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The Lion’s Ear: A Tribute to Leo X, Musician among Popes
La Morra: Voices (Franz Vizthum, Ivo Haun de Oliveira, Giovanni Cantarini, Giacomo Schiavo, Jean-Christophe Groffe); Corina Marti (recorders, harpsichord), Michał Gondko (lute, viola da mano); David Hatcher (viola da gamba, recorder); Soma Salat-Zakariá (viola da gamba); Ann Allen (recorders); Ralph Stelzenmüller (harpsichord); Corina Marti and Michał Gondko (directors)
rec. Beuggen Castle, Rheinfelden, Germany, February 2015
Notes in English, German and French. Texts and translations included RAMÉE RAM1403 [65:35]
Pope Leo X was born Giovanni de’ Medici, the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, in 1475 and probably chose the name Leo when elected Pope in 1531 because shortly before his birth, his mother, Clarice Orsini, had a dream (nightmare?) in which she saw herself delivered, not of a human child, but of a huge, though gentle, lion! As a child he grew up in the thoroughly and brilliantly humanist environment of Lorenzo’s ‘court’; his tutors including Angelo Poliziano, a poet (in Greek, Latin and Italian), a classical scholar and translator, and the great Neoplatonist and editor of Plato, Marsilio Ficino. Lorenzo intended him (primarily for the benefit of the family) for a career in the church. At the age of six Giovanni was tonsured, to initiate his career in the church and was very soon given multiple benefices in Italy and elsewhere. Giovanni’s limited abilities, given his age, did nothing to hold back his ecclesiastical career. At the age of 13 he was (largely through his father’s influence) made a cardinal. During the papacy of Julius II (1503-13) he served as papal legate to Bologna and Romagna and in 1513, at the age of 38, he succeeded Julius and became Pope. In character and in terms of his actions while Pope, Leo was (in the words of John Julius Norwich) “less a pope than a Renaissance prince”.
A pleasure-loving homosexual, Leo loved all forms of spectacle and public celebrations; he was an enthusiastic huntsman and fond of hosting banquets, attending plays and concerts. He appointed the humanist scholars Pietro Bembo and Jacopo Sadoleto as his secretaries. Poets and writers, such as Marco Girolamo Vida, Giangiorgio Trissino and Bandello were welcomed to the papal court; he supported the plays of Ariosto and Cardinal Bibbiena (who may have been the Pope’s lover) as part of a desire to encourage the revival of theatre in Rome. He also did much (and spent much papal money) to revive the University (La Sapienza) in Rome (more or less defunct for the previous 30 years), appointing many new professors and adding new subjects of study. He was also a lavish patron of artists and architects, most notably Raphael. Leo commissioned frescoes for the Vatican from Raphael, as his predecessor had also done. He also commissioned Raphael to design tapestries to hang in the Sistine Chapel (they are now in the Vatican Picture Gallery) Some of the cartoons for these tapestries are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, as is a coloured terracotta bust of Leo in 1512 (the year before he became Pope) by Antonio de’Benintendi (reproduced on the cover of this CD); Raphael’s portrait of Leo is in the Uffizi. Naturally enough, music had not been neglected in the young Giovanni’s education. From 1485 to 1489, for example, he was taught by no less a figure than Heinrich Isaac. During his years as a cardinal, Josquin des Préz was a member of the Papal Choir and the Pope-to-be was reportedly fascinated by his music. Indeed, his greatest love was for Franco-Flemish polyphony. Some six months after becoming Pope he appointed Elzéar Genet (also known as Carpentras) as the new Chapel Master. Adalbert Roth (in
Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, edited by M. Evans, C. Browne and A. Neselroth, 2010) goes so far as to say that “the pontificate of Leo X represents a remarkable moment in the history of European music. As a result of his expert musical patronage, the College of the Papal Chapel became the leading musical centre in Italy, and, probably, the principal court chapel in Europe”. Leo’s fascination with music was commented on by many contemporaries and was remembered well after his death. In 1564 (more than 40 years after Leo’s death) the historian and theologian Wilhelm Eisengrein recorded that “Leo X loved musicians most of all”.
Given the fervour of Leo X’s love of music, it is entirely fitting that a CD should be devoted to his musical world, to the ‘soundscape’ he ‘created’ and enjoyed. The programme on this CD was devised by La Morra’s directors, Corina Marti and Michał, in collaboration with Professor Anthony M. Cummings, author of The Lion’s Ear: Pope Leo X, the Renaissance Papacy, and Music (University of Michigan Press, 2012). I know of only one predecessor of the disc under review,
Vivat Leo! Music For A Medici Pope (Challenge Classics CC 72366) by Joshua Rifkin and Capella Pratensis, issued in 2010. I don’t have present access to that disc (though I heard it some time ago) so I can’t comment in detail, but insofar as it concentrates exclusively on sacred polyphony it isn’t a direct rival to La Morra’s CD, since The Lion’s Ear, seeks, rather, to represent something like the full range of Pope Leo’s musical interests, sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental. The aim is laudable, but has the disadvantage that the quantity of music which might have been included is far greater than could be adequately represented on a single disc and, as a result,
The Lion’s Ear is more of a ‘sampler’ than one might have wished. (It is a shame, for example, that we hear only a very brief extract from the setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by one of Leo’s favourite composers, Elzéar Genet (more often known as Carpentras, after his place of birth in Provence).
