John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Pensieri per l’organo by Giovanni Maria Casini.

Title:Pensieri per l’organo. 2 Volumes.

Editor:Jörg Jacobi

Publisher:Edition Baroque eba4013/14

Price:€11.90 each.

Reviewed by John Collins

Casini (1652-1719) was second organist of Florence cathedral from 1676, first organist from 1685 and organist to Cosimo, Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1708. He may well have studied with Bernardo Pasquini in Rome, and amongst his organ students we can count Domenico Zipoli and Francesco Feroci. This collection of twelve polyphonic pieces was published in Florence in two volumes in 1714, noteworthy for the time was the use of four-part open score, which underlined the academic and archaic nature of the pieces, which bear witness to the composer’s knowledge of Palestrina and Frescobaldi in particular. They are presented here in two-stave format in two volumes, each containing six Pensieri, following the division of the original print. Unlike earlier collections of both polyphonic and toccatas, there is no adherence to following the system of composing one piece for each of the church tones and keys used also include B♭ and D major.

Apart from no. 6 which is in one movement only, the other Pensieri are in either two (nos. 1, 2, 5, 9, 10 and 11) or three movements (always in gigue rhythm), in which Casini demonstrates his mastery of rhythmic and melodic thematic transformation as utilised by Frescobaldi (and later by his pupil Froberger and other German composers of the later 17th century) in his Capricci and Canzone. Many of the second movements employ dance rhythms, ie a rare use for this time of the galliard in no. 1, corrente in nos. 3 and 4, and minuet in nos. 2, 5 and 11, with the gigue being clearly discernible as the final movement in either 6/8 (no. 12) or 12/8 (nos. 3, 4, 7 and 8), with both dotted and equal rhythms being present in the same piece, apart from no. 4 which has equal quavers throughout. The majority of the first movements are in cut C time, with no. 7 being in 3/2. The second movements of nos. 7-9 and 12 are in cut C time.

Most of the subjects are of the abstract rather than the purely vocal type, allowing a considerable degree of chromatic writing, which is well exemplified in nos 8 in A minor and no. 10 in D minor, particularly in the 3/8 second movement which has similarities with a slow passepied. Many of the movements in minor keys conclude with a bare fifth, heightening the archaic nature. In no. 7 the final chord of the first and second movement occurs in the opening bar of the succeeding movement, where the treble also serves as the first note of the subject in the new meter otherwise the different movements are self-contained, allowing for performance as an individual work if time is limited; the subject of this Pensiero features an interplay between the natural fourth and the sharpened fourth. Pedals are required for several long held notes in a few pieces and may be used for cadences according to contemporary practice.

The edition is clearly printed, with the introduction in German only. The dedication to Cosimo which occupies two pages in the original has been omitted as have two epigrams in Latin. The Pensieri will require careful study in the passages in which parts cross, and are a welcome addition to our knowledge of the contrapuntal repertoire of the post-Frescobaldi period of Italian composition for keyboard instruments, complementing the earlier collections by Fabritio Fontana and Luigi Battiferri. Using appropriate registration, they have as much value as teaching pieces as recital pieces or concluding voluntaries, and deserve to be far better known. It is greatly to be hoped that further examples of the Florentine school may be published in the future.

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© John Collins 2013