Chapel of Abdij Marienlof, Belgium
Paul Van Nevel
Katelijne Van Laethem - cantus
Cecilia Roovers - cantus
Marie-Claude Vallin - cantus
Marius Van Altena - tenor
Stephane Van Dijk - tenor
Ibo Van Ingen - tenor
Otto Rastbichler - tenor
Willem Ceuleers - bassus
Harry Van der Kamp - bassus
Bart Coen, recorders (soprano, alto, tenor, basset, bass)
Peter de Clercq, recorders (tenor, alto, basset, bass)
Baldrick Deerenberg, recorders (tenor, basset)
Jean Tubery, cornett, mute cornett
Wim Becu, tenor & bass sackbut
Harry Ries, tenor & alto sackbut
Simen Van Mechelen, alto sackbut
Michele Vandenbroucque, bass dulcian
Willem Ceuleers, harpsichord
"LAGRIME DI SAN PIETRO", WRITTEN BY SIGNOR LUIGI TANSILLO AND NEWLY SET TO MUSIC BY ORLANDO DI LASSO
Orlando di Lasso wrote the foreword to his "Lagrime di San Pietro" on May 24th 1594, exactly three weeks before his death. It was to be the last work of the Munich court Kapellmeister. From 1587 onwards signs of old age had become evident, and Lasso's zest for life gradually subsided. Thomas Mermann, court physician and the composer's friend, called Lasso's illness "melancholia hypochondriaca cum capitis dolore". Regina, Lasso's wife, wrote in a letter that her husband suffered from "fandasey" - hallucinations - which robbed him of sleep and were the reason for his regular attacks of "melancholei".
Orlando di Lasso's death on June 14th 1594 is, incidentally, also attributable to perpetual financial problems. At the beginning of the year his creative spirit flared up one last time: with extreme concentration and inspired by Luigi Tansillo's magnificent text he wrote the seven-part "Lagrime di San Pietro", a cycle consisting of 20 sacred madrigals and a closing motet. It will later be shown that Orlando's choice of text was no coincidence.
The composer did not live to hear the first performance of his monumental swan-song; he also never saw the splendid printed edition. The work was published by Adam Berg, in an edition prepared with extreme care in 1595. The composition was printed in the form of seven part-books in quarto format, an unusual format regarded as "aristocratic". The title page of each part-book shows Orlando di Lasso in an engraving by Johan Sadeler from Brussels. At the beginning is Orlando's dedication to Pope Clemens VIII, Ippolito Aldrobrandini. There are conspicuously few printing errors in the music and text, and this, together with the layout and the very carefully prepared typography of the whole publication, point to the fact that Berg, together with Lasso's sons, intended this to be a posthumous tribute to the composer's memory.
The writer Luigi Tansillo
Lasso did not, as might have been expected, select a text by a well-known Italian Renaissance author for his Opus herculeum; the text is in fact the work of a lesser-known humanist named Luigi Tansillo, a man whose name appeared on the "Indici dei libri proibiti" (the Index of books forbidden by the Roman Catholic church). He was born in Venosa in 1510 and died in 1568 in Teano (Caserta). Tansillo led an adventurous double life. On the one hand he served as a soldier in the armies of various rulers, among them Emperor Charles V and Don Pedro of Toledo, Viceroy of Naples; on the other hand he also served them as court poet.
After some youthful works in the literary field he wrote "Il Vendemmiatore" (The grapepicker) in 1532, a work which enjoyed immediate success and caused a tumult. For in this text, a play of viticultural, agricultural and gardening metaphors are used erotically to sing of the joys of physical love. In 1559, the Inquisition exerted its influence to have Tansillo's work put onto the Index. He reacted at once and asked Pope Paul IV for forgiveness for his "errore giovanile" - his youthful error. He did penance, showed good will and at the same time announced that he was writing his "Lagrime di San Pietro". This work had already been planned as early as 1539, but had been postponed in favour of other publications, such as "Stanze a Bernardo Martixano" (1540), a report on Tansillo's second sea voyage as a soldier of Charles V.
In 1559 Tansillo took up work on the "Lagrime" definitively and it would occupy him until his death in 1568.