Genet was a singer in the papal choir by 1508, but left quite soon to work at the French Royal Chapel. However, within a few months of his election as Pope, Leo wrote to Louis XII requesting the services of Carpentras and made him Master of the Papal Chapel in 1514. Of the other composers represented here, many others also have direct and demonstrable connections with Leo. Isaac, as already mentioned, taught the youthful future Pope. By the time that Leo become Pope Isaac, though still in Florence, had more or less reached the end of his active musical life, but the new Pope’s respect for the man and his music was such that he successfully urged the Florentine authorities to grant him a pension. Don Michele Pesenti, priest, composer, singer and lutenist was employed by Leo, as were the great lutenist and composer Francesco Canova da Milano and the harpsichordist Marco Antonio Cavazzoni da Bologna, both whom served as private musicians to Leo during his years on the papal throne. Bernardo Pisano was a native Florentine, a classical scholar, a singer and a composer; having been Master of the choristers in the Cathedral School in Florence, Pisano was brought to Rome soon after Leo became Pope, becoming a singer in the Papal Chapel. Between 1515 and 1519 he seems to have divided his time between Rome and Florence, before settling in Rome in 1520. A man who shared the wide cultural interests of Leo, his friends included Michelangelo, the poet Annibale Caro and the historian Benedetto Varchi. Indeed Pisano edited Apuleius!
A few of the other composers – such as Nicholas Craen and Josquin (both of whom died which the future Pope was still young) or Jean Mouton had no direct connection with Leo, save for his love of their music (Mouton is reported by Heinrich Glarean, the Swiss humanist and music theorist to have been one of Leo’s favourite composers). Leo himself was said by contemporaries to have had a pleasant singing voice (though perhaps they couldn’t very well have said otherwise!) and such surviving compositions as can be attributed to him suggest that, for all their clearly ‘amateur’ status, his lessons from Isaac were by no means a waste of time!
For all the catholicity (no pun intended!) of selection in the programming of this CD, some of Leo’s wide-ranging musical interests have, of necessity, to be absent. He also liked the entertainment provided by an improvvisatore such as Raffaele Brandolini (see Herbert M. Vaughan, The Medici Popes, 1908, p.167ff). But what we do have is more than enough to make an enormously rewarding disc, especially when its programming so artfully mixes secular with sacred, vocal with instrumental. Where the music is by well-known names, such as Josquin, Isaac or Mouton the performances by la Morra are on a par with most modern recordings and better than quite a few. Where the music (and its composers) are less familiar, there is often a quality of enlightening discovery in the air here, as with the ‘Lirum bililirum’ of Rossino Mantovano, a quasi-nonsensical song of lust, with an infectious rhythm. Elsewhere Michał Gondko gives attractive performances of the lute pieces by Da Milano and Corina Marti makes an eloquent case for the harpsichord works by Cavazzoni.
Renaissance writers often borrowed from Horace (though his words “aut prodesse … aut delectare” might be taken to imply a choice between the two) to declare that poets (and by implication other artists) should both teach and delight. Here is a CD that does so in exemplary fashion.
ROSSINO MANTOVANO (fl.1505/11)
Lirum bililirum [3:13]
Domenico DA PIACENZA (c.1400-c1476)
(Rostibolli) Gioioso [2:11]
Antoine BRUHIER (died post 1521)
Vivite felices [2:45]
Francesco Canova DA MILANO (1497-1543)
Ricercar (Ness No. 4) [0:53]
De mon triste desplaisir (after Jean RICHAFORT (c.1489-c.1547) [1:52]
Fantasia De mon triste [2:23]
Michele PESENTI (c. 1480-c.1547)
Che farala, che dirala [2:30]
ANONYMOUS [poss. LEO X]
Spem in alium [2:50]
Se mai, per maraveglia [5:17]
Bernardo PISANO (1490-1548)
O vos omnes [2:31]
Nicolaus CRAEN (ca.1445-1507)
Ecce video celos apertos [3:29]
ELZÉAR GENET [CARPENTRAS]
Jerusalem, convertere [1:17]
Marc Antonio CAVAZZONI (c.1490-c.1560)
Lautre yor per un matin (after ANONYMOUS) [4:15]
Fortuna disperata [5:08]
Henricus ISAAC (c.1450/.55-1517)
Fortuna disperata / Sancte Petre [1:32]
Quid retribuam tibi, Leo? [1:54]
POPE LEO X (1475-1521)
Cela sans plus [2:42]
Jean MOUTON (c.1459-1522)
In omni tribulation [1:31]
Francesco Canova DA MILANO (1497-1543)
Ricercar (Ness No. 10) [1;38]
Marc Antonio CAVAZZONI (c.1490-c.1560)
O stella maris (after ANONYMOUS) [4:34]
POPE LEO X (1475-1521)
Canon di papa Lione x a 3 voci [1:30]
JOSQUIN DES PREZ (c.1450/55-1521)
Salve, Regina [6:42]