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Volume 3, no. 1:

Institutional Patronage in Post-Tridentine Rome: Music at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini 1550-1650. By Noel O'Regan. London: Royal Musical Association, 1995. [x, 117 pp. ISBN 0 947854 06 1. £19.50 ($33).]

Reviewed by Giuseppe Gerbino*

1. Introduction

2. SS. Trinità

3. Organization and Evaluation of the Book

References


1. Introduction

1.1 The archive of the Roman confraternity of SS. Trinità dei Pellegrini e Convalescenti might appear not very generous to the music historian. In spite of the remarkable number of documents it holds detailing the life of the institution, neither music nor inventories of music survive. Noel O'Regan accepted the challenge and wrote a book whose historical breadth largely compensates for the lack of musical sources. This is a study of the mechanisms that governed the commission, production, and consumption of sacred music in post-Tridentine Rome. And although circumscribed to the lay confraternity of SS. Trinità, it unveils a surprisingly rich network of relationships among patrons, musicians and institutions, shedding new light not only on the biographies of single composers but also on the political and social functions of musical patronage. One can well understand why O'Regan does not hesitate to compare the role of the Roman confraternities to that of the better-known Venetian Scuole Grandi.
 

2. SS. Trinità

2.1 The first century of SS. Trinità's musical history—the period covered in this study—was characterized by a rapid expansion, whose peak, followed by a rapid decline, coincided with the years 1590-1620. Founded in the 1540s but officially recognized as a confraternity only in 1560, the institution owed its origin to the revival of devotional fervor and charitable activities fostered by Filippo Neri. Their members devoted themselves to the care of pilgrims and convalescents, for whom a large hospital complex was built next to the church of S. Benedetto in Arenula in 1570. Music was an essential component of the confraternity's spiritual life, liturgically expressed in the various community ceremonies that took place in the church and the oratory. Of course, SS. Trinità could not boast the economic and artistic resources of the Cappella Pontificia, where polyphonic music was performed almost every day. Only plainsong was regularly sung by the chaplains in the service of the confraternity. Polyphony was rather an exception reserved for particularly solemn days: the patronal feast on Trinity Sunday, the Corpus Christi procession, and the Lenten and Holy Week celebrations.

2.2 What is remarkable here is the connection that O'Regan draws between the involvement of noblemen (often cardinals) in the life of the confraternity and the provision of polyphonic music. In relatively small institutions such as SS. Trinità, which could not afford a regular musical establishment, the performance of polyphonic music required the hiring of outside singers and musicians, and, as archival records show, the expenditures were often covered by cardinals or by members of aristocratic families. O'Regan interprets such circumstance in the light of Francis Haskell's study on art patronage in Baroque Italy and suggests a close parallelism with the role that the upper class played in the decoration of churches: "Haskell describes how, as the sixteenth century moved into the seventeenth, control of decoration was often taken over completely by the nobleman or cardinal who was footing the bill. An analogous situation could occur in music, often paid by noblemen or highly placed ecclesiastics, who inevitably had at least some say in how their money was spent" (p. 3). One may argue that it is always very difficult to establish whether the patron really had something to say about the music he was paying for (unlike art historians, musicologists cannot rely on the existence of iconographic programs to trace significant links between the patron's desiderata and the work of art). It is however true, as O'Regan demonstrates, that the patron could strongly condition the choice of the musicians to be employed, musicians often gravitating around his musical entourage. It was indeed the protectorship of influential cardinals that allowed the confraternity to hire some of the most distinguished musicians active in Rome. Thus SS. Trinità, eager to promote its public image in competition with other confraternities, could easily turn into the showcase for high-ranking churchmen who, on the occasion of the major feast days, were willing to invest their own money in order to ensure an appropriate musical adornment to the institutions associated with their names.
 

3. Organization and Evaluation of the Book

3.1 The importance of this politico-musical patronage is reflected in O'Regan's decision to divide the history of SS. Trinità into four periods that approximately coincide with the years of protectorship of different cardinals: Otto Truchsess von Walburg (1560-1575); Ferdinando de' Medici (1575-1587); Alessandro Montalto (1588-1623); Ludovico Ludovisi and Antonio Barberini (1623-1650). The celebrated generosity of cardinal Montalto as a patron did not fail to affect the liturgical and musical life of the confraternity. The late 1580s and 1590s witnessed a rapid expansion of SS. Trinità's musical patronage thanks to the direct involvement of the Peretti-Montalto family which could also count on the support of Clement VIII and of the cardinal's nephew Pietro Aldobrandini (the fortunes of the confraternity started to decline with the pontificate of Paolo V Borghese). A rich body of archival sources concerning these years has allowed O'Regan to draw a vivid picture of the interrelationship between private and institutional patronage, an interesting example of the intricate patronage strategies that animated the artistic life of Post-Tridentine Rome. And in this context, he adds new details to the biographies of musicians such as Luca Marenzio, Annibale Zoilo and Asprilio Pacelli (an eight-voice motet of the latter is reproduced in appendix).

