The Christmas Revels

1999 Christmas Revels Program Book Articles

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Leonardo's Legacy
in Science
Reincarnating the
Commedia Dell'Arte
The Zampogna:
An Unbroken Tradition
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Introduction

In this twenty-ninth year of the Christmas Revels, we invite you to step back with us to 16th-century Italy where an astonished public was experiencing the great burst of creative energy that characterized the Renaissance. Personifying the age was Leonardo, born in the tiny hill town of Vinci in Tuscany. Painter, sculptor, musician, scientist, and engineer, he moved easily from one discipline to another, incorporating, in his words, "a proportioned harmony reflecting things in nature as seen in a single glance." To this end, the study of weights, hydraulics, anatomy, and botany was incorporated into his painting and sculpture. Leonardo embodied the Renaissance conception of the world as being based on the connectedness and continuity of all the various parts of the universe.

Our gathering place is part workshop, part palace. The year is about to turn, and the news has gone out far and wide that this seasonal celebration stage-managed by Leonardo is not to be missed. We are promised dancing and singing by the finest court musicians, a display of inventions, entertainment from the commedia dell' arte street performers, and a total eclipse of the sun.

Join us as the brass announces the arrival of the first guests, the Doge of Venice and his entourage.

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The Program--PART I

1. Overture

Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble

2. Pavana "La Bataglia"

The Flemish composer and publisher Tielman Susato included his own pavane in his 1551 collection, Dansereye.

Renaissonics

Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble

3. Chi la Gagliarda

"He who would learn to dance the galliard must come to us, who are accomplished masters," goes this 1541 villanella from Giovan Domenico da Nola, who spent most of his life in Naples.

Il Coro Toscano

Renaissonics

4. O Sanctissima

It is believed that whole crews of Sicilian seamen would sing this melody in unison at sunset. It first appeared as a hymn in 1792 in The European Magazine and London Review as the "Sicilian Mariner's Hymn to the Virgin."

Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble

ALL SING

5. Dit le Bourguignon

This instrumental piece first appeared in Ottavio Petrucci's landmark 1501 publication Odhecaton, the first great book of printed music.

Renaissonics

6. Poichè in Van

The composer of this barzelletta, Marco Cara, was famous in Mantua and throughout northern Italy for his singing and lute-playing as well as his compositions. "Coming from Bologna," he sings, "my shoes hurt my feet!"

Tapestry

David Coffin

7. Imitatione della Villanella

From Orazio Vecchi's 16th-century madrigal comedy Le Veglia di Siena, this song makes fun of a vain country girl. "I am a country girl but very beautiful. Love will surely make me die, but what love is, I don't know!"

Tapestry

Commedia Dell'Arte

8. Scaramella

The great Netherlands composer Josquin des Prés, a contemporary of da Vinci's, mastered the Italian style (along with every other musical style in Europe) during his stays in Milan, Rome, and Ferrara. Known for his splendid polyphonic masses and motets, he was equally comfortable with secular songs such as this street song. Scaramella is a commedia-type character who is supposedly off to war with sword and buckler but in fact is more interested in impressing the ladies.

Tapestry

Il Coro Toscano

Renaissonics

Commedia Dell'Arte

9. Improvisations on Passamezzo

The compositional form known as the ground, based on a repeated bass line, gave solo performers broad scope for improvisation, often characterized by virtuosic flourishes and highly complex rhythms. This was one of the most popular grounds in the Renaissance.

Renaissonics

10. Giratondo

A children's game from Lucca, similar to the English "Ring Around the Rosie."

Ho Perso la Cavallina

"I have lost the filly," a choosing game from Vicenza.

Piru, Piru

A children's Christmas song from the village of San Gersole, near Florence. "Piru, piru" imitates the sound of the ciaramella, a shepherd's reed pipe. "Here comes the farm girl with her baskets; she's come from the mountains, and she's gathered chestnuts."

I Bambini Bolognesi

David Coffin, ciaramella

Christa Patton or Larry Cole, zampogna

11. La Cadenza (or Piva Piva)

A traditional zampogna melody from Calabria. Although the zampogna is often used for dancing, here it is the musings of the zampognare as he tunes and warms up his pipes in the meadow in the warmth of a summer afternoon.

