Sheet music

Giovanni Battista da Gagliano: Varie Musiche, Libro Primo

ed. Maddalena Bonechi.
Biblioteca Musicale no. 33
Lucca, 2018: Libreria Musicale Italiana
xi + 143pp, €25.
ISBN: 9788870969542

Younger than his brother, Marco da Gagliano (1582-1643), under whom he began to study music,  Giovanni Battista da Gagliano (1594-1651) was trained in Florence from the age of 5, at the school of the Compagnia dell’Arcangelo Raffaele, as a singer, theorbist, music teacher and composer. The Compagnia, in which both brothers were active, included Cosimo de’ Medici, Ottavio Rinuccini, Giovanni Bardi and Jacopo Peri, connections that assured their careers. Giovanni became maestro di cappella of the Compagnia itself, and later obtained similar posts in the most important churches of Florence and the Medici court. He composed opera as well, and in collaboration with Francesca Caccini. Most of his published output, mainly sacred, is lost.

He had close contact with secular vocal music from madrigals to monody accompanied by continuo, and to opera, and was active himself as a singer and theorbo player. He also knew poets of these forms personally. But demands to produce sacred music left him little time to devote to other books following his first and only book of Varie musiche. The collective titleof Various Songs’ has a modest ring, even if the small print on the frontispiece adds Nuovamente composto & dato in luce, compared to the reiterated ‘New’  used by Caccini for Le Nuove musiche of 1602 and Nuove musiche e nuova maniera di scriverle of 1614. The table of contents, however, reveals that Gagliano’s  intention was the variety of his Libro primo, and a closer look reveals the exceptional quality of these small forms.

In the first 66 pages of this first modern edition Maddalena Bonechi presents, in Italian only, the composer, the source, the poetry, her editorial criteria and a critical apparatus. She discusses the rhyme schemes and typologies of the 26 poetic texts set by Giovanni, in relation to his settings, 15 of which are strophic. The through-composed ones are remarkable for their internal variety. The sonnet Ninfe, donne e regine, for two sopranos, for example, is through-composed. The poem gives coherence to the piece, while the music, always contrasting longer and shorter notes, upward and downward motifs, and differently shaped melismas, gives each of the 14 lines of poetry a distinct interpretation, employing typical madrigalisms with success. Even in the short solo strophic songs (some only half a page long) the continuo lines are impressively well-written. Giovanni was, above all, a consummate master of polyphony. The complete texts are given with a few footnotes in one of the introductory sections, but since over half of them are strophic, those texts (without the first stanza) reappear following the music. This duplication could really have been avoided by printing the complete text for each piece, along with its sparse annotations, immediately after each musical setting, and nowhere else.

The music starts on page 69, finishing on 143. The small format (24 x 17cm) makes it hard to keep such a fairly thick book open on a music stand. Even though justified by the shortness of many pieces, a normal format for music would have allowed many of the 26 pieces to fit on a single page instead of two, and with fewer pages the edition would be more practical. All but one are with basso continuo, and players need their hands free.

Of those for solo voice, 11 are for tenor, seven for soprano, and one for contralto; two duets are for sopranos and two are for tenors; number 19, Ecco ch’io verso il sangue, on a text probably by Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane, is for SSTTB and continuo; number 25, O notte amata, on a canzonetta by Jacopo Cicognini, is for contralto and tenor with two alternating instrumental ritornellos, each heard twice. Number 26, Gioite, o selve, o colli is a canzone in one stanza.

Pieces 19-25 are sacred: the madrigals È morto  il tuo Signore (Petracci) and Care amorose piaghe (Policreti)  are on texts from a publication of spiritual texts from 1608. Together with Tu languisci e tu mori, o Giesù mio these express pain with chromatic effects largely absent from the previous pieces. O notte amata was from Cicognini’s Il Gran Natale di Christo Salvator Nostro.

