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Sprezzatura, Spinacino and La Rota Fortuna

August 3, 2011

As a duo specializing in the arcane realm of antique music for voice and lute, we attempt to absorb as much contextual information as possible when researching new repertory.  This always leads us to a heightened awareness of the details, and allows us the opportunity to see what lurks beneath the dusty surface; rather like seeing more vibrant colors under the discolored varnish of an old painting.  But embracing an old aesthetic with open arms can sometimes make it difficult to conduct normal life for musicians dwelling in the 21st century.

A source for contextual information is Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Libro del Cortegiano (Venice, 1528), a manual on courtly behavior.  Castiglione encouraged the ideal courtier “to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura, so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”

While sprezzatura, or a practiced nonchalance, is an important element of interpretation, it just won’t do when applied to marketing old music to a 21st century audience.  The basic premise of modern marketing is that you must let the public know the thing exists, so we’re here to tell you about our 2007 CD, La Rota Fortuna.

La Rota Fortuna is a recording made in honor of the 500th anniversary of the very first printed music for lute, Intabulatura de lauto libro primo (and libro secundo), by Francesco Spinacino, published by Petrucci in Venice, 1507. Spinacino is a shadowy figure and there is virtually no surviving information about him other than a vague dedicatory poem in the 1507 book, and a passing reference to him listed among other skilled late 15th and 16th century lutenists in the poem, Monte Parnaso, by Philippo Oriolo da Bassano (circa 1520).  Below is a quote from a translation of the poem by H. Colin Slim in the article, “Musicians on Parnassus” Studies in the Renaissance, Vol. 12, (1965), pp. 134-163:

Canto XX, f. 61

There was also Agnol the large head, and Spinacino,
Friar Daro, Giovanni the German, and the Genovan,
Marco from Aquila, Giovanni Ambrosio, and Zoppino.
There was also Francesco of Milan,
Who, while discoursing with Bombello,
Beckoned to Bernardino of Verona,
Saying, ‘We must bear in mind today
That here are those who could go throughout the world
And who can hold their own with any great man.’
Now, as to whoever was the first or the second
To begin to play, I shall be silent
Since to touch on every small detail confuses me.
But I may say that all sat down,
Placing themselves in a circle with their lutes
Of I believe nine and eleven strings.
Do not ask [me] if lofty and penetrating passages
In those melodies  were heard here
Because I never heard sweeter and more ingenious ones…

The music in Spinacino’s book includes several purely instrumental recercars but is heavily weighted toward intabulations, or arrangements for one and/or two lutes of late fifteenth century vocal music. Composers of the source material include such luminaries as Agricola, Isaac, Busnoys, Ockeghem, Ghizeghem, and the comparatively modern Josquin des Prez. Spinacino’s intabulations are somewhat abstract and are characterized by musical lines that drop in and out, linked with virtuosic displays of fast scale passages at openings and cadences.  Importantly, Spinacino’s publication offers a clear indication of the role of the lute in playing some or all of the parts in the performance of a polyphonic vocal composition.

Our CD is an homage to Spinacino and his pioneering publication, with chansons intabulated by Spinacino performed with solo voice and lute.  Spinacino’s recercars are employed as they were likely intended, as preludes or as interludes to either set or sustain the mood of a particular chanson.  Our title, La Rota Fortuna, or Fortune’s Wheel, permeates poetical and philosophical writings from antiquity onwards, and is featured conspicuously in the texts of our recorded program.

You can hear music from three of our CDs, La Rota Fortuna, Au pres de Vous, and Harmonia Caelestis featured  on an archived broadcast of syndicated radio program Millennium of Music.

UPDATE: 041515

The Millennium of Music archived programs seem to have disappeared.  You can click the links to the albums above and hear samples on our Bandcamp site.

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