During the pontificate of Urban VIII (1623-1644), the arts in Rome enjoyed a period of unprecedented splendor. In the context of the Counterreformation, they were part of the propaganda arsenal of papal might. The architecture of Bernini and Borromini, as well as the musiche of Mazzocchi and Rossi, echoing in the private apartments of the cardinals and the accademie, where the elite of Rome congregated to enjoy music and poetry, bear witness to this trend.
The texts set in this music were often deliberately vague as to whether their content was secular or religious. The primary intent was to express of the power of the words and their affect, by using the richest possible harmonic support. Composers like Landi and Michi both sang and accompanied themselves; the instruments which were considered most suitable for this purpose were the theorbo and the harp, which could accommodate to the voice at nearly every dynamic level. Mazzocchi, in his compositions, even provides indications of changes to tempo and dynamics. He sometimes gives the accompaniment an independent part in order to emphasize the text.
For example, in ‘Spoglie’, the theorbo follows the text “passerà l’ombra mia la ripa avara” in a literally shadow-like way. The most important virtuoso theorbo player of 17th century Rome was Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger, Il Tedesco della Tiorba (the German Theorbist). In addition to solo compositions for theorbo and lute, his publications include collections of motets, villanelle, and ‘arie’, some of which have a fully written-out accompaniment in tablature, such as ‘Già risi’, recorded on this cd…..