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A Musical Tour Of Ferrara

Named for the unusual shape of the over 8,500 marble blocks on the façade, Palazzo dei Diamanti is one of the most famous Renaissance buildings in the world. Count Sigismondo d’Este, brother of Duke Ercole I d'Este commissioned the palazzo.

Time capsule for this episode: 1486


We begin with a tribute to Gustav Leonhardt, who passed away in January 2012.

Performer, teacher, and researcher Gustav Leonhardt first made his name in the world of early music as one of a growing number of musicians who insisted on historical accuracy when performing early music; he even lamented a live performance of Baroque opera lit with electric lights rather than oil lamps. He performed on a historical harpsichord and was influential in the ultimate resurrection of the instrument. Although the list would soon expand to include keyboard works of other Baroque masters, Leonhardt's earliest recordings were the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

During his years as a teacher at the Amsterdam Conservatory in his native Holland and the Vienna Academy of Music, Gustav Leonhardt taught some of today's most influential performers of early music, including William Christie, Christopher Hogwood, Trevor Pinnock, Roger Norrington, Nicholas McGegan, and many others. The Leonhardt Consort also recorded some of Bach's choral works including his complete cycle of cantatas, and his Saint Matthew Passion.

Leonhardt continued performing as both a harpsichordist and organist until he announced his retirement in December 2011. He passed away in January 2012 at the age of 83.

15th c. Ferrara, an important European musical center

In the 15th century, the city of Ferrara, Italy became one of Europe's most important musical centers. Spurring the development of Ferrara's musical activity was generous patronage from members of the house of Este.

Duke Ercole d'Este was one of the foremost cultural patrons of his age. During his reign, the Ferrarese court cappella was comprised of a never-before-heard double choir: one for men, and one for boys. The choir enjoyed the compositional talents of none other than Josquin des Prez, who composed a mass immortalizing Duke Ercole using a compositional technique known as soggetto cavato. In the mass, the syllables of the duke's name are represented musically; Hercules dux Ferrariae becomes re ut re ut re fa mi re.

Two other composers at work within Ferrara at that time were Jacob Obrecht and Antoine Brumel. Obrecht also served Duke Ercole d'Este, demonstrating his compositional cleverness in numerous mass settings and motets. After Obrecht's death in 1505, Ercole's successor Alfonso I called Antoine Brumel to take up the position of maestro di cappella.

Music from 16th- and 17th-century Ferrara

Decades after the reign of Duke Ercole, the city celebrated another renaissance of art and culture. Alfonso II enlivened his court with the presence of composers like Luzzasco Luzzaschi, Luzzaschi's pupil Girolamo Frescobaldi, and Lodovico Agostini.

Also increasing the prestige of the court was a group of exceedingly talented female singers known as the concerto delle donne, for which many composers reserved their most experimental and virtuosic works. Musical treasures abounded within the ducal library and instrumentarium; and fresh ideas brewed among the talented court musicians that would revolutionize compositions for the next century.

Featured release

Our featured release takes us to 17th-century Italy and the birth of a new musical style. Stile moderno is the title of the recording, as well as a term coined by Giulo Caccini in a 17th-centry collection of groundbreaking compositions entitled Le nuove musiche. The ensemble Quicksilver transports stile moderno to our present day, performing instrumental works full of  ideas from a new musical age by Cima, Merula, and Neri.

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