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The arrival in 1490 ot Isabella d'Este (1474-15 39) at the court of Mantua as the bride of Francesco Gonzaga (1466-1519) marked the awakening of a new era in Italian music, Whereas the musical life at Mantua and other courts ot northern Italy had previously reflected the prevailing taste for Franco-Flemish music, Isabella commissioned both poetry and music by native Italians, resulting in a musical idiom whose roots lav in the popular performing practice ot declaiming poetry to the accompaniment of a lira da braccio or lute. The artistic climate created by her patronage fostered the development of the frottold, the genre of Italian song that flourished during the decades either side of 1 500. The musical developments at Mantua soon spread to other courts, and those composers and performers who excelled in the new style were much sought after throughout the north ot Italy.
Marchetto Cara and Bartolomeo Tromboncino, two of the most highly esteemed musicians of their day. are known to us as the outstanding composers ot frottole.. I romboncino (c 1470-c 1535) was the most prolific of the frottolists. He was in service at Mantua from 1494 until sometime between 1502 and 1506, travelling often to other courts. He was greatly valued by Isabella and Francesco, in spite of his stormy nature. His most notorious act was that of murdering his wife, Antonia "with great cruelty... tor having found her at home alone in a room with Zoanmaria de Triomfo", an offence to which Isabella responded by imploring Franccsco to have mercy. He also fled Mantua at least twice without permission. After one such flight in 1501. Francesco wrote angrily that Tromboncino had left despite "having been better paid by us, and having been given more favours, kindnesses, and liberties than any other of our courtiers". Yet they chose to overlook each offence, perhaps because of Tromboncino's invaluable contribution to che musical life and thereby the prestige-of the Mantuan court. He entered the service of Lucrezia Borgia at Ferrara in 1506, where he remained as late as 1513, after which little is known of him.
Marchetto Cara (1465-1525) "following in the footsteps of Josquin, taught the world how to compose music." Cara enjoyed a long and stable career at Mantua, beginning his service there in 1494 and remaining throughout his life. In addition to his responsibilities as maestro di cappella, he performed as a singer and lutenist at courts throughout the north of Italy, often with his wife, the singer Giovanna Moreschi. The music, of the frottolists reflected the aims of contemporary humanism in its attentiveness to poetic form and rhythm. It was believed that the .classical Greeks had attained a perfect unity of poetry and music, and this the Italians also sought to achieve. Of the Italian poetic forms set to music the barzelletta was most favoured, and other forms included the strambotto, oda capitolo sonnet and canzone. The poetry ranges from Petrarch's inspired and exquisite verse to delicately fashioned amorous texts and rough-hewn haryllctte. Laude were composed to devotional texts, often in Latin, sung on feast days or as part of religious plays.
The origins of the two anonymous vocal works, each highly distinctive, can only be speculated upon. Se mai per maraveglia is unique in both musical style and subject. A dramatic evocation of the passion of Christ, it may have been sung as part of a sacred play. Chui dicese non l'amare is one of four pieces printed in Perruccis Frottole Libro Sexto (1505) which are striking for their highly melismatic vocal lines and cadential dissonances. The texts of two are by the renowned poet-improvisor Leonardo Giustiniani (c 1383-1446), and Chui dicese and its companion pieces may be written examples of his improvisational style.
The rise of the frottola was due in large part to the enterprising efforts of the Venetian publisher Ottaviano Petrucci. His first book of frottole was offered to the public in 1504, followed by ten more books in rapid succession until 1514. Rival publishers in Rome, Siena and Naples followed Petrucci's lead with fifteen collections of frottole between 1510 and 1531, spreading the wealth of new music to all parts of Italy.
The variety of instrumentation represented in pictorial and musical sources suggests that the frottola was performed in many different ways. Perrucci published arrangements for voice and lute (1509, 1511, 1520), and intabulations for solo keyboard and for lute were also published. Mixed consorts of two lutes, bowed strings and winds were often depicted in Italian paintings of the period, and accounts of musical evenings at the Este and Gonzaga palaces affirm that the Italians enjoyed a wide spectrum of instrumental colours and combinations, ranging from solo singing accompanied by a single lute or lira de braccio to consorts, both like and mixed, ot winds and strings. Of special interest on this recording is the use of the lirone, the larger relative of the seven-stringed lira da braccio. The lirone is distinguished from the lira da braccio not only by its larger size but also by its greater number of strings and unique tuning which allows the bowing of full sustained chords.
The earliest publication of lute music, Franccsco Spinacino's Intabulatura de Lauto (1507), contains settings of chansons, dances and ricercari in an idiomatic style which represents a tradition of lute ornamentation and improvisation practiced by players of the time. Ricercari were often played as preludes to more extended vocal or instrumental compositions. The Thibault lute manuscript incorporates a prelude and interludes in the lute accompaniment to Vale diva. The Calata is from the same source. The duo cantus cum tenor comes from Musica Duorum (Rome, 1521), a collection of forty-five textless duets, or bicinia by the frottola composer Eustachio Romano.
Italian dance music was popular throughout Europe during the sixteenth century. The new pavane, gagliarde and saltarelli were included in virtually every collection of lute music. Ensemble settings are rare, although a tew manuscript sources preserve four-part settings. These dances superseded the fifteenth-century basse danse at the time when the growing taste for frottole ousted the Franco-Flemish chanson. The new Italian dances with their tuneful melodies (often adapted from popular songs such as El Marchese di Saluzzo), well-defined phrases, and strong harmonic character have much in common with the frottola style.
The painting reproduced on the cover. Parnassus by Andrea Mantegna, was especially commissioned by Isabella d'Este for her private studiolo and completed in 1497. Parnassus is rich in its allusions to music. The nine Muses dance and sing in the centre. Apollo the god of music, sings to his lyre; Mercury holds his panpipes. Sacred springs whose waters give poetic inspiration flow from under the hoof of Pegasus. There is an exchange between Vulcan and Amor, whom Plato deemed "a composer so skilled that he is the cause of composing in others." Presiding over all are Mars and Venus, who can be viewed as symbolic representations ot Francesco and Isabella, peacefully united above a harmonious world in which the arts, and above all music, flourish.
Nancy Hadden and Emily Van Evera