La morte della ragione

Record Details


Unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and each of its traits is not necessarily linked to features of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs and even non-sign states… It is a short memory, or an anti-memory. The rhizome proceeds by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.
Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Mille Plateaux (A Thousand Plateaux), Paris, 1980





The Introduction is the beginning of a speech, corresponding to the prologue in poetry and the prelude in flute-music.
Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book Ill, 1414b (4th century BCE)

Hamlet: [playing the recorder] is as easy as lying. Govern these ventages with your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music.
Shakespeare, Hamlet (London, c.1601), Act Three, Scene 2, 345


This recording opens with an improvised prelude on the recorder (1): as Aristotle’s Rhetoric testifies, this musical form is of very ancient origin and, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells us, it is related to a rhetorical, that is, discursive conception of music, an element fundamental to the understanding of the repertory of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The reason behind the title of the pavan La morte della Ragione (The death of Reason/2) is unknown to us, but it is a very evocative name, perhaps alluding to Erasmus of Rotterdam’s famous Praise of Folly, in which the author distinguish­es between two forms of insanity, that is, the absence of reason, one of which ‘occurs whenever some happy mental aberration frees the soul from its anxious cares and at the same time restores it by the addition of manifold delights’ (Praise of Folly, XXXVIII, trans. B. Radice). One might say that music too partakes of this kind of madness, if only because of the mysterious emotional power it exercises beyond the realm of reason.

The Gagliarda (3), Schiarazula Marazula and Ungarescha (15) of Giorgio Mainerio come from a collection of dances published in Venice in 1578. Schiarazula Marazula is mentioned in 1624 in a denunciation to the court of the Inquisition as a piece sung by ‘certain superstitious women…contrary to the rites of Holy Church … to beg for rain’ during a pagan procession in a village in Friuli. It is not known why Mainerio included this piece in his Libro de’ balli without giving any explanation of its nature, but it is interesting to note that the composer himself, maestro di cappella at Aquileia Cathedral, had to account before the Inquisition for crimes related to magical practices. In Nomine Crye by Christopher Tye (4) is one of the many English instrumental compositions written on this cantus firmus. The term ‘crye’ may refer to the cries of London’s street vendors, rendered in musical terms by the repetition in the theme of the same note, which rebounds between the different voices of the piece.

De tous bien plaine (5) is a song by Hayne van Ghizeghem that was well known in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A number of composers used the tenor, that is to say the middle voice, of this chanson to create personal versions of it, rewriting the other voices from scratch. Alexander Agricola’s versions are very interesting. This composer with a highly personal style was regarded as ‘bizarre’ in his lifetime. The three versions we perform are very different from each other, even if they all retain the tenor voice, easily recognizable because of its cantabile character and its long note values. The first (7) is characterized by close imitations between the soprano and the bass, the second (8, reprised with different scoring in 10) by obsessive homorhythm, almost an anticipation of minimalist music, and the third (9), by almost complete independence in the part-writing of the outer voices, written in extremely syncopated triple time, which contrasts with the duple time of the cantus firmus. The version in Josquin Desprez’s chanson De tous bien plaine (6), on the other hand, retains not only the tenor voice but also the superius of the original chanson, while adding to it a two-part canon, with a fast, breathless rhythm. According to the note by the composer in the edition called the Odhecaton– the first music book ever printed (1501), in which this piece appears -this canon constitutes a ‘musical depiction’ of the passage of John’s Gospel (20:3-9) which describes the race between the disciples Peter and John to see if Christ’s tomb is indeed empty, thus indicating his resurrection. And just as the Gospel tells us that John got there first, so, in accordance with the logic of canonic writing, one voice reaches its conclusion before the other.

The Puzzle Canon (11) by John Dunstable, the earliest figure represented on this disc, is a type of composition in which one or more voices must be deduced from information that is supplied in an ‘enigmatic’ fashion. In Dunstable’s work, the bass, to combine with the other two voices, must be repeated four times, rising by a tone each time, but in the manuscript it is written only once, accompanied by a somewhat obscure indication as to the resolution of the piece – a kind of mu­sical puzzle! The Déploration de la mort de Johannes Ockeghem (12), which mourns the greatest composer of the generation before Desprez, is a masterpiece of Renaissance vocal music. Here it is performed in an instrumental version, following a practice common at the time, according to which the instruments had to try to imitate the human voice, the perfect ‘natural’ model from which to draw inspiration. The hypnotic chanson La Rose, attributed to Nicolas Gombert or Adrian Willaert (18), is contained in a Venetian collection of instrumental pieces dating from 1588. It shows how the vocal models of the chanson led to the development of the instrumental canzona in the regions of Brescia and Venice. The anonymous Battaglia (13), found in the same manuscript as La morte della Ragione, and the Galliard Battaglia by Scheidt (27) belong to a chiefly instrumental genre that was in vogue in the sixteenth century and uses musical material of ‘military’ origin, with fanfares and trumpet calls. This ‘warlike’ reference points us to the other type of folly described by Erasmus, negative in character, the kind that ‘is sent from hell by the vengeful furies whenever they let loose their snakes and assail the hearts of mortals with lust for war’ (Praise of Folly, XXXVIII, trans. B. Radice). The relatively simple style of these two Battaglie permits extensive use of diminution, the improvisatory practice of the Renaissance and early Baroque period consisting in ‘diminishing’ note values in order to create new and faster musical figures on pre-existing lines. We have employed this practice in many pieces, often extemporizing during the recording session. Thomas Preston’s fascinating Upon la mi re (14) is a kind of improvisation written on a basso ostinato whose three-bar structure is strangely asymmetrical. We have added an improvisation, stylistically free in character, on the cornett and recorder.

With Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sonata XIII (16) we find ourselves on the threshold of the Baroque era. The piece is founded on a principle of contrast between two instrumental groups and between musical sections of opposing characters: that of the ‘tutti’, in an official, solemn tone, and that of the ‘soli’, intimate and affectionate in colour. A remark contained in a letter from Alfonso Fontanelli, a diplomat and composer who was part of the retinue of Gesualdo da Venosa during his visit to Venice in 1594, gives us a fleeting glimpse of the attitude towards his colleagues of this prince who considered himself the greatest composer of his time: Gesualdo ‘has not yet been able to see Giovanni Gabrieli, the organist of St Mark’s, but he [Gesualdo] sets so many traps for him that he too will eventually fall into the net and, having appeared in his presence, will not leave without displeasure’. Inspired by this amusing episode, we wished to juxtapose the Venetian compositions of Gabrieli and Lodovico Grossi da Viadana – the latter’s Sinfonia La Napolitana (21), in which, to be honest, is difficult to understand if there is any stylistic or descriptive reference to the city of Naples – with Gesualdo’s Canzon Francese del Principe (23). This very original piece, ‘bipolar’ in character, alternates serene moments with sudden explosions of affects, featuring extremely rapid runs and strange semitone trills, entirely in accordance with the bizarre nature and perhaps unstable character of the composer.

But Venice too produced, in the person of Dario Castello, a mysterious, experimental musician who wrote two books of highly original compositions. His Sonata XIV (19) seems almost like a miniature instrumental ‘dramma per musica’, alternating between sections of contrasting character before culminating in a visionary finale that almost has one thinking of rock music. The Seconda stravaganza of Giovanni De Macque (17), a Flemish composer transplanted to Naples and another member of Gesualdo’s circle, is an impressionistic, chromatic and tonally unstable piece; it introduces the Baroque concept of ‘stravaganza’ which eventually led to Vivaldi’s collection of violin concertos bearing the same name. Giovan Pietro Del Buono’s stupefying and unsettling Sonata stravagante (25) seems even more lacking in any tonal centre of gravity. Written on the cantus firmus of the plainchant Ave Maris Stella, it is played here on a bass chalumeau – a deliberately anachronistic decision, since this instrument is thought to have appeared only several decades after the publication of Del Buono’s collection in Palermo, which makes the piece seem almost closer to the Second Viennese School of the early twentieth century than to the seventeenth.

Among these stylistically innovative works, we wished to insert an almost contemporary English composition (1603) that is closer to the style of Agricola than to the nascent Baroque: John Baldwine’s 4 Vocum (22). Written five beats to a bar, entirely syncopated and rhythmically complex, it seems to come into the category of intellectual speculation of a somewhat mathematical kind, medieval in inspiration, but in our view the result is nevertheless very expressive, which perhaps reflects the fact that there is no real opposition in the classic dispute between reason and sentiment. After Castello’s hot-tempered sonata, Vincenzo Ruffo’s dreamlike Dormendo un giorno (20) brings us back to a metaphysical and abstract atmosphere. It comes from his collection of Capricci, one of the first works to use this musical term, and is built on the bass part of Philippe Verdelot’s madrigal of the same name. The capriccio was a loosely defined form in which the composer followed his own whim without generally observing strict rules. The Tarantella of Cristofaro Caresana (24) presents another aspect of Neapolitan art music, its reference to popular forms which, as we have seen with Mainerio’s Schiarazula Marazula, have very ancient origins, perhaps dating back to the Bacchic rites of Antiquity. The Fantasia & Echo (26) of Jacob van Eyck, the Dutch composer and virtuoso recorder player, represents a kind of monologue, a typical moment in the theatrical dramas whose forms were another source of inspiration for the conception of our programme.

The senses reign, and reason is dead.
Petrarca, Canzoniere, CCXI