About this Recording
8.572983 - ANIMOSO MIO DESIRE - 16th-Century Italian Keyboard Favourites (Wilson)

Andrea Antico (c.1480–after 1538)
Animoso mio desire: 16th-Century Italian Keyboard Favourites


During the full flower of the Italian Renaissance, the mid-fifteenth century, native musical composition in that blessed land falls strangely silent. The steady advance of humanism was turning musicians away from the artifices of the Franco-Netherlanders who dominated the compositional scene, and a new style was gestating. There are records of semi-improvisational performances of popular tunes to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument during this hiatus. Italians saw how the wind was blowing, created their own written-out imitations for solo voice with lute, and around 1480 in Mantua they came up with versions in four voices for sociable singing, which were no longer really polyphonic, but instead comprised settings of folk-like melodies in the upper voice instead of the tenor, accompanied by chordal harmonies. These were given a frivolous, quasi-rustic name: frottola, a deceitful, silly story; a choice possibly dictated by the prevalence of unrequited lovers’ threats of imminent death in the poems which were set to this simple music.

Then when Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494, initiating (alongside the mayhem effected by his new mobile artillery) one of the most fruitful cultural exchanges in European history, the frottola filtered back to France and helped to inspire the easeful “Parisian” chanson. This, in turn, eventually merged with the Italian madrigal. Attended by fumbling attempts at restoring Greek drama, the madrigal finally shed all polyphonic rigour as it metamorphosed into Florentine monody. This was seized upon by Monteverdi (in Mantua again) and brought to its pinnacle. And there, in a nutshell, is the story of the most important revolution in music history: the fall of polyphony.

But in 1517, when Andrea Antico printed the works offered here, the modest frottola was still a long way from wreaking all this havoc. Less than two decades previously, music printing with movable type had begun in Venice, with publications that have never been surpassed in beauty from the presses of Petrucci. Just after the Vatican stanze and Sistine ceiling were painted by Raphael and Michelangelo barely a hundred yards apart, and ten years before the city was sacked by the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Antico, a vainglorious, second-rate printer from Dalmatia, somehow ingratiated himself with the first Medici Pope, Leo X, and obtained a monopoly for printing keyboard music. The document, included in the print, specifically says this was due to the failure of Petrucci to publish any such works. Antico rejoiced in his success, and got in a jab at Petrucci in a woodcut (our cover image): it shows a pretty girl waving away an angry ape clutching a lute (presumably Petrucci), and hurrying over to Antico, who is seated at a Papal harpsichord playing his new book of frottola arrangements. Independently-composed keyboard music was at that point (but not for long) still in a fairly primitive state, and nourished itself with “intabulations” (arrangements in keyboard score) of vocal counterpoint. Antico’s choice of the wildly popular frottola for his first effort was clever.

He was also clever in his choice of arranger (it was not Antico himself, as is often thought, any more than the printer/publisher Attaignant arranged the first lute publications in France around the same time, or than Bennett Cerf wrote Ulysses). This anonymous master, doubtless one of the countless Italian organists whose works have been lost, produced a very early example of a fully-balanced polyphonic keyboard style. In 1517 Josquin still had four years to live, and voice crossings and gothicisms still frequently appear even in frottole. In Antico’s book there is a radical change: generally keeping the all-important melody and bass lines free and intact (except for modest amounts of added ornamentation), the arranger substituted supple, idiomatic inner voices for the spiky originals, which are often mere filler. Once the notational fog is dispersed, his work turns out to deserve a place of high honour in the annals of music history. We will never know how much of a rôle he played in what might be called the “humanization” of keyboard playing and, reciprocally, of vocal composition.

