John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Composizioni inedited dall’intavolatura d’organo tedesca di Torino .

Title:Composizioni inedited dall’intavolatura d’organo tedesca di Torino .

Editor:Candida Felici

Publisher:Arnaldo Forni Editore

Reviewed by John Collins

The wealth of material contained in the 16 volumes of the German keyboard tablatures preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria of Turin has been known for many years, but many of the pieces it contains, particularly those that are anonymous, still await a modern critical edition. In this volume of some 150 pages Candida Felici presents no fewer than 37 pieces (including two in variant forms) that can be categorised as either free-form ie preambulum/toccata, represented with 13 pieces, or entirely contrapuntal ie ricercar (represented with 20 pieces), two fugas and two fantasias (one by Carl van der Hoeven is a variant of a ricercar).

Several of the praembula require the pedals, and they can also be used to good effect in the ricercars at cadences and in the bass entries of the subject in long note values. One interesting aspect of the MSS is the separation of the fugal sections from within many of the toccatas, these being copied into the MSS volumes containing the ricercars as an independent composition. The freeform pieces tend to open with block chords before quickly dissolving into virtuoso passagework, mainly scalar, passed from hand to hand against semibreves or minims, although in no. 7 the passagework combines scalar and leaps against quavers in lh tenor and bass. The contrapuntal pieces include quite a range of ornamental figuration as well as long passages in crotchets and minims.

Named composers included in this publication include Valentin Trexell with an introitus which contains loosely imitative writing based on a descending scale as well as fragmentary motifs, Johann Staden with four toccatas of which the final one is the most interesting with its greater rhythmic variety including quaver triplets, Carl van der Hoeven with four ricercars, far closer to toccatas, all of which contain frequent division passages which sometimes combine leaps and scalar runs, especially the fourth, and exert serious demands on the performer, and Giulio Radino, the intabulations of whose four lengthy ricercars carry some ornamentation but which is generally more restrained. The ricercars in this volume vary in length from a modest 40 or so double bars to 160, also varied is the amount of written ornamentation, in addition to cadential formulae, which is based on the Venetian models by Andrea Gabrieli and Claudio Merulo. Far more was clearly intended to be added in performance, a good template being the highly embellished settings in the MS of the printed volume of ricercars by Aurelio Bonelli, which are also available in a modern edition. No. 18 contains the descending chromatic tetrachord as part of its subject, many of the others are based on abstract vocalistic themes. No. 34 is a fantasia on la sol fa re mi, a very popular “obligo” or theme with composers of the Renaissance and early Baroque (including Segni, Merulo and Frescobaldi, who wrote a capriccio on it). Whilst crossed parts occur in several pieces, there are only a few bars such as in no. 34 which call for mental gymnastics.

This landscape volume is very clearly printed on good quality paper and there is no problem in the pages staying open on the musicdesk. The extensive introduction in both English and Italian contains information about the manuscript volumes, the notation, the copyist, the contents and information about the named composers whose works have been included in this volume and some speculation about the possible identity of some of the pieces. There is also a bibliography of books, articles and modern editions not only of the pieces included here but also of other editions by composers whose works are to be found in the MSS, but not necessarily in this edition. There is a full critical commentary. The player will need to be alert to the potential for adding or subtracting accidentals, and to providing workable solutions to instances where large stretches demand them. This volume does much to increase our knowledge of a little-known repertoire (despite critical modern editions very few players seem to be aware of the extensive keyboard works of Christian Erbach and Hans Leo Hassler) and some of the pieces will tax even a player who is well-versed in this area. There is much pleasure to be derived from playing through these pieces, which make such a welcome addition to our knowledge of the 17th century Italian and south German school; some of them fully deserve to take their place in recitals as well as voluntaries.

Back to Reviews

© John Collins 2013