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Agostino Agazzari and Music at Siena Cathedral: 1597-1641.

Colleen Reardon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. x + 214 pp. $45.

Siena, despite its importance in the visual arts, has never figured in the lists of cities with the most important musical cultures of the Renaissance or early Baroque periods. While this fine new book by Colleen Reardon does not elevate Siena to the top rank, it does make it clear, for the first time, that the city possessed in the late Renaissance a cathedral with an active musical establishment and at least one notable composer, Agostino Agazzari, whose works have been unjustly ignored. To musicologists, Agazzari has been known primarily as the author of an important early treatise on the practice of basso continuo. He was also, as this book demonstrates, a fairly prolific composer of sacred music: Reardon's appendix lists fifteen books of motets, masses, litanies, and psalms for one to eight voices, with or without instrumental accompaniment (usually organ).

Reardon's book, in four chapters, falls naturally into two major divisions: chapters one to three are historical and contextual, dealing with the composer, the musical establishment of the cathedral, and the liturgical context; the final, and longest chapter, discusses the music itself. The author's archival research has enabled her to trace, with only a few significant gaps, Agazzari's somewhat tortured career, spent in both his home town and in Rome. He seemed unable to stay in any position for an extended period of time, serving four separate terms as organist at Siena cathedral, the longest for barely six years, and once for only five months. Only in the last year of his life did he finally rise to the position of maestro di cappella. The account of the cathedral's choir and instrumental ensemble is perhaps a bit too densely documented for easy reading, but it nonetheless provides a wealth of information useful both for comparison with the more famous musical centers of Italy and for understanding the music Agazzari composed for performance there.

Reardon's discussion of Agazzari's sacred compositions is abundantly illustrated by musical examples (over sixty, some more than a page in length). She treats the music chronologically within each genre, tracing Agazzari's development (and occasional stagnation) as a composer, and distilling as much as possible something of his personal style. She pays particular attention to the musical structures Agazzari employed, and, most importantly, to his setting of the sacred texts. Reardon has chosen to sample many works in her discussion, rather than focus on a smaller number in greater depth, providing an interesting survey of the composer's entire output. If Reardon has not revealed any profound insights into the workings of individual pieces, this may be in part because Agazzari, as she readily admits, was not a great composer. There is one major problem with this section of the book, but it is not the author's fault: she has written an introduction to a repertory that is almost entirely unavailable to twentieth-century scholars or musicians. Agazzari's works have simply not appeared in modern editions, and Reardon's study will show its true value only when the situation is remedied. In the meantime, musicologists are fortunate to have her descriptions to rely upon. While the musical discussions may be difficult going for the nonspecialist, the opening historical and contextual chapters should prove valuable not only for musicologists, but also for historians interested in the culture of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Italy.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Renaissance Society of America
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Glixon, Jonathan E.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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