I first heard the music of Anna Bon some ten years ago when, in
a music shop in Arezzo, I stumbled across a CD (Mondo Musica MM96006)
of her Opus 1, VI Sonata da camera, per il Flauto Traversiere
e Violoncello o Cembalo, played by Claudio Ferrarini (flute),
Andrea Corsi (bassoon) and Francesco Tasini (harpsichord). That
collection was published in 1756, when Bon was only sixteen. All
of the sonatas are in three movements, full of florid melodic
lines above a slowly changing harmonic bass. While hardly revolutionary
or profound, the Opus 1 sonatas are striking evidence of considerable
musical precocity. The six harpsichord sonatas which constitute
Bon’s Opus 2 are more impressive still and, stylistically speaking,
more forward looking – and, remember, their composer was probably
only seventeen at the time.
Details of Bon’s
life are somewhat sketchy. On the title pages of both the flute
sonatas and the harpsichord sonatas (published as Sei Sonate
per il cembalo) she is described as “Anna Bon di Venezia”.
She was probably the daughter of Girolamo Bon, a Venetian architect,
painter and theatre designer and his wife, Rosa Ruvinetti, an
opera singer originally from Bologna. Girolamo Bon worked in
Germany (by turns in Berlin, Dresden, Potsdam, Frankfurt and
Bayreuth) between 1746 and 1761. Anna Bon’s first two publications
appeared from a press in Nuremberg. She appears to have married
an Italian tenor called Mongeri and, in 1767, to have been resident
with him in Hildburghausen in Thuringia, central Germany. After
the harpsichord sonatas she published only VI Divertimento
per due flauti e cembalo, 1759. The present CD gives
1767 as the date of her death, but on what evidence is not clear.
She disappears from the records around then, but she may well
have continued to live beyond that date, without contributing
to the world of music. Or, just possibly, there is work yet
to be discovered in manuscript.
The six harpsichord
sonatas - some of them would work quite well, I suspect, on
the fortepiano - are all in three movements. Barbara Harbach
puts the matter rather well in her booklet note, when she writes
that “the pieces are a mixture of the German musical style and
Italian rhythm and temperament”. Several of the slow movements
– such as the andantino in Sonata I – have considerable elegance
about them; the adagio of Sonata III is emotionally expressive
in a way that reaches well beyond the Opus 1 Flute sonatas.
The gallant is infused with anticipations of later developments.
Bon’s music here seems to claim for her a place amongst the
musicians of what one might, at the cost of some simplification,
describe as the gradual shift from the musical paradigms of
the baroque to those of early classicism.
Bon’s formal invention
is considerable and various. There are movements in simple binary
form, there are movements built around variations; some movements
are ternary in structure, some are through composed. Barbara
Harbach’s playing complements such variety in the well judged
use which she makes of a wide range of registrations. The instrument
she plays is a copy, made in 1989 by Willard Martin, of a two
manual harpsichord made, in eighteenth century Paris, by François
Blanchet – and what a nice range of thoroughly musical sounds
it makes! Player and instrument bring out the dramatic dimensions
of some of Bon’s music – as in the allegro moderato which opens
Sonata V, full of unexpected and expressive pauses, rich chords
and dotted rhythms. Like much else on the CD it persuades one
that a good deal was lost when – presumably – Bon swapped the
life of composition for life as a married woman.
Clearly and brightly
recorded - but not overly so - this makes a very persuasive case
for the precocious musical virtues of the young Anna Bon and will
surely interest and give pleasure to all lovers of the harpsichord
tradition. The ‘feminist’ reclaiming of lost writers, composers,
painters etc. has sometimes involved some over-generous aesthetic
judgements. Bon needs no special allowances – this is fine music.