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by Daniel Hathaway

Dickey-La-Bella-Minuta-CDBoth the Dodo (the bird) and the cornetto (the instrument) suffered extinction toward the end of the seventeenth century. By 1665, humans and their domestic animals had hunted down all the Dodos on Mauritius, while changes in musical taste spelled the end of the Cornetto, according to virtuoso cornettist Bruce Dickey, whose wonderful new Passacaille CD, La Bella Minuta, preserves the florid, vocalistic repertoire of that instrument’s golden age just as vividly as Lewis Carroll kept the idea of the Dodo alive in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

La Bella Minuta takes its title from Girolamo Dalla Casa’s 1584 term for the improvisatory divisions or diminuzioni that skilled players use to elaborate musical lines, a technique, Dickey writes, that “touch the very soul of the cornetto, utilizing its amazing agility and its astonishing vocality.”

To help show off those features of the instrument — fingered like a recorder but played by vibrating the lips against a small, cupped mouthpiece — Dickey has assembled a winning team of musicians, including organist Lieuwe Tamminga, viol players Claudia Pasetto, Leonardo Bortolotto and Alberto Rasi, and harpist Maria Christina Cleary, and got permission to take over the private chapel of the Este court, the Basilica Palatina of Santa Barbara in Mantua, for a week for rehearsing and recording. That church, “conceived and built, it is said, with music in mind…for a court in which music played an enormous role,” (liner notes) also houses a Graziadio Antegnati organ from 1565 (restored in 2006 by Giorgio Carli) which contributes handsomely to the musical proceedings. Read the rest of this entry »


Bruce Dickeyby Daniel Hathaway

Bruce Dickey has been largely responsible for the modern revival of one of the most fascinating instruments in the Renaissance and Baroque instrumentarium. Now living in Bologna, where he is a member of the modern incarnation of the Renaissance wind band Concerto Palatino, he returns to Northeast Ohio this month to teach at Oberlin’s Baroque Performance Institute and play in Monteverdi’s ‘Vespers of 1610’. We interviewed him over coffee last December when he was in Cleveland to play the Praetorius Christmas Vespers with Apollo’s Fire.

Daniel Hathaway: What was your first encounter with the cornetto?

Bruce Dickey: I was an undergraduate at Indiana University when I discovered the recorder and I discovered a group there that was playing recorders, shawms, krummhorns. One of the other players in the group was Michael Lynn, who’s now at Oberlin — we were two members of the wind component of that ensemble, and we were sitting one day in the rehearsal room with all the instruments hanging in a cupboard, and he pointed at the cornetto and said “that’s your instrument”. And I said, “No, no, no.” I was a trumpet student at the time and I looked at that mouthpiece and said, “I don’t want to do that”. It took a couple of years before I came around. I did play a few pieces on the cornetto. I shudder to think that there are probably still tapes lurking in the music library there. And then I went off to Basel to study the recorder and I ordered a plastic cornetto from Christopher Monk and took it with me to Basel and started to take some lessons from Edward Tarr.
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