by Daniel Hathaway
Both the Dodo (the bird) and the cornetto (the instrument) suffered extinction toward the end of the seventeenth century. By 1665, humans and their domestic animals had hunted down all the Dodos on Mauritius, while changes in musical taste spelled the end of the Cornetto, according to virtuoso cornettist Bruce Dickey, whose wonderful new Passacaille CD, La Bella Minuta, preserves the florid, vocalistic repertoire of that instrument’s golden age just as vividly as Lewis Carroll kept the idea of the Dodo alive in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
La Bella Minuta takes its title from Girolamo Dalla Casa’s 1584 term for the improvisatory divisions or diminuzioni that skilled players use to elaborate musical lines, a technique, Dickey writes, that “touch the very soul of the cornetto, utilizing its amazing agility and its astonishing vocality.”
To help show off those features of the instrument — fingered like a recorder but played by vibrating the lips against a small, cupped mouthpiece — Dickey has assembled a winning team of musicians, including organist Lieuwe Tamminga, viol players Claudia Pasetto, Leonardo Bortolotto and Alberto Rasi, and harpist Maria Christina Cleary, and got permission to take over the private chapel of the Este court, the Basilica Palatina of Santa Barbara in Mantua, for a week for rehearsing and recording. That church, “conceived and built, it is said, with music in mind…for a court in which music played an enormous role,” (liner notes) also houses a Graziadio Antegnati organ from 1565 (restored in 2006 by Giorgio Carli) which contributes handsomely to the musical proceedings. [Read more…]