British Library MS Add. 29987; additionally the CD program contains monophonic ballata "Non formo Christi" (from Codex Rossi, here in instrumental arrangement as track 6) and Italian folk song "Gliu pecoraru" (track 10).
Pierre Hamon (medieval cylindrical recorder, "Ganassi" recorder, "Rafi" recorder, double flute, hornpipe, stringed drum)
Carlo Rizzo (tamburello, tammorra, drum, voice)
Alla Francesca [Birgit Goris (bowed vielle), Michael Grebil (ceterina, lute), Lucas Guimarraes-Peres (bowed vielle), Angelique Mauillon (gothic harp), Begona Olavide (psaltery), Benoit Toigo ("Ganassi" recorder)]
Auditorium di Pigna, Corsica, France [09/2002], rel. 2003
The title Istanpitta is a play on the word Istampita (or Estampie, since the earliest examples derive from French sources), a term of indeterminate origin that refers to collections of rare, late-medieval instrumental settings (in this case from the Visconti court). Though implying standing and stomping (musicologists have yet to find a precise etymological equivalent for the word), Istampita never were intended to be used for dancing. Instead they were conceived-somewhat akin to Mendelssohn's idea of "songs without words"-simply as musical references to poetry or other literary works without text. The four examples offered here, titled Isabella, Tre Fontaine, Principio di Virtu, and In Pro, more or less allude to their extra-musical subjects primarily by means of subtle melodic variations and minimal narrative instrumentation.
For instance, in Tre Fontaine Pierre Hamon and Benoit Toigo offer highly animated recorder dialogues that occasionally (and strangely!) break into Celtic-sounding steps set against a backdrop of driven percussion. The longest Istampita, Principio di Virtu, fascinates even more with its rarely heard "double flute" performance (two recorders held in the mouth next to one another and played simultaneously).
The program also includes upbeat works clearly meant to inspire dancing. Of the four examples of Saltarello ("little hop"-or dances with jumping movement) the second is the most exotic with its sultry Andalusian-infused rhythms, bizarre viele (early violin) solos, and numerous, often-abrupt momentum changes. By way of contrast, we're treated to Saltarello traditionnel-a contemporary setting of a central Italian folksong, "Gli pecoraru revota revota E nun sa do' s'ha da pija la refiancata" (The shepherd looks all around him, but his flock is still incomplete). Here Carlo Rizzo's solo tambourine and vocal performance couldn't be more excitingly convincing-especially the finale, with our shepherds' crazed pronouncements bordering on lunacy.
Opus 111's sound is audiophile quality (those who delighted in Gregorio Paniagua's magnificent recordings for BIS and Harmonia Mundi are strongly encouraged to give this one a listen). In the notes, Francis Biggi delivers thoughtful historical analysis and Hamon offers his personably keen insights that guided the project. In sum, this is a magnificent achievement and very highly recommended.
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istanpitte & saltarelli / festive music for the visconti court
Over the past century or so the Istanpitte and Salterelli of the Manuscript British Library Add.29987 have provided an inexhaustible source of questions for musicologists, and inspiration for musicians. These are complex and fascinating pieces, the only surviving examples of the instrumental repertory of the Italian trecento, with the exception of a few rare traces elsewhere. The Faenza Codex, the great collection of Ars Nova vocal compositions in organ tablature, dates from the early decades of the fifteenth century.
The London manuscript is an extensive anthology of Italian music, containing only three French compositions, two of these in fact written by Italian musicians, Francesco Landini and Giovanni da Cascia. The codex also contains sacred pieces like the Credo which opens the collection and the Kyrie-Gloria-Credo grouping on the penultimate page of the manuscript. These represent a small proportion of the whole compared to the large number of secular pieces. The Istanpitte are assembled in a single group, preceded by a most curious work by Lorenzo da Firenze, Diligenter advertant cantores - a didactic piece for singers. They are followed by a pair of sequences, the celebrated Dies irae and the Surgit Christus cum tropheo, as if the scrupulous compiler, after copying out this instrumental music, wanted to apologise for his own flippancy by adding two sacred vocal pieces of graver character. The Istanpitte are not the only pieces for instruments that the manuscript contains.