Unfortunately, he was as badly served by his publisher as most writers are nowadays in our brave new world, which has largely dispensed with editors and proofreaders: Antico utterly botched his first (and, as far as we know, only, in spite of this collection being called Libro Primo) effort in this field. The vertical alignment of notes is as good as indecipherable, and the most outrageous errors abound. In this he is typical of almost all early attempts at the admittedly difficult task of printing keyboard music on two staves. (A notable exception: the works of Marcantonio Cavazzoni, printed in Venice six years later under a copyright issued by the Dutch Pope Adrian VI.) Only two copies of Antico’s print survive. One sometimes has the impression that such defective publications were thrown into the trash in despair, and in a few cases, put up on a high shelf with a sigh, to collect dust until rescued by a scavenging German antiquarian or an Englishman on the Grand Tour.

Those who know my habits will not be surprised to learn that I have tried, with what I think is a proper balance between respect for the source and total ruthlessness, to restore these charming pieces to something resembling normality. The task has been made easier by the existence of all but one of the vocal originals, but more difficult by the fact that the arranger may have been working from an aborted version for lute and solo singer—the usual type of frottola arrangement. There are several reasons why I think this may be the case, but the main one is that in these, as in Antico, there are many gaps in the lute part’s melody line. I have taken the liberty of restoring them when no violence is done to the very free texture, where voices enter, cross, and disappear at will in true keyboard style. The originals have provided correctives for many other obvious errors of the kind that slumber on in modern editions. Taking into account Antico’s extreme unreliability, this has been my general policy: where the version transmitted by the Dalmatian gives a weaker text than the vocal frottola without substituting anything of worth, I have followed the original. I apologize to the late esteemed arranger, and hope, where I have erred, that he would have considered this as “reception” (as modern parlance has it) of his work by someone who knew his sources.

The list of frottola composers is dominated by Bartolomeo Tromboncino, a wild character and great favourite of Isabella d’Este at the court of Mantua, who seems to have pardoned him for murdering his wife when he found her with a lover, in a prequel to Gesualdo’s dark deed. Marco Cara is the second most prominent name, followed by Michele Vicentino. The poetry which inspired the frottole chosen by Antico varies in quality from dialect jest to noblest utterance. The minor forms more strictly associated with the frottola (which, confusingly, was itself the name of a poetical form), the strambotto and barzaletta, give way with surprising frequency to the canzona and the sonnet. Especially noteworthy is the frequent use of poems by the great fourteenth-century vernacular poet Petrarca (whose works found an early advocate in Mantua, Pietro Bembo), a generation before the first great wave of Petrarcan madrigals. His sonnet “Hor che’l ciel[26], later set by Monteverdi in what seems like a different galaxy, is one of the earliest notturni, and one of the most beautiful poems in any language. His hymn to the Virgin Mary [2] is a customary inclusion in such collections of otherwise profane love songs. Baldassare Castiglione, later, in Urbino, author of the famous Cortegiano (where he wrote movingly on the virtues of singing madrigals together), is present in the book’s final piece, with a love sonnet from his early days in Mantua. Vicentino’s contribution [29] made it as far as the Heptaméron of Marguerite d’Angoulême, the brilliant and wayward sister of King François I of France.

Two of the frottole [22] [27] take the form of a lively French dance, the branle, as does the middle section of the tripartite Che farala [29]. But the seriousness of many of these poems and the endless afflictions of frustrated males require some leavening of mirth, which I have found in selections from a manuscript collection of song and dance arrangements, presumably Venetian, now in the Biblioteca Marciana, and roughly contemporary with Antico. This is another manifestation of new stylistic tendencies, going back to the improvisations mentioned above—simple folk-like melodies, accompanied by rough-and-ready chords in the left hand, revelling in forbidden parallel motion. French influence is evident here, too, not only in a compliment to French womanhood [16], but also in the appearance of the fast dance called tourdion [11], here corrupted to todero, and the magic horse Bayard [31] from old chansons de geste. La cara cossa [25] may be the earliest appearance anywhere of what later became the most famous of all variation themes, the Follía. For the sake of tonal variety, these intermezzi are performed on a rectangular, iron-strung spinetta.

