Bud Roach’s provocative new recording Affetti Amorosi

Although I listened twice through to Affetti Amorosi, Bud Roach’s new CD of 17th century songs in his light tenor voice accompanying himself on the theorbo, I took a break for holy week as I turned to his other recent recording, Worship in a Time of Plague a joint project of Capella Intima (of which Bud is Artistic Director) and the Gallery Players of Niagara, something I found easier to process and understand.

I couldn’t put my finger on why I was so overwhelmed by “Affetti amorosi” (Italian for “loving affections”), songs about love, sometimes exuberant, sometimes plaintive, often playful: and why I needed to step back for a moment.

What I did do is read the liner notes, trying to get a bit of a sense of where Bud was coming from.

Let me explain my context. During my MA at the Centre for Study of Drama, I took a course with Professor Domenico Pietropaolo concerning the Commedia dell’Arte (or CdA). We read the scenarios of Flaminio Scala, with the understanding that CdA was more of an improvisational practice among travelling artists, not something really scripted. By the time we get to Goldoni (1707-1793) or Gozzi (1720-1806), we’re looking at plays that recorded lazzi (improvised routines) of performers representing long-established traditions. Arguably –as Professor Pietropaolo insisted—this is no longer true CdA but a remnant, a series of plays employing the older tradition of improvised theatre.

I mention this to suggest the way CdA likely worked in the period from 1400 – 1700. You had the masked performers, who for most people are the emblem of CdA, for instance servants such as Arlecchino, or the Dottore (nota bene, a doctor not of medicine but a learned doctor from a university) or the bullying Capitano (Don Giovanni being an example of this type). These players would be masked and would be expected to improvise of course.

And then there are the lovers, who often were in some sort of conflict with a parental figure. My remembrance of what we knew of these figures was that they would sometimes sing amorous songs: which immediately came to mind with Bud’s CD. Affetti amorosi or loving affections, would be expressed by the lovers in these scenarios. While I recall being told by Professor Pietropaolo that the lovers had songs they sang, I never heard any mention of the precise texts. I can’t recall whether that was something to be speculated / debated between scholars, or simply another of the mysteries that come with performance studies. While we know that Shakespeare wanted music at certain points in his plays, as to what’s played? That’s not recorded, just a word such as “tucket” in the text, to indicate a fanfare. Similarly I remember knowing that there were songs, but having a blank in my head for the actual music.

And that’s where Bud’s CD and its liner notes had me wondering, as a door opened for me, now excited rather than perplexed. The recording offers songs by Giovanni Berti, Alessandro Grandi, Carlo Milanuzzi, Claudio Monteverdi and Giovanni Stefani. Bud explains that these songs would have been introduced to the public through the various companies of CdA players. Yet there is scholarly controversy, as usual. I read these notes as a defence of a bold series of choices, as for instance this (and I quote):

The decision was made to realize a bass line on theorbo or follow alfabetto symbols with the baroque guitar were made according to my sensibility of each aria—a completely subjective preference. Where I saw a walking bass line or structure that offered rhetorical amplification of the text, I have opted for theorbo, such as in Berti’s “Ohime”, and yet for Stefani’s verion of the jaunty patter song “Ecco Lidia” any accompaniment beyond simple strumming would seem superfluous.

Let me pause for a moment to insert Berti’s Ohime. While the word “ohime” might be translated as “alas”, we’re in a realm where the pain is the suffering of a lover, and observed in the performance as a matter that’s fun rather than truly painful.

Ecco Ecco Lidia (here is Ecco Lidia). Exuberance. Fun. The only thing i might lament is that I will never meet this Lidia (that is if she was ever an actual person).


Bud continues:
Neither conclusion would diminish the suitability of other choices, just as adding instruments to a continuo grouping sets no singular standard for performance. There remains, however the inescapable fact that despite its “popular” roots, this music is the product of a rhetorical, highly oral culture, and I would argue that a self-accompanied presentation offers the most flexibility for the expression of rhetorical invention in both poetry and music. One historical bias that played no role in decisions regarding accompaniment was Nigel Fortune’s dismissal of the guitar as being “wildly inappropriate” for songs of a serious nature. I can only hope that my work in this genre serves as an adequate rebuttal.

As you can probably tell, I’m entirely sympathetic to Bud Roach’s approach in this conversation. I’m set off by words such as “popular” and “highly oral culture”, recalling that groundlings heard & understood Shakespeare far better than we do, not just due to the changes in language but especially as we’ve lived through a shift away from an oral culture. Here I am on an electronic device, relying often upon google, when people used to employ something called “memory”. When we imagine the performances of the CdA, meaning the range of possibilities with players traveling all over Europe, we can’t expect them to have orchestras or boom boxes. No, they were portable companies doing things on the cheap on the fly, and changing it up when a player got sick (ha can we imagine a theatre in time of plague?) or had quit the troupe. We have studied the improvisation in the text – coming at this from the drama side of the equation—while the improvisation in the music isn’t necessarily given the same latitude. The study of CdA is as multi-disciplinary as Bud Roach’s work, requiring language, drama, music, and so much more. Need I mention: Bud’s accompanying himself, arrangements that are often very clever, brilliantly supporting the text. Many of these songs can be imagined in multiple guises (as Bud has implied when unpacking the choices he made in his arrangements/ realizations), possibly more serious, possibly more parodic or satiric.

I’ve been listening to this CD a lot, especially now that holy week is over. It’s brilliantly original.

You can find the tracks here from Presto Music.

This entry was posted in Books & Literature, Dance, theatre & musicals, Music and musicology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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