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Antonio ZACARA DA TERAMO (c.1365-1416) Un Fior Gentile
Gloria 'Micinella' a 4 [2.41] Sumite karissimi a 3 [3.30] Credo 'Scabioso' a 3 [8.55] Rosetta (intabulation) [5.11] Un fior gentile (intabulation); Rosetta che noncanbi mai colore ballata a 2 [7.27] Deus deorum Pluto a 2 [5.02] De bon parole ballata a 3 [5.57] Je suis navrés /Gnaff’a le guagnele a 3 [2.43] Cacciando per gustar a 3 [4.29] Ciaramella ballata a 3 [4.24]
Micrologus (Patrizia Bovi (voice: Superius, harp); Adolfo Broegg (lute); Goffredo Degli Esposti (pipe and tabor, portative organ); Gabriele Russo (fiddle, tenor rebec); Mauro Borgioni (tenor); Ulrich Pfeifer (counter-tenor); Alessandro Quarta (tenor); Simone Sorini (counter-tenor); Guillermo Perez (portative organ); Isacco Colombo (bombard); Luigi Germini (sackbut); Mauro Morini (sackbut))
rec. January, November 2004 BARYTON CDM0023 [68.41]
How I would have liked to have met ‘Antonio Berardi Andree de Teramo alias dictus vulgariter ‘Zacchara’ to give him his full name. He died 600 years ago this year. His music seems to be so full of life, vitality and originality as demonstrated on this CD.
We know quite a lot about him from his childhood to his appointment from January 1390 to work for the Pope in Rome at the time of the great schism. ‘Zachara’ means literally ‘a splash of mud’ and it appears that the composer was somewhat deformed. He may have had a crooked back. He was certainly undersized and had a few fingers missing. He still managed to be his father’s son and was a visual artist, probably a painter of miniatures in Teramo, which is in the Abruzzo region, a very beautiful area to the east of Rome. So he was multi-skilled and clearly assimilated the musical style we now call ‘ars subtilior’ - a representative of a growing international Gothic style, one might say. His sad life included the early death of his wife and the death of his young son in his arms after a political uprising as detailed in his song (not recorded here) Plorans Ploravi.
This is not the only disc of his music available. When the Norwegian group Currentes recorded a CD called ‘Spinato intorno alcor’ in 2011 on Lawo LWC 1026 I thought that it was the first but I was wrong. Micrologus recorded this disc in 2004. It was the outcome of various discussions and research carried out two years before by several leading scholars. I seem to have missed the disc at that time and it appears not to have been released until 2008 and possibly not in the UK. The good news is that not many pieces are repeated. Micrologus include more sacred works, Currentes none. Rosetta che non canbi mai colore is on both. It is a ballad for two voices and, in addition, the brilliant Goffredo Degli Esposti of Micrologus plays the highly elaborate and complex keyboard intabulation from the Faenza codex. Also on both discs is the title piece of this CD Un fior gentile a curious text about a ‘noble flower’, which appeared to the composer offering him her protection.
The texts seem to be highly personal and were almost certainly written by the composer. They allow us to gain some knowledge of his private life. Currentes have the texts translated no matter how fragmentary or imperfectly but in his booklet notes for Micrologus Francesco Zimei excuses himself by admitting that they cannot be 'fluently and efficiently translated' so only a brief outline is given in English. The complete, original text is offered for those with a knowledge of quattrocento Italian. With a complex and allegorical text and song like Deus deorum Pluto in which the composer evokes various demonic gods from ancient history one can see why.
Micrologus’s approach is also quite different from that of Currentes. Their style is always that little bit more ‘in your face’. Theirs is a bold, throaty, even a strongly wordy, sound with the voices having something of an edge and thrust about them. Currentes are gentler and more subtle and so attract your attention less obviously.
In addition Micrologus have a larger group including seven instrumentalists playing for example, trombones, viola and lute. By contrast, Currentes under their director Jostein Gunderson have just two singers and three instrumentalists.
Zacara is especially keen on isorhythm but more especially on the technique called ‘hoquet’. His most famous piece Rosetta is imbued with it but this technique is also to be found in the sacred works like the Credo Scabioso. This and the other sacred works are, somewhat oddly, built upon the two part ballata D’amor languire. In his secular works Zacara favours the ballata form as in D’amor languire, and the uniquely, trilingually texted Je suis navrés/Gnaff’a le guagnele. It is also to be found in De bon parole with a text by his colleague Nicholaus Ricci da Nocello who may in fact also have written the music. There is also a ‘caccia’, that exciting canonic form favoured by composers like Giovanni da Firenze and Landini. This one, Cacciando per gustar is typical in its musical description of everyday life in medieval Italy. Here it illustrates the cries of the buyers and sellers at a busy Rome market-place.
My hit on this CD is the last track Ciaramella. It is lively and harmonically highly original. Its fun text is “an audacious sexual metaphor” in which a shawm is described admiringly by a young woman in terms that are clearly meant as a double-entendre.
Antonio Zacara da Teramo is an astonishing composer. His music can be found in manuscripts all over Europe including England. As far as I can tell about twenty of his works survive and each is quite extraordinary. Both discs - this and the Lawo - offer a good opportunity to get inside the music but Micrologus do it with more excitement and sense of discovery.
The Micrologus website points out that this recording inaugurates a series called 'Documenti', "and is the outcome of the cooperation between the musicologist Francesco Zimei and the Institute of Musical History of Abruzzo, within the Conference that was held in Teramo in December 2002, whose aim was to revive the music of this unacknowledged, as much as extraordinary, composer."