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Berkeley Festival: Cozzolani’s Concerti Sacri (1642)

All but one of the motets (O cæli cives from Salmi a Otto Voci, 1650) on Magnificat’s June 11 concert as part of the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition are drawn from Cozzolani’s second publication, Concerti sacri, a set of twenty concertos for 1 to 4 voices and a Mass Ordinary for four voices published in 1642. The volume was dedicated to the single most important patron of singers in northern Italy, Prince Matthias de’ Medici, a cadet whose military career had taken him from Florence to Milan in late winter 1640-1 and who mostly likely heard Cozzolani’s music during his stay in the city. That the dedication reflected some kind of contact between Matthias and Cozzolani, and that it was something of an afterthought, was noted by a Milanese patrician, Constanza Vittoria Arcimboldi, in a letter to the cadet Medici off at war:

“In addition, I will count on having met Your Highness’s taste in the following matter: I trust you will not be displeased that on my advice or urging Donna Chiara Margarita Cozzolani has dedicated her books of music to Your Highness; they will be presented to you by the Marchese Guicciardini.”

Matthias was no stranger to music; he patronized singers and composers associated with early Venetian opera, and established a troupe in Siena in 1646. In the absence of music theater in Milan, the prince could well have visited the institutions best known for singing, the female monasteries; indeed, Cozzolani’s dedication drew the explicit parallel between her works and the songs of Greek drama. The simile, unusual for a motet book, may also embody something of the composer’s own conception of her book; if some of the pieces represent works that Matthias could have head in the winter of 1640-1, others, most notably the long O quam suavis est for Corpus Christi, seem to encapsulate Santa Radegonda’s role in public urban liturgy.

While the high-voice duets, the compositional norm of Cozzolani’s generation, largely eschew standard texts, the settings of the Marian antiphons, Ave regina cœlorum, Regina cœli and Salve regina cast these traditional items as new-style motets. Several pieces use stanzas of Office hymns in centonized or free contexts, for example, the use of Lauda Sion salvatorem in the last section of Obstupiscite gentes. Besides non-liturgical occasions, these motets’ use at Mass and Vespers, or as additions to the Saturday Marian Office, is likely as well. And the wide variety of topics and texts in the collection point to no specific occasion, other than Matthias’ putative visit.

Stylistically, the pieces in Concerti sacri fit within the tradition of the sacred concerto in Venice and Lombardy around 1640. Due on one hand to the works of Gasparo Casati of Novarra, and on the other to those of Giovanni Antonio Rigatti and Giovanni Rovetta in Venice, the small-scale motet of the 1620s underwent a process of expansion and to some degree of transformation in the next decade. Refrain structures, duet texture, more virtuosic vocal lines, and clear internal demarcation underlie the new style. Melodic triple-time sections analogous to aria forms in early Venetian opera are present in many of the concerti, while ostinato or semi-ostinato basses organize some internal sections. The use of full or partial refrains, the more lengthy solos in multi-voice concerti, and the expansion of closing tutti sections all combine to expand the size of the form considerably.

Cozzolani’s pieces largely represent this new style, although some motets in Concerti sacri show traces of the simpler, less reiterative, sacred concerti typical of the 1620s. But a number of individual compositional traits are evident in her settings. Common to all her works are a number of musical/rhetorical figures typical of the decade, including sometimes unorthodox dissonances, used to express textual ideas.

We know little about the reception of Cozzolani’s music: one motet from Concerti sacri was reprinted by the Leipzig compiler Ambrosius Profe in a 1649 collection and another survives in a French copy (with an attribution to Iacomo Carissimi.) Cozzolani’s 1648 and 1650 editions remained on her printer Vincenti’s stock list throughout the 1650s; the reception of her first two publications is less clear.

Among Milanese motets of the 1640s Cozzolani’s pieces occupy a distinguished place and are well representative of mid-century composition. They display the devotional topics and vocal virtuosity associated with the most famous urban institutions for women’s music-making, the convents that housed more than half of Milan’s patrician female population.

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