by Denys Stephens for Lute News, newsletter of the Lute Society (UK) October 2007
The publication of the first printed lute books in 1507 was of momentous importance for the lute as it unlocked the potential of printing to disseminate its music far more widely than had previously been possible. Thanks to the genius of the printer Ottaviano Petrucci and his workshop it also set new standards for both clarity and elegance in lute tablature. In the lute world generally we have perhaps been a little remiss in not making more of the 500th anniversary of this remarkable event. But it has certainly not been forgotten by the lutesong duo Mignarda (Donna Stewart, mezzo, Ron Andrico, lute) who have dedicated this excellent CD to Francesco Spinacino, who intabulated the music for those first two prints and composed recercars to accompany them.
There is much music here that was known to Spinacino, mainly drawn from the late 15th century chanson repertoire and including masterpieces such as `Fortuna desperata,' `Je ne fais plus,' 'J'ay pryse amour', all attributed to Antoine Busnois), `Amours, amours,' (Hayne van Ghizeghem) and `Adieu, mes amours' (Josquin). Spinacino did not, of course, make lute song settings for his publications, and in fact very few settings of these pieces in this format appear to have survived, although their performance in this manner is highly likely to have taken place.
For those interested in playing this repertoire, Mignarda have published settings of some of these pieces in "Lutesongs of the 15th Century: an Anthology". Those recorded here work beautifully, belying the hours of work that must have gone into their preparation. Just one contemporary song setting that I am aware of is included on the CD, the anonymous `Se mai per maraveglia' from the Libro Secundo of Bossinensis, in which the lute part includes some distinctive solo passages.
The late 15th century chanson is a very sophisticated art form, usually expressing the pangs of lost or unrequited love through hauntingly beautiful melismatic melodies. Donna Stewart sings these superbly, expertly negotiating the technical difficulties and bringing to life their refined but passionate emotion. The opening track of the CD, `Fortuna desperata' is particularly lovely, and from this recording it's easy to understand how it became an enduring classic.
In the accompaniments Ron Andrico's lute gently interweaves the lower voices of the chansons. This involves some quite dextrous playing, but it always supports and never overwhelms the vocal part. As a contrast to the songs the programme also includes some nicely performed solo recercars and dances from contemporary sources, including pieces from the Spinacino prints. The recercars serve their proper function here, acting as preludes and postludes to the songs, which adds a nice touch of authenticity to the performance.
The lutes used for the recording are a G lute by Robert Lundberg and a 6-course version of the famous `Warwick' Hans Frei lute in E built by Stephen Barber and Sandi Harris. The distinctive and very sonorous voice of the latter instrument can be heard on many of the tracks, demonstrating the very effective use that can be made of a larger lute in this role.
One senses from this recording that it's a labour of love throughout. The attention to detail extends beyond the performances into the arrangements, the careful choice of instruments and the aptly chosen artwork. The memory of Francesco Spinacino is indeed honoured by it.
I would say that it's essential listening for any lute player interested in the late 15th / early 16th century repertoire, as nothing informs the performance of an intabulation quite as much as having the original song in mind, in the way that contemporary players surely did.
This recording is in honor of the very first printed music for lute, Intabulatura de lauto libro primo (and libro secundo), by Francesco Spinacino and published by Petrucci in Venice, 1507. Spinacino is a shadowy figure and there is virtually no surviving information about him other than a vague dedicatory poem in the 1507 book, and a reference to him among other skilled late 15th century lutenists in the poem, Monte Parnaso, by Philippo Oriolo da Bassano (circa 1520).
The music in Spinacino’s book includes several purely instrumental recercars but is heavily weighted toward intabulations, or arrangements for one and two lutes of late fifteenth century vocal music. Composers of the source material include such luminaries as Agricola, Isaac, Busnoys, Ockeghem, Ghizeghem, and the comparatively modern Josquin des Prez. Spinacino’s intabulations are somewhat abstract and are characterized by musical lines that drop in and out for the (relative) sake of convenience, and virtuosic displays of fast scale passages, mainly at openings and cadences. Most importantly, Spinacino’s publication offers a clear indication of the role of the lute in playing some or all of the parts of a polyphonic vocal composition.
We offer this recorded program as an homage to Spinacino and his pioneering publication. Our approach is to present several chansons that were intabulated by Spinacino in their original vocal form, with the historically appropriate adaptation of playing the untexted parts on the lute. We use Spinacino’s recercars as they were likely intended, as preludes or as interludes between pieces to either set or sustain the mood of a particular chanson. With the exception of the two vocal pieces by Josquin, the anonymous ballade, Mon mari ma diffamée, and an Italian laude, most chansons herein are set in the rondeau form, which we follow faithfully and present in their entirety.
Additional to the music directly linked to Spinacino, we include our settings of two chansons by Busnoys and Ockeghem, ostensibly in an effort to present a context but in fact because we love the pieces. Also included are a recercar and pavanna by Spinacino’s contemporary, Joan Ambrosio Dalza, and the stirring laude, Se mai per maraveglia, from Franciscus Bosiniensis. Both composers followed on Spinacino’s heels and their work was published by Petrucci in the same series in 1508, 1509 and 1511 respectively. Finally, we include a pavanna and calata, dances from the Thibault manuscript (Paris, Bibliotheque nationale. Ms. Res.Vmd.27, circa 1490).
Our title for this recording, La Rota Fortuna, is not entirely whimsical. The idea of Fortune’s Wheel – that good fortune is cyclical – permeates poetical and philosophical writings from antiquity onwards, and is featured conspicuously in the texts of our recorded program. Of particular note is Spinacino’s setting for lute of Fortuna d’un gran tempo, a piece rife with the symbolism of fortune and mutability that is also found untexted in Petrucci’s Odhecaton (1503).
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
One of the few professional lutesong duos in the United States, Mignarda's unique and immediate sound blends respect for authenticity with solid musicianship and a flair for improvisation. Their fresh and engaging approach imparts the immediacy of folk music to renaissance music.
Donna Stewart has had the rare benefit of a thorough grounding in the practical application of Gregorian chant and polyphony from the middle ages onward, during nearly a decade with a five-voice schola dedicated to providing liturgical music for the Latin Tridentine Mass. She has performed and recorded with Apollo's Fire, Cleveland's renowned baroque orchestra, and has performed as a soloist and professional chorister for music ranging from 12th century chant through dozens of world premieres, appearing throughout the US and Canada, and at England's Canterbury Cathedral.
Ron Andrico has a unique musical background and is a specialist in historical music for stringed instruments. A sought-after musician in theatre and recording, for five years he performed, recorded, broadcasted and toured the US and Japan with Marv and Rindy Ross as a member of Oregon's famous Trail Band. Since 1995, he has turned his attention to the lute and is today one of the few professional lutenists in the US. A respected editor of historical sources of lute music, he is responsible for bringing to light and publishing many forgotten gems of music for voice and lute through Mignarda Editions.
Together, the duo have received private and public coaching with Hopkinson Smith, Nigel North and Ronn McFarlane. They have performed across the US and have made it their mission to introduce non-specialist audiences to music for lute and voice.
The Mignarda duo specialize in performing music that resides in the grey zone between folk and art music, with interpretations that follow the renaissance ideal of moving the passions of the listener.