About this Recording
8.573257 - GRATIANI, B.: Cantatas (Consortium Carissimi, Comeaux)

Bonifazio Graziani (1604–1664)
Cantatas, Op. 25


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 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 (1605–1664). 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 did the surrounding villas of princes and their families on the via Tuscolana of Frascati, or in Ariccia, 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 of maestro di cappella of the seminary itself and the adjacent church, the 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.

Graziani was a major contributor to the School of Roman Polyphony of the seventeenth century and, along with Giacomo Carissimi, Luigi Rossi and Benedetto Ferrari, favoured the genre of the solo cantata. Posthumously published in 1678 by Bonifazio’s brother, these Sacred and Moral Cantatas set for one, two, three and four voices, are kept in the beautiful Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome and the work was dedicated to Princess Laora, (Laura Martinozzi) Duchess of Modena.

Graziani preferred to use the term motet instead of cantata for his Italian vernacular compositions. It is uncertain who composed these texts or as to how these fourteen pieces may have been performed. It is doubtful that they were intended to be performed all together since the subject matter varies from Lenten penitential and Christmas themes to philosophical inquiries on the meaning of life. As Shigihara suggests, it is likely that some of these may have been included in programmes or spiritual exercises of the Roman Oratories. The printed music comes in four fascicles; Soprano I, Soprano II, Tenor and Bass, and Basso continuo. Each title carries a subtitle which better indicates the subject matter.

Opus 25 contains three solo motets for soprano. O che sempre mi scordi, (O how I always forget that I am nothing) [not included on this recording] is a dramatic and challenging vocal setting to a philosophical text on the fragility of human life. Su lieto mio cuore, ([10], Be happy my heart, you are protected by Mary) and Generoso pensiero ([6], A noble thought nestles within me… to offer up my life to my God) are both religious in nature, as the first expresses confidence in Mary and the second, the desire to die for God.

Three motets in Opus 25 are set for two voices, Mobil nave è nostra vita ([3], Our lives are like a moving ship cutting across the sea) for soprano and tenor is another philosophical excursion. Gran tesoro dei mortali ([9]), also set for soprano and tenor, and Amici pastori ([11]), for soprano and alto, are Christmas texts that exclaim “O great treasure of all mortals, who gave you such a poor abode”, and “Dear Sun of paradise, your face steals all our hearts.”

Seven motets are set for three voices, Peccator dimmi perché? ([8]) for soprano, alto, and tenor is a unique text as it is the voice of Jesus who asks “O sinner, tell me why, why does your heart disdain me so?” Germoglino / Combattono ([4], A true lover knows the toil and struggle), set for soprano, alto, and tenor, is strophic in two equal parts. Non ho voglia di penar più ([5], I do not want to suffer any more) is set for two sopranos and alto. Crudelissime spine / Acutissimi chiodi ([7]) is set for alto, tenor and bass. Strophic in two parts, this Lenten/Good Friday text speaks of the “Cruel thorns, that wound my Lord” and the “Sharp nails that wound my Jesus”.

Three of these settings for three voices are called dialogues. Siamo qui Suore fatali ([1]), set for two sopranos and tenor, has as protagonists The Three Parcae (The Three Fates). The first fate inserts the needle with the thread of life, the second determines its length and the third cuts it at the established moment in time. The work is not really a dialogue as its through-composed homophonic structure would perhaps suggest they are speaking as one to the listener. True dialogues are to be found in Ecco aperto l’abisso ([2]) for two sopranos and tenor, and Presso quell sasso for three sopranos [not included on this recording]. The first is a dialogue between the living and those condemned to hell, the second, a dialogue between Mary Magdalene and two angels. Mal’accorto pensier ([12]), the largest setting of the “motets” is for three sopranos and tenor and is subtitled On the vanity of the world: “Worldly pleasures are wilting blossoms; heavenly pleasures are stable and true. Noble hearts should observe the beauty of the stars, not of flowers”.

In this recording we have ordered these motets differently from the way they appear in the index published in Opus 25. Owing to timing restrictions, as mentioned above, we have omitted O che sempre mi scordi and Presso quell sasso. The recording opens and closes with the philosophical texts which frame the Lenten and Christmastide motets.

Garrick Comeaux

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