Una musa plebea. Das »gemeine« Repertoire der italienischen Renaissance
Lucidarium und Traditionelle Poeten aus der Toskana und Korsika


raumklang / asinamusic.com
Raumklang RK 24010
grabaciones de 2002 a 2007

1. Chjama è rispondi  [3:39]
Improvisierte Poesie: Roccu Mambrini & Francescu Simeoni, Pigna (2004)

2. Tent'a l'ora ruzenenta * [3:38]
anonym, Ms. Paris VM 676

3. Strambotti  [3:55]
Text: Leonardo Giustinian, Musik: Francesco Varoter (1460-1502),
Adaption: Gloria Moretti

4. Ottave a contrasto  [3:16]
Improvisierte Poesie: Nello Landi & Emilio Meliani, Buti (2002)

5. Turcho, turcho e Isabella - La Tricotée * [4:43]
anonym, Ms. Paris VM 676 - anonym, Ms. Escorial IVa 24

6. Ay me' sospiri  [2:48]
Text: Leonardo Giustinian? (1387-1446), Musik: anonym, Ms. Escorial IV a 24

7. Non peccando altri che il core  [3:51]
Marchetto Cara zugeschrieben (ca. 1470- ca. 1525)

8. Ogni cosa ha el suo loco  [4:42]
Text: anonym, Musik: G. B. Zesso (frühes 16.1h.)

9. El bon nochier (live)  [3:32]
Text: Angelo Poliziano (1454-1494),
Musik: anonym, in: Frottole intavolate, F. Bossinensis (1511)

10. Stanze dal »Maggio d' Orfeo ed Euridice«  [2:05]
Text : Dino Landi & Mario Filippi (2005),
Sänger: Mario Filippi & Andrea Bacci, Buti (2007)

11. Ottave dal »Transito di Carnevale«  [3:45]
Text: Gasparo Visconti (ca. 1461-ca. 1499),
Musik: basierend auf einer traditionellen toskanischen Melodie,
Adaption: Viva Biancaluna Biffi

12. Pianzete done  [3:03]
Text: Leonardo Giustinian, Musik: anonym, Ms. Escorial IV a 24

13. Romanesca * [4:27]
anonym, Ms. Pesaro B. O. 1144

14. Ottave dal »Maggio d' Orfeo ed Euridice«  [1:42]
Text: Dino Landi & Mario Filippi (2005), Sänger: Enrico Baschieri, Buti (2006)

15. O gratiosa viola mia gentile  [4:51]
Text: Leonardo Giustinian, Musik: anonym, Ms. Escorial IV a24

16. Gratioso * [2:57]
Guglielmo Hebreo da Pesaro (1420-1481)

17. Perla mia cara  [3:11]
Text: Leonardo Giustinian, Musik: anonym, Ms. Cordiforme, BNF Roth. 2973

18. Trista che spera  [4:06]
Text: anonym, Musik: Pere Oriola (1440-1480)

19. Ottave dall' »Orlando furioso«  [2:52]
Text: Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533), Sänger: Dolando Bernardini, Buti (2006)

* instrumental


Gloria Moretti - Gesang
Viva Biancaluna Biffi - Gesang
Avery Gosfield - Flöten, Einhandflûte und Trommel
Marco Ferrari - Flöten, Doppelflöte
Francis Biggi - Viola da mano, Colascione
Elisabetta Benfenati - Renaissancegitarre
Massimiliano Dragoni - Hackbrett

Dolando Bernardini, Mario Filippi, Enrico Bascheri, Andrea Bacci

Nello Landi, Emilio Meliani

Roccu Mambrini, Francescu Simeoni


This recording is dedicated to the memory of Dolando Bernardini (1920-2006)

Produktion/Tonaufnahme: Sebastian Pank
Tonaufnahme Titel 4, 10, 14 und 19 (Buti): Enrico Fink
Schnitt: Benjamin DreBler
Aufgenommen vom 6.-9. Dezember 2004 in der »Casa Musicale« in Pigna/Korsika
Koproduktion mit »Festivoce« Pigna/Korsika
Redaktion: Susanne Ansorg
Titelbild: Raffael (1483-1520), La Fornarina (Roma, Galleria Nazionale d' Arte Antica)
@ Photoservice Electa/Anelli su concessione del Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita Culturali
Foto Lucidarium: Emmanuel Mathez
Grafische Gestaltung: KOCMOC.NET
Presentazione e annotazioni in italiano disponibili sul sito www.lucidarium.com / Best.-Nr.: RK 2410
© und ® Raumklang 2011


