This week, a journey back to the 14th century, which in Italy would be called the trecento, for an hour of music from the beautiful Italian city of Florence at the dawn of the Renaissance. Lorenzo da Firenze, or “Laurence of Florence” was one of a group of composers who lived and worked in that beautiful Italian city in the 14th century. We’ll pay a visit to Lorenzo and some of his composer friends, plus our featured release will be the 2017 CD by Ensemble Perlaro, Con voce quasi Humana.
Once I felt Cupid’s bow release its arrow with great force,
Never to be pulled from a noble heart.
From morning ‘til sunset, the arrowhead remains in the amorous mind,
Which is homeless, far from the beautiful countenance.
Now I have returned, and my Lord Cupid is trying to convince me that I should again entrust myself to his guidance.
From the CD Con voce quasi Humana, Ensemble Perlaro performed “I’ senti’ già come l’arco d’amore,” by 14th-century Italian composer Jacopo da Bologna.
Ut re mi
Florence, Italy. Images of Florence even today depict a cityscape completely dominated by its cathedral, known as the duomo. Imagine the enormous duomo of Florence without its massive dome and you will have a pretty good visual picture of trecento Florence, as that magnificent marvel of engineering was still half a century in the future, though the rest of the cathedral was nearing completion after a century of building. And now to get our ears accustomed to the sound of trecento Firenze, let’s listen to a teacher instructing his music students to be very careful with their “ut re mi fa sol la’s.”
That was the ensemble Tetraktys performing Lorenzo da Firenze’s madrigal “Dolgomi a voi” from their Etcetera recording of 2005 entitled O tu cara sciença mie musica: works from the Squarcialupi Codex.
You’re right, I called that a madrigal, but as you very likely noticed, this madrigal is unrelated to the Italian madrigal of 200 years later. It’s a musical form that is based on the poetic scheme of the text, so sections of music are repeated with different text, then there is a ritornello, or recurring section, that’s often in a different meter, as you heard in this piece. You’ll find that much of the secular trecento repertory consists of pieces with two sections of music that reflect the structure of the poetry. In the madrigal we just heard, the A section has 3 voices and the B section, called the ritornello, only two.
Here is another piece by Lorenzo, this one in the form of a ballata. It’s a setting of a text of Boccaccio that begins and ends with the words “I don’t know what I wish for, to live or to die to suffer loss.” A ballata ends with the music and words with which it began, so listen for the repeat of the words “Non so qual” at the end.
That was the monophonic ballata “Non so qual,” a setting by “Laurence of Florence” of a text by Boccaccio, from the ensemble Liber’s 2011 recording entitled Crowned with Laurel.
Lorenzo was the eldest of the three composers we’re visiting today, and all the ballate that he composed have but one part. That, of course, doesn’t mean that no instruments could have been involved in a performance. Here is another monophonic ballata from Lorenzo, but in this performance you will hear the singer accompanying herself on the organ.
We heard Esther Lamandier singing and accompanying herself on the organ in Lorenzo da Firenze’s ballata “Non vedi tu amor,” from her 1987 Alienor recording entitled simply Domna.
Let’s listen to a 3-voice ballata now, this time by Lorenzo’s younger colleague Andreas da Florentia. You’ll hear the same musical form, with the piece ending as it began, this time with a text related to the tragic love story of Dido and Aeneas.
A ballata by Andreas de Florentia, performed again by Tetraktys from their recording of 2005 O tu cara sciença mie musica: works from the Squarcialupi Codex.
Our Florentines were, of course, men of their own time, and some of their music can be traced to specific events. Our third composer, Paolo da Firenze, became known as Paolo Tenorista, so the likelihood is very good that he was a singer at some stage in his life, though he was an Abbot of a Benedictine monastery by the time he died at 78. More pieces survive by Paolo da Firenze than by any other Trecento composer except for Francesco Landini.
Paolo’s “Godi, Firenze, poi che se’ sì grande,” celebrates the Florentine victory over Pisa on the 9th of October in 1406. In it, he quotes Dante’s Inferno, saying, “Rejoice Florence, since you are so great that you can beat your wings over sea and land, and throughout Hell your fame is spreading.”
