"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." 



The Singer's Art


A popular and fertile subject for vocal music in the 17th century is singing itself. Poems about singing provided composers with a ready-made vehicle for illustrating vocal virtuosity and expressivity. Duets and dialogues about music naturally centered around love, since the musical harmony made by two voices was a perfect analogy to the accord of two loving hearts. Claudio Monteverdi explores this idea in two unusual ways: in O come sei gentile the unhappy lover compares his singing, passionate yet unwelcome, to the singing of his beloved's bird, mechanical but cherished. In Mentre vaga angioletta the lover's heart, in listening to his beloved singing, becomes a silent duet partner with her; in expressing how his soul echoes the singer's artistry, a kaleidoscope of vocal effects are demonstrated. Tornate, o cari baci plays upon the conventions of languishing laments, having one singer interrupt the other's sensuous praises of kisses with impatient cadences. Nicol˜ Fontei was a Venetian composer in Barbara Strozzi's circle. His dialogue Fortunato cantore, possibly written for Barbara Strozzi, turns the two singers into two eagles, soaring in the grandeur of their vocal display to the heights of heaven. Strozzi herself, one of the most renowned singers of her day as well as a established composer, captures the essence of the idea of the singer-lover with her duet Merc di voi, the Proemio or first piece in her first published edition. She prefaces the duet with an image of herself crowned with laurel, celebrated in history as a 'new Sappho' or a great modern-day woman artist. Then she proceeds to compare the beauty and difficulty of singing together with the unanimity of two lovers. La sol, fa, mi, re, do takes a more humorous look at the art of singing. Filled with untranslatable puns, the beloved in this piece speaks to her lover only in song, using the solfege syllables to convey her meaning, which is entirely mercenary!

The vocal music of 17th century England, while influenced by the Italian style, is quite distinct from it. Growing out of a native genre of consort songs, the vocal duet in England tends to be more homophonic and less virtuosic than its Continental counterpart. Nicholas Lanier was a singer, lutenist and composer during the reign of Charles I. His graceful strophic songs were published with optional second voice parts filling out the harmonies. Though I am Young and Young and Simple Though I Am, both on the theme of a young girlÕs awakening to love, are set to poems by famous poets of the previous generation, Ben Jonson and Thomas Campion. The dialogues of Henry Lawes definitely owe something to the dialogue tradition of mid-17th century Italy, such as the Fontei piece. In This Mossy Bank the two singers self-consciously take on the roles of the two lovers, acting out their poignant farewell. The Dialogue on a Kiss is a sweet English counterpart to MonteverdiÕs Tornate. The question-and-answer design elicits a charming discourse on the nature of the kiss. Henry Purcell made the interplay between music and love one of the great common themes of his work. The third and most elaborate of his settings of If Music be the Food of Love demonstrates the power of singing to engender emotion through the brilliancy of the vocal writing. Sweeter than Roses also uses the image of a kiss to set off vocal fireworks. The dulcet harmonies of the English tradition are also in evidence in the keyboard suite of Purcell, which blends Continental dance forms with a more personal fantasia-like prelude. The three brief closing duets, all from PurcellÕs Orpheus Brittanicus, express the same idea: 'music without love is but noise.'

Claudio Monteverdi

Tornate, o cari baci
O come sei gentile

Nicolò Fontei

Fortunato Cantore

Barbara Strozzi

Mercè di voi
La sol, fa, mi, re do

Claudio Monteverdi

Mentre vaga angioletta


Nicholas Lanier

Though I Am Young
Young and Simple Though I Am

Henry Purcell

If Music be the Food of Love
Sweeter Than Roses
Suite No. 8 in F

Henry Lawes

This Mossy Bank
Dialogue upon a Kiss

Henry Purcell

No, Resistance is but Vain
Love, thou art Best
Oh, The Sweet Delights of Love