O Rosa Bella, ballata
- Composer: Johannes Ciconia
- Period: Medieval (1-1449)
ReviewJohannes Ciconia of Liège, though not an Italian, fluidly adapted to the musical climate of Italy. Apparently this Northern composer was first attached to the household of Cardinal Phillip d'Alençon and quickly moved into the musical life of papal Rome as well as the courtly circles of Visconti Milan and Pavia. Once in Italian-speaking lands, the composer apparently merged his career with burgeoning local traditions, including the poetic effluence of Venetian writer Leonardo Giustinian, whose influence was strong enough to place his name on an entire genre of poetry, the Giustiniani. It may have been a poem (in the form of an Italian ballata) by the great Giustinian that Ciconia set as his O rosa bella. Other composers, even native Italians, would essay compositions on the Giustinian text for years to come, but Ciconia the oltremontane foreigner offers us an extremely powerful reading of the text before them. Despite the waves of fashion that were ebbing away from the form of the Italian ballata, Ciconia championed it for much of his life. He devoted a good deal of his musical talent to the composition of ballatas such as O rosa bella. This happens to be one of the longest, and one of the most exquisite in the entire repertory. The text borrows some conventional images -- the lover who dies of love again and again for the same woman, and he begs this beautiful rose of a woman (either an erotic symbol, or a Marian one) to have mercy and not allow him to die; Giustinian's facile poetry, however, rises above mere conventions. Ciconia responds with a phenomenonally passionate melody. He sets the poem for a melodic span wider than usual, and moves with powerful gestures across it. His most frequent gambit is the melodic sequence (somewhat unusual for his time). Right after the passionate opening "O" and the first phrase, he takes the singer through a sweeping upwards sequence, three times on "Oh, sweet soul of mine!" Immediately, he again uses a triple sequence striving upwards on "Do not let me die!" carefully balancing three downward motives "for courtesy's sake." Yet he reserves the high point of the entire wide melody for a fourfold sequence to the highest note yet in the second part of the form; the music happens twice, to the words "Oh, poor me" and then again on the lover's desperate plea, socorimi, "Help and relieve me!" Fourteenth century ears should melt. ~ Timothy Dickey, Rovi
O rosa bella, o dolce anima mia,
non mi lassar morire in cortesia.
Ai lasso mi dolente dezo finire
per ben servire e lealmente amare. O dio d'amore, che pena e questa amare,
Vedi che io moro tut' hora per ‘sta giudea,
Socorremi, ormai del mio languire,
Cor del corpo mio, non me lassar morire.