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The Cornetto

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Welcome to Harmonia…I’m Angela Mariani. The cornetto’s tone quality was often described as being close to the human voice, especially that of the prized boy soprano. (French polymath Marin) Mersenne wrote that the cornetto was “like a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows, when heard with the choir voices in the cathedrals or chapels.” This hour, we’ll explore the magical sound of the cornetto both with a choir of voices and as a virtuoso instrument. Plus, our featured recording is A Delicate Fire: Music of Barbara Strozzi.

MUSIC TRACK 
Breathtaking
Hana Blažíková, soprano and Bruce Dickey, cornetto
Passacaille 2016 / B01LZHNM61
Nicolo` Corradini
Tr. 2 Spargite flores (4:40)

“Scatter flowers, scatter lilies!” We heard the song “Spargite flores,” by Nicolò Corradini, written in 1624. Soprano Hana Blažíková, soprano, and Bruce Dickey, cornetto, were featured in their 2016 Passacaille release Breathtaking.

 

 

As an instrument the cornetto inhabits a space between woodwind and brass—and with a magically vocal quality, too. The slim, typically curved, wooden body covered in leather has six finger holes and a thumb hole, near the top. A cupped mouthpiece made of  ivory, ebony, or horn is placed in the top, where the player buzzes—much like a trumpet or horn. Let’s hear a mid-seventeenth-century piece that features this instrument, along with soprano, violin, and basso continuo. Here is “Labbra gradite” by Italian baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti.  

MUSIC TRACK
Breathtaking
Hana Blažíková, soprano and Bruce Dickey, cornetto
Passacaille 2016 / B01LZHNM61
Alessandro Scarlatti
Tr. 18 Labbra gradite (1:49)

Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Labbra gradite” was performed by Hana Blažíková, soprano and Bruce Dickey accompanied by strings and continuo on our featured instrument: the cornetto.  

The cornetto was in peak use during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially in cathedrals where it was prized for its ability to mimic the sound of the human voice. Cornetto players were known for their masterful ability in a type of ornamentation called diminution. In this practice, the performer breaks up a simple melodic line into more florid figures. It is the musical equivalent of starting with a round circle and folding and cutting it so you end up with a wonderfully complex snowflake. Modern cornetto master Bruce Dickey works his diminutions into the motet “Dilectus meus mihi” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. 

MUSIC TRACK
Breathtaking
Hana Blažíková, soprano and Bruce Dickey, cornetto
Passacaille 2016 / B01LZHNM61
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Tr. 5 Dilectus meus mihi : 1584, motet with diminutions by Bruce Dickey (5:42)

“Dilectus meus mihi” by Palestrina, performed by Bruce Dickey on the cornetto with soprano Hana Blažíková.

Although the cornetto is typically a wooden instrument with a bend, there are also straight and mute cornetti, which were less common than the curved cornetto. Like the curved cornetto, the straight treble cornetto is also made of wood, though it isn’t covered in leather, and it is typically more plain in appearance. It was most used in Germanic lands, especially before 1550. We’ll hear “Sonata seconda” by Austrian baroque composer Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. 

MUSIC TRACK
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Sonatas
Le Concert Brisé / William Dongois, cornett and direction
Accent 2017 / Naxos ACC24324
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer
Tr. 1 Sonata seconda (7:24)

“Sonata seconda” by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. William Dongois [DUN-gua] performed on straight cornetto with Hadrien Jourdan. 

[Theme music begins]

Theme Music Bed: Ensemble Alcatraz, Danse Royale, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 / B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal

You can hear highlights from recent and archival concert recordings of early music on Harmonia Uncut -- our biweekly podcast, curated and hosted by Wendy Gillespie. Listen online at harmonia early music dot org and through iTunes.

You’re listening to Harmonia . . .  I’m Angela Mariani.

[Theme music fades]

 

Mid Break
:59 Music Bed: A Delicate Fire, Pinchgut Opera / dir. Erin Heylard (see individual tracks for soloists), Pinchgut Live, 2020, Tarquinio Merula: Excerpt of Tr. 5 A Delicate Fire (excerpt of 2:26)

(fades out at :59)

Welcome back. We’re exploring the magical sound of the cornetto. In addition to its virtuosic ability, the cornetto was prized for its ability to blend with the human voice. It was used with ensembles of voices, sackbuts, dulcian, strings, and keyboard. The San Marco [Basilica] in Venice often employed cornetto players, especially under Italian master Giovanni Gabrieli. We’ll hear “Quem vidistis pastores”(Whom did you see, shepherds) from Gabrieli’s 1615 Symphonia Sacrae

MUSIC TRACK
Giovanni Gabrieli: Symphoniae Sacrae II, 1615
Taverner Choir, London Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble / dir. Andrew Parrott
Decca 2006 / Naxos 00028943686020
Giovanni Gabrieli
Tr. 3 Quem vidistis pastores a 14 (7:59)

Music by Gabrieli; that was “Quem vidistis pastores” performed by the Taverner Choir and London Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble directed by Andrew Parrott.

