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Casalmaggiore: a land and its music

Why should seventeenth and eighteenth century music in Casalmaggiore deserve a Festival? Precisely, in those two centuries takes place one of the most singular and interesting events of the entire historical and musical panorama of the lands of the Po. An unprecedented mercantile dynamism makes the city of Casalmaggiore a fundamental hub for river trade. The thriving economy leads to major changes in city politics, which determines the creation of an enlighted aristocracy, and eventually the city manages to become independent from the Duchy of Milan. This is the turning point which enables the flourishing of a musical movement that would contribute to the European heritage.

Starting from minor exponents such as Orazio Modiana, up to Ignazio Donati (ca. 1567-1638) and Francesco Vignali (1609-1659) both hired "with public salary", i.e. Chapel Masters of the Casalmaggiore area and not of individual Lords. Although the economic splendor was soon overthrown by the Milanese power, the cultural impulse did not stop. Andrea Zani (1696-1757) and Carlo Zuccari (1704-1792), leaders of the main violin and orchestral forms of the time, will be the protagonists of a new expansive phase, led by Vivaldi, of Italian instrumental culture.

The vision of the festival is that of a community more aware of the importance of its own past which, if put in relation to the experiences gained in Italy and in Europe in the same period, gave an original contribution to the development of the European musical language in the baroque era. This awareness could help us to better understand the potential and the possible future of the land of Casalmaggiore.

Veduta aerea di Casalmaggiore del 1700

A little Venice on the banks of the Po

In the history and culture of Casalmaggiore, at least from the early seventeenth century to the early nineteenth century, Venice is constant reference as a model of economic and mercantile vitality, of political autonomy, of civil "knowing how to live". The historian Ettore Lodi recalled in 1629: "Casalmaggiore was likewise taken by the Venetians, and reduced to their dominion by many privileges, they honored and enriched it, knowing well how much it mattered to their interests for its situation to be masters of it. From which attracted those of Casalmaggiore being well received, and widely well treated, they began to trade in Venice, bringing there wine, wood, canvas textiles, and other fruits of its own, and on returning they reloaded their ships with spices and other valuable merchandise, and bringing them to Casalmaggiore it became that very principal place, and of great business, it was like a City; and like a little Venice, people flocked from all sides to provide for themselves”. Years earlier, in 1623, Ignazio Donati dedicated the impressive collection of sacred music Salmi Boscarecci to the "Lords of the Council" of Casalmaggiore, thanking them for having «conducted him with salary and public honoraria for Mastro di Capella in this most noble land of theirs. To which it truly seems to me that the City lacks nothing but the name. Because it has such a large, civilized, noble, and rich people; ruled with such a political government by the Council of their Lords Forty Decurions; which resembles a perfect Aristocracy. [...]. It has such and so much trade in various merchants, for being bordered by the vast river of the Po; that for the great port of the Navigli, with great traffic, which holds, is usually called, Venetia Picciola.» Where, alongside the explicit praise of the Venetian mercantile dynamism, one can read a reference to the exemplary nature of the political structure of the Serenissima, to those "Serene Dukes of Venetian Freedom" whom Traiano Boccalini indicated as «those who enjoy the most perfect Aristocracy, that the world has never had.» To these references is added an explicit connection with contemporary Venetian musical culture: Donati himself points out that he has included in his collection some Masses in which "The Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei are placed so simple, and brief in Venetian style, to hurry quickly, and make room for the Concert for the Elevation; and some Communion Symphony”. The Venetian example, therefore, was also a model of musical splendor and richness, with which the city could adequately represent and celebrate itself. In the eighteenth century, then, the Casalaschi composers and violinists Andrea Zani and Carlo Zuccari, probably profiting from Antonio Vivaldi's stay in Mantua, became followers and disseminators of Vivaldi's concert model in Europe, with extremely original results.

Frontespizio salmi boscarecci di Ignazio Donati
Dedicatoria dei Salmi Boscarecci di Donati
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