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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 17 (2011) No. 1

Published 2015

Music in Seventeenth-Century Naples: Francesco Provenzale (1624–1704). By Dinko Fabris. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007. [xviii, 330 pp. ISBN 978-0-7546-3721-9. $124.95.]

Reviewed by Louise K. Stein*

1. Introduction

2. Discovering Early Modern Naples

3. Neapolitan Musical Life and Institutions

4. Sacred Music and Opera

5. Provenzale’s Career and Aspirations

6. Provenzale’s Leadership

References

1. Introduction

1.1 Dinko Fabris is an unusually energetic and prolific scholar. His generous list of publications identifies him as an historian of culture, careful editor, scholarly impresario, and ambassador of musical research whose expertise spans a range of topics, including musical iconography, lute music, historiography, dance music, the reception of public festivities, opera, Gesualdo, Cavalli, both Scarlattis, Handel, and Nicolò Piccinni, among others. His sharp perceptions have enlivened our field and contributed most especially (but not exclusively) to the history of music in il Mezzogiorno, the southern part of Italy including the regions of the Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Sardinia, and Sicily.

1.2 In the early modern period, from the mid-fifteenth century to the early eighteenth century, these areas were unified under the Kingdom of Naples, governed at first by the Aragonese, then the Spanish, the Austrians, and the French (Bourbons). Fabris began his research for Music in Seventeenth-Century Naples: Francesco Provenzale (16241704) with the intention of conducting a “systematic” investigation to describe the “urban soundscape” (xiv) of Naples during the long period of Spanish rule, 1503–1707. This was also a “pivotal period in the history of European society” (xiv). The overarching study he planned originally was beyond the scope of a single monograph and proved to be difficult to piece together convincingly, given the scarcity of documentation about many institutions, genres, and periods during the viceroyalty. Crucial documents about the public and administrative aspects of Neapolitan musical history were destroyed when the Archivio di Stato was set afire by the departing Nazi troops on September 30, 1943. Others have simply been misplaced or remain difficult of access, even for seasoned scholars. Fabris had already completed a great deal of broadly foundational work before more narrowly focusing his monograph (which grew from his 2002 dissertation). Armed with methodologies from social anthropology, he selected Francesco Provenzale, the influential Neapolitan composer and teacher, as his guiding thread through the historical labyrinth of music in the city of Partenope.

2. Discovering Early Modern Naples

2.1 This very successful “case study” is an exploration of the “age” of Provenzale that begins by considering how Naples was experienced by seventeenth-century “outsiders” and “insiders” (xv). The city of Naples was densely populated and enormously musical by early modern standards, though musicologists drawn to the Seicento have tended to focus on the better-known courts and cities of Northern Italy with their celebrated Renaissance inheritance (and better-catalogued archives). A single historical concept and an orderly chronology for music in Naples during the Spanish period have eluded scholars, but this challenge aptly witnesses the diversity, inconsistency, and noisy incongruity of Naples as a musical center.

2.2 The musical and cultural practices alive in Naples in the late seventeenth century claimed a multi-layered inheritance, whose traces are still just barely visible in the city’s art and architecture. In 1544, after four decades of Spanish rule, when the painter Giorgio Vasari arrived in Naples he found a city stamped with the French Gothic style of the house of Anjou and dotted with Catalonian Gothic forms from the fifteenth-century reign of Alfonso of Aragon. Under the first Spanish viceroys, the city was renovated and many of the dark Gothic interiors were modernized; the entire quartiere spagnolo was constructed to house the employees and offices of the huge Spanish administration and the viceregal court.[1] The aural experience of Naples is less familiar than the visual, but comparable and equally indelible changes occurred in the city’s soundscape. Of course, any attempt to study the intellectual, artistic, and musical history of Naples reveals the difficult circumstance that, beyond private correspondence, Neapolitan “insiders” in the early modern period do not seem to have maintained a tradition of self-conscious historicist literature and cultural self-critique of the sort that characterized Florentine and Venetian circles. This paucity of self-referential literature about Neapolitan musical life before the eighteenth century is remedied to some degree by the first in a series of printed and manuscript guides intended for visitors to the city, as well as the many commemorative descriptions of political festivities published by or for the viceroys in the later seventeenth century. Naples increasingly attracted travelers, but did not explain itself, leaving modern musicologists bereft of some traditionally useful tools of our trade.[2]

