Capella Intima, Part 1

Program: #23-12   Air Date: Mar 20, 2023

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This Canadian ensemble, founded by tenor and baroque guitar soloist Bud Roach, has an extensive set of recordings mostly of 17th century repertoire; this week we share three of them, including the remarkable “Music in the Time of Plague."

NOTE: All of the music on this program features the Capella Intima directed by Bud Roach. They are all available on the Musica Omnia label. For information about the ensemble:

I. Affetti Amorosi (Musica Omnia CD mo 0805).

[Album Cover]

Stefani, G: Amante felice (Stefani)

Monteverdi: Si dolce e'l tormento (Monteverdi)

Giovanni Berti: Oime qual novo in sen (Berti)

Milanuzzi: Non voglio amare (Milanuzzi)

Milanuzzi: Il mio ben (Milanuzzi)

Milanuzzi: Mentre Brunetta (Milanuzzi)

Giovanni Berti: Ben m'avengo (Berti)

Stefani, G: Ecco Lidia (Stefani)

Domenico Manzolo: Quand'io vissi il tuo diletto (Manzolo)

Stefani, G: Tu non hai provato amore (Stefani)

Grandi: O bella cantatrice (Grandi)

Monteverdi: Ohime ch'io cado (Monteverdi)

Francesco Monteverdi: Ahi che morir mi sento (Francesco Monteverdi)

Giovanni Berti: Tante guerre e tanti danni (Berti)

Giovanni Berti: Da grave incendio oppresso (Berti)

Milanuzzi: Filli ascoltami (Milanuzzi)

Milanuzzi: Rallegratio core (Milanuzzi)

Giovanni Berti: Chi di dentro m'accende (Berti)

Grandi: Ecco la rosa (Grandi)

Bud Roach, tenor and theorbo

II. Worship in a Time of Plague (Musica Omnia CD mo 0804).

[Album Cover]

Sacred motets from the Venetian Baroque by Grandi, Schütz, Rigatti, Rovetta, and Cifra, recorded for Musica Omnia by Capella Intima and the Gallery Players of Niagara. Sheila Dietrich, Lindsay McIntyre, Jennifer Enns Modolo, Bud Roach, Paul Winkelmans, and David Roth of Capella Intima, with Julie Baumgartel, Andrew Dicker, violins, Margaret Gay, cello, Jonathan Stuchbery, theorbo, and Borys Medicky, organ.

From Barczablog: :Worship in a Time of Plague is a recording project by Capella Intima and the Gallery Players of Niagara.

The title seems especially fitting for Holy Week in 2023, three years into our own pandemic.

The scholarly side of the undertaking can be understood as an exploration of the possible influence of Venetian composers upon Heinrich Schütz, due to his nine month residency in the Republic. As they put it “We have assembled a selection of music to which Schütz would have been introduced in 1629.”

The liner notes remind us of the challenges church musicians faced in such times, as larger scale performance became difficult or impossible. Smaller scale motets represent a clever solution.

The line notes say
“Schütz returned to Dresden just before the outbreak of plague to which one third of the Republic’s population succumbed.”

It’s stunning music done with wonderful attention to every detail, every note, every syllable. The music may be new to me but it’s now played every chance I get, in the car or at home.

  1. Laudate pueri: Giovanni Rovetta
  2. Paratum cor meum: Heinrich Schütz
  3. In te Domini speravi: Alessandro Grandi
  4. Bone Jesu verbum Patris: Alessandro Grandi
  5. Dixit Dominus: Stefano Bernardi
  6. O quam tu pulchra es: Heinrich Schütz
  7. Veni de Libano, amnica mea: Heinrich Schütz
  8. Credidi, propter quod locutus sum: Giovanni Rigatti
  9. Benedicam Dominum in omne tempore: Heinrich Schütz
  10. Exquisivi Dominum: Heinrich Schütz
  11. O beate Benedicte: Alessandro Grandi
  12. Exultavit cor meum: Heinrich Schütz
  13. Angelus ad pastores ait: Antonio Cifra

III. Canzonette Spirituali, e morali (Musica Omnia CD mo 0701).

[Album Cover]

Capella Intima’s debut recording features canzonettas, solo arias and dialogues from the Oratory of San Filippo Neri in Chiavenna, attributed to Francesco Ratis (d. 1676), and published in Milan, 1657.

