The Milanese composer missed off the musical map
Updated: Aug 1, 2020
The official website of Milan Cathedral offers a history of the eminent musicians who have worked at the building. Among those listed as having served as choristers, choir directors and organists are several whose fame stretched far beyond: Josquin des Prez, Franchinus Gaffurius, Vincenzo Ruffo and Johann Christian Bach. Alongside these well-known figures there are a dozen other names included, musicians who were part of the building’s history without making a significant impact on the wider world. However, one name that does not feature at all is the man who was maestro di capella at the cathedral from 1522 until 1550: Matthias Werrecore.
‘So what?’ you might say. After all, it’s not uncommon for minor musical figures to be omitted from such things, especially if they were unremarkable composers in terms of quality or quantity of output. But what if that’s not the case? What if this is a composer that should be spoken of alongside the cathedral’s most celebrated musicians?
When I was introduced to Werrecore's music by Francis Bevan I immediately felt that this was a composer that should be better known. Together with my vocal ensemble Siglo de Oro, we have prepared a recital of Werrecore’s wonderful music, alongside words by van Weerbeke, Josquin and Gaffurius, whose music features in the early 16th century Milan Choirbooks. Werrecore’s own motets are on a large scale, in as many as seven parts and with some lasting over 10 minutes. They are inventive and expressive, always alive to the meaning of the words. Remarkably, none have yet been recorded.
But how can a composer be missed out? Well, in my experience there are a few factors:
If a composer works in the same city (in this case Milan) for most of their life, their reputation and their music itself has less chance to spread.
If there is no date for either a composer’s birth or death, it is difficult to celebrate them in the way that many modern performers do, through anniversary years.
Composers who spend their working lives away from their home country, are less likely to be adopted. Werrecore, born in the low countries and with a Flemish name, will never be considered an ‘Italian’ composer, despite being one to all intents and purposes.
We’ve now recorded this programme, and are hoping to release the disc later this year. As you can imagine, projects like this are expensive - the total cost comes to around £15,000. Thanks to 27 individual donors and 4 grants we have covered the vast majority of the outlay. We are now crowdfunding for the remaining £3000. I’d be so grateful if you would take a look at our page and consider helping us make this neglected composer better known: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/help-siglo-de-oro-make-its-third-recording.