Love Letters from Italy
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Drew Minter & ARTEK/458 Strings

Italian Virtuoso Love Songs of the 17th Century

Aria di Passacaglia - Girolamo Frescobaldi

Toccata - Frescobaldi

Cantada a voce sola sopra il passacaglio - Giovanni Felice Sances

Drew Minter, Countertenor

ARTEK/458 Strings
Grant Herreid - lute, theorbo, guitar
Astrid Nielsch - harp
Dongsok Shin - organ
Paul Shipper - guitar, lute
Richard Stone - theorbo, archlute
Lisa Terry - viola da gamba, cello
Gwendolyn Toth, director - harpsichord, virginal, organ

Review quotes

-- Track List --
1. Aria di Passacaglia - Girolamo Frescobaldi
2. Toccata - Frescobaldi
3. Odi quel rosignuolo - Sigismondo d'India
4. Io vidi in terra - Marco da Gagliano
5. Toccata per liuto - Frescobaldi
6. Lettera amorosa - Claudio Monteverdi
7. Cantada a voce sola sopra il passacaglio - Giovanni Felice Sances
8. Pianto della Madonna - Monteverdi
9. La Madalena ricorre alle lagrime - Domenico Mazzocchi
Ricercar - Domenico Gabrielli
10. Grave
11. [Allemande]
12. Largo
13. Presto
14. Rimbombava d'intorno - Antonio Cesti


Available online from:
Lyrichord Discs


One of the great innovations of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century was the rise of the concept of the "virtuoso" singer and instrumentalist. Before the innovations of monody, the predominance of polyphony ensured that each voice in a composition was functionally equal to all others. Two reform movements were to effect a great change in the musical environment: the Council of Trent, 1542, and the Camerata in Florence between 1573 and 1587. The Council of Trent was a reaction to the textual confusion in sacred music resulting from the polyphonic style of Palestrina then prevalent. The Council issued a proclamation that the words of the liturgy must be clearly intelligible. The Camerata, primarily a literary and philosophical movement, strove to discover the principles of ancient Greek music and came to the conclusion that music should above all express the affect of the text and that this goal is best accomplished in solo vocal writing. Out of this movement came the invention of opera and the style we know as monody, and, ultimately, the birth of a new style in music history, the Baroque style.

The importance of the words in the musical settings of texts had the logical effect of increasing the importance of the solo singer as a poetic declaimer; early texts in the monody style were written by the best poets of the age and are of extremely high quality . With the rise of the importance of the soloist came a new emphasis on solo virtuosity. The first true "divas" of singing were Italian singers such as Vittoria Archilei, Francesco Rasi, Giovanni Gualberto Magli, and others. As the practice of virtuosic singing became widespread, instrumentalists, in imitation of the voice, also began to enjoy a role as soloists of importance.

The music heard on this recording represents a cross-section of styles in the seventeenth century. Through-composed music typical of the Florentine Camerata ideal is represented by several works. "Io vidi la terra" is a text by a major Italian poet (Petrarch) set by the composer Marco da Gagliano (1582-1643), who also was the composer of one of the earliest operas, Dafne (1608). "Odi quel rosignuolo", by Sigismondo d'India (c.1582-1629), is nearly a dictionary of every type of vocal affect possible. The great master, Claudio Monteverdi, (1567-1643) is represented by "Lettera amorosa", an example of stile recitativo in which the music goes even further in the direction of sung speech and away from traditional melody, and "Pianto della Madonna", Monteverdi's Latin sacred setting of the more famous "Lamento d'Arianna" from his lost opera Arianna. The Latin setting handily fulfills the admonitions of the Council of Trent; the secular origins of the setting were not considered sacrilegious. "La Madalena ricorre alle lagrime" is a sacred piece set to an Italian text by the composer Domenico Mazzocchi (1592-1665). Mazzocchi uses unusual chromatic harmonies in this lament, venturing into extremely distant keys for the seventeenth century, to express the anguish and torment of the text.

Vocal music based on existing ground-bass patterns was another favorite form in the seventeenth century. Two pieces are based on various types of the passacaglia (I-IV-V-I) ground. The "Aria di passacaglia" (1583-1643) of Girolamo Frescobaldi utilizes several different passacaglia variations throughout the piece. Giovanni Felice Sances (c.1600-1679) is the composer of "Cantada a voca sola sopra il passacaglio", one of several pieces of vocal music he wrote based on one of the most famous passacaglia patterns, the descending tetrachord (well known from other works such as Monteverdi's "Lamento della Ninfa" and the final duet, probably by Ferrari, in the opera L'incoronazione di Poppea).

Frescobaldi's "Aria di passacaglia", Sances' "Cantada a voca sola sopra il passacaglio" and D'India's "Odi quel rosignuolo" are all also early examples of the recitative-aria format that by the mid-seventeenth century had become the primary musical form in operatic and vocal chamber music. The cantata "Rimbombava d'intorno" by Antonio Cesti (1623-1669) combines clear-cut recitative, aria, and arioso into a large chamber cantata. Notable is the re-introduction of purer melody in both bass line and vocal line in the arias reflecting the changing musical taste of the second half of the seventeenth century.

Instrumental music heard on this recording utilizes the unique virtuosity of different members of our 458 Strings ensemble. We include two toccatas, the toccata form being the primary instrumental vehicle for virtuosity in the seventeenth century. Our arrangement of Frescobaldi's Toccata per violino e spinettino (track 2) shares the solo lines with many different instruments: harp, theorbo, harpsichord, guitar, lute. Frescobaldi's Toccata per liuto displays the talents of our two theorbists, Richard Stone and Grant Herreid in a form of musical dialogue, with a bowed bass (viola da gamba) reinforcing the bass line. Lisa Terry performs one of the earliest known solo cello works, a Ricercar for cello and basso continuo by Domenico Gabrielli (1651-1690). Despite the title of Ricercar, usually an archaic fugal form, the piece is actually a cello sonata in four movements: prelude, allemande, sarabande, presto. It is an early example of the high baroque dance suite so well known from the works of J.S. Bach and many others, and calls for a typical early cello scordatura tuning, C-G-D-G.

Two temperaments were used in the performance of these pieces. The earlier seventeenth century works by Frescobaldi, Monteverdi, D'India, Gagliano, and Sances are performed in 1/4-comma meantone. In this tuning, the Mazzochi lament would require the famous 19-note keyboard of Zarlino; therefore, necessity demanded we use 1/5-comma tuning. The Cesti cantata and the Gabrielli Ricercar also clearly require a tuning system able to handle all all keys, and thus they also were performed in 1/5-comma meantone.

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