Recently a German research scholar liaised with me on her visit to Goa. She was researching “the music of the Jesuits in South India from the time of the formation of the order to their suppression in 1759.” It was a pleasure chaperoning her and poring along with her over documents in the Archives, Bishop’s Palace Altinho and the Xavier Centre for Historical Research Porvorim.
While discussing secondary sources, the name of Italian composer Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) cropped up more than a few times. Several sources quote the passage by visitor to Goa in the 1660s (he was in India between1656-1665), Monsignor Sebastiani Fr. Giuseppe di Santa Maria (1623-1689), of the Order of the Scalzi Carmelites, First Bishop of Hierapoli (Greece) and First Baron of the Hagia Sophia. In his communication from his Seconda Speditione all’Indie Orientali (Second Voyage to the East Indies), he marvels at the musicianship of the ‘Canarins’: “Non può credersi quanto rieschino nella Musicaquei Canarini, come ci si esercitino, e con quanta facilità.”
The term ‘Canarin’ is an interesting one. Is it a generic term for all non-white inhabitants of Goa at the time, or did it indicate a social group distinct from the Brahmins and Chardós, terms that the Portuguese and visitors were already using in their descriptive writing even in the 1500s? This came up for discussion during the lecture series “Goa in the making of the Portuguese empire (16th-18th centuries)” of Dr. Ângela Barreto Xavier as well. Perhaps it meant different things to each observer, so it’s difficult to generalise.
Anyway, Giuseppe di Santa Maria mentions in particular a work by Carissimi performed at “the Professed House of the Fathers of the Compagnia [Society of Jesus], where the body of St. Francis Xavier is located.” If I’ve translated the entry (with some reading between the lines as well), the performance might have been on 31 July 1663, the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of order of the Society of Jesus.
I first learnt of Carissimi through this entry of di Santa Maria, and this time I decided to look him up further. More specifically, was there a reason and some significance in the performance of a work by Carissimi in particular? Did he have a special relationship with the Jesuit order?
It turns out that he did, very much so. Very little is known about Carissimi’s early life; we know he was born in Marino, near Rome, that his father Amico was a cooper (a maker and repairer of casks and barrels),his mother’s name was Livia and that he was the youngest of six children (he had five sisters and a brother).
We have no details of his musical training, but he first surfaces at the Tivoli cathedral (under maestri di cappella Aurelio Briganti Colonna, Alessandro Capece and Francesco Manelli); he began as chorister there in October 1623, and a year later was organist until 1627.
1628 is an important year in Carissimi’s life. He first took up a position as maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of San Rufino, Assisi. But the same year, he then took up the maestro di cappella post at the church of Sant’Appolinare belonging to the Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum in Rome. He stayed at this post for the rest of his life.
Again, ‘reading between the lines’, Carissimi seems to have held the post and the institution in high regard. Why else would he give up a maestro di cappella post in Assisi, which had just obtained, and relocated almost 200 km north of Rome, only to return perhaps a few months later for this post? He must have displeased his employers in Assisi; or perhaps he quit because of interpersonal differences. We do not know.
The Collegium Germanicum is a German-speaking seminary for Roman Catholic priests in Rome, founded in 1552. Saint Ignatius of Loyola was actively involved in its establishment and inaugurated it himself. The administration of the college came under Jesuit jurisdiction. It rapidly acquired a reputation for the “splendour and majesty” of its functions, with particular emphasis on music. It attracted great composers under its ambit: the Spaniard Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611); and a host of Italian composers Annibale Stabile (1535-1595), Annibale Orgas (1585-1629), Lorenzo Ratti (1589-1630), Giuseppe Ottavio Pitoni ((1657-1743). It is therefore not surprising that Carissimi felt drawn here as well.
He received several attractive offers while at his post here, including the very prestigious position of maestro di cappella at the basilica of San Marco in Venice to replace the great Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi after his demise in 1643. In 1647, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, son of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II tried to entice him as well. But Carissimi turned them all down. We can only speculate on his reasons, but perhaps the Jesuit order had become ‘home’ to him. We know he was ordained a priest in 1637. A Jesuit priest? Quite likely, but I couldn’t confirm this.
Although he perhaps never left Italy, Carissimi’s legacy is vast and far-reaching, despite the unfortunate fact that “much of his music was destroyed when the collections of the Sant’Appolinare and the Gesù were sold as rubbish (!) at the time of the suppression of the Jesuits.” (entry in the 10th edition of the International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, 1975). (Incidentally, the confiscation and destroying of documents at the time of the suppression might also explain why the German researcher was not able to find Jesuit music scores here in Goa).
As might be expected, his oeuvre includes largely sacred music: oratorios (based on Old Testament stories), cantatas, motets and masses. Indeed, he was an important figure in the early history of the oratorio and the cantata, and contributed substantially to the development of recitative (the style of delivery in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech), also utilizing the church cantata with such skill and expressiveness that it soon replaced the motet. His compositions stand out for their imagination and dramatic variety. His pupils included Alessandro Scarlatti (father of the better-known Domenico Scarlatti) and Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
Trying to deduce which Carissimi composition Giuseppe di Santa Maria heard in 1663 requires some sleuthing. He describes it as a work for “sette Chori” (seven choirs), but it more probably was a composition for seven “voices” or parts, as we know of no Carissimi composition for “seven choirs”. Most of Carissimi’s known works for six voices or more seem to have been written after 1663; or perhaps the work heard in 1663 in Goa was “destroyed as rubbish” post-1759.Works that could fit the bill are Carissimi’s oratorios ‘Daniela propheta’ (1638) or ‘Jephte’(1648), both for 6 voices and continuo (the seventh ‘voice’?).
We can only guess. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the Bom Jesus Basilica resound to Carissimi’s ‘Jephte’ sometime soon, perhaps on St. Ignatius feast day?
(An edited version of this article was published on 08 October 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)