Giovanni Felice Sances (1600 - 1679)
Precis of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians article about Giovanni Felice Sances
Contributor: James Sanderson

Sances [Sancies, Sanci, Sanes],
Giovanni Felice (b Roma 1600 d Vienna buried 12 Nov 1679) was an Italian
composer, singer and teacher, resident largely in Austria. He was the son of the
singer Lorenzo Sances and spent his early years in Rome where he was a pupil at
the Collegio Germanico from 16 November 1609 to 1 April 1614, sang in the opera Amor
pudico
in February 1614 and then became a musician in the service of
Cardinal Montalto.

According to the preface to the second edition of his collection of motets for
one to four voices (1642), he also worked at S Petronio, Bologna, and at Venice,
though exactly when and in what capacity is not known. Since he dedicated to Pio
Enea degli Obizzi
his two volumes of cantatas of 1633, he may have
been employed by that important patron of the arts, who, moreover, wrote the
libretto of his first opera, Ermiona, performed at Padua on 11 April 1636
with Sances himself in the role of Cadmus. On 1 December 1636 he was
appointed a singer in the chapel of the Emperor Ferdinand III in Vienna. While
holding this position he published, among other music, seven collections of
sacred works and wrote many occasional .works, including the opera I trionfi
d'amore
for the emperor's second marriage in 1648; he was also busy as a
teacher. On 1 October 1649 he was a pointed assistant Kapellmeister at the
imperial court and on 16 April 1669 succeeded Antonio Bertali as Kapellmeister,
a position he held until his death in spite of severe illnesses that afflicted
him from 1673 and made him incapable of fulfilling his duties by early 1676.
During his period in these higher offices he continued to be very active as a
composer, notably of operas and sepolcri, and together with Bertali he
played an important part in establishing regular performances of Italian
dramatic music at court.

Sances cultivated with some success the prevailing monodic, concertato
and polyphonic idioms of 17th century music. His published volumes of
secular vocal chamber music are of a generally high quality and well illustrate
his talent. Only four such volumes survive, though the first of them, Cantade
... libro secondo
(1633), was issued in two parts, the first containing
music for solo voice, the second for two. Sances is specially noteworthy as a
melodist. This aspect of his musical personality is also reflected in the fact
that most of his secular music is scored for one, two or three voices; only the
1657 book contains music for larger vocal ensembles and ensembles of voices and
violins. The earlier books contain many short, attractive strophic canzonettas
and arias, some of which, like Pietosi, allontanalevi (1636), also
include recitative sections. As the title-pages of his 1633 volume suggest,
Sances was also among the earliest composers to employ the designation 'cantata'
extensively, and he was the first to apply it to both through-composed and
strophic pieces in a single publication. The cantatas of the 1633 book, for
example range from through-composed solo recitative and arioso to strophic
variations. Later cantatas used form such as a 'walking' bass with florid vocal
writing, suave, triple-time bel canto style and composites of recitative and
arioso sections founded on ostinato basses. The fine cantata Usurpator
tiranno
(1633, i) is the only one to employ the descending tetrachord
ostinato.

The designation 'cantata' was further employed for the lament Presso l'onde
tranquille
(1633, i), a tripartite structure with a central section using
the chaconne bass in duple time. In addition to cantatas and arias,
Sances's 1633 and 1649 books each contain two dialogue settings. Among them is
one of the few monodic settings, and certainly the finest, of Guarini's
notorious pastoral Tirsi morir volea (1633, ii). Sances here overcame the
problem of narration by introducing a third character, Festaurus, as
narrator. The narrator of his dialogue of Angelica and Ruggiero, Gli
dell'horrido mostro
(1649), a setting of epic verse is designated 'testo',
perhaps in emulation of Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.
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