Christa Patton or Larry Cole, zampogna

12. Sicilian Bagpiper's Carol (Canzone d'i Zampognari)

The southern Italian bagpipe known as zampogna has been traditionally played by shepherds, who come into the villages during the Christmas season. Because of this carol's striking resemblance to Handel's "He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd," from his Messiah, it is tempting to speculate that Handel heard this melody–and the characteristic harmony of parallel thirds–during his visit to Naples in 1708.

Christa Patton or Larry Cole, zampogna

David Coffin, ciaramella

Il Coro Toscano

I Bambini Bolognesi

ALL SING

2nd verse (see music on next page)

13. Now Winter Nights

A poem by Thomas Campion (1567-1620).

Patrick English

14. O This Rich Age

A passage from The Brilliant and the Dark, an opera with a libretto by Ursula Vaughan Williams and music by Malcolm Williamson, the current Master of the Queen's Music.

Tapestry

Il Coro Toscano

15. Ma Che Figura (What a Sight We Shall Be)

The remarkable polyphonic singing tradition from Genoa known as trallalero is characterized by falsetto male singers in the upper voices (here sung by Tapestry women), a resonant drone of basses on the bottom, a "guitar" part that vocalizes a plucking sound throughout, and an element of improvisation in all but the basses. This style may have roots in the Renaissance or earlier, as well as from Slavic cultures to the north.

Tapestry

David Coffin

Michael Punzak

Il Coro Toscano Bassi

16. Il Bal do Sabre

This version of il bal do sabre, "the sword dance," comes from the Piedmont area of northwestern Italy. Italy has at least two different sword traditions. The morescas, or "Moorish" sword performances, were performed from the 15th to the 18th centuries as court entertainment. These were mock sword-play dances or battles between Christians and Moors. The other tradition of linked-sword dances appeared later, but seems to have borrowed some of the style of the morescas. The sword dance performed here is of the type associated with the towns of Bagnaso, Fenestrelle, Vicoforte, and others. The linked-sword dance was not mentioned in print until the early 19th century, although oral tradition places its origin several centuries earlier. Our presentation draws heavily on the version that is still performed in Bagnasco.

I Bagnaschesi

17. Come Che'l Biancho Cigno

Marco Cara's early 16th-century frottola draws on the medieval poetic theme of a swan flying out to die over the sea. "Like the white swan, my soul leaves my body over the sea with no shores As the sky weeps, I die singing."

Tapestry

Renaissonics

18. Salutation

An excerpt from a letter written by the Franciscan Fra Giovanni on Christmas Eve 1513 to his friend the Countess Allagia degl' Aldobrandeschi, then living in Florence.

Patrick English

19. Lord of the Dance

Sydney Carter's modern lyrics to the Shaker song "Simple Gifts," adapted for Revels by John Langstaff, are here translated into dance using a compilation of traditional morris steps by Carol Langstaff and J. Martin Graetz.

David Coffin

Pinewoods Morris Men

Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble

Chorus:

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

ALL SING

AND DANCE

Intermission

The Program-PART II

20. Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

An ancient ritual dance for good luck in hunting the stag, still danced every year in the village of Abbots Bromley in England. Its supernumerary characters–the folk fool, the man-woman, the hobby-horse and the boy archer–link it with the mumming traditions of Christmas.

David Coffin, recorder

I Bagnaschesi

Jim Klimek, fool; Dave Overbeck, man-woman Andy Page, hobby-horse; Michael Beam, boy archer

21. Sicut Cervus (Like As the Hart)

The late-Renaissance sacred polyphony of Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina, typified in this motet setting of Psalm 42, is renowned for its graceful melodic contours, carefully balanced phrases, and restrained but sublime expression.

Il Coro Toscano

22. O This Rich Age

Il Coro Toscano

Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble

ALL SING

23. Madama Dorè

A canzo a ballo (song for dancing) from the 13th century, sung at weddings, this became a children's game known throughout Italy. The king has sent his emissary to bring back Madame Dorè's beautiful daughters to marry a succession of men, beginning with the chimney sweep.

La Befana in Questo Mese

The legend of La Befana is celebrated throughout Italy in countless variations. On the feast of the Epiphany (for which she is named) La Befana, the old witch, appears with her broom, a bag of presents for the good children, and a bag of coal for the bad. This song comes from the village of San Donato, near Monte Casi-no, and refers to the Befana "all beautifully powdered, with shoes of chocolate."

