Antico Tastame: Organi storici dell’Arcidiocesi di Montrale
Giovan Battista Vaglica (organ)
Recording dates not provided
TACTUS TC720003 
Giovan Battista Vaglica is both a very accomplished organist and a major scholar in the field of Sicilian organs and related music. He is Professor of Organ, Theory, Analysis and Composition at the Liceo Musicale Regina Margherita in Palermo and Honorary Inspector of ancient and historical organs in Sicily. His many publications include Gli Organi Antichi nel Territorio monrealese (1991) and Alcune testimonianze documentarie sull’ organaria siciliana tr il 1600 e il 1800 (2004). He is, in short, the ideal person to present (both as performer and as author of the scholarly booklet notes, complete with basic specifications of the three organs here recorded) this first fruit of an ambitious project to restore the historic organs of one relatively small region of Sicily, what is now the Archdiocese of Monreale. Organophiles will be pleased to know that specifications and photographs of the three organs heard on this disc are provided in the accompanying booklet.
The cathedral in Monreale, some 8 kilometres inland from Palermo, is one of the great Italian churches. When, a few years ago, my wife and I made the sweaty bus journey up from Palermo, we were bowled over by the Cathedral and didn’t manage to visit other places in Monreale we had hoped to see. We did track down the Church of San Vito but it was locked up. To judge from its exterior, it too was a Norman church (very much smaller than the cathedral, of course), which had been modified somewhat in later centuries. Eight of the 12 tracks on this CD (the works by Fenaroli, Altieri, Cimarosa and Paisiello) are played on the organ in this church. That organ, Professor Vaglica tells us, is the work of an unknown maker of the nineteenth century.
The first of the pieces we hear on this organ is Fedele Fenaroli’s Sonata in F major, an attractive piece in three sections (allegro – andante – allegro). Like all of the composers represented on this disc, Fenaroli had a major involvement in the musical life of Naples. He was born, however, in a different part of Italy, at Lanciano in Abruzzo (some 125 miles away, close to the Adriatic Sea), where his father, Francesco Antonio was maestro di cappella at the town’s cathedral, Santa Maria del Ponte. No doubt his father gave Fedele his first music lessons, though later Francesco wanted his son to train as a lawyer. After his father’s death (in 1737), Fedele studied at the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto in Naples, the oldest conservatory in the city, where his teachers included Francesco Durante and Pietro Antonio Gallo (1695-1777). He evidently made good progress, since in 1755, after the death of Durante, he was appointed Professor of Counterpoint and Composition at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini. In 1763 Fenaroli was appointed second maestro di cappella at the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto and was later (in 1777) promoted to the position of first maestro. Though he cannot be said to have produced a large body of music of the very highest quality he was an important figure in the musical life of Naples, then a major musical centre. Alongside his musical talents, he obviously also had abilities as an administrator, since he played an important role in the reorganisation of Naples’ conservatories, during the troubled times of the Napoleonic wars. When, in 1807, the Conservatorio di S. Maria di Loreto was merged with the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini and the Conservatorio di Sant’ Onofrio in Capuana to form the Real Collegio di Musica (Royal College of Music), Fenaroli was one of a triumvirate (along with Paisiello and Giacomo Tritto (1733-1824) put in charge of the new institution. Amongst Fenaroli’s students, at various times, were Altieri, Cimarosa, Niccolò Zingarelli (1752-1837) and Michele Carafa (1787-1870) – all of them significant operatic composers, not a genre in which Fenaroli himself made a major contribution. Rather, it was on sacred music that Fenaroli largely concentrated as a composer. As a teacher, Fenaroli’s influence extended beyond those he taught in person, through such treatises as his relatively elementary Regole musicali per i principianti di cembalo […] e per principanti di contrappunto (Naples, 1775) and the six volumes of his Partimenti ossia Basso numerato (Rome c.1800). Robert Gjerdingen makes much use of Fenaroli’s Partimenti in his ground-breaking book Music in the Galant Style (OUP, 2007) and there is much useful material in Ewald Demeyere’s ‘On Fedele Fenaroli’s Pedagogy: An Update’ (Eighteenth-Century Music. 15:2, 2018, pp. 207–229). In his opening sentence (p.207) Demeyere asserts (the pages that follow justify the claim) that “The impact of Fedele Fenaroli (1730–1818) on the teaching of musical grammar and composition during his long career, and well beyond, can hardly be overstated. Not only did Fenaroli train a vast number of students, but his theoretical output remained the firm basis for music education throughout nineteenth-century Italy.” The popularity of Fenaroli’s treatises only began to fade around the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Though scholars in our own time have discovered much of value in Fenaroli’s didactic texts some earlier writers saw them as a bad – because limiting – influence. Ferruccio Bonavia, in the course of a short essay on Cimarosa in volume 1 of A.L. Bacharach’s The Music Masters (Penguin, 1957) writes thus: “The Partimenti of Fenaroli were until a few years ago … the standard work on harmony used in used in the Italian schools. Fenaroli’s teaching is perfectly sound, if also preternaturally dull. Nothing connects his exercises with the practice of the masters. The pupil learns how to place correct harmonies on any given bass which, of course, is right and proper, but there is no hint anywhere that harmony can have a character of its own.” As suggested above, Fenaroli’s significance as a composer is largely to be found in his sacred music. His Stabat Mater of 1775 is a particularly good example of work. I have heard none of Fenaroli’s several Masses and encountered only a couple of his motets – ‘O beata aeterna fiamma’ and ‘Gaudete jubilate’, both of which seem to me to be, at the least, works of high competence.
