Alla Luna: Per Cantar & Sonar


  • Artist(s): Ensemble La Selva
  • Composer(s): Alessandro Piccinini, Andrea Falconieri, Barbara Strozzi, Biagio Marini, Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Battista Fontana, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Tarquinio Merula
  • EAN Code: 7.46160911755
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber, Vocal
  • Instrumentation: Ensemble
  • Period: Baroque, Renaissance
  • Publication year: 2020
SKU: C00350 Category:

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“Alla Luna”, “To the Moon”. Gazing to the moon and letting one’s mind wander has been the birth and inspiration of a poetic sentiment and feeling for countless human beings throughout history and geography. Precisely because of the undeniable charm of the Moon and of her power to awaken the poet who lies asleep in most human breasts, only the greatest poets have been able to leave truly enchanting verses about her. We may recall Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (1605): “The moon shines bright, in such a night as this. When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees and they did make no noise, in such a night”. Or, in the Far East, another seventeenth-century poet, Matsuo Bashō: “Oh! the moon gazing where some clouds / From time to time repose the eye!”. Or, in another of his haiku: “How much I desire! Inside my little satchel, the moon, and flowers”. In sharp contrast with these exquisite verbal watercolours, in the same century as Shakespeare and Bashō an Italian poet, by the name of Claudio Achillini, defined the moon as “the great omelette in the pan of the sky”. The lyrics set to music by Biagio Marini in the song lending its name to this Da Vinci Classics album are somewhat midway between the sublimity of Shakespeare and Bashō and the puzzling creativity of Achillini. Here the moon is “silvery” (not a very original adjective, to be sure, when applied to the moon), and is defined as the Sun’s “darker sister”; with an allusion to a Biblical quote (from Song of Songs), her “darkness / does not detract from her beauty”. If the lyrics possibly will not qualify among the most memorable definitions of the Moon in the history of literature, the music by Biagio Marini works wonders, and transforms a series of little more than platitudes into pure magic. The “poems”, which, in the lyricist’s words, are the “arms conquering” Night, “that mother of shadows and fears”, become, in Marini’s hands, a garland of notes descending to the depths of the voice’s texture, and thus representing both the aesthetic fascination and the dangerous charm of the Moon and of Night. This album collects a series of vocal and instrumental works by several Italian musicians of the early Baroque era; the choice of putting Alla Luna at center stage is very appropriate, since this short masterpiece epitomizes many qualities found also in the other works. There is an exquisite balance between words and music, between the needs of the recently created “recitar cantando” and those of virtuosity, a trait much sought-for by Baroque composers and listeners alike. There is a close interaction between vocality and the instrumental component: even the purely instrumental pieces recorded here display their indebtedness to the world of singing and to the vocal aesthetics of the Baroque period. The emergence of a strong harmonic feeling is clearly observable, but, at the same time, the interplay between the melodic lines is elegant and reveals the composers’ familiarity with polyphonic writing. And, finally, by listening to this and to the other pieces in this album, we gain an “aural glimpse” over a lost world, a society whose written and unwritten rules are difficult to imagine today, but whose artistic refinement was paralleled only by its adventurous lifestyle. For example, Falconieri fled Parma and abandoned his employ overnight, giving no reasons, and later was the protagonist of a minor scandal in Genoa due to his (musical) frequentations of female convents; Biagio Marini was married thrice, and left his first wife before embarking in a very turbulent life punctuated by a series of jobs in many Italian and European cities; and, last but not least, Barbara Strozzi was an enormously gifted woman but not exactly the prototype of the housewife.
The biographies of most of the composers represented here are in fact rather impressive; when one counts their journeys (and the miles they travelled), their conjugal and extra-conjugal adventures, and sometimes the number of children they had, one wonders how they managed to find time for writing such beautiful music.
Biagio Marini was one of the finest violinists of his era, and it is therefore no wonder that he left an abundant and extraordinary output of instrumental music. Similar to many of his colleagues represented here, he was a very precocious artist, and his first published works were probably composed in his teens and published when he was barely twenty years old. At that time, he was working as a violinist in Venice, where he had been employed as a member of the orchestra of St Mark’s, led by Claudio Monteverdi. Undoubtedly, Marini’s early exposure to the genius and innovations of the great composer proved to be fundamental for his later development. Monteverdi was in fact creating and establishing a new musical language, crafted upon the tendencies of the late sixteenth-century and upon an even older tradition, but which was gaining acceptance in the world of “refined” music only in the early decades of the seventeenth century. Monteverdi’s own Ed è pur dunque vero, recorded here, is a typical example: less pathetic than most of his madrigals, but poignant in its comparative lightness, it employs the human voice as the most ductile and expressive of all instruments.

