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Sfumato: Petrarch, Tromboncino and a preview

June 12, 2011

Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374)As we await delivery of our new CD, Sfumato, this coming week, we are sorting through our favorite pieces on the recording and one song consistently rises to the surface.  We thought we would share a few reasons why.

‘Che debb’ io far? che mi consigli, Amore?’ is a setting of the poetry of Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374) by Bartolomeo Tromboncino (c. 1470 – 1535), and the frottola is, chronologically, one of the earlier pieces on our CD.  Forging a convincing interpretation required a bit of probing beneath the surface of the song.

The first stanza of the poetry (Rima sparse, n. 268) with an English translation is as follows:

Che debb’ io far? che mi consigli, Amore?
Tempo è ben di morire,
ed ò tardato più ch’i’ non vorrei.
Madonna è morta, et à seco il mio core,
et volendol seguire,
interromper conven quest’anni rei,
perché mai veder lei di qua non spero,
e l’aspettar m’è noia, poscia ch’ogni mia gioia,
per lo suo dipartire in pianto è volta,
ogni dolcezza de mia vita è tolta.

What shall I do? What do you counsel me, Love?
It is surely time to die,
and I have delayed more than I would wish.
My lady is dead, and has my heart with her,
And if I wish to follow it
I must break off these cruel years,
For I never hope to see her on this side,
And waiting is painful to me,
since by her departure my every joy is turned to weeping,
every sweetness of my life is taken away.

(While we perform two stanzas on our CD, we print only the first stanza here for the sake of brevity.)

Petrarch, the man who lost his head, was inspired to write some of the most moving poetry ever composed over his unrequited love for Laura de Noves, presumably the subject of the poem under discussion.

The musical setting by Tromboncino is edited from the publication, Tenori e contrabassi intabulati col sopran in canto figurato per cantar e sonar col lauto Libro primo. Francisci Bossinensis Opus., printed by Petrucci in Venice on March 27, 1509.  While the poetry is nothing less than heart-wrenching and sad, deeply mourning the physical loss of a loved one, Tromboncino’s musical setting, if taken at face value, seems light and breezy.  Taking clues from the music alone, the piece almost wants to be played with a faster, more sprightly dance-like pulse, and we have in fact heard a few recordings by performers who follow this sort of interpretation.

In rehearsing this piece, we tried a great deal of experimentation with pulse and tempo and, in the end, gave in entirely to the clues that emerged from the poetry.  The result was an interpretation that drapes the sadness of the text with the weight of a somewhat clinging restraint of pulse,  producing a deeply melancholy effect.

Click here to listen to a clip of the first stanza of ‘Che debb’ io far? che mi consigli, Amore?’ from our CD, Sfumato.

  1. wolfgang w. permalink

    some month ago Arthur Ness draw my interest to an intabulation in the style of Marco dall Aquila of this wonderful frottola (Munich BSB Mus ms 267). A great piece of music. especially the phrase “madonna e morte” in high position, the lute is weeping: this piece is often played much to fast.

  2. Warm greetings and thanks very much for your comment, Wolfgang. Yes, the Mus. ms. 267 intabulation, which surely must be by Marco, makes effective use of the upper positions resulting in a softer, more plangent sound. Our experimentation with tempo led us to some very interesting alternative interpretations with several different frottole. The slower tempo is much more difficult to control on the lute in the context of a steady pulse. But the sense of the poetry should really dictate the final decision and I think it’s well worth the trouble.


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