The Instrumental Italian Renaissance

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Program: #21-20   Air Date: May 10, 2021

The Virtuosic Venetian sound, humanism in Italian courtly centers, and the Dalmatian publisher who was granted a monopoly on printing keyboard music by the first Medici Pope.

I.  From court to court: Humanism in Music (Anonima Frottolisti). Tactus CD TC 400007

Di Corte in Corte
The splendour and cultural heritage of Humanism contain an intricate network of intuitions and revolutions – that are often local or have developed in geographically or politically well-defined areas – of culture and of its representation in society: an unlimited theatricalisation of reality, in which each gesture, symbol and behaviour is transformed into an active component of the greatness and beauty of the Court and of its main actuators. The Humanism of theAnonima Frottolisti is the musical, artistic and cultural Humanism produced by the experience of the patronage that developed between the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth, a cross-section of the aesthetics and need for representativeness of that period, expressed by the intellectuals and the artists for their princes and their largest courts, ranging from the Sforza to the Este, Gonzaga, Dovara, Borgia, Aragona, Medici, Farnese, Malatesta, Da Carrara, Montefeltro and della Rovere, etc. The courts, which were formed precisely of musicians, painters, sculptors, dancers, poets and writers who were often assigned political offices as ambassadors or military experts, stood out and “vied” with each other for the ideal of perfection with reference to classical antiquity and the quest for beauty; so the court was a context in which the “prince” or lord acted and was surrounded by artists and collaborators who enlarged his entourage in political, social, intellectual and aesthetic relationships. Historical testimonies, chronicles, exchanges of letters, manuscripts and early printed scores, notary’s documents, frescoes and other artwork tell us the story of an age that was rich in music, was the heir of the Middle Ages and its innovations, and was the cultural driving force towards the Renaissance: Humanism tells us, on all levels, the story of an innovation of form, and above all of the function and fruition of cultured music, with the development of its peculiar forms, which corresponded to the same poetic and literary forms in use at that time – frottole, barzellette, cacce, strambotti, odi, villotte, arias for declamatory octaves – words and forms that were “new” in the field of music and marked the production of more than a century. Music and representation, which had always been united in a perfect alliance, nowbecame an essential form of those expressions that for centuries had characterised the Western production, particularly the Italian one: the ideal of the Opera and of the Commedia dell’Arte,or, to be more precise,of the proto-opera and proto-commedia. Some examples of this historical stage remain as milestones in the development of these arts: one of them is La fabula di Orfeo, by Angelo Poliziano, staged in Mantua in 1480, the first testimony of a work in vulgar tongue of which we know the text, the composers and performers who collaborated, the place and theatrical machines – an opera before operas. As regards the proto-commedia, we need a short reflection, an analysis of the sources and texts, of the names and actions of the characters described in the musical production,which at first sight are veiled by a complex interpretation.The typical fifteenth-century technique was that of relating, exclusively in the profane repertoire, images and characters that were known in the transversal culture, i.e. the culture of the society that recognised their form and meaning at that time.Many pieces that stem from the frottola genre, and others as well, can be understood from the angle of a folk quotation. By folk quotation we mean all the text characteristics that were included in the compositions and resembled, albeit in an extremely cultured way, the oral world, the folk tradition of that time: complicated texts that, when considered from this angle, actually depicted proto-masks of the commedia, legendary characters, impossible knights and thwarted loves. The Flemish theoretician Tinctoris, who was active in Italy in the second half of the fifteenth century, perfectly summarised the perception of music in his society: It uplifts earthly minds / wards off ill will / gladdens men / heals sick individuals / relieves fatigue / incites people to fight / attracts love / increases gaiety in feasts / gives fame to those who practice it/ leads souls to bliss. So, centuries later, Anonima Frottolisti is attempting to provide a snapshot of the musical Humanism of the courts, dividing its course into five pictures: della Corte e del Potere, dell’Amore, della Festa, Danzasi come ovvero della Danza, della Fede (“Court and Power, Love, Festivities,Dance, Faith”).
  • Alla battaglia
  • Viva viva li galanti, li amorosi tutti quanti
  • Nè più bella di queste / Heinrich Isaac
  • Zappay ; Propiñan de melyor ; Chiave chiave
  • Poi che'l ciel e la fortuna
  • Rolet ara - Maistre pière - La tricotée
  • Chi me darà più pace / Marco Cara
  • Tente a l'ora, ruzenenta
  • Io son quel doloroso e tristo amante / Andrea Antico
  • Señora de hermosura / Juan del Encina
  • O partita crudele
  • Rodrigo Martinez
  • Chi la castra la porcella / Marchetto Cara
  • Baco, Baco, santo idio
  • Piva / Joan Ambrosio Dalza
  • La danse de cleves
  • Se non dormi, donna, ascolta
  • Marchesana / Giovanni Ambrioso
  • Rostiboli Gioioso / Domenico da Piacenza
  • Ballo 'La Giloxia' / Domenico da Piacenza
  • Kyrie ; Missa (Vineux) / Guillaume Dufay
  • Noè noè / Antoine Brumel
  • Salve regina / Marchetto Cara
  • Ut queant laxis
  • Adoramus te, Domine


