John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Pau Marsal, Vicent Rodríguez, Josep Elies.

Title:Pau Marsal: Set Sonatesno Forte of Handel’s Six Concerti Grossi op. 3.
EditorLluís Rodríguez Silva
Publisher:Tritó Barcelona
Price:18.20 Euros

Title:Pau Marsal: Variacions, Rondós I Minuets
EditorLluís Rodríguez Silva
Publisher:Tritó Barcelona
Price:20.80 Euros

Title:Vicent Rodríguez: Obres per a orgue
EditorAgueda Pedrero-Encabo
Publisher:Tritó Barcelona and the Institut Valencià de la Musica
Price:30.68 Euros

Title:Josep Elies: 24 Obres per a orgue
EditorAgueda Pedrero-Encabo
Publisher:Tritó Barcelona
Price:30.68 Euros

Reviewed by John Collins

The little-known Catalan composer Pau Marsal (1761-1839) received his training at the monastery of Montserrat and then took up posts in Terrassa, Palenca, Ibiza and Barcelona. His preserved compositions are remarkably few, comprising 10 pieces comprising seven sonatas, two rondos and a set of variations copied into one MS (almost certainly not autograph given the number of errors it contains) and seven minuets found in another MS that also includes further minuets by Benet Brell i Clos. Whilst these are clearly more suited to the harpsichord or piano forte, the MS that includes the sonatas, rondos and variations is actually marked “per orgue”. The sonatas are all in one binary-form movement averaging about 150 bars, no. 2, the only andante, at 98 bars is the shortest while no. 3, marked espiritu, weighs in at some 218 bars. The Andante with four variations is one of the few contributions in this genre by a Catalan composer, its theme having similarities to the theme employed by Soler in his sonata R58. Each variation exploits a particular texture and the work is rounded off by a repetition of the theme. The two rondos open with a slow introduction in the minor before launching into tuneful themes; in the first rondo this is in triple time, in the second it is in 6/8, its playful nature reminiscent of the pastoril, popular with other Catalan composers such as Mestres and Mariner. Passages in minims and crotchets in octaves for each hand are of a frequent occurrence. The texture in all of the pieces is nicely varied with murky and Alberti basses, rapid repeated single notes and thick chords, all found in compositions for organ by other Spanish composers of the early 19th century. The rondos in particular exude a Haydnesque charm and deserve reviving today. The edition is clearly printed, with an informative preface also in English, but given that the rondos and variations would have added only another 30 or so pages I do wonder whether Tritó could have included all of the ten pieces in the one volume and left the minuets for a further volume that also included those by Brell, particularly since the Elies edition covers almost 250 pages. However, Tritó certainly deserve our thanks for making these pieces available in a well-produced modern edition.

Vicente Rodríguez, successor to Cabanilles at Valencia cathedral (and without the rigorous examination or oposición), has enjoyed a greater awareness in recent years through new editions of his collection of 30 sonatas and a pastorella for harpsichord. In addition, he left a small number of works in two MSS now in the Biblioteca de Catalunya, Barcelona that by their genre or function are specifically intended for organ, a few of which have been made available in modern editions; this publication contains seven pieces attributed to him and three more that are anonymous in the source MS but may well be by him. Not included are the Pange Lingua settings, a few of which are already available, and the two Salmodias or collections of versos.

Of the ten pieces include here, only two are not entitled Tocata and only the Fantasía de 8 Tono is intended to be played as a lleno, ie with the same stops in both left hand and right hand. This very rare occurrence of this title in a keyboard work after the 16th century opens with ten bars marked grave, followed by sequential scale passages alternating with slower passages in which a motif-like figure is developed. Although not headed as such, the Tocata de 4 Tono is playable with divided registers, and is in two clearly marked sections, the second being split inot two, finishing with a 12/8 section. This and the Tocata de mano derecha, also in two parts, the second being in 6/4 –3/2, show most clearly the continuation of the style cultivated by Cabanilles. The other pieces attributed to Rodríguez include a Partido de mano izquierda, the second part of which degenerates rapidly into lengthy sequential application of a triadic figure before a chromatic section, the piece concluding with murky basses and oscillations of the tonic with other scale tones in the lh. Two Tocatas are headed de clarines and have brilliant writing for the RH, the second one, subtitled de batalla, is in four movements and also includes passages for the pedals (contras). It opens with a grave leading to an Ayroso with scale passages, arpeggios and repeated notes over the contras. The second movement is a 12/8 in two voices, headed Fuga, followed by a minuet and a closing movement for both hands on the clarines in the treble of the keyboard over the contras. A most interesting piece is the arrangement of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso op 6 no. 1, here entitled Tocata a la italiana con clarines, regrettably incomplete since the MS breaks of before the end of the third movement. Again the contras are indicated. The three tentatively attributed pieces include two which another editor has attributed to Pere Rabassa, the first being a Tocata de mano derecha de 8 Tono in four movements concluding with a minuet. The first and third are in 6/8 with semiquaver figuration and hemiolas, the second is an Italian gigue in 12/8 in equal quavers throughout. The second Tocata is for the Clarín with ecos and contraecos; it is in three movements, opening in C, followed by a 12/8 with emphasis on crotchet-quaver and concluding with a minuet of some 60 bars. The final anonymous Tocata is another Italianate work in four movements, unheaded but slow - Allegro- Largo – Allegro. Written in two voices throughout it is clearly based on the sonata da camera by Corelli. Although several of the pieces suffer from an over-insistence on dotted rhythms in the opening sections, they are well worth reviving and do not pose the formidable technical problems of his harpsichord sonatas.