There are also the four Chanconete tedesche, all of which are marked tenor, there is still great uncertainty today as to their function. One of the French pieces, Giporte miebramant ('I bear with amiability') by Donato da Cascia, may also be intended for instrumental performance. This is a piece for two voices, without text in all surviving sources. Even the anonymous work that concludes the manuscript is textless.
MS Add.29987 is an extremely composite collection: eleven compilers have been identified within it, but the instrumental music, and the sacred pieces that follow them, are the work of a single copyist. The manuscript is full of errors and superfluous complementary signs. It gives an overall impression of lack of care. It is, above all, its heterogeneous, unorganised structure that seems to suggest a manuscript compiled over a period of years through the stratification of successive addit.ons. This is why discussions of its geographical origin and its collocation in time have never been satisfactorily resolved. The most plausible hypothesis is that we are dealing with a collection of fascicules written in several locations in northern and central Italy from the final decade of the fourteenth century onwards, and subsequently brought to Florence, where it was bound as a single volume after 1400. The various integrations to the manuscript are Florentine; they occupy blank spaces at the end of other compositions, and may date from 1420, when the volume was acquired by the Medici family.
One fascinating hypothesis links it to Nicolo da Perugia, one of the great composers of the Italian Ars Nova, who may have assembled it in the course of his travels.
The instrumental compositions in the manuscript raise an almost infinite succession of questions about their provenance, the origin of their titles, and their function. But there are also even more basic questions, for these are monophonic pieces, examples of musical genres that were extremely widespread but were usually transmitted orally. There is only one other organic anthology of similar music in existence, contained in the Chansonnier du Roy, a French manuscript of the mid-thirteenth century conserved in Paris. The London MS and the French chansonnier together contain twenty-six pieces out of the thirty or so that constitute the total number of monophonic instrumental compositions that the Middle Ages have left us. Both the London Istanpitte and the Paris estampies, despite the great differences between them, fit fairly well into the scheme expounded by the French theorist Johannes de Grocheo in his treatise De musica around 1300.
Explaining the musical genres current in his time, he refers to the stantipes as a complex instrumental form, made up of a varying number of puncta - that is, melodic sections - repeated twice with different cadences. Grocheo never refers to stantipes as dance music; he insists on their complexity and asserts that they require great concentration from both players and listeners. In this respect the London pieces seem to fit his description better, in that the Italian Istanpitte offer a highly refined structure whereas the French estampies are considerably simpler. For example, the Istanpitta Principio di Virtu is organised as follows:
Punctum I: melody A, refrain, apertum cadence melody A, refrain, dausum cadence
Punctum II: melody B, refrain, apertum cadence melody B, refrain, dausum cadence
Punctum III: melody C, refrain, apertum cadence melody C, refrain, dausum cadence
Punctum IV: melody D, refrain, apertum cadence melody D, refrain, dausum cadence
Melodies A and B have a range of a sixth and are quite short: taking the brews as the unit of measure, A is 16 breves long and B 14. In the first two puncta the refrain is 61 breves. Melody C covers a ninth and is 35 breves long; the refrain of the third punctum is 57 breves. Melody D spreads over a tenth and is 72 breves long; in the fourth punctum the refrain is 31 breves. The refrain is always the same, but is played in its entirety only in the first and second punctum; the third and fourth puncta return to its line at a later juncture, respectively at the fifth and the thirty-first brews.
The music is organised according to a precise scheme. The section opens with the eight Istanpitte together:
Ghaetta, Chominciamento di Gioia, Isabella, Tre Fontane, Belicha, Parlamento, In Pro, Principio di Virtu.
