musica Dei donum

CD reviews

The violin in the 17th century

[I] "Rapsodia Italiana - Stylus phantasticus in Early Baroque"
rec: Nov 17 - 19, 2020, Hof (D), Freiheitshalle
Pan Classics - PC 10432 (© 2022) (75'00")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann BAAL (Padre MARIANUS) (1657-1701): Sonata in a minor; Giovanni BASSANO (1551-1617): Ricercare per violino solo [1]; Vincenzo BONIZZI (1580-1630): La bella e netta ignud' e bianca mano (Rore); Dario CASTELLO (1600-1658): Sonata II [6]; Sonata VI [6]; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (1571-1630): Sonata V [5]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzon V detta La Tromboncina [2]; Cento Partite sopra Passacagli [4]; Toccata per Spinettina e Violino [2]; Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690): Sonata La Foscari, op. 2,8 [8]; Pietro Antonio MARIANI (1596-1640): Canzon a 2 alla bastarda, per il Deo Gratias La Guaralda; Bartolomeo MONTALBANO (1598-1651): Sinfonia IV Geloso [3]; Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI (1624-1687): Sonata I in a minor, op. 3,1 'La Stella' [9]; Sonata IV in D, op. 3,4 'La Castella' [9]; Riccardo ROGNIONO TEAGGIO (1545-1620): Anchor che col partire (Rore); Giovanni SALVATORE (1622-1688): Toccata II del nono tuono naturale; Alessandro STRADELLA (1639-1682): Sonata a violino solo e basso obligato; Marco UCCELLINI (1603-1680): Sonata II detta La Luciminia contenta [7]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Bassano, Ricercate, passaggi et cadentie per potersi esercitar nel diminuir terminatamente con ogni sorte d’istrumento, 1585; [2] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Il primo libro delle canzoni, 1628; [3] Bartolomeo Montalbano, Sinfonie ad uno, e doi violini, a doi, e trombone, con il partimento per l’organo, con alcune a quattro viole, 1629; [4] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Il secondo libro di toccate, canzone, versi d'hinni, Magnificat, gagliarde, correnti et altre partite d'intavolatura di cembalo et organo, 1637/R; [5] Giovanni Battista Fontana, Sonate a 1. 2. 3. per il violino, o cornetto, fagotto, chitarone, violoncino o simile altro istromento, 1641; [6] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro II, 1644; [7] Marco Uccellini, Sonate, correnti et arie, op. 4, 1645/R; [8] Giovanni Legrenzi, Sonate a due e a tre, op. 2, 1655; [9] Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, Sonate a Violino solo per chiesa e camera, op. 3, 1660

Daniel Deuter, violin; Heike Johanna Lindner, viola da gamba, lirone; Markus Märkl, harpsichord, organ

[II] "La Bellezza - The Beauty of 17th Century Violin Music"
Musica Alchemica
Dir: Lina Tur Bonet
rec: Sept 12 - 14, 2019, Rome, Chiesa di Sant'Eligio dei Ferrari
Pan Classics - PC 10408 (© 2020) (68'17")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Ciaccona; Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER (1644-1704): Partia V in g minor (C 66); Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Sonata in a minor (BuxWV 272); Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1575-1622): Sonata II [1]; Andrea FALCONIERI (c1585-1656): Follias echa para mi Señora Doña Tarolilla de Carallenos [4]; Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Sonata sopra la Monica [2]; Nicola MATTEIS JR (1650-1714): Alla fantasia; Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c1623-1680): Sonata IV [5]; Marco UCCELLINI (1603-1680): Aria sopra la Bergamasca [3]; Romanus WEICHLEIN (1652-1706): Partia III in a minor [7]; Johann Paul VON WESTHOFF (1656-1705): Sonata II in a minor (Imitatione del liuto) [6]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Paolo Cima, Concerti Ecclesiastici, a una, due, tre, quattro voci con doi a cinque, et uno a otto. Messa, e doi Magnificat, et Falsi Bordoni à 4 Et sei sonate, per strumenti à due, tre e quattro, 1610; [2] Biagio Marini, Sonate, symphonie, canzoni, passe'mezzi, baletti, corenti, gagliarde e retornelli, a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 voci, per ogni sorte d'instrumenti, op. 8, 1626; [3] Marco Uccellini, Sonate, arie et correnti a 2. e. 3. Per sonare con diversi instromenti, 1642; [4] Andrea Falconieri, Il primo libro di Canzone, Sinfonie, Fantasie, Capricci, Brandi, Correnti, Gagliarde, Alemane, Volte per Violini e Viole ouero altro Stromento a uno, due e tre con il Basso Continuo, 1650; [5] Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Sonatae unarum fidium, 1664; [6] Johann Paul von Westhoff, Sonate a Violino solo con basso continuo, 1694; [7] Romanus Weichlein, Encaenia Musices, 1695; [8] Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Harmonia artificioso-ariosa Diversi modi accordata, 1696