Indeed, the boundary between the instrumental and the vocal is really thin in most pieces recorded here; formulae from the palette of instrumental virtuosity are adopted by the voice, and others from the vocal repertoire transition to the instrumental domain.
The quest for pleasure and joy, and the desire for wonder and amazement typical for the Baroque aesthetics (and which was also behind the awkward metaphors by Achillini) are found also in other of the Scherzi e canzonette by Marini, such as, for example, Invito a l’Allegrezza, where both lyrics and music concur to the creation of a sparkling atmosphere of happiness and levity. The search for an inventio which was both “quest” and “fantasy” is also found in exquisitely instrumental pieces, such as the Folias by Falconieri, another musician and composer who lived in many European countries (including Spain, where the Folias theme took the courts by storm) and who contributed to the development of the new instrumental language; here, virtuoso elements create a thrilling dialogue between the two upper parts, which occasionally seem to play hide-and-seek and which cooperate to the creation of a brilliant concluding climax. Similarly, Falconieri’s La suave melodia, an enormously successful tune, is expressively nuanced and characterized by a noble pacing; unsurprisingly, it is acknowledged to be one of his greatest works. Similar to Marini, also Giovanni Battista Fontana was known to his contemporaries both as a violinist and as a composer; in particular, the preface to the posthumous publication of his collection of Sonatas praises him as “one of the most singular [i.e. exceptional] virtuosos on the Violin of his age”, and this is clearly revealed by his daring style and refined handling of both the compositional structures and the details of instrumental technique. Garlands of notes testify to his sprezzatura, his capability to face virtuoso passages with seeming ease and total mastery.
A similar virtuosity, though in the vocal field, characterized also the only female composer represented here, Barbara Strozzi; she was a Venetian courtesan of exceptional culture, independence and free-mindedness, who managed to gain acceptance into the highest circles of the contemporaneous aristocracy and in those of the most acclaimed artists and composers of her era. She even founded a private Academy of her own, of which she quickly became the soul and the inspiration. Interestingly, she also managed to be an excellent mother of four (three of her children eventually entered holy orders or the cloister). Alessandro Piccinini was in turn an appreciated virtuoso, but his field of specialization were the plucked-string instruments; he was a member of a family of musicians, and, when in Rome, he created an exceptional ensemble with Frescobaldi, the great organist, and three female singers. Frescobaldi’s own Canzona, performed here, is an iconic symbol for his artistry and aesthetics; its name reveals how closely intertwined were the worlds of instrumental and vocal music, and yet the idiom is already exquisitely instrumental. Similar to Frescobaldi, also Tarquinio Merula was a highly appreciated organist, who was in high demand both in Italy and abroad (in Poland). His output includes both sacred and secular music, and, in both fields, he managed to find a voice of his own, a personal and original style appreciated by his contemporaries and by present-day listeners.
Together, these seven composers represent the extreme vivacity and liveliness of the Italian cultural life of their era, its open-mindedness and capacity to acquire and transform the musical languages of many European countries, while exporting the “Italian” sound throughout the Continent. They offer us a perspective on the development of novel styles, which were observed and experimented with in the genuine pleasure and playfulness of the new discoveries. They also reveal how musical forms which were deemed as minor or less serious with respect to church music and to the “high” madrigal culture of the era managed to find a profundity and depth of their own, in aesthetic and spiritual terms. They invite us to contemplate “the Moon”, i.e. the source of poetical and musical inspiration, with that same enchanted and inspired gaze they had, and to discover the awe and amazement so typical for the Baroque era.

Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio


Ensemble La Selva: La Selva is an early music ensemble active since 2005. Founded by Carolina Pace, Michele Carreca, and Diana Fazzini, it has developed a wide repertoire, from Renaissance to late-Baroque music. The Ensemble La Selva toured in Europe, the United States, Brazil, and Algeria.


