MUSICA PER I NOVISSIMI
A Spiritual itinerary
The word Novissima (Latin, neutral plural: the ultimate or last things) refers to the last events that human beings must face at the end of their earthly life. Following the Christian eschatological teaching, the Novissima are mainly four: Death, the last act which concludes earthly life; Judgement, both individual (at the life’s end) and universal (at the end of the world), portrayed in countless frescoes since the Middle Ages; Hell for the wicked, to whom all possibility of redemption is denied; Heaven for those who die in the Grace of God.
Through these elements, Christian doctrine through the centuries aimed at answering the great questions on the future of human beings after their life, and on the destiny of their souls and bodies. In fact, humans always tried and affirmed the presence of a life – be it merely spiritual – after death, in the illusion of an immortality which could exorcize fear, loneliness and despair. Starting with the Middle Ages, the post-mortem future was conditioned by one’s lived life; from this eternal bliss or damnation may derive. They are made definitive after the last judgment, in which all will be called for eternity to fire or to the reward of beatitude.
These themes were for centuries among the main lines of Catholic teaching and are splendidly documented by music with a religious inspiration. Among the many works, one could cite, for example, the moral of Emilio de’ Cavalieri’s Rappresentazione di Anima e di Corpo (Rome, 1600), of La Vita Humana by Marco Marazzoli (Rome, 1658), the Oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno by Händel (Rome, 1708), or Giovanni Legrenzi’s La morte del cuor penitente (Venice, 1673). In all of them, the subject matter is always the struggle between good and evil, whose result will determine the human being’s otherworldly future. This teaching is not without admonitions and considerations. From Alessandro Melani’s L’empio punito (Rome, 1669) these will grow to encompass Mozart’s Don Giovanni (“Pentiti, scellerato!”), on the same Counter-reformation and Jesuitic line. Indeed, the subject of the fleetingness of life and of the earthly things is constantly repeated in the Bible (Pulvis es et pulvis reverteris, Genesis 3:19, or Vanitas vanitatum in Qohelet 1:2), but also in the works by almost all of the Church Fathers, starting with Origen and Tertullian (De anima), including Cyprian and Augustine (The City of God) and up to the medieval Sponsus, a liturgical drama in which the unwise virgins await their final fate. Eschatological terms are found in the later texts, reaching the eighteenth century thanks to the indications of the Tridentine Council, as gathered in Robert Bellarmine’s reflections (De arte bene moriendi, Rome 1620) and in those by the Church Doctor Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori (Massime eterne, Naples 1728) who, in his daily spiritual meditations, discusses at length the ultimate realities.
De’ Liguori, a Neapolitan, who had been ordained to priesthood in 1726 and who taught moral theology, was a balanced figure who offered a tempered view between the rigid pessimism of the anti-Papal Jansenism and the Jesuits, considered to be more permissive. He must have played a certain influence on the anonymous compiler of the lyrics of Francesco Feo’s sacred cantatas, performed in Naples and recorded here for the first time.
This, then, is the underlying subject for the 29 Sacred Cantatas and the 9 Dialogues by Feo, found in a manuscript collection at London’s British Library, and dated between 1725 and 1739. It is a series of Cantatas (19 for solo voice and continuo, 2 for bass, 7 for two voices and just one for three), possibly written for the Church of the Annunziata in Naples, where Feo was chapel master from 1726. Among them, some were selected as they splendidly define an ideal spiritual itinerary. This itinerary is traced by the anonymous author (almost certainly a churchman) who wrote the lyrics, with powerfully evocative imagery gladdened by a splendid music, which aimed at conveying the eschatological message in a fashion fully palatable to the listeners.
In spite of his centrality within the glorious Neapolitan school of the eighteenth century, Francesco Feo (1691-1761) is among the most unjustly forgotten of his colleagues. He had studied since 1704 at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini with Andrea Basso and later with Nicola Fago; among his fellow students were Leonardo Leo and Giuseppe De Majo. At the early age of 22 he debuted as an operatic composer with L’amor tiranno at the Teatro San Bartolomeo, followed by the oratorio Il martirio di S. Caterina (1714) and in 1720 by the opera seria Teuzzone. Still, the success which definitively established his name was that of Siface (Teatro San Bartolomeo, May 1723), in which he promoted the debut as a librettist of no less a poet than a young Metastasio (among the performers were the castrato Nicolini and the female singer Bulgarelli).
His teaching activity was also important: for sixteen years starting in 1723 he was primo maestro at the Conservatorio di Sant’Onofrio, where he taught Jommelli, Latilla, and his nephew Gennaro Manna. From 1739 he was active for four years at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo, where Abos was his assistant and Insanguine one of his students. He retired from teaching after twenty years and consecrated himself to composition, prevailingly consisting of sacred works for the Church of the Annunziata (where he was chapel master from 1726 to 1745) or for the Church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco (in Naples’ Via dei Tribunali), where he was chapel master from 1731 to 1750. It is therefore very likely that his spiritual cantatas were composed within the timeframe 1723-1743.
