We particularly love music from Renaissance Venice and Spain - here are two recent programmes that explore those areas.
Musica per una serata veneziana
... e le stelle son lumi, gli Angeli sono sustantie, e la Musica e armonia, che quanto più può si va con la soavità conformando alla celeste ...
Henri III of France and King of Poland was conveyed into Venice in 1574 by four hundred Slav oarsmen, who rowed the king between rafts of Venetian glass-blowers and through Palladio's triumphal arches, to the palace of Ca' Foscari. At the principal banquet of his visit, Henri found his elaborately folded napkin was made of sugar. The music ringing in the king's ears all day was the music of pomp and pageantry, the music of Venice in all her glory, and it was as loud as you would expect it would need to be to compete with 16,000 cannon. But when the evening fell, the languid, exhausted Henri was conducted to his bedchamber, hung with pictures by Bellini, Tintoretto and Veronese, where the floors were carpeted with rugs from the East and the bed-sheets were embroidered in crimson silk. No record of the music that he enjoyed there survives; Musica per una serata veneziana is our 'imagined reconstruction'.
Fare lo Spagnoletto
An enticing glance at the wealth of music of Spanish origin with which northern Italy was awash - from the work of Spanish composers disseminated by Venice's publishing trade to the 'Contarini' manuscript, one of the most atypical and curious sources of Spanish tonos humanos in that it was probably written by an Italian copyist, to be performed in a Venetian villa. A glance, too, back towards the Iberian peninsula at the vast compendiums of vihuela music that defined so much of the region's repertoire and contained, incidentally, some of the earliest designated harp music.
Mascherata's flagship concert programme Musica per una serata veneziana features a great deal of Venetian diminution repertoire wherein the embellishment of the treble line throws the soloist's virtuosity and the composer's melodic contours into sharp relief. With such a variety of plucked instruments at our disposal, though, we were keen to explore repertoire in which the transformation of the music's character was driven by harmonic and bass mutation - and the Spanish vihuela repertoire has provided us with an opportunity to do just that. Diferencias by Luis de Narváez and Alonso Mudarra keep the vocal line virtually untouched in each permutation; all the textural accretion belongs to the vihuelist. The 'Contarini' manuscript's Tanta copia de hermosura has its points of melodic climax created almost entirely by deviation of the bassline from its ground, and Enriquez de Valderrábano's diferencias 'Sobre el canto llano de Conde claros' has its cantus firmus suspended at the top of the texture whilst three, sometimes four other voices dance below it.