4 vocal soloists

Premiere: March 2, 2005, Montréal / Nouvelles Musiques 2005: Hilliard Ensemble, Quatuor Bozzini, Salle Pierre-Mercure — Centre Pierre-Péladeau, Montréal (Québec)

It was well on during the process of composing that the “unifying image” came to my mind for the present work: the image of Petrarca himself, in a quadruple incarnation (the four singers), entering his studio, most preoccupied by the strophe of the Canzone he wishes to complete, searching for words and rhymes in a somewhat unseemly manner, almost aleatorically, non-sensically, or declaiming vigorously the passages he is the most sure of, writing down nervously as he repeats the words aloud, or bathing in the sensuousness of the conclusion found at last… And then, leaving the studio quite alleviated and light spirited.

As the commission to write this work was circumstantially related to Petrarca (700th anniversary of his birth, idea of the Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques festival and of the Hilliard Ensemble to present a program combining commissioned works based on texts by the celebrated Italian poet along with some of the Monteverdi settings); I directed my attention to some of the very few texts of the great collection that deal with other topics, moreover often political (circumstantial or interventional sonnets, a cycle on Avignon, etc, mainly addressed to bishop friends or princes). I finally chose one strophe of the famous Italia mia canzone (CXXVIII), written under the impact of the poet’s indignation when the city of Parma, where he temporarily dwelled, was sold by its prince, (along with its population, of course…), a pawn in the unceasing game of rivalry and wars between the Italian princes of the time, be they supporters of the pope or the emperor. The strophe in question goes beyond the anecdotal and addresses the roots of the “evil”, and therefore its tone of wisdom (self-interest apart…) can have profound resonances for our time.

Some short phrases of another poem (CV), one also of a quite different thematic content than the predominating one of Laura-and-love , and rather enigmatic and obscure, served to put the first one into the context of the “unifying image” mentioned above, and justified some invented lines in pseudo-Italian.

Musically, the work is based on four closely connected heptatonic modes that I use to generate melodies, chords or harmonies of different degrees of tension and consonance, these being then associated with the different semantic subdivisions of the strophe, revealed by its analysis: a recalling of the inevitability of death, the source of harm and evil, the necessity of conversion, the gift of peace.

Michel Gonneville