Alla Dolce Ombra
Italian and Austro-German poetics music Renaissance
The Royal Wind Music
Conductor: Paul Leenhouts
During the first half of the sixteenth century recorder consorts became established at several European courts. The practice of creating complete sets or families of instruments resulted in a rich variety of ensemble works being written by celebrated composers of the Renaissance. Until the 1550’s the recorder was mainly used to double the human voice. This explains the great diversity of recorders that match the different voice types. From the second half of the sixteenth century instruments became gradually independent from vocal music and instrumental ensembles were being formed. A famous set of recorders, probably made at the Bassano workshop in London, is depicted in Marin Mersenne’s encyclopaedia Harmonie Universelle, published in Paris in 1636. Mersenne states that the alto, tenor and basset recorders ‘form the small register, as the larger models that follow form the great register; but they can all be sounded together, like the great and small registers of organs.’ In his book Syntagma Musicum written in 1618, Michael Praetorius describes a complete recorder ensemble [Stimmwerck], consisting of twenty-one instruments in eight different sizes ranging from the ’Garklein Exilent’ [± 15 cm] to the Great bass-recorder [± 2.60 m] which can be bought in Venice for ‘eighty Thaler.’
On this CD, a consort of plucked instruments completes the ensemble for the interpretation of dances, fantasias, madrigals and sonatas. The lute was probably the most popular of all instruments during the Renaissance – solo as well as ensemble works appear in numerous manuscripts and intabulations. One alternative explanation for the inclusion of the salterio concerns the verb ‘psallo’: its usual medieval meaning was ‘to sing a hymn or Psalm’. The contrast between the plucked instruments is also emphasized by the use of a Spanish cross-strung harp and an Italian triple harp. Performing conventions of the time allowed instrumentalists to ornament music that had already been composed. According to their own taste, musicians could apply diminutions to a basic melody within a given motet, madrigal or chanson. Diminutions substituted longer notes or groups of notes in a composition with fast-moving melodic formulas to produce melodic variation. Although musical forms and styles changed significantly, this practice was still continued during the early Baroque era.
Johann Hermann Schein’s instrumental collection Banchetto musicale (1617) marks a highpoint in the development of the suite. There are 20 numbered sets of ‘pavanes, galliards, courantes and allemandes, which are arranged so that they correspond to one another in both mode and invention’, to quote Schein’s own description. The suites could be played ‘on any instruments’ and were probably composed as dinner music.