Long before the 18th century revolutions in France and America, and the 21st century “Arab spring” in countries such as Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, people were questioning the establishment, and making decisions on their own for how they wanted their world to be. On Harmonia, we’re looking at some musical manifestations of people taking their lives into their own hands.
When the famous Medici patron Lorenzo ‘il magnifico,’ the Magnificent, died near Florence in 1492, he left a significant power vacuum. His immediate successor was his son Piero de’ Medici, but he’s not called Piero the Unfortunate for nothing: he fled Florence about two years after his father’s death and drowned in a ship off Venice shortly afterwards.
During this time, a Dominican friar named Girolamo Savonarola had been drawing larger and larger crowds with his impassioned sermons lamenting a society of excesses in Florence, demonstrated by the heavy patronage of the arts for which Lorenzo was famous. These sermons against earthly vanities quickly brought Savonarola to the attention of the pope. He was imprisoned in 1497 and burned as a heretic a year later.
During his imprisonment, Savonarola wrote meditations on psalm 50 that he titled Infelix ego. Franco-Flemish composer Cipriano de Rore was one of many composers who wrote polyphonic pieces on these meditations.
Broadside ballads permeated English culture from the 1550s to the end of the 1700s. Author Evelyn Wells sums it up best by saying, “The broadside ballad covered every department of the modern newspaper, and attained such popularity and influence that churchmen, statesmen, and men of letters feared its potency in moulding opinion and taste; governments tried to censor it out of existence, and foreign ministers sent home copies as straws to show how the wind blew.”
Back in 1996 The Baltimore Consort visited Harmonia to promote their, at that time brand-new, recording A Trip to Killburn, which features music from John Playford’s collections of country dances and ballads. We’ll hear an excerpt from that earlier episode, including an interview clip of Consort member Mary Ann Ballard.
Most rebellions during the Renaissance have to do with matters of religion and the story of Martin Luther is no exception. Luther wanted music that would induce people to participate in religious services.
Composers like Ludwig Senfl had been schooled in the dense polyphonic method that Luther tried to exclude, but quite a bit of Senfl’s music shows up in collections of Lutheran music. Luther even sent Senfl a letter in 1530 requesting a copy of his “In pace in idipsum.” While we don’t know if Senfl responded to this request, we know that he sent a copy of his motet “non moriar, sed vivam.”
Featured release: Kile Smith’s Vespers
We continue a Lutheran liturgical theme in our featured release. The 2009 recording Vespers by Piffaro (on the Navona Records label) features a new setting of a Lutheran vespers. Piffaro commissioned composer Kile Smith to write a piece not to imitate the sound of Renaissance music but “to utilize Renaissance materials as a springboard into a totally new work, a new vision, a new language.” Vespers is the result of that new language and vision.