“On the slopes of the Appennines, almost in the centre of Italy towards the Adriatic, is situated, as everyone knows, the little city of Urbino” writes Baldassare Castiglione in Il Cortegiano. Since its original publication in 1528 Castiglione’s book has appeared in several hundred re-editions, translations or imitations (Luis Milán, e.g., in 1561 published a Cortesano whose characters live at the court of Valencia instead of Urbino) but Urbino’s fame remains a small one today. When I told friends that I would go there this summer, most of them asked: “Where are you going!?” I don’t remember how often I had to explain that Urbino were the town where the author of the Cortegiano spent the happiest years of his life as one of a circle of cultured courtiers, that he wrote a book as a eulogy to the Urbino court which became a classic and which accompanied the process during which it became fashionable in Europe to be well mannered, educated, interested in the arts and not at least to be able to sing and play a musical instrument. It is indeed a very charming idea to organise a summer course for early music in Urbino! The nucleus of the town is situated on a steep hill and is surrounded by a wall. It forms an architectural ensemble dating back to the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. No great fires or earthquakes seem to have touched the town and although houses have obviously been subject to changes and at least partial transformations during the centuries, there is still a lot of original substance to be seen. If Urbino’s centre weren’t so small one could easily get lost amid the net of streets, waylets and narrow passages. Above all of them the cathedral and the Palazzo of Duke Federico de Montefeltre (1422 – 1482), where many of the concerts of this year’s course took place.
The yearly Corso Internazionale di Musica Antica Urbino, organised by the Fondazione Italiana per la Musica Antica (FIMA), has from small beginnings in 1968 developed into an event which sets the tone in the city of Urbino to quite some extent during its ten days. In late July of this year there were people – often very beautiful young people – carrying instrument cases of all kinds all over the streets and places: cases with bass viols (sometimes almost bigger than their carriers), violins, recorders, cornettos and – not a least – lutes. In the buildings where classes were held there were not enough rooms for everyone to practice, so it sounded, fiddled, piped and sung from all corners. When in the mornings I went from the hotel to the school at the Piano S. Lucia where among other classes the lute players met, string players’ sounds accompanied me – they did so on my way back. Opening the hotel room window in the evening there came flute sounds from a nearby street floating towards me.
It would need too much space here to enumerate all of the instrumental, vocal, dance and theory classes but it should be mentioned that among the teachers there were the Gamba magician Paolo Pandolfo and the keyboard virtuoso Luca Guglielmi. Paul O’Dette taught for the first time in Urbino. Most of the participants in his class came from Italy (Agata Mansueto from Sicily, Verter Crescentini from Milano and Gianluigi Bello, Stefano Maiorano, Massimo Massimi, Siro Pilluso and Francesco Tomasi from different places between the southern and northern parts of the country), two from the British isles (the Lute Society’s website host Gordon Gregory and Simon Lambert, internet correspondent of the Lute News), the South America born Edwin Garcia Gonzúlez came from Barcelona, there was one Tedesco and with Enrico Gualini an Italian living in Berlin. The different sizes of the renaissance lute prevailed but there were an archlute player and one of the theorbo, the baroque guitar and the vihuela each, too. Repertory reached from Capirola, Francesco da Milano and Luis Milán via Paladino, Lorenzino and Dowland to Piccinini, Santiago de Murcia, Bartolotti and others. Paul O’Dette opened the class on Saturday morning by asking everyone to play a short piece of one’s choice. During the days following all had the chance to have four masterclass lessons. Paul O’Dette analysed the pieces played, the technique of the individual player and the way he or she approached the music, showed solutions for eventual problems plus exercises to work on specific aspects of the music or playing technique – all this, while over the school’s floors and indeed sometimes right through the door into the lute classes’ room choral music, instrument sounds and sometimes the voices of sopranos came, the latter climbing to heights from where they could certainly view the whole of the country. Paul O’Dette’s experience from long years of teaching and his deep knowledge of playing technique and musical repertoire were evident, as was the obvious joy which inspired him through all of the ten days. He seldom had to work with music not known to him and often it was even possible to discuss the different versions of the piece at hand from different sources and/or editions. His advice for finding one’s way into a piece of polyphonic music is to isolate single voices and learn each of these first alone and then in different combinations. This might sometimes result in a surprise, as when this “decomposing” of a piece which in the sources is notated in duple time throughout showed that its first section is in triple time, really – I came back with another Ricercare than the one which I had brought with me to Urbino!
On the second weekend of the course an exhibition of CDs, facsimiles, editions and musical instruments opened in one of the Palazzo’s rooms. There were two builders of plucked strings with instruments present but the goings on in the exhibition were often clamorous to such an extent that it seemed of no use to try out a lute or a guitar. The lute class was allowed the somewhat lesser great joy of congregating in a room next to the exhibition on Saturday which meant that one had to play while next door several people at a time tried out how far one might be able to overblow these descant recorders … at least I am able now to boast of my having played in the Palazzo Ducale of Urbino once …
On Sunday there were no classes because a conference presided by Umberto Eco was held in the Palazzo on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the course. Eco did not extend his role much beyond moderating the conference but in his opening speech amused everyone with recollections of his rather fruitless approach to playing the recorder. Giancarlo Rostirolla (“Il papa del flauto dolce in Italia”) recalled the beginnings of the Early Music Movement in Italy in the Sixties, the organologist Renato Meucci threw light on a correspondence between Arnold Dolmetsch and Gabriele D’Annunzio touching on early music, the musicologist Francesco Luisi and Claudia Caffagni – a specialist of the medieval lute – spoke on aspects of sources, editions and bringing them to use for playing the music, to which Paolo Pandolfo added the appeal to use ones primal musical sense above all. Paul O’Dette cited passages from the writings of Silvestro Ganassi, Nicola Vicentino and others in his talk on expression in the music of the sixteenth century. Everyone spoke in Italian alone which sometimes made it a bit difficult to follow for someone who is not a native speaker in the language.
