“From Sign to Sound”:
From bows to the phrasing of singers in the recordings of the Choir of the Cappella Sistina

Walter Marzilli


We are naturally unable to know exactly how Renaissance choirs sang: neither the phrasing they used, nor which performance practices they applied. The ligaturae, for example, are still a mystery… But to be unable to hear them today would seem our own good fortune: we would shudder, to judge from that which we read in testimonies of the time.
To try to find information we must take a step backwards. We can find help in a noted law of the academic world which carries the name of the “law of the peripheral areas”. I owe the knowledge of this principle to professor Giacomo Baroffio, from when he was my teacher of Gregorian chant. The law says that from the place where a certain tradition is born – in our case concerning the performance practice and phrasing of Renaissance singers – it will expand into peripheral areas, and here it will be preserved for a long time, well after it has disappeared from its area of origin. 

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