Very little is known about the life of Giovan Battista
Leonetti. He was born in Crema and it is likely that he received
his musical education from Giovanni Battista Caletti-Bruni.
The latter was the father of Francesco Cavalli, who was to become
the central figure in music life in Venice after the death of
Claudio Monteverdi. The first - and only - book of madrigals
by Leonetti is dedicated to Caletti. This collection also contains
two pieces by him, one of them the 'balletto pastorale' Or sì
che 'l vago aprile. The booklet doesn't indicate which is the
Leonetti became an Augustinian monk and was mainly active
as an organist. In 1617 he was organist at S. Agostino in Crema.
Hardly anything more is known about him, except his small musical
output which consists of the two collections of music recorded
here as well as three six-part madrigals which appeared in an
anthology. I don't understand why these madrigals have been
omitted. There is enough space left on the first disc and it
would have made this set a complete recording of Leonetti's
The remarkable thing about his works is that he frequently
quotes compositions by some of the most famous names (Palestrina,
Gesualdo and Monteverdi) in Italian music of the late 16th and
early 17th centuries. In his madrigals, published as 'Il Primo
Libro de' Madrigali a Cinque voci' in 1617, he borrows passages
from Monteverdi's first five books of madrigals. These include
'Se pur non mi consenti' (book 1) and 'Era l'anima mia' (book
5). Gesualdo's madrigal 'Io tacerò' (book 4) is also quoted.
This has nothing to do with plagiarism; many composers of the
pre-romantic era used material from other composers' works in
their own compositions. The quotations should rather be considered
as tributes to the composers whose works were quoted. According
to Flavio Arpini in the programme notes, "an educated seventeenth-century
listener able to grasp and recognize the various compositional
planes present, would be comforted by a sense of renewed continuity
and admire the creative abilities of the author to liberate
the emulative tiles from a mosaic of mere citation and create
a new interpretative vision."
In his only other collection, which contains three masses
and an elevation motet, Palestrina and Monteverdi are quoted.
These works are set for eight voices in two choirs, following
the Venetian 'cori spezzati' practice. Although these pieces
are provided with a 'basso seguente' only, in the performance
on this disc the voices are supported by strings (violin, viola
da brazzo, viola da gamba and violone) in the first choir and
by winds (cornett and three sackbuts) in the second. This was
common practice at the time.
The ensembles which have recorded these works were unknown
quantities to me, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality
of their interpretations. Some madrigals contain strong dissonances
which are brought out well, thanks to the clarity of the voices
and the lack of vibrato. Much attention has been given to the
expression of the words. I would have liked more dynamic differentiation,
though, in order to emphasize some elements in the text. And
I am not sure whether the harpsichord should be supported by
a violone in the basso continuo.
The masses are completely different works, in which there
is not that much connection between text and music. They stand
out by very vivid rhythms, which have been realised quite brilliantly
here, partly because of the pretty fast tempi. Sometimes these
tempi cause slight problems as the choir is a little too large:
33 voices divided over two choirs. The instrumentalists do a
very fine job here: they do not merely play 'colla parte' with
the voices, they also add ornamentation to the vocal parts.
I have really enjoyed this recording, not only because
of the performances, but also because of the music. I didn't
recognize most of the quotations from Palestrina or Monteverdi.
Perhaps that is easier for those who know the sources better.
I have listened to them as they present themselves, and I liked
them. These madrigals and masses are certainly worth performing
and listening to. And as the performances do these compositions
full justice, I would like to recommend this set in particular
to those who have a specific interest in early 17th-century