Monday, 11 December 2017

Piccinini's strings and the Medieval Skyscrapers

What comes to our mind first?

There is nothing to be done. For me too, no need to lose your hair.
Our marvellous mother tongue got fixate and you cannot evade its slowly moving spheres.

Indeed, Bologna is one of the famous gastronomical centres, however, nota bene, it is not spaghetti that is a big deal here but tortellini shaped after Lucrezia Borgia’s bellybutton by a heated innkeeper who goggled at her through a keyhole; in a word, let us be gastro-communicative even if there are other more fascinating things to talk about.

For example, let us mention that there were 180 towers in the city in the 1200s. We can only guess what this amount was for. They were 60-80m high medieval skyscrapers located on a relatively small area. 
It is more than astonishing
Because this height is that of a twenty storey building today and they were not familiar with either tensioned concrete or steel support rails and they constructed these gigantic and slim oddities from brick and stone the size of two fists; inside there was a complicated flight of stairs only to go up to the roof. 

Today there are 20 of them left with Two Towers among them which inspired the designer of Twin Towers too.

The university. It is the oldest in Europe; it was in function in 1088 already.

Its library contained the knowledge of the then world and the book agents turned back only at the Great Wall in China.

The gigantic San Petronio basilica got started as the biggest church of Christianity but Pope IV. Pius had enough of the mind-boggling waste of money so it was built as high as 47 m inside only so that the public could have enough air and spiritual perspective.

The 25 thousand people who can be seated in it. 

And Alessandro Piccinini lived here.

He was a harpist, lutenist, composer and performer. He dwelled and walked in this odd city with the many towers where the weird shadows of the prolonged extensions and dilatations floated in the air and the reimported vertical horizon had an extra effect on everything and everybody. Piccinini was no exception: his name is attached to the gearing of the Renaissance lute with extra strings and a longer neck; these prolate and prolonged instruments are called theorba and archiluto today.

His son published two volumes - Intavolatura di Liuto et di Chitarrone, libro primo (Bologna, 1623) and Intavolaturo di Liuto (Bologna, 1639).
The first edition in 1623 is practically a tractate too; several pages are about play modes, accords and stringing and a separate chapter is devoted to dynamics and the application of falses.

This period was the era of the break-through of monody; the base of Baroque performance mode - basso continuo dates from here; the emergence of the long bass strings is outright obvious just like the city stretched upwards as the scene…

Basso continuo is to be understood in these decades as Piccinini composed it, that is, the lower strings must be plucked as if it was an organ pedal.

The rising heyday is heard on the record.
The instrumentation is very special because Monteilhet took Piccinini’s tractate literally and a genuine organ, a small portative turn up in a few pieces as companion. There is a baroque guitar in many places mostly in unison to intensify the rhythm.

Piccinini travelled a lot; he made long detours in Ferrara and Naples.
While listening to Toccata Cromatica we have a strong feeling that he had a lot of cups of coffee with the prince of Venosa in Naples.  For they met each other indeed and Arabian coffee might as well be present and it was Gesualdo who created excellent music from the chromatic aberrations. 

So does it happen here. From about the 45th second things take a really odd turn; some false strings come up then the whole structure shifts into another system; a huge delight is borne out of the initially despairingly false accords. 

Very brave. 
Despite the different tuning and harmony constructing system of today everything comes over sound by sound even 400 years later. We do not seem to have changed a lot inside in this field.

We are given lines from variants of the contemporary favourite melodies in many places with the guitar in the same parts almost all along, however, with an extreme sense in a way that the different tones deliberately hang out just a bit, as little as the odd flavour stands out.

The whole record is covered with intense melodiousness just like a protective umbrella which attracts us to listen to it when the structures are a bit more complex or give in themselves with difficulties or when false accords stroke us backwards.

They are protective like the arcades against excessive sunshine to make us feel like taking a walk.
Arcades of which there are 38 kilometres in Bologna.

Ironically, later or even in today’s orchestral performances the lute and the whole instrument family itself - what remained of it - degraded back to plain basso continuo companion… Piccinini’s long strings toppled Apollo’s instrument off the throne then went into servility themselves. 
The towers of Bologna tumbled down.

Later, Early Music was the great come-back; we have lots to select from.
For we do have to make a selection, yes, because it is a complicated instrument to play with difficulties with the plenty of gut strings. You can hardly find a record with a perfect tuning and there are even fewer with some fine rolling and ease, and, at the same time seriousness and deepness penetrating deep inside.

Like this record.

Highly recommended.

Translated by Kenesei Andrea

Thank you for the images.