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Re-Composing Cozzolani – Magnificat to Perform Modern Premiere of Lost Work

Listen to Cozzolani’s Music

O Praeclara dies Page 1

The first page of "O Præclara dies"

We are fortunate that Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, unlike most of the nuns composing for convents in the 17th century, had the opportunity to publish some of her music. Had her works not been printed on the press of Venetian publisher Alessandro Vincenti, they would most likely have met the same fate of the vast majority of music recorded solely in manuscript – lost in a fire, sold as scrap paper, or simply discarded when musical fashions changed.

Only two of Cozzolani’s four published collections survived into modern times complete: Concerti Sacri … (1642), which includes the four voice Mass that Magnificat will perform in December, and Salmi a Otto Voci … (1650), from which the psalms in our Vespers programs are drawn. Sadly, the one part book from her first publication of motets Primavera di fiori musicali (1640) that survived into the 20th Century was destroyed in 1945 along with the entire Berlin Singakademie library. However, in the case of her collection of solo motets Scherzi di Sacra Melodia … (1648), we still have the soprano part book, though the basso continuo part book has been lost.

Over the past decade that Magnificat has been performing and recording Cozzolani’s music, there have been three previous programs on which we have performed motets from the Scherzi with newly “re-composed” continuo parts. In our upcoming performances on the weekend of December 4-6, Catherine Webster will sing the Christmas motet O præclara dies from the 1648 collection in what will most likely be a modern premiere.

In addition to it’s Christmas subject, O præclara dies shares many features with the other solo motet on Magnificat’s December program, Ecce annuntio vobis from the 1642 collection, which will be sung by Jennifer Ellis Kampani in a revival of her memorable performance of the motet in Magnificat’s first performances of Cozzolani’s music in 1999. Both motets (or concerti as they were called at the time) employ iterative procedures with no internal refrains, feature extraordinary vocal virtuosity and include a triple meter piva section before the final alleluia.

But what about that missing continuo part?

There is, of course, no way to determine with any certainty how Cozzolani would have elaborated the bass. The mid century trend towards more active bass lines involving “walking” ostinatos, shared melodic phrases and periods, and the more generally structural function given to the bass all presents more options in “re-creating” the missing part, but also make the process more challenging. However, having prepared, rehearsed and performed nearly every bass line Cozzolani published, we have learned to recognize characteristic melodic and harmonic patterns and that helps to narrow down the likely harmonizations for any given melodic passage.

For the other “re-composed” continuo parts from the 1648 collection that Magnificat has performed, I have sketched a basic framework that is then modified during rehearsals by the musicians – especially Magnificat’s fine continuo team of David Tayler and Hanneke van Proosdij, who are probably more familiar with Cozzolani’s continuo writing than anyone. So the recomposing is definitely a collaborative process, with final decisions often being made in the dress rehearsal.

As a bass line player myself, I have found the process fascinating. While in most cases the basic structure is evident from the melodic line, there are cases where the choice of one inversion or another or the use of imitation or other figuration can dramatically alter the emotional effect of a passage or color the expression of a particular word or emotion.

  1. November 6th, 2009 at 12:57 | #1

    Excellent, Warren. The concept of Tikkun Olam applied to early music.

  2. November 6th, 2009 at 13:17 | #2

    Hi Jonathan.
    Repairing the world indeed. Sadly there’s so much (music and otherwise) that’s lost – that much more imperative to do what we can.

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