MARCO DALL I AQUILA / GIOVANNI MARIA DACREMA
Ricercars / Intabulations / Dances
In 1536 the Venetian publisher Francesco Marcolini da Forliobserved: 'All wind and string instruments are sweet, because they retain thequality from the harmony that issues from the spheres while the heavens move.
But the suavity of sound which is born of the lute when touched by the divinehands of Francesco Milanese, of Alberto da Mantua, and of Marco dall 'Aquila,robs the senses of those who hear it by making itself heard in the soul'. Marcoliniwas referring to three of the foremost lutenist composers of the Cinquecento,whose masterful contributions were to influence lute music in particular andinstrumental music in general for nearly a century. Francesco Canova da Milano*(1497-1543) was
lutenist to Pope Leo X and other ecclesiastics in Rome.
Alberto da Ripa, or Albert de Rippe (ca. 1500-1551), as he was known as a lutenistand valet de chambre to Francois I, so pleased his patron that he wasgranted estates in Bloise. Less is known about Marco dall' Aquila, whose entirecareer may have been spent in the Serenissma Republica. Apparently bornin Aquila in the Abruzzi, then in the Kingdom of Naples, a 'ser Marco dall' Aquila,sonador de lauto' first appears on the membership roles of the wealthy Venetianreligious confraternity of San Rocco in the late fifteenth century. In March1505 he petitioned the Venetian Signori for the privilege of publishing lutemusic in tablature: 'Humbly the petitioner and servant of your graces, Marco dall'Aquila of Venice has, with the greatest of his ability and at no modestpersonal expense, learned how to print lute tablature, and is able to arrangecertain songs for the lute with the greatest ability and art, which will renderthem useful to many, including various gentlemen who delight themselves byplaying that most noble of all instruments, the lute.' He also appears to havemoved in important musical circles in Venice, since in 1524 Giovanni Spataromentions him in a letter to Marco Antonio Cavazzoni as a musician to whomadvice was sought on the acoustics of the 'excessive octave', calling him 'aman of high intelligence', but Spataro snidely adds that he thought little ofseeking 'the light of understanding from a mere instrumentalist [uno pulsatore de instrumento]', perhaps notunderstanding how apt would be a lute with its movable frets for experiments inmusical acoustics. Surely having attained his majority by the late fifteenthcentury, Marco was probably born around 1470 and thus belongs chronologicallywith the generation of lutenists prior to Francesco and Alberto, that is withthose lutenists associated with the Venetian music publisher Ottaviano Petrucci,the so-called 'Gutenberg of music'. Between the years 1507 and 1510 he issuedfour books of lute music by Francesco spinacino, Joan Ambrosio Dalsa and theCount of Verucchio Gian Maria Allemani. Marcolini takes pains to point out,however, that his triumvirate of the 'Milanese', the 'Mantovano' and the' Aquilano', belong with the moderns of his day, and that their music departedsignificantly from the style of the earlier Petrucci lutenists, and suchfifteenth-century plectrum virtuosi as Giovanni Antonio Testagrossa (1470-1530)and Pietro Bono da Ferrara (ca.1417-1497).
A crucial juncture in the history ofmusic for lute and for instrumental music in general occured during the firstthird of the sixteenth century, when a far-reaching innovation effectedright-hand technique. Inspired perhaps by Joannes Orbo, a blind German lutenistactive at the Gonzaga court in the 1460s and 1470s, players abandoned theplectrum in favour of using bare fingers to sound the instrument. As Johannes Tinctorisreported, this permitted one to 'playa composition alone, and most skilfully innot only two contrapuntal parts, but ever in three or four'. Lutenists of theolder order often performed in team with a second musician who played a cantusfirmus in long notes, while the plectrum virtuoso improvised brilliantdivisions which ranged over the entire instrument. Much of Petrucci's lutemusic was written under the sway of that plectrum style. The waning of plectrumplay coincided with the appearance of printed lute music. As lutenists soughtto reconcile the older plectrum style with the newer finger technique, theylaid the foundation for a soloist idiom which exploited the sound and playingcharacteristics of a plucked string instrument, and ultimately provided therequisites for an abstract music, one whose logic and coherence depended uponelements.
The most innovative lutenist-composer is unquestionablyMarco dall' Aquila, who can be credited with defining the parameters of thenewer soloist polyphonic manner, which was to dominate writing for the lutethrough to the time of John Dowland, nearly a century later. In 1536 GiovanniAntonio Casteliono published an anthology of lute music including works byFrancesco, Alberto and Pietro Paulo Borrono, which includes Marco fantasias infully developed three-part and four-part polyphony, which anticipate intechnique and length those by Franceso (publ. 1548) and by masters of thepost-Francesco generation such as Fabritio Dentice in Italy, Melchior Newsidlerin Germany, Valentin Bakfark in Poland, Miguel de Fuenllana in Spain andAlfonso Ferrabosco in England. Marco's fantasias and ricercars in the presentrecording, Mbs 24 , Mbs 26/GAC f. 57 , GAC f. 7 , GAC f. 29  arein this advanced style. Although no lute music by Marco is known to have beenissued as a result of his 1505 petition to the Venetian Signori, a manuscriptcopied for the Augsburg financier, music bibliophile and patrician HansHeinrich Herwath (1520-1583) preserves nearly seventy of his works, and furtherconfirms the very high regard in which Marco was held by his contemporaries.
The manuscript (which shows signs of having been compiled from a print)includes ricercars in a variety of styles, some using French chansons as aspringboard Mbs 101 , with its refrain-Iike shift to triple metre). It is a typicalcollection and includes French chansons and frottola arrangementswhich enjoyed special favour in early sixteenth-century Italy. With theirrhythmically animated chordal textures, simple harmonies and block formalstructures, they were ideally suited to transcription for performance oninstruments. Pietro Aretino remarked in 1537, 'Nor do I marvel if someone ofquality listens to the babbling of others, because even Francesco Milanese,Alberto da Mantova and my messer Marco dall ' Aquila take pleasure in listeningto the strumming of a barber's lute.' And consequently lute collections oftencontained a number of dance pieces, many based on street-songs, some inVenetian dialect, such as Marco's Cara cosa (my sweetheart from Bardolino)and La traditora (The traitor in love makes me wish to die), and GianMaria da Crema's El maton ('Madonna', imitating the accent of a Germansoldier), and dances on Bel fiore and Giorgio (II Zozghi'). Marcowas, above all, a composer who understood the sound and playing characteristicsof a plucked string instrument. He sometimes moves into higher positions for adramatic effect, and was fond of exploiting unusual lutenistic effects, such asthe sonorities of the five lowest strings (Mbs 15)  and the effective useof broken textures, as in the perpetual motion of Mbs 33 . While he wasstill alive, Marco was included among the musicians that Fillippo O