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Volume 12, no. 1:

Domenico Allegri, Music for an Academic Defense (Rome, 1617). Edited by Anthony John, with Historical and Textual Commentary by Louise Rice and Clare Woods. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era 134. Middleton, Wisconsin: A-R Editions, 2004. [xxiv, 57 pp. ISBN 0-89579-552-3. $44. Parts (vn. 1, vn. 2, vla., vc.) $8.]

Reviewed by Noel O’Regan*

1. Thesis Defenses

2. Symbolism

3. The Music

References

1. Thesis Defenses

1.1 This edition presents the results of a valuable collaborative project in which a uniquely surviving piece of music is cogently set in its rather exceptional context. The music itself is not very exceptional or extensive—three interconnected secular motets—but it is the combination of music and contextual material that makes this an important contribution to Roman Baroque scholarship. Louise Rice is an art historian who has published the definitive work on the altars of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. While researching seventeenth-century Roman thesis prints she came across this music used during the 1617 thesis defense of Ilario Frumenti, a student from Como, at the Collegio Romano. Music regularly formed part of such formal thesis defenses, but since these were ephemeral occasions, the actual music has not normally survived—at least not labelled as such. Domenico Allegri’s music was printed, probably for this occasion, and survives in the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome, where it is accompanied by an engraving that formed part of the broadsheet customarily handed out on such occasions, and by a set of six Latin poems also distributed to the audience: three of these poems provide the texts for Allegri’s music. The whole was dedicated to Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici, brother of Grand Duke Cosimo II of Tuscany.

1.2 Thesis defenses were very public celebratory occasions, attended by cardinals and prelates, and dedicated to one cardinal in particular who presided over the occasion and received tributes in the form of encomiastic speeches. The presiding cardinal was also the dedicatee of the artistic program—music and engravings—that accompanied the defense. While little or nothing is known about Ilario Frumenti, his family was connected with the Giovio family of Como who, in turn, had Medici contacts from the early sixteenth century. By means of the dedication, Frumenti was clearly hitching his career to the Medici Cardinal’s patronage. Domenico Allegri, younger brother of Gregorio, was maestro di cappella at S. Maria Maggiore and well-known on the Roman scene; his employment on the occasion of the defense underlines the importance attached by the Collegio Romano to thesis defenses as public statements of its position as the city’s premier theological college.

2. Symbolism

2.1 As might be expected, given the academic context, symbolism looms large in these pieces. Rice and her collaborators have teased out a complex network that involves the Medici palle, mirrored by the six poems that take as their subjects six of the then known planets (including the sun but not Venus). Galileo, employed by the Medici (whose name he had given to the newly-discovered moons of Jupiter) had recently been in Rome to argue his case for heliocentrism but had been told to desist by Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. The astronomer’s patron, Cardinal de’ Medici, was thus placed in a difficult position. Rice sees the symbolism of poetry and engraving as unmistakably Ptolemaic and views it as an opportunity for the cardinal to show public conformity with the Church’s position. While ostensibly dealing with the Sun, Saturn, and Mercury, the abbreviated poems as set by Allegri concentrate very much on Carlo and his position both as Medici prince and Roman cardinal. The opening words set the tone: “Carlo, glory of Latin Troy, commands Phoebus …” The poems use classical Latin meters and make something of a fetish of archaic language and purple prose. As with motets during a liturgical service, the three pieces would have been performed at regular intervals: at the opening, after the dedicatory speech in praise of the Cardinal, and after the defense itself to close the proceedings. The third poem ends with the couplet: “Listen, the sweet echo murmurs, now the sky could not contain the applause,” leading naturally into the audience’s applause for the candidate. Allegri takes his cue from the word “echo” and sets these two lines as an echo between the two sopranos and then between the two choruses, inevitably leaving the ending a bit limp.

3. The Music

3.1 The music is a classic example of the Roman concertato alla romana polychoral style in which the text is divided between sections for full double-choir texture and those for solo voice, duets, or other combinations in clearly defined segments. This was the style regularly used for patronal feast day celebrations in the city, and the music would most likely have been sung by eight solo voices throughout. There are no surviving instrumental parts, but the bassus ad organum contains rubrics that speak of “plena instrumentorum symphonia” and “cum fidibus.” The editor of the music, Antony John, has taken the latter to mean violins, though it could also include plucked strings. There is a single rubric that says “cum plena instrum[entorum]. Symph[onia] s.A.” John has interpreted the final two letters as being an abbreviation of “sine aulos” (wind instruments). This is a possibility though not something I have come across elsewhere; there are no other confirmatory rubrics mentioning winds. The rubrics are useful in providing some information on scoring, especially since few instrumental parts survive from this period in Rome. Where they do, the standard combination seems to have been violin and lute with one choir, cornetto and theorbo with the other. This is what we find in Paolo Tarditi’s eight-voice Psalmi, Magnificat cum 4 antiphonis ad vesperas … liber II (Rome, 1620) and in the few manuscript pieces with instruments (e.g., Giovanni Maria Nanino’s “Magnificat Tertii Toni” in I-Rvat Cappella Giulia, XIII 25). Similarly, the Dialogo del figlio prodigo from Giovanni Francesco Anerio’s Teatro armonico (Rome, 1619) calls for violin, cornetto, a second cornetto or violin, lute, and theorbo, which play a symphonia and double the voices in the last verse.

3.2 Anthony John has chosen here to provide parts for a single group of four stringed instruments in string-quartet scoring. He has conflated parts from the two choirs in tuttis and, when accompanying solo groups, either doubled the voices or written some plausible string parts. However, this seems a very unlikely solution in the Roman context. I would have split the instruments between the choirs which, as he says, were always housed on separate platforms. I would have written parts for pairs of violins and cornettos, with lute and theorbo doubling the bass line (perhaps also including a trombone in tuttis) and nothing on the tenor part, which seems not to have been doubled in Rome at this time, except by the organ. Such parts could, in fact, easily be adapted and orchestrated from John’s parts. In other respects the editing is exemplary. The piece has already been performed by students at Duke University, and it provides a relatively easy opportunity for college groups to reproduce the precise music performed at an academic ceremonial occasion in the early Roman baroque period.

References

* Noel O'Regan (N.O'Regan@ed.ac.uk) is Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Edinburgh. His research centers on sacred music in Rome in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and he is currently writing a book on the use of music by Roman lay confraternities during this period.


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