His operatic output (about a dozen titles) is still notable for its quality and is currently being studied by music historians; however, his flagship consists of his sacred works, including 14 oratorios, lectiones, Psalms, dialogues, Lamentations, three Passions, Litanies, 18 Masses, 27 Motets, and Vespers.
He was appreciated not only by the English historiographer and traveler Charles Burney, who likened Feo to Vinci, Pergolesi, Leo and even to Handel (for the invention and musical setting of the lyrics), but also by the German composer and music critic Johann Friedrich Reichardt, who in 1719 likened him to Bach and Handel for his sacred output. Furthermore, Hasse called him “a worthy virtuoso, full of practice and care in leading the musical matter”.
Coeval chronicles mention him always with flattering titles, such as “virtuosissimo”, “famous chapel master”, “skilled youth” and “universally applauded virtuoso”. Among his friends were Leonardo Vinci and Pergolesi. Feo was close to Pergolesi in the last weeks of the latter’s life in Pozzuoli, and inherited from him the manuscript of the extremely famous Stabat Mater. Feo also earned the esteem of the celebrated Padre Martini in Bologna: at the Civico Museo Bibliografico of Bologna are currently found a portrait of the composer as a young man and five letters from 1749, whilst another portrait is found at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella in Naples.
The Cantatas selected here constitute almost the first stage of an ideal spiritual itinerary: From Peccato (Sin: G major, F major, G major) to Morte (Death: E major, F major, D major) to the dialogue among two characters La morte del giusto e del peccatore (The Righteous and the Sinful Man’s Death: B-flat major, E-flat major, F minor, G minor), then Giudizio, the individual judgment (F major/minor) to be followed by the Giudizio Universale (in two parts), by the Inferno, by L’eternità, and by the concluding moral dialogue between Tirsi and Elpino called Il fine dell’uomo. These cantatas normally consist of two or three arias, always in the da capo form, following Scarlatti’s model, and interspersed by brief and dramatic secco recitatives. The continuo’s scoring is striking for its very mobile traits; it is almost in counterpoint to the voice, and is always powerfully characterized on the rhythmical plane.
Every aria has a precise musical identity of its own and a characterizing beginning. The subjects are the usual ones found in a certain apocalyptic literature, underlining the deceit of transient realities; however, the musical scoring is skilled, expert, and will capture and captivate the listener. So pleasurable is the listening experience that it will dilute the crude “representation” and the dramatic style of the apocalyptic subject.
In the originality of his musical inventions, one realizes Feo’s mastery of both the Church- or antiquus style (counterpoint) and of the modern idiom of accompanied monody following the authentically Neapolitan fashion of the time. In fact, Feo tends almost to depict some short scenes, and remains always very theatrical in his aural descriptions. One can find some nearly perfect Fugue subjects at the beginning of the Aria “Parve d’oro la catena” (the second of Il Peccato) and “Così more il peccatore” (the concluding duet of La morte del giusto e del peccatore). Some variety is found in the ordering of Recitatives and Arias: Il Peccato (ArArA), La Morte (rArArA), La morte del giusto e del peccatore, with a perfectly symmetrical structure (Duet rArAr Duet) and the brief Giudizio (ArA)
As has been stated, some variety is also found in the choice of the main keys of the Arias and Duets. In spite of dark and implicitly intimidating lyrics, Feo employs almost always the major mode with few exceptions (e.g. at the closing of the clarifying Duet between the Righteous and the Sinful Man, and in the Giudizio). He also employs a rather broad range of keys, from four sharps (“Preme il vile e preme il forte” in E major) to four flats (“Quest’orma di respire” and “Sol nella tua pietà”, both in F minor). In the central section (in B major) of the aria “Preme il vile” we reach even the key of G-sharp minor, the minor relative of the dominant of the piece’s main key (E major).
In a time when epidemics, wars and famine were constant, it was not difficult to live in a constant state of fear. “Skulls and Death’s sickles were everywhere”, in historian De Rosa’s words, “in the churches, below the pulpits, under the arches, in the paintings, in the monumental buildings, both secular and religious. One lived in the company of Death”. This appears to have been the soil on which spiritual cantatas such as those recorded here were created, on the wake of the Post-Tridentine heritage between rigour and indulgence.
