Journal for the study and practice of early music directed by Arnaldo Morelli
LIM Editrice [2017]. 278 pp, €30 (€? outside of Italy)
ISBN 978 88 7096 9450 ISSN 1120-5741; –

THE LATEST ISSUE of Recercare is quite large. Only one study is in English, but in addition to the summaries in English and Italian of all the articles, there are entire compositions, appendices, documents, plates and references which are useful in their own right. The journal is dedicated to Italian musical culture, and the papers are presented in chronological order by subject matter. They often include in full the documents used. In fact, ‘Recercare’ means ‘to search out’, and the wealth of new material promotes further research, study by study.

Franco Piperno’s short article has a long title, which, translated, would be Ecclesiastic institutions and music in Italy in the early Modern Era: a historical perspective. Actually every one of these words needs to be defined. Italians consider what followed the ‘Middle Ages’ the ‘Modern Era’. This places the Renaissance in the Modern Era, and most of what survives from before that is from after the Middle Ages, and therefore ‘early modern’. Piperno is concerned with two major trends in Italy, where after the Great Schism there was again the Papal state, along with dukedoms, kingdoms or other political authorities, all with local religious institutions. Who ruled and who had control over the religious functions, and for what purpose, was in flux. Piperno wants musicology and historiography to intersect on this question, and he gives examples of the use of liturgical as well as secular music in the 15th century (important for the rise of polyphony) and going a little beyond. Ecclesiastic music, whether controlled by the papacy or preserved in resistance to the centralized Church, may have served spiritual aims or instead been for the show of power, from “above” (chapels of the highest authorities), from “below” (plebs fidelium), and from “in between” (urban centers mediating with the highest circles through bishops and confraternities). So far, attention has been mainly centered on the complex polyphony of the highest institutional levels. Therefore the historical perspective Piperno reminds us to consider invites the study of other types of compositions. He gives examples of where and when the changing contexts surrounding the ecclesiastical institutions affected how music was used.

The article ‘Et iste erat valde musicus’: Pope Leo X, composer, with its Appendix of all his extant compositions, is by Anthony M. Cummings and Michał Gondko. The fuller citation naming Leo X (Giovanni de’ Medici, 1475-1521) goes on to say that he was very musical and composed a (lost) motet, Quis pro nobis contra nos, si Deus est nobiscum, the title of which is close to that of a keyboard intabulation found in Cracow, which might turn out to be based on it. The study entertains the supposition that Giovanni studied with or received guidance from Heinrich Isaac (1450 ca.-1517), the most esteemed composer active at the Medici court, and adduces the fact that the few compositions known to have been composed by Leo X were of types that Isaac wrote. The appendix (pp. 34-52) is a critical edition of Pope Leo X’s opera omnia of four surviving pieces. The newly discovered Benedictus dominus Deus meus for 4vv is quite lovely – 157 semibreves in length, the two upper and two lower voices alternating in long phrases in more florid two-part counterpoint, between sections à4 (DATB). Cela sa[ns] plus is shorter, only 47 semibreves, à5 (DCTTB), without any textual underlay, and therefore possibly instrumental, as is a 3-voiced canon. Readers will want to look into Leo’s biography to appreciate his interests and his patronage of the arts and music, which are not touched upon in this very specific article. The appendix is obviously of use to musicians, irrespective of language.

Rodolfo Baroncini’s study Dario Castello e la formazione del musico a Venezia: nuovi documenti e nuove prospettive is excellent. Many musicians play the Sonate concertate in stile moderno by Castello (1602-1631) but know almost nothing about his life, family, and place in the musical life of Venice up to his early death from plague. Enjoying his music does not necessarily include realizing what distinguishes it historically, and the article may inspire those who have never heard a Castello sonata to do so.

Baroncini has uncovered documents on Castello’s musical ancestors, especially his grandfather, father and his siblings, and the musical circle in which he moved. What he relates is both specific and general. His analysis of the Sonata decima à3 for two violins or cornetts and bassoon or viol (from the 1629 Libro secondo) gives the reader almost the experience of hearing the work: four long musical excerpts, amounting to seven pages of music, are interspersed with very clear, short, descriptions – well chosen and aptly characterized.

What engages in Castello’s music so profoundly and ushers in the new ‘stile moderno’ is not just its sectional form (already common in canzonas and chansons), but its inventively contrasting, developing content – with agogic and dynamic effects, expressive solos, imitations carried over from section to section, and dramatic pacing of tonal harmonies. Some additional short musical examples illustrate other traits. The appendix supplies 32 documents, including the clerical legal investigation to corroborate Dario’s legitimacy in order for him to enter a seminary to complete his musical studies. Others attest to his father’s tragic losses from the plague – that of his second wife, of Dario’s brother and then of Dario, all within a few days. Baroncini makes us feel the loss of a figure we only just came to know something about, since the information he offers is absolutely new.