From the 2002 harmonia mundi CD Narcisso Speculando, that was Mala Punica, directed by Pedro Memelsdorff.
Apparently, Paolo supported the election of Pope Alexander V at the Council of Pisa in 1409, since the text of his madrigal “Girand’ un bel falcon” almost certainly reflects Florentine antipathy to Pope Gregory XII in that year. You might be able to hear when the fair falcon becomes a crow, “croaking caw caw and not speaking the truth.”
Music by 14th century composer Paolo di Firenze, performed by the group Mala Punica, directed by Pedro Memelsdorff, from the 2002 harmonia mundi release Narcisso Speculando.
Lorenzo, Paolo & Andreas
Welcome back. Lorenzo, Paolo and Andreas de Florentia were all clerics, of course, even though much more secular music survives from them than sacred. This situation may well have more to do with what was preserved, by whom, and why than with the composers themselves, since most of what survives was written down long after it was composed. All the same, let’s hear a “Sanctus” by Lorenzo followed by a “Benedicamus domino” by Paolo.
We heard a Sanctus of Lorenzo da Firenze, followed by a Benedicamus domino by Paolo da Firenze performed by the vocal and instrumental ensemble L’Homme armé in a 2003 Tactus recording entitled Regina pretiosa: una celebrazione Mariana del Trecento Fiorentino.
If Laurence of Florence were to have a greatest hit, I suggest that it might be his only known caccia, a hunting song for three rather virtuosic equal voices, which begins with the words “A poste messe…” You’ll hear some onomatopoeia as dogs bark, horns sound, and the beagles and hounds are loosed to chase the doe.
We heard the Ensemble Perlaro directed by Lorenza Donadini singing Lorenzo da Firenze’s “A poste messe” from their 2017 CD Con voce quasi Humana on the Raumklang label.
This CD on the Raumklang label by Ensemble Perlaro is also our featured release this week. It’s a beautiful collection of music of the period and the composers we’ve been focusing on this week: 14th century Italy, or the trecento. This is music that was inextricably linked in structure with popular poetic forms of the time. The subject of the poems, ballate, madrigals, and the “caccie” – ranged from hunting songs like the one we just heard, to political commentary, praises for patrons, and of course, hundreds of poems about love in all its exhilarating or heartbreaking stages.
Here’s a ballata by Francesco Landini, the most famous Italian composer of the Trecento. In a typical courtly love style-celebration of unrequited passion, the poet says “In order to follow the hope that kills me, lady, I try to conceal my longing . . . but I ask you, god of Love, don’t allow me to die in such oblivion . . . let her know of my desire.”
Music by Francesco Landini, from the CD Con voce quasi Humana, by Ensemble Perlaro, our featured release on Harmonia this week.
If you’ve read Boccaccio’s Decameron, you may remember that the characters in the book are a group of young people hiding out in a country villa in the hope of avoiding the plague that is ravaging the city. They entertain each other with stories, singing, and dancing. Here’s a piece by Jacopo da Bologna called “In verde prato.” The poem describes just such a scene: “On a green meadow with opened pavilions I saw ladies and lovers sing, accompanying a lovely dance on the fresh grass.”
“In verde prato,” by Jacopo da Bologna, from Ensemble Perlaro’s CD Con voce quasi Humana, released in 2017 on the Raumklang label.
This piece, from the same CD, is by a composer known as Magister Piero. It’s a combination of a madrigal and a canon, or round, and is a dialogue ostensibly about a sailing adventure, although there could be a bit of double-entendre there. The poem begins,
“With sweet desire and great longing I said to the galley master: ‘Let’s sail to my lady‘s port!’ He at once took his whistle: ‘Go! Go! On the bench – pick up speed and loosen the rope aft!’ The Winds are good, and everyone is raising the mast ‘Up, up!’”
“Con dolce brama,” by a composer known only as Magister Piero, from a CD on the Raumklang label called Con voce quasi Humana, by Ensemble Perlaro, directed by Lorenza Donadini.
Break and theme music
Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal
:60, Il Solazzo, Newberry Consort, harmonia mundi France 1993, Tr. 2 Bel fiore danza
The writers for this edition of Harmonia was Wendy Gillespie.
Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at http://www.harmoniaearlymusic.org.