Monday, 15 October 2018

Gorzanis - A blind lute player from the 16th century

Oddly, this name, this composer had been known long before today’s Early Music caught on - by whom? Well, the guitarists. The first modern setting was made in 1891 and the first ‘villanelle’ composition onto guitar in 1963 and 1975.

There were titles like “Popular melodies of Cinquecento” and similar others. No matter how populist it sounds, it is true for the Venetian release of printed music which practically flooded Europe with high quality lute tabulatures including Gorzanis as one of the most popular since the end of the 1500s.

His biography is, as a rule, fragmented. 
He was born blind in Puglia, the south of Italy, but he lived in the opposite upper end, Trieste. He was one of the most famous virtuoso lute players of the period. He composed loads of modern instrumental and vocal pieces which served as examples to follow for several later generations. He arranged his dances into stable forms known as passamezzo, padoana and saltarello. His villanelle editions made the lyrics of the songs - detached from the Neapolitan dialects - widely known. We should not, of course, suppose any kind of grave metaphysical contents; they were like Oh, dear Marta, when you sing your song the planets stop rotating and the gates of Paradise open ajar - well, the eternal topic is touched upon just like today.

In spite of being blind he was favoured by fortune; he travelled widely: Trieste, Venice, Graz, etc. He served in several courts of the aristocracy and released plenty of lute volumes during the period of 20 years and his pieces or settings were included in numerous collections.

Pino de Vittorio.

Singer and chordophone player. And, mostly, a theatre man. He performed in an endless number of troupes and ensembles with partners like Irene Papas (my eternal love).

He was a founding member of the ensemble La Cappella della Pieta’ dei Turchini (the other is a  Nino Rota's student, Antonio Florio) and these days he performs as a singer in many new formations as well.

He is much in demand as an artist, as a singer.

Why? This CD might give us the answer.

A few songs sound very much southern as if from Sicily. No wonder in the case of Pino de Vittorio. They are loud and blatant; not that horrible; for me they are interesting rather than fine. However, the majority of them are inexplicably and extremely good.

We might as well start from farther: from the fact that Gorzanis was visually impaired. 
It raises many questions like how he put down his plenty of notes. Did he have someone to help him or did he use an unknown system existing before Braille? Or - and it is even more challenging to understand - how did he incorporate the progressive space (invisible to us but perceivable for the blind) into his music? What does the layer of codes hide breaking through the stratum which is like an armour or carapace formed from the essence of the music heard so far loaded with prejudice (and, of course, protecting us) even before turning the CD on?

Almost the usual story. The structure of the melody is not too complicated. The arches are transparent, there is no maze of parts and no art of the fugue.
It strikes the eye that the single lute is accompanied by drums in many places. Do the drums simply provide rhythm? Well, nope, as the inner beat of these pieces is intense, so much that the old tablets do not contain indications of time. But then by what do you play the music? I keep niggling when asking my lute player friend. Tactus is the basic organisation of music and there is no such thing here. Well, it simply works out this way, it is just lame in any other rhythm, believe me, he says.

The drum here is as if it was some other part. No, there is no isorhythm or any other similar trick, the beat is very much the same, yet, it is the kind of jingle of polyphony. The plunk has some special flavour all along. Bor Zuljan who implemented the project is an excellent lute player. As if his soul opened getting into a broader spiritual field just like the old shamans.

The solo lute pieces are pulling straight to meditation.

The instrumentation provides further delicacies. Here is the hammered dulcimer, this ancient sort of cimbalom. It has had an entirely different meaning in Hungary since L’Arpeggiata than the derelict accompaniment of “songs-to-lunch” [awful radio program with plastic Hungarian folk songs around lunchtime]

Its tone is expressly marvellous and, on top of all that, its continual resonance of the instrument’s body pervades the entire record creating an aura which is hardly or even not heard at all, yet, it is there, we can feel it. 

Something for which vision is not needed, yet, it is as if we could see it.

