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Sacred Music in the 17th Century:
by Don Robertson

© 2005 by Rising World Entertainment. All Rights Reserved




Facciata della Chiesa di San Petronio nella Piazza grande di Bologna, incisione in rame, 1757.

     During the 17th century, the town of Bologna in Italy was a very important musical center. This, however, has largely gone unrecognized until very recently. In fact, 20th Century musicologist Arnold Schering was the first scholar outside of Bologna to recognize this fact. In his monumental work Music in the Baroque Era, Manfred Bukofzer only devoted four of the almost 500 pages of his book to Bologna, and these only to a coverage of instrumental music, not including the magnificent choral creations that were composed and performed there. Still to this day, Bologna has not been fully recognized as the important music center that it once was and few musicians and music lovers realize the important music and the incredible composers who blossomed there during its musical heyday. 
     There were two important music centers in Bologna: San Petronio, and the Accademia Filarmonica. Founded in 1390, the basilica of San Petronio was dedicated to a fifth-century bishop and it ranks as one of the greatest medieval brick cathedrals in Italy. It employed thirty-six musicians on a full-time basis during its heyday, and on special occasions, hired as many as 153.
     The Accademia Filarmonica, or the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna, was established in 1666 to "form a long lasting unity dedicated to making beautiful music" and continues to exist today.

There was an amazing number of important composers associated with Bologna:

Maurizio Cazzati (1620-1677)
Giovanni Paolo Colonna (1637-95)
Giovanni Maria Bononcini (1642-1678)
Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1755)
Giovanni Battista Vitali (1644-1692)
Tommaso Antonio Vitali
Ercole Gaibara
Bartolomeo Laurenti (1644-1726)
Pietro degli Antonii (1468-1720)
Petronio Franceschini (1650-1681)
Domenico Gabrielli (1655-1690)
Giovanni Battista Bassani (1657-1716)
Giuseppe Maria Jacchini
Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709)
Giacomo Antonio Perti (1661-1767)
Pirro Albergati (1663-1735)
Giuseppe Aldrobandini (1665-1707)
Evaristo Dall'Abaco (1675-1742)
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Giuseppe Matteo Alberti (1685-1751)

The Baroque Concerto

Maurizio Cazzati (1620?-1677)

     Cazzati was one of the most prolific and famous musicians of the 17th Century, yet he, along with the great music center of Bologna, are almost unknown today. He was born in either Luzzare in 1616, or perhaps Guastalla in 1620...our sources differ. In 1657, he was appointed the maestro di cappella for the San Petronio cathedral in Bologna. He published a large amount of instrumental music that was known and performed in places as far away as England. He resigned is position at San Petronio after a feud with academy president G.C. Arresti who had objected to a Kyrie that Cazzati had composed, feeling that its music did not conform with the rules that had been set by the theorists (hey, our kind of guy). In 1671 Cazzati was appointed maestro of both the chapel at Mantua and the chamber of the duchess Anna Isabella. He died in Mantua in 1677.
     The only recording that we have have any knowledge of is a beautiful recording on the Italian Tactus label of a reconstructed vesper service featuring his music:

Vespero di Sant'Andrea

Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632? - 1692)

     Vitali was born in or near Bologna (or possibly Cremona) and studied under Cazzati. He came to be known as a composer of string music, especially the trio sonata. In 1666 he was appointed sonatore di violone da brazzo at San Petronio in Bologna and was a founding member of the Bolognese Accademia Filarmonica. He left Bologna in 1674 to live at the Este court in Modena and in 1684 became the maestro di capella at the ducal chapel. Some of his sacred music has come down to us and a magnificent magnificat has been rendered into modern notation.
     At the time of this writing, we are still waiting for recordings to become available of this composer.

On the Web:

Giovanni Paolo Colonna (1637-1695)

     Giovanni Paolo Colonna was a fantastic composer, organist, and maestro di cappella at San Petronio, the great cathedral in Bologna. He was born in Bologna, the son of an organ builder and went to Rome to study with Abbatini, Benevoli, and Carissimi. He returned to Bologna during 1659 to become organist under Cazatti. He succeeded Cazzati in 1674 as the maestro di cappella at San Petronio when Vitali went to went to Modena. He wrote a number of oratorios, but only six survive.
     Not until the late 20th century was any of his music even available in modern notation, and still (at the time of this writing) only a few compositions have been made available. Fortunately, the Italian label Tactus was far-sighted in releasing two wonderful CD albums. It is time to bring Colonna's wonderful music back to life.

Nisi Dominus
Salmi da Vespro

On the Web:

Giacomo Antonio Perti (1661-1756)

     Giacomo Perti began his composing career in 1676 at age 15 and continued composing to age 94 and the year of his death. In 1681 he was admitted to the Accademia Filarmonica. In 1696 Perti succeeded Giovanni Paolo Colonna as the maestro di cappella and continued to serve there for 60 years. He taught Giuseppe Torelli and Padre Martini and wrote 25 or 26 operas, unfortunately now mostly lost. He also composed 20 oratorios, 28 mass settings, and a great deal of other sacred choral compositions: lamentations, magnificats, and settings of the vesper psalms. During Perti's time, the oratorio flourished in Bologna and the venues for performance included chapels, churches, monasteries, colleges, private palaces, concert halls, and the academies.

Oratorio "Gesł al Sepolcro"

Andrea Rota Missa Resurrectio Christi
Tactus TC551801

On the Web:

Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709)

     Giuseppe Torelli was a composer and violinist who moved to Bologna in the early 1680s and became a member of the Accademia filarmonica. He studied with Perti and played viola at San Petronio between 1686 and 1696. He became maestro di concerto to the Margrave of Brandenburg at Ansbach in 1698. The following year he was in Vienna. In 1701 he was back in Bologna at San Petronio where he remained until his death. Because he contributed so much to 18th century instrumental music, he is further covered in that section.

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