II. Andrea Antico: Animoso mio desire (Glen Wilson, harpsichord). Naxos CD 8.572983.

Andrea Antico: Animoso mio desire Product Image
Andrea Antico was a printer from Dalmatia who obtained, through the first Medici Pope, Leo X, a monopoly on printing keyboard music. His 1517 collection of frottole – a quasi-rustic word meaning a deceitful, silly story – contains highly advanced, but textually corrupt arrangements of part-songs for keyboard made by an anonymous musician. This world première recording of the complete Frottole Intabulate incorporates a new edition by harpsichordist Glen Wilson.

Frottola means a deceitful, silly story. They were wildly popular songs in the later part of the fifteenth and the first third of the sixteenth centuries. An anonymous musician arranged them for keyboard and they were then published by the printer Andrea Antico in 1517.The arrangements were radical for the time and the arranger succeeded in producing a real polyphonic keyboard style. Some were performed by organist Kimberly Marshall on the Loft label in 2002 and just a few by Silvano Rodi on Gall in the same year. Nothing as comprehensive as this Naxos collection has ever been released.

During the full flower of the Italian Renaissance, the mid-fifteenth century, native musical composition in that blessed land falls strangely silent. The steady advance of humanism was turning musicians away from the artifices of the Franco-Netherlanders who dominated the compositional scene, and a new style was gestating. There are records of semi-improvisational performances of popular tunes to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument during this hiatus. Italians saw how the wind was blowing, created their own written-out imitations for solo voice with lute, and around 1480 in Mantua they came up with versions in four voices for sociable singing, which were no longer really polyphonic, but instead comprised settings of folk-like melodies in the upper voice instead of the tenor, accompanied by chordal harmonies. These were given a frivolous, quasi-rustic name: frottola, a deceitful, silly story; a choice possibly dictated by the prevalence of unrequited lovers’ threats of imminent death in the poems which were set to this simple music.

Then when Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494, initiating (alongside the mayhem effected by his new mobile artillery) one of the most fruitful cultural exchanges in European history, the frottola filtered back to France and helped to inspire the easeful “Parisian” chanson. This, in turn, eventually merged with the Italian madrigal. Attended by fumbling attempts at restoring Greek drama, the madrigal finally shed all polyphonic rigour as it metamorphosed into Florentine monody. This was seized upon by Monteverdi (in Mantua again) and brought to its pinnacle. And there, in a nutshell, is the story of the most important revolution in music history: the fall of polyphony.

But in 1517, when Andrea Antico printed the works offered here, the modest frottola was still a long way from wreaking all this havoc. Less than two decades previously, music printing with movable type had begun in Venice, with publications that have never been surpassed in beauty from the presses of Petrucci. Just after the Vatican stanze and Sistine ceiling were painted by Raphael and Michelangelo barely a hundred yards apart, and ten years before the city was sacked by the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Antico, a vainglorious, second-rate printer from Dalmatia, somehow ingratiated himself with the first Medici Pope, Leo X, and obtained a monopoly for printing keyboard music. The document, included in the print, specifically says this was due to the failure of Petrucci to publish any such works. Antico rejoiced in his success, and got in a jab at Petrucci in a woodcut (our cover image): it shows a pretty girl waving away an angry ape clutching a lute (presumably Petrucci), and hurrying over to Antico, who is seated at a Papal harpsichord playing his new book of frottola arrangements. Independently-composed keyboard music was at that point (but not for long) still in a fairly primitive state, and nourished itself with “intabulations” (arrangements in keyboard score) of vocal counterpoint. Antico’s choice of the wildly popular frottola for his first effort was clever.

