Born in Kyoto, Japan, Shizuko Noiri graduated in musicology from the Doshisha women’s college in Kyoto. She began studying the lute with Ichiro Okamoto. She later moved to Switzerland, where she continued her studies at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, specialising in the lute and Renaissance and Baroque performing practices under Eugen Dombois and Hopkinson Smith. She obtained her solo diploma in 1991.
Performing under René Jacobs, Shizuko Noiri has over the last 20 years appeared in many opera productions, including at the Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik (Austria), Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence (France), Théatre des Champs-Elysées (Paris), Théatre Royal de La Monnaie (Brussels), Staatsoper (Berlin), Lincoln Center (New York), Barbican Centre (London), Theater an der Wien (Austria), Cité de la musique (Paris), Palais des Beaux-Arts (Brussels), Salzburger Festspiele (Austria), Teatro Avenida (Buenos Aires, under the direction of J.M. Quintana), Festival La Folle Journée (Tokyo, under Michel Corboz) and Tokyo Opera City (under Masaaki Suzuki).
Shizuko Noiri is a founding member of “Les Plasirs du Parnasse”, and gives frequent solo performances with the finest Baroque ensembles and musicians around the world, including Anner Bylsma, Concerto Vocale, I Musici, Freiburger Baroque Orchestra, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Ensemble 415, Concerto Köln and Bach Collegium Japan.
She has performed in the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Philharmonie & Konzerthaus (Berlin), The Royal Chapel (Versailles), Freunde alter Musik Basel (Switzerland), Gewandhaus (Leipzig), Sydney Opera House (Australia), Rubin Academy ( Israel), Palau de la Musica (Barcelona), Palacio Real (Madrid), Bolshoi Theater ( Moscow) and numerous Festivals such as Beaune and Ambronay (France), Urbino ( Italy), Bruges (Belgium), and Prague Spring (Czech Republic).
Shizuko Noir has given masterclasses in Aix-en Provence, the Czech Republic, and at Tokyo’s University of the Arts.
Her discography includes the solo recordings Aure Nove , Toccate e danze per liuto in stile moderno under Acoustic revive, G. A. Cateliono, Intabolatura de Leuto and Giovanni Zamboni , Sonate d’ intavolatura di Leuto under the Regulus label, and other recordings with I Musici (Philips), René Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi France). Additional labels include WDR, Symphonia and Zig-Zag.
In about 1600, a revolutionary change in musical style began to emerge in northern Italy. Freed from strict counterpoint, composers started to place new emphasis on words, the expression of emotions (affetto) and dramatic elements. They did so particularly through monody, in styles such as recitar cantando, and by using contrasting elements such as tempo changes, dynamics, and, most of all, harmonic tension created from dissonance.
Baroque visual art is an art form that expresses the contrast between the movement of light and shadow, and it is dominated by drama. In music, a new style (seconda prattica or stile moderno) was born out of two contrasting elements, namely melody and an accompanying bass. This heralded the beginnings of Baroque style, and opera was born from it. A new type of large lute, the Chitarrone or tiorba, was invented specially for this music. Lutenists must have been enthusiastic about it, as Caccini called it the most suitable instrument for accompanying the new style of singing. It was a period of discovery, change and invention. The shape of the lute was ideal and the instrument had been popular for hundreds of years. However, the new style ushered in a major new development in the instrument itself.
Among the court musicians of Ferrara, which had been ruled by the family d’Este for over 350 years, there was a family of lutenists called Piccinini. Alessandro Piccinini (1566-1638) was fascinated by the sonorous timbre of the Chitarrone, with its long neck extension and additional bass strings. At the same time he was looking for an instrument that would complement it. Employed in the service of the Duke of Ferrara, Alessandro joined the workshop of Christofano Heberle in Padua at the end of 1594 and immediately ordered his dream lutes. Essentially, Piccinini wanted an instrument to play solo passages in polyphonic texture over a wide range, together with a bass line. He came up with the archlute, an instrument smaller than the Chitarrone but which, given its traditional pear shape, nevertheless retained the much-loved, sweet sound of the Renaissance lute. These new lutes were, in Alessandro’s own words, “exquisitely successful”. Lutes with extended necks (liuto attiorbato) already existed, but Alessandro claimed the archlute (arciliuto) as his own invention, and he took three of them back to Ferrara. One of these is now in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. (Photo)
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger (ca.1580-1651) was born in Venice to parents of noble German origin, and was known to his contemporaries as Il Tedesco della Tiorba (the German nobleman of the theorbo). When his patron Maffeo Barberini crowned Pope Urban VIII, Kapsperger was appointed to the papal court, where he became one of the leading musicians in Rome. Held in high esteem by contemporary theorists, Kapsperger was variously described as the “finest master of the theorbo that we have in Rome” (Giovanni Battista Doni) and in the following words: “Kapsperger, with his superb genius and other scientific skills in which he was expert, successfully penetrated the secrets of music. He is the one to whom posterity owes all those elegant graces, which are called strascini, mordenti, and gruppi , applied to the theorbo and lute […]” (Athanasius Kircher). Also: “[…] the Theorbo has been invented in our day and Giovanni Girolamo has much improved the manner of performing it (Vincenzo Giustiniani).” Most of Kapsperger’s performances were probably held within the confines of academies, i.e. elite institutions in Rome. In the preface to Kapsperger’s Libro primo (1611), publisher Filippo Nicolini says, “[…] these works are composed not for everyone, but only for our Academy […]”. At such academies, the selected elite presented their original works, e.g. Caravaggio’s writings on chiaroscuro and Galileo Galilei’s scientific works, and Kapsperger’s compositions were probably heard there for the first time as well.