Norah Dooley, storyteller

La Me Nòna (My Granny)

A children's song from Trento, in Lombardy, originally associated with the rice harvest.

I Bambini Bolognesi

24. Salterello

The Italian word "saltare" means to jump or leap. The salterello is a dance form that can be traced to the 14th century, though here we use the music to introduce La Befana. This tune is from the playing of Luigi and Damiano Palozzo from the Lazio region.

Judy Erickson, La Befana dancer

David Coffin, ciaramella

Christa Patton or Larry Cole, zampogna

25. Tarantella di Peppina

The most popular dance from southern Italy, the tarantella probably dates back to classical times. Perhaps named for the city of Taranto, it is popularly believed to cure the bite of the tarantula spider.

Renaissonics

Il Coro Toscano

I Bambini Bolognesi

26. Alla Luna

A pæan to the moon by Giacomo Leopardi, 1798-1837.

Pamela Rosin

27. Ne Più Bella di Questa (None So Lovely As This)

Although a Netherlander, Heinrich Isaac had a lifelong love affair with Florence. He worked as an organist there and taught the children of Lorenzo de Medici. He married a Florentine and died in Florence in 1517. This musical tribute to the city mentions several gods and goddesses, all of whom "came together to live in Florence."

Il Coro Toscano

Renaissonics

28. Rounds

ALL SING

Il Coprifuoco

Dona Nobis Pacem

29. L'Amor Donna Ch'io Te Porto

A 16th-century frottola by Giacomo Fogliano, with typical love poetry of the era: "The love, my lady, I have for you I would readily confess, And of the pain I'd like to tell that I always bear for you."

Tapestry

Renaissonics

30. Pavana and Gagliarda Ferrareze (in the style of Ferrara)

A favorite pairing of two of the most popular dances of the Renaissance, the graceful, processional-like pavan and the wonderfully show-off galliard-with its bold leaps and elegant athleticism.

Renaissonics

31. Arlecchino Goes to Battle

The commedia dell' arte emerged in Italy in the 16th century. Actors took preexisting folk forms, improvised masking, music and dance, and developed them into a theatrical medium. Over the next two centuries, the performance techniques that they developed were passed on to siblings and younger actors in the troupes as professional secrets (the word "arte" being properly translated as a combination of "tricks of the trade" and "know-how.") The lazzi, or tricks, can still be seen in more recent traditions like the British Pantomime, the Music Hall (where lazzi are known as "schtick"), and a particularly rich source, the silent movie.

I Giullari

32. Sol Eclypsim

This piece, from the Notre Dame repertory of the 12th and 13th centuries, re ects the widespread fear that eclipses evoked in the Middle Ages. The eclipse was seen as an omen of the apocalypse, which, however, would be followed by a millennium of peace and plenty. "The sun has been eclipsed by the interference of death; the light of the world has been extinguished by the falling of the sun."

Tapestry

Il Coro Toscano

I Bagnaschesi

33. The Shortest Day

This poem, written for Revels by Susan Cooper in 1977, has become a traditional part of Revels performances throughout the country.

Patrick English

34. Sussex Mummers Carol

This traditional carol is sung as an ending to the folk play in Horsham, Sussex. Similarly, in each of the ten American cities where Revels is produced annually, this carol is sung with the audience at the conclusion of each performance. The brass transcription is by Brian Holmes, with descant and final verse harmonization by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble

ALL SING

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Leonardo's Legacy in Science

Leonardo

by Owen Gingerich

Of all the extraordinary characters of the 15th and 16th centuries, Leonardo da Vinci seems to define what we mean by Renaissance Man. Artist, musician, architect, engineer, scientist, and philosopher–his reputation has grown to legendary proportions. His "Mona Lisa" is undoubtedly the world's most famous painting. And his legacy of thousands of sheets of sketches and texts, written in a curious, cryptic, mirror image writing, has inspired imaginative reconstructions of his far-sighted inventions. The latest published biography on Leonardo lists more the 6,000 books and articles devoted to his life and works.