Paolo Altieri, perhaps the least-known of the eight composers represented on this disc, was born in Naples. He studied at the Conservatorio di S. Maria di Loreto under Fenaroli. Reportedly, two wealthy citizens from Sicily were much impressed by his abilities and invited him to work in their native city on the island. This was Noto, in the south-eastern corner of Sicily. There had been a city of this name since Roman times, but in 1693 it was very severely damaged, and effectively made uninhabitable, by an earthquake. It was decided, in 1702, that a new city should be built on a different site, some four miles from the ruins (which are now known as Noto Antica and can be visited). Most of the ‘new’ Noto was built between in the years 1710 and 1770, so it must have been well-nigh complete by the time Altieri arrived there in 1768, aged around 23. The city that greeted Altieri must have been, and largely still is, a jewel of Sicilian Baroque architecture, boasting a stylistic homogeneity unusual in Italian cities. Altieri obviously liked life there; he married and lived there until his death in 1820. At some point (I don’t know exactly when) he was appointed maestro di cappella of all the city’s churches. He certainly had some beautiful churches in which to work, such as Santa Chiara, San Domenico, San Carlo al Corso and the Duomo (San Niccolò), created by architects such Rosario Gagliardi, Vicenzo Sinatra and Paolo Labisi, who all played important roles in the building of the ‘new’ Noto. Fittingly, Altierii is well-remembered and honoured in Noto, as in the Associazione Corale Paolo Altieri and its accomplished – and much travelled – mixed choir. A collection of Paolo Altieri’s manuscripts is preserved in the Biblioteca Comunale in Noto. I have, I confess, heard very little of Altieri’s music; he seems largely to have busied himself (for obvious reasons) with the composition of sacred vocal music. He also wrote a few pieces of chamber music, including works for flute an d mandolin. In his booklet essay, Professor Vaglica tells us that Altieri’s two sonate breve “are … part of a corpus of organ and harpsichord compositions from 1801”. He goes on to say (very aptly) that in them “the galant style coalesces with the typical counterpoint and imitative procedures of the organ style”. To my ears these three pieces suggest that Altieri was clearly indebted to his teacher Fenaroli (and through him to his teacher Francesco Durante). While not hugely inventive or individual, all three of Altieri’s sonatas are pleasant, lucid and assured. They show off to good effect both the musicality of Giovan Battista Vaglica’s playing and the organ in the Church of San Vito in Monreale.
The galant style is an appropriate point of reference for the sonatas by Cimarosa, Paisiello and Pergolesi with which Giovan Battista Vaglica’s programme continues, still at the organ of Chiesa di San Vito in Monreale. These three composers need less by way of introduction than Fenaroli and Altieri. All three received their advanced musical education in Naples; Cimarosa was born at Aversa, some 10 miles from Naples and both Paisiello and Pergolesi were also born in Southern Italy – Paisiello at Roccaforzata near Taranto on the Apulian coast, then part of the Kingdom of Naples; Pergolesi at Jesi in the Papal States. Vaglica, after describing the sonatas by all three “galant” - quotes, both in Italian and an English translation I assume to be his, remarks on these works made by Alessandro Loreto in an essay, ‘Paolo Altieri e la musica per organo in Italia nel XVIII secolo’, included in his edition of Altieri’s Opere per Organo e Clavicembalo, IV (Padua, Armelin, 2010) in which Loreto observes that these three composers “have written several excellent musical scores expressly meant for the organ, extending to liturgical music not only the use of the ancient counterpoint language, but also the poetics of easy, simple music, the ideals of pleasantness, elegance, refinement and directness of the contemporary harpsichord style, and the quest for unusual timbre resources, thus giving rise to an irresistible mixture of the sacred and the secular”. Much of this might also be said about the sonata by Altieri. The most striking difference, however, is the superior melodic invention to be found in the music of Cimarosa, Paisiello and Pergolesi – in this context it is probably relevant to bear in mind the fact that all three of these composers were, to varying degrees, successful composers of opera, a genre of which Altieri seems to have had no experience as a composer. Of the three sonatas by Cimarosa, Paisiello and Pergolesi (each time I type this list of names it sounds more and more like a firm of Neapolitan lawyers) my own favourite is the delightful work by Paisiello, an exquisite piece full of grace and quiet charm.
