First stop: Vatican City
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of Europe’s most frequented pilgrimage sites, where Saint Peter is traditionally believed to be buried beneath the altar. Over the centuries, the St. Peter’s Basilica choir Capella Giulia has employed many illustrious choir masters, one of the most well known being Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. We’ll hear some of his work in just a moment—but first, Look Up! And you’ll see Michelangelo’s famous painting “The Creation of Adam” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. One of the Sistine Chapel’s most talented musicians, Renaissance composer Costanzo Festa, sang in the Chapel’s choir for almost thirty years.
A century later, Baroque music in Rome also benefitted from the presence of internationally acclaimed musicians. Alessandro Scarlatti travelled from Naples, to Florence, to Rome, where he was appointed to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in 1703. We’ll hear a Sinfonia by Scarlatti, and a Toccata and Bergamasca by keyboard virtuoso Bernardo Pasquini, who travelled from Sienna to Rome and delighted audiences at the House of Borghese.
A side trip to Spain’s Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
We’ve been taking a musical tour of Rome on this edition of Harmonia. Now let’s sidetrack over to Spain. One of the big news stories of the summer of 2011 was the theft of the priceless medieval manuscript known as the Codex Calixtinus, which was stolen from its vault at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the destination point of one of the most famous Christian pilgrimage routes. The Codex Calixtinus contained a liturgy for St James, miracle stories, music, and one of the earliest known travel guides. Since we’re marking Harmonia’s 20th anniversary this season, we thought we would look into our own vault and find an excerpt from a program in 2001 featuring medieval music contained in this famous medieval manuscript: (:20)
Aside from Jerusalem, and Rome, and Mecca, some of the most famous medieval pilgrimage routes in the west were in Spain. Many medieval travelers walked the road to Santiago de Compostela, to the burial site of Saint James or Santiago, the patron saint of Spain. Interestingly enough, the road to Campostela, which means “field of Stars,” is still a popular pilgrimage route, and people still travel it to this day. Here are two pieces from the Codex Calixtinus, a collection of medieval pieces associated with the shrine of Santiago. The first is sung by Sequentia, and the second by Consort Fontegara.
Beyond the splendor and tradition of Roman Catholic pomp whirled the pageantry and gaiety of the Roman Carnival season. Festivities included riderless horse races down the Via del Corso, dancing, and, of course, music-making. During the Renaissance, Rome’s carnival enjoyed more popularity than the one in Venice. Travelers from all over Italy flocked to Rome and heard traditional dances performed by the city’s street performers.
Founded in 1989, The Cardinall’s Musick is a team of vocal and instrumental ensembles directed by Andrew Carwood that combines world-class singing with world-class scholarship. The ensemble’s recordings have garnered no fewer than four Gramophone Awards for Early Music, in addition to other honors.
Our featured recording by The Cardinall’s Musick focuses on music by composers from the 16th- and 17th-century Roman School, including Gregorio Allegri’s setting of Psalm 51, traditionally referred to as the Miserere.
Before the invention of modern recording, Allegri’s Miserere was shrouded in darkness. The Vatican closely guarded the composition, wanting to preserve its legacy. All copies or publications of the work were forbidden, on pain of excommunication. This policy remained in force until 1770, when a young musician named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited Rome and heard the Miserere performed. Legend has it that after just two hearings, Mozart was able to transcribe the work in its entirety, creating the first unauthorized copy of the Vatican’s most carefully guarded musical treasure.