Reviewed by Stewart Carter*
1.2 Some deeply rooted misconceptions regarding
Ferdinand II's court can be traced to the work of the nineteenth-century
scholar Ludwig von Köchel. According to Saunders, "For nearly a century,
knowledge of the imperial music chapel under Ferdinand II amounted to
tacit acceptance of Köchel's pronouncement that 'the disturbances
of the Thirty Years War made it necessary for Ferdinand II, soon after
the beginning of his reign, to dissolve most of, perhaps for a time his
entire, chapel'" (p. 4). Köchel erred, Saunders says, because he
relied on records from the imperial treasury, unaware that Ferdinand continued
to pay his musicians from the court treasury of Inner Austria, his hereditary
domain, even after he became emperor and transferred his court from Graz
to Vienna. Far from reducing expenditures for music during his reign,
Ferdinand II increased funding significantly.
2.2 A politically astute monarch required music commensurate with his rank. For Ferdinand's coronation as king of Hungary, Valentini composed a Magnificat for seven choirs (published in Messa, Magnificat, et Jubilate Deo, Vienna, 1621), with trumpets and other instruments. In this singular example of the "colossal Baroque," Valentini, in his own words, "struggled to invent this new way of combining trumpets with voices and instruments" (p. 99). He wrote a mass for the same combination of forces later in the same year, and shortly thereafter, the Jubilate Deo. Saunders argues persuasively that the Mass was intended for Ferdinand's imperial coronation in Frankfurt, while the Jubilate Deo probably was written to celebrate the Empire's first major victory of the Thirty Years War, the Battle of White Mountain.
2.3 Valentini's accomplishment was perhaps less novel than he claimed; other composersincluding Michael Praetorius, Heinrich Schütz, and Raimundo Ballestra, a member Ferdinand II's own court at Grazhad used trumpets in sacred concerted works. What is new, Saunders says, is reflected in Girolamo Fantini's Modo per imparare a sonare di tromba (1638): the old warlike style, exemplified in the traditional trumpet ensemble, with each player specializing in a particular range, is contrasted with the new "concerted" way, in which the trumpet takes a "musical" part, like that of the violin or cornett. Here Saunders has done some clever detective work, drawing conclusions about Valentini's employment of trumpets on the basis of two surviving parts, only one of them for trumpet. This style of writing for trumpets with voices became popular in Austria, and it reflects one of the few innovations of Ferdinand's chapel
2.4 The sheer size of musical performances
at court is one measure of the attention lavished on music, and also of
Köchel's error. Compositions such as Valentini's seven-choir Magnificat
may have been extraordinary, but polychoral music of more customary dimension
was not. Saunders elaborates on this theme in a chapter entitled "The
Legacy of Giovanni Gabrieli." Priuli had demonstrable ties to the Venetian
master; Valentini's relationship is less clear, though easily discernible
stylistically. Both composers wrote masses that pay homage to Gabrieli.
In exquisite detail, Saunders demonstrates the relationships between Priuli's Missa sine nomine (note
1) and Gabrieli's incomplete Mass from the 1615 Symphoniae
sacrae, as well as Valentini's use of parody technique in his Missa
Diligam te Domine (1621), based on a Gabrieli motet from the 1597
3.2 Saunders' command of the source material, musical and otherwise, is impressive, and his book is rich in detail. My only substantial reservation is that I would have preferred a broader focus. Neither Priuli's nor Valentini's sacred works are well known today, and in fact, Valentini's compositions with trumpets aside, they appear to be quite competent but generally unremarkable. One might argue that other genres practiced at Ferdinand's court were more progressive. There were some outstanding instrumentalists, among them the violinists G.B. Buonamente and Antonio Bertali, the cornettist Giovanni Sansoni, the lutenist Pietro Paolo Meli, and the dulcianist G.A. Bertoli. Except for Sansoni, all of these virtuosos composed instrumental music, but their compositions, like the instrumental works of Priuli and Valentini themselves, receive only passing notice. Instrumental obbligato parts in sacred music understandably receive more attention. Excellent examples include Priuli's Missa concertata in festivitatibus B.M.V. (1624), with its extremely florid obbligato parts for violin and cornetto (the latter surely intended for Sansoni), and Valentini's motet In te Domine speravi (note 3) for bass voice and obbligato viola bastarda, perhaps the last composition ever written for that instrument. Instrumental participation in sacred music could provide an interface, leading into a discussion of instrumental music per se. Moreover, while it is true that the presence of Priuli and Valentini in the highest posts in Ferdinand's musical chapel heralds the "era of the Italians," it also marks the beginning of the "era of the instrumentalists." Unlike most of their predecessors, Priuli and Valentini were instrumentalists, as were those who followed them.
3.3 As for secular music, Priuli published several collections of madrigals, and Valentini's collection of 1622, Musiche, contains some interesting metrical experimentspassages in 5/4 time in one piece, 9/8 and 7/8 in another. Again, Saunders mentions this in passing, but our view of Ferdinand II's court might have been enriched by viewing it through a larger window.
3.4 Finally, there is the matter of musical
context in and around Vienna. Saunders is quite thorough in his discussion
of Ferdinand's archducal court at Graz, prior to his election as Holy
Roman Emperor, but he says little about the imperial court music of Ferdinand
II's imperial predecessors, and even less about concurrent musical activities
in Vienna and its environs. To be sure, this is not his focus, yet I think
some potentially important relationships have been overlooked. Even though
Ferdinand summarily dismissed nearly all of his predecessor Matthias'
musicians when he ascended the throne, the deposed Kapellmeister, Christoph
Strauss, remained in Vienna as director of music at the cathedral, St.
Stephan's. Strauss' collection of Masses, though not published until 1631,
includes works with trumpets, and some of these may have been written
considerably earlier, therefore inviting comparison with Valentini's works
for seven choirs.
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*Stewart Carter (email@example.com) is professor of music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. He has just finished editing A Performer's Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music (Schirmer Books, 1997).
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