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Gioseffo GUAMI (1542-1611)
La Luchesina - Vocal and Instrumental Music
(Nicholas Mulroy (tenor), Eamonn Dougan (baritone), Jamie Savan, Jeremy West, Helen Roberts, Gawain Glenton (cornett), Adam Woolf, Abigail Newman, Stephen Saunders, Miguel Tantos Sevillano (sackbut), Keith McGowan (dulcian), Jan Waterfield (organ)); His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
rec. 26-28 February 2014, St Brandon's Church, Brancepeth, UK. DDD
Texts and translations included
SFZMUSIC SFZM0115 [60:42]

Cornetts and sackbuts were among the most frequently-used instruments in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. They not only played instrumental music, but also participated in performances of vocal music, especially sacred works. This disc presents an ensemble of cornetts and sackbuts - with organ and in some pieces also a dulcian - in these various roles.

The music on this disc is from the pen of Gioseffo Guami, one of the most admired organists and composers of his time. He was born in Lucca - the canzona La Luchesina refers to this town - and was sent to Venice to study, probably as early as 1557. He was a pupil of Adrian Willaert, the maestro di cappella of St Mark's. At the age of 20 his first compositions were included in various anthologies, and in 1565 he published a collection of madrigals. In 1567 Orlandus Lassus came to Italy to hire musicians for the Bavarian court chapel. He contracted Guami, who at that time was a singer in St Mark's, for the position of organist. He remained in Munich until 1579, the year his employer, Duke Albrecht, died. He returned to Lucca, where he became organist at the basilica of S. Michele in Foro. In 1585 Guami published his first book of motets which was dedicated to the successor of his former employer, Duke Wilhelm of Bavaria. In 1588 he was appointed first organist of St Mark's. In the booklet to the present disc several renowned composers of his time are quoted praising Guami's qualities as an organist and composer.

The then maestro di cappella, Gioseffo Zarlino, certainly played an important role in Guami being appointed as organist. This could explain why Guami left Venice soon after the death of Zarlino (1589) who was succeeded by his rival Baldassare Donato. Guami returned to Lucca where he became organist at the cathedral of S. Martino; he held this position until his death.

The present programme of vocal and instrumental works has been put together from various sources, in particular the Sacrae Cantiones of 1585 and the Canzonette alla francese of 1601. In both the polychoral style, which was one of the hallmarks of Venetian music, manifests itself. Some of the canzonettas are in eight parts divided over two choirs; they are dominated by imitative polyphony. The same goes for the canzonas which are from a collection of pieces by various composers, edited and published by Alessandro Raverii in 1608. L'Acorta is particularly interesting: one of the choirs is allocated to the organ whose part is completely written out. It is supported in this recording by the dulcian. In other pieces the organ plays a basso seguente which means that it follows the lowest part. Obviously the performers have much freedom in the way this music is performed. La Todeschina, for instance, is in four parts: here the cornett takes the upper part, the organ plays the remaining three parts.

Cornetts and sackbuts also participated in performances of vocal music. They could play colla voce - supporting the singers and giving additional colour to the vocal parts - or replace some of the voices. This is the way the motets are performed here. Some of them are also written for double choir, such as Magnus Dominus. It is worth noting that the pieces from the 1585 collection may date from Guami's time in Lucca. This suggests that the cori spezzati technique had disseminated to other regions in Italy, probably under the influence of Adrian Willaert's publications of sacred music. Vocal pieces could also be performed purely instrumentally, as is the case here with In hoc cognovi.

Guami's oeuvre is rooted in the counterpoint-dominated prima prattica of the 16th century. His last collection of sacred music was printed in 1608. However, this programme also includes a single sacred concerto from a collection of 1613: O Maria for two voices and basso continuo and written in the new monodic style which was one of the features of the seconda prattica. Considering that Guami was known in the first place as an organist it may come as a surprise that the Toccata del secondo tuono is his only extant organ work. This is largely due to the practice of improvising which was the main task of any organist. There was hardly any need for printing organ music, except for didactical purposes.

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts has made some very fine discs for Hyperion. It demonstrates its qualities here as well, and the choice of music by Guami has to be welcomed. Some of his compositions may be included in recitals, but I don't know any other disc entirely devoted to his oeuvre. His vocal music I have certainly not heard before. The instrumental pieces are of superior quality, and that comes off well here. The motets are especially interesting as well as the way they are performed. Nicholas Mulroy and Eamonn Dougan are experienced in early music and members of various vocal ensembles. It is a little disappointing that in particular Dougan uses a little too much vibrato as this tends to damage the ensemble. It is essential in such a performance that voices and instruments blend perfectly and that is not always the case here. In O Maria Dougan also sings with too much vibrato, and both singers should have added some ornamentation.

However, considering the overall quality of this disc these are relatively minor issues. I urge anyone to investigate this disc. Guami's music is well worth exploring and His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts convincingly demonstrates its qualities.

Johan van Veen

Track listing

Magnus Dominus [4:08]
La Luchesina [2:31]
In die tribulationis [5:11]
Canzon XXV [2:42]
La Guamina [2:16]
Jubilate Deo [5:02]
La Brilantina [3:08]
L'Accorta [3:20]
O Maria [3:15]
In hoc cognovi [3:00]
La Chiarina [3:16]
La Battaglia [4:18]
La Grave [2:22]
In die resurrectionis [3:10]
La Todeschina [3:18]
La Ongediante [2:03]
Toccata del secondo tuono [2:17]
Canzon XXIV [3:05]
Laetentur caeli [2:20]



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