This fascinating volume borrows freely from the most popular dances and melodies of the previous decades, applying sacred texts that align with the founder’s teachings, encouraging a personal relationship with the Divine. Clearly written with young people in mind, the texts are sensual in their images of spiritual ecstasy, and often tinged with humour in their varied descriptions of the sinner’s inevitable fate.

The very presence of the Canzonette Spirituali, e Morali in the catalogue of Italian seventeenth-century sacred music poses some problems for those who think of a straightforward progression of sacred music from Monteverdi to the high Baroque. It defies many of the conventions of the day in terms of text, instru- mentation, and style, refusing to fit neatly into any single genre. These are canzonettas, but sacred, rather than secular; they employ original, and surprisingly informal, texts set to fragments of popular melodies or familiar ground basses, yet hardly ever adhere to the strict definition of contrafactum; They were meant to be sung during spiritual exercises that seem to have had a considerable structural flexibility; and, perhaps most perplexing, they incorporate the baroque guitar, with alfabeto notation being the only indicated accompaniment for many of the 109 separate works. For all of these reasons, Rolla’s publication from 1657 stands apart.

It is, quite simply, 180 pages of entertaining, beautiful music, often very touching in its simplicity. There are no aspirations to high art, and those who look for musical complexity and innovation on the road to spiritual enlightenment would not stop here for long. It is not possible to fully come to terms with this music without examining its purpose, and the context in which the collection was assembled. For this, we must look back even further, to the founding of the Congregation of the Oratory by St. Philip Neri. Born in Florence in 1515, and experiencing a sudden conversion in his youth, Philip Neri moved to Rome and found his calling. He formed his own confraternity to be of service to destitute pilgrims, was ordained in 1551, and eventually amassed a large group of young men who spent their afternoons together in spiritual readings and discussion, staying into the evening for prayer. The room built to accommodate these meetings became known as the Oratory, and the society that takes his name lives on in many parts of the world, practicing the same spiritual exercises for which these canzonettas were composed.

In 1638, Francesco Ratis, a priest from Como, was appointed organist at the Church of San Lorenzo in Chiavenna. Aside from fulfilling his duties there, he also began lobbying for the establishment of an Oratory, to practice the teachings of the since-canonized St. Philip Neri. His labours did not bear fruit in the administrative sense until 1664, when Federico Borromeo officially approved the establishment of the secular Congregation of the Oratory in Chiavenna. However, the spiritual exercises of the members required no official sanction. Records show that within the first year of institution, there were no less than forty members, which, along with the publication of their music, raises the possibility that the Congregation had been attracting members long before its formal establishment.

Those who embraced the philosophy of Philip Neri concerned themselves not with the traditional dogma of the Church, but rather a personal, honest simplicity in one’s relationship with God. There is an obvious appeal to the idea of applying the familiar images of Italian love poetry to music in praise of God, as is often found in this music. The widespread frequency of settings from the Song of Songs, which fully inhabits this intimacy, is evidence enough of its popularity, and this certainly followed a path well-trod by the unambiguously sensual art and architecture that defined the Counter-Reformation. The collection itself is comprised of canzonettas for one to three voices, several solo arias employing recitative, and a set of four dialogues- one of which is included in this recording. The canzonettas, like all of the works, indicate accompaniment by the Spanish guitar, incorporating alfabeto notation above the vocal line. The debate regarding the appropriateness of the guitar in sacred settings began as soon as the instrument became popular. Church history is filled with regulations and arguments against the use of instru ments other than the organ, including in the region of Milan. What is known for certain is that in the hierarchy of instruments, the Spanish guitar was placed firmly at the bottom.

It is refreshing then, as a modern performer, to see the alfabeto symbols right there on the page, defying convention, inviting followers to use what they had to join in the music-making. But there is more to this aspect of the work than meets the eye. Rolla would not have invested in the publication of this collection if he lacked belief in its potential for sales. If the strummed guitar was indeed an intruder in the church, it must have been a frequent one, whose presence in more progressive environments had long since ceased to cause concern.

