The first volume in the Grandi edition.
The North Italian composer Alessandro Grandi (ca. 1585-1630) has long been recognized as a highly significant figure, albeit one whose music has been largely unavailable in modern editions. His reputation is based on the good press he has received from scholars such as Denis Arnold, Jerome Roche, James Moore, Martin Seelkopf, Jeffrey Kurtzman, and Roark Miller, rather than on any real knowledge of his music, a few select pieces apart. The appearance of this first volume of a projected opera omnia, published in the American Institute of Musicology's Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae series, is thus extremely welcome. Under the watchful eyes of general editor Jeffrey Kurtzman, volume coeditors Robert Kendrick, Dennis Collins, and Steven Saunders have started the process with Grandi's Il primo libro de motetti of 1610. Given that he was a very prolific composer with over twenty sole-author publications involving motets, Masses, psalms, and madrigals, plus works in various anthologies, this is a major undertaking, and the institute and its director Paul Ranzini are to be congratulated in taking it forward.
Grandi's first publication contained twenty motets, as well as a setting of the Ordinary of the Mass. It also included a motet, Quae est ista, by Alvise Grani, a trombone player at S. Marco in Venice, and the editor of Giovanni Gabrieli's 1615 Symphoniae sacrae. Including a piece by another composer was not unusual, and indicates some sort of relationship between the two, though the editors here do not speculate as to what that might have been. By the time Grandi published this volume he had already spent about three years as a singer in S. Marco, before returning to Ferrara where he had earlier had an appointment. Grani's motet is included here in an appendix in two versions: one at original pitch and the other transposed a fifth lower, since the piece's clefs fit into the chiavette or high-clef combination (using the F3 clef for the bass). The only one of Grandi's own pieces with an analogous clef configuration (with a C4 clef in the bass) is also given in its original form in the appendix, while the transposed version is included in the body of the volume. All of the other pieces use chiavi naturali.
Of the twenty motets, six are for two voices, five for three, and seven for four. There also are single pieces for five and eight voices, while the final Mass Ordinary setting is for four, though with considerable sections to be sung by two and three voices. All have a basso continuo part, given without realization in this edition. The two-voice motets are mainly for two sopranos or two tenors; those for three voices use various combinations; while the four-voice pieces favor the adult male ATTB combination, also used for the Mass. The eight-voice setting of the Marian text, Nativitas tua, is for two equally-cleffed choirs. The most texturally-varied piece here is the five-voice Missus est Gabriel Archangelus, set as an extended Annunciation dialog between a narrator ("Texto"), Gabriel, and Mary, with a pair of sopranos labelled "far away and hidden" who sing the phrase "Tota pulchra es, Maria" twelve times, presumably representing a choir of angels. The piece ends with a five-voice commenting chorus in which the characters lose their individuality. The text is compiled from a variety of mainly biblical sources, while the extended dialog, or mini-oratorio, format suggests that it might have been written for one of the two Ferrarese confraternities at which Grandi worked as maestro di cappella: the Accademia dello Spirito Santo, or the Accademia della Morte.
Other texts take verses from the psalms or other books of the Bible, or set responsories for common feasts. They are not specifically linked to the liturgical calendar, but could justifiably be used to cover a number of such feasts, as well as more general occasions. Stylistically, these motets show an eclectic mix of all the trends current in the early 1600s. Monody, homophony, falsobordone, and imitative polyphony are combined in many of them, for example Hie est vere martyr, which also includes refrain-like repetitions, a feature of a number of these pieces. Obaudite me starts with monodic declamation by one of the tenors, followed by short sections in falsobordone, homophonic, and imitative textures. Grandi's Primo libro has traditionally been seen as conservative, a prelude to the composer's later more pioneering publications. In the light of their work on the music, Collins and Saunders call in their introduction for a reevaluation of this judgment. For them, the 1610 publication represents instead a seminal work in the history of the sacred concertato style, sharing features with the secular madrigal, villanella, or canzonetta (such as pairs of voices in parallel thirds), and using imitative textures only very sparingly. Above all, it is clarity of the words that seems to have been Grandi's paramount preoccupation. It is attractive and transparent music that has much to offer performers.
Of particular interest is the unnamed Mass setting that concludes Il primo libro. While it might invite comparison with another Mass famously included in a 1610 publication--Claudio Monteverdi's Missa In illo tempore--there is no actual similarity between the two. Monteverdi's extended six-voice setting is retrospective and deliberately academic, based on a motet by Nicolas Gombert composed more than fifty years earlier. Grandi, on the other hand, is keen to show how his particular stylistic blend of old and new can be used to produce a concertato Missa brevis with basso continuo. There is no melodic link between the five movements, but they are closely united by a common stylistic approach that favors reduced-voice textures for all but major structural or textual moments. Thus the first Kyrie is a duet for the two tenors, the Christe for alto and bass; only short sections of the final Kyrie use all four voices. The other movements make similar use of paired voices and a constantly varied texture that includes only a limited number of imitative passages. Of particular interest is the "Crucifixus" section in the Credo: a solo tenor sings the text in monodic style, using a long, rising chromatic line from F to d, before falling down a fifth for "sepultais est"; the line is punctuated by the alto and second tenor repeating the phrase "etiam pro nobis" three times in parallel thirds. There are examples of written-out ornamental figuration, including the descending four sixteenth-note ornament typical of Giovanni Gabrieli, but also other sixteenth-note figures and lombardic note pairs. In the Kyrie a capital letter "T" appears over some notes, assumed by the editors to indicate a trillo, corresponding to the lower-case "t" found in many of the composer's later works.
As might be expected from this editorial team, it is an exemplary edition. Original note-values are retained, prefatory clefs, mensuration signs and ranges are given, and all editorial interventions are clearly distinguishable. There is an extended commentary covering what is known of Grandi's life, his other publications, and the salient features of his style. Performance practice issues are addressed, including tempo relationships based on proportional time-signatures; the discussion of this somewhat hot potato does not come to definite conclusions, but looks at the evidence rationally, and presents the options clearly to the reader and performer. The reception history of the 1610 edition's contents is also covered, with many of the items reprinted in anthologies or copied into manuscript sources. This is an impressive start to the Grandi complete edition, and future volumes will be eagerly awaited, as they provide the opportunity to appreciate the full scope of Grandi's achievement. While there remain many other seventeenth century composers awaiting such an edition, Grandi is certainly one composer whose music, once all of it is available, will have an important impact.
The University of Edinburgh
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|Title Annotation:||Alessandro Grandi: Il primo libro de motetti a due, tre, quattro, cinque, & otto voci, con una Messa a Quattro (1610)|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||May 27, 2015|
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