Then come a Salterello; the Trotto; two more Salterelli; two two-part compositions, Lamento di Tristan-La Rotta, La Manfredina-La Rotta delta Manfredina; and a final Salterello.
The Istanpitte are chamber compositions, not intended to be danced to. But are pieces like the Salterelli and the Trotto, or the Lamento di Tristan and La Manfredina, meant as dance music? Musically, all the London material is in the same form of puncta with alternating cadences. But according to Grocheo, ductia too, which he states to be a genre for dancing only, had a similar structure, differing from the stantipes in having fewer puncta, simpler development of the musical phrases and a regular beat. The Salterelli and the Trotto are shorter than the Istanpitte, with the exception of the first Salterello in the manuscript which is very extensively developed. In any case, their structure is highly complex. However, from the quattrocento right up to our own day, the term 'saltarello' has always been identified with dances. The question remains open. Perhaps we might imagine them as bases for group dances, such as the ancient ficelles commonly found in the Mediterranean basin and in several other regions of Europe, or in the form of 'individual' dances like the saltarellos and tarantellas of central and southern Italy. Yet the music that accompanies such dances is widely divergent from the London pieces, and although they often feature repetitive structures and considerable melodic development, they are generally made up of fairly short modules which combine to form long sequences that are linear in structure, and in which the beat is always identifiable. One's impression is that the London Salterelli are instrumental pieces, deriving as it were from dance music, but composed with different ends in view. In the case of the Lamento di Tristano and Manfredina, each followed by its respective 'rotta', this is music with a simpler structure, and it seems evident that the rotta reuses the material of the main piece that precedes it, with more synthetic phrases and shorter note values. Perhaps we are dealing here with figured dances, formed from two sections with different choreography. There is unfortunately no evidence to support this hypothesis. The titles of the Istanpitte still fascinate musicologists and musicians; they reveal puzzles to which no solution as been found. In 1966 Kurt von Fischer surmised that they could be connected with the marriage of Isabella of France and Gian Galeazzo Visconti in 1360, and that the pieces were in some way dedicated to that event. His hypothesis is founded on an interpretation of the titles of certain Istampitte: Isabella is the bride's name, Principio di Virtu might well refer to her husband, who after the marriage adopted the title of 'Comte de Vertus'. In Italian of the period, principio could mean either 'beginning' or 'prince', and it may be that the composer sought to play on that ambiguity. The hypothesis is attractive, even if it is based on free associations of ideas, without any historical confirmation. It allows us to go further in interpreting the names: Chomindamento di Goia ('beginning of joy') is a title well suited to a piece intended for a wedding feast; the word portamento once had a wider meaning, 'discussion, discourse, conversation', which was not confined to serious arguments (see for example Ariosto's Orlando furioso XXVI, 54: In giuochi onesti e parlamenti lieti/dopo mangiar, spesero il caldo giorno); belicha, 'warlike', could be an allusion to the bridegroom's military prowess. In pro is a wish, ghaetta means 'joyous', Tre Fontane may well point us to the castle of Trois Fontaines, in Brabant, which belonged to Isabella's family on her mother's side, even if the place name could concern other localities. Moreover, Tre Fontane could also be a symbolic reference to the three lilies of the French fleur-de-lis, which became the emblem of royalty from the time of Charles V, Isabella's brother. Seen in this light, the two sequences that follow the dances could represent a tribute to the memory of Isabella, who died prematurely in 1372, rather than an act of contrition on the part of a copyist repenting his own lack of gravity. It is true that such references are totally arbitrary, but what is certain is that some of the fascicules that make up the codex were written in a circle very close to the Visconti court. The instrumental repertory of MS Add.29987, one of the finest collections of music of the whole medieval period, continues to arouse endless interest in researchers and creativity in performers. Each new reading of it reveals fresh perspectives and raises new questions.
- Francis Biggi T(translation: Charles Johnston)