Bonfire of the Vanities: Music in Florence under the Medici and Savonarola
Canzona degli spazzacamini Anonymous
Canto dei sarti Anonymous
O maligno e duro core Anonymous
On est bien malade par amer trop Anonymous
Un dì lieto giamai Heinrich Isaac (ca. 1445-1517)
Que vous madame/In pace in idipsum Josquin des Prez (ca. 1450-1521)
or Alexander Agricola (ca. 1446-1506)
Virgo gloriosa Adrian Willaert (1490-1562)
Quis dabit capiti meo Isaac
Occhi miei oscurati Giovanni Domenico del Giovane da Nola
Ecce quam bonum Anonymous
Vergini, deh lasciate i pigri letti Anonymous
Viva, viva in nostro core Anonymous
Ecce quam bonum attr. Nicolas Gombert (ca. 1500-after 1556)
Tristitia obsedit me, amici Jacob Clemens non Papa (ca. 1505-1555/6)
Trionfo della compagnia del Broncone Anonymous
Shannon Canavin & Teresa Wakim, soprano
Thea Lobo & Aaron Russo, alto
Jason McStoots & Eric Rice, tenor
Brian Church & Aaron Ingersoll, bass
Friday, October 20, 2006 at 8pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA
Sunday, October 22, 2006 at 3pm
Cochran Chapel at Philips Academy Andover, 1 Chapel Avenue, Andover, MA
Notes on the Program
Florence, Italy is most famous in musical discussions for its association with the birth of opera at the turn of the 16th century. But for centuries before, Florence was of the most active artistic and musical centers of Europe and the quintessential center of the Italian humanism movement of the Renaissance. Ruled by the Medici, a wealthy and powerful family of bankers and merchants, Florence was well-known for its lavish festivals mounted during the carnival season preceding Lent. Lorenzo “the Magnificent” de’ Medici did much to cultivate the Florentine festival during his reign from 1449 to his death in 1492, from commissioning works of art by Michelangelo and Botticelli to importing famed composers and musicians from the north, and even himself writing verses to be sung at the festivals. While these celebrations provided the inspiration for vivid poetry, stunning music, and breathtaking works of art, the festivals eventually turned into scenes of great debauchery and were viewed by zealous religious figures as corruptions of the holy days which they had originally commemorate. Upon Lorenzo’s death, the Medici family was expelled from Florence and the city came under the influence of a fiery preacher named Girolamo Savonarola, who transformed Florence from a vibrant cultural center to a religiously oppressive republic. Although Savonarola’s protests against the moral laxity and spiritual corruption of the city’s previous rulers struck a chord with reformation figures as far away as England, the Vatican would not tolerate Savonarola’s heresy and he was tried and hanged in 1498.
Festival music included secular carnival songs (canti carnascialeschi) and sacred laude, and the two were closely linked; the same melody was often used for both secular and sacred texts, which today proves helpful when attempting to reconstruct this history of carnival songs and laude of the time. Sung by individuals wearing masks and disguises representing the various artisans and tradesmen of the city, carnival songs such as Canzona degli spazzacamini (Song of the Chimney Sweepers) and Canto dei Sarti (Song of the Tailors) extolled the merits of the occupation, with a fair number of coarse double-entendres thrown in for good measure. Because they were sung outdoors by the populace, the melodies and rhythms of these homophonic songs are relatively simple. Lorenzo de’ Medici’s O maligno e duro core was a new lauda text for the melody of Canzona de’ profumi (Song of the Perfumers) and offers a particularly stark contrast between the variety of texts that could be associated with the same melody: it is difficult to reconcile the imagery of the perfumers tempting the local ladies with their long-necked bottles and soothing ointment with the wretchedness of Lorenzo’s lauda.
On est bien malade par amer trop and Que vous madame/In pace in idipsum both come from MS Banco Rari 229, dubbed “a Florentine chansonnier from the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent.” Chansonniers, which included a variety of different kinds of music, were often lavish publications assembled and presented as gifts by wealthy rulers and patrons. This particular collection of French, Flemish, and Italian songs was possibly a gift from Lorenzo de’ Medici to a poet named Alessandro Braccesi, King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, or Duke Sigismund of Austria. The music it contains represents the sophisticated art song that would have been performed at the Medici court, and includes such famous composers as Dufay and Josquin des Prez to the now obscure Johannes Martini. On est bien malade is a highly imitative through-composed work, while Que vous madame is a virelai, a “forme fixe” or standard poetical and musical structure of the time.
An accomplished composer by the 1470’s, Heinrich Isaac was evidently employed by the court of Duke Sigismund of Austria in Innsbruck, and may have come to the attention of Maximilion I, for whom he worked following Lorenzo’s death, during that time. By 1485, Isaac was a singer in the baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence and became a part of the Medici’s domestic circle of artists and musicians. He was Lorenzo’s favorite composer, setting his patron’s texts and those of Lorenzo’s favorite poet Angelo Poliziano, and otherwise contributing to the musical life of the household and the city. Un di lieto giamai is a setting of one of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s carnival songs.
