Aurelio Bianco & Sara Dieci: Biagio Marini “Madrigali et Symfonie”

Brepols, 2014.
217pp, €60.00.
ISBN 1 978 2 503 55328 3

This is primarily significant for the completion of the basso continuo, of which only four pages survive. I’ll concentrate primarily on the edition rather than the discussion of the music. Back in the early 1970s, I had a considerable interest in Marini, copying and performing some of his music, including three items from op. 7 requiring six voices and six instruments, which were included in a concert at St John’s Smith Square in aid of another of the Venice floods. Sadly, I never persevered with publishing them.

The volume reviewed here is frustrating in its layout. Publishing it for performance requires much more thought than the editors or publishers have considered. The simplest solution would be to sing/play from facsimile, and the continuo player could read from the existing score. But as it stands, the underlaid texts are too small. It would be more helpful if two-page pieces began where possible (as in the opening six pieces) on the even-numbered pages and minimising turns subsequently. avoiding a start on the odd-number pages if possible.

As a continuo player, I find the editorial figuring to the continuo part erratic. At the time, figuring is often sketchy. The full closing phrase of a section (for instance, in no. 1, bars 13, 22, 29 & the last chord) has no figure. Most players now would assume a major chord, but it’s safer to add a sharp (and the sharp stands for the major chord: ignore modern pedants who insist on a the later usage! Bar 17 would begin with a 6 were it figured, followed by the #6 as edited: but is the cadence D major, and continuing through the next bar? I get the feeling that just a little more help might be given. I always keep to major and minor as sharp or flat and avoid naturals – there are naturals that I would write as sharps in bars 37 & 38. I have no desire to avoid naturals other than in the figuring, but there is some inconsistency of repetition within a bar.

After writing this, however, I came across Thomas D. Dunn’s edition, and I’ve checked the opening song. He begins with a bottom G rather than one at unison pitch with the tenor, with an A as second minim on bar two figured 7 #6. No figure is given for the G in bar 3, which could be minor. In bar 5, Dunn has an E flat figured 7 6. It’s worth comparing the two editions, and on the whole Dunn is preferable, in particular when the voice is tenor. (The print-out is odd, but OK on screen.) Returning to the first three bars, although the principle of having the accom­paniment generally below the voice, it doesn’t necessarily apply to a tenor, but Dunn’s lower octave enables the opening phrase to have some shaping harmony.

The work contains 13 vocal pieces, ranging from one to five singers, followed by 12 instrumental ones. The layout on p. 87, presumably following the original, would have been much more useful had it been placed on the Sommario page, with the list of musical items in the two-column version. However, an additional requirement is the numbering of each piece: the page-number agrees with the 1-12, but then the remaining items should continue the sequence. However, the p. 87 version should stay as is, but with a note saying which part has those page numbers. It would have been more convenient if each piece were numbered. [This is meaningless if you don’t have the score!]

The items are varied, beginning with four solo voices, the first pair for tenor, the second pair for treble. 5 & 6 are tenor duets, 7 is SB, 8 is ST, 9 is STB, 10 is SSB, 11 is SST, 12 is SSATB and 13 is SSATB + 2 vlns. There follow 12 instrumental pieces, for which I’ll only name specific instruments on specific scoring: 13 for vln, cnt, trmbn + Bc. There are unnamed staves for violins or cornetti and the bottom line can be string bass, trombone or fagotto. I don’t know the timings, but a CD of the volume should mix vocal and instrumental items.

The substantial Marenzio book by the same publisher reviewed in this issue is in English: not all singers can manage exact understanding but there is room in the printing of the text to add an English version in the virtually empty right column. I feel that the writers are more concerned with a musicological study accompanied by lengthy footnotes but the music itself squashed to economise the music by having small print of the notes and even smaller size of the underlay. Instead, the page-size should be bigger, and the musicological text could be in double columns and smaller. It would then be circulated more widely. But I’m not sure that the editors’ Basso continuo is better than the exemple of Dunn. Performers may decide to make their own basses!

Clifford Bartlett