I have some minor complaints or criticisms which should, however, not deter anyone from gaining access to this music. To better understand the editorial criteria (and problems) of the transcription, at least one page of the music in facsimile should have been included. The expression tratti d’unione  is used here for beams, instead of the more common travatura for beaming. Of course in 1623 the Venetian Vincentis (in this case Alessandro Vincenti, son of Giacomo) type set with movable characters, assembling every letter and note, each block including a piece of staff, making beaming impossible. (It was used in manuscripts, woodcuts and engravings, and is implicit in the conception of figured counterpoint). So Bonechi was certainly right to separate notes syllabically and beam them in melismas. She does not, however, do this consistently. Also, her reference to expressing the note values of  ‘white mensural notation’ in modern figures is completely unclear, whereas later she is clear that black notation is rendered in modern notation and indicated by brackets. In the first case I would like to know whether some sections appearing to be in modern 3/2 were written as three semibreves, the difference, whether intended as proportions or by 1623 simply as ‘appropriate’ values, being substantial.

Gagliano uses a generous number of continuo figures, which, to the credit of Bonechi, seem well placed here. I did find some wrong notes, which may have come from the original print, and should have been spotted and editorially corrected. Much more serious and problematic are the editorial suggestions for alterations. As long as every user is cautiously suspicious about adopting editorial alterations, and reasons long and hard about every one, and other possible ones, then an editor has the right to serve the composer in this way. But inevitably one jumps to conclusions, or sees analogous passages which are not so, or anticipates the anticipations (perhaps forgetting an imitation), and so on. Every such suggestion should trigger pondered evaluation. We are still dealing with modal theory; Diruta, we now know, was still alive and frequenting the Vincentis; and even if one takes the concept of musica ficta as an alibi for modernizing the harmony, it isn’t applicable to every note in diminutions or free counterpoint.

The underlay is mostly correct, but sometimes not – which is odd for an Italian transcriber-editor. English editions regularly make such mistakes as sos-pi-ri instead of so-spi-ri (which occurs once right and four times wrong on pages 78-79, along with d’as-pri instead of d’a-spri). The fault may lie in computer setting, or a lack of proof-reading. The more we see accidentally (or deliberately) wrong syllabification in an otherwise excellent edition, the more confused we get about what is correct!

None of these small criticisms spoils my enthusiasm and gratitude to Bonechi and the LIM for this addition to the Biblioteca musicale series. I hope that English readers won’t be put off by not being able to read the text. Actually, before I read it I started to play the first number, Luci, stelle d’amor chiare e ardenti, after which I couldn’t stop until I had played through the entire volume.

Barbara Sachs


Schmelzer: Le memorie dolorose

Tenet Vocal Soloists, Acronym
Olde Focus Recordings FCR914

Following relatively hot on the heels of a fabulous recording of settings of the Jubilus Bernardi by Capricornus, this stunning performance of a little-known Passiontide oratorio by Schmelzer (perhaps the first of a major piece of vocal music?) can only enhance the reputation of the ensemble Acronym, and also those of the Tenet Vocal Soloists (in this case 11 first-class singers).

Viennese tradition saw musical settings of reflections on Christ’s passion by the leading poets and composers of the day performed in elaborate theatre-like sets for the private devotion of the emperor and his inner circle. Here Nicolò Minato contrasts happy memories from Christ’s life with the events from the story of his crucifixion. The musical style is very much of the age – the narrative is declaimed in tuneful recitative and each section is followed by arias whose melodies are simple but memorable. There are also a duet, three trios, a quartet and two choruses. As tradition also seemed to demand, various passages were set by the emperor himself, here Leopold I, one of which is the longest track on the CD (perhaps Schmelzer was obliged to ensure that this was the case?). Acronym interpolate two sonatas for strings.

The singing is glorious and the instrumental playing (including violini piccoli and lirone!) outstanding. The whole has a very relaxed sense of pace – nothing seems rushed or over-dramatised. If anything, in fact, at points I wanted a little more anguish and pain in the voices; but I stick by my overall impression of the performance – the fact that I listened to it back-to-back three times should give an idea.

I’m afraid I didn’t react in the same way to the booklet note. Firstly – and this is probably just me, so perhaps it’s not even a point worth making – I found the references to “our oratorio” and “our sepolcro” and the conclusion that the work “well deserves its first recording” a little twee. More importantly, I found a paragraph about alterations of the libretto very difficult to read. I understand the reasoning behind the change (even though ultimately I think it is a suprious argument), but I wonder why a quarter of a page of the notes had to be devoted to taking “a clear stand”; given that the piece is as obscure as it is, why not just make the changes tacitly? No-one need be any the wiser. It is the banner-waving I find difficult, not the objectionable passages in the original. Ultimately, though, where does such modern-day censorhip stop?