Italian lutenist, composer and writer on music. His father, Leonardo Maria Piccinini, his brothers Girolamo and Filippo (see below) and his son Leonardo Maria were all lutenists too. Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga summoned him to his court at Mantua in 1582, but, because of commitments that his Father had entered into, he went instead with his family to the Este court at Ferrara, where he and his brothers remained until the death of Duke Alfonso II on 27 October 1597. He then entered the service of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, papal legate at Bologna and Ferrara, who died in 1621. He was a member of the Accademia dei Filomusi, Bologna. Three autograph letters from him survive (in I-MOs), one of 31 January 1595 to the Duke of Ferrara and two, of 2 June 1622 and 1 January 1623, to the Duke of Modena.

Piccinini published two volumes, Intavolatura di liuto, et di chitarrone, libro primo, nel quale si contengano dell’uno, & dell’altro stromento arie, baletti, correnti, gagliarde, canzoni, & ricercate musicali, & altre à dui, e trè liuti concertati insieme; et una inscrittione d’avertimenti, che insegna la maniera, & il modo di ben sonare con facilità i sudetti stromenti (Bologna, 1623: facs and edn. in AntMI, Monumenta bononiensis, ii, 1962) and Intavolatura di liuto, nel quale si contengono toccate, ricercate musicali, corrente, gagliarde, chiaccone, e passacagli alla vera spagnola, un bergamasco, con varie partite, una battaglia, & altri capricci (Bologna, 1639), which was seen through the press after his death by his son. The first of these volumes has a particularly important preface in which he described a type of archlute that he claimed to have developed and had made in Padua in 1594. While these claims have aroused scholarly controversy (see in particular Kinsky, and MGG1), Piccinini’s claim to have invented the archlute – the first extended-neck lute – in the 1590s is plausible, although the extended-neck chitarrone (as a restrung and retuned bass lute) predated his invention. Piccinini also made significant modifications to the chitarrone and according to Giustiniani invented an instrument ‘similar to the kithara of Apollo’, which he called a pandora and which was perhaps akin to the English poliphant (see Bandora). His preface also includes a short but detailed manual on performance, which advances several interesting ideas: in imitative writing the theme must be played louder so that it stands out; a technique of playing forte and piano (‘ondeggiato’) should be adopted in pieces rich in dissonances, which should be highlighted (as, according to him, they were at Naples); embellishments should be left to the taste of the player, but the cadential gruppo should always be pronounced, its notes being given equal value, and it should be completed as quickly as possible. Piccinini was a talented composer. His toccatas, which are very varied in form and style, are specially rewarding. The dances have attractive melodies and varied, piquant rhythms; some of them are arranged in suites. Piccinini wrote the music (apparently lost) to La selva sin amore (libretto by Lope de Vega Carpio), the first opera performed om Spain.

After working with him at the Ferrara court, Piccinini’s brothers both went abroad: Girolamo (b Bologna; d Flanders, 1615) entered the service of Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio and accompanied him when he was appointed papal nuncio in Flanders, and Filippo (b Bologna; d Bologna, 1648) worked at the Spanish court until about 1645, when he returned to Bologna; a two-part madrigal by Filippo survives

Italian composer and lutenist. He may have had lessons with Santino Garsi at Parma, where, according to Pico, he was brought up from an early age by the duke. He was employed as a lutenist at Parma from 1604 and replaced Garsi as official court lutenist by December 1610. After banking his salary for November 1614, he absconded, possibly to Mantua: in a letter of 12 December 1615 from Florence, where he appears to have been a temporary musician at court, he told the Duke of Mantua that he was sending him some of his compositions and recommended that they be sung by ‘Signora Margherita and her sister’, which suggests that he was already familiar with the musical resources there; he also said he was preparing to publish some of his pieces. His first known publication, a book of villanellas, appeared in 1616, and by 1619 he had also published six books of monodies and one of motets. The dedication of the villanellas to Cardinal de’ Medici suggests that he had indeed been employed at Florence, and this may have led to an appointment in Rome. About 1620–21 he appears to have married and moved to Modena as a player of the chitarrone and chitarriglia alla spagnola. Shortly before 24 July 1621 he departed for Spain, leaving behind his wife, one song and some copies of his (lost) book on the Spanish guitar, ‘a work already dedicated in print to the King of Hungary (now emperor)’. He was later ordered to proceed to France and seems to have travelled there and in Spain for some years. In October 1628, however, he took part with Loreto Vittori in the festivities at Florence for the wedding of Princess Margherita de’ Medici and Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, and on 20 April 1629 he returned to Parma as a chitarrone player. Pico said he moved to Modena and Genoa after the death of Duke Ranuccio in 1635, but he was a music teacher at the convent of S Brigida, Genoa, from 1632 until at least 1637; in June 1636 he was denounced by the mother superior for distracting the nuns with his music. He was appointed lutenist in the royal chapel at Naples in 1639. In 1642 he obtained leave to visit his wife in Modena and appears also to have visited Genoa. Following the death of Trabaci in 1647, he was appointed maestro di cappella at Naples and held the post until his death of the plague.