Una musa plebea
Everyday Music from Renaissance Italy

In the 15th Century, a new style, fusing the international polyphonic technique with the peninsular penchant for flowing melodic lines and clear counterpoint was developed in the Italian courts. This style would influence the musical aesthetic of all of Europe throughout the next century. Patron and Nobleman alike outspent one another in an attempt to attract the most famous musicians, who, at the time, came predominantly from Northern Europe. Yet the splendid, complex constructions of these ultramontani flourished side-by-side with local or "municipal" repertoires. The surviving musical production of the day bears strong witness - in contrast to the more imposing, "serious" genres - to the development of an abundance of popular-style forms written in a colorful, characteristic style that would last throughout the century and beyond. Eventually, even the great masters were obliged to familiarize themselves with this repertoire. Historical sources allow us to reconstruct the path that the two distinct traditions took before eventually arriving at a common language. This was a "trickle-up" process: it didn't come from the great motets, which continued to follow the canons typical of a long-established form. The sheer scope of the motets' structure, like the importance of the official occasions they were intended for, kept them from being judged in terms of musical taste. Instead, they were defined by the symbolic, ritual function they filled.

The process would be reversed for the "light" music of the era. The secular compositions of a great master such as Josquin were judged on equal grounds with the Giustiniane, a form which represented the last flourishing of the trecento school, marked by archaic traits rooted in a long and uninterrupted vocal tradition. The major collections of the late 15th and early 16th centuries hold a varied sampling of these musical genres: for example, the frottola, the latest development of the Italian style; or the quodlibet, a virtuosic compositional exercise favored by Northern composers, where complicated polyphonies are constructed around melodies drawn from simple, popular (or popular-like) songs. Often, these compositions are anonymous: not surprising for a repertory considered minor, especially in an era where most among the intellectual milieu, in full Humanist fervor, looked upon polyphony, and above all the international ars musica style with mistrust, as a remnant of the artificial, barbaric medieval world.

Later, the mass of compositions "all'italiana" would diversify, breaking up into many different forms, whose "popular" origins (usually more fantasy than reality), were underscored by the coloristic use of regional or local dialects. In addition, there is frequent recourse to satirical or descriptive themes, marked by a theatricality that prefigures the Commedia dell'Arte.

Public and communal occasions, like Carnival or theatrical performances, helped to spread the fashionable songs or dances that gave birth to arie and ostinati: the melodies and bass lines that formed the basis of a myriad of new songs and instrumental variations, such as the Bergamasca, Romanesca, Ballo di Mantova, Aria della Monica, Ruggero and the Folia. These structures became extremely popular throughout Italy and beyond, and were widely adopted by popular musicians, eventually becoming interlaced with the popular tradition. Indeed, the force of this assimilation was such that many of these airs survived until very recently in the Italian popular tradition.

In this heterogeneous fresco, this unabashed exchange between art and popular music, between noble and common muses, a unique place is reserved for the immense repertoire made up of strophic declamatory forms, such as the capitolo, the ode, the strambotto, as well as sung poetry all'improvviso. Much more popular than any of the great motet or madrigal composers of the era, the canterini (a kind of ballad singer) were specialists in a genre of monody that has left few traces in musical literature. These poet-musicians were specialists in the improvisation of elegant verses over pre-established melodic models, called aere, frequently paired with a term specifying a particular usage or geographic origin, such as aria da strambotti or aere venetiano. These verses were declaimed without accompaniment, in a way that allowed the dramatic, emotional and rhythmical aspects of the text to shine through, or were sung by someone accompanying himself on a stringed instrument such as a lira da braccio, viol or lute.

The Humanists considered this style the Renaissance equivalent of classical poetry, the art of the aedi, sung by a performer not concerned with the artifices of musical writing but with the psychological or emotional content of the verses he was performing. The intellectuals and poets of the 15th century were conscious of the fact that this manner of extemporized singing ("sul testo") was an offshoot of an oral tradition widespread throughout the entire peninsula. The desire to capture the natural essence of poetic and musical experience pushed the Humanists to exalt the simplicity of popular expression: a voice from a more innocent age, one closer to the spontaneous purity of its origins. A letter written by the Milanese gentleman Ambrogio Traversari in 1429 to the famous poet Leonardo Giustinian demonstrates this. In it, he praises his friend for his ability to sing very pleasant airs, a skill which he says "now, as opposed to the time of our ancestors, belongs more to the common people than to any erudite." Although we know that this way of performing by "via naturalis" was so popular that it became a widely disseminated cross-class phenomenon, destined to endure the passage of centuries, it has not left us a single direct written musical trace. It was an art entrusted wholly and solely to human memory.

