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TARQUINIO MERULA Su la cetra amorosa
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Reference: AVSA9862

  • Jordi Savall
  • Montserrat Figueras

Along with Luigi Rossi, Francesco Cavalli and Giacomo Carissimi, Tarquinio Merula belongs to that generation of composers, born between 1595 and 1605, for whom the concertante style was no longer a novel type of idiom, but the musical medium they had been familiar with from childhood as the prevailing musical language of the time. Tarquinio Merula was born in Busseto in 1595 and probably received his musical training at Cremona cathedral. He was appointed organist at Lodi (in Lombardy) and then at the court of the King of Poland in Warsaw and, from 1626 onwards, he switched several times from the post of maestro di cappella at Cremona cathedral to the same post at Bergamo, and vice versa.

Additional Information
Intèrprets

Montserrat Figueras, sopranoJean-Pierre Canihac, cornetTon Koopman, clavecin. Andrew Lawrence-King, harpeRolf Lislevand, vihuela, theorbe & guitare baroqueLorenz Duftschmid, violoneJordi Savall, viole de gambe

Llista de Temes

1. Su la cetra amorosa (Aria di Ciaccona) 8’252. Folle è ben che si crede 5’503. Chi vuol ch’io m’inamori (Canzonetta spirituale) 3’114. Toccata del 2º tono (harpe) 4’565. Hor ch’è tempo di dormire 8’12(Canzonetta Spirituale sopra alla nanna)6. Un bambin che va alla scola 5’147. Capriccio (clavecin) 2’308. Quando gli ucelli portaranno i Zoccoli 5’209. Menti lingua bugiarda 7’1510. Sentirete una canzonetta 4’47

Informació

Église de Valkkoog, Pays Bas Juillet 1992

Categoria

Catàleg complet, Heritage

Description

Along with Luigi Rossi, Francesco Cavalli and Giacomo Carissimi, Tarquinio Merula belongs to that generation of composers, born between 1595 and 1605, for whom the concertante style was no longer a novel type of idiom, but the musical medium they had been familiar with from childhood as the prevailing musical language of the time. Tarquinio Merula was born in Busseto in 1595 and probably received his musical training at Cremona cathedral. He was appointed organist at Lodi (in Lombardy) and then at the court of the King of Poland in Warsaw and, from 1626 onwards, he switched several times from the post of maestro di cappella at Cremona cathedral to the same post at Bergamo, and vice versa.

Whilst Rossi, Cavalli and Carissimi did not reach the height of their careers until the middle of the century or later, the major part of Merula’s works was published at a time when musical life in Italy was still dominated by the outstanding composers of the previous generation, Claudio Monteverdi and Alessandro Grandi. Moreover, he was Grandi’s successor at Bergamo on the latter’s death.

In 1622, Merula published a collection of solo songs, unfortunately now lost. Then, in 1638, a second collection of solo pieces appeared, under the title Curtio precipitato ed altri Capricij, as the last of a total of seven volumes of secular vocal music. (It is worth noting that Monteverdi’s famous Eighth Book of Madrigals was published in the same year). Apart from the Ciaccona from the Second Book of Madrigals of 1633, all the vocal compositions on the present recording are taken from this volume of 1638, published by Bartolomeo Magni in Venice as opus 13.

These very expressive solo madrigals or dramatic scenes, composed in the “stile recitativo”, had been all the rage in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. However, by the1630s, public interest had already clearly subsided. Contrary to the claims of certain theorists, who maintained that in vocal music the music should be there only to serve the words, the younger generation of composers sought a more balanced relationship between words and music, combining the declamatory and expressive achievements of the new age with a renewed interest in formal structure and musical harmony. This is to be seen already in Merula’s choice of texts: in the works for solo voice that have come down to us, he almost completely relinquishes the madrigal texts, most often irregular in form, which until then had been predominant; instead, he prefers clearly-articulated, strophic text forms, which were not often to be found in classical poetry.

