Isaac: Fortuna disperata / Sancte Petre

The album “The Lion’s Ear” which contains this track is a tribute to Pope Leo X (Giovanni de’ Medici, 1475-1521), a rare and extraordinary patron of music as well as himself a composer and musician. It is also the outcome of La Morra’s collaboration with Anthony M. Cummings, eminent scholar of Renaissance music, author of the book “Pope Leo X, the Renaissance Papacy, and Music.

Fortuna disperata / Sancte Petre” was composed by Henricus Isaac, a South-Netherlandish composer and one of the most devoted servants of the House of Medici. In the words of Prof. Cummings: “The text is an invocation to the Apostles of Jesus to “pray for us” [“ora pro nobis”] and each of the Apostles is addressed in turn, beginning with Peter, whose successor Leo was understood to be; (…) The quasi-liturgical character of the genre is revealed in this instance by the use of a popular tune, “Fortuna disperata”, in the uppermost line of the five-voice polyphonic complex. (…) “Fortuna disperata” was a Florentine popular song from Lorenzo Il Magnifico’s time, and its use in Isaac’s motet might have been intended as referring obliquely to the Florentine “Peter”, Pope Leo X, Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The original poem of “Fortuna disperata” is a lament on the death of an unknown lady. Let us quote here the last strophe in English translation by Honey Meconi:

O pitiless death,
Hostile and cruel,
More bitter than bile,
Founded in malice.
Hopeless Fortune,
Unjust and cursed.

The bitterness of these words is a reminder of the fragility of human existence.

La Morra was about to revisit United States — for the first time since 2012 — to perform a program of Italian music from the age of Pope Leo X at the Williams Center for the Arts in Easton (PA), preceded by a talk by Prof. Cummings. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the security measures have thwarted all plans, nullifying not only the agreement but also many months worth of preparatory efforts, and has left the ensemble with administration costs which don’t qualify for reimbursement. Such stories could now be enumerated “ad infinitum” — globally. How badly will music industry be affected in the years to come? This is the big question many of us ask ourselves now. No one can tell.

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