Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett: “Deposit potentes de sede”

MSUC: Chapter 3, Part 7

(This is the twenty-forth part of my dissertation series. Previous: MSUC: Chapter 3, Part 6)

Deposuit potentes de sede

Domenico Fetti (Roman, 1589-1623) The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (1618/1628). Notice the cornett player among group of musicians in upper right.

Domenico Fetti (Roman, 1589-1623) The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (1618/1628). Notice the cornett player among group of musicians in upper right.

Monteverdi’s Magnificat from the 1610 collection is divided into twelve sections, coinciding with the twelve Biblical verses. Cornetts are used in six of these verses: (1) Magnificat anima mea, (3) Quia respexit, (7) Deposuit potentes de sede, (8) Esurientes implevit bonis, (10) Sicut locutus est, and (12) Sicut erat in principio.

The seventh section, Deposuit potentes de sede, is particularly interesting for many reasons, one of which is that its orchestrational and motivic concepts are derived in large part from the very well-known aria from Orfeo, “Possente spirto.” Both pieces share the texture of two soprano obbligato instruments playing in echo, which decorate and punctuate the solitary vocal line. In addition, there are many motivic devices that link Deposuit to “Possente.” Thus, one can see that Monteverdi used “Possente” as a model for Deposuit. In figure 13, four such devices are illustrated, including the upward-sweeping scale, spanning an octave, which I shall call Motive A; the downward, broken third figure, Motive B; the dotted rhythmic figure, Motive C; and the written out cadential gruppo figure, Motive D.

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In “Possente spirto,” there are four sections underscored by obbligato instruments in the following order: (1) violin duet, (2) cornett duet, (3) double harp, (4) two violins with “Basso da brazzo.

The concluding fifth section is for voice alone (and
un-ornamented). Unlike the order of the first two sections of “Possente,” the two sections of Deposuit potentes de sede are accompanied first by a pair of cornetts, then by a pair of violins. Despite similar motivic usage, as illustrated in example 13, between the first two sections of “Possente” and the whole of Deposuit, there is a significant difference between the two pieces: Monteverdi reverses the order of obbligato instruments. I believe Monteverdi conscientiously reworked the earlier material in order to make a significant correlation between the instrumentation and the new text. The words “Deposuit potentes de sede” (“He hath put down the mighty from their seats”) are framed by ritornello passages played by two cornetts. The words of the second half of this section, “et exaltavit humiles” (“and exalted them of low degree”), are set off by ritornelli played by two violins. The “mighty” in Deposuit are associated with the cornetts, whereas those of “low degree” are underscored by the violin (which was Monteverdi’s own instrument). Having already established the correlation between the cornett and the princely class, this text-painting of social status by means of instrumentation makes sense.[1] Moreover, if the mighty are to be put down from their seats, the cornett as a symbol of vanitas and death becomes an even more pertinent symbol for this passage.[2]

(Next: The Cornett as a Symbol of Social Hierarchy)

[1]. “To Monteverdi, the cornett substitutes for the trumpet and, by transference, becomes a symbol of the political power and munificence of the Gonzaga family.”

[2]. The Cornett as a Symbol of Death and the Transitory in the Graphic Arts

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Trumpet Books: An Autobiography From Herbert L. Clarke

Herbert L. Clarke as a member of the Victor Herbert Band (c. 1896)

Herbert L. Clarke as a member of the Victor Herbert Band (c. 1896)

Trumpeters and cornetist all over the world usually know a little about Herbert L. Clarke, but what a lot of us may not know is that he wrote a marvelous memoire, How I Became a Cornetist. You can buy this fairly short and easy to read book from various retailers or you can get a PDF version for free from the Kalamazoo Public Library, or from a few other websites. 

Clarke organizes his book into Series (chapters) that were originally published serially in a band magazine, Fillmore’s Musical Messenger. The relaxed style of writing about his pursuit of great cornet playing during an era when cornetist were so incredibly popular helps the reader immerse himself into the time period. 

For me, the most important theme of this book is how much effort cornet-playing at this level was required. In fact, Clarke makes a big point of de-bunking the notion of the “born cornetist.” This book is about the hard work Clarke put in to become great, and it stands as an example for us today. His anecdotes and advice about his family upbringing, the difficulty of buying his first cornet, his first encounters with transposition, and lying about his age to join a band all make delightful reading. 

We can all be grateful to Clarke for his remarkable memory. Even the most trivial stories come to life with his amazing grasp of past details. For instance, his first hearing of Walter B. Rogers when he was about 15 years old: 

At about the middle of the program a young man not much older than myself stood up and without moving from his place began playing a cornet solo which at once so captivated my attention that I forced my way through the crowd in order to get nearer the bandstand and not miss a note. . . . The number, an extremely difficult cornet solo which demanded great endurance in playing was the Excelsior Polka by Frewin. . . . At the ending of the solo the young player was given an ovation of tumultuous applause, in which I joined vigorously. The cornetist again arose, but this time stepped to the front of the platform, and to my wonderment played the entire solo through for the second time without seeming tired or making a slip. . . . His face did not become purple, distorted, or show any signs of strain.

 

Herbert L. Clarke at age 23, Cornet Soloist of Gilmore's 22nd Regimental Band

Herbert L. Clarke at age 23, Cornet Soloist of Gilmore’s 22nd Regimental Band

Learning how Clarke took up the viola to play in the family quartet and how he tried working in a business store, helps us to realize that Clarke kept his career options open. Even so, he still pursued his dream with an enormous amount of hard work on the cornet. The book concludes with him finally getting his dream job–as cornet soloist with Patrick Gilmore’s band at age 23. 

After I had finished, Mr. Gilmore came over to me, patted me on the back, and told me that he had been looking for a great cornet player who could play musically, with the endurance I had displayed this afternoon and at last he had found one! I nearly fell over on hearing this expression of enthusiasm regarding my playing, and had to sit down. 

In closing, Clarke adds an amazing synopsis of his career as a cornetist after that point. Here are some of those facts:

Clarke logged over 8000 miles of travel as soloist with the bands of Gilmore, John Philip Sousa and Victor Herbert. He played over six thousand programmed cornet solos, including 473 concerts in one season. He soloed at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, and the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904.

Anglo Canadian Leather Company Band leader Herbert L. Clarke (left) and C. O. Shaw (right), owner of the Anglo Canadian Leather Company, Huntsville, Ontario.

Anglo Canadian Leather Company Band leader Herbert L. Clarke (left) and C. O. Shaw (right), owner of the Anglo Canadian Leather Company, Huntsville, Ontario.

 

 

Of course, Herbert L. Clarke also distinguished himself as a bandmaster himself, eventually becoming the president of the American Bandmasters Association in 1943.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me at the grave marker of Herbert L. Clarke

Me at the grave marker of Herbert L. Clarke

 

I have visited Clarke’s gravesite in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, on a number of occasions, and each time I have a sense of wonder, appreciation and meaning. 

 

 

 

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