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  • Music in Seventeenth-Century Naples: Francesco Provenzale (1624-1704)
  • Noel O'Regan
Music in Seventeenth-Century Naples: Francesco Provenzale (1624-1704). By Dinko Fabris. pp. xx + 310. (Ashgate, Aldershot and Burlington, Vt., 2007, £55. ISBN 0-7546-3721-9.)

This has been an eagerly awaited book. Its author, Dinko Fabris, has been studying the music of Naples for many years and has also been the musicological inspiration behind a series of excellent recordings of Neapolitan music by La Cappella della Pietà de' Turchini, directed by Antonio Florio, often featuring the music of Francesco Provenzale. There has been no book dealing with Neapolitan music in the period after Allan Atlas's Music at the Aragonese Court of Naples (Cambridge, 1985), despite the fact that Naples was the most populated city in Europe in this period. Problems of access to source material may have contributed to this lacuna: as well as the loss of archival materials in the Second World War, the earthquake of 1980 made access to prints and manuscripts in some of the city's major libraries difficult or impossible. In particular the rich holdings of the Filippine Oratorio dei Girolamini have been inaccessible to scholars; Fabris has clearly had some access here, particularly to Provenzale's most important work, the spiritual opera La columba ferita, but on occasion he also cites lack of access to materials held there. [End Page 610]

The embarras de richessses resulting from Fabris's extensive research work could have led to at least two books, as he himself acknowledges in his introduction. His original intention to cover the whole of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries threw up a problem of imbalance, with much less material available for the sixteenth century than for the seventeenth. A book could certainly have been written on music in seventeenth-century Naples alone, as could a book on Provenzale, whom Fabris recognizes as the major composer and teacher in this period. In the end he has opted to try and do both, with the primary focus on Provenzale. While this is inevitably a compromise, Fabris does succeed remarkably well in dealing with both the composer and his milieu.

Provenzale makes an interesting subject for a musical biography: in many ways he comes across from this book as an unlikely candidate for stardom. Coming (probably) from a wealthy family, he was slow to get started as a composer. The arrival of Venetian-style opera in Naples in the 1650s gave him a kick-start, initially in adapting operas by Cavalli and then in writing his own. The latter was to return the compliment in 1654 by putting on an adaptation of Provenzale's Il Ciro in Venice. His first known appointment was not until 1663 and thereafter he held a succession of positions at conservatories and churches in the city, culminating in the title of maestro della Fidelissima Città di Napoli, which did not provide a salary. His attempts to break into the city's other main musical locus, the Real Cappella of the Viceroy, met with mixed success and he was passed over as director in favour of Alessandro Scarlatti, brought from Rome by the Marquis del Carpio. Rivalry with the composer Filippo Coppola also frustrated his effectiveness on the ecclesiastical side of the city's musical life. Fabris has entitled one of his chapters 'Hope and Disillusion', the latter referring particularly to the composer's frustrated attempts to achieve status at court where, nevertheless, his skills were made use of when needed to cover for the frequently absent Scarlatti. Unlike Scarlatti and other composers of the time, Provenzale did not hitch his star to any one patron, preferring to make his own way in a highly clientelistic society.

Provenzale only published once, a volume of extended two-voice motets (Naples was not a big centre for music publication) and his surviving output is small; much has probably been lost. Fabris has been diligent in weeding out dubious attributions, reducing Provenzale's known output still further. At the same time he has given his blessing to a few new ascriptions, mostly provided by himself, and has been meticulous in following up leads to manuscipt sources, particularly in...


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