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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 6 (2000) No. 1


Jeffrey Kurtzman*

1 In the late spring of 1998, John Hill, Chair of the Program Committee for the 1998 annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in Boston, contacted me to ask if I would chair a session of that conference entitled "Chapels in the Seicento." Looking over the abstracts, the session promised to be of considerable interest to the growing number of scholars concerned with sacred music in the seventeenth century, and it seemed that the four papers would be further enhanced if each was followed by a respondent. Thus each paper was followed by a cogent response amplifying the topic that had been presented.

2 During that summer, we received news of the sudden and untimely death of Jean Lionnet, that indefatigable explorer of Roman archives, paragon of archival research methodology, and model of the collegial scholar, who unselfishly and joyfully shared his information and sources with any serious student. Indeed, many of today's prominent archival scholars learned their trade either working alongside Jean Lionnet or emulating his example. Our great sadness at the loss of such a congenial gentleman was tempered only slightly by the opportunity to dedicate the session to Jean's memory.

3 The session itself turned out better than I could have hoped for, thanks to the uniformly high quality of the papers and the penetrating insights and additions of the respondents. The idea was immediately put forward of combining these papers and responses in a single, special issue of the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music, and I was honored to accept the invitation to serve as editor.

4 One of the papers, however, was to be published in another journal for quite appropriate reasons, leaving the remaining three papers and responses as a coherent body of work focused on chapels solely in Italy for this special issue. I have chosen a new title for this issue to reflect more precisely the nature of its contents than the more generic and geographically encompassing session title could do.

5 The papers and their responses have been organized chronologically, beginning with Noel O'Regan's reassessment of the origins of sacred monody and the few-voiced concerto ecclesiastico and the contributions of Aprilio Pacelli to the early history of this repertoire. O'Regan clearly demonstrates that Roman music, supported by various ecclesiastical institutions, tended in these directions long before Viadana published his Cento concerti ecclesiastici in Venice in 1602, with a preface claiming that some of these pieces had been performed in Rome some years previously. The author examines a broad swath of Roman motets in the latter part of the sixteenth century to illustrate and delineate these tendencies, speculating on Neapolitan influence as well. His essay demonstrates that by the time of the first publication of this "new" approach to sacred music, for which Viadana claimed priority, this type of writing had already become commonplace in the hands of a number of Roman composers serving a number of different Roman institutions.

6 The response of Robert Holzer expands O'Regan's observations by emphasizing the context of a new approach to piety and devotion, based on more humble, easily perceived forms of religious expression, in contrast to the elaborate polyphony that had dominated Roman sacred music since the fifteenth century (enlarged by huge multi-choir settings of psalms and masses in the last two decades of the sixteenth century). Holzer confirms O'Regan's revisionary perspective by viewing Pacelli's and Viadana's publications not as the first examples of a new style of writing, but rather as the culmination of thirty years of development, reaching print only when that development had actually reached its end-point.

7 Edmond Strainchamps takes us from the broad question of stylistic and repertorial development and the political and religious forces contributing to that development to the more particular issue of an individual composer's uncomfortable position in the political power struggles between competing and prideful princes. Marco da Gagliano, a young composer whose career in Florence had been nothing less than meteoric, was suddenly in the position of applying to the Medici grand duke for a secure post as maestro di cappella in the cathedral of Florence, but in making this application, jeopardized his relations with Prince Ferdinando Gonzaga of Mantua, who had not only previously patronized Gagliano, but also had designs himself on Gagliano for his eventual cardinal's court in Rome.

8 The story of Gagliano's efforts to navigate these tricky waters without gouging the hull of his ship is fascinating. Gagliano's letters, Ferdinando's letters and other documents demonstrate how problematic and convoluted communication could be because of the elaborate protocols of power and influence, and how easily a musician could be undermined and torpedoed by rumors, feelings, imaginary motives and the power struggles of others without having any knowledge of what was going on behind his back. In the end, Gagliano obtained his secure position, but not without giving offense to Ferdinando and permanently straining their relationship.

