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Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
Musiche inedite dai 'Codici Chigi'
Ivana Valotti (organ)
rec. 2019, Basilica palatina di Santa Barbara, Mantua, Italy
TACTUS TC580609 [72]

Girolamo Frescobaldi was one of the pioneers of the stile nuovo that emerged in Italy around 1600. Although he contributed to most of the genres in vogue in his time, he has become best-known as organist and composer of keyboard music. All the genres of keyboard music of his time are represented in his oeuvre, but although these already existed in the Renaissance, he was a real innovator, as Ivana Valotti expresses in her liner-notes: "The stylistic feature that marked all of this production can be linked to stylus modernus, i.e. to a new way of composing that, starting from Monteverdi's example, established itself as a transformation of the Renaissance aesthetic ideal in favour of the new Baroque aesthetic conception."

Between 1608 and 1645 Frescobaldi published a large number of collections of keyboard music. Pieces from these are frequently performed and recorded. However, there are also a large number of pieces that have been preserved in manuscript. The present disc is devoted to three collections which are part of the library of the Chigi family, acquired by the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in 1924. The House of Chigi was an Italian aristocratic family whose origin goes back at least as far as the 13th century. In Frescobaldi's time its most important member was Fabio Chigi, who was elected Pope as Alexander VII in 1655. These three collections include only a relatively small part of what has been preserved in manuscript. Last year Brilliant Classics released a complete recording of the unpublished works, played by Roberto Loreggian, which comprises six discs. However, this disc gives us a good idea of Frescobaldi's style.

Ivana Valotti argues that pieces which have been preserved in manuscript, give us much insight into the compositional process and especially Frescobaldi's art of improvisation which was an essential part of the training of every keyboard player. "Unlike the published pieces, which have been carefully prepared by the composer, selected in every detail for publication and broad-ranging diffusion, a manuscript is a singular specimen, because it is the mark of a modus scribendi that stems from the need to memorise a musical idea or a gesture closely related with the art of improvisation."

Two features of Frescobaldi's style of composing for keyboard are especially important. The first is what Athananius Kircher, in his influential treatise Musurgia universalis (1650), called the stylus phantasticus. It is "suitable for instruments; it is the most free and unrestrained method of composing: it is bound to nothing, neither to words nor to a melodic subject; it was instituted to display the performer's skill (...). Harpsichords, organs and regals are ideal instruments of this modus componendi, because the organist can not only show his talent but also prepare and excite the spirits of his listeners by playing preludes (...). Compositions such as Fantasie, Toccate italiane, Sonate, Ricercari belong to this style". Closely connected to this was the freedom with which tempo was treated. Frescobaldi himself used the madrigals of his time as examples of pieces that were not subject to a beat, but could vary, according to the emotions (affetti) or meaning of the words. Frescobaldi aimed at translating this madrigal style to the keyboard. As Ivana Valotti puts it: "(...) Frescobaldi's 'seconda prattica' is evoked in an indirect and ambiguous way, through a kaleidoscope of musical images which adhere to the significant values of a text not written, but only pre-supposed."

The main genres in Frescobaldi's oeuvre are represented in the programme. He has become best-known for his toccatas, which are in many ways the hallmark of his oeuvre. It is here that we meet the stylus phantasticus, which was the ideal way to express musical ideas which seem to have been developed on the spot. Toccatas give us a good idea of a composer's improvisational skills. The toccatas consist of several sections in contrasting tempi and metre, and include all sorts of ornamentation. It is notable that some toccatas specifically require an organ with pedalboard. A special kind of toccata was the toccata per l'elevazione, to be played during the Elevation in the mass. In these pieces the full amount of harmonic experiments of the stile nuovo is on display, as they are dominated by chromaticism, dissonances and suspensions (ligature).

An important genre in keyboard music was the variation. Sets of variatioms, called partite, appear in many collections of keyboard music, and Frescobaldi also published several of such works. Here Ivana Valotti plays the Partite sopra l'aria di Fiorenze, also known as Ballo del Gran Duca. It is one of Frescobaldi's early works. A similar work is the Capriccio fatto sopra il Cucc¨. Imitations of the cuckoo were quite popular during the 17th century, and in this piece the cuckoo's call is repeated eighty times in the upper voice.

The variation principle also turns up in other pieces, such as the canzona; this form is called the canzona-variazione. The single theme is the subject of rhythmic and melodic variations. It is closely connected to several pairs of ricercare and canzona, which open with the same thematic subject, but in different metres. Three such pairs appear here in tracks 12 to 17. Both the ricercares and the canzonas are models of Frescobaldi's mastery of counterpoint and, despite their similarity in form, offer much variety in the way he handles them.

Ivana Valotti has made a very interesting recording, which is a perfect survey of the unpublished keyboard works of Frescobaldi. She is a very fine and agile player, who does full justice to the features of the pieces from these three collections. A particular asset is that she plays one of the greatest historical organs in Italy, built by Graziadio Antegnati in 1565 in the Santa Barbara basilica in Mantua. I also greatly appreciate her liner-notes in the booklet, which are quite lengthy - ten pages - but well worth reading, and translated very well.

Johan van Veen

[Codice Chigi Q.IV.29]
Toccata [p. 212]
Toccata [p. 214]
Ricercare [p. 216]
Toccata per l'Elevazione [p. 218]
Ricercare [p. 220]
Canzona [p. 222]
Canzona [p. 224]
Toccata [p. 226]
Ricercare Canzona [p. 238]
Canzona [p. 230]

[Codice Q.IV.24]
Toccata sopra li pedali - Fuga [p. 111]
Recercare [p. 116]
Canzona [p. 126]
Recercare [p. 122]
Canzona [p. 123]
Recercare [p. 128]
Canzona [p. 129]
Recercare [p. 136]

[Codice Q.IV.25]
Partite sopra l'aria di Fiorenza [p. 3]
Toccata per organo [p. 5]
Canzona che segue la Toccata [p. 7]
Toccata per organo [p. 10]
Capriccio fatto sopra Cucc¨ [p. 17]
Toccata per organo con pedali [p. 21]
Canzona dopo la Toccata [p. 22]
Toccata [p. 24]
Toccata per organo [p. 25]
Canzona [p. 28]
Ricercare [p. 30]
Toccata prima [p. 34]
Toccata seconda [p. 37]

Published: October 20, 2022

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