Past Event

Divergent Practices, Emergent Styles

November 27, 2007
12:00 PM - 12:55 PM
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Columbia University's Collegium Musicum presents its fall 2007 concert: Divergent Practices, Emergent Styles.

Music Director, Sean Parr


  • Ascendo ad Patrem - Giovanni Pierluigi di Palestrina
  • Sicut cervus
  • Moro, lasso - Carlo Gesualdo
  • Mercè, grido piangendo
  • Ave Maria - Thomàs Luis de Victoria
  • Amor, i’ ho molti et molti anni pianto - Luca Marenzio
    • Kate Soper, Elena Megalos, Juliet Forshaw, Kevin Findlan, Michael Shaw
  • A un giro sol - Claudio Monteverdi
  • O magnum mysterium - Thomàs Luis de Victoria
  • Amor (from Lamento della ninfa) - Claudio Monteverdi
    • Susanne Knittel
  • Crudele, acerba, inessorabil morte - Luca Marenzio
    • Anne Fenton, Juliet Forshaw, Amber Youell, Brock Forsblom, Dave MacLeod
  • Gloria in altissimis Deo - Chiara Margarita Cozzolani
    • Emily Glass, Kate Soper, Gloria Makino, Juliet Forshaw
  • Ave Regina coelorum - Isabella Leonarda
    • Ruth Weiss, Elena Megalos
  • Nisi Dominus - Giovanni Antonio Rigatti
    • Susanne Knittel, Amber Youell, Michael Shaw; Wen Ang, Madaleine Rubenstein, Ruth Weiss
  • Crucifixus - Antonio Lotti

Program Notes

When first exploring ideas for this concert, I arrived at Italian music composed around 1600—the time of madrigals and high Renaissance polyphony, the time of the philosophical musings of the Florentine Camerata, and the time of the origins of opera. The time is often considered a dramatic watershed moment in music history. The standard historical narrative often pits Giovanni Maria Artusi against Claudio Monteverdi, rivals in the debate over prevailing music compositional practices of the era. From this controversy we understand two divergent compositional practices: prima pratica, where words are subordinate to the music, and seconda pratica, where the music is subordinate to the words. In music history texts, Artusi is often painted as the villain, conquered by Monteverdi's innovative genius. Scholar Chadwick Jenkins has recently questioned this framing, arguing for a more complex view of Artusi and the debate over compositional aesthetics. In his Breve discorso sopra la musica moderna (1649), Marco Scacchi describes three styles emerging: the church (ecclesiasticus), the chamber (cubicularis), and the theatrical (theatralis). It would seem that the emerging styles of the seventeenth century presented composers with more options, rather than narrowing the compositional playing field by declaring a winner between the two factions. This seems clear in light of the fact that prima pratica compositions persist into the nineteenth century, particularly in the realm of sacred vocal music. 

It would be all too easy to confine the categories to sacred vs. secular, and indeed the program tonight reveals that such a move would be too reductive. It would seem that a mixture of styles emerges from these divergent practices. Rather than merely fomenting trouble, the aesthetic debate and shifting compositional practices widened musical possibilities in the seventeenth century.

It is my hope that tonight's program will be suggestive of this diversity. In order to highlight difference, we begin with a juxtaposition of extremes. Palestrina's music is often cited as the locus classicus of stile antica, and the reference point for pure, sacred, and beautiful music. The works of Gesualdo represent perhaps the most adventurous compositional endeavors—some might say the most bizarre. But with these two contrasting figures there is a crystallization of the aural difference between beautiful music expressing the sacred and text dictating powerful (and sometimes dissonant) musical treatment. The calm serenity of "Sicut cervus" provides the foil for the literal musical scream of "Mercè grido."

The motets of Victoria (who scholars surmise may have studied with Palestrina) also belong to the sonic world of the prima pratica, but with a rhythmic verve perhaps indicative of the composer's Spanish origins. Contrasted with these pieces are seconda pratica works by Marenzio and Monteverdi. Marenzio’s late madrigals from his Ninth Book (1599) evoke the nebulous atmosphere of their Petrarch texts. Both are sectional, as is Monteverdi’s “A un giro sol,” a piece where a distinct affect is apparent in
each section. The musical painting of motion and nature—turning melismatic patterns for a furtive glance; pulsed scalar patterns for the laughing breeze; undulating lines for the calm sea; swirling, criss-crossing lines for the wind; and imitative, exultant, ascending lines for the radiant sky—characterize the first half of Monteverdi’s madrigal. The ensuing poetic turn to the self is quite striking—there is a shift to minor mode, the tenor drops out, and loneliness turns to pain with cascades of dissonant suspensions representing the cruelty of the lover’s rejection. Out of this line, the paradoxical ending (“death born in life”) emerges; overlapping musical lines allow an explicit outgrowth of a new line of text which gradually takes over from the suspensions, concluding the piece with a wry raised third, a typical ending cadence, but when considered with the text gives a sense of optimism to the dark second half. Monteverdi’s "Amor" from his Lamento della ninfa, concludes this section of the program, showing how emotionally moving a varied vocal line over a simple ostinato bass can be.

The following two sacred pieces are by female nun composers, who each display a unique compositional voice influenced by seconda praticacomposers. Their two sacred works on this program show a mixing of the theatrical and church styles. Such a mixture suggests that a freer use of dissonance and sonorities broadened the possibilities for sacred music composition later in the century. The mixing is further exemplified in Rigatti’s “Nisi Dominus,” which uses a four-note, descending ostinato bass pattern, as we also heard in Monteverdi’s “Amor.” Instead of a dramatic, emotional vocal line, Rigatti uses strings and SSB texture to evoke a calming, almost mesmerizing tone, broken briefly by a middle arioso section. The two treatments of the ostinato pattern reveal the evident versatility of variation forms, eminently appropriate to both texts.

Our concert tonight concludes with Lotti’s “Crucifixus,” a dazzling work which provides a convenient fusion of strong dissonances and beautiful imitative polyphony. The combination of styles emerging from the divergent practices indicate how completely entrenched even sacred music composition becomes over the course of the century in Italy. The issues of style and practice discussed here will hopefully be suggestive of a snapshot of music history embodied in performance.


Elisabeth Fabila
Anne Fenton
Susanne Knittel
Gloria Makino
Elena Megalos
Brigitte Reina-Ortiz
Kate Soper
Ruth Weiss

Juliet Forshaw
Emily Glass
Rebecca Gordon
Dilini Lankachandra
Emelyn Lih
Amber Youell

Kevin Findlan
Brock Forsblom
Andrew Harringer

Robert Hanning
Dave MacLeod
Kaveh Niaza
Michael Shaw
Ray Weisbond


Wen Ang
Madeleine Rubenstein

Ruth Weiss

Meghann Wilhoite