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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 11 (2005) No. 1

Cesare Borgo: Primo libro di canzonette a tre voci; Giuseppe Caimo: Secondo libro di canzonette a quattro voci. Edited by Laura Mauri Vigevani. Collana Musica e Musicisti a Milano 1. Milan: Rugginenti Editore, 2003. [xl, 114 pp. ISBN 88-7665-480-1. €25.]

Reviewed by Ruth I. DeFord*

1. Introduction

2. The Canzonettas of Cesare Borgo and Giuseppe Caimo

3. The Edition

4. The Importance of the Edition


1. Introduction

1.1 Existing studies of Italian music of the late Cinquecento devote little attention to Milan as a center for the cultivation of the canzonetta. This edition aims to correct that oversight. It contains two books of canzonettas by the Milanese organists Cesare Borgo and Giuseppe Caimo, both published in Venice, by Vincenti and Amadino, in 1584. Despite their common time and place of origin, the two collections are quite different. Their juxtaposition in a single volume provides a neat illustration of the range of poetic and musical styles in the canzonetta repertory and the breadth of taste of Milanese audiences. The Preface by Laura Mauri Vigevani gives ample information about the historical background and the poetic and musical styles of the works.

2. The Canzonettas of Cesare Borgo and Giuseppe Caimo

2.1 Cesare Borgo was organist of the Milanese church of San Pietro di Gessate when his Primo libro di canzonette a tre voci, probably his first published work, appeared in print. He became organist at Milan Cathedral in 1590 and held that position until his death in 1623. His canzonetta book was reprinted in 1591 with four additional pieces; only the bass survives from that edition. All of his other known works are sacred or instrumental.

2.2 Borgo’s canzonettas are competent, but thoroughly conventional, examples of the genre. They are short, strophic songs with internal stanza forms of AABB or AABCC. The textures are homophonic or lightly imitative, and the principal melody is always in the top voice. The music responds to the meanings of the words only occasionally and quite modestly. Both the texts and the musical settings avoid the rustic elements, such as Neapolitan dialect and parallel fifths, that often characterize the earlier villanella (the direct ancestor of the canzonetta), but they make no pretense of literary or musical sophistication.

2.3 Giuseppe (or Gioseppe) Caimo was a virtuoso organist who worked at the Milan Cathedral from 1576 until his death in 1584. In addition to the Secondo libro di canzonette a quattro voci in this edition, his surviving publications include two books of four-voice madrigals (Book 1, 1564, and Book 4, 1584), a book of three-voice villanellas (1566) from which only the canto survives, and a book of five-voice canzoni (1586). His madrigals and canzoni have been available in a modern edition since 1990.1

2.4 Caimo’s canzonettas, published posthumously, are much more varied and interesting, both poetically and musically, than those of Borgo. The poems include both rustic and elegant literary elements, sometimes in separate pieces and sometimes within a single piece. Although the musical settings are strophic, Caimo responds to the vivid poetic imagery with word painting and naturalistic sound effects that inevitably apply only to the first stanza unless subsequent stanzas happen to have similar words at corresponding points. His textures are more polyphonic than those of most canzonettas. More than fifty years ago, Alfred Einstein called attention to the high quality and madrigalistic leanings of Caimo’s canzonettas and included two of them in the anthology accompanying his book on the Italian madrigal.2

2.5 Caimo was one of the Grand Councillors of the Milanese Accademia della Val di Blenio, a society of artists and intellectuals from various fields (painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, theater, mathematics, astrology, etc.) that promoted high artistic ideals under the guise of rustic mannerisms. The principal surviving document of the academy, Giovan Paolo Lomazzo’s Rabisch (arabesques), was composed over a period of some twenty years and published in 1589. Many of the poems in that collection are written in an invented language modeled on the rural dialect of Val Blenio. Vigevani calls attention to the similarity of spirit between Lomazzo’s Rabisch and Caimo’s canzonettas. Both are highly polished works with a rustic, unpretentious exterior that belies their true seriousness.

2.6 Caimo’s significance in the history of the canzonetta remains an open question. Einstein regarded Caimo as one of the inventors of the distinctive four-voice canzonetta style popularized by Orazio Vecchi, largely because his musical settings of two poems set by both composers appeared in print before Vecchi’s.3 I have argued elsewhere that Vecchi’s settings were probably composed earlier despite their later publication dates, and that Vecchi in any case pioneered the general style before Caimo adopted it.4 Vigevani stresses the difference between Caimo’s madrigalesque canzonettas and Vecchi’s simpler, more popular works and leaves the issue of chronology open. Although I still maintain that Vecchi deserves credit for chronological priority, I agree that the two composers are distinctly different and equally skilled. Caimo’s relatively complex, sophisticated canzonettas lie outside the mainstream of the genre and were never reprinted, but their artistic merit is beyond question.