Occasionally, in the frottola collections destined for an amateur public, cadential formulas alternate with psalmodic recitation, perhaps a performance style partially derived from the popular tradition of the era, a simple technique that could be adapted to practically any poem with the same metric form. This gave skilled performers the flexibility to bend the melody to the expressive demands of the text, employing a series of dramatic artifices designed to enhance the contents: the alternation of syllabic passages, almost spoken, with virtuosic melismae at pauses and cadences, in a constant varying of the original melody.

Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian Humanists have handed down passionate, detailed descriptions of the art of the canterini, who performed on street corners; and of the court poets who improvised in the presence of local lords. Indeed, the intellectuals of the time considered the art of sung declamation equal to that of composing polyphony. One of many examples of this attitude is that towards Serafino Aquilano: courtly poet and famous author of strambotti. Very few of his literary texts have come down to us set to music, the rare exceptions all preserved in polyphonic collections. Although it is likely that he had a thorough musical education, Serafino probably did not compose the polyphonic settings: these are the work of specialists of the genre known as the frottola. Still, during his own time, Serafino was considered the greatest representative of secular music for his unequaled skill in singing verses, able to bring out even the smallest emotional or symbolic implication of the text. For this, he was regarded as an equal of Josquin, the great maestro of sacred polyphony.

This Arcadia, sung in the vernacular, calling for the natural simplicity of Antiquity and pitting itself against the excessively artificial manner of the polyphonic musicians of the epoch, was a theme dear to the heart of the Renaissance New Man. A myth that made its presence felt with a tenacity engendered by the rapprochement of Italian culture with the arts of declamation and poetic improvisation. It was a style of singing and a way of interpreting beloved not only by intellectuals, but by cantimpanca (wandering entertainers) and canterino: unremitting creators and transmitters of chivalric poems, of adaptations in verse of episodes from Greek mythology or Christian literature and hagiography, equally appreciated in the streets or open markets of the plebian masses, the genteel residences of the bourgeoisie or the palaces of the nobility.

For the more than three centuries between the Middle Ages and the Baroque Era, it was an art common to all levels of society. However, with the changes in thought and aesthetics, as well as the new poetic language that became popular in the 18th century, Brandolini's artful declamation, and the formal structures associated with it - such as the illustrious and solemn verses of the ottava rima (in both its Tuscan (ABABABCC) and Sicilian (ABABABAB) configurations) or the capitolo in "terza rima," - fell into disuse among serious poets, surviving only as a purely formal exercise.

Nevertheless, the ottava rima, and with it, a few other forms, such as quatrains or sextets of eight syllable lines, continued to prosper in the popular tradition. Marginalized, reduced to a local practice, looked down upon and considered a curiosity by literary poets and "official" culture alike, declamation, and in particular poetic improvisation, continued to draw from an important humanistic and epic cultural background, developing over the centuries to become a unique feature of Italian popular culture. From Montaigne to Rousseau, from Goethe to Baretti, through the end of the 19th century and the beginnings of the rediscovery and study of popular culture, generations of foreign intellectuals were amazed by the ability of the inhabitants of the peninsula to improvise verses, often using models and citations drawn from an impressive mythological and literary repository. A witness to a shared and deep-rooted culture, this practice has survived primarily in central Italy, but was once common throughout the land. A culture whose profundity and complexity was such that it could only be grasped from the end of the 19th century on, using D'Ancona's studies of Italian popular poetry.

