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I Fagiolini: "Alessandro Striggio's 40-part mass - Ecco si beato giorno"

During this week from the 4th to the 10th of April, at 12:00 AM and 12:00 PM (Madrid Time), you can listen to excerpts from the new album of I Fagiolini:"Alessandro Striggio's 40-part mass - Ecco si beato giorno".

I Fagiolini
"Alessandro Striggio's 40-part mass - Ecco si beato giorno"



 Review from www.deccaclassics.com/


  Born c.1536/7, Alessandro Striggio was the natural son and heir of a Mantuan nobleman and soldier. In 1559 he joined the court of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in Florence, where he was the highest-paid member of its musical establishment. His elevated social status allowing him a dual diplomatic – musical function, he divided his life between work for the Medici, and his family and court connection in Mantua. Seven books of his madrigals were published besides many others in anthologies and a few sacred pieces. Equally important is the occasional music he wrote for Medici marriages and their entertainments. His son, of the same name, would later provide the libretto for Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

Ecce beatam lucem, Ecco sì beato giorno and the Mass

The Florentine Diary of the priest and cathedral singer Agostino Lapini records the performance in April 1561 of “a song for 40 voices composed by Alexandro Striggio”. This was in honour of two papal envoys, Cardinal Ippolito d’Este II and the Jesuit theologian Diego Laynez, who were en route to Paris to make a vital intervention at the Colloquy de Poissy, which would help to restart the stalled Council of Trent. Lapini specifies neither title nor location for the performance, but there is good reason to suppose that the song was the motet Ecce beatam lucem, and that it took place in the cathedral as part of a spectacular sacra scena in the envoys’ honour, masked and costumed singers and instrumentalists descending on cloud machines to portray the celestial vision of the text.

In 1568 we again hear of a Striggio forty-part motet, this time entertaining guests at a banquet during the wedding celebrations of the Wittelsbach heir in Munich. Again no title is given, but the official account of the celebrations puts it beyond doubt that this was Ecce beatam lucem, a work that is widely performed and recorded, though until now with purely vocal forces. Its text sets the second and third parts of an ode by the celebrated Protestant neo-Latin poet and composer Paul Melissus (né Schede). This invokes an ecstatic vision of the New Jerusalem, with the Trinity set amid the cosmos and surrounded by Christian saints and Hebrew patriarchs and prophets; pre-eminent among the latter stands King David, hymning the Godhead with voice and harp. By 1566, Striggio had composed his Mass based on Ecco sì beato giorno in forty parts. But the musical material the Mass develops is also to be found in Ecce beatam lucem, which suggests that Ecco and Ecce must have been very similar or, quite possibly, one a straight re-texting of the other. Schede’s Latin ode shows signs of having been designed for musical setting, and it fits the music like a glove, making it likely that it was the text that Striggio initially set, Ecco sì beato giorno being a later substitute. The opening line of the Italian work has eight syllables, one too many for the music of Ecce beatam. Hugh Keyte and Silvia Reseghetti have independently conjectured that the Italian title could have been Ecco ’l beato giorno (which would make Ecce’s title a perfect match), the source’s later French scribe mis-remembering this. Whatever the history, the composition of Mass and motet on such a gargantuan scale and at so early a date is extraordinary. There was, though, an established Florentine tradition of larger-scale musical settings, typically for the climactic scenes of stage extravaganzas and of their counterparts in church.

The first known mention of the Mass is in a letter of early 1567, when Striggio was in the midst of an arduous winter journey, the main object of which seems to have been the presentation of his setting to the new Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II (who had a penchant for large-scale musical works). Eventually finding Maximilian in Brno, Striggio reports that he was delighted with the gift, which was apparently part of a charm offensive by Duke Cosimo I, who had long been pestering pope and emperor to ignore the protests of rival North-Italian rulers and grant him the royal title of Archduke. But Cosimo had to wait until 1569 before the pope unilaterally granted him the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany, the emperor finally ratifying this for Cosimo’s heir in 1575, after the Medici purse had come to his rescue.

Striggio continued his journey to Munich, where the Mass was performed for Duke Albrecht V (quite possibly with Lassus directing) and on to Paris, where he directed a non-liturgical performance in front of the young Charles IX and his mother, the formidable Catherine de Médicis, a cousin of Cosimo. The Mass itself was believed lost until Davitt Moroney uncovered the parts in Paris very recently. His fascinating article on the subject can be found in the Journal of the American Musicological Society April 2007, Vol.60, No.1. (For a more recent consideration of Striggio’s forty-part works, see www.ifagiolini.com/striggio)

Musical style and performance Ecce beatam and the Mass are laid out for the same combination of parts, but whereas the motet follows an established tradition by using constantly varying groupings of adjacent parts, the Mass is a remarkably early example of true polychorality, the forty parts divided into five choirs of eight parts each. A striking feature of both works is that the same thirteen parts (plus four more in the Mass) employ florid and syncopated writing, the remainder providing a more chordal background. To the ear of the listener (and the eye on the page), the effect is of melodic ivy entwined around sturdy harmonic pillars.

All forty parts of both works are underlaid with text in the sources, but to conclude from this that purely vocal forces were intended is to misunderstand the nature of sixteenth-century (especially continental) performance practice. Composers accepted that their works would be adapted and performed according to local taste. Lassus, for example, devised an extraordinary instrumentation for the motet’s 1568 outing – highly effective, but based on the misapprehension that Striggio’s purely pragmatic clef layout implied three choral groups and seven ensembles of three instruments and a solo tenor. Striggio was present and is not known to have objected. In the Mass Robert Hollingworth has chosen to emphasise the antiphony between the five eight-part choirs with contrasted scorings: choir I with strings, III with brass, V with a broken consort (mixed double reeds, brass and strings, all doubling on recorders), leaving choirs II and IV predominantly vocal. In the motet, a different but complementary scheme assumes the musicians will have been arranged for the scena sacra in the cathedral nave on five levels of cloud machines (such was

Posted on 2011-04-04 11:22:16.833