Although Tansillo was at first a follower of Petrarch, then mainly of lyric love poetry in the style of Petrarch as initiated by Bembo, in the course of his career our poet did in fact slowly distance himself from this ideal. He strove towards his own individual style, by searching for unusual metaphors, original images and a technique of constant variation consisting of minutely detailed descriptions of natural phenomena. It is no coincidence that some modern Italian text-books still contain verses from Tansillo's "Lagrime" as models for certain works today, e. g. for the "Metafore degli occhi" (metaphors of the eyes).
Luigi Tansillo was held in high esteem by contemporaries and colleagues. For the poet Torquato Tasso (1544-1595), Tansillo was as significant as Francesco Petrarch. The Neapolitan writer Giambattista Marino (1569-1625), one of the precursors of Baroque literature, mentions Tansillo together with the poet Iacopo Sannazaro in his "Adone" (1623). The philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) names Tansillo as his most important interlocutor in the first part of his work "De gl'heroici furori" (Of heroic passions, 1585).
But to an even greater extent than among his writer colleagues, Tansillo is quoted and used as a source of inspiration by the composers of the 16th century.
Orlando di Lasso was in Naples from 1549 to 1551; at that time Luigi Tansillo was also living there. Lasso was a musician in the service of the Marquis Giovanni Battista d'Azzia della Terza, who was active as a poet himself and was a member of the Accademia de' Sereni. It is very possible that Lasso and Tansillo became acquainted with each other there. Incidentally, the "Lagrime" text is not the only work of Tansillo's which Lasso used in his compositions: in his "Terzo libro delli madrigali a cinque voci" (Rome 1563) Lasso composed a madrigal to a text by Tansillo ("Scorgo tant'altro il lume"). And Lasso is not the only composer who set the "Lagrime" to music: Antonio Dueto ( ca. 1535 - after 1594) composed sacred madrigals to Tansillo's "Lagrime" verses. Philippus de Monte (who was, incidentally, also in Naples between 1542 and 1551!), Luca Marenzio and Giaches de Wert knew and used Tansillo texts. Scipione del Palla set verses by Tansillo in his intermezzo "L'Alessandro" (1558).
It is significant that Orlando di Lasso makes use of a text which depicts the apostle Peter's qualms of conscience in a virtuoso and striking way in his last work. Just like Peter, Tansillo and Lasso also recognised their human weaknesses at the end of their lives. The hope of forgiveness on which Tansillo's "Lagrime" is based was also the driving force which inspired Lasso to compose his madrigal cycle.
Tansillo's "Lagrime" text perfectly reflects the spirit of the time, converting Petrarch's ideal into madrigali spirituali. The relationship between the poet and his beloved is transferred to the relationship of Jesus to his mother or of Peter to Jesus.
In order not to lose contact with the people, the Church had been striving to extend the ideal of courtly love to the adoration of the Madonna since the Middle Ages. In the 16th century, however, things were different. Under the influence of the Counter-Reformation and the dictatorial Inquisition - mainly in Spain, and thus also in Spanish-ruled Naples - a new piety crept into Italian literature, which - particularly at the beginning of the 17th century - threatened to degenerate into pseudo-literary works on the theme of "penitence", with the result that only a few particularly good works were written. Torquato Tasso wrote his poem "Lagrime di Maria Vergine", Angelo Grillo wrote his "Lagrime del penitente", Erasmo da Valvasone was the author of "Lagrime della Maddalena", and another work called "Lagrime di Maria Vergine" is attributed to Rodolfo Campeggi.
Luigi Tansillo began to write his "Lagrime di San Pietro" as early as 1539, and when he died the work was not yet finished. The "Lagrime" is a monumental work; it consists of no fewer than 1277 ottave rime (verses consisting of eight 11-syllable lines with a fixed rhyming scheme), which are divided into 15 pianti. As early as 1560 small editions were printed containing parts of the work, which was still being written. It was not until 1585, 17 years after Tansillo's death, that the first complete edition was published by Giovanni Battista Attendolo in Vico Equense.