Brian Clark


Bach: Cantatas BWV 169 & 2

Le Banquet Céleste, [Céline Scheen,] Damien Guillon, [Nicholas Scott, Benoît Arnould] ScTTB, Maude Gratton organ
Alpha Classics Alpha 448
+BWV 543, 662-664

Alpha have produced a number of fine recordings over the years, and this CD from Damien Guillon, the countertenor, collaborating again with Maude Gratton playing the 2007 Thomas organ in the Église Réformée du Bouclier in Strasbourg is full of wonderful sonorities. It gives us a truer picture of what Bach Cantatas can sound like when the accompaniment based on a substantial organ, and the organ in this church is in the west of a gallery that runs round three sides of the church. Plenty of room has been created for singers and instruments – including a mellow-toned harpsichord – and the effect of cello and contrabass, organ and harpsichord in recitatives is breathtaking.

I know the church, and have played its organ, which is pitched at A=415 Hz (though it has a couple of ranks at 440). The acoustics are not over-resonant, but gave enough give to ensure good blend. The detailed specification is given, but unfortunately no details of the registration for individual movements.

Guillon sings beguilingly, and, save for one awkward change of register in BWV 169.iv on the words sie schließt die Hölle zu, (though perhaps that gritty sound is intended here?) with his habitual elegance and musicianship. The one-to-a-part strings and wind are perfectly tuned, and the organ when playing obligato lines sings out nobly, but never swamps the rest of the band. It is another recording – like that of arias from the cantatas made by A Nocte Temporis with Reinoud van Mechelen with a Traverso and continuo (Alpha 252 – reviewed in the EMR in December 2016) using the 1718 André Silbermann organ in Saint Aurélie, Strasbourg – that gives us a sense of the rich sonorities you can find if you look for an appropriate organ. The other Cantata on this CD is BWV 82, Ich habe genug, in the version Bach made for an alto/mezzo voice in C minor in 1735.

The other works on this CD are played stylishly by Maude Gratton on the organ. There are three Chorale Preludes on Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr – BWV 662, 663 and 664, and the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 534.

Small clips on Youtube allow us to glimpse something of her nimble pedalling as well as her sparkly style and well-chosen registrations.

This is a CD that has given me much pleasure, and from which I have learnt a lot: but I know of no suitable organs in either 415 or 465 in England where we might be able to perform our Bach Cantatas like this, so I hope the builders will listen to this and see what they can do! I recommend this without reservation.

David Stancliffe

Sheet music

Zelenka: Six Settings of “Ave regina coelorum” (ZWV 128)

Edited by Frederic Kiernan
Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 204
ISBN 978-1-9872-0053-9
A-R Editions, Inc. $120.00

This small volume is an excellent guide to how differently a single composer can treat exactly the same text; even the two settings with matching scoring are quite different – while one is in common time, the other is in triple time. Zelenka’s church music is becoming better known through editions and recordings and I hope fans of his music with perhaps more modest forces at their disposal than some of the concerted masses require will explore Kiernan’s editions of these Marian antiphon settings.

That said, the book could have been even shorter, had all the written-out colla parte instruments been left out. Kiernan opts to drop the oboes out in solo passages in the second setting, yet has the very short five-bar trio section in the first doubled by strings. We are told that the viola part for no. 2 is extracted from the bass line, and yet the music in the first bar is not the same (the viola actually doubles the violins). The added basso ripieno part in nos. 2 and 5 (essentially so that the cello does not play along with the solo passages, some of which are in treble clef anyway) could surely just have been marked “[senza basso]”, and the quaver in bar 10 of no. 2 is too prescriptive – the voices above hold the same note for a full crotchet. In fact, that is probably my overriding impression of the edition as a whole – it is great to have the music available in modern notation, but it could have been done in a simpler fashion without detriment.

Brian Clark

Sheet music

John Eccles: The Judgment of Paris

Edited by Eric J. Harbeson
Recent Research in the Music of the Baroque Era, 203
ISBN 978-1-9872-0016-4
A-R Editions, Inc. $165.00

This is the fourth volume in A-R Editions’ series devoted to the music of little-known English composer, John Eccles. I say “little-known” because, although his name will be familiar to anyone with an interest in English baroque music, few can have had many opportunities to hear any of it in live performance. Along with the two other surviving settings of Congreve’s masque (Gottfried Finger’s setting – which came fourth in the contest for which they were written – has vanished, leaving others by John Weldon (the winner) and Daniel Purcell), it was heard at the BBC Proms in 1989 and I am unaware of any other performance in the UK since then.

