Journal for the study and practice of early music
LIM Editrice [2016]. 260 pp, €24 (€29 outside of Italy)
ISSN 1120-5741 ISBN 978 88 70 96 8996; –

The latest issue of Ricercare has two studies in English and four in Italian, counting the shorter report by Francesco Zimei Ars nova disvelata. Sulla restituzione digitale del palinsesto San Lorenzo 2211 alla luce di due studi recentemente pubblicati. At the end there are book reviews of: Raffaele Mellace’s Johann Adolf Hasse  (Simone Caputo), Barbara Sparti’s Dance, dancers and dance masters in Renaissance and Baroque Italy  (Wendy Heller), and Roberto Lasagni’s L’arte tipografica in Parma  (Federica Dallasta).

The principal studies are, as usual, in chronological order by subject matter, this time ranging from the early 1500s to the beginning of the 1700s.

Musica profana a Napoli agli inizi del Cinquecento: i villancicos della Cuestión de amor. Alfonso Colella’s study may be a difficult read at first if the historical context is not familiar. During the Aragonese reign Naples Spanish polyphony and secular song thrived. With the fall of the Aragonesi in 1502 the music changed. The anonymous Neapolitan poetic chronicle, La Cuestión de amor (Valencia, 1513), was probably by Velásquez de Ávila, a poet and musician active in Valencia, Palermo and Naples, and indeed one of the characters in this sentimental historical novel. Parts of the poetic text date back to the 14th century, whereas the descriptions of musical performances, villancicos  and canciónes  for two and three voices, refer to ones performed in a pastoral play, Egloga di Torino, which was public entertainment. The voices alternated in strophes (coplas), singing together in refrains (estribillos). The music was not important to the court, with its emphasis on war and chivalrous values, nor to the love story, the events, or the problem it tackled: who suffers more, one who loses a beloved or one whose love is unrequited. Not surprisingly, then, none of the music has survived. But links between the written Italian frottola  and the less refined unwritten musical tradition of the Spanish villancico  are illustrated, and the interest in la Cuestión  is therefore also musicological.

Worth the price of the Musurgia universalis: Athanasius Kircher on the secret of the ‘metabolic style’. Jeffrey Levenberg, in the title of his study, is citing Kircher’s plug, or teaser, to attract potential buyers of his treatise. Translated from his Latin ‘Truly, if I include examples of this secret … metabolic style… known only to the most skilled … I will make my book worth its price …’ His study (in English) of Kircher’s, is also more than worth the price of Recercare XXVIII, long to be remembered, and possibly commented on. Spoiler alert: Levenberg analyzes the accepted and controversial theoretical components of the ‘metabolic’ style (combining mutations of the modes, transpositions of their finals, and the use of diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic species) and not only compares the exact effects of competing contemporary and modern theories in the notoriously difficult problem of chromatic and enharmonic species, but shows Kircher to emerge on the side of practical musicians playing normal keyboards with mean-tone tunings. Despite the difficulty of interpreting Kircher (whether to defend him or otherwise), this verdict will excite players and encourage the performance of this esoteric repertoire, and of other pieces not as yet considered to belong to it. For the question of tuning, Levenberg’s explanations are clarified by several exemplary tables. In one he goes beyond Kircher to compare Mazzocchi’s division of the whole tone by chromatic, diatonic, and enharmonic semitones with Kircher’s.

John Whenham’s The Messa a Quattro voci et salmi (1650) and Monteverdi’s Venetian Church music  reveals how Vincenti probably acquired this little-known mass and psalms, considered alongside the Selva morale  of 1641, which he published shortly after Monteverdi’s death. Comparison shows how Monteverdi modified previously published works in order to produce others on commission. As maestro di cappella  at St. Mark’s, he was allowed to accept work for other churches, and also to keep his manuscripts in his personal library, for his personal professional use. Whenham shows how the composer would change their beginnings to hide the borrowing, though of course he also revised and altered their length. This would not have been discovered were it not for the 1650 edition. In his defence it should be noted that masses and psalms were generally elaborations of ‘borrowed’ liturgical chants to begin with, and perhaps Monteverdi did precisely what was expected of him. He was also paid significantly, the demand for new polyphonic versions of psalms being high. This glimpse into his compositional process is indeed a rare finding.

Giovanni Rovetta, ‘uno spirito quasi divino, […] tutto lume in nere et acute note espresso’. Paolo Alberto Rismondo‘s study is more about the composer’s life (1597?-1668), family relations, background, and especially his career in Venice, than about his compositions’. Rismondo includes whatever he could into his account as much as possible about the figures with whom he interacted, including Monteverdi (who was maestro di cappella  to the Doge in San Marco when Rovetta was vicemaestro), Cavalli, and others. By subtracting Rovetta’s stated age from the known date of his death he opts for 1597 for his date of birth. Lost church registers from June 1596 to May 1599 make it otherwise unascertainable, even though the index to the baptismal records almost certainly identifies Giovanni as “Zuan Alberto de messer Giacomo sonador barbier”; in fact, his father, Giacomo, was a violinist and barber.

In the title of the article Rismondo quotes from the dedication to a 1668 collection of music by Bonifacio Graziani written by Graziani’s brother, with words of praise for Rovetta espressed by an allusive pun on his name: ‘Who doesn’t admire in you, Giovanni Rovetta an almost divine spirit, like the famous [burning] bush [roveto] of Moses all light expressed in quick and high notes’. The biography continues with Rovetta’s nephew, Giovanni Battista Volpe, who became maestro della cappella ducale  in 1690, and with the considerable diffusion of Rovetta’s music outside Italy. The article gives the impression of reporting everything knowable now from documents or reasonable hypotheses.

Eleonora Simi Bonini  and Arnaldo Morelli  collaborated on the six sections, Appendix, and index of names in Gli inventari dei ‘libri di musica’ di Giovan Battista Vulpio (1705-1706). Nuova luce sulla ‘original Stradella collection’. G. B. Vulpio (c. 1631-1705) compiled and left an immense collection of more than 200 manuscript compilations, which is shown to include the largest collection of Stradella’s works. The article is about Vulpio (a singer in the papal chapel and composer) and his relations with others. The Appendix to the article offers the entire inventory of his collection, as it was organized. It sometimes contains the names of librettists and poets as well as the composers, and usually a description of the bindings, number of pages, etc. The number of works by Stradella includes cantatas, serenatas, arias, operas, many of which autographs. Equally important are those by Luigi Rossi, Carissimi, and Pasquini. One finds Simonelli, Scarlatti, Mazzocchi, Tenaglia, Cazzati, Melani, Bononcini, Gratiani, Carlo del Violino, Carlo Rossi, and others. Only 13 of these volumes are now known for certain to be conserved in various libraries. The search for a couple of hundred of the other volumes must be accelerated: the inventory lists 387 items.

Barbara Sachs