"I doubt anyone who had never heard Favella Lyrica could imagine what they do, or how well they do it: We've never heard anything quite like the duet singing of Pamela Murray and Pamela Dellal." 



Concerte delle Dame


The music that Luzzasco Luzzaschi wrote for the court singers of the Duke of Ferrara, known throughout Italy as the "Three Ladies of Ferrara", had a great influence on the composition of music for small ensembles of solo voices during the 17th century. The publication of the Concerte delle Dame in 1601 showed clear links to the madrigal style of the late 16th century, at which Luzzaschi excelled, but also broke new ground in the use of written-out virtuosic ornamentation and the new emphasis on the expressive power of the solo voice, both elements of which were derived from the skill of these brilliant singers. Deh, vieni ormai illustrates the subtle intermingling of the older and newer approaches, with the word-painting of the dying day depicted in the dark low ranges of the voices, and the free ornamentation on the words "blessed voice" heralding the new emphasis on the solo singer. The idea of writing duets for solo voices was picked up by a great number of the Italian composers of the next generation, most prominent among them Claudio Monteverdi. The meter and mood changes in Perchè fuggi and Zefiro torna are further examples of the search for the closest possible reflection of both the word and the expression. The infectious chaconne that dominates the greater part of Zefiro torna is a form that takes the duet further away from its madrigalistic roots; another piece that exploits the newer metrical devices is Pesenti's Ardo. Here an intense, almost clinical depiction of the oxymoronic images of the sonnet in the opening section gives way to a hypnotic passacaglia that outdoes in intensity all the tortured devices that preceded it. The use of written-out ornamentation that appeared in Luzzaschi's work is beautifully integrated into the structure of D'India's Langue al vostro languir, in which the nuanced etching of mood and virtuosic display combine to serve the one purpose of expressing the text.

The monody Piangono al pianger mio distinctively combines the free, expressive rhythms of the classic Italian lament with the steady bass line of a standard Renaissance tune, the Romanesca. The insistent bass sets up interesting tensions with the more fluid, improvisational vocal line for a plaintive effect.

The duets from the Kleine Geistliche Konzerte of Heinrich Schtz, seemingly a world apart from the Italian glorification of the erotic sensibility, actually owe much in form and expression to these overtly secular compositions. Schtz's studies in Italy in the seminal early 17th century resulted in his lifetime love of both the massed choral forces of Gabrieli and the passionate solo outpourings of Monteverdi, and in the intimate chamber settings of the KGK he was able to explore this language in a highly personal way. The KGK duets are characterized by strikingly individual themes for each contrasting line of text, with a spontaneity of utterance and fervor of intent that both echo the Italian school and have a uniquely Christian exaltation. No composer from this period matches Schtz in the musical expression of joy: his strettoed crescendos on the Alleluias and final statements of these psalm settings achieve heights of emotion that leave one's heart beating faster.

Henry Purcell's The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation, from his collection of sacred solo vocal works Harmonia Sacra, displays its allegiance to the Italian monodic lament proudly. The text, by Nahum Tate, presents an unusual view of a doubtful, passionate, and very human Mary who, in her terror at her Son's absence, even wonders whether her vision of the Archangel Gabriel was only a "waking dream". The episodes of dance meter punctuating the highly expressive, broken prosody of the main body of the piece are familiar elements of the monody, transformed by Purcell into a unique scena that suggests sacred opera.

The influence of the Italian duet for equal voices was still strongly felt a century later, as evidenced by the music in the final group. The lovely liturgical duet Caro mea vere est cibus by Antonio Caldara resembles Schtz as much as it does Handel, and Pesenti and Monteverdi as much as it does Vivaldi. The voice-crossings on the words "and I [will remain] in you" create a similar sense of two voices out of one person that passages in Deh vieni and Zefiro evoke. Although the music of the French Baroque is often considered, with some cause, to be a style apart from the largely Continent-wide Italian style, in the duets of Franois Couperin the Italian influence is palpable. The concerted sections of the Motet for Easter Day use the virtuosic and expressive techniques that by now are indigenous to the genre - note the passages where the voices alternate in holding a pedal note against the other's rhythmic motion, and the swinging Alleluias that again, recall Schtz. The liquid prosody of the French language is still everywhere to be heard in this Latin motet, in the rhythms of the text and the many dance-meters that decorate this delightful piece.


Claudio Monteverdi

Perchè fuggi

Luzzasco Luzzaschi

Deh vieni ormai

Martino Pesenti


Sigismondo D'India

Piangono al pianger mio
Langue al vostro languir

Claudio Monteverdi

Zefiro torna


Heinrich Schütz

Der Herr ist groß
Ihr Heiligen, lobsinget dem Herren
O lieber Herre Gott

Henry Purcell

The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation

Antonio Caldara

Caro mea vere est cibus

François Couperin

[Motet pour le jour des Pâques]