“Soften the voice as if, little by little, going away”

2009 December 16

Gloria in altissimis – New Release from The Cozzolani Project

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First page of Gloria in altissimis from the Canto Primo part book. (Click for pdf of the complete facsimile parts.)

The Cozzolani Project’s first new release is the Christmas Dialogue Gloria in altissimis, one of the Cozzolani’s most immediately appealing works, in which she vividly captures the brilliance and wonder of the Christmas narrative. The anonymous text alludes to Luke 2:10 and 14, and in Cozzolani’s hands it is infused with a gleeful exuberance and a touch of chromatic mystery. The Angels (two sopranos) are “glorious” and the shepherds (scored for alto and tenor) are at first astonished and then jubilant.

After the shepherd’s initial encounter with the angels, increasingly expressive solos are given to the four voices in turn, sung on Magnificat’s recording by soprano Catherine Webster, alto Suzanne Jubenville, soprano Andrea Fullington, and alto Karen Clark, who sings the tenor part at notated pitch. David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosdij, organ complete the ensemble.

In an almost theatrical gesture, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani instructs the four singers at the end to “soften the voice as if, little by little, going away” in imitation of  the Angelic choir disappearing as they ascend back to Heaven after announcing their good news to the awestruck shepherds.

Soften the Voice

Gloria in altissimis is designated in the part books (download facsimile) as a “Dialogue between the angels and the shepherds, for the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord”. Robert Kendrick has observed that “of all the new genres found in Seicento Milan, the dialogue was the most central, a phenomenon evident in Cozzolani’s motet books…providing a vehicle for the expression of individual affect, whether of generic figures, scriptural characters, or historical saints…”  The dialogue genre embodied the idea of direct communication between humans and the divine that dominated Milanese spiritual writing of the first half of the 17th Century.

Eight of Cozzolani’s works are explicitly designated as dialogues, four in each of the two surviving collections. The range of works so designated is remarkable, encompassing as it does acclamatory (Psallite superi, O caeli cives), biblical (this work for Christmas, Maria Magdalene stabat for Easter), consolatory (Ave mater dilectissima), and liturgical (Beatus vir) settings, as well as the only two penitential motets in Cozzolani’s entire output (O mi domine, and Quid miseri).

Magnificat first performed Gloria in altissimis on the San Francisco Early Music Society series in December 1999.  We performed the dialogue again earlier this month on our own series in a program structured around the Midnight Mass. The recording was produced by Peter Watchorn and engineered and mixed by Joel Gordon.

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