John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Frescobaldi: Organ and keyboard works III Il Secondo Libro di Toccata… di cimbalo et organo.

Title:Frescobaldi: Organ and keyboard works III Il Secondo Libro di Toccata… di cimbalo et organo.

Editor: Christopher Stembridge with the collaboration of Kenneth Gilbert. .

Publisher: Bärenreiter

Reviewed by John Collins

This volume is the third to appear although actually the fourth of the series of six edited by Christopher Stembridge with the collaboration of Kenneth Gilbert that will present chronologically the complete keyboard works that Frescobaldi published during his lifetime, and will therefore omit the Canzonas published by Vicenti in 1645. Published originally in 1627 (a decade that saw a veritable explosion of printed works for keyboard including Coelho, Titelouze, Scheidt and Correa de Arauxo) the Secondo Libro contains 11 Toccatas, of which nos. three and four are Elevation toccatas and are clearly intended for organ, nos. five and six have long pedal notes but which, according to the title, can be played without them, in which form they were included in the Turin tablatures. No. eight, entitled di durezze, e Ligature, is a fine example of this genre possibly first written down by Ercole Pasquini, and continued through the 18th century. The Toccatas continue the nervous discontinuity shown in the first book, with some moments of mercurial excitement (for example in no. seven) and unexpected modulations, and great technical challenges of both digital dexterity and rhythmic complexity are posed in no. nine, (Stembridge’s suggested solution to the latter challenge is certainly workable – as he writes, there are others), at the end of which the composer writes “Non senza fatiga si giunge al fine”– still very true today. In place of the expected twelfth Toccata as appeared in the first book of Toccatas etc, there is a setting of Arcadelt’s Ancidetemi pur which is rather restrained in comparison with similar settings by the Neapolitans Mayone and Trabaci (the original vocal text is included as an appendix).

There follow six Canzone, which are somewhat freer in approach than the examples published in 1615 with the Ricercare, four hymns (dell Domenica, Dell’apostoli with three verses and iste confessor and Ave Maris Stella with four ), and three Magnificats (on the first, second and sixth tones) each with five verses, which are like miniature ricercars using a variety of contrapuntal devices, Aria detto Balletto with eight Parte, the theme of which was used by Bull, Gibbons and Sweelinck, five Gagliards similar to the Neapolitan examples, Aria detta la Frescobalda with five Parte, including a Gagliarda and a concluding Corrente, probably the first example of a composer publishing variations on a tune which he himself had composed, six Corrente including one which is a broken chord version of the preceding dance, and to conclude the (15) Partite sopra Ciaccona and the (32) Partite sopra Passacagli, which are the earliest published keyboard examples of these two genres.

Great care has been taken to preserve the original beaming and alignments. The short introduction gives a brief biographical outline of Frescobaldi’s life at the time of this volume’s publication (and also of his collection of 31 motets), a commentary on the music and notation employed and on instruments and tuning – it is noteworthy that the note ab makes its first appearance in this volume, indeed, in Toccatas IX and XI it appears alongside G#, suggesting that an instrument with split keys would be the best option for performance. On the contrary, d# appears only once, and then at a cadence. Frescobaldi’s preface is included as the first page of the main text. There is a most helpful table of Frescobaldi’s use of triple time in this volume including the many metrical indications employed. There is a list of sources, and editions and reprints of the volume including their location, and an extensive critical commentary, which every player should read thoroughly; particularly interesting are the many variants found in the Turin tablatures, which contain the bulk of the contents of this volume, including added ties and varied application of accidentals. The editorial policy is as in the previously published volumes of the Ricercars and the Primo Libro de Toccate, the small letter “s” beneath the stave indicates that there is a new system in the source. Small print accidentals indicate that the editor considers that the note should be flattened or sharpened according to musica ficta, and an “x” indicates those notes where the editor feels that the performer must decide for him or herself whether to add an accidental (there are, of course, other places which may admit such inflections) and an asterisk indicates probable errors in the original, amply discussed in the critical commentary. There are several pages of facsimiles which are also well worth studying.

Two appendices list firstly those engraving errors and corrections made before the first edition of 1627 and later ones from the second edition of 1637, followed by an exhaustive list of handwritten or engraved corrections found in copies of the first edition; the second appendix lists errors that remained uncorrected, may of which are obvious errors still present in the original which have been corrected for this modern edition – Stembridge adds that some may not in fact actually be errors and in these instances the player is referred to the critical commentary. This careful scrutiny should act as a prompt to today’s player to be ever critical of the source, however beautifully it may be engraved.

It is a pity that many of the problems of performance such as ornamentation and the suggestions for playing the carefully notated trills are discussed only in the preface to volume I part 1, where they are dealt with comprehensively – we must hope that players will have bought this already, since this should be compulsory reading, especially for the newcomer to these pieces, prior to playing the music, and also the importance of the Ricercars cannot be over-emphasised. The quality of printing is excellent, and the very careful layout ensures that pageturns are manageable by the player him or herself. As I wrote in my review to the first two volumes (The Diapason, May 2011), 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, and 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. Christopher Stembridge is to be congratulated for his sterling work in making this seminal publication available in an accurate modern edition and we should be deeply grateful to him and his team for the work that has gone into the comprehensive critical commentaries and appendices, and also to Bärenreiter for having the vision to embrace and carry out this project.

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© John Collins 2015