Il Saggiatore Musicale – XXII, no. 1

Rivista semestrale di Musicologia, 2015
Florence: Leo S. Olschki
ISSN 1123 8615 €64,00

The first of the two 2015 issues of Il Saggiatore Musical contains, with regard to early music, two studies, both in English, a brief article, and various informative book reviews.

In Notions of Notation Around 1600, Anthony Newcomb points out something that performers who play or sing from original prints might not have imagined, namely, that unbarred individual part books were only for performing from, not being very conducive to analysis, and open scores (n.b. the words partitura and spartito originally meant ‘barred’) were luxury items printed in order that their contrapuntal complexity could be appreciated by the elite patrons commissioning them, and would elicit admiration for themselves as well as for the composers from anyone acquiring, playing, or reading the music. Naturally musicians today seek comprehension and legibility, and therefore a specific genre of contrapuntal music, which might have almost never been played, deserves first of all analysis.

There are several insights in Newcomb’s discussion. One is that the challenging contrapuntal recercar genre that developed between 1560 and 1600 in Ferrara, Rome and Naples (Brumel, Luzzaschi, de Macque, Gesualdo, Mayone, Trabaci, Frescobaldi) awarded absolute prescriptive value to every note. The pieces, being the object of study and discussions, were to be played, if at all, exactly as written. This is quite unlike all other contemporary lighter pieces, such as madrigals, canzonette and instrumental works, which could be adapted for performance, accompanied according to prevailing contingencies, simplified, transcribed, improvised upon, ornamented. We tend to consider this latter trend progressive, perhaps because we ourselves want such interpretive prerogatives. But, in fact, musical art proceeded (and still does) along both routes, those Newcomb calls ‘performer-centered’ and ‘composer-centered’ musical culture.

The article gives three illustrations from Trabaci’s Secondo libro de ricercate (1615): the table of contents listing the page numbers and bar numbers of the most ‘notable passages and things’ (Tavola de i passi et delle cose più notabile [sic]); verbal identifications of inversions of the subjects in the score; and in addition, a little hand with index finger pointing out the entry of a subject borrowed from Luzzaschi.

Newcomb’s Appendix is a detailed outline of relevant quotations from historic and contemporary sources (with their English translations). An amusing one is a letter of Luigi Zenobi’s (1600) comparing contrapunto buono, meaning almost the opposite, alla buona, to contrapunto artificioso that shows isquisitezza d’arte: the former ‘good’ counterpoint is like garlic, for rustic tastes, whereas the latter ‘contrived, exquisitely artful’ sort pleases those of more delicate, elevated, ingenuity.

Michael Talbot, in Francesco Barsanti and the Lure of National Song, goes into one area of Barsanti’s work mentioned in the major article by himself and Jasmin Cameron that appeared in Recercare XXV (2013). Here he retraces Barsanti’s career, this time describing his empathetic production of popular song settings:

  • His eclectic, sensitively arranged 1742 Collection of  [28] Old Scots Tunes (without texts, to be played by violin or flute and continuo) convey the traditional manner of Scottish singing.
  • As one of the scribes compiling keyboard music and songs for a 1743 manuscript possibly destined for Princess Louisa, the youngest daughter of George II, Barsanti anonymously inserted six easy French airs, recognizable by his hand, copied from unknown sources.
    Around 1750 he published (Op. 4) Nove overture a quattro, in three of which he used popular English tunes or dances as the themes of the fugal sections. His carefully reworking of them, and naming of them, no doubt brought smiles of recognition to listeners.
  • At the same time he produced a Hebrew motet! His Amsterdam supporters included Sephardic Jews, and the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam wanted contemporary settings of Biblical texts. Barsanti set the first stanza of Psalm 75 for four voices, inserting the piece in an anthology of madrigals and motets which he was hired to copy (for the Academy of Ancient Music, Talbot surmises). Most interesting here is that its unusual modal structure coincides approximately with a simple 19th -century arrangement by Emanuel Aguilar, a British pianist and composer (1824-1904). Talbot does not indicate whether both composers used a traditional Sephardic chant of the psalm as the soprano melody, or whether Barsanti did and his version became regarded as the “ancient melody” surviving a century later, in 1857.

This unpretentious aspect of Barsanti’s output adds much to his biography, that of amateur, musician of all trades, a scholar sensitive to what would become ethnomusicology in the following centuries.

Archeologia musicale dei Greci e dei Romani: una breve introduzione by Daniela Castaldo is not really a study. However, it does trace and inspire interest in the emergence in the 17th to the 20th centuries of what is now called ‘musical archeology’. She mentions the key scholars, publications, conventions and trends that gradually came to better define its vast scope.

The Book Review section includes reviews of P. Memelsdorff, The Codex Faenza 117: Instrumental Polyphony in Late Medieval Italy, an introductory volume and a facsimile (M. Caraci Vela); T. Carter – R. A. Goldthwaite, Orpheus in the Marketplace. Jacopo Peri & the Economy of Late Renaissance Florence, the first socio-economic biography of a late 16th to early 17th-century composer and singer (F. Fantappiè).

Critical Summaries are by G. Nuti on G. Sanguinetti: The Art of Partimenti: History, Theory, and Practice; M. Giuggioli on St. Rumph: Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics; F. Lazzaro on W. Gibbons: Building the Operatic Museum: Eighteenth-Century Opera in Fin-de-Siècle Paris.

Barbara Sachs