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Francesco GEMINIANI (1687 - 1762): Second Collection of Pieces for the Harpsichord, 1762

Francesco Baroni, harpsichord, organ

rec: April 2014, San Secondo Parmense (Parma), Pieve di San Genesio
Stradivarius - Str 37051 (2 CDs) ( 2016) (1.47'00")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Suite I in c minor; Suite II in B flat; Suite III in C/c minor/a minor; Suite IV in B flat/g minor; Suite V in A/a minor; Suite VI in c minor; Suite VII in d minor; Suite VIII in C/c minor; Suite IX in B flat/E flat; Suite X in F/d minor; Suite XI in G/g minor; Suite XII in b minor/D; Suite XIII in c minor; Suite XIV in g minor; Suite XV in A; Suite XVI in c minor; Suite XVII in D; Suite XVIII in E/e minor

Francesco Gemiani was one of many Italian musicians and composers who settled in England, where Italian music was very popular and there were many opportunities to make a living. He soon attracted attention by playing in public as a violinist, accompanied by George Frideric Handel at the harpsichord. However, if we take his entire career into consideration, he did not perform in public that frequently. He seems to have made most of his money through the publication of his music, not only in England, but also in Paris and The Hague, teaching the violin and dealing in paintings.

In his capacity as a composer Geminiani - unlike many of his colleagues - confined himself to instrumental music. He became especially known for his transcriptions of the violin sonatas op. 5 by Arcangelo Corelli, whom he claimed to have been his teacher. These arrangements were published in two sets of concerti grossi. He also wrote chamber music for violin and for cello. It may surprise to find two collections of harpsichord pieces in his oeuvre. These were published in 1743 and 1762 respectively.

Geminiani was well known for the arrangement of his own music. His rival Francesco Maria Veracini poked fun at this habit by ranking him among those who "whenever they are faced with the necessity of writing something new, refry the same old pieces which have already been refried more than once". In 1716 Geminiani published a set of sonatas for violin and basso continuo; they were reprinted in a revised edition in 1739, with added ornaments and fingerings. The first six sonatas were published another time around 1742 in the scoring for two violins and bc. Around 1752 the remaining sonatas were printed, again as trio sonatas, but with some additional movements. In 1746 the sonatas op. 5 came from the press in two different editions: the Paris edition was scored for cello and bc, the edition published in The Hague was for violin.

The two sets with harpsichord pieces also entirely consist of arrangements of previously-written music. For the first set Geminiani turned to the sonatas op. 1 and op. 4, and included just one movement from the Concerti grossi op. 2. The second set includes arrangements of further movements from the opp. 1 and 4, plus some from the sonatas op. 5. Here Geminiani also arranged movements from his concerti grossi op. 2 and op. 7 as well as pieces from two of his treatises, The Art of Playing on the Violin (1751) and The Art of Playing the Guitar or Cittra (1760). The origin of some movements has not been identified as yet; they may be arrangements of pieces which have never been printed.

Geminiani's harpsichord pieces raise two questions. First: did he play the harpsichord? Probably not. But Hank Knox, in the liner-notes to his recording of the 1743 collection, suggests that he may have become intimately acquainted with the harpsichord and its playing technique during his sojourns in France, where he must have heard the great masters of the instrument, such as Jean-Philippe Rameau and Jacques Duphly.

Second: why did he make these transcriptions? One of the reasons certainly was financial: one of the notable features of Geminiani's career is that he never held a permanent appointment, and although he enjoyed the support of various patrons, he was never in the service of any of them. As a result he himself was entirely responsible for his income. His music was quite popular, and transcribing his violin and cello sonatas for the harpsichord opened a new market for his music. It was also a way to inform music lovers of the way his music should or could be performed. After all, he did not merely transcribe his sonatas, he added ornaments in line with his instructions in his treatises. Lastly, publishing arrangements also offered the possibility to adapt his music to changes in taste. This way it could continue to attract the attention of music lovers. It is telling that the first set was reprinted as late as 1778.

The harpsichord pieces did not meet unanimous approval, though. In the booklet to Francesco Baroni's recording of the 1762 set, Sara Dieci quotes Charles Burney, who stated: "[Geminiani] spent the latter years of his life in varying and new moulding his former works, particularly he made two books of lessons for the harpsichord, consisting chiefly of airs from his solos; and it was not always that he altered them for the better". It needs to be added, however, that Burney never counted among Geminiani's strongest admirers, in contrast to his pupil Charles Avison.

The second set is considerably larger than the first. Whereas both Knox and Francesca Lanfranca needed around one hour to record the first set, Baroni needs two discs for the second. It comprises 48 pieces, divided into 18 suites of different length. The Suite I consists of just two pieces, Suite VII of only one, but Suite III includes six pieces. Notable is that some pieces have the addition per l'organo. That is remarkable in a set of harpsichord pieces, but unfortunately the issue is not discussed in the liner-notes.

Having listened to these pieces I don't see any reason not to take them seriously. I would not recommend to listen to these discs at a stretch, but if you are a lover of harpsichord music this recording seems well worth adding to your collection. If you know Geminiani's chamber music you may recognize many pieces. If the original movement is known, it is indicated in the track-list. Unfortunately that seems not without errors: the second movement from Suite VIII is, according to the track-list, an arrangement of a movement from the sonata op. 4,11, but in fact it is the last movement from the cello sonata op. 5,3. Francesco Baroni is a fine player who fully explores the quality of these pieces. He plays with panache, he articulates well and the tempi are well chosen. The score includes dynamic indications which means that a harpsichord with two manuals is needed. Baroni plays the copy of a Blanchet, preserved in the Russel Collection of Musical Instruments in Edinburgh. The organ is a modern instrument in Italian style.

Johan van Veen ( 2018)

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