Thursday, 11 February 2016

'Questa Fanciulla Amor.'.. Francesco Landini's magnificent mediaeval masterpiece

Francesco Landini, composer, musician, and instrument maker.

My latest offering is not my creation at all, but that of superstar Francesco Landini (1325-1397). I've been a flag-waving Landini fan for decades, and in particular of this piece, so I wanted to share it. It's a pity that my computerized rendition uses vocalise instead of real words, but the lyrics are in Italian anyway. The music is disarmingly simple, but the haunting melancholic melody lingers with you after the show. In fact, historical anecdote has it that the original 13th century audiences were so emotionally overcome by this song that 'their hearts burst out of their chests'.

Get some good wrap-around headphones or a decent sound system, and click the orange Play button:

If you would like to follow the 3 pages of the score, here it is, along with the lyrics. Scroll through as the music plays:

The music is categorized as a Ballata, derived from the Italian verb 'ballare', to dance, and is also a form of Italian poetry in the form AbbaAbbaA (my version is but an abbreviated sample). But even though it has its ancestry in dance music, I feel it should not be performed too fast, as many on Youtube like to do. True, many dances have evolved over the centuries - the stately Sarabande, for example, used to be a rollickingly fast folk dance in its early incarnations, as did the Waltz before it became so sylized. In Landini's work, however, the delicious little passing notes in the accompaniment can offer moments of yearning dissonance, yet most performers gallop recklessly over them without giving one's ear the time to savour. Sure, any music can be sped up to become dance music, but in this case that would be to mask the essential melancholy and brooding at the heart of the lyrics. Imagine the Beatles performing their song 'Yesterday' in a fast country rock style.

Instrumentation was not specified in Landini's score, as was often the case in those times. I have chosen viols to accompany the voice, as well as a lute. There was no lute indicated in Landini's score, but it was common practice for a lutenist (or a harpist) to join in, mostly doubling the lines of the viols. It helped the ear to pick out the viols' lines, much in the same way that an artist might etch the edges of objects with a line of black or white. Given the relaxed attitude to instrumentation in Landini's day, it would even be ok to perform the music with lute alone to accompany the voice, but a piano?  Nope - that would cross the red line. Violin/cello can replace the viols in modern performance, but tend to be much brighter and have a stronger 'attack' due to the greater bow-hair tension. Maybe bring out the mute?

I have added musica ficta in the manner of the day. These are accidentals which were not written in Landini's score, but which he knew the performers would insert according to commonly understood practices of the time. Why bother writing them in if you know your performers will do it anyway?  However, those once-common understandings have long since disappeared down the black sinkhole of Time, so in this day and age we the un-tutored are in danger of believing literally in what we see on the music page before us. Oh, the deadly traps for trusting young players of early music.

No comments:

Post a Comment