A New Approach & MM

"The length of the syllables of the verse must be strictly observed, for in rhythm, are the images of the affections." - Aristotle

Solo song performances and especially singing to the lute were held in high regard in courtly circles and popular culture in early sixteenth century Italy. Renaissance songs have a beauty and emotional truth that have been sadly neglected: when performed in a style within the musical culture, we believe, they can gain new life for a modern audience.

We read descriptions of performances where singers delivered their lines and rendered their stories in dramatic fashion. In order to achieve this vitality today, it is essential to move beyond performances tied too closely to the score, to a literalness of interpretation and to an evenness of expression.

We discovered in the musical treatises and related sources of the early Renaissance that the art of singing (and playing) was rooted in oration and was closely aligned to persuasive speech where singers modelled their art on that of the orator or actor, giving their words the natural rhythms of speech.

That meant bringing out certain words and syllables and playing down others; adhering to long/short syllables; slowing down in certain passages and speeding up in others; stretching and swelling notes in expressive ways; singing louder or softer, and varying the tone of voice, according to the meaning of the text.

It also meant analysing any given sentence in a song, breaking it down into its various phrases and clauses, and leaving gaps with pauses between them when performing them; the song thus came across as a series of separate segments, creating a highly articulated style of delivery, one that makes a sharp contrast with a seamless legato, a single long unbroken line. All of this was possible because singers were free to adjust the notes on the printed page and add emphases, pauses and other nuances (and even ornaments) of their own.

These qualities realised on our album, "Michelangelo’s Madrigal" (Et’cetera KTC 1623) fully embrace one of the most important musical ideals of the 16th century, sprezzatura, that noble negligence of the written page to best attain the expressive language of song in a dramatic, yet natural way. Kate Macoboy revives the principles of rhetoric and oratory, becoming a storyteller who transforms the skeletal notation of the compositions into passionate musical declamation as described by Renaissance writers such as Baldassare Castiglione, Giovanni del Lago, Nicola Vicentino, and Giulio Caccini.

There is a wonderful late 15th-century description of the sprezzatura performing style in a letter by the great classical scholar and poet Angelo Poliziano to Pico della Mirandola (c.1488):

"The voice itself was not entirely that of someone reading aloud nor entirely that of someone singing, but yet both could be discerned, neither separated from the other. It was, in any case even or rhythmic, and varied as required by the passage. Now it was punctuated, now continuous, now excited, now restrained, now calm, now vehement, now slow, now swift, always faultless, always clear, always delightful, the gesture neither indifferent nor sluggish but yet not affected or offensive. Anyone would have said that a young Roscius [the ancient Roman actor] was on the stage."

The songs and lute solos are suited to intimate settings, small rooms where we are free to draw on the full range of expressive resources utilised by musicians in early sixteenth-century Italy. You are invited to listen and see the results in our video of a characteristic song of the period – "Come harò donque ardire" ("How, then, could I ever dare") – which is also one of the most affecting works of its kind in the early Italian repertoire. It is the first known publication of Michelangelo’s poetry (1519), with a musical setting by Lucrezia Borgia’s singer and lutenist at the time, Bartolomeo Tromboncino. In addition, we recorded, "Michelangelo’s Madrigal" in St. Martin's in Hampshire. This venue, being more the size of a chapel, has a relatively short reverberation time, similar to the rooms where our music was performed historically. The blend of intimacy with an outer layer of spatiality achieved in our recording seems to us a more natural evocation of the historical experience than would have been possible to recreate in the deliberately neutral acoustics of today's recording studio.

Robert Meunier played guitar in a band in Toronto before turning to formal musical studies at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. He obtained a lute performance diploma from the Royal College of Music in London, UK. As lutenist and musical director, he has been playing and researching early Italian Renaissance song and lute solo repertoire for over thirty years. He has taught the lute, recorded for CD releases with Chandos, CRD and BIS and radio and television broadcasts for CBC and BBC, including programmes for BBC Radio 3 on Tromboncino and Isabela d'Este. He has performed throughout Europe and North America both as a soloist and with specialist ensembles including performances at many of the major music festivals. Over the years he has developed an interest in the connections between music, the visual arts and poetry. In particular, he has performed in the intimate settings of 'Old Master Galleries' both in the solo lute song and lute solo repertoires. He has written articles for classical music magazines, articles regarding his and Kate’s new approach to Italian Renaissance songs with references to their acclaimed music video of Michelangelo's madrigal, as featured in the full length feature film, 'Michelangelo – Love and Death' for Seventh Art Productions. In recent years, he has worked with Robert Toft, a world renowned expert on historical performance practices of vocal music who has published five books on the subject.

Kate Macoboy, Australian soprano, is a highly experienced ensemble singer and soloist. Specialising in Baroque and Renaissance music, she graduated from the University of Western Australia with honours. In 2010, she completed a Master in Advanced Vocal Ensemble Studies under scholarship at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. She performs regularly in the UK, Europe and Australia with several leading ensembles, including, Ars Nova Copenhagen and Chamber Choir Ireland (under the direction of Paul Hillier). She has had European engagements with The Bach Consort and Danish Radio Vokalensemblet and a tour to Hong Kong with the Grammy award winning group, Theatre of Voices. Most recently, she has recorded solo works for Theatre of Voices for a CD entitled, 'In Dulci Jubilo' and performed in a world premiere of Johann Johannsson's piece 'Last and First Men' at the Manchester International Festival which also featured Tilda Swinton's elegiac narration into a poetic meditation on memory, loss and the idea of Utopia.