Venice 1629: The Trial of Marsyas
Venetian music for solo voice, cornetts and violins by Claudio Monteverdi, Alessandro Grandi, Dario Castello, Biagio Marini, Orazio Tarditi, Benedetto Re.
1629 was a remarkable year for the publication of new music in Venice. Foremost among the musical offerings that year was the first book of Symphoniae Sacrae by Heinrich Schütz, who had come to Venice to learn of the latest developments in modern music from Claudio Monteverdi, then maestro di cappella at St Mark’s. But it was perhaps the music of Alessandro Grandi, Monteverdi’s erstwhile deputy, that was to have the most profound influence on Schütz. Grandi was a specialist in the small-scale, writing monody in the most modern rhetorical style together with ritornelli for two violins, thus introducing aspects of the trio sonata into the genre. Grandi left Venice for Bergamo in 1627, but kept his ties with Venice and published his third and final book of concertato motets there in 1629. His contribution to the development of sacred music was to have a lasting influence in Venice and far beyond for generations to come.
Coincidentally, 1629 also saw the publication of two landmark collections in the development of virtuosic instrumental music in the emerging baroque style. Dario Castello, a leading wind player at St Mark’s, published his second volume of Sonate concertate in stil moderno, while Biagio Marini, a virtuoso violinist who had also been in the employ of St Mark’s in the early years of Monteverdi’s tenure, published his seminal Op.8, in which we see the beginnings of a clear distinction in idiomatic writing for cornetto and violin (instruments which in many previous publications had been considered interchangeable).
The myth of the musical contest between Apollo and Marsyas was a source of great fascination for Renaissance musicians, artists and scholars. This was a contest the wind-playing Marsyas was destined to lose, but not until the Muses called the first round a draw and Apollo turned his lyre upside down, a feat Marsyas could not emulate on his aulos. This provides an apt metaphor for our programme, which explores the struggle for supremacy between wind and string players in the early seventeenth century. Until 1629 the cornettists, lauded for their ability to imitate the human voice, perhaps held the upper hand; but Marini’s Op.8 introduced new tricks for the violin that were to leave the wind players standing.
Finally, Claudio Monteverdi himself is represented in Lorenzo Calvi’s 1629 anthology, Quarta raccolta de’ sacri canti, the unique source for Exulta filia Sion, a solo-voice motet which draws together some of the most progressive compositional devices of the day: dramatic recitative, dance-influenced triple-time arioso, and ground bass patterns. Our programme offers a choice selection from each of these publications, as a series of snapshots from an extraordinary year in the life of this most musical of cities. This programme is a celebration of the high-water mark of Venetian chamber music, prior to the plague of 1630-1 that was to wipe out the famed cornett virtuosi of the city for a generation.
Solo soprano (Faye Newton)
2 cornetts (Jamie Savan, director; Helen Roberts)
2 violins (Oliver Webber; Theresa Caudle)
Organ / harpsichord (Steven Devine)