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Recordings of the Month


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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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Angelo Michele BARTOLOTTI (c.1610/15-post 1668)
Music For A Queen
Passacaglie in G major [03:23]
Suite in C major [20:19]
Folia in G minor [03:31]
Suite in D minor [24:33]
Suite in D major [12:19]
Fredrik Bock (baroque guitar)
rec. Řstenstad Church, Asker (Norway), 6-9 May 2012

Although the quantity of Angelo Michele Bartolotti's surviving music — as published, at any rate — is not great, its quality and interest are such that it is easy to feel that he has not yet had his full due from performers and recording companies. Beyond occasional appearances in anthologies, there seem to be only two previous CDs devoted to his work. I would be pleased to hear if I am wrong about this. The discs are Lex Eisenhardt's Guitar Suites (Etcetera, KTC 1174) and Gordon Ferries' De Chitarra Spagnola (Delphian DCD 34066). Both of these are devoted exclusively to music from Bartolotti's second publication (of two), his Secondo libro di chittara (Rome, c. 1655). So, too, is this new CD by Fredrik Bock. It is a shame that Bartolotti's first publication, Libro primo di chittara spagnola (Florence, 1640) should have been so completely neglected, even if the music contained in the Secondo Libro is more consistently successful. It is to be hoped that one day an enterprising record company (Tactus?) will undertake a more comprehensive survey of his work.

There is much that we don't know about Bartolotti's life, such as the date of his birth. The place of his birth can, however, be stated with some certainty, since the title-page of his Primo libro describes him as 'Bolognese' and that of the Secondo libro identifies him as 'di Bologna'. When, in 1669 his Table pour apprendre facilement ŕ toucher le théorbe sur la basse-continuë was published in Paris, the author was named as 'Angelo Michele Bartolotti Bolognese'. Bartolotti's early musical training presumably took place in Bologna, one of the great musical centres of the Italian seicento. That his Primo libro was published in Florence suggests that he had relocated to the Tuscan city, perhaps in search of patronage; significantly the book is dedicated to the head of the Salviati family, originally bankers, who intermarried with the Medici and became one of the major aristocratic families of Florence — and beyond: Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria, had Salviatis in her family tree, for example. Bartolotti is next heard of in Sweden – as Gordon Ferries put it in the booklet notes he provided for his CD (see above), “In many ways … Bartolotti epitomises the seventeenth-century itinerant musician, who by a combination of talent, business acumen and a knack of being in the right place at the right time managed to secure lucrative positions in some of Europe's most powerful courts and houses”.

In the early 1650s, Bartoletti was among a group of Italian musicians and singers — some 16 or 17 in total — brought to the court of Queen Christina of Sweden (1627-89), one of the most remarkable women of the Seventeenth Century. His fellow musicians included Pietro Reggio (1532-85) and Vincenzo Albrici (1631-96). Christina's father, Gustavus Adolphus, one of the great European soldiers of the age, was killed at the battle of Lützen in 1632. She was just six at the time. She was brought up almost as if she was a Renaissance prince rather than a princess, being trained in horsemanship and hunting, as well as being educated in languages; she spoke and read Latin excellently, had some knowledge of Ancient Greek and was fluent in French, German, Italian and Dutch. She even acquired some knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic and studied philosophy, both ancient and modern. After some years of a regency, she began to rule in her own right in 1644. She became a lavish patron of artists, writers, musicians and scholars. By 1646 she was in correspondence with René Descartes (1506-1650), whom she brought to Stockholm in October of 1649. In the same year she began a correspondence with the great classical scholar Claude Saumaise (1588-1653) and later brought him to Stockholm too. Her extensive library became famous, as did her collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures. Many newly written books were dedicated to her. Yet in August 1651 she announced to her startled Council that she intended to abdicate. She was initially persuaded against doing so, but in October 1654, aged only 27, she gave up her crown. A major reason for her decision, kept secret at first, was her conversion to Catholicism. She decided to move herself, and her collections of books and paintings, to Italy. She arrived in Rome two days before Christmas 1655. Given that Bartoletti's Secondo libro was published in Rome and was dedicated “alla Real maesta della Regina de Suetia”, the composer presumably travelled back to his native Italy with the ex-Queen, as part of her entourage.

