Canzoni francese libro primo

Ottaviano Scotto’s 1535 Collection of Twenty-Three Chansons for Four Voices
Edited by Paul Walker
Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance, 170
xxiii+109pp.
ISBN 978-1-9872-0018-8
A-R Editions, Inc. $200.00

Paul Walker’s edition of Scotto’s collection of Parisian chansons presents the music at the printed pitch for a regular four-voice choir. Nine of them have a baritone clef for the lowest voice (of which six also have the modern treble clef for the uppermost), while another has tenor on the bottom and treble on the top, and the penultimate piece is for C1, C2, C3 and C4 – there must be some reason for these different combinations, but perhaps Walker is right to present the music thus and leave it to performers to make their own decisions about what pitch they will sing the music at.

Eight of the 23 pages of introduction are devoted to presenting the texts as poetry along with translations, variant textual readings, and notes on the contents of the texts. Walker explains the background to the print (for which there is no surviving soprano part, obliging him to use that from a reprint of 1536), and expresses surprise at Scotto’s seemingly random choices and omissions – not all of the works have been identified, and some of Scotto’s attributions have been shown to be inaccurate.

Walker’s edition is exemplary; prefatory clefs and ranges allow performers to see at a glance whether a particular song will fit their group. Each song begins on a new page and is laid out generously without being overly spacious. There is little in the way of ficta, and none of that is controversial. I did find the use of bold brackets and bars full of triplets a little over-kill to represent coloration, but that is an editorial choice that we all have to make. All in all, this is probably one of the most user-friendly volume I’ve reviewed recently from this publisher – and I hope that will encourage vocal groups to explore the repertoire contained within it.

Brian Clark