Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger & Bellerofonte Castaldi
The seventeenth-century in Italy began in the light of a new musical impetus that would influence the rest of Europe quick and inevitably.
Some consider that the flemish Cipriano de Rore was the first to introduce what would come to be known as seconda pratica in his compositions: a bolder and more expressive treatment of the harmony, as opposed to the more rigid counterpoint of the past, together with a new and great importance given to the text. In the words of the great Claudio Monteverdi, now “the word has become the sovereign of the harmony, rather than the servant”.
Around the 1580’s, a group of personalities consisting of the intellectual and artistic elite of the time gathered in Florence around Count Bari, founding the famous Camerata Fiorentina, where composers such as Giulio Caccini and Jacopo Peri aimed to revive the lost art of declamatory singing of the ancient Greeks.
Thus a new style was born, middle-way between singing and reciting, the recitar cantando of Emilio de Cavalieri, typically accompanied to a string instrument such as the lute, the theorbo, the harp or the lira da braccio.
Singers often accompanied themselves in more or less improvised manner (Caccini was famous for his ivory lute), as this was the most flexible and effective means to express the text and move the listener “à diuversi affetti” , but also because of the symbolic association with the semi-god Orpheus and his lyre, capable of moving every creature to tears with his singing.
It was under this context and inspired by these musicians’ novelties that the generation of Kapsberger and Castaldi was born.
Bellerofonte Castaldi was what one would call a true free spirit.
Born around 1580 to a noble and wealthy family in Collegara, near Modena, he was able to lead a comfortable and adventurous life without monetary issues with a generous income from
the family propriety. Thus, in his own words, he sang and played for his own pleasure, travelled abundantly, lived in several different cities and never associated himself to a court or particular patron as it would be costume and essential to most artists at the time.
Throughout his frequent stays in Rome, Castaldi got to know the famous Girolamo Frescobaldi as well as Kapsberger of course, whom he complimented generously and rendered homage with his own version of ‘arpeggio’ piece in response to the famous toccata by the nobile alemano which opens this concert.
After a fire that destroyed the family propriety, Castaldi died in misery in his hometown Modena the 27th September of 1649.
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (or Johann Hieronymus in his mother language), also known as Il tedesco della tiorba and il nobile alemano by his contemporaries, was probably the most famous theorbist that ever lived.
Son to the German colonel Guglielmo Kapsberger from the Imperial House of Austria, he was probably born around 1580 (just like Castaldi), possibly in Venice, where his father was stationed at the time.
Already in Rome little after 1605, his reputation of gifted composer and theorbo virtuoso allowed him to access the protection and support of important families such as the Bentivoglio and the Barberini. The gatherings hosted by Kapsberger at his house were described as one of Rome’s wonders.
At the service of cardinal Francesco Barberini most of his life, he worked at the eminently musical environment of the papal chapel side by side with composers such as Girolamo Frescobaldi, Luigi Rossi, Domenico Mazzocchi or Stefano Landi and collaborating with poets like Ottavio Tronsarelli, Giovanni Ciampoli and Giulio Rospigliosi (the pope to-be Clement IX).
Allegedly self-righteous, opportunist
ic and non-cooperative, his character didn’t stop him from having his masses sung at the Cappella Sistina at the request of the pope in 1626 and 1627 and his oeuvre from consisting in the largest contribution to the establishment of the theorbo as a soloist instrument.
Kapsberger was also famous for his books of villanelle, lighter songs of popular inspiration, as well as his two books of arie passegiate (that is, songs with virtuosic written ornamentations for the singer to display), both genres present in this concert’s programme.
Several of his songs for one and more voices exhibit together with the vocal lines the so-called alfabeto, a notation in single letters symbolizing the chords to be strung at the guitar in a simple accompaniment fashion (often by the singer himself) as it was fashion in Italian and Iberian circles of nobility and bourgeoisie at the turn of seventeenth-century.
A man of many talents, Kapsberger also wrote books of music for the lute and composed several pieces of larger dimensions for the stage, of which unfortunately only the jesuit opera Apotheosis survives.
RICARDO LEITÃO PEDRO
VOICE, THEORBO AND BAROQUE GUITAR
Basel / Porto,