John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Luigi Cherubini Six keyboard sonatas.

Title:Six keyboard sonatas.

Editor:Christopher Hogwood

Publisher:Edition HH. HH256.SOL

Reviewed by John Collins

This set of six sonatas, published in Italy in 1783 when Cherubini was 23, and in England in 1786, is an example of the only occasional sets of instrumental music published by a composer far better known for his operatic and sacred music and also academic work. Each sonata is in two movements, an opening allegro or moderato in binary form in C time, apart from nos. 4 in 2/4, and 5 in 3/4 and a concluding rondò (no tempo indicated in 1 and 2, andantino in 3, 4 and 6, and allegretto in 5). Each rondò is in 2/4 apart from no. 3 which is in 6/8.The translation of the effusive dedication is included at the back of the volume.

Most of the writing is simple two-part texture, with occasional runs in thirds or sixths and fuller texture in the LH. Several movements require considerable dexterity and nimble fingerwork, the technical demands sometimes being greater than the musical quality, with passages for crossed-hands; they are generally more demanding than the great majority of sonatas by the earlier Galuppi and Rutini. Alberti and murky basses are frequent, as are oscillations at the octave, sometimes in demisemiquavers by step. At their best they exhibit the melodically graceful cantabile singing allegro style, but there is also the tendency for the composer to go off on a tangent, particularly in the rondos, and return either via a pause or a string of sudden modulatory arpeggios. However, perseverance will be rewarded by the revelation of some individualistic movements.

Christopher Hogwood’s introduction offers assistance in interpreting the placing of the large number of written out turns and also offers some thoughts on the instruments on which these pieces may have been played, reminding us that English square pianos were known in Tuscany in the 1780s. He also comments that an instrument capable of variable dynamics would be helpful in transmitting the melodic lines and also includes the clavichord as a potential candidate, referring to a contemporary painting of Paisiello and Burney’s meeting with Galuppi. His editorial suggestions for cadential interpolations are well-thought out and offer model guidance to players who wish to supply their own.

There are some 80 pages of clearly printed music here, with the usual thorough critical commentary, and the two stalwart proofreaders receive due mention. Presented in a spiral binding with an over folding front cover, this new edition will be a revelation to those who may have struggled with earlier over-edited and “enriched” editions of the last century, and should be well received and welcomed by those players who are still hesitant about tackling facsimiles of original 18th century editions with all their attendant quirks of layout.

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© John Collins 2013