Frescobaldi: Organ and keyboard works I.1Recercari et Canzoni franzese and I.2 Toccata e partite libro primo
Editor: Christopher Stembridge with the collaboration of Kenneth Gilbert
Published by: Bärenreiter BA8411/12
These two volumes are the first of a series of six which will present the complete keyboard works that Frescobaldi published during his life, and will therefore omit the Canzonas published by Vicenti in 1645. In volume I.1 Christopher Stembridge, a renowned authority on the early Italian repertoire, presents the print of the ten recercari and four canzoni franzese originally published in 1615 as libro primo by Bartolomeo Zannetti in Rome, reset in 1618, and reprinted in 1626 with the reprint of the Primo libro di Capricci, in 1628 and in 1642, and also considered are the MSS versions in the Turin organ tablature copied in the late 1630s. In his dedication Frescobaldi regards these as being his first work, seemingly not wishing to remember his book of twelve Fantasias published in Milan in 1608.
By far the bulk of this first volume (83 pages in English and German) consists of a comprehensive introduction to the composer and the books of recercari and toccatas and partitas, including the variant contents in the different editions of the latter, with comments on all aspects of performance practice. The section on the modal system with the list of the chief characteristics of each mode as outlined by Zarlino is particularly helpful, as are the comments on the recercari with and without the oblighi titles. The section on the partite includes the basses (and the aria in the case of Lamonicha) on which they are based.
Especially valuable are the sections on ornamentation including the possible addition of trills and the comments on possible interpretation of those that are written- out, especially on the misleading notation as to where it may commence; perhaps more comments on the possible application of extended divisions in the manner of A Gabrieli, and Merulo to the recercars such as illustrated in the example by Bonelli both from his print and also from the keyboard intabulation from the Turin MSS would have been helpful if only to keep over-enthusiasm in check. Tempo including Frescobaldi’s use of triple time, dotted values, and methods of arpeggiation are also discussed. The paragraphs on notation include thoughts on retroactive application of accidentals and a separate consideration of the concept of hexachordal composition with its effect on accidentals.
Although the title page to all the early editions of the toccata e partite mentions just the cimbalo, the organ is added to the 1628 and 1637 reprints, suggesting that despite this unprecedented assignation to the cimbalo, the music would have most probably have also been played on the organ, and in the libro primo toccata 5, 11 and 12 are close to elevazione. A brief section on registration would have been even more helpful if the registrations of Antegnati by genre and Diruta by mode had been included here instead of footnotes referring the reader to other publications. An extensive bibliography under seven headings provides a veritable cornucopia of further reading for the interested student. An extremely detailed critical commentary presents differences between the prints as well as handmade corrections to the edition of 1615; also listed are variants in the Turin MSS copies.
Also included in the preface to volume I.1 is an extensive introduction to the toccatas, partite and the four corrente included in the 1st book of toccatas; a full commentary on the different variations of the partite included in the second edition also sheds light on the compositional and revisionary process. Several facsimile pages or part pages are included as is a version of recercar quinto from the Turin MSS.
The preface tells us that this new edition of the recercars and canzone, based on the print of 1618, is intended to replace the edition by Pierre Pidoux some 60 years ago and to offer today’s player an edition that is as close as possible to the sources together with information on the most recent research. However, with this first volume the open score format of the original print has again been reduced to keyboard score, the main difference with the Pidoux edition being that he generally used diagonal lines to indicate part crossing whereas here the voices remain in situ which leads to considerable mental and visual gymnastics being required on several occasions; of less importance perhaps is the very occasional replacing of a semibreve with tied minims so as to clarify crossed parts.
Three recercars (sesto, settimo and decimo) feature an obligo based on solmization syllables that appears as the only entries in the alto, tenor and treble respectively, this is immediately clearer visually in the open score presentation than in the keyboard score, but even in Frescobaldi’s day score reading was clearly becoming a forgotten art as he commented in the preface to Fiori Musicali. Stembridge has added accidentals in small type either above or below the stave, to indicate notes that he believes should be sharpened or flattened according to the rules of musica ficta, but in other places where alternative solutions may be admitted the score is marked with an “x”, leaving the player free to decide whether to inflect the note or not. Probable errors in the original are marked with an asterisk and discussed in the critical commentary. Small numbers placed below the stave indicate the pagination of the original print, with a small “s” indicating a new system in the original.
In volume I.2 devoted to the toccate e partite … libro primo Stembridge provides translations of the prefaces to both the 1615 and 1616 prints which include much valuable information on how these pieces can be played (some 15 years after the first book including “free” toccatas was published by Ascanio Mayone it would seem that the way of playing presented in thss introduction was still required), and includes a detailed discussion of the editions, a summary of the different versions of the partite and an exhaustive critical commentary. An appendix lists engraving errors and corrections as well as errors that remained uncorrected. Separate versions of the sets of partite from each print are included rather than Pidoux’s edition using the 1616 print only – several of the discarded movements are attractive. However, missing here are the pieces not printed until the aggiunta of 1637, including the three balletti, the cento partite sopra passacagli, three capricci and the balletto e ciaconna and corrente e ciaconna, which will, somewhat strangely, be included in volume four along with the Fiori Musicali
In this volume the small letter “s” beneath the stave indicates a tie that many have been omitted in the print. Again, an “x” indicates those notes where the performer must decide for him or herself whether to add an accidental and an asterisk again indicates probable errors in the original, amply discussed in the comprehensive critical commentary. In both volumes the quality of printing is excellent but one point for the prospective purchaser is that the extensive compositional and performance practice paragraphs relevant to the music in this volume are available only in volume I.1, hence the need to purchase both, not an inexpensive outlay in these straightened times All pieces are laid out so that the page turns can all be managed by the player, and the use of original beaming and layout of the notes between the hands is a great help when considering the articulation implied; the time taken in adjusting to this major change from some earlier editions will be richly repaid.
It is interesting to read in the prefaces to Mayone’s two books printed in 1603 and 1609 that he regarded the toccatas as being for the progressive forward-thinkers and the ricercars for the conservatives who did not care for this new style; Frescobaldi’s almost obsessive wrestling with contrapuntal problems and the ingenious solutions he adopts are amply demonstrated here, particularly in the more introverted recercars which are far less well-known and played today than the more extrovert toccatas. It is only by playing and immersing oneself in this wonderful music that one becomes more adept at solving some of the problems posed in the score. Although these are dealt with so comprehensively in the introduction - which should be compulsory reading, especially for the newcomer to these pieces, prior to playing them - it is through the act of playing that the real worth of these volumes will be revealed as a fitting testimony to the genius of Frescobaldi.
© John Collins
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