Eric J. Harbeson’s meticulous edition should help remedy that. It seems that all possible sources have been checked against one another, despite which the critical commentary fits a mere four pages. The text is scrutinized against the printed libretto. The already quite full figured bass is augmented by additional symbols to help inexperienced players. With a mere five soloists and (apart from the inclusion of no fewer than four trumpets!) a fairly modest band, Eccle’s Judgment of Paris should appeal to smaller opera companies – the whole aim of the contest was to stimulate increased interest in English language musical theatre, after all!

Brian Clark

Sheet music

The Hymn Cycle of Vienna 16197

Late Sixteenth-Century Polyphonic Vesper Hymn Settings from the Habsburg Homelands
Edited by Lilian P. Pruett
Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance, 169
ISBN 978-1-9872-0010-2
A-R Editions, Inc. $260.00

Dating from the second half of the 16th century, Vienna 16197 is a large choir-book format volume containing 27 alternatim hymn settings scored for either four or five voices (mostly adding another voice for the final verse(s)). They are (unusually for such volumes, according to the editor) arranged in the order of the church calendar, with the plainchant required for the odd verses supplied by Pruett from Cantorinus ad eorum instructionem (Venice, 1550). I was puzzled that this was transcribed in bass clef with ledger lines, given that most of the chant is given in tenor clef.

No-one has identified the composer(s) of the music; one of the two non-hymns included (a largely homophonic four-voice setting of the text Fit porta Christi pervia) survives in other sources but its composer has never been established. Pruett presents most of it in four-minim bars. As with other A-R Editions, the music is presented in modern clefs for standard choir, irrespective of the original clef combinations. This approach, together with minimal musica ficta, allows performers access to the music in a non-prescriptive way, allowing them to choose their own pitch and to spice up the harmony, should they so wish.

Anonymous music is too often overlooked by musicians. I hope Pruett’s excellent edition will encourage choirs to explore this interesting repertoire – after all her effort, it deserves to be heard!

Brian Clark

Sheet music

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
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


Handel’s finest arias for base voice II

Christopher Purves, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
hyperion CDA68152

Less celebrated than Handel’s succession of castrato singers were a string of equally talented basses who animated a series of Handel’s most memorable characters from his early operas to his late oratorios, and there is even an early Italian Cantata for Bass voice performed here with considerable flair by Purves. This latter work is one of those showpieces for a singer with an extended range from pedal bass notes to high baritone, and Purves copes admirably with the extreme demands. I was unfamiliar with this piece, but also with many of the other arias here. If asked to anticipate what music would have been included, off the top of my head I would have suggested ‘O Ruddier than the Cherry’, ‘The Trumpet shall sound’ and ‘Revenge, Timotheus cries’ and then I would have been floundering. In fact, the present performers had already included two of my suggestions in the widely acclaimed volume I, of which this is the excellent follow-up, and this time they range far and wide among the less familiar operas and the oratorios, coming up with some superb music. Christopher Purves has a wonderfully expressive voice bringing a wide range of lamenting, revenging and wooing characters vividly to life against the wonderfully responsive backdrop of the orchestral forces of Arcangelo directed by Jonathan Cohen. This impressive and entertaining collection has sent me back to oratorios such as Joshua and Esther, and brings home (yet again) how much fine Handel vocal music there is. Christopher Purves’s powerful artistry emphasizes how much of it is for bass voice – and they haven’t even touched upon Samson yet. I sense a volume III coming on!