3. Neapolitan Musical Life and Institutions

3.1 The first two chapters of Fabris’s book offer the best, most informative published study to date of musical life in Naples in the seventeenth century, thanks to his deft readings of scarce documentation. Chapter 1, “La città della festa,” begins with a “Visitor’s Tour” through Naples in the seventeenth century, offering a survey of the many visually and musically fascinating religious festivals that dominated the calendar and the Neapolitan soundscape. Relying on traveler’s accounts, such as Jean-Jacques Bouchard’s diary of his eight months there in 1632, and some of the early guides to Naples (Giulio Cesare Capaccio, Il forastiero [1634], and Pompeo Sarnelli, Guida de’ forestieri curiosi [1692]), Fabris escorts the reader with beautifully illustrative prose through the yearly schedule of innumerable public performances and processions, starting with the famously Neapolitan devotion of the Quarantore in Lent, and highlighting (as Brossard did) practices that seemed especially characteristic of Naples: special saints’ days celebrated in different neighborhoods; the procession of the Misterij della Passione and of the Battaglino;the massive Easter procession to the Madonna di Pugliano; the three major citywide celebrations dedicated to the patron saint, S. Gennaro; and the wildly popular maritime festivals known as spassi di Posillipo.

3.2 In “Mapping Neapolitan Musical Institutions,” Fabris explains the organization of power and the otherwise confusing hierarchy of officials who governed and administered Naples and its Real Cappella, studying the locations of musical institutions. He locates the musical institutions associated with the viceroy, the religious institutions organized around the Palazzo Arcivescovile and the Duomo, the houses of the religious orders, and the conservatories, to convey an “immediate sense of the dynamics and connections of musical institutions vis-à-vis the centres of civic power” (17). Fabris’s subsequent sections about each of these institutions are fundamental, and the section devoted to “music teaching” and the conservatories is especially fine.

3.3 Chapter 2, “The Age of Provenzale,” focuses first on “leading composers” in Naples and their musical output in the time of Provenzale’s youth. Though the notion of the “leading” composers is perhaps not sufficiently scrutinized here, Fabris attempts to draw together facts about musical life with observations about the music of several composers. He argues for a Neapolitan musical tradition or lineage within whose style and precepts Provenzale must have been trained, and subscribes to the somewhat problematic notion of a “Neapolitan school” in this period, because the conservatories did produce a systematic musical education. Theirs was a “customized scheme” that involved the passing of musical techniques from teacher to pupil, and thus ensured “constant control” over generations of musicians in Naples, especially those composing sacred music (81). His fresh but rapid analysis leads next to a consideration of Provenzale’s family and the outlines of his biography. The chapter is carefully documented (for nineteen pages of text there are a generous eighty-two footnotes).

3.4 In the reign of Viceroy Gaspar de Bracamonte, Count of Peñaranda (1659–1664), there were “617 religious institutions, 248 of which were churches, and seven conservatories, the latter with a total of 368 boys” in Naples, according to an anonymous manuscript dated 1660 (79). The four conservatories at the “heart” of the Neapolitan system of musical instruction and production were the nucleus “around which developed the organization of modes of musical production beyond compare” (79). Provenzale became director of the cappella of the Conservatory of S. Maria di Loreto, and thus for some forty years (1663–1701) the most influential teacher of music in Naples. Fabris insightfully describes the musical instruction at the four conservatories and mentions their particular features in Chapter 3, an unusually short fifteen pages (pp. 79–94, including the endnotes), perhaps because “very few musical documents” have survived to record pedagogical practices (85). Only one early eighteenth-century manuscript, the Gaetano Greco manuscript of unfigured instructional bass lines known as partimenti, survives as an “exceptional” document, according to Fabris, containing sets of progressive exercises for learning composition at the keyboard. Nevertheless, this is one section of Fabris’s study that leaves the reader hungry for more, given the influence of the conservatories in Neapolitan musical life and the lasting importance of their musical pedagogy in European music of the eighteenth century. Recent work by a number of scholars, especially Robert Gjerdingen and Giorgio Sanguinetti, explains the nature of the partimenti and their centrality in the musical training offered at Neapolitan conservatories; it may be read profitably together with this chapter of Fabris’s book.[3]

