Temi e Variazioni de diversi eccellentissimi Autori

Featuring: soprano, cornetto, two sackbuts, dulcian, organ

Imitation, as the saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery.  Whether the composers of the early Baroque period were seeking to pay homage to their forebears and contemporaries by reusing musical material, or, rather more opportunistically, were simply cashing in on the popular success of a good tune, the practice of emulatio was widespread in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  This musical recycling was not a new idea; since the fourteenth century composers had reworked or quoted pre-existing themes in sacred music, culminating in the so-called parody masses of the sixteenth century. By the time of the early Baroque, musical borrowing took on many different forms.  In some pieces, increasingly elaborate variations were written upon an existing theme, as in Sweelinck’s variations on Est-ce mars, a popular French tune that would have been recognised by audiences of the day.  Du Caurroy’s treatment of another folk tune, known in France as Une jeune fillette and elsewhere by a variety of titles including La Monica, is essentially another series of variations, although here the theme itself remains unchanged and acts as a sort of cantus firmus surrounded by active polyphony in the other voices. Another method of varying existing material which came to the fore in the late sixteenth century was the practice of writing diminutions or divisions.  Often technically demanding (many composers of diminutions were themselves virtuoso performers), the diminutions were based upon one or more voices of an existing motet or madrigal and were written to be performed both by instrumentalists and singers.  Both Rognoni and Bassano, whose diminutions on Palestrina’s Vestiva i colli and Clemens non Papa’s Frais et gaillard, also wrote treatises on the art of embellishing and ornamenting music, so their diminution pieces have a pedagogical element as well as showcasing the talents of the performer. Instrumental music of the period sometimes contained quotations from pieces of sufficient renown that the melody would be easily recognisable, even without its text.  Sometimes the presence of a musical model was expressly acknowledged by the composer (as in Banchieri’s Canzon sesta sopra Vestiva i colli), sometimes not (as in Selma’s Canzon 38 a 3 based on Est-ce Mars and Bargnani’s Canzon 16 a 5 on La Monica), though for the sake of clarity in this programme all themes are cited.  Scheidt, who wrote numerous instrumental pieces based on existing tunes, declares his model in his Canzon a 5 super Intradam Aechiopicam but omits it in his Pavana a 4, in which the same theme is quoted but much more subtly than in the canzon. One way of reusing a secular vocal piece was to re-set the music to a sacred text so that it became suitable for performance as part of the liturgy.  Banchieri does exactly this with Giovanni Gabrieli’s madrigal Lieto Godea, adapting the musical content slightly and setting his extended two-movement version of the piece to the full text of the Magnificat.  While this and the other re-worked pieces in this programme do not present an exhaustive study of the genre, they do at least demonstrate the wide range of means by which composers imitated, emulated and varied the musical creations of their predecessors.

Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) Pavana a 4 super Intradam Aechiopiam

G.P. da Palestrina (1525-1594) Vestiva i Colli

Adriano Banchieri (1568-1634) Canzon sesta sopra Vestiva i colli

Francesco Rognoni (c.1570- c.1626) Diminuzioni sopra Vestiva i colli

Bartolomé Selma y Salaverde (c.1595 – c.1638) Canzon 38 super Es-ce Mars

J.P. Sweelinck (1562-1621) Es-ce Mars

Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) Canzon a 5 super Intradam Aechiopiam

Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1554/1557-1612) Lieto godea, Madrigali a otto voci

Clemens non Papa (c.1510/1515-1555/1556) Frais et gaillard

Giovanni Bassano (c.1558- c.1617) Diminuzioni sopra Frais et gaillard

Eustache Du Caurroy (1549-1607) Trois Fantaisies sur Une jeune fillette

Ottavio Bargnani (c.1570-c.1627) Canzon 16 a 5 sopra La Monica

Adriano Banchieri Concerto II e Concerto III Magnificat sopra Lieto godea

Photo@ Felix Heiber