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Saturday morning quotes 4.19: 16th century rules

September 20, 2014

In yet another spectacular feat of opting for obscurity with substance over pandering to popularity, we have chosen to concentrate on music from the 16th century.  Generally speaking, the music and song texts of the 16th century that appeal to us exhibit a superior quality of construction, a masterful sense of scope and proportion, a breathtaking depth of emotion, a delicate intricacy of interplay.

So, why is music of the 16th century less performed by today’s more audible and visible exponents of early music?

The simple answer has to do with economics.  Modern audiences are more apt to respond favorably to larger-scale works with more extrovert music that projects outwardly, easily entertaining the ears and selling seats in larger venues.  Music of the 16th century is typically more intimate and personal, and demands more focus on the part of performer and audience. The more complex answer has to do with the choices of early music specialists and performers who teach at our more prominent schools and conservatories.  Teaching up-and-coming performers to specialize in an obscure repertory is probably not going to generate the sort of necessary marketplace visibility that translates into a successful career for singer or for teacher.

There is also a slight element of the elephant in the room—Ego.  Early music performers typically choose to specialize in repertory that showcases their look or their more demonstrable vocal or instrumental chops, rather than developing the deeply demanding skills required to concentrate on music that must masterfully and quietly draw the listener into a more intricate sound world.  The earlier repertory of medieval music allows performers to invent a style and sound, and perform with an overt presentation of perspective-less tableaux.  The more extrovert music of the 17th century simply sells more seats—and feeds the performer’s diva deficit as well.

“All coloratura, they got, ‘ow you say ? — da gimmies. Always take, never give.”

– James M. Cain (1892 – 1977) from the novel, Mildred Pierce

However, we would like to point out that, for those performers who have a burning need to draw attention to themselves, there is a surviving repertory of more florid solo song from the 16th century.  The music from the Cosimo Bottegari manuscript contains several pieces with written-out ornamentation—particularly the music of Hippolito Tromboncino (fl. 1545 – 1550), the complete works edited and published by Mignarda Editions.

Our more enterprising readers can navigate to the bottom of the Mignarda Editions page and download a sample pdf of a complete song by Hippolito Tromboncino.  We have recorded two songs by Hippolito;  Perche’ son tutto foco  and Donna se’l cor di ghiaccio. Both may be heard on our recording, Sfumato: Musica per voce e liuto del Rinascimento Italiano.

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