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Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936) had a great love for Italian music of the late Renaissance and Baroque. He was actively involved in editing and transcribing the music of Monteverdi, Vitali and Marcello and in 1917 began work on what was to become the first of three orchestral suites which he called Ancient Airs and Dances. These suites consist of arrangements of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian and French lute and baroque guitar music.
This recording presents the original lute versions of the works Respighi arranged, in essentially the same order in which they appear in his suites. It does not slavishly follow Respighi’s repeat schemes, his rearrangement of the structure of the original works, or his tempo indications. In the first Italiana, the Passo mezzo bonissimo and Gianoncelli’s Bergamasca, for example, Respighi interrupts each piece, inserts another work, and then returns again to the first. In the Bergamasca, a Tasteggiata (Prelude) from a suite in another key has been inserted, which would have required retuning the archlute. While these insertions are extremely effective in Respighi’s arrangements, they cannot have been so performed on the lute in the seventeenth century. Here, each work is performed in its entirety before moving on to the next piece.
For his material, Respighi drew upon transcriptions made by the Italian musicologist Oscar Chilesotti (1848–1916), published over a period of thirty years in several different volumes. (As Respighi did not indicate his sources, tracking down all of the individual pieces proved to be quite a challenge.) All of the anonymous works except Campanae Parisienses were taken from Da un Codice Lauten-Buch del Cinquecento (1890), Chilesotti’s transcription of a late-sixteenth-century manuscript, formerly in his private library. This manuscript disappeared after a fire destroyed the library in the late-nineteenth century. (However, recent unconfirmed reports suggest it may now be in another private collection in Northern Italy.) For these performances I have reintabulated Chilesotti’s guitar transcriptions for the lute. Respighi’s other sources included Chilesotti’s anthology, Lautenspieler des 16. Jahrhunderts (1890), as well as his transcriptions of the works of Besard, Caroso and Roncalli. In each case I have consulted the originals of these works and have been thus able to correct many errors of transcription by Chilesotti, some of them quite significant.
Molinaro’s Ballo detto il Conte Orlando, one of the most beloved of all lute pieces, is repeated by Respighi in the parallel minor key. Here, Molinaro’s own triple-time version of the dance has been used instead. Polymnia is one of the series of nine galliards by Galilei named after the Muses. The strict imitation employed by Galilei is a play on the title (‘Polymnia’ meaning ‘many voices’). The Chilesotti Codex contains a number of Italiane, a designation not found in other sources. The first Italiana, with its rustic bagpipe-like drone, was known as a currant or volte in English and Scottish sources, while the second seems to be a vigorous almain-like duple dance. Villanella ‘Orlando fa’ che ti raccordi’ is a setting of Brandimarte’s dying words from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso: ‘He said, “Orlando please remember me in your prayers, which are pleasing to God; I recommend to you my Fiordi … (but he could not say) … Iigi”. And thus he died.’ Passo mezzo bonissimo is a set of four variations on the popular Passomezzo moderno ground, while Mascherada, or Barriera as this piece was usually known, is a ballo made up of alternating sections of duple and triple metre. For dancing, each of the sections was repeated many times, while solo settings indicate only one repeat of each section.
Laura soave is an arrangement of Cavalieri’s Ballo del Gran Duca, composed in 1589 for the wedding of Ferdinand de’ Medici and Christine of Lorraine. While most functional dance music of this period was written for four- or five-part strings, the combination of violin, lute and bass viol seems to have been quite popular for intimate dance settings. The Bransles de village were originally published by Robert Ballard in 1614 as a suite of solo dances for lute to which Besard added a second lute part, or contrepartie, containing a number of harmonic clashes emphasizing the rustic character of the work. Campanae Parisienses is one of a number of seventeenth-century works portraying the bells of Paris. Respighi uses it as a prelude to Antoine Boësset’s exquisite song Divine Amaryllis. Mersenne published this in his Harmonie Universelle (1636) as an outstanding example of an air de cour, thus causing Chilesotti to think it had been composed by Mersenne himself. Almost nothing is known about Bernardo Gianoncelli apart from the book of solo archlute music he published in Venice in 1650. All of the music in this volume is of a very high standard, but the Bergamasca, with its virtuoso arpeggiation utilizing the entire range of the archlute (from contrabass F to high g"), is the gem of the collection. The climax of this piece, an expressive flattened sixth in the penultimate bar, was apparently too much for Chilesotti to believe, so he changed it. Dare we change the note back in Respighi’s version? The dramatic effect would surely have appealed to him!
The Italiana which begins the third suite is a bit of a mystery. Clearly a galliard, it contains only one eight-bar strain with its repeat. The following piece, which is lacking its title in the manuscript, includes the first two strains of Santino Garsi da Parma’s popular galliard La Cesarina. It is missing its final strain. Perhaps the compiler of the manuscript intended the Italiana to serve as the first strain of La Cesarina, thus providing the full galliard form. The six Airs de cour were published by Besard in his monumental lute anthology, Thesaurus harmonicus of 1603. He is probably not the composer but merely the compiler. Though early works of this genre, these songs already show the wonderfully fluid melodic writing displayed by French vocal composers in the early-seventeenth century. Whilst much of the airs de cour repertoire was conceived as four-part vocal music and only later arranged as lute songs, the accompaniments of these works would seem to indicate they originated as solo songs. The occasional parallel fifths and octaves help to give a less serious air to the songs, in keeping with the pastoral texts. The following work, called ‘Siciliana’ by Respighi, was commonly known as Spagnoletta throughout seventeenth-century Italy and Spain. Numerous settings of it survive for lute, guitar and various ensemble combinations. Roncalli’s Passacaglia, the only work for baroque guitar set by Respighi, concludes Roncalli’s 1692 Capricci Armonici as well as Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances. The wide variety of strumming and plucking techniques employed by Roncalli is mirrored by Respighi’s colourful orchestration. As in most of the works on this recording, the original is simpler, more direct, while Respighi’s arrangement is more varied and dramatic. In either case, the music speaks with a freshness as if it had been composed only yesterday.
Paul O'Dette © 1987