Falconieri appears to have been most prolific as a songwriter but only three of his six or more books of secular vocal music are known to survive. These display a gift for melody and an interest in various musical forms. They are, for instance, among the earliest to reveal a distinction in the same song between recitative or arioso and aria; the best example of this is Deh dolc’anima mia (1619, ed. in Adler and Clercx), but a similar tendency can be found in Spiega la vela nocchiero (1616). His book of villanellas (1616) also includes an aria for soprano and bass, ‘sopra la ciacona’, a favoured duet combination for Falconieri.

His instrumental music survives in two large collections, one printed, the other manuscript. In the former there is little apparent difference between the works labelled ‘canzona’, ‘sinfonia’, ‘fantasia’ or ‘capriccio’: they all comprise two to four sections, all repeated, of which the last is often in triple time; some have descriptive titles, for example ‘L’eroica’, ‘La ennamorada’ and ‘La murroya’. There is also a ‘passacalle’ (32 variations on the descending minor tetrachord) and a ‘folia’ setting (16 variations on the well-known eight-bar bass). The pieces are in a fresh, spirited style with much imitation between melody and bass lines. The manuscript collection was probably copied in Florence or Rome between 1620 and 1640 for Gioseppe Antonio Doni. The attribution to Falconieri is most likely reliable, given his reputation as a lutenist and chitarrone player.

Barbara Strozzi: (b Venice, 1619; d Padua, 11 Nov 1677). Italian composer and singer, adopted (possibly illegitimate) daughter of Giulio Strozzi. She was sometimes referred to by him as Barbara Valle; by 1650 she was his sole heir. Her mother was Isabella Garzoni, called ‘la Greghetta’, Strozzi’s longtime servant. Barbara was a pupil of Francesco Cavalli and the dedicatee of two volumes of solo songs by Nicolò Fontei, the Bizzarrie poetiche of 1635 and 1636, for which Giulio Strozzi wrote most of the texts, and which Barbara sang at his home in the presence of various Venetian letterati. Her performances were institutionalized in 1637 when Giulio founded the Accademia degli Unisoni, a musical offshoot of a more important literary academy, the Accademia degli Incogniti. As indicated by published minutes of the Unisoni (Le veglie de’ Signori Unisoni, 1638), she sang at the meetings and suggested the subjects on which the members exercised their debating skills.

Strozzi’s career as a professional composer began in 1644 with the first of her eight publications, a volume of madrigals for two to five voices on texts by Giulio Strozzi, which she dedicated to Vittoria della Rovere, Grand Duchess of Tuscany. All but one of her subsequent surviving publications – op.4 is missing – appeared after Giulio’s death in 1652. Dedicated to a variety of important patrons, including Ferdinand II of Austria and Eleanora of Mantua (op.2, 1651), Anne of Austria, Archduchess of Innsbruck (op.5, 1655), Nicolò Sagredo, later Doge of Venice (op.7, 1659) and Sophia, Duchess of Brunswick and Lüneburg (op.8, 1664), they suggest that she may have been forced to rely on her abilities as a composer for her livelihood after her father’s death. She apparently dedicated the missing op.4 to Carlo II, Duke of Mantua in 1655. She composed several songs for the duke in 1665, a year after her last known published works. Although Strozzi never married, by 1651 she had four children; it seems likely that the father of at least three of them was Giovanni Paolo Vidman, a friend of Giulio Strozzi, and the dedicatee of his La finta pazza of 1641. Her two daughters, Isabella (c1642–57) and Laura (c1644–86), entered the convent of S Sepolcro in Venice in 1656, the latter taking her final vows in 1661. Strozzi’s son Massimo (d after 1680) took vows in the Servite order in 1662 and became a monk at the monastery of S Stefano in Belluno. Another son, Giulio Pietro (b c1641), was still alive in 1680.

