MP3 Yonit Lea Kosovske - Keyboard Music of Girolamo Frescobaldi
Girolamo Frescobaldi’s pieces for solo keyboard represent aspects of his unique and powerful musical language, one which is distinctly his own mother tongue.
42 MP3 Songs in this album (69:31) !
Related styles: Classical: Keyboard Music, Classical: Early Music, Instrumental
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Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643) is considered one of the founding fathers of solo Italian keyboard music. By the age of 14, he was somewhat of a child prodigy and was listed in 1597 as organist of the Ferrarese Accademia della Morte as successor to Ercole Pasquini. His teacher was the famous Luzzasco Luzzaschi, then ducal organist and composer under Alfonso II d’Este. By age 25, Frescobaldi embarked on what was to be a lifetime career in Rome when he was appointed organist at St. Peter’s Basilica. Thousands of people were reported to have witnessed his first performance.
Like many musicians today, Frescobaldi often held several jobs at once: freelancing in Rome and teaching harpsichord and organ to many students, most notably to the family members of Enzo Bentivoglio, the noble household in which he was in service. In 1613, Bentivoglio said “Sr. Girolamo came here, but now he does not come here at all … the poor man is half crazy as it seems to me.” Between 1610–13 Frescobaldi entered into the service of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini. Aside from a brief visit back to Mantua, he remained there until his move to Florence (1628–34), where he was employed at the Medici court as one of its most highly paid musicians. He returned to Rome in 1634 under the patronage of Pope Urban VIII and remained there until his death in 1643.
Throughout his life, Frescobaldi enjoyed sophisticated patronage and was praised by well-known musicians and theorists, such as Adriano Banchieri and Marin Mersenne, among others. As a continuo player, he played with the famous castrati Loreto Vittori and Marc Antonio Pasqualini, and he performed in the Lenten services at the Oratorio del Crocifisso.
His musical output showed an overwhelmingly large focus on keyboard music. He achieved a reputation not only for his compositional talents but also for his brilliant improvisatory skills, virtuoso playing, contrapuntal mastery, and general inventiveness.
Frescobaldi was both influenced by and influential upon the seconda pratica, known chiefly for its renewal of ancient rhetoric and oratory through music. Composers of this “nuova maniera,” such as Claudio Monteverdi, Giulio Caccini, Jacopo Peri, and Sigismondo D’India, advocated the clear delivery of text through the use of declamatory rhythms, expressive dissonances, startling chromatic lines, and shocking contrasts of rhythm and harmony. Frescobaldi’s keyboard works exemplify this vocal practice. In particular, we see this type of prosaic freedom in his toccatas. In many ways, they reveal a musical narrative without a text, a kind of instrumental recitative. He compared the performances of these pieces to a modern madrigal, playing “now languidly, now quickly, sustaining it according to feelings and words.” Plentiful are the dramatic mood changes, sudden cadential flourishes, and spicy harmonic surprises. From one measure to the next, he shifts from free
passagework to more rhythmical, imitative writing. In the foreword to Book I of his Toccata e partite d’intavolatura di cimbalo et organo, published in 1615 and later expanded in 1637, he tells us:
“Li cominciamenti delle toccate sieno fatte adagio, et arpeggiando è così nelle ligature o vero durezze, come anche nel mezzo del opera si batteranno insieme, per non lasciar voto l’istromento; il qual battimento ripiglierassi à beneplacito di chi suona.”
The beginnings of the toccatas should be played adagio and arpeggiated. The same applies to the suspensions [or held chords] or dissonances, which also in the middle of the piece are to be played together in order not to leave the instrument empty [i.e., not to let the sound die away]. Reiterating the notes may be repeated at the player’s discretion.
The term adasio (adagio) also appears in Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali (1635). The word suggests playing at ease and freely, in a more prose-like manner than in other more metrical sections. As he instructs the performer to be flexible with the tempos within the toccatas, he also advises the player to choose broad tempos for expressive passages and in runs, to play slowly and arpeggiated in the opening chords, and to pause at the ends of trills, runs, or when the mood deems appropriate. When playing sixteenth notes with both hands, he tells us to pause on the preceding note, even if it is a short note, and “then play the passage resolutely in order to show off the agility of the hands.” Above all, he remarks that one should use good taste and judgment.
More straightforward in form are Frescobaldi’s canzonas and capriccios. Although they are somewhat similar in their sectional structure and multiple meter changes, their origins differ. The baroque canzona was an instrumental piece of music derived from the vocal chanson, described by Michael Praetorius in his Syntagma
musicum (iii, p.19) as a series of short fugues for approximately four to eight parts (instruments). Many examples of the solo canzona were arrangements of polyphonic vocal works, including elaborated transcriptions of chansons, such as those by Andrea Gabrieli. Tarquinio Merulo was one of the first to write a canzona not based on vocal models but on other ensemble pieces. Vincenzo Pellegrini wrote canzonas for keyboard that were sectional with contrasting speeds and meters, although the sections were not always based on the same material. Ascanio Mayone and Giovanni Maria Trabaci were more influential upon motif-based canzonas, issuing the term “variation canzona.” Frescobaldi’s canzonas lean towards this variation technique.
