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Alessandro POGLIETTI (? - 1683)
Joyce Lindorff (harpsichord)
rec. 4-6 April 1994, Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, MD, USA. DDD

Alessandro Poglietti is almost exclusively known for a couple of large keyboard works, among them the one which is the subject of the present disc. According to New Grove his oeuvre includes many suites, canzonas, capriccios and short preludes and fugues, but these are seldom played. The work with the title Rossignolo has been recorded several times. In 2014 I heard the Aria Allemagna performing this work in a recital during the Utrecht Festival Early Music.

The festival was devoted to music written and performed in the Habsburg empire. That explains the inclusion of music by Poglietti, because in 1661 he entered the service of Emperor Leopold I in Vienna as chamber organist in his chapel. He was widely admired and had a wide circle of pupils. He also had close contacts with people from the highest echelons of society. He even joined them as the emperor raised him to the ranks of the aristocracy and the Pope made him a Knight of the Golden Spur. His life came to a tragic end when he was killed by the Turks during the siege of Vienna in 1683.

Suggestion through imitation was a major topic in the baroque era. The wish to illustrate people, characters, animals and natural phenomena in music had its roots in the Middle Ages when it was called imitatio naturae (imitation of nature). In the renaissance composers used the forms of chanson and madrigal to depict all sorts of phenomena. Especially famous are the chansons by Clément Janequin, such as La Guerre (the war) and Le caquet des femmes (the chatter of women). The early 17th century saw the emergence of instrumental virtuosity, and that found its way into imitations by the Italian-born Carlo Farina and later some of the main representatives of the German-Austrian violin school, Johann Jakob Walther and Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. Farina is best-known for his Capriccio stravagante in which instruments and animals are imitated. During the last years of his life he was in the service of Empress Leonora I in Vienna.

It was for that same Empress that Poglietti composed his Rossignolo, on the occasion of her marriage to Emperor Leopold I in 1677. The choice of the nightingale as the title of this work was very appropriate as this bird was considered a symbol of love a connection that has existed since ancient times. Many baroque cantatas of the early 18th century - usually about the trials and tribulations of love - make reference to the nightingale. That doesn't mean that the singing of the bird is imitated in every piece. It doesn't figure as prominently here as in pieces imitating the cuckoo, which produces a less sophisticated sound.

Poglietti was of Italian birth and influenced by Frescobaldi. However, he was well aware of other traditions, especially the French keyboard idiom. He mingles the various styles in this long work. It opens with a symbol of the Italian keyboard style, the toccata. This is followed by a canzona which starts with a fugal episode, and a sequence of dances, each with a double - a clear reference to the French style: allemande, courente, sarabande and gigue. The second part of this work comprises a series of 20 variations on a traditional song from Germany, the homeland of the Empress. Among the variations are imitations of bagpipes, the fifes of soldiers, Hungarian fiddlers and Austrian mechanical organs. How these imitations are to be explained is not totally clear. Some think that Poglietti wanted to portray people in different parts of the Habsburg empire. Others believe that Poglietti was referring to the habit of people dressing themselves up during carnival at the Imperial court.

It is interesting that Poglietti refers to the age of the Empress. Scholars have puzzled about the number of twenty variations as the empress was 22 years old when she married Leopold. This probably could be solved by considering the first section - toccata, canzona and the sequence of dances - as the 21st part, and the closing section as the 22nd. The latter comprises five pieces in which the nightingale pops up once again. We hear some of the main forms of keyboard music of the time: a ricercar, followed by its syncopation, a capriccio, an aria bizzara and an imitatione.

The kind of keyboard Poglietti had in mind gives performers some trouble. There are several long-held bass notes which cannot be given their full length on a harpsichord; they suggest use of the organ. On the other hand, Poglietti specifically refers to the harpsichord, and the score includes notes which were not available on Austrian organs of that time. As I have not listened to this disc with the score at hand I don't know how Joyce Lindorff solves every single problem, but in the opening bar of the toccata she plays the bass note only once. That means that it doesn't reeive its full duration. Ms Lindorff plays a copy of a French harpsichord (Dumont, 1707) which is a beautiful instrument, but probably not the most suitable for this repertoire. There are French influences in Poglietti's music, but he uses them from an Italian angle. Historically an Italian instrument would seem more plausible.

The performance is alright, but Ms Lindorff is too restrained for my taste. Sometimes I find her playing a bit stiff, even awkward. This music needs a more extroverted approach. I prefer the recording by Jörg-Andreas Bötticher (Harmonia mundi, 1997). His programme also includes another programmatic piece, Toccatina sopra la Ribellione di Ungheria. Whether one wants to listen to this music on a regular basis is a matter of taste. I would be interested to know his other keyboard works. It would be nice if some keyboard player would look beyond Poglietti's programmatic pieces and explore the rest of his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen



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