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CD-16263 -
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The Rost MS: music from the library of the “Sun King”


The manuscript collection known by the name of “Rost” is a compilation of German, Austrian and Italian sonatas assembled and copied, seemingly, about 1653 by Franz Rost, a priest serving first at Baden-Baden and later at Strasbourg. In the years after his death, in 1696 or thereabouts, his heirs sold the manuscript as three separate books (violin 1, 2 and basso) to the Abbé Brossard, a great collector of music scores and a lover of Italian music. The Abbé in turn gave his complete library to Louis XIV in exchange for a pension for life; this manuscript, placed in the Bibliothèque Royale, is now kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

There are one hundred and fifty-one pieces in the collection: essentially it consists of music for 2 violins, some “canto e basso”, three sonatas for violin and continuo, allemandes and fantasies for “violino sine basso” and a motet for tenor and 5 strings by Carissimi. The numerous correspondences with other sources attest to the quality of this music. We find many of these sonatas in various collections at Kromeriz, London, Durham, Oxford, Paris, Vienna and Brussels, not to mention published editions of music.

The connection with Catholic centres is evident with composers such as Valentini, Bertali, Schmelzer (contributing twenty sonatas), Kerll (Vienna, southern Germany), Carissimi, Merula, Sabbatini (Kromeriz court), Eberlin (Nuremberg), Nicolai (Augsburg) and Abel (Frankfurt). It is worth noting the presence of Rosenmüller, a north German composer who passed much of his life in Italy, notably at Venice.

Italian music comprises a large part of this collection, amounting to 45 pieces : Achilleo, Merula (6 sonatas), Romano, Uccellini, Vitali, Zamponi and above all Cazzati (23 sonatas including the whole of his opus 18). Why perform such a programme with cornett and violin? One reason why we have put together a programme like this is the major role played by Cazzati and the fact that his last opus, dated 1670, mentions the cornett as an alternative to the violin. To this should be added the presence of other composers who wrote virtuoso music for the instrument (Merula, Rosenmüller, Schmelzer, Fux) and the naming of the Flemish cornettist (and violinist) Philip van Wichel on the “violino secondo” part of the manuscript.

The repertoire for cornett and violin

The cornett/violin alternative, present at Venice between 1580 and 1630, lost currency after 1650; in Italy, the decline of the cornett was already well advanced. After 1630, the situation continued to favour the cornett in the German-speaking countries, where it was in regular use till the 18th century (Schütz, Rosenmüller, Buxtehude, Bach). Inspired by the examples provided by all this literature, our study of the complete Rost MS has enabled us to include in this programme the very best of the sonatas, chosen for their lack of idioms specific to string music.

The various possibilities of realization

The fact that this music was found in Paris testifies to the vitality of musical exchanges in Europe at this period. These sonatas were played by musicians from Italy, Germany, Austria and France, probably with performance characteristics varying from country to country, even if it is clear that instrumentalists north of the Alps were present just about everywhere. In consequence, various performing options are available to us, both for the pitch, and the usual transpositions resulting from it, and for the choice of continuo instruments: a French, Italian or German great organ will suggest musica da chiesa, whereas an ensemble of harpsichord, harp, theorbo and portative organ will place the listener in a chamber setting.

Italian music in France

This programme is designed to give a panoramic view of the instrumental music in vogue in the Italianate circles around the Abbé Brossard. At the time when Germany was creating a “national” style by assimilating the “new music” emanating from across the Alps, France was exercising the royal privilege to entrust this responsibility to an Italian: Lully! It may contribute to restoring balance to our view of music in 17th-century France, where very many musicians and music-lovers, enraptured by the vitality, freedom and emotion of Italian music (as we are told by Marin Mersenne), sought to create a musical tradition invigorated by the innovative forces of music south of the Alps.

French and Italian styles at the beginning of the 17th century

The music of the Rost MS was written at a period when the Italian style and manner were taking possession of northern Europe while France was discovering an identity (thanks to an Italian!) which would make it an opposing pole of reference. The conflict between French and Italian music was to reach its climax in the 18th century with the querelle des bouffons, which pitted the philosopher and musician Jean-Jacques Rousseau (advocate of Italian music and opera buffa) and the composer and theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau (defending the tradition of opera seria in French, based on mythological subjects). The question is, what was the nature and extent of these differences before Lully made his contribution to define the broad lines of this style français. Marin Mersenne, in his Harmonie universelle (Paris 1636), presents a point of view that is of interest in many respects and dates from the time of composition of the oldest pieces in Franz Rost’s collection.

When 18th-century critics speak of influence from French and Italian styles, they are already alluding to the “crystallization” in form and musical language of two states of mind, two “manners” which could find no expression in the unity of 17th-century musical notation, based on Franko-Flemish counterpoint.

M. Mersenne: Harmonie Universelle, Paris 1636 (Traitez de la voix, et des chants, Livre VI, seconde partie.)

“Des Chants…” VI. FOREWORD

“As for the Italians, they observe various things in their performances that are lacking in ours, because they represent as far as they are able the passions and the affections of the soul & the spirit; for example, choler, fury, vexation, rage, the frailties of the heart, & many other passions, with a violence so strange that one might believe them moved by the same emotions that they portray in singing; whereas we French are content to please the ear, & lend a constant softness to their voices; which holds back its energy.”

“Avertissement” For Masters who teach singing: where the subject is Italian Airs…(Of “ordinary” masters):

“… they should have travelled in foreign countries, & particularly in Italy, where they pride themselves on singing well, & on knowing more of music than the French. For even if all that they do is not perhaps to be approved, nevertheless it is certain that they have something excellent in their manner, which they express much more strongly than our singers, who surpass them in prettiness but not in vigour. Those who do not have the opportunity to travel may at least read Jules Caccin, called the ROMAN, who published a book on the Art of good singing in Florence in 1621, in which he distinguishes the passages proper to instruments from those due to the voice, and subdivides the principal beauties of the singing into augmentation & weakening of the voice, that is to say crecere, scemare della voce, in exclamation, & in two sorts of passages, called trillo & gruppi, which answer to our trilling, trembling, & vibrating the throat …”

“… But our singers suppose that the exclamations & the accents used by the Italians when singing contain too much Tragedy, or Comedy, which is why they do not wish to employ them, although they ought to imitate that which is good and exceptional in them, for it is graceful to temper the exclamations, & accommodate them to the French sweetness, in order to add all that they have of emotion to the beauty, the purity, & the softness of cadence that our musicians produce with such graciousness …”

© William Dongois 2003

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