Apart from the madrigals of op.1 and the solo motets of op.5, nearly all of Strozzi’s surviving works are ariettas, arias and cantatas for solo voice (mainly soprano) and continuo. A few works call for strings as well. Although the generic categories are not fixed, and terminology is only loosely applied in the publications themselves, the simplest pieces are the ariettas, which are essentially short arias in strophic form (such as most of the pieces in op.6). The most complex are the cantatas (such as those in opp.7 and 8). These are lengthy, varied works containing several sections and a mixture of vocal styles: recitative, arioso and aria, responding to textual distinctions between open narration and formal lyricism. The arias are generally shorter than the cantatas, often strophic, and frequently enclosed by a refrain at beginning and end.

The texts, many of them apparently written to order and about half of them anonymous, are in the Marinist vein: precious love poetry filled with various conceits, ironic and lachrymose by turns. The known poets include, besides Giulio Strozzi, several figures associated with the world of opera in Venice around the middle of the 17th century: P.P. Bissari, Aurelio Aureli, Pietro Dolfino, Marc’Antonio Corraro, Nicola Beregani, Francesco Piccoli and G.B. Maiorani; G.B. Pellicani wrote texts for several dramatic works presented in Bologna. Although she wrote no operas, the best of her works (most notably the lamento ‘Sul Rodano severo’, opp.2 and 3) convey dramatic action in which the progress of a protagonist – partly described by a narrator – towards a resolution of his predicament unfolds in a carefully calculated series of musico-dramatic events. In cantatas as well as arias, her primary formal procedure is contrast, usually combined with some kind of refrain idea. Strozzi’s style, with its easy shifts between unmeasured and measured passages and between duple and triple metre, and her occasional use of the stile concitato, all in response to a faithful adherence to the form and meaning of the texts, reflects her training in the seconda prattica tradition, as exemplified in the music of her teacher, Cavalli. But her melismatic expansions are longer and repetitions of text more frequent than his, and her style is altogether more pointedly lyrical, more dependent on sheer vocal sound. It is emphatically singer’s music, and very grateful to the lyrical soprano voice, neither excessively virtuoso nor especially demanding as far as range or tessitura is concerned. The similarity in vocal style among her works, the scoring for soprano and continuo, and the frequent puns on her name in the texts suggest that she sang most of her music herself, at academic meetings and similar social occasions.

The Genoese Bernardo Strozzi painted a portrait of Barbara Strozzi and by 1639 he had made a copy of it for a Venetian patron. The Female Musician with Viola da Gamba (now in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden) is most likely Strozzi’s original portrait of the composer.

Biagio Marini (b Brescia, 5 Feb 1594; d Venice, 1663). Italian composer and instrumentalist. He seems to have come from an established Brescian family. An uncle, Giacinto Bondioli, was also a composer and may have been one of his teachers; there is no evidence to support the claim that he studied with G.B. Fontana, another Brescian. On 26 April 1615 Marini was appointed as a violinist at S Marco, Venice, and thus probably worked under Monteverdi. By 1620 he was back in Brescia, as maestro di cappella at S Eufemia and music director of the Accademia degli Erranti; on 30 January 1621 he was hired as an instrumentalist to the Farnese court at Parma. Between 1623 and 1649 he served, part of the time as Kapellmeister, at the Wittelsbach court at Neuburg an die Donau, but he was also away for extended periods, in Brussels (in 1624), Milan (1631–2), Bergamo (1632), Düsseldorf (in 1640 and 1644–5), Brescia and possibly Venice. He was again in Milan in 1649, as maestro di cappella at S Maria della Scala, and worked in Ferrara and Venice in 1651–3. By 1654 he was once again in Milan and then in Vicenza during 1655–6. Three marriages are documented; a document from 1641 mentions five children. The atto di morte recording his death cites his age as about 76 years (reproduced in Fano, 1973).

All of Marini’s extant music is in printed form. At least seven volumes are lost, others are incomplete, and there is a curious time-lag of several years between the dedications and publication of opp.7–9. Marini’s vocal music spans many of the vocal genres of the time, including the strophic air, monody, and large-scale concertato madrigal with instruments. Op.2 (1618) is notable for the first appearance in print of a lettera amorosa (Monteverdi’s well-known examples appeared in 1619). The publication of opp.13 and 16, in the 1640s, marked the culmination of his work with the secular concertato madrigal: op.16 was especially indebted to Monteverdi's Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi. In the 1650s, Marini seems to have focussed his attention on sacred music, here too exploiting the concertato style. As in his final volume of instrumental music, tonal direction is strongest in these late works.

