With nineteen participants in person at Maple Leaf Lutheran Church and another thirteen Zooming in from home, the Seattle Recorder Society opened its first playing session of the 2022-2023 year by officially welcoming our new President, Laura Townsend.
Our warm-up pair of pieces were written by Francesco Corteccia (1502-1571), a composer that our director, Vicki Boeckman, had recently discovered. Born in Florence, he was a court musician for the spare-no-expense Medici family. His responsibilities included composing music for lavish feasts and opulent weddings.
Since our group hadn’t played together since April, Vicki decided it would be good to begin with psalm-like long tones of the four part Le vecchie per individia (1545) to get warmed up—although the text was anything but psalm-like (!).“…you know these old women are crazy because of their envy…saying that the beautiful ones are badly born…how crazy they are…crazy old dogs!”
We were encouraged to fill up the sanctuary space with our sound, as Vicki conducted us, with the half note getting the beat. She thought we played it very sweetly, but to go with the text, we should be less sweet and even a bit nastier! This was written a hundred years before baroque trills, so she pointed out an ornament and encouraged us to insert the same form in other suitable places.
The second time we played a bit faster, and then moved into the more rowdy fun of Bacco Bacco, honoring Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, agriculture, and fertility. Corteccia wrote this for Duke Cosimo de’ Medici’s wedding—including the music of sackbuts, pipe, tabor, cornetts, viols, harp, and more! This would have been the closing number, sung by four male voices, four female voices and eight more on instruments. It wasn’t hard to imagine by this point in the wedding evening that everyone was at least a little drunk. At the beginning of Bacco Bacco, the composer instructed us to play Allegro con tinto, that is, “quick, with color” (perhaps the color of the red wine?).
After our first attempt, Vicki exclaimed, “Isn’t this adorable?” and suggested we use more crisp tonguing on the syncopated measures. The next time through, faster, of course. “Imagine you’ve been to a wedding all day long, and by the end aren’t too steady on your feet.” Vicki had us alternate every four measures between men, women and tutti, then encouraged raucous playing on the forte measures, while playing sweetly and demurely on the piano measures, which then prompted a quick lesson in alternate fingerings.
Gloria: Fuga duorum temporum (ca.1460) was our next piece, by the leading European composer of the time, Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474) who instructed us to play it ad modum tubae (note that the tuba didn’t exist yet; this means “in the way of a trumpet”). First Vicki passed out the canonic soprano part and asked us to play on any instrument in unison. Next she had us sound out the notes with our voices on the tenor parts (there was no text, what we see was added by an editor) – “Feel free to make trumpet sounds!” After we played it through, noting the call and response sections, Vicki exclaimed, “It worked…pretty cool! One more time!” And after the second time, “Sounds amazing! Such a fun piece! Cool, yea, we did it!”
Our grand finale was Canzona à 5 by Samuel Scheidt (1587-1664). Scheidt was born in Halle, Germany, and composed music while organist there, and later organist and Kappelmeister in Brandenburg. He moved towards the baroque style, but still composed with renaissance tendencies. I found this interesting point in Wikipedia: “Scheidt was the first internationally significant German composer for the organ, and represents the flowering of the new north German style, which occurred largely as a result of the Protestant Reformation. In south Germany and some other countries of Europe, the spiritual and artistic influence of Rome remained strong, so most music continued to be derivative of Italian models. Cut off from Rome, musicians in the newly Protestant areas readily developed styles that were much different from those of their neighbors.
Vicki explained the naming of the parts (e.g. cantus is the upper voice), what the tiny notes next to the clef mean (the range of each part), and the relative relationship between the upper voices and the lower voices (as opposed to si placet (as you please). Vicki talked us through the whole piece, especially noting the change from cut time to 6/4 in the middle. During the 6/4 part (conducted in 2) “it should feel like a stretched out, enlarged version” of the earlier tune. After our first try, Vicki cheered, “Yea! Woohoo! Fantastic!” Then she had us focus on the passing of the torch between the voices, and asked us to play light and detached on the quarter notes, followed by smooth eighth notes. She warned us to be sure to get off the half notes, so as to get out of the way for the other incoming voices. After a final playing of this finale, we all applauded!