For a long time it was assumed that it was this edition that Orlando di Lasso used to make his time-consuming selection of 20 stanzas from. Only recently, however, it became clear that it was not this first complete printed edition, but rather the edition dating from 1573 which served as the basis for Lasso's composition. It was published by Christofforo Zabataand bore the title "Nuova scelta di rime di diversi begli ingegni". The edition contained a selection of 42 stanzas, and Lasso simply used the first 20 for his cycle. After these twenty sections Lasso concludes his work (and his life) with a Latin motet, a striking lament of Jesus on the Cross.
The focal point of "Lagrime" is not so much the action, but rather the poetic depiction of feelings and metaphorically expressive playing. The contents are occasionally reduced to imagery, whereby Tansillo establishes unusual connections between images which, in themselves, are incompatible in this context. Tansillo wanted to express unusually strong feelings in a landscape of metaphors which call forth astonishment. The reader can easily follow this in No. 5, where Peter's weaknesses are compared with the reflection of a young woman in a mirror. The image of the melting snowflakes in No. 10 is also an appropriate example of Tansillo's constant variation technique. For in essence the over 1200 verses of the work deal with the same thing all the time: with the tragic moment in which Christ's eyes meet Peter's, with Peter's grief about his treachery and with the recognition that this treachery has entered his life in the form of the fear of death - "Per tema di morir, negai la vita" (No. 19: For fear of dying I renounced life).
In the introduction to the "Lagrime" Lasso writes that he composed this work "per mia particolare devotione in questa mia hormai grave eta" (for my particular devotion now that I am of such great age). The motive for the work was not, however, as it was in the case of Tansillo, a devotion reached towards the end of his life as a result of grief and as a sign of repentance; Lasso dedicated the composition to the highest Church authority, Pope Clemens VIII. It is the longest work Lasso ever wrote.
Everything in the structure and form of this sacred cycle of madrigals has to do with the symbolical numbers three and seven. It was no coincidence that Lasso took the number seven as the starting-point of his composition; seven is the number of sorrow and of the mortal sins. Composers before Lasso had already used the symbolic number seven in works connected with Mary and the seven sorrows. Seven is however also the number of forgiveness. Peter himself says in the Bible: "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him; up to seven times?"
All sections of the "Lagrime" cycle are composed in seven parts as follows: two upper voices (superius), two alto voices, two tenors and a bass. Apart from this Lasso was able to achieve a light-dark effect with this distribution of voices in that higher and lower voices alternate and thus suggest a double choir at certain places in the text. The seven-part texture as an overall sound makes it possible to create rich harmonies in homophonic passages (e. g. doubling of the third). Lasso also makes frequent use of major-minor effects and emphasises that - although church modes are still used to define key - tonality has definitively replaced modality.
The number seven also defines the formal division of the work. Lasso divides the work according to content and character into three sections of seven verses each. Section one (Nos. 1 to 7) is of a narrative character and describes Peter's arrogance and the treachery which results from it. One verse of crucial significance is again No. 7, in which Peter's denial is found to be more reprehensible than the nailing of Jesus's hands to the cross. Here a connection is established to the Latin text of the 21st and last verse ("vide clavos quibus confodior" - see the nails that pierce me).
Section two (Nos. 8 to 14) begins with Jesus's rebuke ("Ti stai a pascer del mio danno gli occhi" - you are feasting your eyes on my woe) and leads into a great metaphor which describes Peter's tears and feelings of guilt. The end of this second section emphasises the endless pain -"Piangendo amaramente usci di fuora" (he left the place, weeping bitterly, No. 13) and the hallucinatory image of Peter calling through the dark night (No. 14).
The third section (Nos. 15 to 21) describes the helpless situation in which Peter finds himself through the realisation that his treachery has also cost him his life. This certainty leads into the last cry at the hour of death: "Vatten, vita fallace, e tosto sgombra" (go away, false life, now depart). The "Lagrime di San Pietro" end with the bitter lament of Jesus on the Cross in which the pain of the last days of Lasso's life can also be found: "Non est dolor sicut qui crucior" (There is no pain like that which I am suffering).