4. Sacred Music and Opera

4.1 Fabris’s claim that the conservatories’ musical output was “beyond compare” would seem to require more qualification, but he moves swiftly into the next chapter, a consideration of Provenzale’s sacred music (Chapter 4, “A Composer for the Church”). Provenzale’s compositional output is the priority in Chapters 4 through 6, about sacred music, opera, and chamber and instrumental music, respectively. Fabris surveys the Provenzale works list, offering sharp insight into the occasions and circumstances that engendered individual pieces. He describes the characteristics of some individual compositions as well, but this section of the book weighs less than it should. Compared to the elegance of the book’s first two chapters, the repertorial chapters somehow lack polish.

4.2 In Chapter 5, “Provenzale and Opera in Naples,” Fabris begins by considering the earliest opera performances known for Naples, the engagement of the Febiarmonici, and the patronage of Viceroy Iñigo Vélez de Guevara, Count of Oñate. Perhaps because this historical moment has been scrutinized by other scholars, Fabris does not explain that opera was just one facet of a much broader overhaul of public spaces and public life in Naples undertaken by the Count of Oñate in his short reign.[4]  This Spanish viceroy’s energetic patronage introduced opera in Naples and supported the rebuilding of the public San Bartolomeo theater in 1652. Fabris’s initial explanation of the genesis of the three operas that Provenzale claimed to have composed for Naples in this first period of opera’s history there, 1653–8 (Il Ciro, Xerse, and Artemisia), seems confusing at first reading. With regard to Il Ciro (produced in Naples in 1653 and then Venice the next year) “the famous [Francesco] Cavalli agreed to adapt a score by a Neapolitan debutant … for the Venetian stage.” The next sentence indicates, “it is probable” that Cavalli assigned Provenzale the “task of adapting his Venetian operas” for their productions in Naples. Yet acts I and II of Il Ciro “retain a large part of the original Neapolitan music, while the third act was almost entirely reset by Cavalli.” Reading a bit further into the chapter, Fabris explains that the most likely case for all three operas as performed in Naples is that Provenzale revised the scores of three Cavalli operas for their Neapolitan productions, under Cavalli’s supervision. “The only evidence that all three … were ever set to music by Francesco Provenzale appears in the libretto of his Il Theseo, overo L’inconstanza trionfante, performed in the Palazzo Reale on 28 November 1658 ‘per il compleanno di S. A. nostro Prencipe’” (158). Even this opera was most likely an adaptation of L’incostanza trionfante by Pietro Andrea Ziani, already performed in Venice the previous carnival season. Fabris sorts through the facts and the sources to resolve these thorny issues of authorship in his “Catalogue of Provenzale’s Works” (250). According to the Catalogue, the score for the Neapolitan production of Il Ciro is lost, but copies of a 1654 Venetian libretto survive, and a score with additions by Cavalli and then Andrea Mattioli is preserved from a 1665 production in Venice (I-Vnm). The score for Cavalli’s Venetian Xerse (1654–5) is extant (I-Vnm), while again the score for a Neapolitan version (1657) is lost, but a libretto survives; and Cavalli’s 1656–7 Venetian Artemisia score survives, but neither score nor libretto does for the 1657 Neapolitan production.

