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8.550778 - DALL'AQUILA / da CREMA: Ricercars / Intabulations / Dances



Lute Music

Ricercars / Intabulations / Dances


In 1536 the Venetian publisher Francesco Marcolini da Forli observed: 'All wind and string instruments are sweet, because they retain the quality from the harmony that issues from the spheres while the heavens move. But the suavity of sound which is born of the lute when touched by the divine hands of Francesco Milanese, of Alberto da Mantua, and of Marco dall 'Aquila, robs the senses of those who hear it by making itself heard in the soul'. Marcolini was referring to three of the foremost lutenist composers of the Cinquecento, whose masterful contributions were to influence lute music in particular and instrumental music in general for nearly a century. Francesco Canova da Milano* (1497-1543) was

lutenist to Pope Leo X and other ecclesiastics in Rome. Alberto da Ripa, or Albert de Rippe (ca. 1500-1551), as he was known as a lutenist and valet de chambre to Francois I, so pleased his patron that he was granted estates in Bloise. Less is known about Marco dall' Aquila, whose entire career may have been spent in the Serenissma Republica. Apparently born in Aquila in the Abruzzi, then in the Kingdom of Naples, a 'ser Marco dall' Aquila, sonador de lauto' first appears on the membership roles of the wealthy Venetian religious confraternity of San Rocco in the late fifteenth century. In March 1505 he petitioned the Venetian Signori for the privilege of publishing lute music in tablature: 'Humbly the petitioner and servant of your graces, Marco dall' Aquila of Venice has, with the greatest of his ability and at no modest personal expense, learned how to print lute tablature, and is able to arrange certain songs for the lute with the greatest ability and art, which will render them useful to many, including various gentlemen who delight themselves by playing that most noble of all instruments, the lute.' He also appears to have moved in important musical circles in Venice, since in 1524 Giovanni Spataro mentions him in a letter to Marco Antonio Cavazzoni as a musician to whom advice was sought on the acoustics of the 'excessive octave', calling him 'a man of high intelligence', but Spataro snidely adds that he thought little of seeking 'the light of understanding from a mere instrumentalist [uno pulsatore de instrumento]', perhaps not understanding how apt would be a lute with its movable frets for experiments in musical acoustics. Surely having attained his majority by the late fifteenth century, Marco was probably born around 1470 and thus belongs chronologically with the generation of lutenists prior to Francesco and Alberto, that is with those lutenists associated with the Venetian music publisher Ottaviano Petrucci, the so-called 'Gutenberg of music'. Between the years 1507 and 1510 he issued four books of lute music by Francesco spinacino, Joan Ambrosio Dalsa and the Count of Verucchio Gian Maria Allemani. Marcolini takes pains to point out, however, that his triumvirate of the 'Milanese', the 'Mantovano' and the' Aquilano' , belong with the moderns of his day, and that their music departed significantly from the style of the earlier Petrucci lutenists, and such fifteenth-century plectrum virtuosi as Giovanni Antonio Testagrossa (1470-1530) and Pietro Bono da Ferrara (ca.1417-1497).


A crucial juncture in the history of music for lute and for instrumental music in general occured during the first third of the sixteenth century, when a far-reaching innovation effected right-hand technique. Inspired perhaps by Joannes Orbo, a blind German lutenist active at the Gonzaga court in the 1460s and 1470s, players abandoned the plectrum in favour of using bare fingers to sound the instrument. As Johannes Tinctoris reported, this permitted one to 'playa composition alone, and most skilfully in not only two contrapuntal parts, but ever in three or four'. Lutenists of the older order often performed in team with a second musician who played a cantus firmus in long notes, while the plectrum virtuoso improvised brilliant divisions which ranged over the entire instrument. Much of Petrucci's lute music was written under the sway of that plectrum style. The waning of plectrum play coincided with the appearance of printed lute music. As lutenists sought to reconcile the older plectrum style with the newer finger technique, they laid the foundation for a soloist idiom which exploited the sound and playing characteristics of a plucked string instrument, and ultimately provided the requisites for an abstract music, one whose logic and coherence depended upon elements.