Orietta Sartori’s article Nomen omen: Giuseppe Polvini Faliconti impresario del Settecento romano, uses a Latin catch phrase to imply that Faliconti (1673 – 1741) was destined by his second surname (that of his mother) to handle the purse strings. ‘Fa li conti’ means ‘[he] does the accounts’, and the impresario ran the four major opera theatres of Rome. At his death a chronicler mistakenly thought this was only nickname that stuck. More respectfully, Metastasio called him ‘the gardener of Parnasso’, his ‘produce’ being poetry, music and good pay to the artists, a compliment he merited. He was greatly respected, though he died deeply in debt, along with his patron, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.

Four caricatures of him, drawn by Pier Leone Ghezzi between 1721 and 1730 in the painter’s typically unflattering satirical style, are included and attest to their long friendship. In the numerous productions he organized between 1719 and 1741 he found the librettos, hired performers, arranged sets, directed rehearsals, raised funds and handled marketing. The study follows his career year by year, opera by opera, scene by scene, including events befalling some productions, illustrating in some detail a chapter in the history of opera in early 18th century Rome.

Paolo Russo takes us into the French philosophical aesthetic debates of the late 18th century, as applied to opera, in Tra declamazione e pantomima: Metastasio riconcepito. Charles-Nicholas Cochin, a painter, engraver and intellectual, an admirer of Metastasio’s drama and of the Comédie Italienne, and strongly against the endless recitatives of Gluck and the attempts to restore ancient lyrical tragedy, was the anonymous author of a 1779 pamphlet, entitled Pantomime dramatique, ou Essai sur un nouveau genre de spectacle. Cochin proposed to take Metastasio’s historical subjects, underline the true psychological passions represented, revising, cutting and translating the original versions in such a way as to produce a coherent spectacle combining mute gestural pantomime, declamation (spoken recitation), sung recitation, and arias. The dramatic pantomime, a proto-language, would express passions and would take the place of huge segments of the original texts; declamation, between spoken and sung, would be useful for dialogues, and could be both realistic and harmonious; recitative would blend into the arias, which would constitute the most important parts of the operas, conserving the parts of the original librettos intended as such. Russo prints six scenes from Metastasio’s Demofoonte marking in bold the drastically few lines that Cochin would make use of. The article touches very briefly on what followed in the decades after the debates, but does cover in some detail how other philosophers (Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau et al.) approached the questions, with direct quotations only in French.

In ‘Respinto da un impensato vento contrario in alto mare’: Anton Raaff, il Farinelli e la Storia della musica di Giambattista Martini, Elisabetta Pasquini documents, mostly through letters, the tribulations that nearly prevented the publication of the first volume of ‘Padre Martini’s’ monumental, if uncompleted, History of Music. Giovanni Battista Martini (1706-1784) was a composer, musical theorist, critic, musical historian and teacher, visited by composers who flocked to Bologna to study counterpoint with him (the most famous being J.C. Bach, Mozart, Gluck and Jommelli). He amassed a musical library, according to Burney, of some 17,000 items, and through his research he aspired to cover the story of music from Adam to his day in five volumes. The 1st volume – ending with music of the Hebrews before the destruction of the Temple and the second exile – was ready to be printed in 1752, and came out, not in 1757 as the title page says (see, but at the end of 1760; the 2nd and 3rd volumes – on ancient Greek music – in 1770 and 1781; the 4th was intended to cover the early middle ages up to Guido d’Arezzo, some parts of which were written. The three published volumes constitute, in themselves, a milestone in the history of music, achieved by great sacrifice and reliance on persons collaborating to obtain patronage to cover the considerable costs.

The ‘official’ 1757 date of dedication of the first volume is still the one generally given, if only because the actual date and the mystery of the need to fake it, which Pasquini has unraveled, persist. It is not a spoiler to say that for economic reasons a royal sponsor had to be found to produce and market in sufficient quantity such a precious, illustrated work (hundreds of pages, with incisions and musical examples, tables, indices, even errata corrige). Lengthy negotiations were undertaken by loyal friends of Padre Martini in Spain, including Carlo Boschi, the famous castrato a.k.a. ‘il Farinelli’ (1705-1782), and the German tenor Anton Raaff (1714-1797). Farinelli was at the court of Maria Barbara of Braganza, Portugal, Queen Consort of Spain (1711-1758) and Ferdinand VI, for decades, up to 1759. (She, of course, was taught by Domenico Scarlatti and received manuscript copies of almost all of his sonatas, later preserved by Farinelli.) Their mission, however, was not successful until the end of 1760, after both Maria Barbara and Ferdinand VI had died. Padre Martini could not have published the eagerly awaited first volume at all without their patronage, so in the end it had to appear to have come out before Maria Barbara’s death. The account is followed by a 32-page appendix of the relevant, critically edited, correspondence to and from Padre Martini, from 1750 to 1773. Pasquini sustains the suspense – others had to intercede, success was uncertain – and the reader shares what must have been an agonizing situation, above all, for Padre Martini himself. For this paper and others by her see also

In the New books and Music section of this issue Arnaldo Morelli, Chief Editor of Recercare, writes a long review of all the acts of a convention in Rome in 2015: La Comedia nueva e le scene italiane nel Seicento. Trame, drammaturgie, contesti a confronto, edited by Fausta Antonucci and Anna Tedesco, published by Olschki (2016).

Barbara M. Sachs