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Castello Sannazzaro

July 14, 2018 - July 21, 2018

In the late fifteenth century, Italy experienced a remarkable period in which arts and culture flourished. A rare peace between the most powerful city-states created enough of a united front to keep outside invaders at bay for nearly 50 years. This CD contains music from the court of the Sforza family, the powerful rulers of Milan in this extraordinary time.

Several members of the Sforza family are responsible for the expansion of Milan’s musical scene, but it was Galeazzo Maria Sforza who began Milan’s artistic modernization. Galeazzo’s reputation survives him though he only ruled for 10 years - described variously as violent, vindictive, despotic, lustful and completely self-absorbed, he was nevertheless a passionate arts supporter. An elaborate and sophisticated court appealed to his sense of vanity, so he set about collecting the most famous and talented artists of the day. He did this by any means possible, often stealing musicians away from their current employers, thereby provoking the ire of many of his neighboring rulers. Documentation survives showing that he sent recruiters to the kingdoms of Savoy, Naples, Rome, Ferrera, Mantua, France, and Burgundy, and the musicians he brought back to his chapel were given excellent salaries and treated like local celebrities, much to the annoyance of local talent and Galeazzo’s bookkeepers. Eventually, the court’s recklessness became intolerable and three of Galeazzo’s nobles assassinated him. The dynasty continued, however, and Milan would remain in Sforza hands until the turn of the sixteenth century. Galeazzo’s successors maintained the musical chapel and it continued to flourish, though none would support the arts with quite such vigor as Galeazzo had.

The musicians most sought after at that time were from the Low Countries, the Flemish school being the height of fashion. This CD contains work by some of the biggest names in the Sforza’s employ.


Johannes Martini, born in Brabant and trained in Flanders, came to Italy to work in Ferrara. At some point, he transferred to Milan under Galeazzo, but returned to Ferrara amid the upheaval over the assassination. Among the first wave of Franco-Flemish musicians to hit Italy, his style looks back to the popular Burgundian School, but was still somewhat stylistically innovative. He wrote some of the earliest examples of the paraphrase mass, which would become the predominant method of mass composition in the early 16th century.

Alexander Agricola worked all over Italy and Spain - he is documented at Naples, Burgundy, Florence and Castile as well as Milan. From Ghent, originally, he spent most of his life in the south and was regarded as one of the most esteemed composers in Europe at the time. His style is considered transitional, a bridge between the complex Burgundian school and the developing imitative style with which those like Josquin were experimenting.

The composer of the disc’s centerpiece work, Loyset Compère, was born near Artois. He worked for Galeazzo from 1470, but fled Milan upon his death and it is believed he went to the Burgundian court and worked there until his death. Stylistically, Compère, like his court contemporaries, owes much to the Burgundian School, but has such a legacy in part because of the rise of the printing press. His music was included in a collection printed by Ottaviano Petrucci in Venice and disseminated widely. Certainly, his reputation is more firmly cemented in history because these books survive.


Gaspar van Weerbeke was also born in the north, somewhere in the diocese of Tournai in Belgium, Gaspar van Weerbeke was probably educated by Johannes Regis, who was secretary to Dufay, the famous Burgundian composer, and may also have studied with Ockeghem. His music owes much to Dufay, and it is possible they worked together at the Burgundian court. In 1471 he joined the Sforza court and chapel.He went back to France in 1472-3, probably on as a diplomat and as a recruiter. Weerbeke seems to have been one of the most favored and successful singers in the chapel and was often sent out to scout and recruit from rival courts. After the assassination of Galeazzo, he joined the papal choir in Rome until 1489, when he returned to Milan, and later returned home to the Low Countries where he died somewhere after 1516. His style was not forward looking. He was unique in that he ignored the smooth, imitative style being pioneered by the likes of Josquin. He remained stylistically close to the early Burgundian school, possibly because of his close ties with Dufay.


Josquin des Prez’s early life is not well known. Mostly likely he was born around 1450 somewhere that was under the reign of the Dukes of Burgundy, probably close to Artois or Hainaut. Some evidence suggests that he may have been a choirboy with fellow future composer Jean Mouton at Saint-Quentin and also that he may have studied with Ockeghem. The first verifiable records of his whereabouts are not until 1477 when he appears as a singer for the Duke of Anjou in Aix-en-Provence. Josquin’s time is Milan is an ongoing scholarly debate but the most prominent recent research dates him there in the early 1480s, where he stays on and off until 1489 when he left to sing with the papal choir in Rome. (He and Weerbeke basically swap positions at this time and it has been suggested that they were in some sort of singer exchange between courts). In 1498 he was back in Milan, but probably left in the ensuing political turmoil of the French invasion. He then likely went back to France, then to Ferrera, then finally retiring to his home on the border of France and Belgium where he died in 1509. Like Compère, his legacy was enhanced by Petrucci and the printing press. We are lucky to have had so much of his music survive. Stylistically, Josquin meshed the musical styles of his home and working countries. He clearly owes much to the Ockeghem generation of the Franco-Flemish school, with its sinuous lines and contrapuntal complexity, but he is unafraid to embrace the lighter, often homophonic and more melodic Italian style. He is often said to have created an international musical language that highly influenced the likes of later greats, Palestrina and Lassus.

-Margaret Obenza

Margaret is a Soprano that performs regularly with the Byrd Ensemble, and is the course manager for the group's annual international Renaissance course.

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Also available on:


CD: Music for the Sforza Court (2019)


COMPERE Missa Galeazescha 1. Introit: Ave virgo gloria
COMPERE Missa Galeazescha 2. Loco Gloria: Ave salus infirmorum
COMPERE Missa Galeazescha 3. Loco Credo: Ave decus Virginale
COMPERE Missa Galeazescha 4. Loco Offertorii: Ave sponsa verbi
COMPERE Missa Galeazescha 5. Loco Sanctus: O Maria!
COMPERE Missa Galeazescha 6. Ad Elevationem: Adoramus te, Christe
COMPERE Missa Galeazescha 7. Loco Agnus: Salve, mater salvatoris
COMPERE Missa Galeazescha 8. Loco Deo Gratias: Virginis Mariae laudes
MARTINI Magnificat secundi toni
WEERBEKE Stabat Mater
JOSQUIN Stabat Mater
AGRICOLA Regina coeli laetare
AGRICOLA Nobis Sancti Spiritus
JOSQUIN Qui habitat

See text and translations here.

Laura Abbott
Dawn Fosse Cook
Lauren Kastanas
Anastasia Shmytova
Karlie Traversa

Pamela Chang
Natalie Manning
Anne Roberts
Vera Slasnaya

Jacob Buys
Richard Greene
Jim Howeth
Arvind Narayanan
Jason Tong

Doug Fullington
Connor Hartling
John Lee
Andrew Payne
Patrick Rice

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