I am absolutely delighted to present an auditory experience for readers put together by the supremely talented Michael Alan Anderson, Assistant Professor of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester) and Artistic Director of Schola Antiqua Chicago, one of the premier early music vocal ensembles in the world. All of the pieces are available for download on iTunes. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! 


The following “historical playlist” is reflective of the diverse musical culture of sixteenth-century Venice and inspired in particular by Tasha Alexander’s Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery. The playlist contains four works by the dominant composer in Venice for a good portion of the century, Adrian Willaert (1490-1562). A native of the Netherlands, Willaert became one of the most influential composers and teachers of his time. Two of the four tracks (Amor, fortuna and Aspro core) are madrigals, the most popular genre of secular choral music in the second half of the century. Another madrigal by Willaert (Cantai or piango) is played by a consort of viols. Willaert above all was a composer of sacred choral music, and so we have provided one such piece, his four-voice motet Saluto te sancta virgo, which was appears in several sources, most notably in a collection of sacred music from 1518 given as a wedding gift by Pope Leo X (the first Medici pope) to the Medicean Duke of Urbino and his bride, a French noblewoman.

 There is one additional piece of sacred music on the playlist—traditional Te deum plainchant. The Te deum was a multi-purpose melody in praise of God. Not only was it sung once per week in the nighttime service of Matins in the Divine Office, but it was also heard in connection with processions on major feast days and occasions of ecclesiastical or even political importance. Although the Te deum was performed almost universally in monastic institutions, actual documents survive that indicate that this chant was expressly sung by the Benedictine nuns of San Zaccaria.

 One cannot overlook the impact of music publishing when considering the vibrancy of Venetian musical culture in the sixteenth century. The first printed choral music was published in Venice by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1501. By the 1530s, two key publishing houses emerged, one operated by the Scotto family, the other by Antonio Gardano and his kin. A successful and modern industry of printed music did nothing but enhance the already robust international profile of Venice and made a large body of music accessible to a wider buying public. From one of the most popular collections ever published by Gardano comes the madrigal Hor qui on lasso e voglio esser by Orlande de Lassus, himself not a Venetian but rather one of western Europe’s most prolific composers in the late sixteenth century.

 The playlist also includes two pieces from a collection of Venetian dances arranged for keyboard and compiled around 1520. This collection is believed to be the earliest surviving set of Italian dances for keyboard. Padovana in piva and La cara cossa del Berdolin were no doubt well-known folk melodies with text in Venetian, Paduan, or Bergamascan dialects. Couples would have danced to these pieces, possibly in round or ring dances.

 The list concludes with a symphonic work that transports us to nineteenth-century Venice. The great Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi wrote La Traviata to be premiered at Teatro La Fenice, the city’s most important theater. Opening night--6 March 1853--was a surprising disappointment. Verdi famously wrote to his friend Emanuele Muzio, “La Traviata last night a failure. Was the fault mine or the singers’? Time will tell.” Of course, history has very much rehabilitated the rough start that befell this opera. The Prelude to Act I of La Traviata is given as the last piece in the playlist.

 --Michael Alan Anderson

Amor, Fortuna - Adrian Willaert

Amor, Fortuna - Willaert, A.: Musica Nova - The Petrarca Madrigals

Cantai or piango - Adrian Willaert

Cantai or piango: Willaert - Word Play: Madrigals and Chansons in Virtuosic Instrumental Settings from 16th Century Italy

Saluto te, sancta Virgo Maria - Adrian Willaert

Saluto te, sancta Virgo Maria - Vivat Leo! Music for a Medici Pope

Aspro Core - Adrian Willaert

Aspro Core - Willaert, A.: Musica Nova - The Petrarca Madrigals

Hymn - Te Deum - Anonymous

Hymn - Te Deum - Transcend

Hor qui son lasso - Roland de Lassus

Hor qui son lasso - Roland de Lassus : Biographie musicale, vol. 1. Années de jeunesse

Padovana in Piva - Anonymous

Padovana in Piva - Pavane [Venice, 16th Century] - Wie schon leuchtet der Morgen stern

La cara cossa del Berdolin - Anonymous

La cara cossa del Berdolin (From a Venetian Song and Dance Book, ca. 1520) - Pour ung Plaisir

La Traviata: Prelude - Giuseppe Verdi

La Traviata: Prelude - Famous Overtures

All Rights Reserved