And yet, there is a strange puzzle here. With his incessantly restless, roving mind, Leonardo was never suYciently organized to publish any of his findings. This was not because he was a recluse, hiding his discoveries and speculations as proprietary secrets, for in several places he indicates that he was specifically collecting ideas and experiments for several treatises. Rather, he was always too busy with new investigations and inventions, so that when he died in France in 1519, his discoveries remained sealed up in his manuscripts. Where could a copyist be found to transcribe this peculiar backward script? Consequently, his ideas had essentially no impact on the scientific progress of the Renaissance. Why, then, give Leonardo so much press as a scientist and engineer? Because we rarely have a case of a self-taught genius who has left so much documentation (including an artistic component of staggering proportions), but who simply did not make his work known in his lifetime. In other words, here is an almost unique opportunity to explore the knowledge latent in the European Renaissance. What kinds of ideas were open to a clever observer of the world, one ready to undertake experiments or dissections, to challenge accepted notions, and even dream of possibilities not yet technologically feasible?

IMPOSSIBLE MACHINES

Leonardo was clearly a most perceptive observer, someone who included small details along with the larger view. While not all of his manuscript drawings are as original as once believed, many of them document visions of his own imagination rather then the scenes around him. One class in particular comprises speculative inventions far beyond the technology of his time, or even of our own–the so-called impossible machines. These included a system of shafts and cogwheels for generating enormous heat to rival the sun, a diving apparatus, an "easy-moving wagon," and a "helicopter," as well as various other flying machines. It is futile to use 20-20 hindsight to fill in details omitted by Leonardo in order to reconstruct his machines today. Rather, we should say they are the work of a farsighted optimist who believed that humans would eventually conquer the skies as well as the seas.

Proudly declaring himself an "unlettered man," Leonardo claimed the higher ground as a disciple of observation. Deprived of conventional schooling, he nevertheless collected books and struggled with Latin. However, as the biographer and art critic L.D. Ettlinger has observed, Leonardo repeatedly expressed his scorn for those who relied on book learning and the authority of ancient writers: "With a characteristic mixture of pride and contempt he bursts out, 'Though I have no power to quote from authors as they have, I rely on a far bigger and more worthy thing: on experience, the instructress of their masters. And if they despise me who am an inventor, how much more should they be blamed who are not inventors, but trumpeters and reciters of the works of others?'"

>From his continuing observations and experiments, Leonardo began increasingly to distill his results into general principles. And he became interested as well in understanding the human body in mechanical terms. "Man has been called by the ancients a lesser world," he observed, "and indeed the term is rightly applied, since, as man is composed of earth, water, air, and fire, this body is similar to the earth." Hence, as a historian of science Paolo Galluzzi has pointed out, Leonardo saw unity between the animate and inanimate worlds, and consequently he believed in the validity of a rigorously mechanical investigation of the human body.

In about 1510, Leonardo executed an impressive series of anatomical drawing –of bones, muscles, and arteries, as well as a fetus in situ in a womb. On the same sheets, he recorded his intense dislike of passing time in the company of corpses.

In these studies Leonardo never ceased to be impressed by the mechanical intricacy of the human body. He wrote, "It does not seem to me that coarse men with lewd habits and little reasoning power deserve so beautiful an instrument or so many varieties of mechanism."

In a world of publish or perish, many of Leonardo's ideas almost perished. Others, who independently discovered and announced them, deserve the credit for having first published the explanation. Yet, "rather than attributing this or that 'discovery' to Leonardo, the interesting matter is to learn what Leonardo knew and how he knew it," as historian Charles Gillispie has wisely commented.

Indeed, the windows opened on the Renaissance world by Leonardo's manuscripts enrich our understanding of a culture poised on the threshold of an epic journey of scientific discovery. Leonardo of Vinci, genius first class, would no doubt be amazed by all that we have learned since the 16th century, and surely he would be delighted to find that the notebooks he never published are now widely known and universally admired. And from a 20th-century perspective, he is just as interesting for what he got wrong as for what he got right.

Owen Gingerich is Professor of Astronomy and the History of Science at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge. (The article is reprinted by permission from the Museum of Science magazine, Winter 1997, and is an abridgement of Professor Gingerich's essay appearing in the catalogue of the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Codex Leicester–A Masterpiece of Science at the American Museum of Natural History.)

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Reincarnating the Commedia Dell'Arte

Arlechino.gif

by Ron Jenkins

Eleven years before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature Dario Fo sat in a dressing room in Milan blackening his face with the make-up of a 16th-century Harlequin. His features did not resemble the clean and pretty countenance that is often associated with the characters of the commedia dell' arte. Fo's conception of Harlequin and his commedia counterparts is crude, violent and unpredictable. The dark, ragged lines of Fo's painted mask reflected his vision of clowning as a primal expression of fundamental human needs.

