About this Recording
8.573258 - CARISSIMI, G.: Motets - Audivi vocem / Christus factus est / Usquequo peccatores (Consortium Carissimi, Comeaux)

Giacomo Carissimi (1605–1674)
Eight Motets


This recording of eight motets by Giacomo Carissimi is in many ways the result of twenty years of activity of Consortium Carissimi, founded in Rome in 1996 by Vittorio Zanon, Marco Scavazza and myself and established in St Paul-Minneapolis (USA) in 2007. As a continuation of the the first three albums on the Naxos label (Mass for Three Voices, Ten Motets and Jephte and Jonas), these motets further represent the wide range of Carissimi’s musical style and structure, which provide occasion for these liturgical/biblical Latin texts to come to life and dramatically express the story within.

No single set of characteristics serves to define a motet, except in a specific historical and cultural context. It originated as a pre-eminent form of secular art music during the late Middle Ages. In the first half of the fifteenth century, the motet’s liturgical ties were restored, in the sixteenth century, the motet achieved its classical synthesis. During the Early Baroque, composers largely adopted the new styles for their motets, writing pieces for one or more voices with basso continuo, a “bass line” that acts as the foundation for all of the harmonic and melodic structures that are built above it. Basso continuo instruments are those that play the bass line (viola da gamba, violone, baroque trombone) or fill in the bass line harmonies (organ, harpsichord, theorbo, lute, lirone). They provide stability as they accompany both melody and harmony, which often included independent instrumental parts, usually for strings or flutes.

Since there are no surviving autograph manuscripts, the editions prepared by Consortium Carissimi are based on copies of manuscripts made by the composer’s contemporaries. These copies come from library manuscripts or early printed editions; consequently, much of this music has not been performed since. Any endeavour accurately to account for this music would be difficult without the enormous work done by Professor Andrew V. Jones in his Doctoral Dissertation Motets of Carissimi (Oxford University 1980, British studies in musicology No.5, a revision of the author’s thesis, produced and distributed by UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan (USA)). More than two hundred motets have been attributed to Carissimi over the years but Professor Jones’s exhaustive work has helped in clearing much of the confusion concerning the correct authorship of numerous motets by Cazzati, Foggia, Sances and Graziani. When scrutiny is applied in the quest for authenticity, many motets remain of uncertain attribution. The eight motets on this recording are almost certainly by Giacomo Carissimi.

Born in 1605, in the small Roman hillside town of Marino, Giacomo Carissimi began his church musician career as cantor and organist in Tivoli in the years between 1623–1627. In the two years that followed, he was organist and then choirmaster at the Cathedral of San Rufino, in Assisi, which he left at the invitation of the rector of the Collegio Germanico Hungarico (the Jesuit German Seminary) in Rome to become maestro di cappella of the prestigious Basilica of Sant’Apollinare which was annexed to the College. It is here that he would remain for the rest of his life, becoming one of the most significant figures in the music of the seventeenth century. The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare had already established itself as a centre for fine liturgical music in the heart of Rome, and Jacomo’s presence (as he is remembered in archive documents) brought it even greater attention. Carissimi’s duties at the Basilica were divided between composition, and the direction of all musical activities of the Seminary on the one hand, and teaching on the other. Many musicians of that period in fact came to study with him directly, including Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643–1704), Christoph Bernhard (1628–1692) and Johann Kaspar Kerll (1627–1693), or indirectly, by means of the music itself, thereby learning and acquiring this new style of composition. It is due to Carissimi that much of this traditional Italian style of composition was maintained throughout continental Europe for the entire seventeenth century. Carissimi also collaborated with the Roman Oratories, particularly the Confraternity of the Santissimo Crocifisso at San Marcello, for which it is quite probable that many of his oratorios were composed. Among the numerous job proposals made to him over the years, he only accepted Christina of Sweden’s offer in 1656 to become her maestro di cappella da camera, turning down an offer to serve the Court of the Archduke Leopold William in Brussels and ignoring attempts to have him replace Claudio Monteverdi at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. He died on 12th January 1674 and was buried in his beloved Basilica of Sant’Apollinare.

Although Carissimi’s talent was soon recognized by his Roman contemporaries and brought him long-lasting admiration throughout Europe, such success was not the case for his manuscript compositions, which he purposely left to the college at his death. Pope Clement in fact prohibited the loan, transfer and publication of his music. Today almost all of Carissimi’s autograph manuscripts are lost, perhaps owing in part to the destruction brought on by the two French occupations of Rome. Those manuscripts which survive are copies, produced solely for performance by Carissimi’s students and providentially preserving a large quantity of his compositional output.

As such, little is known as to where and in what circumstances this music was performed. At the Oratory of the Santissimo Crocifisso, the Confraternity of the same name operated from 1568–1725, creating a tradition of sacred music performance of such quality that its influence was fundamental for the musical genre known today as the oratorio. This particular para-liturgy consisted of Old and New Testament readings, and a sermon, interspersed with vocal and instrumental music. From the simple lauda, which was already common to the Spiritual Exercises at the Oratory of Filippo Neri (Santa Maria in Vallicella) to the production of more elaborate and complex motets, the Oratory involved professional musicians and composers who fully immersed themselves in the spiritual fermentation of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation. These artists not only produced beautiful music, but they involved the listener in the content and meaning of the text.

