Alessandro Grandi (1586-1630) was one of the most inventive, influential and popular composers of the early Baroque era, probably second only to Monteverdi in northern Italy. He was born in Ferrara and after studying with Giovanni Gabrieli at Venice held several posts in Ferrara as maestro di cappella at various cathedrals and academies. In 1617 he won a post at St. Mark’s in Venice, during the time Monteverdi was choirmaster there. Eventually he became Monteverdi’s assistant, and during this time seems to have chosen to write works in some of the smaller forms which Monteverdi was neglecting. Most of Grandi’s compositions are motets in the concertato style: some are duets and trios, an innovation in motet writing, which usually involved larger groups. He ceaselessly innovated, writing monodies with instruments such as violins, and his music links the concertato style which began the Baroque era with the form of the cantata which culminated in the work of J.S. Bach.
Although considered one of the finest composers of his day, Alessandro Grandi’s music is little known. This premiere recording of his 16 Motets for Five Voices, published in Ferrara in 1614, is very welcome. Musica Secreta is an all-female vocal group formed in 1990 to perform and record ‘music associated with women in the early modern period’, so these motets are performed as they might have been sung by a convent choir or the concerto di dame that flourished in Ferrara at that time. The CD also includes musical excerpts from the soundtrack of the intriguing film/live/multimedia work ‘Fallen’, a collaboration between Musica Secreta and the Hampshire-based playwright Fiona Mackie.