The keys are also divided into seven different groups. One remarkable thing about this is that seven times a mixture of keys appears in seven blocks of three. Two groups of three verses (Nos. 13 to 15 and 19 to 21) are notated in chiavette. By means of this kind of encipherment (G-clef and baritone clef instead of C and F clefs) Lasso intended a transposition which makes the sound particularly sonorous and gloomy. This effect in this particular place cannot be a coincidence. Thus the beginning of No. 13 is especially picturesque, with the text "Veduto il miser quanto differente dal primo stato suo si ritrovava" (when the wretched disciple saw how different his situation was from what it had been before), starting on a B-flat major chord, whereas the previous section had ended on an E major chord! Such effects would not come about if these sections were not transposed.
The symbolic number three is thus a logical consequence of the division into seven sections, but is also specifically used by Orlando di Lasso as an indication of the threefold denials of Peter. In passages such as No. 11 this becomes clear when the cock crows ("Udendo il gallo") and this section is heard three times. Another conspicuous feature is the passage in verse No. three to the text "Tre volte" (three times), where a motif based on the interval of a third is used in the melody line. As the work continues, the composition goes over to three parts.
The compositional style of the "Lagrime di San Pietro" unites in a unique way the ideals of the "old" musica reservata and the characteristics of the mannerism appearing in the Renaissance. Musica reservata was a concept which Lasso's predecessors and contemporaries used. In it, visible or symbolic details in the texts were also recognisable in the music in cabalistic form. The mannerism in the music of the late Renaissance was really a more "theatrical" ideal of musica reservata carried through consistently, the focal point of which was the almost exaggerated interpretation of the text by all possible musical means: fuggir le cadenze, chromaticism, imitatio tubarum, descending fauxbourdon, dolce concento, variation, etc.
All the subtleties of nature and feelings, in descriptive and narrative elements are embraced by Orlando di Lasso's composition; sometimes tersely, sometimes exhaustively. The music is tailor-made, both for the text and for its form. The end of each verse is marked with a cadence both to the sense and to the flow of the music. Lasso keeps to this principle to an exaggerated extent. Where there is an enjambement (the meaning of the poem runs on beyond the end of the verse into the next line) he still makes the cadence at the end of the line. In addition, in his setting of the text and in his rhythmic structure Lasso follows strictly the rules of dieresi, dialefe and sinalefe (emphasis in connection with the separation or elision of successive vowels).
But all this is merely craftsmanship. What counts is that the music follows the text as closely as possible. Indeed in Orlando di Lasso's "Lagrime" the division between music and text is abolished, and the listener is led into a world of feelings and images. One cannot imagine a more suitable "Requiem aeternam" for a composer.
Ideals of performance and Renaissance attitudes
Twentieth-century listeners have difficulty in befriending themselves with the idea that music written for voices does not necessarily have to be performed purely a cappella. The music of our time has accustomed us to the idea that the composer equips his work with a particular instrumentation, a particular tonecolour and a specific distribution of vocal forces.
Of course most Renaissance works were composed with a vocal concept in mind. The performance, however, where a composition is brought to life in sound, took place on another plane, frequently following different criteria, dependent on the space available, on individual preferences, imagination and the spirit of the age, to express richness, magnificence and splendour in acoustical form as well. A Renaissance work was not given a specific instrumentation. On the contrary, the consideration and trying-out of various combinations of instruments was an essential component of the work itself. Within certain limits the interpreter was able to treat the composition differently from the way the vocal setting laid down by the composer would suggest. In the Renaissance the intentio operis was not necessarily synonymous with the intentio lectoris, whereby the composition can be performed in a variety of different versions.
It is true that the purely vocal performance of a text provided with voices in all parts was perhaps the most obvious solution, but in fact only one of many. According to the kind of work and dependent on the circumstances in which it was played, an a cappella performance was fairly likely, but not absolutely necessary.
In the realm of performance practice one can imagine no greater contrasts than those between Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso. In Palestrina's musical environment a purely vocal performance of, for example, sacred-liturgical works was the most natural thing in the world. At Lasso's Bavarian court, however, things were different. Because of the typically extravagant mixture of musicians at court (apart from singers there were also many wind and string players) and because of the preferences of the ruler (Albrecht V, later Wilhelm V) it was equally possible that works such as these could have been performed by a mixed vocal-instrumental ensemble.