The tradition of singing improvised poetry and verses of mythological and chivalric poems has been preserved in the popular tradition in some areas of central Italy, Sardinia and Corsica, the last closely tied to Italy by its history, language and tradition. Although there are not many different meters used in these forms of improvised poetry, the few that have remained in use demonstrate a notable vitality and a tenacious will for survival. In central Italy the ottava rima flourishes profusely, together with many other forms and musical structures, such as the octosyllabic quatrains (four lines of eight syllables) used for the Maggio drammatico or the tercets of double octosyllables favored in Corsica. People from all walks of life participate in this age old poetic tradition, highly regarded and complex; cultivated and renewed with care. It's a tradition that calls for an impeccable technique, solid rhythmic and metric skills, musical talent, an acute ear and a good voice, and above all a special gift, one that Nature distributes with parsimony. Tuscan poets, together with those from Sardinia or Corsica, enjoy singing about this Muse that moves their hearts, their intellects and their tongues. A few of them have revealed, with characteristic discretion and modesty, the secrets of their Art. For example, the Corsican poet Roccu Mambrini, also known as U Russignolu (the nightingale), explained in a 1985 interview that, during the "Chjama è Rispondi," a form of improvised poetical debate: "He listened to the other poet, all the time thinking about how he would respond. As the other's song went on, he would choose one or more words that he would respond to, preparing his final rhyme (or rhymes) as well as those of the first and second verse. That if the rhymes were what gave a sense to his response, the meaning itself would influence his choice of rhymes: however, the meaning was the most essential element. That if the other's final rhyme suited him, he would use it as a basis for his argument, even repeating it in order to give himself, while still singing, the time to prepare his own rhymes and response. That singing slowly allowed him the time to gather his thoughts, and that he didn't count the syllables, because this came to him naturally from the rhythm and melody".Almost 20 years later, Nello Landi, great master of the Tuscan school, explained that, in order to improvise the ottava: "one listens to the adversary's argument - you need to wait until at least the penultimate verse" (in Tuscan improvised ottava competitions, the last rhyme of each ottava must be used for the first. third and fourth lines by the following contender, following the rhyme scheme ABA BABCC, BCBCBCDD etc.) Then, "once you decide on the direction of your argument, you can prepare the third and fifth line while singing the first one, and the fourth and sixth while singing the second. The last two, rather, come by themselves (!,) prompted by the subject matter. In any case, you have to hear the hendecasyllable with your ear: there's no point in tallying up syllables on your fingers". "Singing slowly, and lingering on the melody give you more time to think about what you want to say..."

However, this similarity in concept and purpose does not necessarily mean that a uniform tradition, common to all of Italian culture, exists. In reality, the forms of declamation found throughout Italy, Sardinia and Corsica all use different (if related) poetic structures and melodies. Still, their similarities underline - in populations that share, albeit in different measure, a common history and culture dating back one thousand years - the deep-rooted establishment of a particular relationship with poetry and its power. Poetry's force, the gift that the poets have received from Nature and the Gods, is recognized in the poets' role as the voice of the World, as the guardians of the historical and critical memories of their communities. Poetry has an important function, a function that neither modern society nor global communication has been able to wipe out. On the contrary, today, declamatory and improvisatory poetical and musical forms such as rap, slam or the dozens have propelled this tradition, at the same time noble and plebeian, into the 21st century. Poetry, and in particular, improvised poetry - that created following the emotions of the moment, the excitement of battle, or the urgent need to communicate, to share feelings and views with our peers - is a formidable weapon when used for summing up or analyzing the world around us.

It was the same for the poets of the Italian Renaissance. Although the gifts of an improvisatory or declamatory poet did not guarantee fame or fortune, in many cases, it brought him (or her) long-lasting recognition. Their Art was the mirror of their World. It was a society capable of bringing together, without apparent contradiction, a nostalgia for a mythologized version of the chivalric, feudal universe; the enthusiastic rediscovery of the Greek and Latin classical tradition; and a "common" style that, to our eyes, often seems to pass, willingly, close to the limits of vulgarity. Some, such as Boccaccio, Boiardo, Ariosto and Tasso, citing only the most famous, knew how to transform the verse form of the ottava rima into an instrument of expression of the sublime, rendering their work immortal.

Our voyage in this no-man's land goes from Serafino dall' Aquila to Gasparo Visconti, from Angelo Poliziano to the Corsican improvisers and the poets of Buti, a Tuscan town where the art of improvised poetry, the declamation of the great chivalric poetry of the Renaissance, and the incessant and continual composition of "Maggi drammatici", sung verse dramas staged by the entire community, written in octosyllabic quatrains and sung "a capella" using archaic melodies, all flourish vibrantly. We follow a path that pays homage to the masters, unknown beyond the close-knit circle of their own community, who have provided us, during our by now long journey of research and discovery in the world of early music, with irreplaceable models: not for their style, nor for their way of singing, but for their coherence and profundity. From these "ordinary people": a farmer, a mason, a carpenter, a post office worker, a schoolteacher, we have learned the fundamental hierarchy in singing verses: the importance of becoming one with the text, of believing in what one says. This fusion of speaking and singing, so close that it is impossible to clearly discern one from the other, was characteristic of the poetic declamation of the Renaissance and became the cornerstone of the recitar cantando style of the 17th century. Their concept of beauty is that of an intimate and indivisible bond between text, performer and way of singing, bending the melody to the needs of poetic expression and rhetoric, the preferred instrument of communication. A culture where, just as for the Italian Humanists, the truth can only be expressed through beauty, balance, proportion, and the mastering of artistic means.

Francis Biggi