Official release: May 2021
The nearly forgotten figure of Francesco Antonio Baseo, a musician from Lecce, stands out within a period (the last three decades of the sixteenth century) characterized by an intense cultural fervour in the Terra d’Otranto, the south-eastern extremity of the Kingdom of Naples. Three collections of printed music by Baseo survive, and all of them were published in Venice, i.e. a collection of Canzoni villanesche alla napolitana (1573) and two of Madrigali a cinque voci (1573 and 1582). They are our only sources for knowing something of his biography.
From the title-page of the two books of Madrigals we learn that he had been the Chapel master at the Cathedral of Lecce; presumably he had held this position uninterruptedly throughout those nine years. The preface and the list of the composers whose pieces were collected in the book of villanelle, instead, lead us to the dense system of Baseo’s relationships with the nobility of Lecce, including such families as those called Mettola, Guidani, Mareschallo and Santo Pietro del Negro. The connection with the latter family becomes even more explicit in the Dedication of the 1573 Book of Madrigals, offered to Giovanni Battista Santo Pietro del Negro: “Having made a good choice of very sweet and suave Madrigals, […] it seemed to me reasonable to dedicate them to you, since I have certain knowledge that you exceedingly enjoy Music. This is proved by your [Son], Mr Pasquale. Thanks – first and foremost – to your solicitude and diligence, and also to my endeavours, he reached such a degree of musical perfection that very few, at his age, can follow him closely, and none can match him” [«Havendo fatta una buona scelta di assai dolci e soavi madrigali […] mi è parso di ragione dedicargli a voi, al quale so certo che la Musica sommamente piace. Che di ciò ne fa fede il S. Pasquale vostro il quale, mercé prima della vostra sollecitudine et diligenza et poi delle mie fatiche, è pervenuto a quel grado di perfezione di Musica che pochissimi veramente dell’età sua sono che gli vadano appresso, non che al pari».] This familiarity may indicate that also the future composer Giulio Santo Pietro del Negro (i.e. Giovanni Battista’s second son) certainly benefited from Baseo’s teaching, before beginning his fecund musical career in Lombardy (Milan and Pavia).
Baseo originated from a probably Venetian family (Baseo: see Baxejo, Basegio, Baseggio). He was therefore not only an artist deeply ingrained within the socio-cultural fabric of the city of Lecce, but also a teacher of some representatives of the following generation of Salento musicians. In support of this founding role of that school, the two 1573 publications demonstrate that he was focused on a work of collection of the most illustrative works from a particular geographical context. The collection of villanelle offers a view on the most representative composers of Lecce, whereas the Madrigal book offers a taste of the most important composers who were active between Rome and Naples in those years. Particularly noteworthy, in this collection, is the presence of the only hitherto known madrigal in the Italian language by Diego Ortiz, together with the first edition of madrigals by Giovanni Domenico Da Nola, Stefano Felis and Philippe De Monte, as well as two otherwise unpublished works by Bartolomeo Roy.
The publication of 1582, which constitutes the object of this discographic recording, consecrated him eventually as a composer. Nineteen out of the twenty-one madrigals in this collection are his own, even though a homage is not missing to two famous colleagues from nearby Bari, i.e. Stefano Felis (whose works had already appeared in the 1573 collection) and Mutio Effrem (who is famous for his enflamed diatribe in letters against Marco da Gagliano). The collection is dedicated to Ferrante Caracciolo, a Neapolitan nobleman who was the Count of Biccari and Duke of Airola. He had been the commander of the Barletta presidio against the Turks, and he participated in the famous Battle of Lepanto (1571), about which he told in his Commentarji (with a Preface by Scipione Ammirato). The Dedication’s occasion is likely to have been Ferrante’s appointment, in 1582, as the Governor of the Provinces of Otranto and Bari. Two out of the nineteenth Madrigals composed by Baseo (Non mi duol il morire and Basciami, vita mia) had already been included in the 1573 collection. Felis’ madrigal (Di vaghe fila d’oro) would be reissued by its composer only in 1585. Effrem’s madrigal (Mentre a l’ombra giacea) has been published only here. The lyrics are largely anonymous (perhaps written by Baseo himself), although, in some cases, they are excerpted from Petrarca’s works (madrigals no. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), from Ariosto’s (no. 19) or are by the Genovese Oberto Foglietta (madrigal no. 15).
Baseo’s compositional style is particularly refined and solidly grounded. The homorhythmical writing (employed mostly in the beginnings and within some sections when the lyrics require a “choral” treatment, as in madrigals nos. 1 and 4) makes room for a tight counterpoint (madrigals nos. 5 and 12), built with great balance over various textual episodes (madrigals 6 and 13). Rather often, the composer surprises us with exquisitely crafted harmonic solutions (such as on “che gran tempo brami”, in madrigal no. 2, “tal io misero son” in no. 11, “la Speranza morta” in no. 19). It is hard to state with any certainty whence this compositional skill comes, especially since we lack an adequate documentation. However, one thing could be illuminating for this purpose. Baseo’s style, in fact, displays many traits in common with that of other Pugliese composers of his same generation (Giovanni Leonardo Primavera from Barletta, as well as the above-mentioned Stefano Felis and Mutio Effrem from Bari). About them, we know with certainty that they were familiar with the musical circles of Naples between the Fifties and the Seventies of the sixteenth century. At that time, Napoli, in tight synergy with Papal Rome, was welcoming composers of the standing of Philippe De Monte, Orlando di Lasso and Diego Ortiz. It cannot be ruled out, therefore, that Baseo himself might have been familiar with those same circles. This would explain, furthermore, the fact that he possessed first-hand manuscripts of Ortiz, Da Nola, Palestrina and De Monte (this latter was greeted by Felis as the Prince of Music in the Preface to his Sesto Libro dei Madrigali of 1591).
