Steven Devine plays a harpsichord by Colin Booth, based on an original instrument by the Venetian maker Domenico da Pesaro (now in the musical instrument museum of Leipzig, dated 1533). Pesaro was one of the leading harpsichord makers of the sixteenth century; Zarlino is known to have played on one of his instruments.



Oliver Webber plays a violin by George Stoppani, a copy of the 1629 instrument by Girolamo Amati in the Rutson Collection of the Royal Academy of Music, kindly loaned for this recording by the maker. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with this beautiful instrument, of the type that Schütz himself might have sought out for the Dresden court.


Theresa Caudle plays a violin by Paul Denley, after an original attributed to Giovanni Paolo Maggini – the leading exponent of the Brescian school of violin making in the early seventeenth century. Both Maggini and Girolamo Amati were among those who perished during the plague of 1630-31.


Jamie Savan plays a treble cornett by John McCann, mute cornett by Serge Delmas (track 10), and tenor cornett by Christopher Monk (track 11).


Helen Roberts plays a treble cornett by Paolo Fanciullacci.


Theresa Caudle plays a treble cornett by Roland Wilson (track 11).


Drawing on Jamie Savan's research into original Venetian/Bassano cornetts in the collection of the Accademia Filarmonica, Verona,[2] we have tuned our instruments to accord as closely as possible with historical fingering patterns, which in general imply simple/'open' fingerings for sharps and other notes that would be solmised 'mi', and more complex cross fingerings for flats and other notes that would be solmised 'fa'. The result is a more flexible and variegated sound which helps us get a little closer to the ‘vocal’ quality to which we aspire.

The differentiation of tone quality between sharps and flats inherent in the Venetian fingering system is perhaps best illustrated by the following chromatic passage from Marini's Sonata senza cadenza from the final recording:


The following text is based on that printed in the Venice 1629 CD booklet, expanded and illustrated with audio and video examples.



Whereas many recordings of early music make use of small, portable continuo organs with stopped, wooden pipes, such an instrument would have been quite unfamiliar to musicians in early seventeenth-century Italy. The primary continuo instrument intended for sacred repertoire was the church organ, which in Italy was characterised by its fundamental rank of open, metal pipes, known as the principale. The sound quality of the Italian organ is unmistakable: rich and full bodied in the bass, yet transparent in texture and with a clarity of articulation that perfectly complements other contemporary instruments, especially cornetts and violins in the treble register. Moreover, it was a common practice for small groups of instrumentalists and/or singers to perform in the cantoria (organ loft), creating a particularly close spatial and sonic relationship between the organ and the other ensemble members.


The Italian church organ is of course the very opposite of portable and so until recently the only way to capture this remarkable sound on record was to work on location with a suitably restored instrument. For this project, however, we have adopted a twenty-first-century solution: an electronic instrument playing high-quality samples of an original Venetian organ. The instrument sampled for this purpose is in the church of St Maria d’Alieto, in Izola, on the Adriatic coast of Slovenia. It was made by the Venetian organ builder, Pietro Nachini (1694-1769) and is very much in the tradition of Venetian organ building stretching back to Vincenzo Colombi in the sixteenth century.


Its specifications can be found on the website of Sonus Paradisi, who made the samples and kindly granted us permission to use them on this recording. Each individual pipe of the Izola organ was sampled in three-channel audio (rather than the usual stereo), such that we were able to recreate an ‘aural image’ of the original spatial disposition of the organ pipes via the virtual pipe organ software Hauptwerk, routed through three carefully positioned Genelec speakers (kindly loaned to us by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire). The wooden midi keyboard for our electronic organ was made by Luca Panetti, and the organ case by Jeffrey Newton. Although unconventional, we hope by these means to have taken one step closer to the sound-world of seventeenth-century Venice.

The organ setup and arrangement of speakers in the recording venue, St Mary's College, New Oscott, can be seen in the following short video, recorded during a test session in January 2018, with guest organist Robin Bigwood. The music featured is an extract from Marini's Sonata per l'organo. The organ registration used here is Principale (8'), Ottava (4'),  and Quintadecima (2'):



[1] Barbara Owen, The Registration of Baroque Organ Music (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), 56. 

[2] Jamie Savan, ‘Unlocking the Mysteries of the Venetian Cornett: ad imitar piu la voce humana’, Historic Brass Society Journal 28 (2016), 31-55.

For the final recording of this piece we chose a registration that Costanzo Antegnati described as resembling the sonority of a cornett consort, in his treatise L'arte organica (1608): Principale (8'), Ottava (4'), Flauto (4'), Decimanona (1 1/3') and Vigesimaseconda (1').[1] This distinctive combination can be heard in the following extract from the recording: