About this Recording
8.553636 - BENEVOLO: Missa Azzolina / Magnificat / Dixit Dominus
English 

Orazio Benevolo (1605 - 1672)
Missa Azzolina and Other Sacred Music

During his life-time and for fifty years after his death Orazio Benevolo was considered one of the worthiest successors of Palestrina and it is surprising that today he is virtually forgotten. He was born on 19th April 1605 in Rome. His father, Master Robert Venevot, came from Chatillon sur Seine, then in the diocese of Langres, and was a pastry-cook. He settled in Rome between 1580 and 1590 .His son Horace was admitted in February 1617 to the choir-school of the Church of St Louis of the French, where his first choirmaster was Vincenzo Ugolini, replaced in July 1620, when he was appointed to the Basilica of St Peter, by his nephew Lorenzo Ratti, both of them excellent composers.

In 1623 the rectors of St Louis re-organized the musical establishment of the church and closed the choir-school. Benevolo, who was certainly still at the school as "grand enfant", as they said in France, received compensation for good service. As an accomplished organist he quickly found a place as maestro di cappella at Santa Maria in Trastevere, then at the church of the Ospedale del Santo Spirito. In 1638, on the death of Ugolini, who had returned to St Louis, he was invited to succeed him and retained this position until 1644, when he went to Bavaria to direct the ducal chapel. In 1646 he returned to Rome and was appointed to Santa Maria Maggiore, where he remained only a few months before assuming the direction of the Cappella Giulia, the musical establishment of the Basilica of St Peter, a position that he retained until his death on 17th June 1672. This brief survey of his life indicates the circumstances in which Benevolo worked. When certain pontifical singers were invited to the first High Mass of one of their number, celebrated in 1632 in the Church of S Carlo sul Corso, it was a Mass for six choirs by Benevolo that was performed. Some weeks later the Romans applauded Stefano Landi's Sant'Alessio. When Benevolo succeeded his master Ugolini at St Louis, the titular organist was Luigi Rossi, and Giacomo Carissimi, who had only one more year to live, was employed at S Apollinare, nearby. In December 1655 Rome welcomed Queen Christina of Sweden and Pope Alexander VII had a Ye Deum sung at St Peter's to celebrate the Queen's conversion to the Catholic faith. On this occasion it was again to Benevolo that they turned for music for six choirs, the perfection of which was attested by his contemporaries.

Unluckily for us, Benevolo did not publish any of his large-scale choral works. Only some smaller motets for two and three voices appeared in collections of music by different composers, published in Rome and in Northern Italy. All the same, his reputation for skill in writing polychoral works was such that it lasted several generations and Giuseppe Ottavio Pitoni, one of his successors at the Cappella Giulia and a famous teacher, had the scores of a series of his compositions for two, three, four and six choirs restored for his pupils to study as models of the genre. Some of his contemporaries, indeed, spoke of him as the Palestrina of their time. Some of these study scores have been preserved and were published from 1950 onwards by the Reverend Lorenzo Feininger, while the rest of his work is scattered in various libraries. The polychoral Masses often have titles that, in certain cases, allow the dating of the first performance. This is the case of the Mass written during the great plague that afflicted Rome from 1656 to 1657. The Mass recorded here has the title Missa Azzolina, a probable reference to Cardinal Azzolini, whom Pope Alexander had given to Queen Christina of Sweden as a counsellor. It may, therefore, be supposed that it was written shortly after the Queen settled in Rome. This Mass was written for two five-voice choirs, each of two sopranos, alto, tenor and bass; at least the work appears to be in this form, but a closer examination of the structure suggests that the composer had envisaged rather two soprano soloists accompanied by two four-voice choirs. It may be noted, moreover, that there was a distinct preference for the soprano voice of the castrati in Rome in the middle years of the seventeenth century and it is known that Benevolo allowed them a special place in his smaller motets, of which several are for three sopranos. There are further contemporary references to a composition of his for twelve sopranos. The writing of the Mass is somewhat varied rhythmically and one may perceive in places an almost popular inspiration that is very typical of the Baroque.

The performance of polychoral music, for two, then three or four choirs, was generally reserved for feast days after 1580. The necessity of joining together musically one choir to another led composers to interrupt their musical argument with independent perfect cadences every time a choir came to a stop and the entry of the other choir would naturally be on these cadences. This favoured the use of tonal cadences, particular from dominant to tonic. When Benevolo was studying composition, between 1615 and 1623, tonality was completely controlled and even when a composer wrote in the so-called old style, as in the antiphon for the Miserere mihi Domine in the present recording, he does not succeed in hiding this attraction towards the diatonic.

The other works here included are liturgical works for the office of Vespers; the Laetatus sum comes from a collection of music for the papal chapel and the Dixit Dominus and Magnificat from a collection by a pupil of Pitoni, Girolamo Chiti, who was maestro di cappella in Rome in the eighteenth century. These last two works, which alternate solo passages, are excellent examples of the way in which full writing (pieno) might be intermingled with the concerted (concertato), a practice much followed in Rome from the beginning of the century and which continued until the middle of the following century. In any case, the works offered here will certainly bring an understanding that the image of Benevolo given by most encyclopedias, that of a strict composer, continuing the tradition of Palestrina, is really repeated from one writer to another and that his music still deserves performance today.

Jean Lionnet Fevrier
(English version by Keith Anderson)

Le Concert Spirituel
The Concert Spirituel was established in 1725 by Ann Danican Philidor (1681 - 1731) and was the first concert organization in France, specialising in the performance of French Grands Motets, by composers such as Gilles, Campra, Mondonville, and Rameau. The concerts were given in the Salle des Cent Suisses in the Palace of the Tuileries in Paris. They came to an end in 1791 with the French Revolution.

In 1988 Herve Niquet, one of the leading specialists in France in Baroque music, decided to revive the Concert Spirituel in order to explore again the repertoire of music originally composed for this purpose in the eighteenth century. Since then the Concert Spirituel has given performances in the principal cities and festivals of Europe and has issued a number of recordings that have been acclaimed by the international press.


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