The first-ever album dedicated to the work of a master contrapuntalist of early-17th-century northern Italy.
Who was Marco Antonio Centorio? Given how little attention has been paid to his music in modern times, a surprising amount is known about him. Born around 1600 in the Piedmontese town of Vercelli, Centorio was blessed with a fine treble voice that secured him an education at the town’s Collegio degli Innocenti. When his voice broke he moved to Milan and studied both organ and theory there, before moving back to his home-town, where he became the titular organist by the age of 18. A decade later he became maestro di capella, and held the post until his early death in 1638.
Most of his extant music was preserved in the Vercelli Chapter Archive, which supplied the manuscripts for these world-premiere recordings. The album opens with the elegant chant La Centoria, ‘to be played on two organs’ (with the option of adding string instruments), a singularly fine piece in the style of the late 16th-century Milanese canzone that was already in decline. There are several pastoral canzone: non-liturgical music written for the enjoyment of the aristocracy and clergy, which display Centorio’s melodic gifts and contrapuntal skills. They alternate here with instrumental interludes and with accompanied motets, of the same character as the pastoral works but composed to sacred texts.
The performances here enjoy unparalleled authenticity, having been made by modern heirs of the very ensemble which Centorio once directed, and in the fine domed basilica of Vercelli cathedral for which these works were conceived four centuries ago. Collectors of late-Renaissance era rarities will not hesitate to add the name of Centorio to their libraries.
Marco Antonio Centorio was born around 1600 in the Piedmontese town of Vercelli, in northern Italy. He began his studies of music and the humanities at the Collegio degli Innocenti, an institution founded in the late 15th century to supply Vercelli Cathedral with singers for religious services. Centorio, who had a fine treble voice, was one of the six pueri cantus taken in and educated at the Collegio. When his voice broke he moved to Milan, where he studied organ and counterpoint. By 1618 Centorio was already organist at Vercelli Cathedral, in 1628 he was appointed chapel master in the Cathedral, a position he held until his early death in 1638.
Centorio’s style reveals not only the solid training in counterpoint that was typical of northern Italy, but also the composer’s skill in handling motets, the Milanese canzone of the late 1500s and the new style of the early 1600s exemplified by Monteverdi, Donati, and later Grancini and others.
Included in the program are several examples of the mottetto con sinfonia. This was a well-established genre combining vocal and instrumental forces, notably with two violins and violone, while the theorbo was commonly added to double the basso continuo.
Performed by the Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli conducted by mons. Denis Silano, who previously presented world premieres of vocal works by Colombano, another composer closely related to the Vercelli Cathedral.