Capriccios, like the canzona model, are lengthy compositions that are subdivided into contrasting sections, often juxtaposing passages in the fantastical style of the toccata with dance-like rhythms in major keys. From Frescobaldi’s own advice preceding the Capricci, we learn that, “One must commence with the beginnings
slowly in order to give great spirit and beauty to the following passages, and, in the cadences, sustain them before the next passage begins; in triple and sesquialtera meters, if in a major key, they should be played adagio, and, if in minor, more quickly; if there are three quarter-notes, play them even quicker yet; if there are six quarter-notes, they must be given their time by walking the beat rapidly. At certain dissonances, one should stay there and play the chord as an arpeggio so they will be more spirited than the next passage. I say this modestly, for I place myself before the good judgment of scholars.” Certain Capricci make use of popular melodies known throughout Italy, such as Bassa Fiamenga and Spagnoletta. Praetorius called the keyboard capriccio a “phantasia subitanea” (“a sudden whim”). He writes, “One takes a subject but deserts it for another whenever it comes into his mind to do so. One can add, take away, digress, turn, and direct the music as one wishes, but while one is not strictly bound by the rules, one ought not go too much out of the mode.” These comments are descriptive of Frescobaldi’s toccatas as well. In 1624, Frescobaldi said about his own capricci, “In those passages which do not seem to conform to the rules of counterpoint, the player should seek out the affect and the composer’s intentions.”
Frescobaldi’s partitas are essays in the art of variations upon popular ground bass or melodic and harmonic patterns, such as Monicha, Ruggiero, Romanesca, and the Chaconne and Passacaglia. Monicha (also monica or monaca) was a popular Italian song from the early 1600s. The opening line laments a young girl forced to become a nun, hence the minor mode and sad quality of the tune. Frescobaldi composed two sets of variations on this theme: Partite sopra l’Aria di Monicha (6 variations in 1615 and 11 in 1637, including some from the earlier set) and a Messa [to be performed during mass] sopra l’Aria della Monica.
The Ruggiero, like the Romanesca, was used for dances, instrumental variations, and for singing Italian poetry, especially those with rhyme schemes in ottava rima, a favorite form for epic poetic verse. The Ruggiero was transmitted orally, so its precise history is unknown. We know we have an early source of the name in Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (‘Ruggier, qual sempre fui, tal esser voglio’, xliv. 61). The tune appears in Diego Ortiz’s 1553 Tratado de glosas (Treatise on Ornamentation) as a tune for viol variations. Accompanying numerous instrumental settings, it is almost always in major, usually in G, and in a duple meter with a harmonic outline I-V-V-I. There are numerous variants of melody; only the bass line has survived in a relatively stable form.
The Romanesca is a descending descant formula with a supporting chordal progression moving in fourths. Its origin is also unknown. The term appears in 1546 in Alonso Muddara’s Tres libros de música en cifra para vihuela (‘Romanesca, o Guárdame las vacas’). A set of Romanesca variations (without the name “romanesca”) appears in Narváez’s Los seys libros del Delphin of 1538. The tune was a first line of a popular villancico in Spain, known as “Guárdame las vacas.” Francisco de Salinas said the differences in Italian and Spanish romanescas were in meter and name only. In Spain, it was called “Las vacas”; in Italy, stanzas with this melody were called “romaneschae.” It is unclear as to which came first, the descant tune or the ostinato bass.
One of Frescobaldi’s crowning achievements is his Cento Partite sopra Passacagli. It is both a newly composed piece as well as a pastiche of early compositions formed into a whole. It is a lengthy but engaging musical exposition on the relationship of the passacaglia and chaconne, both of which are ground bass patterns that are usually in four-bar phrases in triple meters with occasional shifts to duple time. Here we find a plethora of variations on the passacaglia and chaconne, along with numerous and often confusing shifts of meter mixed with frequent changes of mode and character. His time signatures are bountiful and specific, and yet he gives the performer artistic freedom: at the top of the page he tells us, “Li Passacagli si potranno separatamente sonare, conforme à chi più piacerà con agiustare il tempo dell’una è altra parte cossì delle Ciaccone.” (“The Passacaglia can be played separately, as one prefers, with the adjustment of tempo of one part and another, so with the Chaconne.”) Full of harmonic variety, the piece begins in D minor and ends in E major (hardly symmetric and not key-related). Throughout the piece, various enharmonic notes (E-flat/D-sharp, A-flat/G-sharp, etc.) occur and sound shockingly dissonant in a quarter comma meantone temperament, particularly in chromatic passages.
These contrasts—consonant vs. dissonant chords, pure vs. strident chords, sudden character changes, prose vs. metered poetry, meter changes—all these, and more, are imbedded in Frescobaldi’s diverse musical language. These musical gestures were revolutionary in the seventeenth century and continue to inspire the modern listener.
ABOUT YONIT LEA KOSOVSKE
Capturing audiences with her virtuosity and poetic style, Dr. Yonit Lea Kosovske has performed as a soloist and chamber artist in major cities throughout the United States, Israel, Hong Kong, Spain, South America, and China. With degrees in both modern and historical keyboard instruments, she is equally at home with repertory from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Her performances have been broadcast on radio stations across the United States and featured on programs such as National Public Radio’s Performance Today and Harmonia. She has given concerts at the early music festivals in Boston, Berkeley, Bloomington, and Chicago, in addition to other music series throughout the United States. In high demand as a collaborative artist, she freelances as a studio accompanist, tours as a frequent guest artist with Lipzodes and ¡Sacabuche!, and is a founding member of various ensembles, including Resonata, Cross Relations, Duo Colombina, and Cantico Romantico. She holds a Doctor of Music degree in Early Music from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where she studied with Elisabeth Wright. She is in the process of publishing her doctoral dissertation,“La douceur du toucher: a Historical Guidebook on Harpsichord Technique for Per formers and Pedagogues.”