CONSORTIUM CARISSIMI Consortium Carissimi was founded in 1996 with the intent of uncovering and bringing to modem day ears the long forgotten ltalian-Roman music of the 16th and especially the 17th century, We primarily consist of five male vocal specialists (2 tenors, 1 counter-tenor, baritone and bass) accompanied by original instruments (figured bass or basso continuo) which range from theorbo, arci-lute, harpsi- chord, organ, several viola da gambas and dulciana (predecessor of the bassoon) and violone, We often add however two to four violins and two soprano voices when the repertory requires. Our performance pitch is usually A-415 or A-390 hertz.
We do our own transcriptions (both sacred and secular music) from Library manuscripts or early printed editions, consequently much of this music that hasn't been played and heard since. There are no existing autograph manuscripts of Giacomo Carissimi, hence all manuscripts that have been transcribed by Consortium Carissimi are transcriptions themselves of Carissimi's contemporaries. We have little knowledge that comes directly from the music (other than the motet text itself) as to where and in what circumstances this music was performed.
Other indications however are given in documented correspondence and personal diaries of those who visited the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare (the church adjacent to the Collegio Germanico) or the counter-reformation atmosphere of the Oratorio at San Marcello al Corso (Ss.mo Crocefisso). Pietro della Valle, roman church musician and composer, wrote in his "Discourse" (Discorso) of January 16 1640, entitled "On Music of our time" (Della musica dell ' eta nostra)
"This Christmas eve I attended the entire office and Mass in Sant' pollinare, where everything was sung in conformity with the solemnity required by this great Feast. Even though I arrived somewhat late and was obliged to stand in the midst of a large assembly, I remained the whole time with great pleasure to listen to the good music. Particularly the "Venite exultemus " at the beginning was of such good grace that I fail to be able to say more. I don't know who the composer was but I imagine it was the Maestro di Cappella of that church, whom I have not yet met. "
Indications like this confirm that not only great music was performed within a liturgical context, but that it was exceptionally well performed. The Mass for three voices (Missa à tre) is a prime example of Carissimi's genius in setting to music the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) of the Mass. The "motet" however is not so simply confined to the Official Rites of the Church since the texts vary from Biblical and Liturgical texts to the combination of the two or the paraphrasing into free poetical verse. The secular texts were often of a spiritual nature or poems of love and infidelity, poems of the sea, and of the Gods that rule Man's destiny. This music was often performed in the courtyards and halls of the Roman noblemen's palaces.
Here in fact the term oratory as "the place in which this music was performed together with fine preaching" slowly began to be applied to the musical genre itself. The motets included on our Naxos Records CD recordings reflect just this. The atmosphere created in the oratory was considered by those who attended, as a "Spiritual Exercise". The "motet" of this particular period was either heard in the liturgical settings of the church or in the para-liturgical settings of the oratory. The musical style, ornamentation and free choice of instruments which accompany the voices, remains to be the common denominator in both sacred and secular music. The only distinction made between the two forms can be seen in their respective texts and the places in which the music was performed.
The basso continuo (or figured bass) is more similar to a jazz chart than to an orchestral score, since the necessary minimum is the bass note which lies below all the vocal lines. This creates a lot of liberty in performance, maintaining as well a certain level of spontaneity for the listener. All this is done with great vocal ease in communicating the text which at that time, was the motor for the melodic composition.
One particular aspect sets this brief period (c.1580 - c.1680) aside from any other. Even though this music is simple in comparison to 18th century baroque, there is no mediocre composing. All of this music is stunning.
Our two Naxos Records CD recordings of music of Giacomo Carissimi include the Mass for three voices and Six Motets. The second CD contains Ten Motets for Men's Voices with violins and basso continuo instruments, performed at h=390. As far as we are concerned, in the Motets one can hear Carissimi's true genius at work.
When we chose to record Carissimi' s Mass setting and these particular Motets, we immediately ran up against the problematic clef indications in the original manuscript vocal lines. In order to best underscore the vocal character of each singer and maintain a precise historical-musical picture, which is our rule for Consortium Carissimi performances, we chose a performance pitch of 390 hertz. In the light of the variable instrumental tuning in 17th Century Rome, which was classified into two diverse categories (the vocal category was usually one step lower than today) we believe to have adhered to the performance practice of that time and to have maintained unaltered the beauty and the stylistic subtleties of these compositions.
With a profound interest in sacred music, in particular the Motets and Oratories, Consortium Carissimi recreates at each concert event, an atmosphere in which the listener is involved completely in the content of the texts. Made up of gifted singers and instrumentalists, Consortium Concerts and Workshops have received much praise and acclaim from the critics, the public audience and students.
Future projects include World Premier Performances and Recordings of Motets for mixed voices of Giacomo Carissimi, Motets and Oratories of other 17th Century Roman composers, (G .F .Sances, B. Gratiani, F. Foggia, A. Agazzari, L. Rossi, B. Pasquini), as well as other composers in one way or another connected with Carissimi such as J.H. Wilderer, J.K. Kerll and M.A. Charpentier.
Visit Consortium Carissimi's web site at www.consortiumcarissimi.it