I was not able to attend all of the concerts and had to leave out the Brueggen Consort (Telemann, Goldberg and Bach), the duo of violoncellist Gaetano Nasillo and pianist Alessandro Commellato (Beethoven, Chopin, Rossini), the quartet of flutists Lorenzo Cavasanti and Dorothee Oberlinger, violoncellist Giuseppe Mulè and cembalist Stefano Demicheli (Sammartini, Detri, Locke, Hotteterre, Telemann, and Vivaldi), the FIMA baroque orchestra (Vivaldi), and festival ensemble (Giovanni Francesco Anerio) and so have to limit my remarks to two keyboard, one ensemble and one lute concert.
On the way down to the Grande Cucina (the great kitchen) of the ducal palace one can easily break one’s legs. The large room is reached via a ramp with regularly set, perpendicular bands of raised stepping stones like it is found everywhere in the town where the hill is not steep enough to build a stair but where it would be dangerous to lay flagstones alone. Differently from most of these ramps in the streets the one leading down to the palace’s basement is in a very historical state and one had to be warned against the hazards of the way by a danger sign. Luca Guglielmi played on Wednesday evening a concert in the Grande Cucina. For the first half he used an Italian style cembalo to play Frescobaldi, Bull, Byrd and Froberger, for the second an instrument after a French model on which he played Bach, Buxtehude, Pachelbel and Fischer. I had him heard as a member of Jean Tubery’a La Fenice a few years ago but in this solo concert he could show his impressive musicianship even more, being free from the role of the continuo player. I especially enjoyed his playing the Italian instrument and music but this might have to do with me not liking the somewhat harder, more brittle sound of the French cembalo as much as the rounder and softer one of the Italian cembalo.
In the concert pause I walked around the rooms in the basement of the Palazzo which are mostly void of anything except a small, rectangular recess in the floor of one of them which seems to have been the ducal bath. How very different from the bathtub of Philippine Welsers’s in the Ambras Castle near Innsbruck – Lady Welser had a swimming pool for herself!
Maurizio Salerno’s organ concert took place in the church of San Francesco’s in the heart of Urbino between the Piazza della Republica and the Piazza S. Francesco. From the evening life in the street and places almost nothing was heard in the church but during some fifteen minutes or even longer Salerno’s playing was accompanied by the ostinato of a shop or car alarm having gone loose somewhere nearby. Salerno played Storace, the Scarlattis, Pasquini, Muffat, Froberger and Buxtehude. I will certainly not forget the impression it made on me hearing some of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas played on an organ. Unfortunately, I will not forget the accompanying “siren song”, either, which only occasionally was drowned out by the organ’s full work.
Pedro Memelsdorff’s group Mala Punica specialises in the music of the Ars Nova. On the evening of Friday, 25 July, they sang and played a concert under the title “Napoli Gothique” in the great inner court of the palace. I was not sure if it would be possible for me to hear through and understand the differently texted voices of Philippe de Vitry’s motet “Rex quem metrorum”, composed for Roberto il Savio, crowned king of Naples and Sicily in 1310. It was indeed very difficult although I knew the piece, but for the music following this magnificent opening the acoustics of the court showed to be more favourable than I had thought them to be. Mala Punica’s concert was very beautiful if a bit demanding for the uninitiated listener.
Paul O’Dette’s concert on the following evening was originally scheduled to take place in the Grande Cucina but when the public’s interest showed to be greater than the possibilities to install chairs in the Duke’s kitchen it was decided in favour of the great inner court, where on the evening before the soft sounding echequier (an early form of the clavicymbel) of Mala Punica’s Pablo Kornfeld was clearly heard, so one could be sure that the lute’s sound would be sufficiently audible even in the back rows, too. Paul O’Dette played a program of English music of the Golden Age in a concert dedicated to his son Philip who should have come with him to Italy but had to stay in a hospital in the United States instead.
The concert’s first half opened with a set of anonymous variations on popular tunes (“I cannot keep my wife at home” and others), followed by music of Daniel Bachelar, Anthony Holborne and John Johnson. In the second half Paul O’Dette played pieces by John Dowland alone. It would be easy to point out the virtuoso pieces in the program like Bachelar’s Mounsier’s Almain, Dowland’s Farewell and the well known fantasy with the tremolo finale which is ascribed to Dowland, but this would mean to detract from the ability of this lutenist to expose an enormous amount of musicality in addition to his technical prowess which makes it possible for him to shape gems even of lesser material – although one should add that there was no lesser music in this concert. It is always most impressive to experience the seemingly effortlessness with which he masters even the most difficult music! The auditorium sat in almost complete silence through the concert which ended after two encores: Dowland’s Frog Galliard and the Menuet from Johann Nepomuk
On Monday Paul O’Dette rounded off the course with a workshop, elaborating on or resuming a number of points which had been touched upon during the course and adding hints and advice on aspects like programming and much more. The lute class’s participants where presented with a diploma signed by O’Dette and FIMA’s president Andrea Damiani (“Oh – graduation!”) and after that I went on the trip home. During the ten days I had had my car parked in the Via dei Morti (Street of the Dead) but neither did the engine need a jump start nor do I seem to have brought back something undead with me. Instead I have come home with a large bag of impressions, memories and – not at least – things to practice.