So it is again that Gorzanis was blind and this progressive field stuff.
What is this? 
Well, the answer is far from simple. 
Our vision, weird it may be, is not continuous. The image in the mind is actually the analogic match of the things rapidly selected from the stored mass of patterned cliché of stereotypes. To put it clearly: this is a laptop I am writing on as I have seen objects like this; this is a mouse I have also seen before and this is a room of which I have seen many. Books, I have read books. Clouds, I know what they look like for I have seen clouds - not exactly the one like this but I have the patterned script in my mind. 

Everything has its patterned script. Actually, at my adult age I have seen nearly everything, there is nothing new under the Sun - it is to be taken literally, word for word. 

Are there exceptions? There must be a few. 
The reports about drug experiences must be such, which makes the whole thing so moving and shocking. The psychedelic effect. 

And is there any example when you don’t need to eat or drink or suck up some pretty dangerous shit to feel it? 
There are a few cases only but we know of the famous “rotating mask”. 

The negative face, well, we haven’t seen such a thing, most of us don’t have the patterned script in our mind. Our mind switches to the known positive image of masks and we believe that even if the price is that the rotation turns backwards, which is obvious nonsense.

That is, our vision is fragmented rather than direct complexity. For instance, the interlaced image production in video-recorders, however, there are half-images in them, whereas here are images withdrawn from the storage. Therefore, we do not see the thing but the image we have in our mind. 

But then what if somebody is blind? 
Well, things work differently for and with them. They don’t have many things in their mind due to lack of vision but there are things in return. No, the point is not that the other senses (touch, hearing, etc.) are better but the processing is more continuous; it is not as fragmented as with people of proper vision. They have a progressive field, real-time image production in their mind. They produce sensations in a quite strange way compared to you, to the Compass readers.

It is amazing that people in the late Middle Ages knew this complex psychophysiological argumentation just the tractates used different words. The respect toward blind musicians was not pity or commiseration but the sensation of the surplus they could pass on.

We can sense something similar here too. 
Hard as I attempt I can only circumscribe why this record is so fine. 

I dropped a line to Bor, the art producer telling him how much this record touches me, how much I like it, and so on, and he says he feels just the very same. They had a lot of projects but this went into unreasonable depths.

And Pino de Vittorio’s voice and mode of performance suit all this so nicely. 
What is it like? 
Well, it is sort of theatre-like, well-articulated, so much that I keep showing it to the hi-fi fans what phenomenal “s” sounds I can hear. What’s more, he has a bit of satire in his voice, some opera-buffer and hyperbolism. 
That it makes everything serious is a big question mark for me - why as we would expect just the opposite.

He inserts something important preserved in the folk music of the south of Italy. I don’t understand the lyrics, the words but I know precisely what it is about.

There is a song accompanied with viola da gamba near the end. Our beautiful [Hungarian] mother tongue makes a huge error in the expression - it is much more than accompaniment [Hungarian ‘kíséret’ – no exact English translation; maybe close to ‘escort’]
It is as if it showed the singer the way to turn to. Like lightning where a thin plasma arc indicates the way for the bigger energies to follow. 
The English “accompanied” is a closer term as it is company, partner indeed. 

Like brothers or sisters. 
Almost in love.

And the whole record is so touchingly open and honest. 
It shows what it is like with a pure heart. 
Nothing more, nothing less. 

It doesn’t expect anything from me. 
It does not even want me to understand anything. 
It simply delights with its sheer existence.

Meanwhile this unresolvable simplicity can open our hearts. 
Mine for sure.

Most highly recommended.

Translated by Kenesei Andrea

József Attila: With Pure Heart

Got no father, no mother,
no god, no homeland,
no cradle, no shroud,
no kiss, no lover.

Last three days I haven't eaten
neither a lot, nor a morsel,
my twenty years is power,
I am looking for a buyer.

If no one wants it,
the devil will take it,
with a pure heart I will plunder,
if need be I will murder.

I'll be caught, I'll be gallowed,
with blessed earth I'll be covered,
& death spreading grass will grow,
on my oh, so beautiful heart. 

(translated by Gyukics Gábor)

Thank you for the images.