Zacara da Teramo: Complete Works

Enigma Fortuna
Zacara da Teramo: Complete Works
La Fonte Musica - Michele Pasotti
Alpha 640 [CDx4]

This complete set made quite a splash in the middle of 2021 (the Josquin anniversary year!), and has really caused me to rethink not only Zacara, but music in general around 1400. But let me begin by paraphrasing some previous comments appearing here:

Antonio Zacara da Teramo is emerging as one of the best-known musical figures of the decades around 1400, after Ciconia and perhaps Matteo da Perugia. His music projects a distinct personality, and consists of works in a progression of styles, from simpler more typical Trecento music to some of the twistiest examples of Ars Subtilior style & even into new vistas. Although we don't yet have a complete Perugia, Zacara's music exceeds at least Ciconia's in both volume & scope. And he more than "begins" to project a musical personality (per an earlier remark), coming off as a completely unique musical personality across a broad range of sacred & secular music. This set makes a strong case for him as the greatest composer of his generation.

And Zacara's music can be quite intricate, with a wealth of allusion that's not generally understood today. But this ensemble (with which I'd had only limited familiarity) has gone the "extra mile" in this project, from reconstructing some of the parts of some of the songs & unraveling the various allusions (& how many correspond to Zacara's life...) to various details of vocal articulation & rhythmic disposition. Indeed, they set new standards for performance of music for this period. That's where the production definitely deserves the highest rating, because what they've accomplished goes beyond Zacara per se.

Yet Zacara's music is also broadly fascinating: I'm not sure if every item is a masterpiece, or perhaps some even need a little more preparation, but his scope & musical imagination go beyond most anyone's, period. I'd enjoyed some of the secular songs previously — & had the composer already on this portion of the list for that reason — even as I'm not sure they're all the strongest, although some are surely in the process of being confirmed even more thoroughly as favorites.... The sacred music, mostly various pairs(?) of Glorias & Credos, was something I'd largely ignored — even as I'm now recalling my own remarks about being more impressed (surprisingly) by this aspect of Ciconia's output than I'd (initially) expected... — but increasingly comes off spectacularly. Now I'm starting to hear this entire sequence, from the Avignon repertory into the "popes & antipopes" period, as some of the most innovative in Western musical history, indeed especially around its liturgical repertory, taking on as it apparently did, so many rhetorical layers. (One can really hear a sort of musical cosmopolitanism developing that was then abandoned with the end of the schism....)

Zacara's music can still be called overcomplicated, but that's also exactly what these performers handle with such sincerity & flair, i.e. the various alternations & register changes & quick rhythmic interpolations, unbalanced balances, twisting lines & layers of allusion.... This is someone who developed his own, innovative musical style to a very high degree. And it's amazing that we seem to be able to hear it so clearly once again.

And this album was named my co-EM Record of the Year for 2021.

To medieval secular list.

Todd M. McComb
Updated: 4 January 2022