We do not have much direct information concerning performances at the College or at Santissimo Crocifisso, but a few testimonies help to give us an idea, and it is possible generally to affirm that both institutions had more than exceptional means for musical performances. It is interesting to read (reproduced by H. E. Smither in his History of Baroque Oratory) a quotation from a note by Francis Mortoft, a traveller passing through Rome sometime in the 1650s, which describes the music performed at Santissimo Crocifisso. “… a music so sweet and harmonious which, once having left Rome, can never be hoped to be heard again on the face of the Earth. It was composed with at least twenty voices, organs, lute, viola and two violins, all of which were playing music so melodious and delicious that Cicerone with all his eloquence would never have been able to describe it.” The level of performance was notably high and that of the composition itself was of a similar standard, as is evident from those scores of Carissimi which have survived for us today.

Concerning the output of Carissimi’s Motets, Andrew Jones states that, “Only about a fifth of Carissimi’s motet texts are derived verbatim from the liturgy or scriptures. Far commoner is the text that modifies and amplifies passages from the scriptures (or very occasionally the liturgy): verses related to a central theme are drawn from various books of the Bible, usually in modified form, often combined with newly written text.”¹ Numerous features of the mid-seventeenth-century motet, tend to obscure the continuity of its development from the late sixteenth-century motet, such as the virtuoso nature of the vocal melodic lines, the foundation of basso continuo, a less important counterpoint, transparent sectional structure and contrasts of musical style between sections and, of course, dramatic textual elements underscored in the composition. Andrew Jones provides more specific details on each of the motets.

The Eight Motets

Audivi vocem, set for three soprano voices, two violins, lute, theorbo and basso continuo, was probably composed before 1634. The text is a non-liturgical reworking of various passages for the Book of Revelation. The survival of the manuscript is due to the Benedictine monk, Johannes Lechler, who visited Rome and met Carissimi early in 1633. This would place the Motet as one of Carissimi’s earlier works. It comes to us from the archives of Benediktiner-Stift, Kremsmünster Austria.

Christus factus est, set for two choirs SSATB and SATB, and basso continuo, takes a liturgical/biblical text for Holy Thursday which comes from the Epistle of St Paul to the Philippians. The manuscript comes to us from the Archivio Musicale of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome. Laurence Feininger transcribed it in Documenta liturgiae polychoralis, xviii (Trent, 1964).

Usquequo peccatores is for three choirs, SSS, ATB, SATB, two violins, lute and basso continuo, (dated 1672) and comes from the seminary library of Kromeriz, (then Bohemia/Moravia, now the Czech Republic) where a strong Jesuit presence as well as students and colleagues of Carissimi fortunately preserved much of his music. Entitled Motetum de Martyribus on the front cover, the size and length of this “motet” have made musicologists ponder the difference between a motet and an oratorio.² Choir II are the martyrs under the altar, indicated sotto l’altare in the manuscript. Choir I are presumably the saints in heaven and Choir III comments on the dramatic dialogue that ensues.

Dixit Dominus, for two SATB choirs and basso continuo, is a liturgical setting of Psalm 126 (127). Carissimi uses chant tone 5a as the basis of the work incorporating an old style (or stile antico) very reminiscent of the Nisi Dominus in Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610). This manuscript score is held by the Library of the Royal College of Music, London and the Archivio Capitolare of the Basilica di San Zeno, Pistoia, Italy. Our source for transcription, however, comes from the massive collection of manuscripts of Gustav Düben (1624–1690), who left them to the Universitetsbiblioteket, Uppsala Sweden.

Silentium tenebant is for two sopranos, tenor, two violins and basso continuo. A large number of manuscript copies survive in French libraries, indicating the popularity of his music in France. This motet comes from a collection once held in the Paris Conservatoire but now kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. A fragment missing in the violin parts and basso continuo of the motet is also to be found in the same Parisian library. Worth mentioning is that another collection enthusiast may have in fact added these violin parts: André Philidor (1647–1730). The poetic text is a Christmas Ninna-nanna or lullaby to the baby Jesus, with the effects of the zampogna or Italian bagpipes that are still heard today during the holidays.

Sustinuimus in pacem for two sopranos, alto, two tenors, bass and basso continuo also comes from the seminary library of Kromeriz, Czech Republic, as does Usquequo. The initial part of the text comes from Jeremiah 14, 19–20 which was a liturgical responsorium chant.

Timete Dominum is scored for two sopranos, alto, tenor, bass and basso continuo. This text comes directly from the liturgy for All Saints: the Gradual Psalm 34, the Alleluia verse and tract from St Matthew. The source for this transcription is a manuscript unica, which comes from the Archivio Musicale of Como Cathedral in northern Italy. There are seven of Carissimi’s Motets, all in manuscript part copies.³ Kept in the private residence of the Cathedral’s provost, there is no printed catalogue for these manuscripts. This motet has been transcribed and edited by Dr Andrew Jones, in The Motets of Carissimi, Vol. 2, UMI Research, Ann Arbor MI, (1982), p. 495.

Hodie Salvator Mundi is for two sopranos, alto, two tenors, bass, two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo. Written before 1664, this freely adapted text may have originated with a popular medieval Christmas sermon, and now set for Easter. This motet comes from the Gustav Düben collection in the Universitetsbiblioteket, Uppsala Sweden, but survives in a tablature manuscript only (see page 12). The Latin text, however, has proved to be difficult to reproduce and in some instances, unfortunately, impossible. We have therefore recorded only the initial soprano solo with ritornello, tenor solo with ritornello, and the final section of the last soprano solo with full final ritornello.

Garrick Comeaux

¹ Grove Music Online: Giacomo Carissimi, 4. Motets

² G. Dixon: Oratorio o mottetto? Alcune riflessioni sulla classificazione della musica sacra del Seicento, NRMI, xvii (1983), 203–22

³ See Jones, Motets of Carissimi, vol. 2, p. 201

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