M. A. Centorio, P. Heredia, Mottetti-Inni-Antifone

Elecla 19070
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Marco Antonio Centorio
Pietro Heredia
Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli
Don Denis Silano, conductor 

Vercelli Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Eusebius and the oldest episcopal see in Piedmont, stands out among the Piedmontese ecclesiastical institutions priding themselves on a considerable liturgical-musical history. Starting from the year 1495 it featured an annexed Collegio degli Innocenti (‘College of the Innocents’), a place devoted to the musical training of six choristers for sung services in the Cathedral, even though there is evidence of children’s voices dating back to at least 1372. At around the middle of the 16th century, the city hosted the Ducal Court of Savoy, together with the Turin Shroud, guarded in the Cathedral from 1543 to 1561, allowing contacts with singers belonging to what had once been the most prestigious musical chapel in Europe. Some of them, during their stay in the city, offered their services to the Cathedral, also as teachers to the boy singers. In the decades following the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and until the long episcopacy of Giacomo Goria (1611-1648), Eusebius’s Chair was filled by important bishops who were implementing the Tridentine dictates and who, after the example set by Saint Charles Borromeo, took particular care of appointing the Kapellmeisters who had to lead the reformation of music along the newly traced path of the Roman rite, introduced in Vercelli as early as 1575. Two of these maestros from the first half of the seventeenth century, virtually unknown to a modern public, deserve to be studied and reappraised: Pietro Heredia and Marco Antonio Centorio. Pietro Heredia, of Spanish origin (“dicto spagnolino”, as specified in a Chapter document), was born in around 1575. He allegedly attended the Vercelli diocesan seminary, where he was taught music. As early as 1592 he was organist in the Cathedral under the guidance of Valerio Bona, a conventual who was a skilled composer and teacher. After trying to receive a benefice in the Milanese church of Santa Maria della Scala, a Spanish centre in the Borromean city, and after working as a musician at the Savoy court in Turin, in 1598 he became Kapellmeister in Vercelli Cathedral, a position which he would keep until May 1612, when he joined the entourage of the powerful Barberini family in Rome. Being granted benefices that ensured his sustenance, he served under the most prestigious ecclesiastical Roman institutions (Roman Seminary, Church of the Gesù, Saint Peter). His connection with Vercelli was never severed: almost until his death in 1648, he never ceased to send the music the Vercelli Chapter requested. Heredia’s language, although in many respects indebted to the past, is emblematic of a transitional era. On one hand, he is evidently still linked to the prima prattica (‘first practice’). His refined and rigorous counterpoint shows he is indebted to the ‘broader’ modal language from the last quarter of the century, as demonstrated in the polyphonic revision of the old Eusebian antiphons Laetemur Vercellenses (Adest namque) and Beati Eusebii (ms. 1146). The Gregorian melody, at times making its appearance as incipit, at other times as a more or less explicit quotation in the unfolding of the melodic dialogue, is a constant in the four Marian antiphons here included – Ave regina coelorum (ms. 1141), Alma redemptoris mater (ms. 1146), Regina coeli (ms. 1115) and Salve regina (ms. 1146). On the other hand, the emerging of a new sensibility towards an accompanied monody and a ‘dialogical’ dimension of the musical texture, as divulged by the north Italian maestros’ polychoral works at the end of the century, is undeniable. Unlike Centorio, though, Heredia’s melodic language is still steeped in Renaissance-like sobriety. In the very refined motet Panis angelicus (ms. 1146), Heredia displays great elegance: alternating between binary and ternary rhythm, the voices intertwine now in imitation, now in a light polyphonic texture, now in the expressiveness of the general pauses, almost mystical sighs which gently paint the sacred text. The final cadence ends with a chord lacking the fifth, with the soprano’s descending disjunct melodic motion on the third, a sort of author’s ‘signature’ in his pieces for four voices. The motet Manifestavit se (ms. 1146), which could be defined as dramatic, is highly interesting. In an Easter setting (as demonstrated by the final Alleluja), the evangelical text, drawn from John, Chapter 20, is rendered in dramatic form, seizing the opportunity to