Adriano Willaert’s Virgo gloriosa, a musical setting of a non-liturgical prayer, appears in the Medici Codex of 1518, a collection of motets dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent’s grandson Lorenzo de’ Medici Duke of Urbino, who was born in 1492. The ornate dedication is discerned through an arrangement of highly florid Gothic letters arranged in the geometric pattern of a lozenge which reads wich reads “A canon on you[r name] is written in the first letters;” those letters then spell out “May the undefeated Duke of Urbino Lorenzo de’ Medici live forever!” The codex was probably assembled between 1518 and 1519, the years during which Lorenzo (the younger) governed Florence, and was likely a wedding gift upon the ruler’s marriage in 1518 to Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne. Possibly commissioned especially for the codex, Virgo gloriosa opens the publication and bears the Medici coat of arms. As noted by musicologist Edward Lowinsky, the piece offers a glimpse of the young composer’s future as a “leading master of a humanistically inpsired text setting and an Italian-oriented coloristic harmonic palette.”
While the chanson was the most common form of secular vocal work, the motet was the standard form for sacred texts (other than settings of the ordinary of the mass). Isaac’s Quis dabit capiti meo aquam is a lament upon the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who died suddenly in 1492. It is indeed one of the most famous works of its kind and ingeniously composed: the bass in the second part repeats the text “Et requiescamus in pace” (And rest in peace) as an ostinato that bears a strong resemblance to the plainsong melody that accompanies the words “Requiem aeternam dona” (Grant them eternal rest) in the Matins service of the Office of the Dead. During this section, one line, representing Lorenzo, is silent.
The second half of our program turns to the time and works influenced by Girolamo Savonarola. Occhi miei oscurati was first published in 1567, and the music was later used for Razzi’s setting of Piangendo i miei peccati (Weeping for my sins); the latter text was likely inspired by the former’s image of eyes blurred by tears. Ecce quam bonum, a motto drawn by Savonarola from Psalm 132, became synonymous with his attempts to reform the city of Florence. The Piagnoni (a derogative term from Savonarola’s foes for boys enlisted by the friar to patrol the city and collect vanities to be burned at the bonfires) would sing it together to maintain their unity and fortify their resolve. The two-voice lauda was written in memory of Savonarola by Luca Bettina, who almost certainly sang in Savonarolan processions and heard the friar’s sermons in the cathedral. Serafino Razzi, a Dominican friar who compiled an important anthology of laude in 1563, wrote Vergini deh lasiati i pigri letti while he was serving as confessor to the nuns of San Vinzenzo in Prato. The text, found in a manuscript copy of Razzi’s biography of Savonarola, serves to rouse the sleepy nuns, calling them to the night service. The anonymous Viva, viva in nostro core was probably sung at the carnival of 1496, an important celebration for the Savonarolans. The text is appended to Savonarola’s Tractato…della vita spirituale and is based on Viva Christo!, which was shouted by the reformed fanciulli, reformed boys who in pre-Savonarolan time would celebrate carnival by throwing rocks, after they processed to the cathedral.
Gombert’s Ecce quam bonum and Clemens non Papa’s Tristitia obsedit me represent the tradition of Savonarolan texts as the basis of complex polyphonic settings by composers from throughout Europe—despite the fact that Savonarola himself despised such elaborate music that obscured the words and therefore meaning of the texts. The attribution in the only surviving source for Ecce quam bonum, a complete setting of Psalm 132, is doubtful considering that the piece does not bear much resemblance to the composer’s signature complexity of counterpoint; it is instead reminiscent of French works from earlier in the 16th century, such as those by Jean Mouton. However, it is possible that Gombert attempted to replicate as closely as possible the simpler aesthetic favored by Savonarola that allowed for clarity of text.
Clemens non Papa was a prolific composer of motets who was employed at Bruges and various other locations on the Low Countries. His Tristitia obsedit me begins by setting the opening of Savonarola’s meditation on Psalm 30 and then turns to Psalm 50, Infelix ego, at the end of the first section. The opening features a series of suspensions that musicologist Patrick Macey describes as “set[ing] the tone for the unrelieved mood of struggle in the first forty bars…Clemens obsessively repeats phrases of text in an apparent desire to wring every drop of expression from one melody before proceeding to the next.” The second part features dramatic repetitions of “quid igitur faciam” (What therefore shall I do?) and “Desperabo?” (Shall I despair). Clemens’ motet stands out as a brilliant rhetorical expression of Savonarola’s two meditations, and perhaps could be close to the friar’s own musical tastes with its many textual repetitions and in a gripping, vivid expression.
In 1512, the Medici regained control of Florence; our program ends with Trionfo della compagnia del Broncone, performed to celebrate the triumphal entry of Pope Leo X into Florence, his native city on November 30, 1515. The “Company of Broncone” was a company that displayed the symbol of the the flowering laurel branch (broncone), also used by Lorenzo Duke of Urbino (grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent and nephew of Leo X). The association between the young Lorenzo and the flowering laurel was first made evident during the festivities for the 1513 carnival season. On that occasion, the young Lorenzo chose the broncone as the device of his company. The theme of renewal was most explicit in the allegorical performances of February 6, and especially in the seventh trionfo, the final float of the Compagnia del Broncone. It represented the return of the Golden Age and was decorated with dry laurel branches putting forth new leaves. The fact that the broncone was first adopted by the older Lorenzo during his own first public appearance as ruler of Florence during the carnival of 1469 reinforced the parallel and the efficacy of the device. The presence on this illuminated page of two bronconi, one cut and the other verdant, thus underscores the theme of Medicean renewal, the return of a Golden Age, and the presence in Florence of a new Lorenzo, the legitimate heir of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Shannon Canavin © 2006