9 Susan Parisi highlights further the job security problems of a court composer, contrasting these with the much greater security of the cathedral position sought by Gagliano. The court composer, as she shows through the example of Monteverdi, was in continual danger of not being paid for his services, of having to rely on the sense of duty of a chimerical patron, of having to meet unexpected, often nearly impossible demands, and of being dismissed should he displease the patron or should the patron die and be succeeded by someone less sympathetic to the composer's interests. These issues shed further light on why the cathedral position in Florence, available at that particular moment in time, was so much more attractive than a potential position in the court of Ferdinando, whose own personality was hardly a model of strength and stability.

10 Kimberlyn Montford takes us back to Rome almost three-quarters of a century later, to the Holy Year of 1675 and the way the efforts of the Church to impress and edify the huge quantity of pilgrims to the Holy City affected music in female monasteries. Music had clearly had a long tradition in some of these convents, as witnessed by Pietro della Valle in 1640. But music in female houses had been a problem for the Church everywhere because of the potential for excesses and abuses stemming from the large numbers of visitors attracted to convent churches to hear the music, by the possibility of contact between male music teachers and their nun pupils, by the possibility of contact between male composers and music directors and the nun musicians, by the performance of secular, as well as sacred, music, and by other breaches of the isolation of the cloister. Such concerns led in 1665 to an edict by Pope Alexander VII imposing severe restrictions on the type and extent of music-making in Roman convents and equally severe penalties for violating the edict.

11 Yet, during the Jubilee Year of 1675, marked by the patronage and numerous public appearances of the converted Queen Chistina of Sweden, all these restrictions and penalties seem to have been quietly suspended so that the nuns could contribute to the festivities of the Anno santo through elaborate music, performed by the nuns themselves from behind the cloister grate and by hired musicians in the exterior churches of the convents.

12 Through the systematic accounts of the chronicler Ruggiero Caetano, Montford shows the extent and elaborateness of such musical activities, focused on the feast day of a monastery's titular saint or of the monastery's founder, or on the feast day of a saint whose relics a monastery possessed. These were occasions for attracting large crowds of pilgrims and citizens to particular convents for ostentatious musical celebrations associated with their own most important feasts of the year. In this way the convents contributed to the general splendor and display of the Holy Year calculated to serve the theological and political ends of the Church.

13 In his response, Robert Kendrick focuses on two new issues raised by Montford's paper. One is the special nature of the musical celebrations Montford describes. Kendrick notes that many previous studies have concentrated on "normal" traditions of convent music without recognizing that special circumstances often led to special musical events outside the scope of the quotidian. On the other hand, the continuity in the practice of music in some convents—inferred by a comparison between Pietro della Valle's descriptions of 1640 and the detailed accounts of specific celebrations in the same convents in Caetano's diary of 1675—suggests that the restrictions imposed by Alexander VII may not have had consequences anywhere near as dire as the edict itself proclaims. The relationship between the Church's periodic restrictions regarding sacred music and the effect of those restrictions may be less direct than a simple reading of the various edicts implies. Indeed, Kendrick suggests that such edicts may not even have been intended to be followed to the letter.

14 These three papers and their responses cover a wide range of musical activities in the Church and the relationship of these activities to the patronage of individual princes, the patronage of individual Church officials, and the patronage and concerns of ecclesiastical institutions as well as the Church as a corporate body. Together these papers give us a much richer and nuanced perspective on the nature of sacred music, its purposes in the service of the Church, the role of individual musicians and ecclesiastical institutions in serving these purposes, and the complexity of the issues and conflicts involved. All of these papers as well as the responses are based on research in Italian archives and libraries, and all represent an outgrowth of the example set by Jean Lionnet. On behalf of all the contributors to this issue, therefore, it is with the greatest admiration, respect and fondness that I inscribe our dedication of this special issue of the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music to the memory of our colleague and mentor, Jean Lionnet.

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* Jeffrey Kurtzman <jgkurtzm@artsci.wustl.edu> is Professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis and was the founding president of the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music. His recent publications include The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); a critical/performing edition of Claudio Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); and the series in progress Seventeenth-Century Italian Sacred Music: Vespers and Compline, 10 vols. (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995- ). Return to beginning

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