Micrologus; The Oltremontani
Today's Micrologus is something of a paradox. The music you will hear is Italian, and yet it is not Italian. The texts are all in Italian, and who's going to argue about the nationality of the notes?! But the composers are not native Italians. They are all foreigners from beyond the mountains which ring the country's northern border. They are—in the word of the natives—the Oltremontani.
For over 200 years composers from Northern Europe flocked to Italy as the center of Renaissance culture. And, most often, they came from Flanders and France, where the choir schools were producing the finest singers and composers to be found anywhere. What was it that brought them? The climate? Perhaps. The artistic climate? Perhaps. The money of such families as Medici, Sforza, and d'Este? Perhaps.
The first to make the journey was Johannes Ciconia. He seems to have settled in Italy sometime during the final decade of the 14th century and although his activities were centered around the city of Padua, we have from him one piece which sings the praises of another city. "Una panthera" (A panther in the field of Mars—the symbol of the city of Lucca). The performance is by the Early Music Quartet, directed by Thomas Binkley.
After Ciconia came the great Guillaume Dufay and lesser contemporaries like Pierre Fontaine, and the Lantins brothers. But in the early decades of the 15th century the Italian music these composers wrote was fairly conservative, harking back to the work of the 14th century Italian master Francesco Landini. In the later decades of the 15th century, a new native style was developing in the north of Italy, particularly at the court of Isabella d'Este in Mantua. So it is not surprising to find Oltremontani of the late 15th century trying their hands at this new style and its vehicle—the frottola. In fact, Isabella's father, Ercole d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, when in need of a new resident composer considered two Flemish masters by whom frottola-like pieces have come down to us. The Duke's secretary wrote to him recommending Heinrich Isaac, erstwhile composer to Lorenzo Il Magnifico de Medici, over Josquin Desprez, erstwhile composer to the Sforza family, because Isaac “is able to get on with his colleagues better, and composes new pieces more quickly … It is true that Josquin composes better, but he does it when it suits him and not when one wishes him to.” The Duke hired Josquin anyway, so we’ll give him preference here too by playing his works first: "Scaramella" and "El Grillo" by Josquin Desprez, and "Donna di dentro" by Heinrich Isaac, all performed by the Early Music Consort of London, directed by David Munrow.
Up to this point. all of the Italian works composed by the Oltremontani were in forms which the composers found when they arrived. They did not start anything new, and they did not really develop the genres they had; they simply wrote expert pieces in the pervading Italian style. And, in fact, they were not known for their Italian works in particular. The reason most of them were there was to sing and compose sacred music in the chapels of princes. But in the third decade of the 16th century that seems to have changed. Oltremontani were involved in the formulation of a new and important kind of secular piece—the madrigal. The madrigal differed from the frottola in two significant ways: first the musical texture of the madrigal included much more of the imitative counterpoint which had been characteristic of the Franco-Flemish chanson; and second, madrigals were through-composed—they did not have several verses of text to be sung to the same music—and this allowed much more musical attention to be paid to the meanings of individual words. Philippe Verdelot is the first of the Oltremontani to be associated with the madrigal, followed closely by Jacques Arcadelt. The beautiful “Il bianco e dolce cigno" (The sweet, white swan) is Arcadelt's most famous work. Its performance here is by members of the Boston Camerata, directed by Joel Cohen.
In the middle of the 16th century, the Oltremontani who most left their mark on music in Italy were Adrian Willaert and Cipriano de Rore. Rore, incidentally, became so enamored of the city of Parma that he gave up the prestigious post of Music Master at San Marco in Venice to return to Parma where, as he said, he wished “to live and die.” Rore's books of madrigals were among the most often-reprinted volumes of the 16th century, and yet today his music is virtually unknown to audiences! In fact, I can think of no composer more highly esteemed in his own day and more unjustly neglected in ours, by performers and record producers alike. Rore's madrigals use a great variety of textures, they pioneer the use of chromaticism for special effect, and they force the declamation of the words from the constraints of the meter—all so that the meaning of the text will be clearer to the listener. Rore was practically deified for his work by later composers. In 1607, Giulio Cesare Monteverdi several times referred to him as the founder of his brother Claudio's seconda prattica. One of the works he cited at that time was "Dalle belle contrade,” here performed by the Consort of Musicke directed by Anthony Rooley.
The next composer is one whom many people are surprised to hear was not a native Italian: Orlando di Lasso, or Rolande de Lassus, as he was probably called in his native Flanders. As a boy, Lasso had such a ravishingly beautiful soprano voice that he was kidnapped by a succession of jealous noblemen to enrich the sound of their respective choirs. Lasso lived for many years in Italy, hence the Italianization of his name. But later in his life, he settled in Munich, and thus was in the singular position of being able to write a piece depicting a German soldier serenading a village girl in bad Italian. "Matona mia cara" by Orlando di Lasso, performed by the Consort of Musicke, directed by Anthony Rooley.
I mentioned that Lasso lived the latter part of his life in Munich, but there were still some important Franco-Flemish composers living in Italy toward the end of the 16th century: Giovanne de Macque, or Jean de Macque, for example, was apparently the teacher of that memorable Italian composer nobleman and murderer, Carlo Geusaldo; Giaches de Wert is a name unfamiliar to many, and yet his works epitomize the late Renaissance Italian madrigal and provide some of the most delightful instances of musical text-painting to be found in the genre. At the court of Mantua, he was also the mentor of the young Italian composers Giacomo Gastoldi and Claudio Monteverdi. We are going to listen to "Vezzosi augelli” by Giaches de Wert, and if you listen closely, you may hear how cleverly he treats each new idea in the text.
Already, by the end of the 16th century, the tide was turning: Franco-Flemish musicians were no longer coming to teach the Italians how to sing and compose. Alfonso Ferrabosco had already gone to England to teach the English how to write madrigals, and in the 17th century, Schütz and Froberger came to Italy to study, while Giovanni Battista Lullia went to France to become the most powerful musical dictator that country has ever seen: Jean Baptiste Lully. But that's another story.
- The Oltremontani
- Producing Organization
- Contributing Organization
- Ross W. Duffin (Pasadena, California)
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- Episode Description
- Today's Micrologus is something of a paradox. The music you will hear is Italian, and yet it is not Italian. The texts are all in Italian, and who's going to argue about the nationality of the notes?! But the composers are not native Italians. They are all foreigners from beyond the mountains which ring the country's northern border. They are—in the word of the natives—the Oltremontani. For over 200 years composers from Northern Europe flocked to Italy as the center of Renaissance culture. And, most often, they came from Flanders and France, where the choir schools were producing the finest singers and composers to be found anywhere. What was it that brought them? The climate? Perhaps. The artistic climate? Perhaps. The money of such families as Medici, Sforza, and d'Este? Perhaps.
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- Talk Show
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Host: Duffin, Ross
Producing Organization: CWRU
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Ross W. Duffin
Identifier: cpb-aacip-6eb0db55fd6 (Filename)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Micrologus; The Oltremontani,” 1982, Ross W. Duffin, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 3, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-7e74d5ad24b.
- MLA: “Micrologus; The Oltremontani.” 1982. Ross W. Duffin, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 3, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-7e74d5ad24b>.
- APA: Micrologus; The Oltremontani. Boston, MA: Ross W. Duffin, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-7e74d5ad24b