Daniele Torelli and Giulia Gabrielli: Madrigali in Seminario

Musiche vocali profane da una miscellanea storica a Bressanone
Series “Biblioteca Musicale” no. 28
pp. xlviii+141 (LIM, 2017)
ISBN 9788870968156 €30

This is a selection from five Venetian prints of mid-16th century madrigals (from 1550 to 1572, and for two to five voices) that are bound together with a greater number of miscellaneous part-books of sacred music of the same period, forming a two-volume collection found in the library of the “Seminary” (short for the Studio Teologico Accademico di Bressanone). The compilation probably dates from the end of the 17th century or later, and their shelf marks are: I-BREs, XXI.L.10  and I-BREs, XXI.L.11.

This is the first volume of a project begun in 2008 at the University of Bolzano which aims to publish music from the archives of various churches of Bressanone, which is in the German-speaking province of Bolzano. The project includes polyphonic music, among which this surprising number of secular works has turned up. They were originally donated to the library by bishops and priests, and constitute a very small part of the library’s holdings of 11th- to 20th- century manuscripts and prints. That said, this selection of 41 pieces, published in score here, and chosen according to various criteria (e.g. variety, quality, rarity, vocal ranges, versions of the literary material), represents a small part of the secular music found in the two compilations, themselves mainly containing sacred polyphony.

Giulia Gabrielli supplies this background, comparing the Seminary’s library with all the other archives in the province. Only hypotheses can be made to explain why wealthy clerics donated so much secular polyphony in the 16th century, when printed, or in the following century.

The books found in the two compilations (and the number of pieces chosen from each) are: Il Capriccio con la Musica sopra le Stanze del Furioso, 1561 by Jachet de Berchem (8); Il Primo Libro de Madrigali a due voci, dove si contengono le Vergine  [Petrarch], 1572 by Giovanni Paien (10); Le Napollitane, et alcuni Madrigali a quatro voci  [sic], 1550 by Baldassarre Donato (7); Opera Nona di Musica Intitolata Armonia Celeste, libro quarto a cinque voci, 1558 by Vincenzo Ruffo (10); and Il Primo Libro de’ Madrigali a tre voci, by Costanzo Festa (4) and Giacomo Fogliano (2), from the later, corrected, invaluable edition printed by Claudio Merulo in 1568. [N.B. the Opera Omnia  of Festa, in Corpus mensurabilis musicae, 25/7, only presents the 1564 and 1566 prints.]

The selection and editing make a very good impression, so after profiting from this new volume from the LIM singers may soon be going to Bressanone to see these prints, or other copies conserved elsewhere. Daniele Torelli’s footnotes also say which of these 16th-century prints are already digitized, and where to find them. The transcription from part-books in unbarred mensural notation to score must have been an immense job, necessary to enable Torelli to assess the works and plan a balanced selection. His critical edition of the music and underlay was perhaps less problematic, judging from the modest number of corrections. He gives short biographies of the composers, histories of the prints, and compares the literary texts found here to other versions.

The LIM has printed the music very well: there are plenty of notes per line, which allows performers to see the counterpoint, the contrasts, and whole lines at once. The underlay fits without being too small to read. It is a little hard to keep a book of 189 large pages open on a music stand, and I see why a translation of the introductory material and texts was not included, as it would have added another 40 pages.

It may still surprise English musicologists (it should not) that Italian scholars present poetic texts in normalized spelling. This does not obscure at all the archaic derivation of the words, and is absolutely required since Italian is pronounced phonetically. To do otherwise would alter the pronunciation and make some words incomprehensible. Most corrections are made, in fact, silently (e.g. where -ti- is pronounced -zi-, or -lg- must be rewritten as -gl- ). Others, if significant, are footnoted; and where Venetian spelling and pronunciation omits the doubling of consonants, it is supplied in brackets only in the critical presentation of the poetic texts, not in the music itself.

Given the uniqueness of the source, it will be hard for non-Italian readers to grasp exactly what this “collection” is. This brief summary cannot do justice to the 48-page introduction, but I hope it may explain the rather complicated, allusive and surprising title of the volume. At www.lim.it/it/edizioni-musicali/5213-madrigali-in-seminario one can see the detailed table of contents, with composers, first lines and poets, if known. They are by Ariosto, Petrarch, Bembo, Sannazaro, Parabosco, Corfino, Poliziano, and Cassola; six of the Donato texts and two of the Festa madrigals are anonymous. Perhaps the last of the short homophonic Donato Napollitane  [villanelle] is anonymous because the ‘poet’ didn’t want to divulge his name? A rough translation of No pulice n’è ’ntrato intro l’orecchia  would be:

‘A flea has gone into my ear,
which drives me mad night and day.
I know not what to do.
Run here, run there; grab this, grab that;
come to my aid! be my beauty!’

The vocal ranges of all the parts of these madrigals are quite narrow, so many soprano or canto parts could be sung by contraltos, the latter doing some tenor parts, and tenors doing some baritone parts. The basses are indeed basses, but often only because of a couple low notes at cadences that could be taken an octave higher. Thus all the music in this selection could be performed by various interchangeable voices and without transposition. There is a lot to choose from.

Barbara Sachs