Amante FRANZONI (c1575-1630 or later) Vespro per la festa di Santa Barbara
Accademia degli Invaghiti; Concerto Palatino; Cappella Santa Barbara/Francesco Moi
rec. 2010, Mantua, Italy DDD
Texts included, no translations BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95344 [63:04]
Before the 18th century, when domestic music making among the upper echelons of society became increasingly important, most 'art music' was written for church and court. The first purpose of secular music was to entertain, the main raison d'Ítre of sacred music was its use in the liturgy. However, both kinds of music also served another purpose: representation. They should contribute to the splendour of church and court and reflect their power. The city of Venice is a good example: it liked to emphasize its importance and in religious matters its independence from Rome. The latter comes also to the fore in the sacred music written there, which was often very different from what the ecclesiastical authorities in Rome considered most appropriate.
The same search for independence was part of the policies of the Gonzagas in Mantua. During the renaissance it developed into one of the main musical centres in Italy. A key moment was the building of the basilica of Santa Barbara (1562-1565). Barbara was the Gonzagas's patron; she was a Greek martyr from the third century. According to the hagiographies, Barbara, the daughter of a rich pagan named Dioscorus, was carefully guarded by her father who kept her locked up in a tower in order to preserve her from the outside world. Having secretly become a Christian, she rejected an offer of marriage that she received through him. When her conversion to the Christian faith became public, she was sentenced to death; her father himself beheaded her. Tradition has it that this took place on 4 December which became the date of the Feast of St Barbara.
From the time the basilica was built until 1582 Giaches de Wert was maestro de capella; when he reduced his activities due to ill health he was succeeded by Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi. Among Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga and his successor Vincenzo many famous musicians were connected to the basilica and the Gonzaga court, such as the organists Cavazzoni and Rovigo, Alessandro Striggio, Benedetto Pallavicino and Claudio Monteverdi. The latter's first opera L'Orfeo was performed at the Gonzaga court in 1605.
In 1988 Hyperion released a recording of Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine, under the title of Second Vespers for the Feast of Santa Barbara, by The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers. It was based on an edition by Graham Dixon who surmised that the Vespers were originally written for the Feast of St Barbara in Mantua. This could explain the inclusion of the concerto Duo Seraphim which is a piece in honour of the Holy Trinity and cannot easily be connected to any feast of the Virgin Mary. That is different in the case of Barbara. When she was imprisoned in a tower during her father's absence, she asked the builders who were working on her tower to add a third window in honour of the Trinity. The present recording of the Vespro per la festa di Santa Barbara by Amante Franzoni also includes a setting of this same text.
New Grove has very little information about Franzoni; it is said that he flourished between 1605 and 1630. Francesco Moi, in his liner-notes, mentions that he was born around 1575. Apparently nothing is known about his education and his musical activities before 1605, when his presence at the Gonzaga court is documented. From 1612 until 1630 he acted as maestro di cappella of the Basilica. It is not known whether he died in 1630 or only retired.
Franzoni published four books with secular music for solo voices and basso continuo, except one collection which is for five unaccompanied voices. His first edition of sacred music came from the press in 1611, a book with sacred concertos for one to three voices and basso continuo. Four further editions followed, among them Apparato musicale di messa, sinfonie, canzoni, motetti, & letanie della Beata Vergine, 8vv, b, op.5 (1613) and Sacra omnium solemnitatum vespertina psalmodia cum cantico B. Virginis (1619); from these the music recorded here is taken. Is this Vespers a kind of reconstruction or was it composed as a liturgical unity? What we have here is a complete Vesper liturgy, including plainchant - taken from the archive of the Chapel of Santa Barbara - and the usual Psalms with additional pieces, used as substitutes for antiphons. In his prefaces - to which Graham Dixon in his liner-notes to The Sixteen recording also referred - Franzoni indicates that independent instrumental music was part of the celebrations on the Feast of Santa Barbara and Franzoni also gives the instruments a substantial role, including doubling the vocal parts.
Franzoni's music is a mixture of various styles. The modern concertato style finds its expression in pieces and passages for solo voice(s) and basso continuo. In addition we find passages in the stile antico, alternated with passages in fauxbourdon. Moreover Franzoni makes use of the Venetian cori spezzati technique. This results in a most interesting and musically captivating service which shows that we are here still in the time in which various traditions coexisted and were blended. It is a testimony of Franzoni's skills that this doesn't lead to a lack of unity.
The service opens with an instrumental piece, followed by the responsory Domine ad adiuvandum from Monteverdi's Vespers; the reason is that Franzoni did not set this text. Its inclusion is a nice tribute to Monteverdi who clearly influenced Franzoni's compositional style. The Canzon francese La Gonzaga is a tribute to Franzoni's employer, a gesture which was very common at the time. Laetatus sum is an example of a piece which includes polyphony and fauxbourdon passages. In Laudemus Dominum the instruments play an independent role, but it is not entirely clear whether these instrumental passages are part of the vocal work or included by the performers. In the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria Franzoni basically follows the same concept as Monteverdi: an instrumental piece with a solo voice singing "Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis". Graham Dixon mentions that it was common practice at the time to include the name of a saint at choice; some composers left a blank space. In The Sixteen's recording the name of Mary was replaced by that of Barbara; that is not the case here.
Interesting is the way Franzoni has set the Duo Seraphim text. The first two lines, about the two angels, is sung by two sopranos. Then the whole ensemble enters on the text "the whole world is full of thine glory". "There are three", says the fourth line, and here the two sopranos are joined by an alto, immediately followed by a passage for lower voices. Next three different voices sing one of the three names: Father, the Word (the Son) and the Holy Spirit.
The venue where this recording took place is not mentioned. However, the performers have tried to imitate the acoustical circumstances of the Basilica. The different groups were allocated to different spaces. Here there is a audible distance between the choir and the instrumentalists on the one hand and the schola, which sings the plainchant, on the other hand. That strongly contributes to a kind of 'live' experience.
It is just one of the aspects of this recording which makes it stand out. Obviously this production is well thought-over. With Concerto Palatino Francesco Moi contracted one of the best ensembles of its kind which results in technically perfect and stylistically convincing performances of the instrumental parts, also with regard to ornamentation. The singers are of the same level. They deliver splendid interpretations, both of the solo parts and of the tutti episodes. The balance between voices and instruments is just right.
Franzoni is an unknown name; hardly any music from his pen has been recorded. This disc does him full justice and sheds light on an interesting liturgical practice in Mantua. Those who like Monteverdi should certainly investigate this disc.