Christina's love of music was deeply rooted: “Her father, his brother and their successor Gustavus Vasa had all played the lute” (Carl-Allen Moberg, 'Christina and Music' in Christina, Queen of Sweden – a Personality of European Civilisation, ed. P. Bjurström, 1966). Christina's troupe of Italian musicians resided at her court in Stockholm for some eighteen months, from December 1652 to June 1654) putting on both instrumental concerts and performances of Italian opera. At the same time Christina's court hosted an ensemble of French musicians, who were largely employed in the performance of music from the French ballets of the day. Indeed the musical 'conversation' in these last years of her short reign was thoroughly international. The English ambassador in Stockholm was the music-loving Bulstrode Whitlocke (1605-75), who maintained a small ensemble of English musicians in the Swedish capital. Christina took a real interest in this English ensemble and its music. Later, after her abdication, when she was living in Rome, she was a patron of both Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti. Scarlatti became her director of music (from 1680 to 1684) at her grand Roman home, the Palazzo Riario. Scarlatti tells us that she had a particular passion for the madrigals of Gesualdo. Moberg, in the article cited above, concludes that Christina was “unusually musical, and her taste in music must have been fastidious”, her enduring love being not for “baroque pomp and luxuriance” but rather for “the fragile chamber music quality of an ensemble of solo singers and an intimate music of the passions”. Although Moberg's essay makes only a passing mention of Bartolotti, that last phrase, about “an intimate music of the passions” describes his music perfectly.

In 1656 and again in the following year, Christina was in Paris and it seems likely that, once again, Bartolotti accompanied her. Certainly, much attracted and influenced by developments in French music — perhaps in part because of his contacts with the French musicians in Stockholm — Bartolotti was soon working, and being much admired, at the French court. He seems to have spent the last years of his life in the French capital. The exact date of his death is as unknown as that of his birth.

The music to be heard on this disc, while it retains evidence of Bartolotti's Italian origins and of his familiarity with the music of such contemporary Italian guitarist-composers as Francesco Corbetta (c.1615-81) and Giovanni Battista Granata (died post 1684) – both of whom were influential in Bologna – is also shaped in important ways by French models. The result is a distinctive musical voice, juxtaposing lengthy strummed passages with equally lengthy linear developments. These pieces are essentially instrumental soliloquies which, in their grace and melancholy, capture transitions of mood, emotion and thought, both in their reticence and their moments of more direct expression. This is subtle music of poetic beauty – an “intimate music of the passions”.

Queen Christina herself wrote that “Music is sometimes more touching (than the visual arts). It seems that it is made specially for the soul, harmony bringing with it a kind of sympathy which charms”. Her words might be designed specifically to evoke the nature of Bartoletti's music and probably of his playing. It is not hard to see why the relationship between patron and artist should have been so fruitful.

While the music on this disc may indeed have been written as 'Music for a Queen', one doesn't need to be of royal blood to appreciate and enjoy it. In its contemplative and virtuosic elements alike, in its subtlety and its seeming spontaneity of feeling and shape, it rewards the listener both intellectually and emotionally. The taste for the baroque guitar is, I suppose, what it is now described as a 'niche' market. However, Bock's playing of Bartolotti should appeal either to the listener who comes to it from an interest in the music of the Renaissance lute or to someone who approaches it from the opposite direction – from a fondness for the modern guitar repertoire.

Glyn Pursglove

From a reader
Concerning the previous recordings of work by Bartolotti mentioned in your current review of the LAWO disc, I do have one other CD:  Enchiriadis EN2008, issued in 2003 but apparently no longer available.  It's well performed  by Rafael Bonavita on baroque guitar, with five suites arranged by him from the two books. The title is "Principe delle Muse". 

Jim Humphreys
Northampton, MA