Notes and Editorial Reviews
LA BELLA MANDORLA: MADRIGALS FROM THE CODEX SQUARCIALUPI
CPO 777 623-2 (63:22
Text and Translation)
LORENZO DA FIRENZE, LANDINI, DONATO DA FIRENZE, VINCENZO DA RIMINI, GIOVANNI DA CASCIA, GHERARDELLO DA FIRENZE, ANDREA DA FIRENZE, BARTOLINO DA PADOVA, JACOPO DA BOLOGNA, NICCOLÒ DA PERUGIA
Little is known of the origins of the Squarcialupi Codex. It was compiled in the early 15th century, and
given extensive and costly illuminated decoration, suggesting it was probably intended for a wealthy aristocrat with a conservative connoisseur’s taste (none of these modern
-influenced Italian works for him, no sir!), and an archivist’s mentality. Its name derives from the manuscript’s earliest known owner, the Florentine organist, Antonio Squarcialupi, who possessed it in the mid 15th century. The presence of adulatory poems to Squarcialupi in the first folio suggests it was given to him as a gift. Its intent as compiled-to-order, as opposed to a collection casually built over time, is clear because of numerous blank folios marked for music by Paolo da Firenze and Giovanni Mazzuoli: Whoever had to assemble the Codex clearly ran out of time while acquiring the works to please his patron. The latter composer was especially unfortunate from posterity’s perspective, as nothing else can be confidently ascribed to him today, save for several selections on a Florentine palimpsest that are effectively illegible.
And that brings us to the reason why Squarcialupi is so important. If it were only a matter of its beauty and excellent preservation the manuscript would be treasured by collectors, and reproduced in coffee table artbooks. But more than half of the 352 pieces in the Codex are unique to it, and carefully ascribed to specific musicians. This greatly increases the amount of music we possess from the 14th-century Italian States, and Florence in particular. It also means we can build a sense of a specific composer’s structural and stylistic preferences in the standard period forms of the madrigal, ballate, and caccia.
Other discs have made use of Squarcialupi as a musical source. One I recently reviewed:
Rosa e Orticha, Music of the Trecento
by Ensemble Syntagma (Carpe Diem 16287). But this current release is the first I can recall that is devoted to a wide variety of selections from the Codex, with four instances of variational arrangements by group members, and one arrangement of a Squarcialupi piece by Jacopo da Bologna also included in the Faenza Codex. It is certainly the first album of Squarcialupi content performed by a group named after it. That’s in a very real sense, as the Codex is located in Florence’s historical Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, where it is catalogued as MS. Mediceo Palatino 87.
The two ensembles don’t perform any of the same material, but their approaches to this repertoire make for interesting comparison. Ensemble Syntagma’s CD deploys three singers—two sopranos and a countertenor—along with six instrumentalists. Palatino87 is smaller, with only four members: one singer, one vielle player, and two multi-instrumentalists. (One of the latter pair sings as well.) Their sound is smaller, too, more intimate than Syntagma’s, and it’s greatly assisted by a drier, less cathedral-like acoustic. Syntagma’s vocalists deliver what might be called a straight reading, in which vocal pressure remains constant, and the musical line is everything; Andrea Stefani’s “Con tutta gentilezza” is an excellent example. By contrast, the singing from Palatino87 accents the starts of phrases, and makes more of Trecento angularity, emphasizing the music’s sudden leaps, and skipping rhythms. Words are clearer, as in Donato da Firenze’s “S’i monacordo gentile stormento,” and small expressive touches make the energy released in such pieces as Landini’s “Questa fanciulla Amor fallami pia” especially vivid. Both ensembles have excellent instrumental soloists, but Syntagma’s vocalists are slightly more adept at handling the bursts of melismatic writing that occur throughout much of this music.
The liner notes deal sensibly if very generally with Trecento secular musical genres, but some care needs to be taken when reading the extensive hagiographic comments about the Codex, itself. References are made to the illuminated images alongside each composer’s name as being accurate illustrations, the writer evidently unaware of the period’s non-representational art, and the fact that the images in it were in most instances created several decades after the musicians’ deaths. There are also references to the transcription’s great accuracy, but some scholars, such as Richard Hoppin, have pointed to inaccuracies in transmission when compared to other surviving manuscripts.
Which isn’t to say that Squarcialupi fails to be worth its weight in Medici gold to scholars, archivists, and fanciers of Trecento music. It is; and I can only hope Palatino87 continues to record its contents when this album proves a success. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
In forma quasi by Vincenzo da Rimini
Written: 14th Century; Italy
Sedendo all'ombra by Giovanni da Cascia
Notes: Arranger: Meike Herzig.
I' vo' bene by Gherardello da Firenze
Written: 14th Century; Florence, Italy
A poste messe by Lorenzo da Firenze
Non al suo amante by Jacopo da Bologna
Written: 14th Century; Italy
Dio mi guardi by Niccolò da Perugia
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