Lina Tur Bonet, Valerio Losito, violin, viola d'amore; Pietro Meldolesi, Teresa Ceccato, viola; Rodney Prada, viola da gamba; Marco Ceccato, cello; Andrew Ackerman, double bass; Marta Graziolino, harp; Giangiacomo Pinardi, archlute; Dani Espasa, harpsichord, organ

With the emergence of the stile nuovo around 1600 in Italy, composers set themselves free from the strict rules of counterpoint of the previous era in music history. The new style offered the opportunity for virtuosity of individual performers, singing or playing an instrument, and with it the possibility to improvise. This resulted in a large repertoire of pieces for various instruments, among them the violin, in which sections of different character followed each other attacca, giving the impression of being invented on the spot. It was this style that the theorist Athanius Kircher called the stylus phantasticus. This repertoire exerts a strong attraction on modern performers, which can hardly surprise, and explains why there are quite a number of recordings in the catalogue, in which specimens of this style are performed. Some pieces have earned a kind of cult status, and figure in almost any programme of this repertoire. That is not any different in case of the two discs to be reviewed here, but both also offer some lesser-known items.

The title of the first disc may look a bit too modern for the time. Although the word 'rhapsody' was known in the 16th century, it was mainly used in the field of literature. However, its association with writings of different character makes it quite suitable to characterise the nature of the repertoire that the ensemble CorArte has recorded. In the programme we find some household names, such as Giovanni Battista Fontana, who published only one collection of sonatas, and Dario Castello, whose two sets of sonatas are very much part of the standard repertoire of instrumental ensembles. The two composers belong among the pioneers of the new style. The programme opens with a sonata from Marco Uccellini's Op. 4, which was printed in 1673, which make him a later exponent of the stylus phantasticus. That also is the case with Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, who published to sets of sonatas for violin and basso continuo.

Whereas the sonatas from early in the 17th century can often be played on various instruments, such as the cornett or the recorder, the later sonatas are often specifically intended for the violin. Pandolfi Mealli's sonatas are a good example. Recently I reviewed a disc in which one of them was performed on the cornett, which did sound rather well, but recordings with recorder I have heard over the years were seldom convincing.

The programme documents not only one of the most obvious stylistic features - the sequence of sections of different character and the improvisatory traces - of this repertoire, but also some other notable aspects of 17th-century music. First the so-called diminutions - in Italian passaggi - which break up a line - mostly the upper one - of a vocal piece (motet, chanson, madrigal) in a virtuosic manner. Several treatises were published, which included instructions on how to proceed in this department. Examples here are the pieces by Bonizzi and Rogniono Taeggio. Second: composers loved to use repeating patterns for their compositions, often a so-called basso ostinato, over which a treble instrument wove an increasingly virtuosic line pattern. The most famous example here are the Cento Partite sopra Passacagli by Girolamo Frescobaldi. Third, in addition to sonatas for a solo instrument, we hear several pieces for two instruments and basso continuo, here violin and viola da gamba. The role of the second instrument grows in importance in the course of the 17th century, and would result in the trio sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli, which were going to strongly influence generations of composers after him.