Extremely proud of his noble standing and with a personality that often sparked controversy, Kapsperger was an innovative composer of lute and theorbo music. He produced every category of music in the Stile moderno and expressed the deepest essence of this new style in his lute compositions. The psychological dimensions of Kapsperger’s art reveal his acute attunement to Baroque passions: unpredictability, adventurous harmonic sense, syncopation, and a wide diversity of textures mixed in with traditional techniques, resulting in a highly dramatic style that was unique in his generation. Particularly passionate and dramatic is his Toccata, with its recitative-like art. For example, in Toccata I the sudden appearance of a virtuosic scale and its use of harmonic tension create a dynamic drama of light and shadow. However, Kapsperger’s scenario has not been completed; it brings to mind improvised theatre, full of surprise and playfulness. In Toccata II, an intensely emotional, even explosive passage emerges from the initially melancholy atmosphere. By contrast, the beginning of Toccata VI, where the harmony changes, embraces a world of poetry in which the colours of celestial light gradually change.
Compared with Kapsperger, Piccinini’s lute music contains examples of the finest traditional instrumental composition. Since he himself was the inventor of the archlute, Piccinini’s works draw out the expression of this instrument to perfection: the power of the extra bass strings, and the beguiling and wide-ranging melody and polyphony. The contrapuntal invention of Ricercare I is a good example of this. The virtuosic passages in Toccata XX, with their extremes of range, are spectacular. The Passacaglia, a variation form that originated in Spain, is one of his representative works.
The earliest collection that mentions the liuto attiorbato is the Intavolatura di Liuto attiorbato, Libro secondo (Venice, 1614) by Pietro Paolo Melii (1579-1623). Born in Emilia, Melii became a court musician in Vienna in 1612, serving the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias and Ferdinand II. Melii’s music is fairly conservative and simple compared to other composers in the seconda prattica style. Although his lute collection doesn’t break with the Renaissance style, its use of the expanded range and the performing possibilities of the newly invented lute are engaging. While Melii’s music has a certain charm, it is less virtuosic than Kapsperger’s style. Dimi Amore passegiato dall’Auttore is an arrangement of popular Renaissance songs referred to as Aria di Fiorenza or Ballo del Gran Duca. The counterpoint in the Corrente is simple and lovely. Melii dedicated some of his pieces from the Libro secondo to Claudio Monteverdi.
Libro di Leuto, collected by Gioseppe Antonio Doni between 1620 and 1640, is a lute manuscript now housed in Perugia (Ms. VII.H.2, Archivio di Stato). It includes several of Kapsperger’s compositions under the name Il tedesco (the German), as well as works by local artists such as Melii, Archangelo Lori, Giuseppe Baglione and others. Most notably, it contains many lute compositions by Andrea Falconieri (1585 – 1656), who was probably Doni’s teacher. A Neapolitan, Falconieri was a renowned master of the archlute and theorbo. However, compared to his many wonderful chamber and vocal works, few of his lute compositions have survived. One interesting aspect is that the manuscript is in the form of a method rather than a complete lute book. It affords us a rare insight into how lutenists studied and learned music at that time. Many works are merely sketches, followed by a number of musical fragments, referred to as mutanza. Performing the sketches entails embellishing on these fragments. Completing the sketches provided by composers was a key skill and source of pleasure for Baroque performers. These performances of Corrente del Falconieri and Ceccona are therefore my own personalised versions of them. La Suave Melodia, Falconieri’s best loved piece and originally for a melodic instrument and basso continuo, is my own arrangement for lute.
Apart from the master works of Kapsperger and Piccinini, Doni’s manuscript also provides us with an insight into the sound of live music in early 17th-century Italy, and how the lute would actually have been played. For example, the short anonymous Toccata starts with the same motif as that used for the harp solo in Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo. It is tempting to imagine that listeners were reminded of Orfeo just by hearing this theme. Alternatively, the melodies immortalized by the great composers may have been borrowed from local musicians. Arcangelo Lori’s improvisational Toccata is another excellent piece that uses the full range of the archlute.
Why do so many 17th-century lute Toccatas use just a single chord in the first measure to present the tonality? This device obviously provides ample opportunity for improvising brilliant passages and arpeggios. While studying Doni’s manuscript I decided that I wanted to add a prelude to some of the Toccatas that would provide a certain affetto and give greater depth to the original, along the lines of Doni’s Anonymous Toccata, starting with an essential bridge passage used in Monteverdi’s Orfeo, for example. Kapsperger’s Toccata V makes an almost philosophical impression, and it is hard to sense the direction that the music is taking. Perhaps Seneca, the great ancient Roman philosopher, would understand this affetto? I allowed myself to use the last passage sung by the Roman philosopher in Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea. The texture of Piccinini’s Toccata XX is reminiscent of Orfeo’s song, in which he expresses his determination to go to the underworld to seek his beloved Euridice. Here I decided to play a sad prelude recalling the moment Orfeo loses Euridice, in the second act of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. It is a highly personal interpretation about what kind of affetto is suitable as a small prelude or Introducione. All in all, it was a true pleasure to approach these masterpieces with the while trying to imagine the actual sounds of the early 17th century.