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Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692)
Trio Sonatas, Op. 2 (1667): No.1 in D [5:22]; No.2 in F [4:38]; No.3 in E minor [4:33]; No.4 in B flat [4:03]; No.5 in E [4:47]; No.6 in A minor [6:08]; No.7 in C [5:37]; No.8 in C minor [5:56]; No.9 in A minor [4:23]; No.10 in G minor [3:51]; No.11 in G [5:12]; No.12 in A [6:34]; Bergamasca [3:38]
Semperconsort (Luigi Cozzolino (violin I), Anna Noferini (violin II), Gian Luca Lastraioli (theorbo, guitar), Gabriele Micheli (organ, spinet)).
rec. 13-15 August 2009, Villa le Riondini, Florence. DDD

Experience Classicsonline


The last few decades, through both scholarship and performance, have confirmed, and to a degree revealed, just what a vibrant musical centre Bologna was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Modern Bologna has a proper respect for its musical past as well as a lively musical present. The former is evidenced not least in the splendid Museo internazionale e Biblioteca della musica, opened in 2004 in the Palazzo Sanguinetti. This has at its core the materials assembled by the remarkable Franciscan Father Giovanni Battista Martini (1706-1784), composer, theorist, teacher and assiduous correspondent and collector where all things musical were concerned. The modern collection gives the visitor the chance to see a fascinating collection of portraits, musical instruments and books in a beautiful neo-classical setting. The portraits include Johann Christian Bach painted by Gainsborough, Farinelli by Corrado Giaquinto, Charles Burney by Sir Joshua Reynolds and a portrait of Martini himself by Angelo Crescimbeni (1734-81). Actually Bologna is, in other respects too, a fascinating place for those interested in the visual iconography of music and musicians: the Pinacoteca Nazionale contains Raphael’s Ecstasy of St. Cecilia. There are particularly fine angelic musicians by Francesco Francia (c.1450-c.1518) in the church of S. Giacomo Maggiore and in the Palazzo Poggi - now one of the University’s museums - the frescoes include (in the Sala dei Concerti) the celebrated paintings of social music-making by Niccolo dell’Abate (1512-71). The visitor to Bologna who has musical interests is well served by the delightful specialist guidebook “e tutta la città era in suoni: I luoghi della storia della musica a Bologna by Gianmario Merizzi, published (under the auspices of the Museo internazionale e Biblioteca della musica) in 2007. One of the places that was of central and vital importance to the musical life of Bologna was the great church of san Petronio (patron saint of the city), and it is in connection with San Petronio that we have our first records of Vitali’s life as a professional musician.


Born in Bologna, Vitali was appointed to a position at San Petronio in 1658 as a singer and player of the violone da brazzo. One document of 1673 identifies him as ‘Giovanni Battista dal Violoncello’. His appointment was evidently connected with that of Maurizio Cazzati as maestro di capella of San Petronio just a year earlier. He seems to have been something of a protégé of Cazzati and it is surely no coincidence that Vitali left San Petronio in 1674, just over a year after Cazzati’s acrimonious dismissal. In 1666 Vitali was one of the 48 founding members of Bologna’s Accademia Filarmonica. His departure from San Petronio he moved to Modena and became sottomaestro di capella and subsequently maestro di capella in the service of Duke Francesco II d’Este. He worked in Modena until his death, though remaining active as a member of the Bolognese Accademia Filarmonica which held a memorial service for him. The catalogue of Vitali’s works includes a number of oratorios and cantatas, but it was and is as a composer of instrumental music that he was best known. This is not unexpected given his ‘apprenticeship’ at San Petronio since, especially under Cazzati, San Petronio was particularly significant to the development of instrumental music in Italy. This was especially true where the development of the sonata was concerned; for a modern account, see Gregory Barnett’s Bolognese Instrumental Music, 1660-1710: Spiritual Comfort, Courtly Delight and Commercial Triumph, 2008. In a review of Barnett’s book (in Early Music, August 2009) Sandra Mangsen memorably described Bologna as “one of the prime incubators of the developing sonata” and singles out Vitali as one of the key figures in that development, alongside other composers such as Cazzati, Giuseppe Colombi, Giovanni Maria Bononcini, Marco Uccellini, Giuseppe Jacchini and Giuseppe Torelli. Vitali’s first publication (in 1666) appeared as Correnti, e balletti da camera. In his Op. 2 sonatas, however, played on this CD, Vitali worked in terms of a flexible understanding of the sonata da chiesa, rather than the sonata da camera.


Text-book definitions of the sonata da chiesa and the sonata da camera, and of the differences between them are of little relevance where Vitali is concerned. As Carlo Vitali puts it in his booklet note: “Contrary to the textbook description of the sonata da chiesa given in 1703 by Sébastien de Brossard (Dictionnaire de Musique), in Vitali’s Op.2 only four out of the twelve sonatas open ‘with a grave & majestic movement, becoming the dignity & holiness of the place’. In contrast, eight begin with a movement in fast tempo, duple metre, and an imitative texture resembling the old canzone da sonar; similar movements closed almost all of them - ten out of twelve. Apart from this regularity, Vitali seems not to espouse any single formal design for his three or four-movement sonatas. His flexible arrangements rely on diverse combinations of duple and triple-metre movements linked by transitions in slow tempo, from brief sections to full-fledged movements. Except in the first and third sonatas, there is no regular alternation between slow and fast movements; instead, two or even three movements of the same type often appear in succession. When Vitali does choose to write slow movements he is capable of a delightfully solemn grace, as in the second movement of the first sonata and the opening movement of the third sonata; both movements are marked ‘Grave’. It is the quicker movements which strike the ears most forcefully. Vitali would, one suspects, have agreed with Ezra Pound that “music rots when it gets too far from the dance”. The rhythms of the dance are never very far away from Vitali’s allegros, though such rhythms are never over-emphatic or lacking in subtlety. The joy they express may reasonably be thought of as being as much spiritual as social – certainly it is never merely frivolous or without dignity. This is fascinating and rewarding music, and it gets thoroughly persuasive performances from Luigi Cozzolino and his colleagues. One’s only disappointment is that the movements are all so brief – the longest is under two and a half minutes – and one is often left wanting more. It is not surprising that this collection should have proved very popular in its own time – after the first edition of 1667 it was reprinted in Venice a year later and in Bologna, for a second time, in 1671. There were later Venetian editions in 1682 and 1685. Those who enjoy the music of Corelli, whose Op. 5 sonatas were first published in 1700 would surely find much to give them pleasure in these historically and aesthetically significant precursors. The entertaining Bergamasca which closes the programme is based on a piece for unaccompanied violin, which survives in manuscript in Modena, and to which Luigi Cozzolino has added parts for the second violin and continuo – and birdsong.

 Glyn Pursglove

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