John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Gabriel Menalt: Obra completa and Francesc Espelt: Versos de Missa per a orgue

Title: Gabriel Menalt: Obra completa and Francesc Espelt: Versos de Missa per a orgue

Editor: Bernat Cabré

Publisher: Tritó Barcelona 22.00and 20.70 euros respectively

Reviewed by John Collins

These volumes contain pieces by two of the less well-known Catalan composers from late 17th century Barcelona, both of whose works survive only in two MSS written in open score, now in the Biblioteca Nacional de Catalunya in Barcelona. The shortlived Gabriel Menalt (1657-87) was organist at Santa Maria del Mar, and his extant works comprise five Tientos, two sets of Versos, two settings of the Pange Lingua and four of the Sacris Solemnis,although the two concluding pieces are almost identical. The Tientos offer examples of the four main kinds of the genre. The first one is for the same stops throughout the organ and is imitative, with plenty of passagework in different rhythms and the second section is in triple time. The second Tiento is an example of the Falsas, the slow-moving dissonant pieces played during the Elevation of the Host, this one being loosely imitative. The third and fourth Tientos are Gaitillas de mà esquerra ie the solo voice is in the left hand. Both are loosely imitative and contain some virtuoso writing for the left hand with both conjunct passagework and leaps. The first one concludes with a triple-time section, the second contains a triple time section as the central section before a return to C time. Interestingly, both were conceived for a two-manual organ since the writing exceeds middle C, which is where the registers divided on most Iberian organs. The final Tiento is partit de mà dreta ie the right hand carries the solo, which contains more virtuoso passagework. The piece concludes with a triple time section in which before long the minims are further divided into three crotchets; care must to be taken to maintain the proportional tempi in these sections. The rhythmic grouping of 3+2+3 quavers, so popular with Aguilera and Bruna, amongst others, makes a brief appearance in the third Tiento.

The Versos de Salmòdia comprise five pieces on each of the eight Tones (although the “keys” used do not all correspond to those which are commonly found in these collections). Of about 20 bars or so each, they are written in a variety of styles, from imitative to homophonic including the chant, and all require the same stops throughout the compass of the keyboard; each Verso has the option of a conclusion about half way through. A few are imitative but most are based on short rhythmic motifs against the chant in long notes. Apart from the second Verso on the fifth Tone, which is a rare example of the second half changing from C time to 3/2, and the fourth Verso on the sixth Tone, which is in 94, the Versos are all in C time. The second collection of Versos are headed partits de mà dreta and comprise one on each Tone with the right hand carrying a melismatic solo, these Versos being more extended than the preceding set. Apart from the Verso on the fourth Tone which changes from C time to 3/2 (with crochet triplets) all are in C time. Both of the Pange Lingua settings are in three voices, the first is headed mà dreta, the second for dos baixos ie two voices in the left hand (the right hand carries the one-voice solo); this piece is the only one that is not playable on organs which do not possess divided registers since the upper of the intervals is frequently a tenth above the lower, which can be taken easily with the right hand. The first is in 9/4, the second in 3/1.The four Sacris Solemnis settings are also each in three voices; each is in 3/1, with the first two subdivided into triplets; they are headed respectively glossat, a dos tiples, a dos baixos and a tres, the chant appearing in the tenor, bass, treble and treble. Because of large stretches it will be difficult to play them with the parts divided where indicated; some adjustments will be required.

Francesc Espelt was interim organist at Santa Maria del Mar at the death of Menalt, but he was unsuccessful in gaining the post, and then worked in Figueres, Barcelona aand Manresa until his death in 1712. His extant organ works, found in the same two MSS as Menalt’s, are all settings of either hymns or Versos, comprising in total eight groups of pieces. This volume includes groups 4-8, a series of organ Versos for the Mass; each group comprises five Versos for the Kyrie, nine for the Gloria and three each for the Sanctus and Agnus. The first item is the Missa doble major on the 5th Tone; Verso eight of the Gloria is marked Flautat ie for the flautados, the diapason tone registers. The second group is the Missa de Nostra Senyora, with the Versos for the Kyrie in the 1st Tone, for the Gloria in the 1st Tone perDelsolre ie with the major third (the sixth Verso is missing and the eighth Verso is marked Partit de mà dreta ie the solo voice is in the treble above middle C, the layout here may be confusing to players not used to this Iberian style), the Sanctus is in the 5th Tone and the Agnus on the 6th, its final Verso contains the 3+2+3 note grouping. The third group is the Missa doble “per annum” with the Versos again being set for different Tones, the Kyrie on the 1st, Gloria on the 4 th with the opening Verso in 3/2 with dotted rhythm triplets, Sanctus and Agnus on the 6th. The fourth group is headed simply Missa, again on different tones like the preceding set; a folio is missing in the original resulting in the loss of the final two Versos of the Kyrie and the opening two Versos of the Gloria, which is on the 2nd Tone. The penultimate Verso of the Gloria is an extended setting partit de dos tiples ie the rh voices are to played using the solo stops. The final group is another Missa doble “per annum” on the same Tones as the third group; the 3rd verso on the Kyrie uses the same descending hexachord as Frescobaldi in his Capriccio, and the eighth verso of the Gloria is headed Flautat. Of relatively modest dimensions, rarely exceeding 12 bars, the majority of the Versos are imitative, although frequently the opening and closing ones of each group are homophonic and in some cases approach miniature toccatas; in some cases decisions must be made about the length of tied notes. These short pieces will prove useful in today’s Mass and are also ideal for use where short interludes are required in services.

There is a comprehensive introduction in English, which provides a brief look at the sources and the style of each piece, and a critical commentary is provided. It is very much to be hoped that the second volume of the versos by Espelt will be published in the future to provide further evidence of the late 17th century use of the organ during the Mass. The printing in both of these volumes is very clear and in a generous sized font, although this does at times lead to page turns in the middle of short versos. Original note values have been retained throughout; this means that the Pange Lingua and Sacris Solemnis settings by Menalt appear in 3/1 with strings of crotchets which may take a while to get used to (interestingly the rh triplets are shown as 9/4 in the first Pange Lingua but shown as minim triplets in 3/1 in the first Sacris Solemnis). In both composer’s works there are occasional difficulties with crossed parts, and passages where parts have to be passed seamlessly between the hands, which will require careful study. While both volumes are highly recommended, the Menalt will probably have a wider appeal through the greater variety of the compositions it contains.

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© John Collins 2015