3. The Edition

3.1 The edition is well designed for both study and performance. Each piece is followed by the complete text (including the first stanza, which is also underlaid to the music) and a schematic analysis of the poetic and musical form. The Borgo canzonettas, each of which occupies two pages, are printed with the beginning of each piece on the recto side of a leaf. It would have been preferable to place each piece on one opening, so that readers and singers could see the complete text and music together. (Since Caimo’s canzonettas are somewhat longer, that strategy would not have worked for them.)

3.2 The works present relatively few editorial problems. Most of the ambiguities concern musica ficta, which is sometimes problematic in spite of the generous use of notated accidentals in the sources. Different accidentals sometimes appear in the two statements of a repeated section (e.g., Caimo 2 and 4); it is unclear whether or not these differences are intentional. In two pieces (Caimo 1, mm. 24 and 41, and Caimo 4, mm. 5 and 14), Vigevani has eliminated simultaneous cross-relations that should perhaps be allowed to stand, especially considering Caimo’s penchant for harmonic audacity in his madrigals. Two pieces (Caimo 5 and 15) lack indications of Picardy thirds in their final cadences; I would be inclined to add them, but Vigevani does not do so. Users of the edition must make their own judgments in these and other ambiguous cases.

3.3 There are a number of minor errors and misprints in the edition, most of which can be corrected easily on the basis of the musical context. The most serious one concerns the form of Caimo 17, which Vigevani interprets as AABB, although the source clearly indicates AABCC.5 In Caimo 11, the underlay of the words “quiete a” is incorrect.6 Six pieces contain misprints that can be corrected by comparing the obviously wrong notes with the other voices or other statements of the same section.7 Four have definite or probable errors in the sources that should have been corrected in the edition.8 Borgo 16, m. 14, is the only instance in his canzonettas in which the outer voices are in parallel fifths. In analogous cases, the composer writes the bass in unison with the tenor on the third note of the measure to avoid the inelegant voice leading. Whether the bass in this instance is the printer’s error, the composer’s error, or an intentional evocation of the older villanella style is unclear.

4. The Importance of the Edition

4.1 Despite some important contributions in the past two or three decades, the canzonetta remains an underrepresented genre in modern editions of sixteenth-century music. The present volume takes an important step toward filling that gap. The music deserves not only to be studied, but to be heard. Its attractive, easily comprehensible style has the power to delight modern audiences as much as it did the people for whom it was originally composed.


* Ruth DeFord (rdeford@hunter.cuny.edu), editor of canzoni and canzonettas by Giovanni Ferretti and Orazio Vecchi, is Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her research interests include the sixteenth-century Italian madrigal and canzonetta and issues of rhythm in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

1Gioseppe Caimo, Madrigali and Canzoni for Four and Five Voices, edited by Leta E. Miller, Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance 84–5 (Madison, Wisc.: A-R Editions, 1990). Caimo’s five-voice canzoni appeared posthumously in the anthology Fiamma ardente de madrigali et canzoni à cinque voci (Venice: Vincenti and Amadino, 1586), along with works by Michiel Varotto and some anonymous compositions. The bibliography by Iain Fenlon, Grove Music Online, s.v. “Caimo, Gioseppe” (accessed February 1, 2005), indicates incorrectly that Caimo’s Secondo libro di canzonette a quattro voci is included in Miller’s edition.

2 Alfred Einstein, The Italian Madrigal, trans. Alexander H. Krappe, Roger H. Sessions, and Oliver Strunk, 3 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949), 2:599–602 and 776–7. The pieces included in the anthology are “Mentre il cuculo” and “Deh quadrara mia,” 3:237–40.

3 Einstein, 2:776–7.

4 Introduction to Orazio Vecchi, The Four-Voice Canzonettas, edited by Ruth I. DeFord, 2 vols., Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance 92–3 (Madison, Wisc.: A-R Editions, 1993), 1:2. Further arguments for the chronological priority of Vecchi’s settings of the two pieces (“Mentre il cuculo” and “Mi vorrei trasformare”) are the fact that Vecchi claims authorship of the poetry in his third book of four-voice canzonettas (1585), which includes these works, and that Caimo’s version of the text of “Mentre il cuculo” has a metrical irregularity that is not present in Vecchi’s version.

5 This is the only piece in either book in which a repetition is indicated by repeat signs in the source. The passage from the second half of m. 38 through the first half of m. 46 should be omitted, so that the repetition of the concluding section begins at m. 23, not m. 15. A vertical line indicating the point at which the repeated section begins appears in the source in the middle of m. 23.

6 Vigevani divides the words “quiete a” as “quie-te a.” The division should be “qui-e-te a,” with “-te” and “a” forming a single syllable.

7 Borgo 2, m. 7, tenor; Borgo 3, m. 22, tenor; Borgo 5, m. 3, canto; Borgo 12, m. 6, canto; Borgo 20, m. 29, canto; and Borgo 25, m. 23, canto.

8 Borgo 15, m. 21, canto (second note should probably be e'); Borgo 17, mm. 2 and 11, canto and bass (seventh must be corrected); Borgo 18, m. 35, tenor (resolution of suspension must be extended to fill the measure); and Caimo 10, m. 25, alto and m. 39, canto (last note must be b'-flat).

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