Giovanni Battista Martini
may be one of the best-known personalities
in the history of music, generally referred
to as 'Padre Martini'. His fame is mainly
due to his theoretical writings and
the fact that he was the teacher of
famous composers like Johann Christian
Bach, André Ernest Modeste Grétry,
Niccolò Jommelli and Mozart.
Very few people know his own compositions.
The common opinion
seems to be that he was an old-fashioned
and unimaginative musician, who was
a brilliant teacher of counterpoint,
but hopelessly out of touch with the
taste of his time. The more one knows
about his own music, the more one has
to acknowledge that this view is at
least one-sided. Some of his compositions
are firmly rooted in the style of the
baroque, others are much more up-to-date.
In the booklet of this disc Norbert
Düchtel points out that there is
a clear difference between the 12 keyboard
sonatas of 1742, which are Padre Martini's
best-known compositions for harpsichord
and organ, and the 6 sonatas of 1747,
which are recorded here. In the sonatas
of 1742 Martini "keeps strictly to the
style of the trio sonata, adhering to
contrapuntal guidelines at all times."
But in the collection of 1747 the sonatas
alternate between a free succession
of two or three movements, most of them
are not introduced by a prelude and
fugue as the sonatas of the collection
of 1742, and two-part writing is dominant,
with hardly any counterpoint. It seems
Martini wasn't that old-fashioned after
In his own time Martini
was also admired for his vocal compositions.
During a visit in Bologna Carl Ditters
von Dittersdorf was invited by Martini
to play during festivities in his church.
During the Vespers a Magnificat by Martini
was performed, which ended with an Amen
in the form of an eight-part fugue.
Dittersdorf was deeply impressed by
the majestic and solemn style of Martini's
composition. It was a good idea to include
some vocal items here, but it is a shame
only very short pieces have been selected.
On the basis of these it is difficult
to imagine how Martini's contemporaries
could be so impressed. It has to be
said, though, that the performance isn't
very helpful to increase the reputation
of Padre Martini as a composer of religious
music. The relationship between text
and music is pointed out in the booklet,
but in the actual performance little
of that comes through.
Fortunately the performance
of the keyboard music is of a higher
level. The organ sonatas are well played,
energetic and lively, but it would have
been better if a historical Italian
organ, with the appropriate tuning,
had been used. The organ in the Schwarzenberg
convent has been built in 1989 and isn't
the ideal medium for this kind of music.
The harpsichord sonatas are played on
a German two-manual instrument, which
has been chosen to realise the 'intended
dynamics'. I am not very happy with
this choice either, as there is a real
difference between German and Italian
instruments. If no Italian two-manual
harpsichord could be found, then perhaps
it could have been considered to use
a fortepiano. The playing is alright,
but is a little lacking in imagination.
To sum up, an interesting
recording which should correct the image
of Padre Martini as a dry theorist,
out of touch with his time, but musically
not entirely satisfying. One can only
hope that one day a top-class ensemble
will take the initiative to record some
of Martini's best sacred music.
Johan van Veen