Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDA66847 - His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts Grand Tour
Procession in St Mark's Square (detail) by Gentile Bellini (c1429-1507)
Galleria dell' Accademia, Venice / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: Various dates
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Various producers
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: April 1996
Total duration: 67 minutes 13 seconds

'A strong recommendation' (Gramophone)

'This is everything a grand tour should be: educating, entertaining and enriching. Well worth exploring' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Very stylish and well-informed performances of some fascinating repertoire' (Classic CD)

'A thoroughly recommendable issue' (Fanfare, USA)

His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts Grand Tour

This is the first record in a projected series on Hyperion by His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts. The works featured comprehensively survey the remarkable repertoire composed over two hundred years in Italy, Germany and Spain and reveal an astonishing breadth of atmosphere. The musical pomp and splendour of bygone royal ceremony can be answered by the most tender and delicate of chamber music: all legitimate repertoire for what was in the past recognized as the most versatile of all instrumental ensembles.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The noble combination of cornetts and sackbuts was among the most expressive and versatile of instrumental colours available to composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was a sound that could be heard in many musical contexts: for example, in consort or in alternation with voices in the extravagant services of the great Italian and Spanish churches (above all, the Basilica of St Mark’s in Venice); in aristocratic entertainments such as the intermedii of northern Italy or the royal masques of Jacobean England; and in the ceremonial and devotional music for the courts and free cities of Lutheran Germany.

Since its formation in 1982, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts has explored and revived this richly varied vein of music, and the present recording offers a cross-section of its repertoire in a musical Grand Tour of three of the countries in which cornetts and sackbuts flourished.

Our tour starts in Italy where, in the decades around 1600, virtuosi developed the special qualities of the cornett to a peak of sophistication and flexibility. A hybrid of woodwind and brass, the cornett combines the fingering technique of the recorder with a trumpet-like mouthpiece. Its exceptional technical demands would later contribute to its decline—Bach, for example, did use the instrument, but only to give support to his choir. Yet in its heyday it was the undisputed king of wind instruments, admired for its range, agility and voice-like tone quality. Marin Mersenne (1636) compared it to ‘a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows, when heard with the choir voices in the cathedrals or chapels’.

The agility of the cornett gave rise to a highly florid style of playing, the art of diminution, the breaking up of a composed musical line with fast figures (divisions) and ornaments, was largely an improvised art, but fortunately some of the best players wrote down examples of their style. One such virtuoso was Giovanni Bassano who, in 1576, became a member of the instrumental ensemble at St Mark’s and who, in 1585, published Ricercate, passaggi et cadentie. This collection includes divisions on Palestrina’s popular madrigal Vestiva i colli, recorded here as a cornett solo with the accompanying voices played on the organ. Note that Bassano avoids obscuring the structure of the original by leaving the contrapuntal entries largely undecorated.

The sackbut, direct forerunner of the modern trombone (the Italians already called it ‘trombone’, or ‘large trumpet’) could match the vocal timbre of the cornett thanks to its relatively narrow bore and shallow mouthpiece. Despite the technical demands imposed by its slide mechanism, it too was often played in a florid manner, a style that can be heard in the bold and adventurous Sonata duodecima published in 1621 by another wind player at St Mark’s, Dario Castello.

Composers also used the sackbut’s majestic sonority to contrast with the agile treble instruments, as in Biagio Marini’s Sonata a 6. Marini was a much-travelled violinist—his position at St Mark’s under Monteverdi (from 1615) was only one of many appointments in Italy and Germany—and the top two parts in this Sonata are specified as for violins. But violin music was habitually considered as also suitable for the cornett; indeed, apart from special effects such as double-stopping, there was little difference in style between the two instruments’ repertoire, and some magpie-like stealing of gems is perfectly in order. Marini’s Affetti musicali, Op 1, of 1617, source of the eloquent little Sinfonia grave: La Zorzi, is specified as for violins or cornetts. On the other hand, his muscular Sonate a quattro tromboni is hardly imaginable played in any alternative scoring.

Monteverdi’s influence is clear in the music of the Cremonese organist Tarquinio Merula. His Chiacona for two treble instruments and continuo may well have been inspired by Monteverdi’s madrigal for two tenors, Zefiro torna.

Giovanni Battista Buonamente was another well-travelled violinist from northern Italy who, in his native Mantua, may have worked with Monteverdi. He published a good deal of instrumental music in seven books, of which the first three are now lost. By the time his sixth book of Sonate et Canzoni was printed in 1636 he was established in Assisi as maestro de capella at the Basilica of St Francis. His six-part Sonata and Canzona represent the splendid Venetian instrumental style of the Renaissance—established above all by Giovanni Gabrieli—in a late phase of development. There are vestiges of counterpoint, but the predominant effect is imposingly chordal and architectural, enhanced in the Sonata by the wide spacing of the outer parts. Both pieces have a contrasting triple-time section followed, in the Canzona, by a passage of tremolo, a popular effect at that time. Both close with a section making effective re-use of music heard at the opening. (It is hard, by this time, to perceive any significant difference between works entitled ‘sonata’ and ‘canzona’.)

Instrumental music survives plentifully from seventeenth-century Italy thanks to the flourishing of the publishing trade. Crossing the Mediterranean to Spain, we find a very different situation: we know that wind instruments were played in the churches and cathedrals, and that there was a vigorous tradition of florid wind playing, but little actual instrumental ensemble or solo music survives. For much of the time wind instruments were used to accompany voices, but a recently discovered sixteenth-century minstrels’ manuscript from Lerma also reveals a repertoire of vocal pieces—motets, madrigals and the like—which, like the sonatas and canzonas of Italy, were played instrumentally as part of the liturgy. To give a flavour of this style, we perform here a polyphonic Marian motet, O Domina sanctissima, on four sackbuts. Its composer is Francisco de Peńalosa, associated both with Seville Cathedral and the Spanish royal chapel, and praised by a contemporary as a ‘prince of musicians’.

