An enthusiastic group of singers assembled on the first floor of Corsham Town Hall. Peter Leech began with the historical context for the music. While Bonnie Prince Charlie was trying to raise an army in Great Britain, his brother, Prince Henry Benedict Stuart, was ordained to the priesthood in Italy and subsequently amassed a variety of ecclesiastical appointments. These culminated in the position of cardinal, enabling him to offer patronage and protection to a number of leading musicians.
The earliest composer investigated was Giuseppe Ottavio Pitoni (1657–1743) starting with a simple four-part Marian motet ‘Felix namque est’, before embarking on his nine-part setting of the Requiem. Because neither photocopying nor removal of the manuscript from the British Library was permitted, we sang from Peter’s hand-written draft with figured bass. The choir was arranged as for the 1735 service for Henry Benedict’s mother, with two groups of singers either side of the (absent, on Saturday) coffin.
‘Improperium Expectavit’ by Giovanni Batistta Casali (1725–1792), in four parts, was followed by two of a series of 24 Madrigals by Giovanni Zamboni, active between 1740 and 1755. Then two works by Sebastiano Bolis (c.1750– 1804), which, like the Zamboni items, were draft versions transcribed and edited by Peter Leech.
For the Bolis ‘Miserere’ Peter sang the chant verses, quickly jotted down courtesy of Google, in between the choir’s four-part sections. For the more substantial four-part ‘Letanie della Madonna Santissima’, supposedly solo verses were sung tutti while Peter accompanied on a portative organ, again reading from a figured bass part.
It was a day of impressive erudition that enabled us to encounter some scarcely known composers who wrote first class music, beautiful to sing.- Cynthia McLaren