He was also clever in his choice of arranger (it was not Antico himself, as is often thought, any more than the printer/publisher Attaignant arranged the first lute publications in France around the same time, or than Bennett Cerf wrote Ulysses). This anonymous master, doubtless one of the countless Italian organists whose works have been lost, produced a very early example of a fully-balanced polyphonic keyboard style. In 1517 Josquin still had four years to live, and voice crossings and gothicisms still frequently appear even in frottole. In Antico’s book there is a radical change: generally keeping the all-important melody and bass lines free and intact (except for modest amounts of added ornamentation), the arranger substituted supple, idiomatic inner voices for the spiky originals, which are often mere filler. Once the notational fog is dispersed, his work turns out to deserve a place of high honour in the annals of music history. We will never know how much of a rôle he played in what might be called the “humanization” of keyboard playing and, reciprocally, of vocal composition.

Unfortunately, he was as badly served by his publisher as most writers are nowadays in our brave new world, which has largely dispensed with editors and proofreaders: Antico utterly botched his first (and, as far as we know, only, in spite of this collection being called Libro Primo) effort in this field. The vertical alignment of notes is as good as indecipherable, and the most outrageous errors abound. In this he is typical of almost all early attempts at the admittedly difficult task of printing keyboard music on two staves. (A notable exception: the works of Marcantonio Cavazzoni, printed in Venice six years later under a copyright issued by the Dutch Pope Adrian VI.) Only two copies of Antico’s print survive. One sometimes has the impression that such defective publications were thrown into the trash in despair, and in a few cases, put up on a high shelf with a sigh, to collect dust until rescued by a scavenging German antiquarian or an Englishman on the Grand Tour.

Those who know my habits will not be surprised to learn that I have tried, with what I think is a proper balance between respect for the source and total ruthlessness, to restore these charming pieces to something resembling normality. The task has been made easier by the existence of all but one of the vocal originals, but more difficult by the fact that the arranger may have been working from an aborted version for lute and solo singer—the usual type of frottola arrangement. There are several reasons why I think this may be the case, but the main one is that in these, as in Antico, there are many gaps in the lute part’s melody line. I have taken the liberty of restoring them when no violence is done to the very free texture, where voices enter, cross, and disappear at will in true keyboard style. The originals have provided correctives for many other obvious errors of the kind that slumber on in modern editions. Taking into account Antico’s extreme unreliability, this has been my general policy: where the version transmitted by the Dalmatian gives a weaker text than the vocal frottola without substituting anything of worth, I have followed the original. I apologize to the late esteemed arranger, and hope, where I have erred, that he would have considered this as “reception” (as modern parlance has it) of his work by someone who knew his sources.

The list of frottola composers is dominated by Bartolomeo Tromboncino, a wild character and great favourite of Isabella d’Este at the court of Mantua, who seems to have pardoned him for murdering his wife when he found her with a lover, in a prequel to Gesualdo’s dark deed. Marco Cara is the second most prominent name, followed by Michele Vicentino. The poetry which inspired the frottole chosen by Antico varies in quality from dialect jest to noblest utterance. The minor forms more strictly associated with the frottola (which, confusingly, was itself the name of a poetical form), the strambotto and barzaletta, give way with surprising frequency to the canzona and the sonnet. Especially noteworthy is the frequent use of poems by the great fourteenth-century vernacular poet Petrarca (whose works found an early advocate in Mantua, Pietro Bembo), a generation before the first great wave of Petrarcan madrigals. His sonnet “Hor che’l ciel” [26], later set by Monteverdi in what seems like a different galaxy, is one of the earliest notturni, and one of the most beautiful poems in any language. His hymn to the Virgin Mary [2] is a customary inclusion in such collections of otherwise profane love songs. Baldassare Castiglione, later, in Urbino, author of the famous Cortegiano (where he wrote movingly on the virtues of singing madrigals together), is present in the book’s final piece, with a love sonnet from his early days in Mantua. Vicentino’s contribution [29] made it as far as the Heptaméron of Marguerite d’Angoulême, the brilliant and wayward sister of King François I of France.