There is a comprehensive introduction in English which discusses the sources in detail as well as providing a background to each work stylistically. It is very much to be hoped that the versos will be made available in the future since some of them apparently contain some striking chromatic writing.

Josep Elies (perhaps better known to us as José Elías) ca 1687-1755 was a contemporary of Vicente Rodríguez and also a pupil of the great Cabanilles, some 300 of whose pieces he is said to have learned. Soler stated that he studied Elies’ works and Elies was also held in high regard by Albero, Nebra, Oxinagas amongst others as witness their comments on his Obras entre el antiguo y moderno estilo. His output is quite large, and although an obras completas was commenced in 1971, it ran to only two volumes each in two parts, the first volume consisting of the Obras entre el antiguo y moderno estilo (twelve pieces between the old and new styles), and the second of selected versos (raising the question of when is an obras completas not actually complete!). Although a few other pieces have been included in anthologies since then, there are still many large-scale pieces by Elis that await a critical modern edition. This substantial new publication of some 250 pages contains 24 further examples of his writing comprising 12 Piezas and 12 Tocatas conserved in a MS at Montserrat; a complete copy of this MS is in the archive of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela., and a number of Piezas and a few Tocatas have also been preserved in various MSS. The date of composition cannot be verified but it has been surmised that they date from ca 1725, making them the earliest examples of this style in Spain, and were probably the 24 pieces studies by Soler at the age of 13 or 14.

The Piezas, are in two movements except for no. 11 which is headed en forma de concierto and is in three, the first being a lengthy vivo, the second being in five short repeated sections and the third a short fugal vivo.. No. 9 is headed en forma de pastorela, no. 10 en forma de aria and no. 12 en forma de clarines. The form of the remaining Piezas approximates to prelude and fugue, each is headed Registro ygual, and no. 8 clearly requires the pedals for the long held notes in the bass. Length ranges from 19 bars in no. 2 to 71 in no. 1, and apart from no. 9-10 which are andante throughout, they contain alternating sections marked vivo and largo or andante. The second movement is headed either vivo or muy vivo, and commences fugally but the initially strict writing soon dissolves into sequential writing that sometimes becomes endlessly repetitive – less would most certainly have been more in some cases – and some conclude with hammering octaves in the lh beneath minim chords. Length ranges from 100 bars in no. 5 to 395 in no. 9 with the ternary form no. 10 running to some 542 bars. Many of the second movements commence with archaic subjects in minims and crotchets, but no. 2 contains a much more varied rhythmic scheme with semiquaver triplets and dotted quavers and no. 8 contains demisemiquaver scalar passages in the subject. The influence of the fugal writing may be seen in the intentos that close Soler’s sonatas 63-8 and even more so in his intentos in D minor and C minor.

The Tocatas are likewise in two movements and are headed partido ie for a solo tone colour in the RH, which also applies to the second movement apart from no. 6 which is headed ygual. The first movement is always through-composed and the second in binary form apart from no. 10 which is in ternary form, probably deliberately to match Pieza 10; the first movements are in two parts with the exception of no. 11 which has chordal writing in the LH, and the second movements are also in two parts, apart from no. 8 which has two-part writing in the RH in the second section, and no, 12 which has two-part writing in the RH throughout, indeed, this movement bears a remarkable resemblance to the English movement for trumpet and echo, also matching the heading clarines giving to Pieza 12. The Tocatas are much shorter, with the first movement consisting of from 15 to 74 bars, and the second movement from 33 in no. 4 to 469 in no. 10, the average being ca 150 bars. Those in minor keys exhibit some wildly chromatic progressions. No. 9, although not headed specifically, is in the form of the pastoril, and no. 10 in the form of an aria; although Tocatas no. 9, 10 and 12 have the same formal characteristics of the corresponding Piezas, there is no indication that the two genres were conceived as pairs to be played together.

The Tocatas are less demanding than the Piezas, but a secure technique is demanded from every movement in this volume. These exciting works will bring a great reward not only to the player who perseveres with them but also to the audience or congregation of today. This excellent edition (in landscape format) includes a wealth of information in English on the composer, on organs of his day, sources and a full critical commentary; it is very much to be hoped that Tritó may be able to bring out more of the obras of this composer that are languishing in archives and libraries throughout Spain so that we can begin to evaluate the contribution to Spanish organ literature made by the disciples of the great Cabanilles. This volume represents the geratest value for the outlay.

Overall Tritó have done us a great service by encouraging Spanish musicologists to produce these volumes; the Iberian keyboard repertoire (beyond the household names of Scarlatti, Soler (although his non-sonata intentos are hardly known) and, to a lesser extent, Albero) remains one of the least played and studied in the UK, but now one reason advanced in the past, that the printed editions were very difficult to obtain, is no longer valid given the ease of ordering via the internet, and there are many ways one can approximate the registrational concepts of the Iberian composers on British instruments without divided registers. The printing in all of these volumes is very clear and the introductory material is generally well translated. They are highly recommended for those who may wish to explore beyond the perceived comfort zone.

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© John Collins 2013