Here is more music from Palestrina: his Missa Sancta Maria Magdalenae.

MUSIC TRACK
Viva Italia - Sacred Music in 17th Century Rome
Duke Vespers Ensemble, dir. Brian Schmidt (with Mallarme Chamber players and Washington Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble)
MSR Classics, 2016 / B07N2VNKDW
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Tr. 7 Missa Sancta Maria Magdalenae: II. Gloria (5:00)

We heard the Gloria from Missa Sancta Maria Magdalenae by Palestrina. Brian Schmidt led the Duke Vespers Ensemble with Mallarme Chamber Players and Washington Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble.

Use of the cornetto declined in the eighteenth century. Still, several composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, used cornetto—usually to reinforce the choir. We can hear this in Bach’s cantata 133, “I rejoice in you,” where the cornetto doubles the soprano voice in the opening and final choruses. Here is the opening chorus from Bach’s cantata 133.

MUSIC TRACK
J.S. Bach Cantatas (Complete), Vol. 13
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Amsterdam Baroque Choir / Ton Koopman, dir.
Challenge Classics 2005 / Naxos CC72213
Johann Sebastian Bach
Disc 3, Tr. 1 Ich freue mich in dir, BWV 133, Ich freue mich in dir (Chorus) (3:50)

The opening chorus from Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata 133, “I rejoice in you,” “Ich freue mich in dir.” The Amsterdam baroque Orchestra and Choir was led by Ton Koopman.

 

Our featured releasethis hour is A Delicate Fire: Music by Barbara Strozzi, performed by Pinchgut opera, directed by Erin Heylard, a 2020 release on the Naxos label. Strozzi was a trailblazer. She published eight volumes of work within her lifetime—an unusual feat for a woman in the seventeenth century. She made a living as a composer without the patronage of the church or a court. She rose to prominence in a world of men: Venice’s intellectual elite. Many of Strozzi’s works are dedicated to prominent women of her day, including her first book of madrigals, which is dedicated to Vittoria della Rovere, Grand Duchess of Tuscany.

Strozzi’s presence among the intellectual elite in Venice brought criticism, as did the fact that she was a musician, had four children, and was not married, although she was in a long-term relationship with a patron named Vidman. There is also evidence of a long friendship with a castrato singer.  She was often slandered; one critical contemporary, after she gave out flowers to one of her accademia audiences,  said “It is a fine thing to distribute the flowers after having already surrendered the fruit.” How sad that with all of her accomplishment, it is quotes like these that are remembered—but it’s a reflection on the very narrow boundaries of what was considered to be an acceptable lifestyle for a woman in her day. Still, she sang at academic gatherings, and her work reached the ears of prominent Italians of her day. Most of her works are for solo soprano and continuo, including this one, dedicated to “Nicolò Sagredo, procurator of San Marco and future Doge of Venice”—the dramatic  “Lagrime mie,” “My tears, lament,”

MUSIC TRACK
A Delicate Fire
Pinchgut Opera / dir. Erin Heylard (see individual tracks for soloists)
Pinchgut Live, 2020 / Naxos PG012
Barbara Strozzi
Tr. 8 Diporti di Euterpe, Op. 7, Lagrime mie, Lamento (7:36)

“My tears, lament,” from Barbara Strozzi’s 1659 collection of arias and cantatas. Anna Dowsley sang with the Pinchgut Opera led by Erin Heylard.

Barbara Strozzi was a fine composer and a very important contributor to the development of the cantata. Had her gender been different, would she have been counted among the important composers of secular music in her day, rather than having to be rediscovered 300 years later? I think we can guess the answer. We know very little about the last part of Strozzi’s life, or whether she continued to compose. We leave you with the conclusion to Strozzi’s first book of madrigals: here’s soprano Anna Dowsley, tenor Nicholas Jones, and bass Andrew O’Connor performing with Pinchgut Live from their 2020 Naxos release A Delicate Fire.

