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Saturday morning quotes 3.23: Historical duos

October 19, 2013

Like many of our friends and colleagues involved in historical music, we love to discover and preserve performing traditions that allow real people to share real music in a context that serves all to the best advantage.

Our research has led us to the example of historical duos who originally performed the music we recreate today, including that of Marchetto Cara and his wife, Giovanna Moreschi.  Cara was mentioned by name in Baldassare Castiglione’s (1478 – 1529) manual on conduct of the ideal courtier, Il Cortegiano (1528) as a evocative example of an effective singer:

Consider music, the harmonies of which are now solemn and slow, now very fast and novel in mood and manner. And yet all give pleasure, although for different reasons, as is seen in Bidone’s manner of singing which is so full of artifice, so quick, vehement, impassioned and has such various melodies that the spirits of his listeners are stirred and catch fire, and are so entranced that they seem to be lifted upwards to heaven. No less moving in his singing is our Marchetto Cara, only with a softer harmony, for in a manner serene and full of plaintive sweetness he touches and enters our souls, gently impressing a delightful passion upon them.

Cara and Giovanna Moreschi, were an early 16th century model for Mignarda, as a professional duo performing the hits of the day with the winning combination of voice and lute. Pietro Aretino (1492 – 1556) left behind a large corpus of correspondence with literati and persons of noble rank and position; in a particularly sardonic letter dated 22 November 1537, he describes an old man strutting down the street indignantly singing ‘O mia cieca e dura sorte,’ offering a clue that informed our own quite alternative delivery of the text. First, the song was sung while walking down the street giving us the clue that the pulse of the bass line was meant to be regular and perhaps even a bit bouncy. At the next level, the ‘strutting’ aspect of the song helped inform the delivery of the text, suggesting we steer away from the more usual slow and mournful treatment of the frottola to that of a rather histrionic public protestation of ill treatment.

Moving ahead in time, we encounter composer-singer Girard de Beaulieu and Violante Doria, singer and lutenist, a couple who were among the best paid musicians in the French royal court, circa 1572.  In addition to their own compositions, they may have sung their own arrangements of current pop standards of the day such as ‘Bonjour mon coeur’ by Orlando de Lassus (1532-1594).

More current examples include the inspiring team of Ruth Etting and Eddie Lang, or the very effective duo of Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass.  We find these examples offer a direct link to the past that leads us to perform music as a living tradition as opposed to a museum reconstruction.

One Comment
  1. One of my recorder teachers urged me to listen to Frank Sinatra to understand breathing and phrasing. And one of my lute teachers had me study jazz percussion, and insisted I tap my foot in time to the music. Sting may be closer to what Dowland had in mind than Emma Kirkby.

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