Early music: La Bella Franceschina

La Bella Franceschina

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The starting point for this popular musical fresco are the dances contained in the so-called Royal Appendix 59-62 of the British Library in London. These are manuscript part-books of four-voice music of extraordinary interest: the collection, brought to England by Earl Henry Fitzalan on his return from Italy in 1560, contains over 40 of the most popular dances of the time and is one of the most important testimonies of this musical genre. There is no firm date for its compilation but, given certain concordances with other codices and prints, it can be presumed to have been compiled between 1520 and 1540. Volumes of this type provide us with a fascinating snapshot of musical tastes in past eras and, sometimes thanks to specific omissions, important indications of musical practice. The most conspicuous of these omissions is, in our case, the indication of the instruments on which to perform the dances. The four-part writing does not account for any particular instrument, which was typical in the Renaissance, and the texture of the voices is well suited to a variety of interpretations, both with instruments of the "high chapel" (bombard, cornett, flute, sackbut, dulcian) and with those of the "low chapel" (lute, viola, flute). The two-lute elaboration we propose is part of a long tradition regarding the instrument: the iconographic sources are rich in images of pairs of lutenists, a typical practice in which one lutenist played a repeated bass, generally the tenor and contrabassus voices, and the other had the opportunity to indulge in melodies and improvisations, with the possibility of naturally exchanging roles. This practice must have been very much in vogue at the turn of the 15th century and we find confirmation of this in one of the first printed publications entirely devoted to the lute, the Intabolatura de Lauto by Joanambrosio Dalza, published by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1508. In rendering the dances on this disc we have approached this tradition, an interpretation that is somewhat distant from those with wind instruments that are more commonly heard today, and which we imagine to be suitable for the "chamber" of a Renaissance palace, reserved for the purer ears of princes, in the words of a musician of the time, Adrianus Coclico. 

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