It is as a composer of instrumental music, however, that Marini is best known. His op.1 (1617) contains sinfonias, sonatas, canzonas and dances, all for one or two violins and continuo. Stylistic distinctions between sonatas and longer sinfonias are not always clear. The sinfonias La Ponte and La Gardana, and the sonata La Orlandina, all for one violin with continuo, are the first datable examples of an extended solo piece for violin (or cornett) in which the continuo part is truly accompanimental. Two sonatas, La Foscarina and La Agguzzona, both for two violins and continuo, are the most substantial works in the collection; they are divided into several broad sections. The term tremolo con l'arco in La Foscarina is the first specific request for this effect, and slurring indications appear in both sonatas; both features point to the establishment of a string idiom.

Passages requiring double stopping and the use of the improvisatory instruction ‘affetti’ both first appear in the solo instrumental pieces of op.2; another solo work, based on the romanesca, is found in op.3. Marini’s largest and most innovatory collection of instrumental music is op.8, which contains examples of virtually all the instrumental genres of the time. The trio sonatas are longer than those in op.1, while the third and fourth sonatas for solo violin and continuo represent, along with those of G.B. Fontana, the first notable achievements in the genre. In these works Marini explored unusual instrumental effects such as triple stopping (in the Capriccio in modo di un lira) and scordatura, as well as unusual compositional procedures (the Sonata senza cadenza).

It is unfortunate that there is a gap of 29 years between op.8 and Marini’s next and last completely instrumental print, op.22. Instrumental music from the intervening years is represented only by four sonatas in op.15 and two ballettos in op.16. Two kinds of sonata, da camera and da chiesa, are mentioned on the title-page of op.22, but individual sonatas are not labelled. Four of the six sonatas in the collection are clearly divided into separate contrasting sections, pointing towards the future multi-movement sonatas. Dances and sinfonias are also included, and the Balletto secondo is a true dance suite. Consistent with Marini’s increased interest in the use of relatively large concerted forces, as exemplified in the vocal works of the 1640s, these pieces are on the whole more fully scored.

Marini’s instrumental music is of a high level of craftsmanship, and he generally avoided merely mechanical solutions to compositional problems. His melodic writing has an individual lyricism. Over the course of his career, Marini's works show an increasing tendency toward tonally conceived writing: his last publication, op.22, includes sequences modulating by 5ths as well as his boldest forays into chromaticism, his most unusual chordal progressions, and his most extended use of fugal imitation.

Claudio Monteverdi: (b Cremona, 15 May 1567; d Venice, 29 Nov 1643). Italian composer. The most important musician in late 16th- and early 17th-century Italy, he excelled in nearly all the major genres of the period. His nine books of madrigals consolidated the achievement of the late Renaissance masters and cultivated new aesthetic and stylistic paradigms for the musical Baroque. In his operas for Mantua and Venice he took the experiments of the Florentines and developed powerful ways of expressing and structuring musical drama. His three major collections of liturgical and devotional music transcend the merely functional, exploiting a rich panoply of text-expressive and contrapuntal-structural techniques. Although he composed little or no independent instrumental music, his writing for instruments was genuinely innovative. Schrade’s famous assessment (1950) of Monteverdi as ‘creator of modern music’ may be exaggerated, but his significant place in music history is assured

Italian composer and violinist. Knowledge of his life and work is confined to a few documents, the most extensive of which is the preface to a posthumous memorial publication, Sonate a 1. 2. 3. per il violino, o cornetto, fagotto, chitarone, violoncino o simile altro istromento (Venice, 1641/R1985; examples in AMI, vii, 92; HAM, no.198; Mw, xv, 1960; Diletto musicale, xiii–xv, 1962, and cdxlii, 1969; ed. F. Cerha, Vienna and Munich, 1976). He is described as being from Brescia and as having also worked in Venice, Rome and finally Padua. His death was attributed to ‘the voracity of the pestilence’, that raged in northern Italy in the years 1630–31. Another Brescian, Cesario Gussago, dedicated a sonata to him (in RISM 16082). Other documents may refer to the musician. One of them, a property assessment of 1627 for a Gio: Batta Fontana, gives his age as 38, his residence as Padua, and refers to extensive connections with Brescia. An atto di morte dated 7 September 1630 for a “Zan Batta Fontana” aged 50, is the only one among the Paduan death registers of 1625–30 for a person bearing that name (see Baroncini).

