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Giovanni de Macque: Il Primo Libro de Madrigali a Quattro Voci

Edited by Giuseppina Lo Coco
Biblioteca Musicale n. 32. (LIM, 2017)
x+143pp. €25
ISBN 9788870969252

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]iovanni (Jean) de Macque was born circa 1550 in Valenciennes, then part of the Spanish Netherlands, but he was active in Italy throughout his career, in Rome for a decade (from 1574?), during which time he published five books of madrigals (for A. Gardano, Venice) and became the organist at San Luigi dei Francesi, and in Naples from 1585 until his death in 1614. After a century in which the Italian courts imported musicians and polyphony of the Flemish school, polyphony was already thriving in the hands of Italian composers (Palestrina, Gesualdo and others). This is no way hampered de Macque, who attended the family reunions organized and patronized by Gesualdo, where he was in contact with composers, patrons, and literati. He became part of the Prince’s entourage at least from 1586, the year in which he dedicated his Ricercate et Canzoni francese a Quattro voci  to him (of which only the tenor part survives).

His Primo libro de’ madrigali a 4 voci  of 1586 followed his five previous Venetian madrigal publications, between 1576 and 1583, mostly for 6 voices, and preceded another seven to come out between 1587 and 1613. The books were numbered according to the number of voices, and we have no knowledge of a second book of 4-part madrigals, a Terzo … a 4 voci  appearing in Naples in 1610. The only known complete copy of the Primo libro … was lost during World War II, found in the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków by D. A. D’Alessandro in 1987 and subsequently returned to the Berlin Deutsche Staatsbibliothek. Many lists of de Macque’s works still do not report it.

The LIM has printed these 21 short madrigals (25 to 45 bars each) in a small, easy to hold volume of 150 pages. Most contain three well-spaced systems of the score, with easily readable lyrics, the short melismas alternating with syllabic note-setting and the wonderful counterpoint clear to the eye. Sometimes publishers do not appreciate how important it is to grasp whole phrases in a glance, which we can do here. Each two-page spread of about 20 x 29cm can also be easily scanned.

Ten of the madrigals (I-VI, XII-XIII, and XV-XVI) are by Petrarch, the rest anonymous. The first six set the six stanzas of Petrarch’s 8th Sestina, Là ver’ l’aurora, che sì dolce l’aura  to music, as was also done (in part or in full) by Palestrina, de Lasso, Pietro Vinci, Mateo Flecha el Joven, Striggio, and undoubtedly others before and after de Macque. Each stanza has six lines, without rhyme, each ending with one of six words, according to an ever-revolving order whereby abcdef changes to faebdc. These six madrigals are in F major, with numbers 2 and 5 ending on the dominant. De Macque did not set Petrarch’s concluding tercet, in which the six words appear in the middle and end of three lines – perhaps there not being enough text for another madrigal. The tercet is more a poetic feat than a climax: it sums up the unified theme of frustration with the impossibility of moving Laura’s feelings by love or verse. The 6th madrigal starts with the laughter of the plants and flowers and ends with seven bars in which a skipping dotted rhythm describes the final metaphor: namely that the ‘angelic soul’, his beloved, does not hear his amorous notes, as we, when singing our verses in tears, may as well be trying to catch [run after] the breeze with a lame ox! Zoppo  (lame) is sung to long notes, and l’aura  (the breeze) is Petrarch’s frequent homonym for his unobtainable Laura.

The other two pairs of settings of Petrarch are of Sonnets (192 I’ piansi, or canto, ché ’l celeste lume  and 51 Del mar Tirreno a la sinistra riva). In each the two quatrains (abba abba) form the first madrigal, and the remaining two tercets (aba bab) are used for the second.

This edition is scrupulous in presenting the texts in modern spelling, adding punctuation and necessary letters in brackets or in italics (the latter for vowels truncated by an apostrophe before a different vowel). Where the elimination of an apostrophe does not affect the pronunciation, the truncated words are spelled out in full, observing the metrics, to make the text comprehensible. Other corrections which Italian academic conventions require (correcting misprints, wrong accents, abbreviations, “j” for “i”, and removing the obsolete etymological “h”) make this edition not only much easier for Italian and non-Italian speakers to use, but is exemplary for the correct division of syllables in the underlay.

