Saturday, February 25, 2012

Salomone Rossi: Madrigaletti Op.13 + Six Madrigals for single voice and theorbo

許多驚喜總是來自最意想不到的地方。誰會料到,會讓我欣賞的巴洛克聲樂,竟然會來自早期巴洛克一個相對不起眼的作曲家?這位作曲家Salomone Rossi (c1570–1630),是巴洛克早期的義大利作曲家,而且還是當時最重要猶太人作曲家。文藝復興與巴洛克時期,基督教勢力龐大,猶太人被強力打壓,所以沒聽說猶太人音樂家反而是常態。要一直到近代,猶太音樂家才會如雨後春筍般冒出來。古典樂史裡大家比較熟悉的作曲家裡,最有名的兩位應當算是孟德爾頌(Felix Mendelssohn)以及馬勒(Gustav Mahler)囉。

早生幾百年的Salomone Rossi的生平,今天所知甚少。能確定的是,Rossi在曼圖阿(Mantua)出生長大,除了在當地猶太人的音樂圈裡是重要的人物之外,他一生中許多時間也都效力於Gonzaga家族所統治的曼圖阿宮廷。同時期在Mantua宮廷的,有音樂史上重量級的Monteverdi。

1587年開始,他被Vincenzo公爵任命為宮廷的音樂家,並在他過逝後,接班的Francesco也接著續用他。從文獻中知道二位公爵對他是相當賞識,而且還為此放鬆了他要在衣上貼上大衛之星(Star of David)(猶太教的象徵)的規定。儘管這樣,Rossi在他出版的作品裡,都會特地加上"hebreo"(希伯來人)的稱號,強調他本身猶太人的背景。

Salomone Rossi是位出色的小提琴家,身為作曲家也寫了不了音樂。世俗聲樂作品裡,他總共出版了五冊給五聲部的牧歌(madrigral),一冊四聲部的牧歌,及一冊三聲部的canzonetta(類似牧歌的短歌)等。宗教方面,他則是寫了一系列的猶太教儀式用的Songs of Solomon,在當時出版時是少數唱希伯來文的聲樂,在印刷上也有實際的挑戰。


這套作品十三的「小牧歌」,算是他最晚期的作品之一。不同於他早期傳統的牧歌,這些曲子大部份是寫給兩部人聲與數字低音的。可以說,Rossi是將他先前出版的三重奏鳴曲,將兩個器樂聲部,給換成了人聲。這種寫作手法因應當時的音樂潮流而不再回到八股的四,五聲部牧歌,也是理所當然的。作品十三,共有十八首歌曲,歌詞都選自當時有名的詩。每一首真的都不長,大部份為單一曲式,要不然就是同樣的旋律套不同段落的歌詞(strophic form)。


這張CD原本是Tactus的唱片,不過後來被Brilliant Classics重新發行。(這是Brilliant近來常見到的手法。)樂器群L'Aura Soave是義大利Cremona的室內樂團,成立於1996年。他們的指揮是彈theorbo的Diego Cantalupi,也聽得出來他們對伴奏群的講究。可說伴奏群的大提琴,theorbo,和大鍵琴的不同組合,成功主導了音樂的動向和氣氛。而聲樂家們的巴洛克唱腔,輕盈和純淨,更是跟伴奏群結合地很漂亮。



Salomone Rossi is arguably one of the earliest imporant Jewish musical figures before recent times.  He was born in Mantua and lived there for his entire life.   Not only was he a prominent member of the Jewish ghetto music circle, he was also appointed by the Gonzaga family of the Mantuan court.  Among the other composers serving at the same court during the time included heavyweight Claudio Monteverdi, before his later departure to Venice.

Rossi was under the appointment of Dukes Vincenzo and his successor Francesco.  According to record, they stated "how dear is the service that for many years Salamone de Rossi hebreo has given to Us, by virtue of his talent as a musico and a player."  He was certainly highly regarded, as he was even given permission to not have to display the Star of David on his clothing, something that was required of all Jews then.  Rossi, however, was always proud to acknowledge his Jewish heritage, and in all his published works, he would add "hebreo"(Hebrew) to the end of his title. 

Rossi was fairly active as a composer, as he published quite a few books of madrigals and other secular vocal music.  In terms of sacred music, he composed a set of Songs of Solomon, polyphonic liturgical music sung in Hebrew, which were also one of the first of its kind.  In fact, the Hebrew texts posed a considerable challenge to the Mantuan printing press of its time.  I guess it's no different than installing the proper fonts and languages on your computer to read webpages from certain countries today.     

Rossi's most novel compositions come from his instrumental works.  Rossi was an outstanding violinist of the time, and his pieces show one of the first signs of idiomatic violin writing.  He published 4 books of instrumental works, which include the most popular instrumental forms of the time, like the sonata and sinfonia and dances like the corrente, gagliarda, and brando.  The sonata and sinfonia would later become one of the staples of high Baroque music, while among the dances, only the corrente would continue to become popular.  Rossi's biggest innovation was the transforming of the earlier polyphonic canzona, which had a more uniform texture, to that which gave importance to the higher registers and a supporting bass that led the harmonic structure of the music.  This apparent separation gave way for more expressive and virtuosic writing, which would plant the seed for the later Stylus Phantasticus.  In this sense, Rossi can also be attributed as writing one of the earliest known trio sonatas in music history.

The set of Op.13 madrigaletti is one of the last pieces he was to publish.  Unlike his earlier sets of madrigals, which are written in the traditional type of four or five voices, which were then going out of fashion, most of these petite madrigals are written for two voices and continuo.  In a sense, these were trio sonatas with two of the instrumental parts substituted with the human voice.  Sung to the famous poems of its time, most of the pieces are very short, on the order of a minute or two.  The longer pieces merely involve the strophic form of using the same melody for the different verses.

The voice parts are plain and casual without the dazzling fireworks seen in later Italian operatic arias.  The two voices interchange between simple homophony and imitation, but always come back together for the cadence.  This secular music is much lighter in mood than the solemnity one has to endure by listening to the sacred music.  A big help comes from the continuo, providing the musical drive and different timbre other than just the human voice.  I have come to accept that I find music with bass continuo much more attractive than those without, especially with a mixed continuo group that can really have fun.  

The leader of the Italian group L'Aura Soave from Cremona is the theorbo player Diego Cantalupi, who must be conscious of how the bass continuo can enhance and bring out the flavors of the music, be it a good soft arpeggiated chord here, or a strong emphatic sound there.  The continuo group consists of a cello, spinet, and theorbo, covering the range of the bowed, keyboard, and hand-plucked.  The effect is more colorful than simply a chitarrone accompaniment seen in many other recordings. As for the vocalists, it's light, clear, and pure Baroque vocal singing, blending well with the continuo instruments.  They don't go for anything too dramatic, but rather a smooth and uniform texture.  

While I generally prefer a more exciting and showy interpretation for instrumental works, I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed this disc, whose music is tame in demeanor.  In particular,  the pieces sung by the two sopranos gave me much fulfillment, more so than the two tenors.  I liken this to watching a sweet little independent film, a nice change-up after watching so many Hollywood action blockbusters. Can't explain it, but it's been a while since vocal music had so much of my attention, and who would expect that it would come from this guy called Rossi?

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