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By Robert Crowe

Giovanni Battista Velluti (1780–1861), or Giambattista, or even Gianni, as some of his friends seem to have called him, has been my constant companion since 2011. Back when I thought Angus Heriot’s 1956 The Castrati in Opera was a good, reliable source (was I ever so young?), Velluti’s wild life, full of saucy stories of flirtations—and more—with divas both operatic and aristocratic, of narrow escapes from their jealous boyfriends, of improbably witty badinage with emperors, queens, and skeptical policemen of all descriptions, was highly entertaining. But what really piqued my curiosity was his life and all of its collisions with the surrounding world—a stranger in a strange land—dragging all the accoutrements of the eighteenth century with him, deep into the nineteenth. Stared at, gossiped about, closely observed, lied about, mythologized, lionized, “monstered”—all while he was walking the same streets with those who were busily rewriting—and redrawing—his existence. I got to know him first as a newspaper figure, a caricature, but as I dug deeper, I found more and more sources that dug more deeply in the man himself.

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By Richard Sherr

My edition of the Parisian revue de fin d’année for the year 1857, Ohé! les p’tits agneaux!, has its origins in a problem faced by many people my age: “What am I going to do in retirement?” In 2013, after my decision to retire in 2015 had been gleefully accepted by the administration of Smith College, I began to seriously contemplate my future scholarly life. In one sense, the answer was easy. I could continue doing what I had been doing for the past fifty years: working in the Vatican Library on the lives and careers of singers in the papal chapel in the sixteenth century. On the other hand, I was getting tired of it. So, I decided it was time for a change. But what change? I had always liked Paris; what topic could I choose that would bring me to (pre-COVID) Paris as often as possible? As I searched, one genre stood out: the revue de fin d’année, a specifically Parisian genre in which an entire year in the news and the theater was recapitulated in a series of comic and satirical skits. The result is the first edition ever of the complete text and music of a nineteenth-century Parisian revue de fin d’année.

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Priest, Organist, Composer: Repositioning Sumaya

Wednesday, May 12, 2021 9:00:00 AM America/Chicago

By Drew Edward Davies

My interest in Manuel de Sumaya (1678–1755) began in graduate school, over two decades ago, when I started to research music from New Spain. At that time, the historiography positioned Sumaya—a near-contemporary of J. S. Bach born in Mexico City—as a progressive composer who introduced New Spain to fashionable Italian music. Around 2002, during dissertation research in north-central Mexico at Durango Cathedral, I located a villancico for St. Peter by Sumaya that had been virtually unknown. It was evident in that piece that, despite the composer’s progressive reputation, the music exhibited an older seventeenth-century style with erudite harmonic and contrapuntal elements. Finally, subsequent cataloging work with the Musicat Project in Mexico City brought me into contact with the corpus I would later edit for A-R editions, a series of villancicos that Sumaya wrote for religious services at Mexico City Cathedral during the 1710s and 20s. Through the process of editing these villancicos for A-R Editions, I came to interpret Sumaya in a different light, one that repositions him as a composer but perhaps appreciates him more are a multifaceted priest-musician.

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Bringing to Light Music at Dublin Castle: J. S. Kusser’s Serenatas

Wednesday, March 31, 2021 9:00:00 AM America/Chicago

By Samantha Owens

In some ways, it feels as though Johann Sigismund Kusser (or, as he was known in early eighteenth-century Ireland, John Sigismond Cousser) has been following me around since the 1990s, when, during the course of my Ph.D. research, I first became aware of the brief period he was employed as Württemberg court kapellmeister. Born in 1660 in Bratislava (at that time Pressburg, Hungary), Kusser moved to Stuttgart with his family while still a teenager, before going on to study music in France. His professional career began in the early 1680s with a string of kapellmeister appointments at different German courts, as well as several years in Hamburg. After two and a half years working in England as a freelancer, Kusser arrived in Dublin, where he lived the remaining twenty years of his life. Over the course of those years, Kusser would compose and direct performances of more than twenty semi-staged serenatas at Dublin Castle, before the elite audience of the Irish viceregal court.

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By Paul Walker

“Hey Paul, could you come into my office for a moment? I’ve got something I’d like you to take a look at.”

When I heard the Music Librarian at the University of Virginia, Rya Martin, call to me from behind her desk, I stepped into her office and watched as she pulled a slender, small volume off the shelf. I recognized immediately, based on cleffing, the first page’s elaborate T, and the language, that what she had was the tenor part to a print of twenty-three French chansons, bound in an elaborate nineteenth-century binding. Tipped into the volume, presumably by the person who had had it bound, was a page from a manuscript chansonnier of the time, showing on one side an attractive full-page painting of a shawm player outside a walled city. But what was it, exactly, that we had? Most of the pieces were anonymous, although Willaert, Sermisy, and Lhéritier were named for a few, and there was no title page or colophon, since those would presumably be in the first and last partbooks respectively. Little did I know just how important this small partbook would turn out to be, much less how much effort would be necessary to unlock its secrets.

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