The canzonettas themselves are titled with Latin phrases of liturgical origin, along with occasional references to the musical source material, either of melody or dance form, such as “Follia del Mondo” or “Passacalli della vita”. Francesco Ratis, from all available evidence, is the most likely composer of these works. He is the priest who headed the Congregation of the Oratory, and his official employment was that of organist at a local church. The anonymous publication of the canzonettas, however, is an indication that the collection may be the work of multiple composers and poets. It is not difficult to imagine a group of singers and players at the Oratory working through a ground bass pattern together, formulating a rhyming text that relates to the spiritual discussion of the hour, and challenging each other to add more and more verses. This would have been part of the fun, because while all of the heady talk of ecclesiastical legitimacy and musical propriety went on in some corners of the Church, the young people at the Oratory were having a good time. The immediate appeal of this collection is the infectious rhythm of the dance woven through every page of the score. Toe-tapping and swaying along to these dances is hard to resist, and if the young people who experienced this music at the Oratory were moved to spiritual devotion, they were definitely brought to God feet first.

We have, on occasion, taken some liberties with rhythm or text in order to serve a dramatic, or, usually, humourous purpose. These are changes that would be difficult to justify in most of the sacred music published in mid-seventeenth-century Italy. However, from what we know of St. Philip Neri’s own teachings, his example of humour and lightness of heart, as well as the tone set by the texts themselves, we are confident that these slight departures from the written score would have been welcomed in the Chiavenna Oratory. Indeed, any interpretation of this music that applied a strict adherence to the written page would fall far short of the sense of fun these texts convey. The sinner, who appears in many of the works as a miserable object of scorn, is mocked, admonished, insulted, and consistently threatened with eternal damnation. And alongside these displays that border on the irreverent are verses of such a personal nature, professing a desire so overwhelming that, like the enlarged heart of Philip Neri himself, it is a love that cannot be contained. This is most definitely music of the world more than that of the Church, its audience not the saints, but the sinners.

This recording ends with one of the most haunting selections from the collection, Di quell Dio d’amor. The image of a flame as an expression of divine love is used in a number of the canzonettas, but nowhere more effectively in its expression of the Oratory’s philosophy than in this text. Verse after verse praises the divine fire that inebriates the soul. The final stanza blesses those whose flame allows them to love. “And poor me, for I only know how to sing. At least I shall sing, since I don’t know how to love this way. Maybe, close to someone aflame, I will burn, too”. What a beautiful image of the spiritual seeker. Willing, but uncertain, he stands with those who show the confidence he lacks, and moves toward the divine in the only way he knows: he sings. And in this humble act of devotion, the rewards of God’s love are shared. St. Philip Neri would have approved.

Canzonette Spirituali, e morali

  1. Poverello, che farai? 1’50
  2. O duro cor crudel 1’47
  3. O forza divina 2’23
  4. Amor, non posso più 4’09
  5. Fuggi fuggi fuggi 2’55
  6. O caro mio dolce Signor 2’54
  7. O che amarissimo 2’24
  8. Spera anima 3’24
  9. O come t’inganni 3’26
  10. Canterò de l’honore 3’55
  11. Poverello meschino 1’10
  12. O drago crudele 4’03
  13. Guarda guarda, peccatore 2’22
  14. Misero stato humano 2’31
  15. Angiol del Ciel 3’52
  16. Bel bambino 3’37
  17. La mala compagnia 1’25
  18. O di quest’ horrid’ antri 2’40
  19. O che bel star 3’37
  20. Dialogo 5’13
  21. Ahi misero 1’47
  22. Di quel Dio d’amor 6’43

Composer Info

Alessandro Grandi (c.1575-1630), Carlo Milanuzzi (c.1590 - c.1647), Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi (1567-1643), Giovanni Stefani (17th century), Giovanni Rovetta, Heinrich Schütz, Stefano Bernardi, Giovanni Rigatti, Antonio Cifra,Francesco Ratis (d. 1676)

CD Info

Musica Omnia CD mo 0805, Musica Omnia CD mo 0804, Musica Omnia CD mo 0701,