John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Ferdinand de Medici (?) IV Suite per clavicembalo.

Title:IV Suite per clavicembalo. Zehn Suiten.

Editor:Jörg Jacobi

Publisher:Edition Baroque eba 4011

Reviewed by John Collins

These four suites, now preserved in Florence, were published in facsimile in 1987, the MS carrying the ascription Frescobaldi, which can be completely discounted. De Medici was a prince of Tuscany and great friend and patron of many of the greatest Italian composers of the time, including the Scarlattis, Pasquini and Casini. It has been suggested by Silbiger that he himself may well have been the composer of these curious pieces which were originally in his library. They comprise a total of 15 pieces, each with its own title, arranged by key, (A major, A minor, G minor and D minor); the editor has chosen to publish these groups as four suites. Each group opens with a prelude, the first one is marked Cantabile con ligature (tied notes) and opens with two bars of thick chords, before short rhythmic figures are passed between the hands. The ligature occur in the RH in eight chords only over semiquavers in the middle of the piece. The second prelude is headed di Botte, Acciachatture e Ligature and again contains many eight-note chords with dissonant passing notes; there are actually very few acciachatture. The third prelude is a short piece which after a chordal opening moves gently in quavers, and the fourth is a Cantabile con Ligature, which resembles an early 17th century Durezze in its opening, (ie a piece with dissonances prepared and unpreprared, frequently composed for use at the Elevation of the Host in the Communion service) forming before quaver movement carries on sequentially to the close. Each grouping contains an aria alla Francese, short, tuneful pieces in binary form which are unmistakably Italianate. There are two arias in each of the first and second groups, in the latter the first aria includes acciachatture and the second one a bar in 5/4. The aria in the fourth group is rather more quirky with several acciachatture and a big quaver leap in the LH from a chord based on tenor F to bass F and back again. There are two toccatas, in the second group the example comes between the two arias, and begins with semibreve chords before developing into those restless figures typical of the early 17th century from Trabaci and Mayone onwards, and dotted rhythms. In the third group the toccata commences with RH figuration over a long held chord, this idea passing from hand to hand in the middle of the piece in Frescobaldian style before a conclusion in crotchet and quaver chords, the suspensions adding harmonic interest. The one genuine dance movement in all of the pieces is the allemande in the third set, which proceeds mainly in quavers or dotted crotchet-quavers. It is quite unlike French or German models, and is far closer to some by Bernardo Pasquini.

The longest pieces in the collection, and by far the most interesting are the two Passagagli, the first one in the first group being marked Pastorali , the significance of which is unclear, there being no obvious connection with the traditional Pastorale movements as found in, for example, the multisectional Passacagli in D by Bernardo Storace, the second one, in the third group has no further heading. A French influence, rather than that of the earlier Italian Passagagli by Frescobaldi, or the later ones by Storace and Pasquini, is strongly evident here. Both open with thick chords, those in the first one being in even crotchets whilst in the second one, which commences on the second beat, the opening rhythm is crotchet, dotted crotchet, quaver. After the opening the first one proceeds with sequential figures, which contrasts by being in only two or three p[arts for most of the time, moving towards figuration over longer LH note values before further sequential writing leads to a recapitulation of the chordal opening. Careful fingering will be needed to carry off the highly dissonant suspensions of major and minor ninths in the bass at the close of the first section. The second one is built on a more continuous application of a dactylic rhythm, with interjections of the chordal opening until it closes this most majectic piece, highly reminiscent of the chaconnes or passacailles of Louis Couperin and Jean-Nicholas Geoffroy. Both pieces contain liberal acchiaccature that add further spice to the dissonant accented passing notes.

The edition is again clearly printed with the introduction offering useful and interesting information on the music and its provenance being in German only. These pieces most certainly deserve to be treated as more than curiosities and to be brought into the concert repertoire. Jacobi deserves our thanks for making them available in a highly recommended edition.

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© John Collins 2013