscripted citizens into military service rather than hire mercenaries. Although the motet we’re about to hear was for a Catholic feast, we know that military as well as cultural dominance was on the Doge’s mind.
Here is the motet “Ave Corpus Sanctum / Adolescens protomartyr,” by Marchetto of Padua, composed in honor of Doge Francesco Dandolo for the feast of St. Stephen.
We heard the motet “Ave Corpus Sanctum / Adolescens protomartyr” by Marchetto de Padua. Lanfranco Menga led Ensemble Oktoechos in the 2017 Tactus release Venetia, Mundi Splendor.
The Doges of Venice wanted to make sure La Serenissima enjoyed her victories. To celebrate Padua’s annexation to the Venetian republic in 1406, Johannes Ciconia wrote a motet for Doge Michele Steno. The text of the motet begins:
“Venice, splendor of the world, you are the ornament of Italy . . . in you flourishes every reason to envy for the perfection of purity. Rejoice, o mother of the sea, salvation, thanks to whom all evil is purified.”
That was “Venecie, mundi splendor / Michael, qui Stena domus,” a motet by Johannes Ciconia, performed by La Reverdie directed by Claudia Caffagni.
The Doges of Venice also employed wind players, in an ensemble called Pifferi del Doge. Wind and brass instruments played for processionals as well as in cathedrals. Although shawms and sackbuts were often played, cornetti slowly replaced shawms, especially for indoor activities.
Here’s some music that would have been heard outside: “Canzone villanesche all napolitana” by Adrian Willaert—music for Renaissance winds and percussion performed by La Pifarescha.
That was “Canzone vilanesche all napolitana by Adrian Willaert. We heard La Pifarescha on their 2016 Glossa release Di Guerra e di Pace: Renaissance Music for Winds and Percussion.
All the Rage
Much like today’s freelance performers, Francesco Cavalli found success through a combination of stable church work and organizing and investing in his own projects. Although he worked in San Marco under Monteverdi, Cavalli’s career really took off when he married a rich Venetian: Maria Sozomeno. With Maria’s support—financial and emotional—Cavalli was able to invest time and money into operatic ventures. In 1639, Venice’s first public theater opened: Teatro San Cassiano. It was here that most of Cavalli’s operas were premiered, including Orimonte.
We’ll hear the duet “Qui cadè al tuo pié” from Francesco Cavalli’s opera Orimonte.
“Qui cadè al tuo pié” from Francesco Cavalli’s opera Orimonte. We heard singers Giulia Semenzato and Raffaele Pè perform with La Venexiana directed by Claudio Cavina.
Venetian opera was imitated and exported throughout Italy and beyond. After spending much of his early career at San Marco in Venice, Italian composer Antonio Cesti was appointed to work in the court of Innsbruck, Austria. His opera L’Argia was premiered in the Innsbruck court theater. The opera punctuates a moment in Swedish history—when Queen Christina abdicated the throne in order to convert to Catholicism. Her Austrian allies celebrated the conversion by performing L’Argia. The prologue begins,
“Of the stellar motions the proud rival,
Christine shines forth on earth,
and as wise as she is beautiful, she sets hearts aflame.
Bright constellations which from the spheres
gaze down on the earth, do not flee:
stay to admire the proud splendours of Sweden.”
We heard the Sinfonia and Prologue to Antonio Cesti’s L’Argia, with libretto by Giovanni Filippo Apolloni. Francesca Aspromonte, soprano, performed with Il Pomo d’Oro, directed by Enrico Onofri.
Sulla Lira: The Voice of Orpheus
In our featured release segment this week: ensemble Le Miroir de Musique, based in Basel, Switzerland, brings to life vocal and instrumental music from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. In their 2015 Ricercar release, Sulla Lira: The Voice of Orpheus, the ensemble plays with the concept of the poetic recitation associated with the story of Orpheus. In paintings of Orpheus, he’s depicted with his lira. According to Greek myth, the messenger god Hermes created an instrument out of a tortoise shell and strings for his father, Zeus. Known as a thief and trickster, Hermes stole a cow from his brother, Apollo, and used its gut to make the strings. When he was caught red-handed, instead of giving the instrument to Zeus, Hermes gave the lira to Apollo, who then freed him. According to some versions of the story, Apollo later gave the instrument to his son, Orpheus, and it has been associated with him ever since.
Here is “O stella matutina” by Leonardo Giustiniani.
Music performed in the declamatory style al modo d’Orfeo, the “mode of Orpheus,” performed by Maria Christina Kiehr, soprano, and Brigitte Gasser, lirone.
Orpheus is depicted with instruments other than the lira, too; some of these include lirone, violin, and lira da braccio. Like the ancient lyre, the lira da braccio has seven strings. Two of these are off-set from the neck to produce drones, whereas the other five lie on top of the neck, where they can be used to produce distinct diatonic pitches. Since the lira da braccio has a flat bridge, it is an ideal instrument for accompaniment as the flat bridge enables the player to more easily bow multiple strings at the same time, thus creating chords.
We’ll hear an anonymous setting of “Udite, selve, mie dolce parole” performed with lira da braccio.
“Udite, selve, mie dolce parole,” featuring tenor Giovanni Cantarini with Baptiste Romain playing lira da braccio, from the CD Sulla Lira: The Voice of Orpheus.
Break and theme music
Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal
:60,The Voice of Orpheus, Le Miroir de Musique / Baptiste Romain, lira da braccio, Ricercar 2015, Tr. 13 Udite, o ninfe
The writers for this edition of Harmonia was Sarah Huebsch Schilling.
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