Despite the uncertainty surrounding some key facts, there are some things we can say for definite about Mazzaferrata. Here’s five of them:
- He worked, from 1665, for a shady sounding organisation called the Brotherhood of Death. Sadly it’s not quite as Dan-Brown-esque as the name might sound. They actually existed to make sure criminals sentenced to death were given proper Christian funerals. There were quite a few of these type groups in Italy at that time. One in Rome performed a similar service for soldiers killed in combat.
- He was a family man. He married, at some point, and had four children: three boys and a girl, though two of the boys died in 1688 and 1689 and by 1673 most of the rest of the family was seriously ill with smallpox, causing them serious financial hardship. Mazzaferrata had to take on an extra job as prior of the hospital which provided the family’s accommodation.
- He published seven volumes of music (come and hear the sixth, his psalms for vespers, on 29.09.2015), five oratorios, some sonatas for two violins and a book of organ sonatas buried in the Vatican library.
- The collection we’re performing is likely to have been composed for the Feast of the Holy Cross on May 3rd. This was the main feast of Mazzaferrata’s employers: the Brotherhood of Death. Part of his duties were to compose music for matins and vespers on that day, every year. Whether his Opera Sesta was for one specific service or not we don’t really know. There’s also no trace of any music he must have written for matins or for the countless other vespers services he must have composed for during his years there.
- His music had a much better reputation then than it enjoys now. Some of it ended up in Malta, in a sort of ‘best of’ collection in Mdina cathedral. Mademoiselle de a Guise (patron of Marc-Antoine Charpentier) asked for some of his music to be sent over to her to Paris from Italy. It was also being collected and copied by the original Academy of Ancient Music in London in the 1700s.