Quando gli uccelli portaranno i zoccoli, a “Canzonetta in sdrucciolo”, is a fine example of a playful approach to tradition, both in form and content. It consists of four eight-line stanzas (i.e. the classical form of epic poetry), but the anonymous poet uses the sdrucciolo, each line ending with two short, jerky syllables – an expedient used in comic verse. He thus successfully passes from an elevated style to a style that is in keeping with the not-so-elevated subject-matter. Here, the precious, mannered metaphors representing the impossible (“when rivers run upstream”, and so on), which are often to be found in lyric poetry of the lime, are transposed from a courtly (or, rather, pastoral) context to a more earthy environment (“when dogs have no testicles”…): the resulting effect is highly comical – almost absurd – especially when they are thus strung together almost ad infinitum. In his setting, Merula does not attempt to provide a musical illustration of any particular images; instead, he leaves the comic effect to the rapid declamation and to the ostinato stress on the last three syllables of each line. Nevertheless, the very real despair of the singer finally gains the upper hand in the last lines of the piece, which are repeated several times.

While the four verses of the Canzonetta in sdrucciolo are through-composed (Ger: durchkomponiert) in two sections, Merula uses a disguised strophic setting for the four-part canzonetta, Menti lingua bugiarda: instead of the same music being repeated for each successive stanza, there are, in fact, differences both in the music and in the declamation, but these are merely variations on a basic strophic pattern, which have the effect of written improvisations. Here, as in the truly strophic songs, the declamation is almost exclusively syllabic, doing away with coloratura, madrigalistic word-painting and embellishments. Tunes taken from popular folksongs, such as those used in Folle è ben che si crede or Un bambin che va alla scuola, are interrupted in their apparently dance-like flow by rhythmical irregularities, such as unexpected hemiolas. The tune of Sentirete una canzonetta is in fact based on a well-known contemporary folksong, La Girometta. This piece, with its bourdon accompaniment and its sprinkling of dialect, is like the serenade of one of the comic actors of the commedia dell’arte, celebrating the nose, the mouth and the golden hair of his cruel-hearted beloved.

For present-day audiences, it is somewhat surprising to find such earthy Capricci alongside pieces with moral or contemplative subject-matter in the same collection; but for Merula’s contemporaries, a mundane joy of living and reflection on the transitoriness of all things went almost indissolubly hand in hand. Chi vuol ch’io m’inamori is a spiritual reflection on the vanity of earthly love. (Monteverdi also used this text in his Selva morale). This piece is just like the secular Canzonette in its opening melody, but the use of duple time, the austere, dissonant passages and the sudden changes of key indicate the serious nature of this song. The other Canzonetta spirituale in the collection, a lullaby, sopra alla nanna, sung by the Virgin Mary to the infant Jesus, is extraordinarily expressive. The lullaby motif, consisting of two notes a semitone apart, is also, no doubt, of folk origin, and is used as ground bass for strophic variations in the singing part. Merula composes Mary’s meditations on the destiny awaiting her child as a short dramatic scene: in the last two stanzas, when the child has fallen asleep, the ground bass stops and its place is taken by recitative.

Like the lullaby motif in Hor ch’è tempo di dormire, the use of the ciaccona in Su la cetra amorosa is relevant to the contents: it represents the playing of this unfortunate lover who is condemned to constantly sing new love songs on his “amorous lyre” (“cetra amorosa”). From a formal point of view, the ciaccona as ostinato bass gives the composition unity, for the latter is varied in the extreme; without such a strong link its parts would be in danger of losing their coherence: we find startling changes from major to minor, emphasis on the extreme registers in the voice part, contrast between extremely virtuoso passages and sostenuto passages, with long silences, sudden emotional outbursts, dangerously fast declamation, particularly in the battaglia sections, and, last but not least, a constantly-changing, disconcerting rhythmic freedom in the voice part, contrasting with the already equivocal syncopated rhythm of the ciaccona, which time and again takes on new meaning from the voice part.

In his compositions for solo voice in which he adopted ostinato bass patterns, Merula very convincingly establishes a new relationship between words and music, a sort of balance between the expressive and, at times, dramatic textual content and a musically dense form. This was also the primary concern of composers such as Martino Pesenti, Niccolò Fontei and Giovanni Felice Sances in the 1630s and 1640s. The fact that secular vocal music in Italy subsequently followed another trend, with the clear separation of recitative and aria, does not in any way detract from the fascination of the works from this period of experimentation.

JOACHIM STEINHEUER
Translated by Mary Pardoe