The most innovative lutenist-composer is unquestionably Marco dall' Aquila, who can be credited with defining the parameters of the newer soloist polyphonic manner, which was to dominate writing for the lute through to the time of John Dowland, nearly a century later. In 1536 Giovanni Antonio Casteliono published an anthology of lute music including works by Francesco, Alberto and Pietro Paulo Borrono, which includes Marco fantasias in fully developed three-part and four-part polyphony, which anticipate in technique and length those by Franceso (publ. 1548) and by masters of the post-Francesco generation such as Fabritio Dentice in Italy, Melchior Newsidler in Germany, Valentin Bakfark in Poland, Miguel de Fuenllana in Spain and Alfonso Ferrabosco in England. Marco's fantasias and ricercars in the present recording, Mbs 24 [1], Mbs 26/GAC f. 57 [9], GAC f. 7 [25], GAC f. 29 [32] are in this advanced style. Although no lute music by Marco is known to have been issued as a result of his 1505 petition to the Venetian Signori, a manuscript copied for the Augsburg financier, music bibliophile and patrician Hans Heinrich Herwath (1520-1583) preserves nearly seventy of his works, and further confirms the very high regard in which Marco was held by his contemporaries. The manuscript (which shows signs of having been compiled from a print) includes ricercars in a variety of styles, some using French chansons as a springboard Mbs 101 [8], with its refrain-Iike shift to triple metre). It is a typical collection and includes French chansons and frottola arrangements which enjoyed special favour in early sixteenth-century Italy. With their rhythmically animated chordal textures, simple harmonies and block formal structures, they were ideally suited to transcription for performance on instruments. Pietro Aretino remarked in 1537, 'Nor do I marvel if someone of quality listens to the babbling of others, because even Francesco Milanese, Alberto da Mantova and my messer Marco dall ' Aquila take pleasure in listening to the strumming of a barber's lute.' And consequently lute collections often contained a number of dance pieces, many based on street-songs, some in Venetian dialect, such as Marco's Cara cosa (my sweetheart from Bardolino) and La traditora (The traitor in love makes me wish to die), and Gian Maria da Crema's El maton ('Madonna', imitating the accent of a German soldier), and dances on Bel fiore and Giorgio (II Zozghi'). Marco was, above all, a composer who understood the sound and playing characteristics of a plucked string instrument. He sometimes moves into higher positions for a dramatic effect, and was fond of exploiting unusual lutenistic effects, such as the sonorities of the five lowest strings (Mbs 15) [31] and the effective use of broken textures, as in the perpetual motion of Mbs 33 [5]. While he was still alive, Marco was included among the musicians that Fillippo Oriolo placed atop Mount Parnassus, an honour fully justified by his music. An indigenous, near classical balance, of the most essential ingredients for a purely instrumental idiom is the legacy and vital principle of Marco's music. His delight in digital play, tempered by imagination in manipulating musical ideas with formal clarity place Marco dall' Aquila within the select circle of master composers of the Italian Renaissance.


Of Gian Maria da Crema, who is sometimes confused with the notorious Count of Verucchio, Gian Maria Allemani, virtually no biographical data survive. In 1546 and 1548 two books of music edited and composed by him were issued in Venice, and subsequently some of his music found its way into printed sources in Germany and the Lowlands. The 1548 book is entirely devoted to arrangements of instrumental ensemble music (perhaps for viols) by Francesco da Milano and Julio da Modena Segni, first organist at St. Mark's in Venice from 1530 to 1533. The 1546 book, from which Christopher Wilson has selected pieces for the present recording, contains additional Segni arrangements, some from Andrea Arrivabene's Musica nova of 1540, an anthology of music by composers of the Willaert circle, as well as dances, arrangements of vocal music and ricercars. Even then some of Gian Maria's ricercars are adapted from earlier works by Segni [18], one being what is sometimes called a parody or quotation ricercar: Gian Maria quotes from the pre-existing work, then departs from it for his own musical commentary. The passamezzo/saltarello paired dances ala Bolognese use a harmonic formula which in a later adumbration becomes the basis for hundreds of lute pieces called passamezzo antico on the Continent and passing measures in Britain. Gian Maria's familiarity and reliance on instrumental ensemble music suggests that he may be identical with a ‘Zuanmaria da Cremona,’ a member of a sextet of Italian viol- players who appeared at the court of Henry VIII in 1540.


@ 1996 Arthur J. Ness




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