Of the other works recorded in the Church of San Vito, in Monreale, I have enjoyed the arrangement for organ (we are not told who was responsible for the arrangement) of Cimarosa’s familiar ‘Siciliana’ (the third movement of his Oboe Concerto in C major). This works better than I had expected on the organ, in no small part because of the sensitivity which Giovan Battista Vaglica brings to his interpretation.
The next two works in Vaglica’s programme – Alessandro Scarlatti’s Toccata No.6, in G major and his son Domenico’s Fugue in D minor (K.41) – are played on the organ of the Chiesa di Maria SS del Carmelo in the town of Carini, some twenty miles north-west of Palermo. This organ was originally the work of Antonino La Valle, an organ maker active in the first half of the Seventeenth Century who, in the words of Professor Vaglica “represented the genuine Sicilian seventeenth-century tradition”. This organ was enlarged in the Eighteenth Century and was the subject of a ‘reform’ in the Nineteenth Century. The recent restoration has “brought the instrument back to its eighteenth-century state, which was regarded as more consistent with the nature and original characteristics of the organ” (Vaglica).
Of the eight composers whose music is here recorded on Sicilian organs only one, Alessandro Scarlatti, was born on the island. He was born in Palermo in May 1660. Little is known about his father Pietro Scarlata (the Sicilian form of his surname), but his mother Eleanora d’Amato was the sister of maestro di cappella of Palermo’s cathedral. Of Alessandro’s siblings, three (two sisters and one brother) became singers and another brother (Francesco) became a violinist-composer. So, we can safely say that Pietro and Eleanora were eager for their children to study music. Alessandro himself must have displayed early musical abilities since, he was sent to study in Rome at the age of 12 (i.e. in 1672). It has often been said that there he studied with Carissimi; if that was so, it can only have been very briefly, since Carissimi died in January 1674. Since accounts of Alessandro Scarlatti’s life can readily be found in most reference works, I will cease to trace the details of that life at this point - save to add that the best short biography of the composer (in English) which I know is that by Roberto Pagano in Alessandro Scarlatti (Turin, RAI Edizioni, [c.1972], which also contains contributions by Lino Bianchi and Giancarlo Rostirolla.
Until quite recently, Scarlatti’s compositions for the keyboard were largely ignored, with most attention being paid to his operas, solo cantatas and, to a lesser degree, to his sinfonia /concerti grossi. So, for example, in an essay on Alessandro Scarlatti in The Dictionary of Composers (edited by Charles Osborne, 1977), Gerald Gifford writes (p.290) “His keyboard music is of little consequence when compared to that of his son Domenico. The Toccatas are rather patchy, but there is a superbly effective set of variations on the Folia.”
Yet, as later research has shown, there is an “enormous body of manuscripts containing [Alessandro Scarlatti’s] music for the keyboard” (Francesco Tasini in the notes to TACTUS TC 661913: Alessandro Scarlatti, Opera omnia per tastiera, Vol. III, 2010). The series to which this CD belongs was completed
in seven volumes, all played by Tasini (review). Publication of this “enormous body” of work was undertaken as a series of printed scores, published by Ut Orpheus Edizioni of Bologna, Tasini being one of the co-editors of this series.
Given the rediscovery and re-evaluation of Alessandro Scarlatti’s compositions for harpsichord and organ, it is entirely fitting that he should be represented (by two pieces, including the most substantial work) on this disc. Indeed, his absence would have been an unfortunate and sad omission. However, looking back at the remarks by Gerald Gifford, quoted above it remains easy to agree with his suggestion that Scarlatti’s “toccatas are rather patchy”. The one recorded is neither one of the weakest nor amongst the very best of the toccatas – so it could, I suppose, be described as a representative example. It is also easy to concur with Gifford’s description of the Toccate e Partite sulla ‘Follia di Spagna’ as “superbly effective”. It is certainly that in Vaglica’s outstanding performance, which grips one’s attention throughout its 17 minutes and makes a triumphant conclusion to this disc.
