John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Giovanni Paisiello Capriccio (Favourite Sonata) n D minor.

Title:Capriccio (Favourite Sonata) n D minor.

Editor:Adriano Cirillo

Publisher:Edition HH. HH267.sol Bicester 2010

Reviewed by John Collins

Paisiello (1740-1816) is probably better known today, like many 18th century Italian composers, for his operas, but he left a substantial quantity of keyboard pieces in MSS, very few of which have been made available in modern editions. Taken from a collection of rondos and capriccios compiled during his stay in St. Petersburg for his pupil, the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorvna. This particular piece was published in London in ca. 1798 by Harrison , Cluse & Co who entitled it “a favourite Sonata”, this print being used as the basis for the modern edition.

Covering 16 pages, this piece is divided into several loosely defined sections marked by tempo changes; it opens with a poco adagio, the theme D-F-A-B♭ C♯ , particularly the falling diminished seventh at the end, being taken as a very general focal point throughout, frequently with the missing intervals inserted. Further sections are headed allegro (in F, closing in the dominant) poco andante in D♭, poco allegro that opens in B♭ minor, poco lento in G minor that leads into a poco adagio; the piece concludes with a lengthy allegro vivace that opens in Bb with the material from the earlier allegro that soon degenerates into much arpeggiation over stock basses or semi-breve or minim chords. Towards the end a lh quaver figure that ends with an augmented second is heard persistently, this leading to more arpeggiation and a close of dominant and tonic chords punctuated by rests.

The texture is predominantly two-part or three-part with the occasional four parts in chordal passages, including the syncopated crotchet writing. Most of the piece consists of lengthy passages of Alberti or murky basses in semiquavers beneath winding semiquaver figures or more arpeggiation or in the rh – there are even passages of arpeggiated chords in contrary motion. The slow movement that opens abruptly in D♭ does offer a few bars of more lyrical writing that is quickly subsumed into semiquaver figuration; the slow movements do have something of the recitative about them in places. The relatively few dynamic markings imply a far greater suitability to the by then dominant piano forte, or even the clavichord. Much of this extensive use of such oscillating murky basses, which give the piece such a motoric forward impetus at the expense of the lyrical melodic lines found in other Italian keyboard and opera composers such as Rutini and Cimarosa can be found in keyboard works by his Neapolitan precursor Giacomo Selitto; his use of the minor second in written out trills reminds us of the Venetian Picchi some 150 years earlier.

The print is clear and, even with up to seven systems a page, easily readable. There is nothing to trouble a good sight-reader (not even the seventh-chords arpeggios which sweep through four octaves requiring alternating hands) and the end result sounds most impressive – it is great fun to play! Perhaps Signor Cirillo would like to offer further examples of Paisiello’s sonatas in the future, particularly those in the more traditional form – in the meantime thanks to him for bringing us this piece and particularly to Per Hartmann for being enterprising enough to publish it.

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© John Collins 2013