4.3 Only pages 161–79 in Chapter 5 are dedicated to the two Provenzale secular operas whose scores are extant (thanks to copies by his pupil, Gaetano Veneziano), Lo schiavo di sua moglie and Stellidaura vendicante. Fabris surveys basic information about performances and sources, then offers a detailed plot summary for each and a brief consideration of his proposed literary derivation for each libretto. Here, where the reader surely hopes to learn about Provenzale’s skill and craft, Fabris conveys only some observations about the “typology of the arias.” In the musical examples, some forty measures of music from Lo schiavo di sua moglie (Examples 5.1–2) and even fewer for Stellidaura vendicante (Examples 5.3–5) are transcribed. It is disappointing that the musical-dramatic fabric of the operas receives so little attention, given that Fabris is the expert best qualified to evaluate them. For Fabris, the “most successful” scenes in the “complex score” of Stellidaura vendicante are the comic ones, “rich in musical delights” (178).  If only he had explained just how this musical or theatrical “success” was negotiated in the score; why he considers the musical score “complex”; and what in particular is special about the comic scenes. If he seemed reluctant to attribute primary authorship of the three early operas to Cavalli (rather than to Provenzale), here he seems oddly dismissive of Provenzale’s operatic technique, perhaps because the arias are “mostly in the old-fashioned form of the canzonetta or passacaglia, with some infrequent duets and ensembles,” though the instrumental ritornellos “are pleasant enough” (177). If, indeed, Provenzale was the towering musical figure of his time and the best among the busy and highly trained native musicians in Naples, I wonder why Fabris did not bring his own well-honed and fine-grained interpretive expertise to bear in this section.

5. Provenzale’s Career and Aspirations

5.1 In my view, a close listen to Provenzale’s operatic music and an analysis of his approach to musical drama are particularly warranted in light of the circumstances that led to his resignation from the Neapolitan royal chapel. The viceroy whose reign began in January 1683, Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán, 7th marquis del Carpio, was a connoisseur of musical theater who raised the standards of opera production in Naples. In the thirty-year history of opera in Naples before Carpio’s arrival, the short tenures of successive individual viceroys and the fact that the royal chapel musicians were not expected to sing onstage (nor trained as theatrical performers) meant that opera productions both at the palace and at the San Bartolomeo theater depended on singers whose employment in Naples was usually short-lived. It was difficult to form and support a top-tier resident company, the production values were low, and most of the virtuoso Italian opera singers worked in the north, avoiding Naples altogether. Even before the aged maestro of the royal chapel, Pietro Andrea Ziani, died as anticipated in February 1684, Viceroy del Carpio was planning to install a resident opera composer as maestro di cappella, but Carpio did not promote Provenzale, who had already composed operas and served as maestro onorario, the honorary leader of the chapel since 1680. Instead, he brought Alessandro Scarlatti from Rome. He had heard Scarlatti’s music in Rome in his years there as Spanish ambassador (1677–82). Well aware of Provenzale’s legitimate claims, Carpio nevertheless stepped over Provenzale in early 1684 to invite Scarlatti to prepare and direct the music for Holy Week, to be performed by the chapel with opera singers brought from Rome as soloists. This hiring of “mercenary musicians” instigated a revolt: Provenzale resigned and took with him six chapel singers loyal to his cause.[5]

5.2 What Fabris identifies as Provenzale’s “old-fashioned” reliance on canzonetta and passacaglia (177) might explain why Carpio did not retain him as the principal opera composer and maestro. One of Provenzale’s operas did reach production during Carpio’s reign, but this was merely a small-scale revival of Stellidaura vendicata produced in 1685 at the request of singers who found themselves still in Naples, apparently during the summer festivities at Posillipo as well as at the royal palace and in a small but refreshing seaside retreat at Mergellina (now incorporated into the city of Naples).

