Text: Cecco Angiolieri
Duration: 12′
Dedication: The Corte Sconta, Venezia
First Performance: Members of the Hilliard Early Music Summer School, Emannuel Reformed Church, Cambridge August 2nd 1997


May 1, 1997

Gavin’s Notes:

Three Poems of Cecco Angiolieri (1997)

As my contribution to the Hilliard Ensemble’s Summer School, for which I was composer-in-residence, I wrote two works for the entire group of tutors and students: this work, which lasts about 12 minutes, as well as And So Ended Kant’s Travelling In This World. The students were in small vocal groups, most of them already established in their respective countries, and I resolved not to write anything until I arrived in Cambridge and had heard each of the groups. There were 9 student groups, plus the five vocal tutors (John Potter, Rogers Covey Crump and Gordon Jones from the Hilliard Ensemble, plus Linda Hirst and Richard Wistreich) giving effectively 10 groups, totalling 49 solo voices. I had spent the time prior to the course in Venice on holiday with my daughters, where I also gave active thought to what kinds of texts I might use for the singers. One night, at the end of dinner at the Corte Sconta, whose owners are close friends of the Italian friends who took us there, there was a strange and dramatic performance of an old Italian poem. Claudio, the owner of the restaurant, declaimed the first line of the poem and my friend Gianfranco called back the responsory line. I learned that the poet was Cecco Angiolieri, whom I did not know, and I eventually found some of his poems, (which occupied 5 pages of a very large book on early Italian poetry located in the University Bookshop) including the one I had heard the previous evening. The poem that I had heard comprised 10 sentences beginning “S’i’ fosse…” followed by responses. I wrote one for each of the nine groups, where the whole ensemble would sing the first line, and a solo group would sing the response. The music for each group attemtped to capture something of their character – a six-part Austrian group, for example, being given something alluding to Brahms (whom they love, and I loathe!). The last sentence was given to everyone. This poem was to be the second of the three poems which I set.

To the 5-part tutorial group I gave a short and poignant text that I had found on a grave in the Protestant section of the San Michele cemetery and which served to punctuate the verses and to form a coda. For the first poem, I used the singers in different combinations of pairs of groups. For the last poem the setting is more traditionally choral, though in 7 parts (sopranos I, sopranos II, altos, tenors I, tenors II, baritones, basses), with the 5-part tutorial group separate from them. In view of the circumstances of its performance and the time available this was perhaps not the easiest kind of piece to have produced…

The piece is dedicated to the Corte Sconta

Text of Three Poems of Cecco Angiolieri (1997)

1. La mia malinconia….

La mia malinconia è tanta e tale,

ch’i non discredo che, s’egli ‘l sapesse

un che mi fosse nemico mortale,

che di me di pieta (de) non piangesse.


Quella, per cu’ m’avèn, poco ne cale;

ché mi potrebbe, sed ella volesse,

guarir ‘n un punto, di tutto ‘l mie male,

sed ella pur “I t’odio” mi dicesse.


Ma quest’ è la risposta c’ho da lei:

ched ella non mi vòl né mal né bene,

e ched i’vad’ a far li fatti meiei;


ch’ella non cura s’i’ ho gioi’ o pene,

men ch’una paglia che le va tra’ piei;

mal grado n’abbi Amor, ch’a le’ mi diéne.




My melancholy is such and so great

that I am certain that, if he knew of it,

one who was my mortal enemy

would weep for pity of me.


It matters not to her, whether she has me;

what good would it do me, if she wished it,

to be cured in a moment of all my troubles,

if her only word for me was “I hate you”?


But this is the answer I have from her:

that she wishes me neither good nor ill,

and wishes I would go my own way;


that she cares less whether I have joy or pain,

than a straw which goes between her feet;

may Love be cursed, who gave me to her.


2. S’i’ fosse foco….

S’i’ fosse foco, ardare’ ‘l mondo;

s’i’ fosse vento, lo tempestarei;

s’i’ fosse acqua, I’ l’annegarei;

s’i’ fosse Dio, mandereil’ en profondo;


s’i’ fosse papa, sare’ allor giocondo,

ché tutti cristiani embrigarei;

s’i’ fosse ‘mperator, sa’ che farei?

a tutti mozzarei lo capo a tondo.


S’i’ fosse morte, andarei a me’ padre;

s’i’ fosse vita, fuggirei da lui;

similemente faria da mi’ madre.


S’i’ fosse Cecco, com’ I’ sono e fui,

torrei le donne givani e leggiadre;

le zoppe e laide lasserei altrui.




If I were fire, I would burn the world;

if I were wind, I would bestorm it;

if I were water, I would drown it;

if I were God, I would hurl it into the deep;


If I were Pope, I would be happy,

as I would harry all Christians;

if I were emperor, do you know what I would do?

I would chop off the heads of the lot of them.


If I were death, I would go to my father;

if I were life, I would run from him,

and I would do the same for my mother.


If I were Cecco, as I am and have been,

I would take for myself all the young and pretty women,

and leave the lame and ugly for others.


3. La stremità….

La stremità mi richer per figliuolo,

ed ‘I’ l’appelo ben per madre mia;

e ‘ngenerato fu’ dal fitto duolo,

e la mia balia fu malinconia,


e le mie fasce si fûr d’un lenzuolo,

che volgarmente ha nome ricadìa;

da la cima del capo ‘nfin al suolo

cosa non regna ‘n me che bona sia.


Po’, quando I’ fu’ cresciuto, mi fu dato

per mia ristorazion moglie che garre

da anzi di ‘nfin al cielo stellato;


e ‘l su’ garrir paion mille chitarre:

a cu’ la moglie muor, ben è lavato,

se la ripiglia, più che non è ‘l farre.




I claim misery as my child,

and I call it my mother too;

I was conceived out of heavy grief,

and my wet-nurse was melancholy,


and my swaddling clothes were a sheet

whose common name is trouble;

from the top of my head to the soles of my feet

there was nothing in me that could be called good.


Then, when I was grown, a wife was given to me

for my refreshment; she talked

from the early morning until the sky was full of stars;


and her talking was like a thousand guitars:

when such a wife dies, if her husband remarries

he has no more brains than a boat of gravy.*


“O Venezia benedetta no ti vogio più lasciar”

(Epigram on grave of Thomas McAndrew, San Michele)


* This last line is not a strict translation but rather includes an affectionate anagrammatical allusion to Gavin Bryars, noted by the translators Selene Mills, Richard Wistreich and Massimiliano Pascucci.

Gavin Bryars