Concerto Madrigalesco di Ercole Bernabei

A great musician rediscovered

Brochures and technical specifications


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A native of Caprarola, Bernabei had first been a student of Orazio Benevoli, one of the most highly regarded music masters, before entering Saint-Louis des Français in 1653 as an organist, then becoming the chapel master there from 1667 to 1672. In 1672, he was named Chapel Master of the Capella Giulia at the Papal Court. He left his functions at the Vatican at the end of two years to go to the court of the Elector Ferdinando Maria of Bavaria in Munich, where he succeeded Johann Kaspar Kerll and remained until his death in 1687. The Concerto madrigalesco a tre voci diverse, dedicated to Flavio Orsini, the Duke of Bracciano, constitutes one of his most original works.

This title expresses at once the ambition of Bernabei: to provide his reader – and thus potential listeners – with poetic madrigals put to music in the modern concertante style. These pieces are characterized by an intense and exacerbated expressiveness, a vertiginous virtuosity which surpasses the voices' classic tessituras, and the enhancement of each voice by solo passages. In this veritable dialogue between la prima and la seconda prattica (dear to Monteverdi) references to the old style are omnipresent: simple counterpoint, numerous contrapuntal imitations, many dissonances, a convincing utilisation of the rhetoric of emotions in music.

Bernabei shows evidence of an innovative spirit: he employs a counterpoint for three voices typical of the 1660's, in a clear evolution with regard to the compositions of the preceding period. Far from being conservative, his music pushes vocal technique to its limits. One can only be moved by the melodies he invents with extraordinary flexibility. In the eyes of harpsichordist Frédéric Michel, who did the transcriptions for this program, Bernabei was a great composer, whose work completely merits to be revived now.

In building our program around texts by Malleville, by Malherbe and by Voiture, who all figure in the volume of texts collected by the Italian Corbinelli, we wanted to pay homage to the spirit of play which was one of the foundations of the galant process of sociability, where culture was supposed to be entertainment, bringing joy to the people assembled.





Madrigals by Ercole Bernabei, instrumental pieces by Angelo-Michele Bartolotti, Bernardo Pasquini, Alessandro Scarlatti and Alessandro Stradella.

Myriam Arbouz : soprano
Marine Fribourg : mezzo-soprano
Constantin Goubet : tenor
Francisco Mañalich : tenor and viol

Nicolas Brooymans : bass
Marco Horvat : theorbo

Aude-Marie Piloz : viol
Charles-Edouard Fantin : archlute and Baroque guitar
Matthieu Boutineau : harpsichord

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Translations by Sally Gordon Mark

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