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Ultimi miei sospiri: another preview from Sfumato

May 19, 2011

SfumatoIn this installment of previews from our new CD, Sfumato, we offer a short discussion and an example of our own intabulation of the beautiful six-part madrigal by Philippe Verdelot, Ultimi miei sospiri.

Our last two recordings, Au pres de vous and Harmonia Caelestis, featured many of our own intabulations from 16th century vocal music, arranging the lower parts of the originals to be played on the lute. But the repertory chosen for Sfumato was mainly drawn from the wealth of existing Italian lute songs in their original format, and Ultimi miei sospiri is one of just a few reconstructions included on the disc.

In creating our intabulation of Ultimi miei sospiri, we are informed by the work of Vincenzo Galilei (c.1520 – 1591), who is mostly known for fathering his more famous son, Galileo.  Vincenzo was a lutenist, scientist and member of the Florentine Camerata, a group of composers, humanists and literary types who consciously brought about the weakening and eventual downfall of the complex polyphonic style of music, leading to the more accessible music from what we call the baroque era.

Oddly enough, Galilei was quite wrapped up in complex polyphony, and published a book describing in exacting terms how to arrange vocal polyphony for the lute, Fronimo Dialogo / di Vincentio Galilei Fiorentino, / Nel Qual si Contengono le Vere, / et necessarie regole del Intavolare la Musica nel Liuto (Venice, 1568), with a second revised edition printed in 1584.  It is from the instructions provided in Galilei’s book that we have taken our inspiration for reconstructing many of the polyphonic vocal works in our repertory.  An English translation of the instructions with a facsimile of music from the 1584 edition is available from the American Institute of Musicology (MSD 39)

Ultimi miei sospiri is a six-part vocal work by Philippe Verdelot (c.1470 – 1552), setting the poetry written in the form of a canzona by Lodovico Martelli (1503–1584).  An edition of the part-music can be found in Slim, H. Colin, ed., A Gift of Madrigals and Motets (Chicago and London, 1972) or online at the Choral Public Domain site.

Galilei attributes the intabulation to Francesco da Milano, a premise reinforced by Gary Boye in his thesis The Lute Intabulations of Francesco Canova da Milano (University of Georgia, Athens, 1988).  I’m not sure I agree that Francesco is responsible for the arrangement in Galilei’s book, but it is an idea worth exploring.

Verdelot’s setting of the poetry uses a very dense texture that has a marvelous effect but, as is often the case, an all-vocal performance results in an obscured text unless handled with the utmost delicacy.  Using Galilei’s intabulation of Ultimi miei sospiri from the 1584 edition (page 164) as a guide for setting the lower five voices, our arrangement for solo voice allows the text to be communicated with a clear intent, while taking advantage of the movement and decoration Galilei assigns to the lute.

A Preview from the New CD:

We’ve just added a clip of our soon-to-be-released recording of Ultimi miei sospiri to the soundfile archive for Unquiet Thoughts.  Watch for an announcement of the CD release next month.

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