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Piffaro: Music From the Odhecaton

C. Michael Bailey By

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Piffaro is a wind septet who specializes in playing Renaissance wind music in an historically informed fashion on period instruments. These instruments are not the standard fare we are used to hearing today. However, they are the precursors. Shawms, recorders, sackbuts, douçaines, and bagpipes all combine to form a type of peasant symphony. To date, Piffaro has released six recordings that highlight Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Flemish Renaissance wind music both from the Royal Courts and from the peasantry. These precious recordings were highlighted with in these pages in an earlier Piffaro Article. All of the music is well researched. This scholarship is abundant in Piffaro's new recording, Music From the Odhecaton.

Music From the Odhecaton is a collection gleaned from the first commercially printed songbook. In May 1498, Venetian Ottaviano Petucci successfully obtained a twenty-year exclusive contract to print polyphonic music. That is impressive, even in 21st Century terms. It was historic in the respect that this deal was struck a mere 50 years after the first Gutenberg Bible was typeset. Outside of (and necessary for) this feat, Petucci developed a method for printing complex polyphony. In March 1501, Petucci published Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A ("One Hundred Songs of Harmonic Music"). This resulted in the first truly mass-produced sheet music.

The music assembled was as rarified as the circumstances. Petucci collaborated with a Dominican priest named Petrus Castellanus who was serving as the Italian equivalent of the Kappellmeister ( maestro di cappella ) of St. Giovanni e Paulo in Venice. Castellanus assembled and edited 96 of the work included in the Odhecaton. In addition to his access to the church libraries, Castellanus also may have obtained manuscripts from Girolamo Donato, a Venetian diplomat. For the most part, Castellanus selected composers from the north of the country who specialized in song composition.

The polyphony in Odhecaton references a library of basic monophonic melodies that serve as the archetypal building blocks of songs. These sonic archetypes are not unlike the riffs that populated the majority of the Count Basie book as well as the books of many other popular swing bands. Examples include the ostinato contained by Hor oires une chanson, which acts as signature that shows up in a number of such works. A second example may be found in the modal Tant que notre argent dure is detected in the bouquet of many modern French carols. Like jazz, this music has a large improvisational component. The shawm and sackbut players of the alta cappella were prized by their bandleaders both for their ability to improvise counterpoint and for their skill in performing polyphony.

In comparison to the other Piffaro releases, Odhecaton, is the most tightly focused and the disc thus benefits from this. Piffaro has no peers. There is really no direct comparison with other groups lest one includes a cappella vocal groups specializing in early music in the mix. Piffaro's importance, as well as their repertoire's importance lies in the role of early music in paving the way for later music. Piffaro discharges this responsibility superbly.


Track Listing: Alons ferons barbe; Latura tu; Je nay dueul; Hor oires une chanson; Dit le burguygnon; Tander naken; La morra; Acordes moy; Si a tort on ma blamee; Gentil Prince; Piva "Gentil Prince"; Cest mal charche; Ales regrets; Brunette; Dance "Loseraie dire"; Helas; Garisses moy; E qui le dira; Me doibt; Tsat een meskin; Je ne fay plus; Le serviteur; Tant ha bon oeul; Helas; Helas que poura devenir; James james james; James james james plus. (Total Time: 78:06).

Personnel: Adam Gilbert, Rotem Gilbert, Grant Herreid, Greg Ingles, Joan Kimball, Robert Wiemken, and Tom Zajac.

Title: Music From the Odhecaton | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Dorian Recordings

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