The 1641 collection comprises six sonatas for solo violin and continuo and 12 ensemble sonatas for one to three violins and continuo, the latter group often including a technically demanding concertante part for bassoon or cello. None of the individual works can be firmly dated: it can only be stated that they represent sonata composition probably from its beginnings to about 1630. All are divisible into numerous contrasting sections; in about a third of them some sections are repeated, suggesting an arch form. Repeated periods are often elaborated with diminutions. Except for a few short sections recalling the style of vocal recitative, the melodic material is on the whole related to that found in canzonas and dance pieces of the period. A nervous, variegated rhythmic idiom is found in some of these works; the sixth sonata, for example, abounds with sudden bursts of diminutions and triplets. The underlying contrapuntal and harmonic vocabulary is quite conservative, with the bass line often a regular voice part rather than a truly accompanimental line. Works such as sonatas 5, 6 and 16 show Fontana to be a leading figure in the early development of the sonata, especially the solo sonata, of which he and Marini were the first important composers.

Girolamo Frescobaldi: (b Ferrara, bap. mid-Sept 1583; d Rome, 1 March 1643). Italian composer and keyboard virtuoso. He was one of the greatest keyboard composers of the first half of the 17th century.

Tarquinio Merula (b Cremona, 1594–5; d Cremona, 10 Dec 1665). Italian composer, organist and violinist. He was one of the finest and most progressive Italian composers of his generation, and excelled in both vocal and instrumental music.
The suggested years for Merula's birth derive from the fact that he was confirmed on 23 April 1607, probably at the customary age of 12. His earliest post was probably as organist of S Bartolomeo, the church of the Carmelite Fathers, at Cremona. On 22 October 1616 he signed a three-year contract to serve as organist of the church of the Incoronata, Lodi. He was re-engaged on 8 February 1620 but appears to have left Lodi at the end of January 1621. He probably went directly to his next known position, in Poland, since in a letter of Anton Neunhaber of about that time he is mentioned as being in Warsaw. In 1624 the nature of his position is made explicit: he was serving as ‘organista di chiesa e di camera’ to Sigismund III, King of Poland.

Returning to Cremona, Merula was elected on 18 February 1626 provisional maestro di cappella for the Laudi della Madonna, which took place at the main altar in the cathedral on Saturdays and on vigils of Marian feasts. A regular appointment followed on 13 January 1627. In 1628 he was also holding the position of organist of the collegiate church of S Agata. His next move was to Bergamo, where on 12 April 1631 he signed a three-year contract to serve as maestro di cappella of S Maria Maggiore. As successor to Alessandro Grandi (i), who had died in the plague of 1630, Merula began the work of rebuilding the cappella. In his first year G.B. Buonamente was one of its members. Merula was, however, dismissed on 29 December 1632 for ‘indecency manifested towards several of his pupils’. Threatening a lawsuit to recover his lost salary, he was in turn faced with the prospect of a criminal complaint lodged by the governing body of S Maria Maggiore. On 11 April 1633 the matter was resolved by a statement from him in which he apologized and relinquished all claim to his salary. He again returned to Cremona and at his own request and by prior agreement was reinstated on 19 August 1633 as maestro di cappella for the Laudi della Madonna in the cathedral, thereby displacing G.B. Minzio, maestro at the time. Disagreements with the governing body there over matters of salary and responsibilities, however, led to his resignation in 1635. He is next heard of in 1638 at Bergamo, this time as maestro di cappella and organist at the cathedral, adjacent to S Maria Maggiore. Further problems with his former employers at S Maria Maggiore prompted them on 14 April 1642 to forbid any of their musicians to perform under his direction, thus disrupting the customary exchange of musicians between the two churches. He appears to have remained at Bergamo Cathedral until his final return to Cremona, which resulted from his appointment on 25 August 1646, in succession to Nicolò Corradini, as organist of the cathedral and as organist and maestro di cappella for the Laudi della Madonna. He thus held the last of these posts for the third time, and he now held all three until his death. In 1643 he collaborated with five others in composing music for La finta savia, performed in Venice. He was a member of the Accademia dei Filomusi of Bologna and a Knight of the Golden Spur.

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