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Istanpitta - Florentine Dances of the Fourteenth Century
Istanpitta Tristano & Manfredina [6.30]
Istanpitta Ghaetta [12.29]
Istanpitta In Pro [6.06]
Istanpitta Chanconetta Tedescha [5.01]
Instanpitta Salterello [3.43]
Istanpitta Salterello &Trotto
Istanpitta Isabella [6.34]
Istanpitta Tre fonata
Istanpitta Salterello in 6
Henri Agnel (Cistre, Cethera, Ud and arranger and director) with Michael Nick- (Quinton), Henri Tournier (Flute/Bansura), Diamchid Chemirani (Zarb) and Idriss Agnel (Udu)
rec. 2003, Chapelle de ‘l’H˘spital Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours, Paris
ALPHA CLASSICS 336 [57.09]

The best known collection of medieval dances, almost entirely ‘Estampies’ or as here called ‘Istanpittas’, thirteen in number, can be found in the 13th Century ‘Manuscrit du Roi’ now to be seen in Paris. These have been recorded many times in the last sixty years on differing anthologies, not least by Jordi Savall who put them all on one CD (Alia Vox AVSA 9857).Less well known but almost as often recorded, normally just one or two at a time, are these Italian, largely Florentine ‘Istampittas’.

It is generally said that instrumental musicians at the time of Landini [d.1397] were illiterate and improvised their music making, and it must be admitted that that is generally true. But some scribes thought it important to write some of these tunes down and preserve them in beautiful and lavish manuscripts. It must be remembered that only the melodies have been preserved so all we can do is to guess how they were played or on what they were played or even if the melodies were also performed by singers as has sometimes been suggested. As a result, modern performers are free to move around in the space of the ‘Estampie’ form as it were, at will and this as has been achieved vividly here.

The form of the Estampie is mostly, A, B, C, B, D, B, E, B etc. - it could of course go on. It can be seen that the repetition of the ‘B’ phrase would and does enable the instrumentalist to improvise around the melody quite freely. It is also generally considered that the pieces would have used percussion to aid the pulse for dancing and probably had an improvisatory introduction, setting the mode and establishing a few of the musical idioms. Improvisation, quite rightly plays an enormous part in the successful presentation of these dances.

The crusaders of the 12th and 13th Centuries would not only fight and pillage they would barter their trinkets for, its believed, items like musical instruments and take them or send them home. One such, represented on this CD is the ‘Oud’. The French crusaders called it ‘Le Oud’ or L’oud hence the ‘Lute’ in English. Other instruments employed are the ‘Zarb’- a leather covered drum which gives us the quite lengthy introduction to the ‘Salterello and Trotto’; the ‘Udu’ is a metal, pot-shaped drum, the ‘Quinton’ is a long-necked violin, there is a cittern, a cithara and a bamboo side blown flute known a ‘Bansura’ and several are given an opportunity to shine in various of the dances. In the ‘Istampitta Tristano’ the opening prelude features the Bansura flute, the Quinton is featured in the ‘Istampitta In Pro’, the Zarb in the ‘Salterello and Trotto’ etcetera. The effect of all this is more middle eastern than western. As proof just listen to the prelude to the ‘Istanpitta Salterello’ for the solo flute.

On older recordings the influence of the soundworld of countries like Morocco and Turkey has only occasionally been a feature. One of the first to understand this was the German group ‘Studio der Fruhen Musik’ under Thomas Binkley in the 60’s, indeed they recorded several of these pieces including the ‘Istampitta Ghaetta’. David Munro ‘s approach was less clearly influenced by Arab music but he recognised its importance and often talked about it.

The performances are ‘fun’ and often exciting and colourful. Bringing together this collection of Italian dances is an excellent plan and complements Savall’s recording mentioned above.

This CD, originally from 2003, has been reissued with a vaguely helpful booklet note by Henri Agnel, one of the performers, a coloured time chart from 1297 to 1385 placing the visual arts in the limelight and illustrating for example a painting of Giotto and some ancient playing cards. Well worth investigating and very ear-catching.

Gary Higginson



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