Friday, January 6, 8490

Costanzo Festa (1490-1545) - Sackbut

Costanzo Festa (1490-1545)

La Pastorella: Quando Ritrova (When I Find My Shepherdess) (1530)

Costanzo Festa (c. 1485 to 1490 – April 10, 1545) was an Italian composer of the Renaissance. While he is best known for his madrigals, he also wrote sacred vocal music. He was the first native Italian polyphonist of international renown.

Not much is known about his early life. He was probably born in the Piedmont near

Turin, but the evidence for this is not certain, being based mainly on later documents referring to him as a clericis secularibus, i.e. not a monk, from that region. His birth date has been given as early as 1480 and as late as 1495, but recent discoveries have tended to close in on dates in the late 1480s. In 1514 Festa visited Ferrara, bringing some motets with him; he seems to have been an established composer by this time, as indicated by the reception he received. Also sometime between 1510 and 1517 he lived on an island in the bay of Naples, where he served as a music teacher to the d'Avalos family. In 1517 he moved to Rome and began employment with Pope Leo X as a singer. A communication from 1543 indicates that he was too sick to travel with the Pope to Bologna, and he died in 1545. He evidently lived in Rome most of the second half of his life, serving in the Papal Choir much of the time.

Festa was one of the few Italians in the Papal Choir. He was a master of the Netherlands contrapuntal technique, however, and his importance to music history is as the one who first brought the two musical styles, the Italian and the Netherlandish, together. In addition, he was an obvious influence on Palestrina, who modeled many of his early works after his.

Most of Festa's madrigals are for three voices (in contrast to the other early madrigalist, Verdelot, who preferred five or six). He liked quick, rhythmically active passages in his madrigals; this may reflect an influence from the contemporary vocal form of the villanesca. In addition he wrote extended homophonic sections, showing somewhat less an influence from the contemporary motet, in contrast to the motet-like imitative passages found in Verdelot.

In addition to his madrigals, published mostly between 1543 and 1549, several collections of his sacred works were published during his lifetime, among them four masses, over forty motets, a set of Lamentations, and numerous Magnificats and Marian Litanies (for two choruses, each with four voices). The style of his sacred music matches that of his secular: he is less fond of imitation and complex counterpoint for its own sake, and often writes purely homophonic passages. Since Rome was musically conservative compared to the rest of Italy (and Europe) at the time, and there was a strong reaction against counterpoint within two decades after his death (expressly stated by the Council of Trent), his stylistic bent may represent a foreshadowing of that event; perhaps he was responding to the taste and needs of his papal employer.


[Ensemble of two slide-trumpets and a sackbut: Heinrich Aldegrever (1502-1588), woodcut, 'Music for a wedding dance', from The Great Dances]

The Sackbut (var. Sacbutt; Sackbutt; Sagbutt;), a brass instrument from the Renaissance and Baroque Eras, is the ancestor of the modern trombone. The term sackbut is usually used to differentiate the historic instrument from its modern counterpart. Increasing interest in authentic performance in recent years has brought many trombonists to the sackbut.

There are two theories for the source of the name: it is either derived from the Middle French sacquer (to push) and bouter (to pull) or from the Spanish sacar (to draw or pull) and bucha (a tube or pipe) (Herbert 2006, p. 57). The term survives in numerous English spelling variations including sacbut, sagbut, shagbolt and shakbusshe. In France, the instrument was called sacqueboute; in Germany, Posaune, in Spain, sacabuche, and in Italy, trombone.

The trombone developed from the trumpet. Up until 1375 trumpets were simply a long straight tube with a bell flare (Herbert 2006, p. 47). The name for this instrument derive from the Latin "tromba" and include "trombone" (for a large one) and "drompten." Other names derive from the Latin "busine" and include "posaune" and "bason." There are various uses of these words in the Bible, which has led past musicologists, such as Galpin, to suggest that trombones date back as far as 600 BC, but all the iconology suggests straight instruments at this time and no evidence of slides.

From 1375 the instruents were made with bends, and some in 'S' shapes. Around 1400 the 'loop' shaped trumpet appear sin paintings and at some point in the 15th century, a single slide was added. This slide trumpet was known as a "trompette des ménestrels" in the alta capella bands.

The earliest clear evidence of a double slide instrument is in a fresco painting by Filippino Lippi in Rome - The Assumption of the Virgin, dating from 1488-1493. (Herbert 2006, p. 60)
From the 15th to the 19th centuries, the instrument designs changed very little overall, apart from a slight widening of the bell in classical era. Since the 19th century, trombone boresizes and bells have increased significantly.

Sackbuts (renaissance/baroque trombones) are often described as being generally quieter, having a more mellow tone and wider pallette of articulations than the modern trombone.
It was one of the most important instruments in Baroque polychoral works, along with the cornetto and organ.