These two sources are the oldest collections of Italian keyboard music, with the exception of a unique survival, the early-fifteenth-century Codex Faenza. The distance travelled between that Gothic source and the Renaissance which we find fully-established here, would almost tempt one to add a track or two from the older source, to create a kind of Botticellian Primavera in sound. In that famous painting, the cold March wind seizes and ravishes Chloris who then metamorphoses into a ravishing Flora. Antico’s anonymous (Venetian?) arranger produced music for keyboard as up-to-date as Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin for the Frari in Venice, which was being painted in 1517, thus ending the medium’s long history of lagging behind developments in the other arts.

Knowing the words to the frottole is essential to the performer, less so for a listener; but to give you, kind reader, an idea of what is going on, I append here translations of the titles, where necessary a brief synopsis or comment, and where indispensable, a few lines of text translation (in inverted commas).

[1] My bold desire
[2] “Loveliest Virgin, wreathed in sunlight and crowned with stars, wherein the Sun itself was pleased to hide its light, love compels me to address Thee — but how shall I commence without Thine aid, and that of Him who lovingly entered Thy womb? If Thou pitiest the extreme misery of humanity, incline Thine ear to my prayer; aid me in my struggles, though I am but dust, and Thou the Queen of heaven. Amen.” (Petrarca)
[3] Grab the rag, scamp / Pretty little bird / The cart is broken and the cows are in trouble
[4] Subdue your beautiful eyes, my lady
[5] Cruel one, flee if you can
[6] She will be mine no more
[7] Ladies, lend me your flour drum, I want to sieve my flour on the Rialto bridge / My lover’s boat sails tonight / Bernardo can’t stand up straight
[8] Love, thou compass of all my faith while you flourished (Petrarca, on the death of Laura)
[9] Sweet anger, sweet disdain, and sweet truces
[10] “What must I do, counsel me, Love; it is time to die, death is delayed beyond endurance. My lady is gone, and has taken my heart with her. (…)” (Petrarca, on the death of Laura)
[11] Tourdion / O dove, singing for love in the steeple / The marquess of Saluzzo
[12] “Cupid was sleeping under a beech tree, exhausted from shooting his arrows at men and gods; it was the lovely green month of May, bedecked with flowers, the time when amorous lamentations are renewed.”
[13] Beautiful flame of love, why have you turned to ice?
[14] I am he whose life became death on that day
[15] What aid, what comfort?
[16] The busy housekeeper / The beautiful French girl / Touch the tube (a bawdy dance)
[17] “There is nothing in this valley but love and peace, where one lies quietly beside clear crystal waters.”
[18] Hear my lament, o heaven, for she hears me not
[19] What will she say when she hears I have ended my life?
[20] The godmother / I am that Duke of Milan
[21] I bathe my face in tears of pain
[22] I want you for my own
[23] So you leave me, out of mere cruelty?
[24] Let me gaze on her once more
[25] The Lombard girl (who reveals her Germanic roots in this Ländler) / Berdolin’s sweetheart
[26] “Heaven and earth are silent, the winds are calm, the birds and beasts have ceased their chatter, Night circles his starry chariot in the sky, the sea lies waveless in its bed; and I watch, think, burn, and lament, while she who disgraced me remains constantly in my mind, to my sweet anguish. I am in a state of war, filled with anger and agony, and only the thought of her brings any kind of peace; (…) and since this martyrdom knows no end, I die a thousand times a day, and am a thousand times reborn.” (Petrarca)
[27] My dying will never die, since it is you who kill me
[28] Sweet lady, if any spark of love remains
[29] What will she do when she hears I have become a monk?
[30] The thread of life is so weak that without someone’s help I will soon die
[31] The stallion Bayard prances / The geese are dancing / Coming from Bologna my shoe pinched
[32] Let her who does not believe the sun warms the earth doubt my love
[33] “I sang merrily while the thought of her nourished my high hopes; now my voice is only good for weeping…” (Castiglione)

Glen Wilson

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