Massimo Troiano, a singer at Lasso's court, gave a detailed description of the musical activities at the Munich court on the occasion of the marriage of Duke Albrecht's son, later Wilhelm V, to Renate of Lorraine. His report ("Discorsi delli Triomfi, Giostre, Apparati e delle cose piu notabili fatte nelle sontuose nozze dell'Ill. et Ecc. S. Duca Guglielmo nell'anno 1568 a 22 di Febraro", Munich 1568) contains various general observations about the court music and among others also a description of the way Alessandro Striggio's forty-part motet "Ecce beatem lucem" was performed: "Eight trombones, eight viole da gamba, eight large recorders, a harpsichord and a large lute played in the work. The other parts were reproduced by voices. The work was performed twice, and the audience listened very attentively." It may be assumed that such a mixture of sound would have been unthinkable, for example, in the Pope's chapel. In connection with the performance of sacred works at the Bavarian court Troiano writes the following: "Every morning the singers sang at Mass, including Saturdays; and on the vigils of the great feast-days they also sang at the Vespers. The wind players played on Sundays and feast days together with the singers."
Whether this means that the wind players doubled the vocal parts or played their own parts is not quite clear. Probably both possibilities must be taken into consideration. In the Bavarian court, in the case of performances outside the church it was the rule rather than the exception for singers and instrumentalists to perform together like this. Sometimes vocal works were even used as purely instrumental decor. Troiano tells of a seven-part motet by Orlando di Lasso which was performed by five cornetts and two trombones.
One might imagine that, in an evironment where the instrumental tradition receives such attention the purely vocal aspect would play a subordinate role. Nothing could be further from the truth. Massimo Troiano praised the tremendous expressiveness of Lasso's vocal material and was particularly astonished at the quality of the suavitas and the dolcezza with which the Kapellmeister made his singers sing a cappella. In addition he praised the homogeneity of the choir as well as the fact that at the end of the piece the group had not deviated from the pitch set by Lasso at the beginning by as much as three commata. Lasso's choir consisted of boy sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with a preference - as was also the case with the instruments - for deep, sonorous combinations of sound: there were hardly more singers on the soprano line than in any of the other vocal groups.
In 1557 Orlando di Lasso joined the Munich court choir, which at the time was directed by Ludwig Daser, as a tenor. A remarkable detail: as a rank-and-file singer Lasso was better paid than his Kapellmeister. In 1562 Lasso was made "principal of the court music", a post he was to retain until his death. Lasso served unter two rulers: until 1579 Duke Albrecht V was his employer, then Wilhelm V. The latter had to reduce the number of musicians employed at court, since his father left him debts amounting to millions and also because such luxurious aural pleasures were a thorn in the flesh of the pious South German Counter-Reformation. The ups and downs of the Bavarian state can be seen from the continually changing number of musicians employed. In 1550 there were 19 musicians employed at court (12 vocalists and 7 instrumentalists, most of whom could play more than one instrument). In 1551 the group had grown to 26 members. The zenith was reached in 1569 under Lasso, when the court employed 63 musicians in all. This number was reduced to 44 again in the 1570s; in 1579 the group had shrunk to 22. The lowest point was reached in 1581 with 17 members. This situation improved again, so that in 1591 there were 38 musicians employed at court.
The "Lagrime di San Pietro" is a cycle of sacred madrigals; this means that they are meant for performance outside the limitations of the liturgy. So a purely vocal performance is only one interpretation which comes to mind, this, however, does not take other possibilities into consideration. These possibilities do not perhaps agree with the a cappella ideal of the 20th century; they must, however, be mentioned if one is to be realistic - bearing Lasso's musical environment and idiom in mind. The "Lagrime di San Pietro" are a kind of self-portrait of his compositional capability. All the developments in the technique and style of Renaissance music are worked in here. Lasso's last work is a shining example of musical expression and the musical attitude of the Renaissance. This is why the Huelgas Ensemble chose a "colourful" combination of instruments and voices for this recording. In the spirit of Lasso's performance practice, in which it was usual to perform purely vocal scores with additional instrumentalists, and taking into account the dramatic construction of the text and the characteristic changes of tone-colour, a different combination of voices and instruments was chosen for each piece - from pure a cappella via colla parte to instrumentations where some parts are performed vocally and others instrumentally.
- Paul Van Nevel (Translation: 1993 Diana Loos)