5.3 The huffy and risky resignation of a group of singers from the royal chapel in support of Provenzale suggests that he was a species of capo who collected loyal colleagues and whose deep experience of Naples lent him special authority among musicians there. He was a musician with high aspirations, according to Fabris’s analysis in Chapter 7, “Hope and Disillusion,” but his career in Naples was marked by a series of near misses and disappointments. His first position in the royal chapel was assigned in 1680, when he was already fifty-six, apparently because the chapel’s maestro for many years, Filippo Coppola (maestro from 1656–80), a fellow Neapolitan who controlled other musical institutions in the city as well, somehow resented or disapproved of him. When Coppola died, the Venetian Ziani became maestro (at the advanced age of sixty); Provenzale rose only to relative prominence as the defacto leader during Ziani’s illnesses. Provenzale again suddenly found himself in disgrace when he was shoved aside in favor of Scarlatti for the directorship of the chapel when Ziani died. Viceroy del Carpio took full advantage of Provenzale’s resignation and the departure of his disciples, boldly assigning positions in the chapel to newly recruited opera singers in Scarlatti’s circle. Provenzale and his group were excluded from the immediate radius of power for reasons that may be impossible to discern. Indeed, though Provenzale later served as maestro di cappella of the Fedelissima Città, and the world of the conservatories was his “uncontested domain,” he long desired the directorship of another coveted post in the city’s musical hierarchy, the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro. He was passed over for years, finally stepping up as maestro of the Tesoro in 1686 and vicemaestro of the royal chapel in 1690 (under Alessandro Scarlatti). Fabris brings forth a plethora of documentation as he relates the story of Provenzale’s star-crossed career, valiantly raising many questions that cannot be answered conclusively just yet.

6. Provenzale’s Leadership

6.1 In Chapter 8, “Conclusion,” Fabris explains that many musicians of high quality in Naples in this period suffered similar ups and downs. In this sense, Provenzale was fortunate to enjoy such a busy career. Fabris’s exploration of financial records reveals Provenzale to have been “one of the wealthiest [musicians] in seventeenth-century Italy” (245). In this highly original section, what Fabris uncovers about the disparity between Provenzale’s official salaries and the state of his financial holdings and bank accounts is fascinating. It suggests that Provenzale had some rich sources of income beyond his official posts. His family seems to have been well off, but it is likely that he had significant business interests beyond music.

6.2 Naples offered musicians abundant opportunities for independent earnings through freelance performances at its many churches and confraternities, as well as in the constant festivities and theatrical performances, large and small, organized by private patrons at their palazzi. This lively urban environment attracted a growing population and increasing investment in cultural activity. Fabris’s concluding chapter offers a path-breaking survey of the independent musical careers possible for musicians in this crucial period, as performers and composers found ways to extricate themselves from the bonds of mono-institutional patronage and diversify (245). Provenzale’s public activities are not clearly spelled out in many sources, but Fabris provides extremely valuable insight into his role as a leader among freelance and diversely employed musicians: he “created a task-force of qualified musicians ready for every circumstance, sharing with them the considerable profits of this activity” (245).

6.3 The multiple identities of Naples—viceregal court, administrative base of the Spanish in Italy, ecclesiastical powerhouse, progressive locus of musical education, busy port, fast-developing banking center, and urban metropolis, complete with an opera theater and a burgeoning nobility—produced “an extraordinary mobility of musicians” (242). But as Fabris asserts in his preface, “During Provenzale’s age, Naples was like an island, where the dynamics of patronage and production and the consumption of music and spectacle were part of an entropic and self-sufficient mechanism with few or no links with the main Italian or European cultural centres” (xv). If it is true that “before the election of Alessandro Scarlatti as maestro at the viceregal court in 1684, music and musicians from Neapolitan territories never circulated abroad” (xv), and few foreign musicians ventured south (excepting “the Venetians Caresana and Ziani”), then Provenzale was a typical Neapolitan; but his operatic contact with Venice and Cavalli indeed distinguished him as a pioneer. Securely anchored at the close of Fabris’s well-documented navigation of Provenzale’s Naples, the reader senses that the intellectual, musical, and economic boom of Naples in the early eighteenth century may be waiting just around the turn of a page.

6.4 Fabris’s excellent book closes with a valuable “Catalogue of Provenzale’s Works” (250–61), eighteen illustrative figures that include maps, pages of score, title pages of libretti, and extracts from archival documents, and an extensive bibliography (278–301).

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