I have not been able to listen to one of my favorite albums for many years, because it’s an LP and I no longer have a working turntable. It’s a recording of some of Alessandro Grandi‘s greatest liturgical work by the Accademia Monteverdiana, Trinity Boys’ Choir, directed by Denis Stevens, with tenors Edgar Fleet and Nigel Rogers, and countertenor Mark Deller (son of the great Alfred Deller). It’s breathtakingly beautiful and sad; music that will break your heart.
Of Grandi’s origins little is known – no records survive of his birth and upbringing. He worked his way up to Monteverdi’s assistant, was an innovator in the motet and madrigal forms and was one of the first composers to work in the cantata form. He became widely admired for his compositions in Italy and beyond. The appointment to be the maestro de capella at the wonderful basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo at 41 was his crowning achievement. Three years later Grandi and his family were dead, among the 280,000 victims of the Great Plague of Milan.
The reissue sadly does not contain the liner notes from the original recording, which comprised a detailed biography, as well as an analysis of the compositions by Denis Stevens. “The total effect is one of firm structure, luminous declamation and unforgettable music of an entirely new kind”, “an air of sadness and suffering”, “the melodic line is innocent and sensuous in turns”, “the languishing of love predominates”. A couple of the motets are settings of the Song of Songs, and their elegiac sensuality defies their religious context.
Who knows what other beauty Grandi would have produced, had he not died so young? His loss is still keenly felt.