Two of the frottole [22] [27] take the form of a lively French dance, the branle, as does the middle section of the tripartite Che farala [29]. But the seriousness of many of these poems and the endless afflictions of frustrated males require some leavening of mirth, which I have found in selections from a manuscript collection of song and dance arrangements, presumably Venetian, now in the Biblioteca Marciana, and roughly contemporary with Antico. This is another manifestation of new stylistic tendencies, going back to the improvisations mentioned above—simple folk-like melodies, accompanied by rough-and-ready chords in the left hand, revelling in forbidden parallel motion. French influence is evident here, too, not only in a compliment to French womanhood [16], but also in the appearance of the fast dance called tourdion [11], here corrupted to todero, and the magic horse Bayard [31] from old chansons de geste. La cara cossa [25] may be the earliest appearance anywhere of what later became the most famous of all variation themes, the Follía. For the sake of tonal variety, these intermezzi are performed on a rectangular, iron-strung spinetta.

These two sources are the oldest collections of Italian keyboard music, with the exception of a unique survival, the early-fifteenth-century Codex Faenza. The distance travelled between that Gothic source and the Renaissance which we find fully-established here, would almost tempt one to add a track or two from the older source, to create a kind of Botticellian Primavera in sound. In that famous painting, the cold March wind seizes and ravishes Chloris who then metamorphoses into a ravishing Flora. Antico’s anonymous (Venetian?) arranger produced music for keyboard as up-to-date as Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin for the Frari in Venice, which was being painted in 1517, thus ending the medium’s long history of lagging behind developments in the other arts.

Knowing the words to the frottole is essential to the performer, less so for a listener; but to give you, kind reader, an idea of what is going on, I append here translations of the titles, where necessary a brief synopsis or comment, and where indispensable, a few lines of text translation (in inverted commas).

[1] My bold desire

[2] “Loveliest Virgin, wreathed in sunlight and crowned with stars, wherein the Sun itself was pleased to hide its light, love compels me to address Thee — but how shall I commence without Thine aid, and that of Him who lovingly entered Thy womb? If Thou pitiest the extreme misery of humanity, incline Thine ear to my prayer; aid me in my struggles, though I am but dust, and Thou the Queen of heaven. Amen.” (Petrarca)

[3] Grab the rag, scamp / Pretty little bird / The cart is broken and the cows are in trouble

[4] Subdue your beautiful eyes, my lady

[5] Cruel one, flee if you can

[6] She will be mine no more

[7] Ladies, lend me your flour drum, I want to sieve my flour on the Rialto bridge / My lover’s boat sails tonight / Bernardo can’t stand up straight

[8] Love, thou compass of all my faith while you flourished (Petrarca, on the death of Laura)

[9] Sweet anger, sweet disdain, and sweet truces

[10] “What must I do, counsel me, Love; it is time to die, death is delayed beyond endurance. My lady is gone, and has taken my heart with her. (…)” (Petrarca, on the death of Laura)

[11] Tourdion / O dove, singing for love in the steeple / The marquess of Saluzzo

[12] “Cupid was sleeping under a beech tree, exhausted from shooting his arrows at men and gods; it was the lovely green month of May, bedecked with flowers, the time when amorous lamentations are renewed.”

[13] Beautiful flame of love, why have you turned to ice?

[14] I am he whose life became death on that day

[15] What aid, what comfort?

[16] The busy housekeeper / The beautiful French girl / Touch the tube (a bawdy dance)

[17] “There is nothing in this valley but love and peace, where one lies quietly beside clear crystal waters.”

[18] Hear my lament, o heaven, for she hears me not

[19] What will she say when she hears I have ended my life?

[20] The godmother / I am that Duke of Milan

[21] I bathe my face in tears of pain

[22] I want you for my own

[23] So you leave me, out of mere cruelty?

[24] Let me gaze on her once more

[25] The Lombard girl (who reveals her Germanic roots in this Ländler) / Berdolin’s sweetheart

[26] “Heaven and earth are silent, the winds are calm, the birds and beasts have ceased their chatter, Night circles his starry chariot in the sky, the sea lies waveless in its bed; and I watch, think, burn, and lament, while she who disgraced me remains constantly in my mind, to my sweet anguish. I am in a state of war, filled with anger and agony, and only the thought of her brings any kind of peace; (…) and since this martyrdom knows no end, I die a thousand times a day, and am a thousand times reborn.” (Petrarca)

[27] My dying will never die, since it is you who kill me

[28] Sweet lady, if any spark of love remains

[29] What will she do when she hears I have become a monk?