Trombones in Syntagma Musicum (1614), by Michael Praetorius
Sackbuts come in several sizes. According to Michael Praetorius, these were:

Voice Praetorius' name Praetorius' pitch Modern pitch

alto Alt oder Discant Posaun D or E E♭

tenor Gemeine recht Posaun A B♭

bass Quart-Posaun or Quint-Posaun E and D F(quart) and E♭ (quint)

double bass Octav-Posaun A (octave below tenor) B♭ (octave below tenor)

The pitch of the trombones has (notionally) moved up a semi-tone since the 17th century.

Because the tenor instrument is described as "Gemeine" (common or ordinary), this is probably the most widely used trombone.

The basses, due to their longer slides, have a hinged handle on the slide stay, which is used to reach the long positions.

The giant Octav-Posaun / double bass trombone / contra-bass trombone in the style of the those made in 16th/17th centuries is represented by only two instruments in existence. There is an original instrument made by Georg Nicolaus Oller built in Stockholm in 1639 and housed in the Musikmuseet.

The bore size of renaissance/baroque trombones is approximately 10mm and the bell rarely more than 10.5cm in diameter (Fischer 1984). This compares with modern tenor trombones which commonly have bores 12.7mm (0.500in) or 13.9mm (0.547in).

Compared to modern trombone mouthpieces, early mouthpieces had narrow, flat rims, shallow cups and narrow apertures.

Modern reproductions of sackbuts sacrifice some authenticity to harness manufacturing techniques and inventions that make them more comfortable for modern players, while retaining as much of the original character of the old instruments.

Some original instruments could be disassembled into the constituent straight tubes, bowed tubes, bell flare, and stays, with ferrules at the joints. Mersenne has a diagram. (Little imagination is needed to see how it could be reassembled - with an extra tube - into something approaching a natural trumpet.) There is a debate as to whether they used tight fittings, wax or other joining substance. Modern sackbut reproductions are usually soldered together. Some modern sackbut reproductions use glue as a compromise to give a loose fitting for high resonance whilst knowing it won't fall apart.

It has been found that fellow church instruments, which are fixed pitch cornetts and organs, were pitched at approximately A=460-480Hz ("Chorton") across Europe in the Renaissance and baroque eras. This is also seen in Renaissance wind band music.

The tenors that survive are more or less pitched at B♭ at A=440 (or slightly higher). This tallies with the historical evidence suggesting tenor trombones were pitched in A and that was about one half-step higher than A we know today at 440. So what we now think of as a tenor trombone with B♭ in first position, pitched at A=440 was actually thought of as a trombone in A (in first position), pitched at A=466.

The sackbut was described as suitable for playing with the 'loud' ensembles in the outdoors, as well as the 'soft' ensembles inside.

The alta capella bands are seen in drawings as entertaining outside with ensembles including shawms, trumpets and trombones. Modern reproductions of sackbuts are well capable of making a loud brassy sound.

The sackbut responds very well to rather soft playing - more so than a modern trombone. The sound is characterized by a more delicate, vocal timbre. The flat rims and shallow cups of the older mouthpieces are instrumental in providing the player with a much wider palette of articulations and tonal colours. This flexibility lends itself to a vocal style of playing and facilitates very characterful phrasing.

Mersenne wrote in 1636, "It should be blown by a skillful musician so that it may not imitate the sounds of the trumpet, but rather assimilate itself to the sweetness of the human voice, lest it should emit a warlike rather than a peaceful sound."

The sackbut replaced the slide trumpet in the 15th century alta capella wind bands that were common in towns throughout Europe playing courtly dance music.

Another key use of the trombone was in ceremonies, in conjunction with the trumpet. In many towns in Germany and Northern Italy, "piffari" bands were employed by local governments throughout the 16th century to give regular concerts in public squares and would lead processions for festivals. Piffari usually contained a mix of wind, brass and percussion instruments and sometimes viols .

Venice's doge had his own piffari company and they gave an hour-long concert in the Piazza each day, as well as sometimes performing for services in St. Mark's. Each of the six confraternities in Venice also had their own independent piffari groups too, which would all play at a lavish procession on the feast of Corpus Domini. These groups are in addition to the musicians employed by St. Mark's to play in the balconies with the choir (the piffari would play on the main level) (Selfridge-Field 1994).

It also was used in church music both for instrumental service music and as a doubling instrument for choral music. The treble and high alto parts were most often played by cornetts or shawms, with the violin sometimes replacing the cornett in 17th century Italian music.

The first record of trombones being used in churches was in Innsbruck 1503. Seville Cathedral's records show employment of trombonists in 1526, followed by several other Spanish cathedrals during the 16th Century, used not only for ceremonial music and processionals, but also for accompaniment of the liturgical texts as well, doubling voices.

The sacred use of trombones was brought to a fine art by the Gabrieli family and their contemporaries c. 1570-1620 Venice and there is also evidence of trombonists being employed in churches and cathedrals in Italy at times during the second half of the 16th century in Bologna, Rome, Padua, Mantua and Modena.

Since ensembles had flexible instrumentation at this time, there is relatively little music before Giovanni Gabrieli's publication Symphoniae sacrae (1597) that specifically mentions trombones. The only example currently known is the music by Francesco Corteccia for the Medici wedding 1539.

[8491 Henry VIII / 8490 Festa / 8485 Aston]