About this Recording
8.573256 - GRATIANI, B.: Adae / Filli Prodigi / 5 Motets (Consortium Carissimi, Comeaux)

Bonifazio Graziani (1604–1664)
Adae Oratorium • Filii Prodigi Oratorium & Five Motets


Liturgical church music of the mid-seventeenth century was concertato, music set for several voices and accompanied by different instruments. The composition genre was a small scale motet which was at the heart of daily and weekly musical practice in the Roman Catholic Church and in Royal Court Chapels. Indeed the most admired and imitated music of the time was composed by Italian musicians, especially around 1650 in Rome. One of these important composers was Bonifazio Graziani, the maestro di cappella of the Jesuit Church (Chiesa del Gesù) in Rome. Discerning authorship of his music is not as problematic as it is with Carissimi’s, since most of his works were conveniently published, by his brother, Graziano.

In the complex musical panorama of seventeenth-century Rome, there were a number of small provincial cities that contributed to its history by educating so many important composers. This phenomenon might find an explanation in the local institutions of the time which promoted and produced a musical culture of which we still know very little, but was able to provide the fertile terrain for the growth of such important musicians. In the southern hills of Rome there are several small towns connected by small winding roads, known as the Castelli Romani. In Marino, in particular, two such geniuses grew up together, Giacomo Carissimi (1605–1674) and Bonifazio Graziani (1604–1664). I am indebted to numerous scholarly sources, but what follows is primarily based on research done by my friend, the historian Ugo Onorati, and musicologist Susanne Shigihara. Although Carissimi was born in Marino, there are many parallel aspects in their histories since both families arrived in Marino in search of a better life. Graziani was born in the small town of Rocca di Botte, near L’Aquila in Abruzzo. When he was about five years of age, he moved with his family to Marino where he and Carissimi grew up in this small town of roughly two thousand inhabitants. One of the most important families of the Roman aristocracy living in Marino was the Colonnas. Music for the Palace in Marino certainly accounted for the high quality of musical production, as well as did the surrounding villas of princes and their families on the via Tuscolana of Frascati, or in Ariccia, or in Castel Gandolfo and Albano. Famous names such as Aldobrandini, Chigi, Barberini and Torlonia are found among guests and patrons.

Graziani made an early start on his ecclesiastical career and, after his seminary studies in theology in Rome, was ordained a priest. He was soon given the prestigious position as maestro di cappella of the seminary itself and the adjacent church, La Chiesa del Gesù. Unlike other composers also ordained priest, Graziani balanced both activities as is documented in the many baptismal registries of the churches of Marino. Much of Graziani’s music was printed during his lifetime, including liturgical music of different kinds, solo motets and motets for two to six voices. Graziani died in 1664 and it was his brother, Graziano, who obtained the rights from Pope Alexander VIII in order to publish more of his brother’s music. Between 1665 and 1678 he published fourteen posthumous collections of music by Bonifazio.

Mention of mid-seventeenth century Rome brings to mind the recurring event of every 25 years, and the Holy Year of 1650. Pope Innocent X declared 1650 “a most holy year,” with massive ventures of building and decoration, as well as festive ceremonies displaying the grandeur of the Eternal City. Graziani (like Carissimi) was commissioned to compose volumes of great solemn music for this year, and many works were composed for L’Oratorio del Santissimo Crocifisso (The Oratory of the Most Holy Crucifix) near the Church of San Marcello al Corso. Here the Fridays of Lent were filled with music and sermons. Considered as spiritual exercises for the Easter celebrations, it is quite likely that the two oratorios heard in this recording were performed in 1650. Sources today are found in twenty-six libraries in eight countries.

The Latin words of the motets are elaborated liturgical and biblical texts mixed with some medieval prose, making modern translation sometimes a challenge. O miracula, set for two sopranos, tenor and bass, is more of a text for Advent rather than for Christmas, as “O Miracles, O wonders” concludes with “Come, O Lord, Do not delay, Behold, he is already near, Behold, he comes”. Beati mundo corde, set for two sopranos and tenor, is a text for the Feast of All Souls which incorporates the text of the Beatitudes found in Chapter 5 of St Matthew’s Gospel with other non liturgical-biblical poetry.

Graziani also composed settings of Psalms, Masses, Litanies and Responsories for Holy Week and his music was in great demand throughout Europe, especially motets for solo voice. Venite, audite is a fine example of the elegant mixture of text, melody and harmonic accompaniment as we hear in “Come, hear, and I will tell all who love God what great things he has done for my soul”.

Quis dabit capiti meo, also set for two sopranos and tenor, takes the beginning words of a well-known text from Chapter 9 of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and combines various texts from liturgical Responsories for the Dead. The motet ends with a poetical text, reminiscent of the New Testament epistle of St James 4, 9; “O happy sins, O strong, loving ones, your struggle will change your tears to laughter”. Quid est hoc, set for two sopranos, alto and bass, is for the Feast of Pentecost as the text proclaims “O light, who always lightens, and never darkens, set me alight!”

The oratorios Adae and Filii prodigi, both scored for two sopranos, tenor and bass, were never printed and published, but exist today in manuscripts kept in the Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale di Bologna of the Giovan Battista Martini Music Conservatory. The oratorio Filii prodigii is based on the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in St Luke’s Gospel (15, 1–32) and Adae is based on a text from the Book of Genesis (3, 1–19). Both oratorios on this recording are similar in that the Textus or Historicus (Evangelist or Narrator) is given to different solo voices throughout and at times set for two, three, or four voices. These oratorios have no introductory sinfonie, consequently sinfonie were often taken from the works of other composers. Both of these works of Graziani offer fine examples of his style of composition and the harmonies that are truly particular to him. In general, there was very little mediocre music composed at this period in Roman history.

Identical in vocal forces, Filii prodigi has solo figured bass lines in three sections entitled Ritornello in Part I and six sections entitled Symphonia in Part II. One can only speculate that there were obbligato instrumental parts above this bass line. In these sections of Ritornelli and Symphonia, we have reconstructed a solo line for tenor sackbut.

Consortium Carissimi and the Present Performance

Consortium Carissimi, was founded in 1996 by myself and Vittorio Zanon and continues to uncover and bring to modern day ears the long forgotten music of the early Roman Baroque or Scuola Romana period. In order to best underscore the vocal character of each singer and maintain a historically informed-musical picture, which is our rule for Consortium Carissimi performances, we chose a performance pitch of 415 hertz for this recording. In the light of the variable instrumental tuning in seventeenth-century Rome, which was classified into two diverse categories (the vocal category was usually one step lower than today) we believe we 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 oratorios, Consortium Carissimi recreates at each 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. We are gratefully indebted to Dr Ugo Onorati for his continued help in keeping us up to date with his revisions in the lives of both Carissimi and Graziani.

Bonifazio Graziani is in fact one of the best kept secrets of the early Roman Baroque period. It is our hope that this may no longer be the case. This Consortium Carissmi project is a continuation of the work begun in 1996 with the release of three recordings of motets, oratorios and Masses of Giacomo Carissimi. We make no pretence of a historical reconstruction of the Roman Oratorio (if that were ever a possibility) but rather suggest an interpretation by historically informed modern musicians that specialize in this delightful repertory.

Garrick Comeaux

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