[30] The thread of life is so weak that without someone’s help I will soon die

[31] The stallion Bayard prances / The geese are dancing / Coming from Bologna my shoe pinched

[32] Let her who does not believe the sun warms the earth doubt my love

[33] “I sang merrily while the thought of her nourished my high hopes; now my voice is only good for weeping…” (Castiglione) 

III. C’ol dolce suono (Ensemble Arcimboldo/Thilo Hirsch). Audite CD 97.731.

Co’l Dolce Suono Product Image
Virtuosic Venetian Renaissance music for soprano, recorder and strings, recorded on newly reconstructed early Italian viols, unlocking a novel and unfamiliar soundworld.

Firmly established on the Early Music scene, soprano soloist Ulrike Hofbauer is a versatile artist, she not only appears on the concert platform but also on the opera stage and features on many CD and radio recordings as well as in films. She is particularly interested in the study of musical rhetoric, ornamentation and the “recitar cantando” style, making her an ideal interpreter of the works recorded here.

Co’l dolce suono presents virtuosic Renaissance music for soprano, recorder and strings by Venetian artists around the composer Adrian Willaert and the singer Polissena Pecorina. Recorded with an ensemble of early Italian viols, painstakingly reconstructed following the latest scholarly findings, a new soundworld emerges: current research documents that string instruments of the early sixteenth century were built without sound posts and bass bars. Performing these sparkling Renaissance works, the sound of these instruments can now be experienced for the first time.

The Ensemble Arcimboldo (Basel) was founded in 1991 by Thilo Hirsch. Outstanding reviews, numerous concert engagements, and frequent invitations to European festivals document the ensemble’s success. Alongside radio recordings the ensemble has recorded several CDs since 2005.


Jakob Arcadelt (1507-1568), Anton Francesco Doni (1513-1574):

1. Il bianco e dolce cigno, 02:35

Francesco de Layolle (1492 - 1540):

2. Lasciar' il velo, 03:05

Adrian Willaert (1490 - 1562):

3. Amor mi fa morire, 03:06

Silvestro Ganassi (1492 - 1565):

4. Recercar Primo, 00:53

5. Recerchar quarto, 01:15

Giulio Segni (1498 - 1561):

6. Ricercare XV, 05:58

Silvestro Ganassi:

7. Madrigal, 02:30

Giacomo Fogliano (1468 - 1548):

8. Io vorrei Dio d'amore, 02:10

9. Recercada, 01:31

Adrian Willaert:

10. Ricercar X, 05:10

Silvestro Ganassi:

11. Recercar Secondo, 00:48

12. Recerchar primo, 00:48

Jakob Arcadelt, Anton Francesco Doni

13. Quando co'l dolce suono, 02:42

Jacquet de Berchem (1505 - 1565):

14. O amorose mamelle, 03:13

Silvestro Ganassi:

15. Recerchar terzo, 01:10

Giacomo Fogliano:

16. A la mia grave pen, 03:43

Adrian Willaert:

17. Un giorno mi prego una vedovella, 02:17

Enríquez de Valderrábano (1500 - 1557):

18. Pavana ternera, 02:50

Diego Ortiz (1510 - 1570):

19. Recercada ottava, 01:43

Jakob Arcadelt:

20. O felici occhi miei, 01:43

21. O felici occhi miei, 01:42

Giulio Segni:

22. Tiento quarto tono, 03:56

Adrian Willaert:

23. Passa la nave, 03:34

Composer Info

Andrea Antico, Heinrich Isaac, Marco Cara, Juan del Encina, Marchetto Cara, Giovanni Ambrioso, Domenico da Piacenza, Guillaume Dufay, Antoine Brumel, Petrarca, Castiglione, Jakob Arcadelt (1507-1568), Anton Francesco Doni (1513-1574), Francesco de Layolle (1492 - 1540), Adrian Willaert (1490 - 1562), Silvestro Ganassi (1492 - 1565), Giulio Segni (1498 - 1561), Giacomo Fogliano (1468 - 1548), Jacquet de Berchem (1505 - 1565), Enríquez de Valderrábano (1500 - 1557), Diego Ortiz (1510 - 1570)

CD Info

Tactus CD TC 400007, Naxos CD 8.572983, Audite CD 97.731