Lorenzo Tozzi © 2021
Graduated in singing at the Conservatory of Pescara with highest honors, and later in Teaching of Music at the Conservatory of Perugia. Holds a Bachelor's Degree in Baroque Singing studying under the guidance of Gloria Banditelli obtaining the highest marks and praise with distinction. She has performed in national and international festivals such as the Festival delle Nazioni (Città di Castello), the Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte (Montepulciano), OperaInCanto (Terni), Segni Barocchi (Foligno), Festival Transeuropeen (Rouen), Emilia Romagna Festival, Hoors Sommaopera (Sweden), TLR Classica (Macerata), Festival dei Due Mondi (Spoleto), Seicentonovecento (Pescara), Festival Concertistico Internazionale (Veneto), International Organ Festival (Venezia), Menuhin Festival in Gstaad (Switzerland), Festival de Ushuaia (Argentina), Brinkhall Summer Concerts (Turku), Waterloo Festival (London), Festival International Orgues Historiques (Breil sur Roya), Autunno Barocco (Napoli). In April 2010, during the sixth edition of the International Festival of Ushuaia (Argentina), she performed the Requiem by Mozart for the celebrations of 200 years of the Republic of Argentina. She has recorded for Radio Vaticana, RadioRai Tre, Brilliant Classics, Tactus, Bongiovanni and Da Vinci.
The Romabarocca Ensemble (RBE) was founded in 1994 by Lorenzo Tozzi, who is still its artistic director, to rediscover the vast Italian music repertoire with a philological intent. In its repertoire, it can include unpublished and rare music, instrumental and vocal, sacred and profane, of the Italian Baroque: oratories, cantatas, melodramas and comic interludes. Soon the ensemble attract attention for the versatility and originality of its musical programs. It performed concerts throughout Italy, even for historical institutions such as the Sienese Musical Weeks, the Roman Philharmonic, the Oratorio of Gonfalone, the Baroque Festival of Viterbo, the Accademia di San Luca, the Festival di Pasqua and performed numerous tours abroad, from Korea to China, from Finland and Russia, from Belarus to Zambia, from Syria to Mongolia and Poland. Many rare music has been brought to light (some first modern performances even), including works by Cornacchioli, Leo, Rainaldi, Scarlatti, Cavalieri, Carissimi, Agazzari, Gasparini, Hasse, Haendel, Quagliati, F. Caccini, Caporale and Rossi. For the twentieth anniversary of the Ensemble, the President of the Italian Republic Napolitano has honoured it with a national award: the Medaglia di Rappresentanza. The RBE records music for Tactus, Bongiovanni, Brilliant and Da Vinci.
Peculiar figure of musicologist-musician graduated in Literature, Lorenzo Tozzi is an historian and music critic, continuista, conductor and organizer. He studied piano, composition, choral music, orchestral conducting and he specialized in Baroque practice with Alan Curtis and Jasper Christensen.
Professor of Music History at the S. Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, he also taught at the Universities of Fermo and Lecce. Music critic for the roman newspaper Il Tempo, he collaborates with numerous music magazines. For Ricordi, Suvini Zerbini and Schott, he edited the critical edition of works by Paisiello, Cimarosa, Piccinni, Cherubini, Scarlatti, Rossini; works later directed by Muti, Scimone, Ferro and Bellugi, and the complete Cantatas by the architect Carlo Rainaldi for the Italian Institute of Music History. In 1994 he founded the Romabarocca Ensemble, which faced the Roman and Neapolitan Baroque repertoire performing rare works such as Agazzari's Eumelio, La Rappresentazione di Anima e Corpo by Cavalieri with Cecilia Gasdia, the Diana schernita by Cornacchioli, Handel's Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, Scarlatti's La Giuditta, the cantatas of the Roman architect Carlo Rainaldi and La sfera armoniosa by Quagliati. Relevant as well are the first modern performances of the Decebalus by Leo at the Ateneul Theater and the Bucharest Opera, the pastoral work Il pastor di Corinto by Scarlatti and Eco e Narciso by Domenico Scarlatti. More recently he has brought to light works by Francesca Caccini, Andrea Caporale and Girolamo Rossi. President Scalfaro in 1995 made him Knight of the Italian Republic for cultural merits.
LUCIA CASAGRANDE RAFFI
She was born in Gubbio (PG), Italy. She made her debut at the age of twenty-one at the XXIV Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte in Montepulciano. She collaborates with numerous artists, national and international star, gaining critical and public acclaim. She performs in Italy and abroad in the opera, sacred, oratorial and symphonic music. In 2010 she performs at the “Beniamino Gigli” award in Helsinki at the Sibelius Academy. Over the years she deepens the study of Baroque style and repertoire with particular reference to the '700 collaborating with influential musicians in the sector and important chamber ensembles such as: Accademia degli Unisoni, Solisti Aquilani, Orchestra da Camera di Perugia, Ensemble Strumentale della Cappella Musicale S. Petronio, Romabarocca Ensemble and Accademia Hermans, with which she participates in the recording of the Bottega Discantica "O Magnum Mysterium" and Cantata in onore di San Antonio da Padova by G. Rossi. She is guest of prestigious festivals such as Festival Villa Solomei, Sagra Musicale Umbra, Festival Arti in Movimento, Todi Festival, Perdonanza Celestiniana, Artem Festival and Hermans festival.
Francesco Feo: (b Naples, 1691; d Naples, 28 Jan 1761). Italian composer and teacher. According to Burney, he was ‘one of the greatest Neapolitan masters of his time’.