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Harmonia Early Music

Great Musicians Series: Bruce Dickey

On Harmonia this week we listen to some of cornettist Bruce Dickey’s more recent recordings. Plus, we review an upcoming release by Musica Pacifica.

Play Episode (Real Audio)

When one thinks of a repertoire of music, the mind immediately makes any number of associations—composers, places, ensembles, etc.  This is also the case when a particular musical instrument is mentioned.  If someone were to mention cornetto, for example, your mind may conjure up Monteverdi, Venice, and Concerto Platino.  Yet to that list, a performer should also come to mind-the American cornettist Bruce Dickey, a pioneer of the instrument and its repertoire.  Bruce was recently in our studios to tell us how he got started:

“I really started playing the Cornetto at Indiana University in Bloomington.  I was a trumpet student looking toward a musicology degree, and I began playing early music with a [university] ensemble.  Someone pointed to a cornetto that was in the cupboard with all the other instruments and said ‘you know, that should be your instrument.’  And I hesitated; being a trumpet player I didn’t want [the cornetto] to interfere with my technique, [or] my embouchure, but I kept it in mind, when I set off for Europe to study recorder (I took a cornetto with me).  And it was really [in Europe], after an accident in which I broke my wrist and was unable to play the recorder for three months, that I discovered that the curve of the cornetto was just right that I could play it with the cast on my arm.  When the cast came off, I suddenly found the instrument much, much easier to play, and, from then on, I was a convinced cornetto player.”

Bruce Dickey has performed with Ensemble Sonnerie and with Accordone, among many others. In 1991, Bruce made one of the first CD’s to feature the cornetto throughout the entire recording.  Bruce told us how he came call the recording, Quel Lascivissimo Cornetto:

“The title is a quote from Benvenuto Cellini, who claims to have been a fantastic cornetto player.  I don’t know if we should believe that, but he says that he hated to play the cornetto, and his father was always pleading with him—Please take that Lascivissimo Cornetto and play me a tune. So I took that name for the record just to point [out] the  expressive qualities of the cornetto which was always thought to be the instrument that best imitated the human voice in its expressive power, dynamics, and so forth.”

Of the many ensembles that Bruce has performed with, Concerto Palatino is most special to him because he was one of its founders:

“We formed the group in 1987, although at that time it was not so much focused on a core of cornetts and sackbuts.  It was just Charles Toet, a sackbut player from the Hague, and myself. I believe the first concert we did was with a tenor [named] John Elwes and a viola de gamba, violin and continuo.  But as we began to find more cornetto and sackbut players and began to form a core of two cornetti and three sackbuts which is usually the basis of the group, though we then expand to include singers and string players as well.  It’s been more than twenty years now.”

Concerto Palatino has made numerous recordings, including the 2000 release, Sonate e Canzoni “per sonar con l’organo,” featuring music of Giovanni Gabrieli.

Since 1981, Bruce has lived in Bologna, Italy, a town he describes as having the best pasta in the world as well as being home to the original Concerto Palatino, the called Concerto Palantino della Signoria di Bolognna.

“That was the palace consort of the nobles of Bologna. I just took that name because the Concerto Palatino in Bologna was really the most famous of these groups that played all over Italy and Germany as well (and other countries).  They played for over 200 years, every day, in the main square of the city, and in the [Church of] San Petronio. [They] were a fixture of musical life [in Bologna].”

The new release of the week is of Italian baroque sonatas and concertos by Musica Pacifica on the Dorian/Sono Luminus label.

Here’s a video of Bruce Dickey in a performance of Sisto Reina’s De profundis (with wife Candace Smith as vocal soloist):


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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