By way of conclusion, there seem to be many roads available to those wishing to cast light on this composer and on the Pugliese output of madrigals. However, the unexpected quality of this collection invites further diving into the mare magnum of the documents to be checked, in order to give back to the present a living memory of this so fecund past.
Founded in 2018 and conducted by Gilberto Scordari, the SCHOLA CANTORUM BARENSIS is a vocal-instrumental ensemble specialized in the musical repertoire of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, performed on period instruments and respecting the most recent discoveries of historically informed performance practice. It aims, since its beginnings, at becoming a meeting point for the best Pugliese Early Music performers and for professionals coming from other parts of the Italian Peninsula and of the European Continent.
The group debuted in Bari (Puglia) in December 2018, inaugurating the BARION FESTIVAL with a programme focusing on German Advent music of the seventeenth and eighteenth century (Bach, Bruhns, Schütz, Praetorius). Due to their particular attention for the revival and reappraisal of the unpublished repertoire of the Pugliese school, the ensemble chose to dedicate this first discographic project to FRANCESCO ANTONIO BASEO, the Chapel Master of the Lecce Cathedral between 1573 and 1582, and also the true “founder” of the polyphonic school in the Terra d’Otranto.
Gilberto Scordari (b. Lecce, 1977) studied at the Conservatory “San Pietro a Majella” in Naples. In 2006 he graduated in Organ under the guidance of M° A. Robilotta with honours and special praise, and, in 2007, he graduated (Laurea di Primo Livello) in Theory and Techniques of musical composition, under the guidance of M° E. Renna, with honours. He continued his studies at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (in Basel, Switzerland), completing them with a Master’s in Early Music under the guidance of Wolfgang Zerer, and obtaining the Award assigned by the Basler Organistenverband to the best graduate. In 2011 he obtained a Bachelor’s in Theology at the Pontificia Facoltà Teologica dell’Italia Meridionale of Naples with a dissertation about the relationship between Bach’s music and the Gospel of John in the Toccata and Fugue BWV 538.
He was awarded an ex-aequo First Prize at the National Organ Competition of Viterbo in 2005 (Category B) and he performed as a soloist throughout the national territory and abroad (France, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, Bolivia, Mexico and USA). He has been the continuo player of the Ensemble Gilles Binchois (Dominique Vellard) and of other Early Music ensembles (Zenit, Prothimia, Hortensia Virtuosa, De Finibus Terrae). Since 2018 he conducts the Schola Cantorum Barensis, an ensemble founded by him and dedicated to the rediscovery of the unpublished Pugliese repertoire between 1500 and 1700.
Some of his compositions have been performed within the framework of important international seasons; his Toccata in Fuga for the organ was awarded the Third Prize ex-aequo at the “Manoni 2006” competition of Senigallia (when the Jury was presided by Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini). Currently he is writing – together with French composer Dominique Vellard – an opera for choir, soloists and small ensemble inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince.
He has been the titular organist at the Basilica of the Ss. XII Apostoli in Rome (2011-2) and he founded there the Frescobaldi Festival. In 2016 he published, together with Anna Robilotta, the first of three volumes dedicated to the analysis and performance of the Fiori Musicali by the great Ferrarese composer, who is buried in that very church in Rome. Since 2019 he gives a series of theoretical/practical courses focusing on historical counterpoint (ninth to sixteenth century) and on the evolution of imitative instrumental forms from the Ricercare to the Fugue (sixteenth to eighteenth century) at the Scuola di Musica Silence in Maglie (Lecce). He is the founder and artistic director of the Festival N&B MARETERRA in Puglia. He currently lives in Naples where is the Cathedral organist.
Francesco Antonio Baseo: (b Lecce; fl 1573–82). Italian composer. Of the 28 compositions in his earliest recorded publication, Il primo libro delle canzoni villanesche alla napolitana a quattro voci (Venice, 157317), only 18 are by Baseo himself, the rest being the work of seven other composers, unknown except for these pieces, together with some anonymous works. This, together with the tone of the dedication to Baseo’s patron Antonio Mettula, suggests that the book represents the activities of a small musical academy that gathered at Mettula’s house in Lecce and which included other members of Mettula’s family. According to the title-page of the Primo libro de madrigali a cinque voci, composti da diversi eccell. autori (Venice, 157316), Baseo had been appointed maestro di cappella at Lecce Cathedral by this date. The publication, which was assembled by Baseo, contains five of his own compositions together with pieces by Felis, Le Roy, Monte, Nola, Ortiz and Palestrina.