According to its title this disc
is devoted to battle music, a genre which was very popular
in the 16th and 17th centuries. The programme offers a number
of pieces which, in one way or another, are connected to
war and military battles. The large repertoire of this genre
can be explained by the fact that war was a part of everyday
life in those days - and in many parts of the world still
is. According to the Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz
(1780-1831) "war is merely the continuation of policy
by other means" (Vom Kriege [On War], 1832). That was
certainly true in the 16th and 17th centuries. War was such
a natural phenomenon that it was also used metaphorically
for other ‘battles’, including those of love and faith.
Notwithstanding the disc’s title
its programme presents music only some of which is related
to war. Although the booklet doesn't contain lyrics, it is
difficult to see what a chanson like 'J'ai vu le cerf du
bois sailly' has to do with war, and Lassus's Marian motet
'Fit Porta Christi pervia' certainly hasn't. As the tracklists
show, a number of pieces date from the 16th century and can't
be considered 'baroque'.
What this recording is all about
is to present music composed for wind bands, which were the
most popular kind of ensembles in those days. There were
two types. On the one hand the 'piffari', as they were called
in Italy, or 'waits' in England and 'Stadtpfeifer' in Germany.
They usually played at festive occasions in towns and also
entertained the citizens, for instance during weddings. They
used instruments like shawms, sackbuts (trombones) and bagpipes.
Their music was written out and mostly polyphonic.
Another kind of wind band was
that of the 'trombetti', an ensemble of clarino trumpets
used at court. The players were highly sophisticated and
most of their - often very virtuosic - repertoire was only
partially notated and needed improvised additions during
performance. The players were also able to play ad hoc arrangements
of traditional pieces.
According to Igino Conforzi there
is evidence that these two kinds of ensemble played at the
same time on certain occasions, although there is no proof
that they actually played together. There is no information
about the kind of repertoire they could have played. This
makes the concept of this disc all rather speculative. I
find it difficult to imagine that the clarino trumpeters
at court would have participated in the performance of 'popular'
music, like the dances by Attaignant and Susato. The suggestion
also creates technical problems as the clarino trumpets are
not able to play all notes as notated. I also find it hard
to believe that the 'piffari' would have been involved in
pieces like those by Fantini, where the word 'imperiale'
- which shouldn't be taken too literally, by the way - clearly
links them to royal courts.
Even so, I have thoroughly enjoyed
this recording: the programme is well-chosen, the pieces
for a band of clarino trumpets are very intriguing and fascinating,
and give a very good idea of the development of the art of
clarino playing. Many live performances and recordings show
how difficult it is for today's performers to come up to
the same level as their 17th-century counterparts. Therefore
I am very impressed by the performances here. I would like
to know, however, whether any technical adaptations have
been made in order to improve the stability of intonation,
which is quite impressive. The booklet is silent about that.
The disc ends in a quite spectacular
way with music from different sources to accompany the sounds
of guns and cannons, all 'period instruments' of course.
Even though one has to realise that this kind of battle was
a harsh reality in the 16th and 17th centuries it remains
great fun to listen to.
Johan van Veen
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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