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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 3 (1997) No. 1

Seventeenth-Century Italian Sacred Music. Anne Schnoebelen, general editor. 25 vols. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995- .

Vol. 1, Masses by Gasparo Villani Alessandro Grandi, Pietro Lappi, Bentivoglio Levà. Edited by Anne Schnoebelen, 1995. [xviii, 274 pp. ISBN 0-8153-2166-X. $99.]

Vol. 4, Masses by Alessandro Grandi, Giovanni Battista Chinelli, Tarquinio Merula, Giovanni Antonio Rigatti. Edited by Anne Schnoebelen, 1995. [xxvi, 296 pp. ISBN 0-8153-2363-8. $95.]

Vol. 5, Masses by Giovanni Rovetta, Ortensio Polidori, Giovanni Battista Chinelli, Orazio Tarditi. Edited by Anne Schnoebelen, 1996. [xxv, 249 pp. ISBN 0-8153-2358-1. $90.]

Vol. 11, Vesper and Compline Music for One Principal Voice. Edited by Jeffrey Kurtzman, 1995. [xxvii, 291 pp. ISBN 0-8153-2165-1. $98.]

Vol. 12, Vesper and Compline Music for Two Principal Voices. Edited by Jeffrey Kurtzman, 1997. [xxxiii, 260 pp. ISBN 0-8153-2359-X. $95.]

Reviewed by Jonathan Glixon*

1. Introduction

2. The Series

3. Editorial Practices and Problems

4. The Music

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

1.1 A little over ten years ago, in a review of Jerome Roche’s North Italian Church Music in the Age of Monteverdi, (note 1) I praised the book, but lamented that “so much of the music that is obviously well known to Roche . . . is still unavailable to the general public.” This new series, the latest in Garland Press’s invaluable efforts to expand the repertory of music available to scholars and performers, marks an important step in remedying the situation. Up until now, even specialists in seventeenth-century music knew few sacred works of the period that had not been composed by Monteverdi (or, perhaps, Viadana). Even such important composers as Alessandro Grandi were known by at most one or two works. We were aware from the work of Roche and others of the treasure troves of sacred music lying untranscribed in libraries, but had to rely on their descriptions or on a few musical examples.

2. The Series

2.1 The twenty-five volumes of this series are divided into three sections. The first ten volumes, edited by Anne Schnoebelen, are devoted to music for the ordinary of the mass; volumes eleven through twenty, edited by Jeffrey Kurtzman, present music for vespers and compline; and the last five, edited by the late Jerome Roche and Elizabeth Roche, contain motets (unlike the first two sections, which cover the entire century, the motet volumes end with 1650). This is a systematic, well-organized sampling of a variety of styles from musical centers both large and small, from throughout Italy. The composers represented range from the well known, such as Grandi, Legrenzi, Cavalli, and Agazzari, to the extraordinarily obscure: Bentivoglio Levà, Sisto Reina, and Gasparo Villani are among those that appear in the five volumes reviewed here.

2.2 The logical organizational principles are continued at lower levels. The mass volumes are arranged chronologically by date of publication, each containing three or four works. The vespers and compline volumes, with their greater numbers of shorter works, use a different method: pieces with the same number of “principal voices” (regardless of the presence or number of accompanying instrumental parts) are grouped together. Volumes 11 and 12, the first two to appear, include works with, respectively, one and two voice parts. The choice for arrangement within these volumes is also a felicitous one; echoing the original prints, they open with settings of the Domine ad adiuvandum, and continue with Magnificat and psalm settings, concluding with hymns and antiphons.

2.3 Each volume in this series includes, in addition to general introductions to the series and explanations of the editorial methods, commentaries on each work by the editor of the volume. Considered are the sources of the piece, the biography of the composer, and the music itself. Although the commentaries in all the volumes reviewed here are useful, they vary considerably in depth and interest. Those in the mass volumes, by Anne Schnoebelen, are, at times, somewhat perfunctory in their musical discussions; they include a few interesting observations, but they are limited at times to mere blow-by-blow descriptions. Jeffrey Kurtzman’s, for the vespers and compline volumes, are considerably more insightful and wide-ranging, going beyond description to analysis of style, and with some effort to place the individual works in broader context.

3. Editorial Practices and Problems

3.1 The basic editorial idea of this and other Garland series appears to be to reduce the editor’s intervention to a minimum, presumably to limit both the preparation time (volumes appear regularly over periods measured in years rather than the decades of more traditional monuments series) and the cost. Therefore, at least in principle, addition of such things as editorial accidentals and basso continuo figures are left to the user, as are refinements in text underlay. The only editorial additions routinely made are corrections of clear errors. This basic concept has been interpreted differently by the two editors whose volumes have appeared so far. Schnoebelen sticks quite closely to the original, with few additions, while Kurtzman, particularly as concerns basso continuo figuration, has been considerably more active. This becomes quickly evident, even without seeing the original prints, in a glance at the critical notes. Schnoebelen’s consist primarily of careful indications of every time she has inserted a sharp to indicate a raised third, usually corresponding to explicit sharps in the vocal or instrumental lines. On the other hand, Kurtzman’s approach is indicated by the phrase he inserts in the notes for nearly every piece: “All continuo figures are editorial except the following . . ..” While the value, in musicological terms, of presenting a clean, minimally edited score cannot be questioned, the contributions of a careful and musically sensitive editor are also welcome.

