Una musa plebea – Everyday Music from Renaissance Italy
rec. various venues, 2004-2009
See below for track details
RAUMKLANG RK2410 [67.03]

This CD and its fascinating accompanying essay by Francis Baggi attempt to encapsulate what 15th and 16th century music might have meant to its first hearers. To do this Lucidarium have also included living folk music performed by four singers called Il Cantori di Buti from Tuscany. Two others called Poeti di Buti and two called I Poeti di Pigna are from Corsica. Roccu Mambrini and Francescu Simmeoni open the CD with what is called a “Poetic improvisation” - a dialogue about the passion and pleasure of singing.

The back of the CD has a black and white photograph of Dolando Bernadini who was recorded in February 2006. One of the Tuscan group, he takes up the last track with a section from Orlando Furioso. To say ‘singing’ is not quite correct as Bernadini’s delivery is somewhere between rough, heightened speech and recitative. Basically he improvises a performance of text concerned with love which is “nought but frenzied rage”. Bernadini was one of last of his type and he died later that year.

Here are some more examples. A few tracks earlier Enrico Baschieri is briefly heard singing a section from the Orfeo legend. His delivery, which is more rooted onto a single pitch within a modal scale, is more responsive to melodic contour: “Descend ye muses into the desolate valley where still one finds Orpheus’s traces”.

An even earlier track is from 2003. It was recorded in Pisa, still a somewhat isolated and impoverished city in many ways. It has Nello Landi and Emilio Meliano in an improvised conversation entitled ‘Ottave a contrasto’. The text agrees that “Improvisation is a great talent/reserved to the lucky few/the improvised ottavo”. This is a passionate conversation in which, like the others, the words are more significant than the music. Remember however that the dialogue is not planned and each performer picks a phrase or idea from the previous ‘speaker’ repeats it and develops it before leaving it to be picked up again by his partner. This is often done with wit and fervour and clearly to a live audience.

The main thrust of the CD is to be found in the renaissance pieces. Many of these are ‘frottola’ - a popular generally homophonic form with a distinct melody in the upper part. This is in fact the music of the plebs, the music of the street really but written down. Most of these are anonymous but composers like Marcetta Cara are relatively well known from several other discs of frottola. Others like Zesso and Oriola are entirely unknown. They may well have improvised their tunes to already extant poems and only later copied them or had them copied. The subjects are the universal ones “Ah, my sighs, I cannot find peace … The pain (of life) is ruining me” or “Cry Ladies, along with your faithful lovers/Let’s cry together because I unjustly/see myself deprived of her celestial light”.

It is my assumption that poems by such luminaries as Leonardo Giustinian and Gasparo Visconti were put to the tunes and not the other way around. The melody of El bon nochier is anonymous, simple and folk-like but the text is known to be by Angelo Poliziano, a famous Florentine poet working for the Medicis at the turn of the 16th Century. The Ottave dal ‘Transito di Carnavele has a text by Visconti (d.1449) with, what is readily acknowledge in the booklet, as a traditional melody. The text uses the end of Carnival as a basis and expresses hurt at the inconstancy of women who once they have their man “wrap their lovers in a net” … ”no longer even giving him a glance”.

A favourite track of mine is the anonymous two-part Pianzete done with a text by Giustinian (d. 1446) which is a more serious piece. This is not in frottola form which, anyway, was often aimed at the amateur musician. There is an instrumental Romanesca, based on a popular bass line often used for improvisation. These would especially have been heard at Carnival time and in popular theatres; again the music of the plebs. I enjoyed Perla Mia Cara (My dearest pearl, oh sweet love) also recorded by other groups, with its lilting Landini cadences limiting its date to a slightly earlier period. Also notable is Oriola’s four-part Trista che spera (Sad one, who hopes that in dying every pain will pass). Here percussion, recorders and drums are subtlety employed.

The performances are consistently lively. The recordings were made at differing times and in differing venues. Some were set down in the studio I suspect and several others at public events. All are at the same level and consistency.

This is well worth searching out if your interest in early music is wide-ranging and if you need something a little different. A curious and fascinating disc.

Gary Higginson

A curious and fascinating disc. Something a little different.

Detailed Track-list
1. Chjama e rispondi - Poetic improvisation [3.39]
Roccu Mambrini and Francescu Simeoni,
rec. Pigna 2004
2. Anon Tent’a l’ora ruzenenta [3.38]
3. Francesco VAROTER (1460-1502) Strambotti
4. Ottave a contrasto - Poetic improvisation [3.16]
Nello Landi and Emilio Meliani
rec. 2002
5. Anon Turcho, turco e Isabela ‘La Tricotea [4.43]
6. Anon: Ay me sospiri [2.48]
7. Marchetto CARA (1470-1525) Non peccando altri che il core [3.51]
8. Anon Ogni cosa he el suo loco [4.42]
9. Anon El bon nochier [3.32].
10. Stanze dal “Maggio d’Orfeo ed Euridice” [2.05]
Mario, Fillippi and Andrea Bacci
rec. Butti, 2007
11. Traditional Ottave dal “Transito di Carnavale!” [3.45].
12. Anon Pianzete done [3.03]
13. Anon Romanesca [4.27]
14. Ottave dal “Maggio d’Orfeo ed Euridice” [1.42]
Enrico Baschieri
rec. 2006
15. Anon: O gratiosa viola gentile [4.51]
16. Guglielmo DA PESARO (1420-1481) Gratioso [2.57]
17. Anon: Perla mia Cara [3.11]
18. Pere ORIOLA (1440-1480) Trista che spera [4.06]
19. Ottave dall’ “Orlando furioso” [2.52]
Dolando Bernardini
rec. Buti, 2006