Singers will notice that the present score (SATB in G and F clefs) was originally in parts for Canto (G2), MS (C2), A (C3), Baritone (F3). The vocal ranges are never extreme, and there is virtually no chromaticism, despite de Macque’s close connection to Gesualdo. The occasional original ligatures are indicated by brackets above the separated notes. After 432 years this beautiful music, originally only in part books, has the well-edited score it deserves. Titles of the madrigals are as follows:

I. Là ver’ l’aurora, che sì dolce l’aura (1st part)
II. Temprar potess’io in sì soavi note (2nd part)
III. Quante lagrime, lasso, quanti versi (3rd part)
IV. Uomini e dei solea vincer per forza (4th part)
V. A l’ultimo bisogno, o misera alma (5th part)
VI. Ridon or per le piagge erbette e fiori (6th part)

VII. Quando sorge l’aurora
VIII. Nel morir si diparte
IX. Quel dolce nodo che mi strinse il core
X. Donna, quando volgete
XI. Crudel, se m’uccidete

XII. I’ piansi, or canto, ché ’l celeste lume (1st part)
XIII. Sì profondo era e di sì larga vena (2nd part)

XIV. O fammi, Amor, gioire

XV. Del mar Tirreno a la sinistra riva (1st part)
XVI. Solo ov’io era tra boschetti e colli (2nd part)

XVII. Non veggio, ohimè, quei leggiadretti lumi
XVIII. Al sol le chiome avea
XIX. Donna, se per amarvi
XX. O d’Amor opre rare
XXI. Chi prima il cor mi tolse

Barbara Sachs

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Recording

Porpora: L’amato nome

Cantatas Opus 1
Stile Galante, Stefano Aresi
148:48 (2 CDs in a card triptych)
Glossa GCD 923513

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t the end of a note on performance practice, Stefano Aresi warns that we should not attempt to listen to all twelve of the chamber cantatas that comprise Nicola Porpora’s op. 1 in one go. ‘Rather’, he winningly continues, ‘to enjoy the precious colours and flavours of this music, a slow approach, as to the appreciation of twelve glasses of different fine wines, is recommended. These works give of their best taken one by one, with plenty of time between for discussion, reading, and appreciating the joys of life’. And he is of course quite right, though sadly I doubt many people listen to their CDs in that way. One might also add that such is the diversity of form and style, and, on this recording the use of four different singers, that it is perfectly possible to listen without musical inebriation to all the cantatas in succession, as I did on one of the occasions I listened to them.

The cantatas were published in 1735, a period when Porpora was working in London at the invitation of Handel’s rivals, the Opera of the Nobility. They bear a dedication to Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales and the leading supporter of the Nobility. Work on them possibly started before Porpora arrived in England, but the set was almost certainly largely composed in London, several cello obbligato cello parts suggesting due attention to Prince Frederick’s interest in that instrument. Six of the cantatas are for soprano, six for alto, which originally almost certainly meant male castrati, and all have texts on Arcadian topics by Metastasio. Following publication they became immensely popular, achieving a fame that highly unusually endured well into the following century, as is testified by a pupil of Porpora’s, who wrote of them that, ‘even nowadays, after 70 or more years […] they are still sung and admired, and learned masters give them to their pupils to study’. A new edition was published in Paris as late as 1820.

Such rare success is not hard to understand. The settings are notable for the gracious melodic fluency that has become increasingly familiar the more we come to know the composer’s operas. There is no formulaic approach, each text bearing evidence of having been carefully considered in the light of its particular poetic qualities. Recitatives, sometimes, as in the highly expressive narrative that lies at the heart of Cantata VII, are not infrequently lengthy. While adhering to the standard alternation of aria and recitative, the changes are constantly rung, opening now with an aria, now with recitative, while cantata VIII starts by reverting to earlier practice by enclosing recitative between a seamless opening and closing arioso. Cantata XII, the most seriously dramatic of the set, includes a striking passage in the style of accompanied recitative. Porpora even varies the style of accompaniment, the marvellous Cantata IX having an obbligato keyboard part rather than continuo.

Although superficially the texts speak of an idealised Arcadian world of nymphs and shepherds, we smile indulgently on them at the risk of self-mockery. A more thoughtful reading reveals that Metastasio is putting into words emotions that speak of a timeless truth: the suspicion of infidelity incorporated in the overwhelming longing for the absent loved one (Cantata III), a light-hearted but nonetheless sincere apology for being unable to return love (Cantata X), and so forth. It is a measure of the success of the performances that we are constantly drawn into the beauty of the texts as well as that of the music, an achievement almost certainly made possible not only by the use of Italian singers, Francesca Cassinari and Emanuela Galli (sopranos), and Giuseppina Bridelli and Marina De Liso (altos), but the involvement of two(!) language coaches. The technique of all four singers is excellent, displaying a firm command of the demands made by the sometimes florid writing and attempting trills with varying degrees of success (Cassinari is particularly good). But above all it is the intelligent musical approach to these splendid cantatas as refined and sophisticated chamber works rather than some kind of mini-opera that makes these performances such unalloyed pleasure throughout. The singers are given excellent support by cellist Agnieszka Oszańka and Andrea Friggi (harpsichord), and I was grateful to note that Aresi’s notes dismiss any other possibility (such as the inclusion of theorbo) as alien to the aesthetic of the music. My only slight criticism of this near-unfailingly rewarding set is the sense that one or two of the slower arias might have been given more forward momentum.

Brian Robins

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