Debut Recording – Release Date January 15, 2021
Le nozze in Baviera
Music for the 1568 Wedding of Wilhelm of Bavaria and Renate of Lorraine
Exploring Ritual, Race, Caricature, and Sexuality in 16th-Century Europe
This recording originated from my curiosity about the moresca, an Italian musical genre that caricatured Black Africans. I wanted to know where, how, and for whom these pieces were performed; this recording of four vignettes from a 16th-century wedding is the result. Like most scholars and performers of early European music, I am a white person of privilege, and among the many things such privilege has afforded me is the opportunity to study and perform this music. While I do not claim any first-hand knowledge of exclusion due to my race, my gender, or the traditional beliefs of my ancestors, I am fervently interested in understanding racism, oppression, and their manifestations in cultures past and present. Oppression in music of the past is often simple erasure on the part of music historians and performers: the tacit denial that people of other races even existed in a particular time and place, either through neglect or refusal to bring their documented presence to light. Such erasure, in turn, has resulted in a lack of understanding of how music was used to perpetuate the myth of white European superiority. In this recording, I aim to show the presence of Black Africans in several 16th-century European musical works, to demonstrate how these works were used, and to invite our listeners to consider their various purposes, including the perpetuation of the white superiority myth. While I could have demonstrated such uses solely in the context of scholarly articles, these have less currency and immediacy than the act of listening – of bearing witness with the ears – to this music, which must first be performed by modern musicians. Indeed, many of these representations have to be heard in order to gain a robust understanding of how they function. This performance of Lassus’s moresche in something like their original context does not constitute an endorsement of the views expressed in them, nor does it represent unambiguous advocacy for them as works of art. Though these pieces have been recorded before, little regard has been paid to the original context in which they were created and performed. This recording seeks to address that.
The 1568 wedding of Renate of Lorraine to Wilhelm V, heir to the throne of the Duke of Bavaria, occupied the Munich court and its guests from February 22 to March 10 – an 18-day celebration. Duke Albrecht V was determined to make his son’s wedding an occasion on par with those at the best Italian courts. He had long sought to hire the best artists and musicians, and the Franco-Fleming Orlande de Lassus, known in Italian as ‘Orlando di Lasso’, had been his maestro di cappella since 1556. Lassus modelled Albrecht’s musical establishment on those of various Italian courts, employing a mixture of Northern and Italian musicians. One of the Italians, Massimo Troiano, was charged with recording the event in a description published in the form of a dialogue in 1569. It is from Troiano’s Dialoghi that we learn enough about the event to make a hypothetical reconstruction of some of Lassus’s musical contributions to it, particularly those surrounding improvised comedy. Lassus’s 1581 Libro de villanelle, moresche, et altri canzoni contains a number of works whose texts are associated with the commedia dell’arte; the volume is thus the principal source for the secular works on this recording. The book also contains a group of six moresche interspersed among the commedia dell’arte works. Our recording is an effort to assemble some of Lassus’s works for the wedding celebration so that we can hear them in something like their original context. In so doing, we hope to shed light on some of the various meanings that the music had for its 16th-century listeners.
Our reconstruction comprises four vignettes from Troiano’s description: the conclusion of the wedding ceremony itself, during which we hear Lassus’s six-voice Te Deum; the performance of a motet that Lassus composed for the occasion during supper one week later; a Saturday evening performance of moresche in the bridal chamber 13 days after the wedding; and music heard during an improvisatory commedia dell’arte performance 15 days after the wedding. The last two vignettes are essentially burlesques, and the content of their texts range from mild innuendo in the commedia dell’arte works to blatantly sexual and/ or scatological themes in the moresche. As will be discussed below, such contrasts pertain to the identity of the characters represented and presumably the purpose of the representations.
To read more of the liner notes, including texts and translations, click here. — Eric Rice