MUSIC TRACK
A Delicate Fire
Pinchgut Opera / dir. Erin Heylard (see individual tracks for soloists)
Pinchgut Live, 2020 / Naxos PG012
Barbara Strozzi
Tr. 12 Il primo libro de madrigali, Op. 1, No. 25 (excerpts), Conclusione dell’opera (3:36)

“Conclusione dell’opera,” the concluding piece from Barbara Strozzi’s First Book of Madrigals, published in 1644. Erin Heylard led Pinchgut Live from our featured release, “A Delicate Fire: Music of Barbara Strozzi.”

Fade in theme music

Harmonia is a production of WFIU. Support comes from Early Music America: a national organization that advocates and supports the historical performance of music of the past, the community of artists who create it, and the listeners whose lives are enriched by it. On the web at EarlyMusicAmerica-dot-org.

Additional resources come from the William and Gayle Cook Music Library at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

We welcome your thoughts about any part of this program, or about early music in general. Contact us at harmonia early music dot org. And, you can follow our Facebook page and our updates on Twitter by searching for Harmonia Early Music.

The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Sarah Schilling (or Sarah Huebsch Schilling)

Thanks to our studio engineer Michael Paskash, and our production team: LuAnn Johnson, Wendy Gillespie, Aaron Cain, and John Bailey. I’m Angela Mariani, inviting you to join us again for the next edition of Harmonia.

[Theme music concludes]

Gloria d’Angeli by Marco Bigio, 1530-1570.

Gloria d’Angeli by Marco Bigio, 1530-1570. (Sailko, Wikimedia)

The cornetto’s tone quality was often described as being close to the human voice, especially that of the prized boy soprano. French polymath Marin Mersenne wrote that the cornetto was “like a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows, when heard with the choir voices in the cathedrals or chapels.” This hour, we’ll explore the magical sound of the cornetto both with a choir of voices and as a virtuoso instrument. Plus, our featured recording is A Delicate Fire: Music of Barbara Strozzi.

PLAYLIST

Breathtaking
Hana Blažíková, soprano and Bruce Dickey, cornetto
Passacaille 2016 / B01LZHNM61
Nicolo` Corradini
Tr. 2 Spargite flores (4:40)

Segment A:

Breathtaking
Hana Blažíková, soprano and Bruce Dickey, cornetto
Passacaille 2016 / B01LZHNM61
Alessandro Scarlatti
Tr. 18 Labbra gradite (1:49)
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Tr. 5 Palestrina: Dilectus meus mihi : 1584, motet with diminutions by Bruce Dickey (5:42)

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Sonatas
Le Concert Brisé / William Dongois, cornett and direction
Accent 2017 / Naxos ACC24324
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer
Tr. 1 Sonata seconda (7:24)

Theme Music Bed: Ensemble Alcatraz, Danse Royale, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 / B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal

:59 Midpoint Break Music Bed: A Delicate Fire, Pinchgut Opera / dir. Erin Heylard (see individual tracks for soloists), Pinchgut Live, 2020, Tarquinio Merula: Excerpt of Tr. 5 A Delicate Fire (excerpt of 2:26)

Segment B:

Giovanni Gabrieli: Symphoniae Sacrae II, 1615
Taverner Choir, London Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble / dir. Andrew Parrott
Decca 2006 / Naxos 00028943686020
Giovanni Gabrieli
Tr. 3 Quem vidistis pastores a 14 (7:59)

Viva Italia - Sacred Music in 17th Century Rome
Duke Vespers Ensemble, dir. Brian Schmidt (with Mallarme Chamber players and Washington Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble)
MSR Classics, 2016 / B07N2VNKDW
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Tr. 7 Missa Sancta Maria Magdalenae: II. Gloria (5:00)

J.S. Bach Cantatas (Complete), Vol. 13
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Amsterdam Baroque Choir / Ton Koopman, dir.
Challenge Classics 2005 / Naxos CC72213
Johann Sebastian Bach
Disc 3, Tr. 1 Ich freue mich in dir, BWV 133, Ich freue mich in dir (Chorus) (3:50)

Featured Release:
A Delicate Fire
Pinchgut Opera / dir. Erin Heylard (see individual tracks for soloists)
Pinchgut Live, 2020 / Naxos PG012
Barbara Strozzi
Tr. 8 Diporti di Euterpe, Op. 7, Lagrime mie, Lamento (7:36)
Tr. 12 Il primo libro de madrigali, Op. 1, No. 25 (excerpts), Conclusione dell’opera (3:36)

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