For Spanish styles of ornamentation we must turn to music for other instruments, such as the viol divisions of Diego Ortíz, or the music of keyboard players such as the great organist of the church of San Salvador in Seville, Francisco Correa de Arauxo. The tientos (polyphonic fantasias) printed in Correa’s Facultad organica of 1626 preserve a special Andalucian type of ornamentation that marries the international style of the day with local traditions, still strongly influenced by Arab music. Often conceived for an organ mixture stop called ‘corneta’ that runs from middle G sharp up to treble A, Correa’s soloistic keyboard divisions prove ideal, if technically demanding, for the real cornett. Here David Staff and Jeremy West make a convincing case for such transcription in the flamboyant duetting of the Tiento de segundo tono, No 53 in Facultad organica.

Another feature of Spanish keyboard music that invites transcription is the fact that up to the end of the seventeenth century it was normally written strictly in four parts notated in open score. There was a similar tradition in Italy where some works, such as canzonas by Merulo and Gabrieli, exist in both keyboard and ensemble versions. Thus a work like the Batalla by José Ximénez, in four-part open score, becomes an attractive candidate for ensemble peformance. However, the ranges oblige the transcriber to increase the number of parts to six; this allows each player some well-deserved rest, as well as giving a fuller texture at climactic moments. Ximénez was organist of La Seo, Saragossa, in the mid-seventeenth century, and descriptive battle pieces like this, often featuring motifs derived from the battle chansons of Clément Janequin, are typical of the Spanish repertoire and were probably associated with the Feast of St Michael. Here the intended tempo relationships of the alternate duple- and triple-time sections are unclear: we have opted for a scheme that creates the impression of each section being faster than the last, while returning to the original tempo at the end.

Moving on to the later seventeenth century, our rather free version of the Canciones de clarines was suggested by Edward Tarr’s transcription for trumpet and organ of an anonymous organ piece that is itself based, at least in part, on orchestral movements by Lully (the second movement is a minuet from Atys, and the closing gigue comes from Bellérophon). The suite of four fanfare-like Canciones, aptly symbolizing the end of Spain’s musical isolation through much of the seventeenth century, appears in a large, retrospective manuscript collection compiled between 1706 and 1709 by the priest Francisco Martín y Coll entitled Flores de música. The Canciones exploit the new trumpet stops typical of Spanish organs, and our transcription contrasts a natural trumpet in D with an ensemble of cornett, four sackbuts and organ.

No such arrangement is necessary for the wind music of seventeenth-century Germany, for many printed collections of dances, canzonas and sonatas are extant, some of them specifying the instrumentation, others leaving this to the discretion of the user. The first book of Samuel Scheidt’s Ludi musici, which appeared in 1621 when he was Kapellmeister at the Saxon court of Halle, was intended primarily for string instruments, but includes at least one piece written for cornetts and sackbuts: a dazzling Galliarda ‘La Battaglia’ that was dedicated to the court cornettist. Scheidt’s fine canzonas are based on existing tunes, developed with both wit and a thoroughness that some may see as typically Teutonic. The Cantionem Gallicam is a popular song, ‘Est-ce Mars?’, which was also treated in keyboard variations by Scheidt and by his Dutch master, Sweelinck.

Johann Schein, like Scheidt, was associated with the greatest German composer of the time, Heinrich Schütz, and was a predecessor of Bach in the post of Cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Schein’s Banchetto musicale of 1617 is an outstanding collection of dance and entertainment music. It is the source of the highly original A minor Padoana, a piece that is surely too complex for actual dancing. Each section is based on long pedal notes, over which Schein builds short motifs into expressive, unexpected harmonies.

The young organist, violinist and cornettist Johann Vierdanck started his career in Dresden, where his master Schütz declared that he was ‘a fine, modest person and making a very good, solid beginning in composition’. He spent his later years, from 1635, as organist of the Marienkirche in Stralsund on the Baltic coast. The two sonatas recorded here come from his second collection of instrumental music, the Capricci, Canzoni und Sonaten of 1641, and show that, despite his geographical isolation, Vierdanck was in touch with up-to-date musical styles. Sonata 28 sets a concertante solo cornett part against a trio of sackbuts, skilfully scored to sound as a full ‘tutti’, while Sonata 31 is based on the song ‘Als ich einmal Lust bekam’ by Gabriel Voigtländer, and makes remarkable use of unison passages and vigorous chordal writing—a far cry from the canzona’s polyphonic origins in Italy.

The keyboard solos
As in His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts’ concerts, the two keyboard solos, both improvisatory in character, serve to cleanse the listeners’ palettes as well as rest the wind-players’ lips. Giovanni de Macque was a Flemish keyboard player and harpist who found employment in Naples. The strange, chromatic beauty of his Seconde Stravaganze was mentioned by Stravinsky in his converstaions with Robert Craft.

Harmonic boldness characterizes the E minor Toccata III of Matthias Weckmann, a composer from Thuringia who, like his colleagues Schütz and Froberger, played an important role in disseminating Italian styles through Lutheran Germany.

The organ and harpsichord have been tuned by Malcolm Greenhalgh in a meantone temperament which gives the special colour to such adventurous solo music, as well as distinctive resonance (the result of the low thirds, sixths and leading notes) to the wind ensemble accompanied by organ continuo.

Timothy Roberts © 1996

   English   Français   Deutsch