Cara la vita mia

Canzoni and madrigals from the late 16th century in Ferrara

The inspiration for this programme is the musical life at the end of the 16th century at the Italian court of Ferrara. The city was under the rule of Duke Alfonso II d'Este, notable patron of the arts: under his rule the Ferrarese court was a hub of musical excellence, attracting composers and musicians from afar. Despite this cultural blossoming, however, the Ferrarese dynasty was in danger of extinction: with two childless marriages behind him, Alfonso was in urgent need of
producing a male heir to secure the dʼEste lineage. Ferrara was surrounded by powerful neighbours
such as the Papal States, who were ready to take over the city should the lineage be interrupted. The hopes of the cityʼs autonomy were put entirely on Alfonsoʼs third wife, Margherita di Gonzaga, who moved to Ferrara from Mantua to marry Alfonso in 1579, aged fifteen. Margherita was an important musical patron, and had close ties with one of the most important ensembles in the Ferrarese court: the so-called Concerto delle Donne. The Concerto, or the Dame di Ferrara, were famous for their virtuosic singing: their performances inspired composers across Italy to write for a similar ensemble.
The composer most closely associated with the group was Luzzasco Luzzaschi. His works for one, two and three sopranos, Tʼamo mia vita, Stral pungente dʼamore and Aura soave form the core of this programme. Other composers from Luzzaschiʼs entourage are also represented, including his Ferrarese-born student Girolamo Frescobaldi, whose diverse vocal output is represented by the wistful aria Voi partite mio sole for solo voice, and the lively three-voice setting Corilla, danzando sul prato.
Aside from being a cultural landmark, Ferrara was an important trade centre: a crucial role in the
cityʼs flourishing was played by the Po Delta. This watery landscape was the inspiration for part of
tonightʼs programme, which also creates a bridge between Ferrara and Venice, its powerful rival,
with whom the city fought constantly for domination of the region. Thus, water is a parallel symbol in our programme: in an unusual arrangement of Girolamo Kapsbergerʼs Toccata arpeggiata, the sound of two plucked instruments creates a murmuring flux; this is immediately followed by Torquato Tassoʼs ode to the exhilarating natural spectacle of dawn on the laguna set to music by Claudio Monteverdi in “Ecco mormorar lʼonde”. As a counterpart to natural bodies of water are human tears, also a prominent feature in the chosen texts for this
programme: tears and sighs are the central image both of Monteverdiʼs Dolci miei sospiri and Kapsbergerʼs Sʼio sospiro.
Because of Margherita di Gonzagaʼs birth-ties with Mantua, the Concerto delle Dame was closely associated with composers from the Mantuan court. The composer Giaches de Wert, Flemish by birth but an adoptive Mantuan, was known to have had close contact with the Concerto. His works in this programme include O Primavera and Cara la vita mia. Giovanni Battista Guariniʼs text “O Primavera” conveys a deep hope and longing for the renewal of spring: spring is described as youth
of the year, mother of flowers and bringer of new love. It is not difficult to connect this image of Spring with Margherita, the Ferrareseʼs symbol of hope for a brighter future, a continuance of dʼEste rule. But the Ferrareseʼs hopes in Margherita were in vain: Alfonso died heirless in 1597, the city was taken over by the Papal States soon after and what remained of the dʼEste family fled the city. Thus, Ferraraʼs golden age came to an abrupt end. As Guarini wrote in his bittersweet ode to spring: “You, O Spring, do indeed return, but do not bring with you the happy days of my fortunate past”.
Gioco della cieca

“Blind love I do not trust to thee, that makes desires full of obscurity”. Thus comments the chorus in Guarini's play, “The Faithful Shepherd” (Il pastor fido) on two lovers' passionate but beleaguered love tale. In the third act of the play, set in the idyllic pastoral world of Arcadia, two lovers play a game of “Blind Man's Bluff” (or Gioco della Cieca, as it is known in Italian). One, Amaryllis, is
blindfolded and accidentally ends up in the arms of the other, Mirtillo, who desires her, unbeknownst to her and the community. While the two characters wander sightless—Amaryllis because of the blindfold, Mirtillo because of his tormented love—Guarini's chorus bemoans the
treacherous and false nature of blind love.
The invisible thread of sight between lovers and their beloveds is a central theme in this programme. Seeing is a source of joy and despair for the lover, who lives only for the sight of his
beloved; it is his only means of coveting the loved object, if the love is inaccessible; it needn't be
reciprocated—indeed, more often than not, it is unrequited—in order to be a bittersweet sustenance
to the infatuated individual. Crucially, loving sight can also be entirely divorced from the object of
desire: a lover caught in amorous desire can read whatever he or she wishes into the eyes the
Taking as an inspiration the vocal and instrumental works of late 16th and early 17th century Italian
composers such as deWert, Caccini, Kapsberger and d'India, the ensemble Concerto di Margherita presents a fable of an archetypal Lover, caught, like Amaryllis in Guarini's play, in a cruel game of Blind Man's Bluff. Playing with sight and visibility throughout the concert, the musicians, who all
sing and accompany themselves on their instrument, take the audience with them on the Lover's path: born in Arcadian innocence, blinded and deluded by love, lost and disoriented in darkness and finding solace in obscurity.

"Special thanks go to Martin Morell for allowing the use of his edition of G. de Wert's "Chi mi fura il ben mio" (track number xx).
His website offers transcriptions of hundreds of Italian madrigals, plus MIDI files and translations into English, which can be downloaded free of charge.” +41 76 566 756