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Michele MASCITTI (1664 - 1760): Sonate a violino solo e basso Opera Nona

Quartetto Vanvitelli

rec: July 1 - 3, 2019, Peli (Coli, Picenza), Chiesa di San Medardo Martire
Arcana - A473 (© 2020) (68'43")
Liner-notes: E/F/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata I in A, op. 9,1; Sonata II in g minor, op. 9,2; Sonata III in F, op. 9,3; Sonata V in d minor, op. 9,5; Sonata VI in a minor, op. 9,6; Sonata VII in D, op. 9,7; Sonata IX in B flat, op. 9,9; Sonata XII in c minor, op. 9,12

Gian Andrea Guerra, violin; Nicola Brovelli, cello; Mauro Pinciaroli, archlute; Luigi Accardo, harpsichord

'A Neapolitan in Paris' - that's how one may call Michele Mascitti, one of those composers who has had the bad fortune of being overshadowed by more famous and probably more flashy contemporaries, such as Vivaldi, Locatelli, Veracini and Tartini. He was one of many from Italy who looked for employment elsewhere. Some settled in London, where Italian music was very popular since the publication of the chamber music of Arcangelo Corelli. Others went to Paris, as France had finally embraced the Italian style shortly after the turn of the century. It turned out to be fertile ground for Mascitti's compositions.

Mascitti was born in Chieti, near Naples, and began his career in the royal chapel, where his uncle - who also was his first teacher in music - acted as violinist. After travelling through Europe he settled in Paris, where he came under the patronage of the Duke of Orléans. The Duke was an ardent lover of Italian music and Mascitti was just one of the Italian musicians he took under his wing. This connection with the Duke allowed Mascitti to play at the court in Paris. He made such an impression that in 1714 he was granted a King's privilege to print for 15 years "collections of sonatas and other musical pieces, vocal as well as instrumental". This privilege was twice extended, in 1731 and 1740, and, as a sign of the appreciation of Mascitti, he was given French citizenship in 1739. It seems he was also generally liked as a person, because of his friendly character and his generosity. Mascitti died in Paris, at a ripe old age, in 1760.

Whereas most Italian composers, and certainly those from Naples, had a vivid interest in vocal music, and in particular in opera, Mascitti confined himself to instrumental music. His oeuvre is not very large: nine collections of sonatas for one or two violins and basso continuo were published between 1704 and 1738. Several of these were dedicated to members of the Crozat family, one of the richest and most powerful in France, which took him under their wing and granted him a pension during the last decades of his life. The way the various collections have been put together is noticeable. It was common use to print sets of six or twelve sonatas, but Mascitti derived from this habit. The Opp. 2 and 6 both include fifteen solo sonatas, whereas the Op. 4 comprises 14 sonatas: eight solo sonatas and six trio sonatas. The Op. 7 consists of eight solo sonatas and four Concerti a 6. The latter represent the only 'orchestral' works in his oeuvre. In addition to the printed music, eight keyboard sonatas have been preserved in manuscript. New Grove also refers to the 19th-century musicologist Fétis, who mentions some trios for two bass viols and basso continuo; apparently their whereabouts are not known.

These trios would be a token of Mascitti's embracing the tradition of the country that he had made his home. In his chamber music he follows in the footsteps of Arcangelo Corelli, although not slavishly. His music has its own idenity, also due to the progress in time - with the appearance and growing popularity of the galant idiom - as well as the French taste for music of a 'conversational' character. In that sense, his music fits in with the ideal of goûts réunis. Guido Olivieri, in his liner-notes to the present disc, sums up the nature of his style: "The idiomatic writing of the violin, although much more developed in this collection - some movements can be compared to the style of the Venetian violinists, Albinoni or Vivaldi, whose music was gaining popular acclaim in the concert halls of the Parisian Concert Spirituel - does not go beyond a manageable virtuosity, never excessive, but rather always tempered by a refined elegance." This explains why his music was so much appreciated that he did not need to compose a lot: apart from being generously supported by the Crozat family, he could live from the sale of his music, including reprints.

Two years ago, Arcana released a disc with sonatas from the Op. 8, performed by the same ensemble. This time they have turned to the Op. 9, which was Mascitti's last publication. These twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo came from the press in 1738. They are dedicated to Louis-François Crozat, 'Marchese du Chatel', as the title-page says. The composer may have been fully integrated into French society, but he did not forget his origin: he calls himself Michele Mascitti Napolitano. Most sonatas are in four movements. There are a few exceptions: the Sonata VIII. (not included here) comprises only three movements, the Sonatas III and VII have five. The latter open with a fast movement, which is followed by a very short slow movement, which is little more than a transition to the next fast movement, and has the traits of a recitative. There is no double-stopping, which reflects their modest technical requirements.

Two features deserve to be mentioned. First, Mascitti sticks to the principle of counterpoint, in a time in which that was gradually overturned by a dominance of melody. This clearly reflects the influence of Corelli. Second, Mascitti gives quite some importance to the bass line. There are several movements, where the violin and the bass get involved in a true dialogue. The chordal instrument needs the addition of a string bass, as there are several passages where the bass is given an independent role. Sometimes the performers reduce the basso continuo to the cello, without the support of the harpsichord. This was a common practice at the time, which today is too often neglected.

I was impressed by the Quartetto Vanvitelli's first Mascitti disc, and this second disc is in every respect its equal. These artists are outstanding performers, who have a good sense for the style of Mascitti's music and that of the time, in which he worked. Chamber music was expected to be a form of elegant conversation, and that is exactly what this recording offers. That does not imply that this is simple entertainment. There is a lot which catches the attention, and many movements have an infectious drive, thanks to an effective and well-judged differentation between notes.

Like the previous disc, this recording documents the quality of Michele Mascitti as a composer of chamber music. I hope that this ensemble will have the opportunity to explore other parts of his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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