3.2 From a more strictly musical standpoint, O'Regan's survey of the use of music at SS. Trinità includes valuable insights on the circulation of a little-known genre: music for processions. The constant aspiration to visibility—ultimate source of a considerable portion of the revenue of such institutions—largely explains the importance attached to processions. They represented the most important occasion for public display (especially the prestigious Holy Thursday procession), and the quality of the music as well as the reputation of the musicians involved were a clear sign of the status of the confraternity and of the prestige of its patrons. Among the documents providing information about the performance of sacred music, it is worth mentioning an anonymous account of the ceremony of blessing of the new oratory (7 April 1571), which contains references to the use of instruments during the elevation: "Con una solennissima processione . . . fo entratto a benedir l'oratorio . . . et al in base fo scaricatta gran moltitudine di strumenti per allegreza et a laude della Santissima Trinità così anche al alzar' Nostro Signore alla messa." (note 1)  The text is somewhat ambiguous, and O'Regan's translation does not sound very convincing: "A solemn procession . . . entered the oratory in order to bless it . . . and on the floor were scattered a great multitude of instruments for rejoicing and in praise of the Most Holy Trinity as well as playing at the elevation of our Lord during the Mass." The interpretation of "base" as "floor" is surely unlikely, and I would argue that "scaricatta" is here used in the sense of "released in great quantity." A more plausible, although tentative, reading might be: ". . . and to this purpose [the entrance of the procession] the sound of a great multitude of instruments was released for rejoicing and in praise of the Most Holy Trinity as well as at the elevation of our Lord during the Mass."

3.3 The last section of the book explores the possibility of reconstructing the repertory performed at SS. Trinità. On the grounds of some archival evidence, the author maintains that two sets of manuscript partbooks in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Rome (Mss. Mus. 33-34/40-46, incomplete, and Mss. Mus. 77-88, probably compiled by Annibale Zoilo) are likely to have been prepared for SS. Trinità or for an analogous institution. Besides clarifying the possible destination of these manuscripts and the nature of their musical content, O'Regan touches upon interesting issues relating to the selection of certain liturgical and scriptural texts as well as to the conspicuous presence of polychoral music. Further indications of the repertory in use at SS. Trinità may come from the works of a theorist and composer not mentioned in the present book, Pier Francesco Valentini (1586-1654). Member of the Roman aristocracy, Valentini never became a musician by profession and this explains the absence of his name in the documents recording the musicians employed by SS. Trinità. Close ties with this institution are however suggested beyond any doubt in his will, still preserved in the archive of the confraternity, to which he left almost all his property. (note 2) For its part, the confraternity committed itself to use some allotment of the donation to publish his musical manuscripts. Among the latter, two books of sacred music clearly point towards the type of repertory performed at SS. Trinità. They are two collections of motets for processions printed by Balmonti in 1655: Motetti per le processioni del Corpus Domini, della Beatissima Vergine e della Settimana Santa a quattro e cinque voci, libro I and Motetti per processioni diverse a quattro e cinque voci, libro II. The study of Valentini's sacred production may therefore serve as a starting point for further researches aiming to continue the brilliant work undertaken by O'Regan.

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References

*Giuseppe Gerbino (gg2@acpub.duke.edu) is a graduate student at Duke University and is currently working on a dissertation on pastoral poetry and music in the late Renaissance. He has recently published the book Canoni ed Enigmi: Pier Francesco Valentini e l'artificio canonico nella prima meta' del Seicento.
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1. The account, along with sixty other excerpts of musical interest from the Decreti di Congregazione, is reproduced in appendix 6 but is erroneously headed 7 April 1570. The period at the end of line 3, page 84, is evidently a typographical error. In the passage here quoted, I also propose to read "allegreza" instead of "allegrela."
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2.  See Mariella Casini Cortesi, "Pier Francesco Valentini: Profilo di un musicista barocco," Nuova rivista nusicale italiana 17: 3-4 (1983), pp. 527-62.
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