3.2 There are, unfortunately, a fair number of problems, usually minor, in the editions, especially in the mass volumes. Most of these are errors in pitch of a single note, easily corrected in study or performance, but nonetheless annoying. It is certainly possible that many or even all of these errors appear in the original source, but they should certainly have been corrected. Most troubling is one passage in the Tarquinio Merula Messa concertata à 3 sopra l’Aria del Gran Duca in Volume 4. In the critical notes for the end of the Gloria (p. xxiii), Schnoebelen indicates that she has added a missing minim rest in the soprano at measure 36. Even a quick look at the score, however, reveals that no such addition was needed: from that point to the final cadence in m. 39, the soprano is clearly displaced by a minim, resulting in parallel fifths with the bass, nasty dissonances with the tenor, and an impossible cadence.

3.3 The editorial policy of the series calls for the text underlay to follow the original sources except in case of errors; but the results, whether because of problems in the print or the work of the editor, are occasionally less than optimal. The most serious difficulties, of two types, appear in the Kyrie of Bentivoglio Levà’s Missa ariosa in Volume 1. First is the inconsistency in the syllabification of “eleison,” which seems to alternate, sometimes indiscriminately, between three and four syllables, sometimes resulting in the placing of the “i,” which should either be short or merely the second half of a diphthong, on a long note. Sometimes two voices in a cadential figure (e.g. m. 28) use conflicting and simultaneous syllabification. The other problem occurs in the Christe. At the opening of the movement a pattern is established with one voice (beginning with the soprano) singing the phrase “Christe eleison” and then all four joining, homophonically, in a repeat of the words. In the succeeding entries, however, the homophonic declamation is not preserved in the edition. The second tenor, in its solo, is still singing the last two syllables of “eleison” when the others begin “Christe.” Following that, the first tenor begins its “Christe” one note before the others, and the bass begins one note later. Simple editorial changes would have resulted in greater consistency and better musical sense.

4. The Music

4.1 The music itself is, naturally, of varied quality. It would be a stretch to say that any of it reaches the level of the works of Monteverdi, but most is quite interesting and many pieces are enjoyable and worth performing. It is no real surprise to come upon the splendor of Grandi’s 1630 Messa concertata (Volume 4), the variety of Rovetta’s 1639 Messa à 5.6.7. con due violini (Volume 5), or the drama of Cazzati’s Confitebor tibi domine of 1653 (Volume 12). Much more exciting is to come upon such unexpected pleasures as Giovanni Antonio Rigatti’s Cum invocarem (Volume 11) or Francesco Petrobelli’s Credidi (Volume 12). Even the conservative Gasparo Villani’s massive sixteen-voice Missa Tu es Petrus seems worth study (though publishing the motet on which this parody mass is based would have been a nice added touch). On the other hand, the majority of the works, though pleasant, seem quite predictable and unexciting. Some, such as Orazio Tarditi’s Iste confessor (Volume 12) or Isabella Leonarda’s Laetatus sum (Volume 11) are less well put together and sometimes even awkward.

5. Conclusion

5.1 When completed, this series will prove invaluable to any scholar or performer interested in the sacred music of the early and middle Baroque. While it is unlikely that many of the works will replace the masterpieces of Monteverdi in concert programs, they will provide the essential context against which such exceptional music can be judged and appreciated. After all, Venice in the 1630s was not typical of Italy as a whole, nor even of large Italian cities. The editors of these volumes deserve a great deal of credit for this important contribution to our field. Any small problems encountered in the editions are far outweighed by their positive aspects. Four of the scholars most familiar with this vast repertory have given us here a precious and well-selected sample of the musical treasures that filled the cathedrals and monasteries of Baroque Italy, but have been hidden from modern eyes and ears. Return to beginning


*Jonathan Glixon (musglix@ukcc.uky.edu) is Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky, where he has taught since 1983. The chief focus of his research has been archival studies of sacred music in Venice, both at confraternities and, most recently, at convents. Return to beginning

1. Jonathan Glixon, review of Jerome Roche, North Italian Church Music in the Age of Monteverdi (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984) in Renaissance Quarterly 39 (1986): 312-14. Return to text


A few examples will suffice to indicate the situation. Vol. 1, Grandi, Messa a quattro voci, Gloria, m.45, alto should have c-a-c, not c-b-c, which breaks a string of thirds with the soprano, introducing a minor second. Vol. 1, Pietro Lappi, Missa Octavi toni à 6, Gloria, m.49, the soprano A-G should be quarter notes, not eighth notes. Vol. 1, Bentivoglio Levà, Missa ariosa à 3 e à 4 se piace, in concerto, Gloria, m.76, the third pitch in tenor secondo should be C, not B (this is a full cadence on C).

Other problem spots include the following (indicated by volume, page, measure, and part):

1, 139, m.18, TII: second eighth note should be e (not d)

1, 226, m.4, TI, BC: second note in T2 should be c (not d) or in BC should be d (not c)

1, 235, m.104, C: half note F-sharp should perhaps be emended to two quarter notes G-F-sharp to avoid clash with G-C eighth notes in Bass.

1, 251, m.186, BC: the E-flat should be tied to the final note in m.185.

1, 254, m.219, BC: quarter note should be F not G

1, 265, m.15, BC: flat missing before E

1, 266, m.29, BC: flat missing before E

4, 35, m.136, CII: sharp missing before G

4, 199, m.291, CI: G (not A)

4, 226, m.11, C: third note from end should be G (not F-sharp)

4, 228, m.32, T: final A should be quarter note (not eighth note)

4, 228, m.35, BC: second note should be G (not A)

4, 277, m.24, BC: second note should be E (not D)

5, 26, m.93, CI: second note should be C (not D)

5, 34, m.163, CI: second note should be E (not D)

5, 68, m.104, BC: second note should be D (not C)

5, 177, m.131, VI: pitch should be F (not E)

5, 235, m.57, B: eighth-note rest missing before first E

Return to text

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