New Classical Tracks: A Sense of Play

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
January 27, 2009
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St. Paul, Minn. — Rolf Lislevand is a Norwegian professor of lute and historical performance practice at Germany's Trossingen School of Music. He knows how to play by the rules, and he knows how to break them.

For years musicians have focused on playing only the notes on the page, "that's tantamount to lying," Lislevand declares. That's because music scores composed centuries ago were written in sort of a shorthand, he explains. Most musicians of the day had some knowledge of these works, so nobody bothered to write down every note. We really have no way of knowing for sure how these pieces sounded in the 17th century. So Rolf Lislevand fills in the blanks by improvising on his new collection of Renaissance pieces titled "Diminuito." The album title refers to the practice of virtuosic ornamentation of melodies through the use of agile runs, scales and arpeggi. On this recording we hear how this practice translates to instrumental and vocal music with the help of two delightful sopranos from Trio Mediaeval, Anna Maria Friman, and Linn Andrea Fuglseth.

Lislevand says, "It's like having a palette, a choice of colors, a choice of elements I can put together. I consider improvisation as trying each time, to go a step further than one's own style in a way, so I try to bring in some new elements which aren't there as well. This is the most important thing with improvisation, but of course, it's also the fact that puts into question the historical performance practices, because at this point, what is being done is some kind of spontaneous composing in music."

A ricercare was a type of instrumental music from the Renaissance. Ricercare means searching. The search may be for a sound, or an emotion. To Rolf Lislevand, this musical form is as close as you can get to improvisation.

Vincenzo Capirola's "Ricercata Prima," opens this new recording. He wrote these instructions on his manuscript: "Comenza sul canto come vedi, et sequita ut sopra," which means "as you see, it starts here and the song follows from the top." On this piece Linn Andrea Fuglseth uses Capirola's instructions as text, and joins in, singing fragments of the lute part.

The lyrics also become a launching pad for improvisation in Giovanni Antonio Terzi's "Petit Jacquet." This piece is based on a familiar Renaissance melody. Unable to find the original text, Lislevand and his colleagues did a little Renaissance-style improvising themselves, and drafted new words which translate to mean, "Little Jacquet is lost. Little Jacquet is out of sight, they have searched for him all over the place. He drives us crazy." True to those words, Lislevand and his ensemble then spin a series of variations and improvisations, eventually coming back to the original madrigal.

Track 7 is one of my favorites on this new release. Here, Rolf Lislevand and his colleagues create a musical cocktail of Italian, English and Spanish Renaissance music. They begin with a canon in perfect counterpoint, composed by Francesco da Milano, a famous Italian lutenist. Two lively dances follow, by English composer Thomas Robinson. A wild Recercada by Diego Ortiz finishes off this exciting set, which is complimented by a rich palette of instrumental color from delightful instruments like the Swedish stringed instrument called the nyckelharpa, the vihuela de mano, which is a Spanish lute, and the sprightly sound of an organ.

The most important thing about improvisation is bringing something new to a piece each time you play it. That's the idea behind "Diminution." In music, it's the practice of doing something different with a phrase or theme when you repeat it. On their new recording titled, "Diminuito," Rolf Lislevand and his virtuoso colleagues prove that repetition is a lot of fun for players, and incredibly enjoyable for the listener.

(This is an encore broadcast from December 8, 2009)

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