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"L'organo a Firenze dai Medici all'unità d'Italia"

Gabriele Giacomelli, organ

rec: Nov 2014, Florence, Basilica di S. Lorenzo
Tactus - TC 860002 (© 2015) (79'03")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon (late 17th C): Passagagli in g minor; anon (1st half 19th C): Elevazione in c minor; Elevazione in B flat; Offertorio in C; Offertorio in D; Postcommunio in G; Toccata per il Deo Gratias in D; Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) (attr); Elevazione; Luigi Ferdinando CASAMORATA (1807-1881): Comunione; Elevazione; Giovanni Maria CASINI (1652-1719): Pensiero XII; Emilio DE' CAVALIERI (c1550-1602): O che nuovo miracolo; Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1840): Sonata per l'organo a cilindro; Francesco FEROCI (1673-1750): Elevazione in D; Fugue in C; Pastorale meza bigia fatta apposta per la Gigia; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Aria detta la Frescobalda; Canzona IV; Capriccio sopra l'Aria di Ruggiero; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): Palle palle; Gioacchino MAGLIONI (1814-1888): Corale No. 5 in F; Corale No. 12 Preghiera in e minor; Cristofano MALVEZZI (1547-1599): Dal vago e bel sereno

Sources: [1] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Il secondo libro di toccate, canzone, versi d'hinni, Magnificat, gagliarde, correnti et altre partite d'intavolatura di cembalo et organo, 1627/16372; [2] Giovanni Maria Casini, Pensieri per l'organo in partitura, op.3, 1714; [3] Luigi Ferdinando Casamorata, Messa completa per organo, 1877; [4] Gioacchino Maglioni, 20 Corali per organo, [n.d.]

On the rear inlay of this disc we read "On the Occasion of the Celebration for Firenze Capitale 1865-1815". This refers to Florence becoming the capital of the Kingdom of Italy in 1865, a status which was to last only six years. This disc documents four centuries of organ music in Florence, mostly by composers who were in one way or another connected to the city. The term 'organ music' has to be taken with a grain of salt: the earliest pieces were not specifically intended for a keyboard instrument and the compositions by Frescobaldi are for a keyboard instrument in general, not specifically the organ.

During the Renaissance period Florence was under the rule of the Medici dynasty. They were one of the most powerful families of the time, and that was expressed by the presence of some of the finest performers and composers. One of the latter was Heinrich Isaac who entered the service of Lorenzo de' Medici, known as Il Magnifico, in 1485. Palle, palle - which means "balls, balls" - is a textless polyphonic piece written as a homage to the coat of arms of the Medici. The two pieces by Malvezzi and Cavalieri are taken from the Intermedi for Girolamo Bargagli's La pellegrina which were part of the celebrations at the occasion of the marriage of Ferdinando I and Christine of Lorraine. They are performed here in keyboard transcriptions from the 1590s. Cavalieri's piece has become known as Ballo del Granduca and Aria di Fiorenza and has been the subject of variations by several composers, such as Sweelinck and Frescobaldi.

The latter is represented by three pieces from collections published in 1627 and 1637 respectively. He was organist in Florence from 1628 to 1634. The canzona was a form which had its roots in vocal music; the term is derived from cantare (to sing) and has its pendant in the French word chanson. It is divided into various contrasting sections. The other two pieces are sets of variations. A popular musical form at the time was the basso ostinato, a repetition of a pattern of notes in the bass as the foundation of a series of variations. The passacaglia was one of the most frequently-used, and here we hear an anonymous piece with remarkable harmonic progressions and chromatic episodes.

Giovanni Maria Casini was a Florentine priest and pupil of Francesco Nigetti, himself a pupil of Frescobaldi. In 1676 he became second organist, and in 1685 first organist of Florence Cathedral. He was considered the greatest organist of his time in Italy. In 1714 he published a collection of twelve Pensieri for organ, pieces dominated by counterpoint and divided into various movements with thematically related subjects. The first half of the programme is concluded with three pieces by Francesco Feroci who was a pupil of Casini and succeeded him as first organist of Florence Cathedral in 1719. Although he gave more attention to melody in his compositions the Fugue in C includes imitative polyphony. In the Elevazione in D he makes use of chromaticism.

The second half shows a strong change in the style of organ music, including compositions for the liturgy. Luigi Cherubini's Sonata per l'organo a cilindro was written for a mechanical organ, known in German as Flötenuhr. It dates from 1805 and was specifically written for the mechanical organ of Baron Peter von Braun in Vienna. Its character is comparable with the pieces which his contemporary Mozart wrote for such instruments.

It is especially in the liturgical pieces that the influence of opera makes itself felt. Some have a rather pathetic character, others are virtuosic and exploit the dynamics of the organ to the full, either through the addition or removal of registers or - as in this recording - the change of manual. The six anonymous pieces are taken from two manuscripts which are preserved in the archive of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. They were probably written in the first decades of the 19th century. Vincenzo Bellini is first and foremost known as an opera composer. He wrote only a handful of pieces for keyboard, and one for organ, the Sonata in G. The Elevazione included in this programme is from another manuscript in which it is attributed to him. The two pieces by Luigi Ferdinando Casamorata are in the same style. He was a music critic and composer, was involved in politics and founded the Istituto Musicale - later the conservatory - in 1859. It is interesting to note that he was critical of modern tendencies in religious music and criticized Rossini's Stabat mater. At the same time the Elevazione and Comunione played here are not different from what we have heard in the previous tracks.

It is in the concluding two pieces by Gioacchino Maglioni that we note a change in the approach to liturgical music. He was organist of Florence Cathedral, teacher at the conservatory and author of a treatise on organ playing. His music is more restrained and looks back at the past. In his liner-notes Gabriele Giacomelli points out that these pieces reflect the ideals which would later be propagated by the Cecilian movement: liturgical music should be cleared from profane and especially operatic elements. It was this movement which proclaimed Palestrina as the ideal of liturgical music.

If one listens to the operatic-influenced organ pieces in this programme one can easily understand the longing for a reform of liturgical music. I find it hard to take the works of especially Bellini and Casamorata seriously. I can imagine that many organ aficionados will find them quite hard to swallow, even if they love 19th-century music. However, this disc is interesting from a historical point of view as it is an eloquent demonstration of the stylistic changes in organ music in Italy. Giacomelli is an excellent interpreter who knows how to reveal the features of the selected pieces. He uses two different organs: in the first half he plays an organ from the mid-16th century, which was revised in 1773. It is in meantone temperature which is particularly useful to bring out the harmonic peculiarities in the pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries. The second half is played on an organ by the Serassi brothers, a prominent firm of organ builders from Bologna. It dates from 1864 and has a symphonic character. The various stops are effectively used to realise the contrasts in dynamics and colours in the 19th-century repertoire. The comprehensive liner-notes by Giacomelli put the pieces into their historical perspective.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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