Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Vivat Leo! Music for a Medici Pope

Vivat Leo! Music for a Medici Pope
Cappella Pratensis
directed by Joshua Rifkin
Label: Challenge Classics
Release date:15th Nov 2010

Dutch vocal ensemble Cappella Pratensis perform works by Franco-Flemish composers from the Medici Codex (1518), a collection of sacred motets belonging to Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino, composed of music for use by the private chapel of Pope Leo X.

Track listing:
Silva, A: Gaude felix Florentia
Willaert: Virgo gloriosa; Saluto te, sancta Virgo Maria
de la Fage: Videns dominus civitatem desolatam
Mouton, J: Nesciens Mater; Per lignum salvi; Exalta regina Gallie
Despres: La Déploration de Johannes Ockeghem; Miserere mei, Deus
Silva, A: Omnis pulchritudo Domini
Festa, C: Inviolata, integra et casta es

Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael, 1483-1520)
Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi
Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence

Extracts from the sleeve notes by Joshua Rifkin:

Godiamo ci il Papato, poichè Dio ci l’ha dato.
‘Let us enjoy the papacy, since God has given it to us’ – –thus, according to a contemporary report, Giovanni de’ Medici, the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, on becoming pope in March 1513. Enjoy it he did. In the eight years of his reign, Leo X, as Giovanni now became known, lived extravagantly, holding banquet after banquet, hunt after hunt, and sometimes parading a white elephant through Rome. His costly enthusiasms extracted their price, of course; within two years of taking the throne, he had turned a handsome surplus left him by his predecessor into a deficit, and before long he had to raise funds by such dubious tricks as selling indulgences on a grand scale – provoking what would eventually become the Reformation. Yet Leo did not exhaust the papal treasury on frivolous things alone. A man of extensive humanistic learning, he supported notable scholars and poets, including Pietro Bembo; commissioned major works from Raphael; and initiated significant building projects. Above all, Leo loved music. He knew it from the inside, possessing sufficient technical knowledge to compose in five voices. He staffed the papal choir – the body responsible for music at liturgical services – with some of the most eminent singers and composers of his day, and he maintained a private body of musicians that similarly included several highly prized singers, composers, and instrumentalists. His awareness of musical developments extended well beyond Rome, moreover; he particularly admired the French royal maestro di cappella Jean Mouton, the most influential composer of the day, whom Leo had occasion to meet in 1515 and named to a highly honorific church position.

Report from Brabant TV on the recording sessions including short interview (in English) with Joshua Rifkin:

Much of the music heard at Leo’s court has vanished. We don’t know what his lutenists performed, nor can we retrieve the improvisations of his wind players. But we have an impressive record of the sophisticated polyphony sung around him: several manuscripts and printed books produced at his court or in its immediate orbit preserve works of both his own composers and others favoured by him and his musicians. A particularly vivid image of Leo’s musical world comes from the so-called Medici Codex, a collection of 53 motets possibly meant at first for Leo’s private use but ultimately presented to his nephew Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino, as Lorenzo returned with his new bride, the French princess Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne, to Italy in the late summer of 1518. With the exception of the first and last pieces, all the music on this recording comes from the Medici Codex.

Johannes de La Fage (fl. 1516), Videns dominus civitatem desolatam, à 4

In or about June 1516, a Ferrarese emissary in Rome wrote to tell Cardinal Ippolito d’Este of ‘a contrabass, the best in Italy’, who had recently arrived in Rome with a French cardinal ‘who has departed and has left him here, ill’: ‘it is someone called La Fage … and according to the pope’s judgment he is a great man’. No further trace of La Fage survives, except his music – including, as if to confirm Leo’s high regard, two four-voice motets in the Medici Codex. Videns dominus, very likely a prayer against the plague, certainly belongs among the most expressive pieces of the era, deftly blending homophony and imitative writing to portray the anguish of a ruler confronting a scene of desolation.

Jean Mouton (1459-1522), Exalta regina Gallie, à 4

Jean Mouton led the French royal chapel  when Leo X and Francis I met at Bologna in December 1515. At the time, he stood at the height of his career. His ascent, however, makes a puzzling story. From 1478 to the end of the fifteenth century, he held a number of what look like minor positions in northern France; yet only a few years into the new century, he became the first musician at the royal court, serving as maestro di cappella to Queen Anne of Brittany, King Louis XII, and, after Louis’s death, Francis I. His works, meanwhile, spread throughout all of western Europe, becoming an example for an entire generation of composers. Leo’s admiration for Mouton clearly transcended any political boundaries: Exalta regina Gallie, which the composer wrote to celebrate the French victory at Marignano, survives nowhere but in the Medici Codex.

Costanzo Festa (c.1490-1545), Inviolata, integra et casta es, à 8

Costanzo Festa, the only native Italian among the major composers of his generation, joined the papal choir in 1517; of his prior whereabouts, we know only that he had visited Ferrara in 1514 and 1516, and would appear to have spent some time in the service of a noble family on the island of Ischia off Naples. Festa evidently came from Piedmont, a significant crossroads of French and Italian culture, and he unmistakably took Mouton as his principal model. The Medici Codex contains several of his works, as do some of the large choirbooks made for the papal singers during Leo’s reign: Inviolata, integra et casta es comes from one of these, in a copy made by one of the scribes who wrote the Medici Codex. An eight-voice quadruple canon, it follows the example of Mouton’s Nesciens mater; the five-voice Inviolata of Josquin, also part of the Leonine repertory, seems to lurk in the background as well. Festa lays out the three sections of the motet as a set of canons that grow increasingly close in pitch and time: at the octave, separated by four breves; at the fifth, at an interval of three breves; and for the final apogee, at the fourth and a distance of only one breve. For most of the first two sections, the two four-voice groups remain separate from one another; but in the last, the tight overlap produces an almost continuous eight-part texture in which the top voices of each group call back and forth to each other in a fashion that seems almost to anticipate Monteverdi.

Listen to further extracts from Vivat Leo! on the Cappella Pratensis website

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