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"Piano e Forte - Music at the Medici Court on Cristofori's early pianoforte (c. 1730)"

Marķa-Cristina Kiehr, sopranoa; Marc Hantaļ, transverse fluteb; Chiara Banchini, violinc; Rebeka Rusņ, viola da gambad; Daniele Caminiti, archlutee; Edoardo Torbianelli, fortepianof

rec: Nov 2009, Arlesheim, Reformierte Kirche
Glossa - GCD 922504 (© 2011) (78'51")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/S; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & tracklist

Francesco BARSANTI (1660-1743): Sonata IV for recorder/transverse flute and bc in e minor, op. 2,4bf [5]; Martino BITTI (1660-1743): Sonata VII for transverse flute and bc in d minorbef [3]; Lodovico GIUSTINI (1685-1743: Sonata I in g minor, op. 1,1f [6]; Sonata III in F, op. 1,3: andante, ma non prestof [6]; Alessandro MARCELLO (1669-1747): Riposo di Clori, cantata for soprano and bcaef [2]; Serenata ad Irene, cantata for soprano and bcadef [2]; Sonata VIII for violin and bc in e minor: adagiocf [7]; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Apri le luci amanti, arietta No 33af [1]; Con la forza, arietta No 19af [1]; Datti pace, arietta No 3af [1]; Forse, o cieli, arietta No 12af [1]; Se non more, arietta No 9abf [1]; Sģ, sģ, gią ritorna, arietta No 13af [1]; Sono unite, arietta No 25abf [1]; Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768): Sonata IV for violin and bc in c minor, op. 1,4cdef [4]

Sources: [1] Alessandro Scarlatti, Thirty Six Ariettas for a single voice with a thorough bass for the harpsichord and within compass of the German flute, [n.d.]; [2] Alessandro Marcello, 12 Cantate a voce sola e basso continuo, 1708; [3] Martino Bitti, Solos for a flute with a thorough bass for the harpsichord or bass violin, c1712; [4] Francesco Maria Veracini, Sonate a violino solo e basso, op. 1, 1721; [5] Francesco Barsanti, VI Sonate per la Traversiera, o German Flute con Basso per Violone o Cembalo, op. 2, 1728; [6] Lodovico Giustini, Sonate da cimbalo di piano e forte detto volgarmente di martelletti, op. 1, 1732; [7] Alessandro Marcello, Suonate a violino solo, c1738

Once in a while discs appear which shed light on an aspect of music history which has remained in the shadows for a long time. That is the case with this disc which is devoted to the role of the fortepiano in the early decades of the 18th century in Italy. This instrument, developed by Bartolomeo Cristofori, was known as gravicembalo col piano e forte or cimbalo di martelletti (harpsichord with hammers). The programme concentrates on music which in one way or another can be associated with the court of Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici in Florence, where Cristofori had been appointed in 1688 to tune and maintain the harpsichords.

Ferdinando was a connoisseur of the arts and a great music lover. He developed Florence into one of Italy's main centres of music. This is reflected by the number and status of the composers and musicians who worked at his court or passed by. Their presence also stimulated the promotion of Cristofori's invention. The only compositions which were specifically written for the new instrument were the Sonate da cimbalo di piano e forte detto volgarmente di martelletti, op. 1 by Lodovico Giustini. It isn't quite clear how he came into contact with the fortepiano as he never worked at Ferdinando's court and stayed in his birthplace Pistoia all his life. But as one of the Medicis supported his application for the post of organist in a church in Pistoia, he must have had contacts to this family. That could have made him acquainted with Cristofori's fortepiano.

As fas as the other compositions on this disc are concerned, in none of them the use of the fortepiano can be historically proven. But in many cases its use for the realization of the basso continuo is at least plausible. Good examples are the two cantatas and a movement from a violin sonata by Alessandro Marcello. One of the three surviving instruments by Cristofori is preserved in the Museo Strumenti Musicali in Rome. It dates from 1722 and was once owned by Marcello. One could possibly argue that the choice of two cantatas from a collection which was printed as early as 1708 is not the most logical. But in their liner-notes Edoardo Torbianelli and Kathrin Menzel mention the fact that these cantatas contain "unusually differentiated dynamic markings. What instrument could better realize this than a fortepiano?".

In the case of Martino Bitti the use of Cristofori's invention is most plausible as he worked as court violinist in Florence. Whereas he is virtually unknown Veracini was a famous performer who travelled through Europe as a virtuoso. He was a native of Florence, though, and played at the court in his early years. Therefore he may well have known the fortepiano. It is at least interesting to hear one of his sonatas with this instrument in the basso continuo. The choice of a flute sonata by Barsanti seems to me the least plausible choice. He had no ties to the court in Florence and moved to London - with Francesco Geminiani - in 1714, where he remained the rest of his life. Alessandro Scarlatti's Ariettas are from a collection published in London. Scarlatti was in 1702 in Florence for the performance of one of his operas. His contacts with Ferdinando dated from 1688 and it is suggested he was looking for a permanent position at the court. There is no further information about the origin of the ariettas, which are not mentioned in the work-list in New Grove. Are these taken from cantatas or operas? The title suggests the participation of a flute which is used in some of them on this disc. Its role is not quite clear, but it seems it takes some passages of the vocal part.

The booklet also contains an essay on 'The pianoforte in 18th-century Italy' by Renato Meucci. He argues that this history needs to be rewritten. It was often thought that the fortepiano was only introduced in Italy at the end of the 18th century, with instruments imported from Germany and England. But research has resulted in a more differentiated view on the matter. The fortepiano didn't find as much dissemination in Italy as elsewhere, but it is not correct that after Cristofori no fortepianos were built. It will be very interesting to see how this subject will be further explored. It could give some new incentives to the interpretation of Italian music of the mid-18th century. This disc is a good start as it offers a most interesting perspective on the music from the first quarter of the century.

The performances are outstanding. Marķa-Cristina Kiehr is simply brilliant in her performances of Scarlatti's ariettas - which are delightful and sometimes very expressive little pieces - and Alessandro Marcello's two cantatas. Not much of his oeuvre is known, and certainly not his chamber cantatas. Marcello uses the form of the cantata as fixed by Alessandro Scarlatti in his own way, particularly in closing most recitatives with an arioso. Both cantatas include some highly expressive arias. The sonatas are given fine performances by Marc Hantaļ and Chiara Banchini respectively. Edoardo Torbianelli plays a copy by Denzil Wright of one of the surviving instruments by Cristofori, built in 1726 and preserved in the Grassi Museum in Leipzig. It is a beautiful instrument which is played with great sensitivity. Although its sound isn't very powerful, it is nevertheless clearly audible.

This disc is not only musically captivating because of the repertoire and the performances, but also a historical document which sheds light on an aspect of 18th-century music history which is not fully explored yet. That makes it one of the most important releases of recent years.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Edoardo Torbianelli

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