"True clowns have always been concerned with basic human hungers," Fo explained as he looked in the mirror at Harlequin's face. "Not just hunger for food and sex, but also the hunger for dignity, the hunger for power, and the hunger for justice."

Fo was preparing to perform the lead role in a commedia-inspired play he had just written called "Arlechino, Hellequin." The title refers to the origins of Harlequin's name which some trace back to hell, associating the commedia clown with a creature of the underworld. Fo enjoys exploiting that demonic connection, "I have been playing Harlequin my entire career," he laughs. "My characters have always been in this key. Harlequin is a character who destroys all conventions. His personality and sense of morals are based on paradox. He comes out of nothing and can transform himself into anything."

Fo's plays have brought the spirit of commedia dell' arte to the stage with more immediacy and comic verve than any other 20th-century author. His anarchists, drag queens, schemers, and clowns resonate with the defiant spirit that gave birth to the tradition of commedia dell' arte. Everyone is familiar with the popularized images of commedia gures and their descendants like Pierrot, the braggart soldier, Columbina, Punch and Judy, the quack doctor, and the prettified version of Harlequin in his shiny diamond-patched costume. More elusive is the underlying aesthetic of the commedia dell' arte, which Fo locates in the iconoclastic routines of medieval storytellers, jugglers, and clowns known as giullari. The giullari provided prototypes for the characters that later became associated with the commedia dell' arte. The most successful commedia actors formed professional troupes that staged semi-improvised scenarios in the mansions of wealthy patrons. Giullari performed in the streets and piazzas, satirizing the injustices of the feudal system. Early commedia characters maintained the populist instincts they inherited from the giullari. Later commedia characters evolved into figures that were more refined.

Fo's incarnations of the commedia masks go back to their earliest roots. "I prefer to present Harlequin as he was before he was castrated," he explains. The costume Fo wore to portray Harlequin was decorated with a haphazard pattern of leaves, which Fo believes were later transformed into the now familiar diamond patterns. The original harlequin was a wild man of the forest, a savage fool who used laughter as a strategy to survive.

Ron Jenkins, Professor of Theater at Wesleyan University and former circus clown, is currently a Guggenheim Fellow working on a book about the Italian Nobel Laureate Dario Fo. Jenkins is Fo's American translator and the author of Subversive Laughter and Acrobats of the Soul.

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The Zampogna: An Unbroken Tradition

by Christa Patton

Much of the traditional music and dance of Europe today has been revived after being neglected or forgotten for generations. In southern Italy, however, many old traditions continue uninterrupted to this day. Instruments, dances, and song forms from this region reveal secrets of the past. The bagpipe of central and southern Italy, known as the zampogna, has a repertoire centuries old and a mode of construction that can be traced to the Renaissance. Always played by the people of the countryside, namely shepherds, its bag is made from sheepskin, complete with fleece and chanters, and the drones are made from olive tree wood. Its health is maintained by the riches of the countryside, the wood being oiled with olive oil and the reeds conditioned with wine.

Every province has its own type of zampogna with diVerent tunings. Typically, two chanters are tuned in fixed intervals (usually 3rds, 4ths, or 5ths) and played together, one with each hand, resulting in characteristic complementary melodies and the ability to accompany chordally. The instrument played tonight, a zampogna a chiave (keyed), has chanters tuned in octaves. In the south the zampogna is sometimes played alone but more often with a large tamborine and a little peasant oboe called the ciaramella, both of which are played in this performance. In fact, both the zampogna and the ciaramella were made by the same instrument maker in the village of Scapoli, in the province of Molise. The tradition of the zampogna and ciaramella was the source of the pastorale in classical music, which featured a gently flowing melody over a drone, purporting to imitate the sound of shepherd's pipes; a famous example is the last movement of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony.

Christa Patton, a classically trained oboist, has performed regularly with New York's Ensemble for Early Music, Clarion Music Society, Ex Umbris, and PiVaro. She has also performed southern Italian folk music with I Giullare di Piazza and early American music with Linda Russell and Companie.

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Updated Tuesday, January 23, 2001
url http://sheldonbrown.org/revels/christmas98-program.html