D. James Ross


Ghezzi: Salmi a 2 voci, Dialoghi sacri

Cappella Musicale di San Giacomo Maggiore in Bologna, Roberto Cascio
129:44 (2 CDs in a single jewel case)
Tactus TC650790

Each of these two CDs is devoted to a specific publication by Ippolito Ghezzi, an Augustinian Friar active in and around Siena at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. His Salmi a 2 Voci are unexceptional Baroque fare, given rather routine performances by these Italian singers – a succession of solo voices seem to a greater or lesser extent a bit ‘slap-dash’ about intonation, and have a range of vibrato which at its broadest can be off-putting. You may be prepared to put up with these shortcomings in pursuit of music by a nowadays practically unknown composer, but (on extended listening) they do get annoying and the virtues of Ghezzi’s music seem to fade. The second CD features Ghezzi’s Dialogi Sagri dating from 1708 almost a decade after the Psalms, and clearly showing how the composer’s skills had developed in the interim. These are more imaginative settings in which the instruments play a more active obbligato role, while the singing is much more polished and secure. It feels to me as if having got this CD ‘in the can’ it was decided to use the forces to also commit the Psalms to CD to make a double album. This discrepancy in standards between to two is marked, due (I fear) to relative lack of preparation but also the inferior standard of the compositions. Perhaps, if we regard the second, longer and better CD as the main item and the first CD as a free bonus it makes the package more palatable. At his best, Ghezzi is an imaginative and technically adept composer, and for his dramatically animated music perhaps texts and translations (not provided) are desirable.

D. James Ross


Caldara: Brutus

Cantatas for bass
Sergio Foresti, Stile Galante, directed by Stefano Aresi
Pan Classics PC10389

Solo chamber cantatas for bass voice are extremely unusual, the genre being one overwhelmingly dominated by either the soprano or alto voice. I suppose if any composer was going to have devoted himself to them, the prolific Antonio Caldara would be a good bet since his vast catalogue of compositions includes around 350 secular cantatas. Further, as the notes for the present CD suggest, there is another probable explanation for Caldara’s secular bass cantatas and it is one that helps date them. From 1716 to 1736 the composer was in the employment of Emperor Charles VI at the Habsburg court in Vienna, a musical ruler with a particular penchant for the bass voice.

It therefore seems almost certain that the six cantatas recorded here for the first time were composed during Caldara’s Viennese years, a claim supported by the fact that the only one that can be positively dated, Il Dario, belongs to 1727. Although not mentioned in Pan’s notes, it is my belief that such strong circumstantial evidence takes on even greater credibility when the identity of the singer for whom the cantatas were written can be established with near certainty. This was Christoph Praun (or Braun), who took the serious bass roles in the operas of composers such as Caldara and Conti staged at the Imperial court between 1718 and 1732. Evidence that these cantatas were written for Praun is further enhanced by comparing the style of them with the two arias written for him in the role of Saturna in Caldara’s serenata La Concordia de’ pianeti of 1723. Here we find the same virtuoso demands that predominate in the cantatas: a wide tessitura involving frequent leaps requiring great flexibility, coupled with demanding chains of passaggi, characteristics that suggest a singer with a not inconsiderable technique.

Bass roles in the operas of this period were usually given to villains, military men or those of commanding character, so it is little surprise to find that the protagonists of these cantatas include Brutus, Polyphemus, Samson, and Darius, the Persian king defeated by Alexander the Great. The remaining two cantatas conform to the more familiar pastoral tradition. All are scored with continuo accompaniment (here cello, theorbo and harpsichord) and take the customary form of alternating recitative and aria, though ‘A destar l’alba col canto’ (one of the pastoral cantatas) and Il Dario both open with an aria, The latter seems to me the finest of these works, Caldara capturing Darius’ grief at the supposed loss of his wife in an opening aria of real depth and tragic mien, the desolation articulated in powerfully expressive chromatic writing. An extended central recitative calls poignantly on the gods to relieve Darius of his suffering, while the final aria is a heartfelt plea to the shade of his beloved wife to return, its poignancy again stressed by chromaticism. Nothing else quite reaches this level, though the dignity of the blind Samson’s first aria ‘Di quest’occhi è spento il lume’ certainly deserves special mention.

Although Sergio Foresti brings considerable insight to interpreting these cantatas, with much expression and a keen awareness of text, I doubt that his performances will be much to the taste of readers of a specialist platform such as EMR. Though the voice projects authority, there is a persistent wide vibrato that for early music listeners is likely to consistently detract from the virtues of the performances. This along with woolly, approximate articulation of ornaments and a lack of flexibility in the many demanding passaggi mar the performances seriously, as do the rather too frequent problems Foresti has with pitch. Stile Galante provide unexceptionable support, with the familiar caveat that the theorbist is far too active. An interesting CD that basses might want to explore for the repertoire, but one unlikely to attract too many early music specialists.

Brian Robins