CordArte has recorded a nice programme which is a mixture of fairly well-known and less familiar pieces. It delivers a good impression of what was written in the 17th century. There is also quite some variation in scoring: in most pieces the three instruments play together, but there are also solos for the three instruments, either with or without accompaniment. Bassano's Ricercare per Violino solo is a piece for violin without basso continuo. CordArte is an excellent ensemble that has recorded a number of discs with 17th-century repertoire, all of which were an unequivocal success. Articulation, dynamics, a good sense of rhythm and an awareness of the contrasts between the sections of a piece are prerequisites for an interpretation, in which the affetti are convincingly conveyed. CordArte succeeds in each department.

The programme ends with a piece by a composer from southern Germany, born as Johannes Baal, but after entering the Benedictine monastery Münsterschwarzach assuming the name of Marianus. This documents the dissemination of the Italian violin style of the 17th century across Europe. In that respect the Sonata in a minor by Baal/Marianus is the link between this disc and the next. Musica Alchemica recorded a programme which brings together specimens of the Italian music of the 17th century and pieces written in Germany and Austria in the latter half of that century.

Carlo Farina, one of the most brilliant violinists of his time, does not appear in either programme. He settled in Dresden, where he published several collections of music, and laid the foundation of the German violin school. Antonio Bertali entered the service of the imperial court in Vienna, where he influenced the development of an Austrian violin school. Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber are the main representatives of that school. Both are included in the programme that was recorded by Musica Alchemica. Like in Italian music, bassi ostinati played an important role in music written above the Alps. Schmelzer's Sonata IV is one example. Biber's Partia V consists of five sections, the fourth of which is a passacaglia. Romanus Weichlein is one of the lesser-known representatives of the Austrian violin school. He met Biber and was strongly influenced by him, as his Partia III makes abundantly clear. The second movement is a passacaglia ('bassagaglia').

Some tunes and dance patterns were widely used in Italy, Austria and Germany. Among them are the Italian popular song La Monica (Marini), the Bergamasca (Uccellini) and the Folia (Falconieri). Imitation was also popular among composers: we find many in the oeuvre of Schmelzer and Biber, and - more northern and not included here - Johann Jakob Walter. Like the latter, Johann Paul von Westhoff was also a representative of the German violin school. He is most notable for his Sei Partite à violino senza basso accompagnato. The second sonata from a set of 1694 includes a movement called Imitazione del liuto.

The sonata by Baal/Marianus includes double stopping. This was a part of the Italian style, but it was more frequently applied by composers of the Austrian violin school. Several pieces included here attest to that.

It is not only Von Westhoff who shows the influence of the Italian style, the same goes for Dieterich Buxtehude, in his sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. This scoring was typical for Germany: many such sonatas were written throughout the 17th century, for instance by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach. The inclusion of Buxtehude's sonata documents the development towards the trio sonata.

This disc also includes a piece for violin without accompaniment. Alla fantasia by Nicola Matteis jr opens the programme. It offers exactly what the title promises: a piece without a fixed structure, undoubtedly the result of improvisation. It is a brilliant piece by the son of Nicola Matteis, the Neapolitan-born violinist and composer who settled in England and caused sensation with his brilliant playing in a manner that was not heard before in the country. His son worked for most of his life in Vienna, where he focused on the writing of ballet music.

Lina Tur Bonet and her ensemble La Bellezza have recorded a most interesting and musically compelling programme, which is performed with technical prowess, flair and fantasy. In two items Lina Tur Bonet plays the viola d'amore; I am wondering whether that is indicated by the composers. Unfortunately the track-list does not mention the scorings. Debatable is the participation of a cello; the 'baroque cello' as we know it today was almost certainly not known in Austria and Germany in the second half of the 17th century. Viola da gamba and bass violin (known in Austria as violone) were the common string bass instruments.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Musica Alchemica

CD Reviews