express the dialogical nature that the Italian motet was gradually adopting at the beginning of the century, especially in the Po area. Here each evangelical character, individual or collective, is rendered through accompanied monody, duets or polyphonic sections either in imitation or using homorhythm. A compositional choice that Heredia employs again, more extendedly, in a piece called Maria stabat ad monumentum for eight voices, from the same manuscript reproducing the joyful Videntes stellam (ms. 1116), here included. This piece fully belongs to the style of the motet for a limited number of voices from the first two decades of the seventeenth century, combining, with sobriety and refinement, imitation, an inclination towards dialoguing parts, a taste for melodic flow, the alternation between binary and ternary rhythm and the pictorial representation of the text. The choice of having childrens’ voices sing the soprano part makes the performance especially authentic. The music by Heredia presented here has never been published, and the manuscripts are preserved in the Vercelli Capitular Archive. We know little about the life of Marco Antonio Centorio, born into a declining noble family from Vercelli. His date of birth is unknown, possibly around 1597-98. Some sources mention him as a Collegio degli Innocenti pupil and then as a counterpoint student in Milan, but there is no documentary evidence. From the year 1616 he is attested as organist in Vercelli Cathedral, and was granted a benefice from 1618. Since 1625 he taught music to the pueri, the boy singers, together with Giovanni Rovasio, a task that fell to him alone in 1628, together with the position of Kapellmeister in the Cathedral, which he kept until his untimely death in 1638. The seven motets for five voices (mss. 1303/1299E) constitute a very interesting monographic work, almost a compendium of the 1620s and 1630s motet form in the Po area, from the classic motet to the concertato motet and the dialogue. Here we can indeed find the imitative language derived by late sixteenth century madrigals, Monteverdi’s nuova prattica (‘new practice’) of accompanied monody and continuo, the alternation of choral sections and refrain episodes. The vocal dialogue, at times characterised by tight imitation between the voices, at other times more extended, deals with each voice now as equally important elements both chasing and supporting one another, now as following a concertato technique setting one of them, offering the main idea, against the others, answering with short textual motifs, almost litanically. Moreover, duets and trios alternate with isorhythmic sections, often in ternary rhythm, which, overcoming a merely paratactic syntax of the episodes, enthuse unity to the musical conversation, and at the same time highlighting a concertato taste for setting solo against tutti, full against empty , ornamental exuberance against baroque magniloquence. The organ plays a vital role. The instrumental bass, which is still a basso seguente in Heredia, not always strictly necessary and often replaced by the full score for the organist’s use, becomes here an authetic basso continuo, an autonomous and essential support to all of the voices. The two hymns, Christe redemptor omnium (ms. 1299) and O gloriosa Domina (ms. 1286), qualify as examples of the concertato style. The first entrusts the opening to a solemn episode in ternary rhythm. The following lines unwind in the dialogical alternation between groups of soloists. The penultimate line displays an imitative dialogue among the voices on the motif of a joyful chime of descending thirds, on the words hymnum novum. This piece ends with the final doxology, a crescendo which becomes progressively thicker with vocal entries, in enthralling and rejoicing poliphonic jubilation. O gloriosa Domina, “a’ 6, et a’ 10, se piace” (‘for 6, or 10 voices if you like’) is an example of adaptable liturgical music: depending on the number of voices available, this piece can be performed either by a minimum of 6 voices (CCATTB), or with the addition of ripieno voices. It displays the alternation between solo or soli (duets and trios) and tutti episodes. The joyful and solemn style, with prevailing ternary rhythm, is characterised by a modern, embellished and syncopated melodic style, already oriented towards tonality. All of Centorio’s works are preseved, in manuscript form, in the music collection of the Vercelli Capitular Archive.

Additional info about this CD
Recorded in Cappella del Seminario Arcivescovile Vercelli, Italy, on 17-21 January 2019
20 pages full colour booklet (Ita and Eng)
Musicology comment,
Artist biography




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