But – assuming one is listening to the disc straight through, which I wouldn’t recommend – before we reach that closing track (in an ideal world each variation might have been a separate track) – we hear a Fugue by Alessandro’s son Domenico (again I shall assume that readers have ready access to biographical information on him) and a Toccata and Fugue by Francesco Durante, who perhaps needs a little more by way of introduction. Durante was born in Aversa, some 20 miles north of Naples, where his father Gaetano was a woolcomber and also a singer in a local church. Gaetano died in 1699, when Francesco would been 14 or 15. Conceivably his father had already given him some elementary musical tuition. After his father’s death, Francesco lived with an uncle, Don Angelo (born 1650) who was a priest and a musician. He held a post at the Conservatorio di. S. Onofrio in Naples and we can assume that Francesco received more advanced musical instruction from him, before studying formally at that Conservatorio, between 1702 and 1705. He possibly spent some years in Rome after this (in 1718 his name appears in the records of the Accademia S. Cecilia there), but from the end of the 1720s he was back in Naples, teaching – as primo maestro at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo from 1728-38 (where Pergolesi was one of his students) and, from 1742 until his death, at the Conservatorio di S. Maria di Loreto. His reputation as a very fine teacher grew and spread. As a composer, such reputation as he had and has, is largely based on his church music (a number of Mass settings – including his remarkable Missa in Palestrina (1739) – and Psalm settings, several Magnificats etc.). He also wrote at least six harpsichord sonatas (c.1732). All in all, he deserves to be recognised, along with Alessandro Scarlatti, as one of the founders of the Neapolitan school. His Toccata in D minor, recorded here begins with the presentation of an interesting theme which is then treated to some elegant and skilful imitation. One can hear in it anticipations of much later Neapolitan keyboard writing, such as that of Fenaroli, Altieri, Cimarosa and Paisiello.
This work by Durante and the variations by Alessandro Scarlatti are played on the organ of the Chiesa Madre in Terrasini, west of Palermo, on the Gulf of Castellamare. The present church dates from 1800, but there was presumably an earlier church on the site, since Vaglica tells us that the organ is an eighteenth-century organ and observes that “it has a valuable characteristic: a considerable core of pipes from the seventeenth-century organ is embedded in it, as the restoration revealed”. Of the three organs heard on this disc, this in Terrasini seems to me (on what is admittedly limited evidence) to be the finest, possessing the greatest clarity and balanced beauty of sound; its flauto in ottava is particularly lovely.
While there are no startling revelations, no undiscovered masterpieces, this disc is never less than interesting; none of the pieces recorded is a mere historical curiosity. The disc puts on record an important programme of organ restoration which is still at a relatively early stage. As that programme makes further progress one hopes that further discs will follow on which more newly restored organs can be heard. Vaglica’s playing is of a consistently high standard, the work of a man who has a though understanding both of this repertoire and of the instruments he is playing.
For many years before I was first able to visit the island I was fascinated by Sicily and its history. Its layering of cultures, across the centuries, is extraordinary. It has been possessed, at various times, by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Vandals and the Visigoths, the Arabs and the Normans; and in later times, by the Angevins, the Bourbons and others. All left their marks and Sicily ‘digested’ many of these cultures to produce its own unique civilisation. The interplay between Naples and Sicily evident in much of the music on this disc and in the lives of several of the composers is characteristic. After all, from 1735 Sicily was ruled by the House of Bourbon from their base in Naples and in 1816 Ferdinand I established the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (i.e. Sicily and Naples).
Out of its rich, complex and often violent history, Sicily has produced many distinguished artists in a variety of genres, such as the great (and too-little known) painter Antonello da Messina (c.1430-79) who, with a typically Sicilian gift for synthesis, combined influences from the early Italian Renaissance with examples provided by the new art of the Flemish and Burgundian schools perhaps more successfully than any of his contemporaries. Significant Italian composers include Sigismundo d’Italia (c.1582-1629), born in Palermo and Vincenzo Bellini (1801-35), who was born in Catania. The island’s internationally recognised writers include two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the influential dramatist Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), awarded the prize in 1934 and the poet Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-68), who received the prize in 1959. In view of such major figures, it is sad that for so many people the first (and often the only) thing they associate with Sicily is the Mafia.
This scholarly, well-performed disc is hardly likely to change that state of affairs, but it is another contribution to the ‘recovery’ of Sicily’s cultural history. It should interest (and will reward) organophiles or those who simply enjoy a well-programmed organ recital or, indeed, those who value the distinctive culture of Sicily (I belong to the second and third of these categories).
Fedele Fenaroli [1730-1818]
Sonata in F major
Paolo Altieri [1745-1820]
Sonata breve in E flat major
Sonata in D
Sonata breve in A minor
Domenico Cimarosa [1749-1818]
Keyboard Sonata in G minor, C52
Giovanni Battista Paisiello (1740-1816)
Sonata for Organ
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi [1710-1736]
Sonata in F minor
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
Toccata No.6, in G major
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Fugue in D minor, K41
Francesco Durante (1684-1755)
Toccata and Fugue in D minor
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
Toccata and variations on la Folia di Spagn