Francesco Mancini is one of the many unjustly neglected composers whose output is painstakingly researched, studied, performed and recorded by praiseworthy musicians, who offer to their audience both a historical document and an artistically creative result.
Mancini was born in Naples on January 16th, 1672. His first musical education probably took place under the guidance of his paternal grandfather, Giuseppe; later, the child was taught organ performance at the Conservatory of the “Pietà dei Turchini”, where, upon completion of his studies, Francesco was employed as an organist.
Following his period there, Francesco obtained a place at the Royal Chapel, and soon began his compositional activity with some Cantatas, his first drama per musica (1696) and his first oratorio (1698). These genres were to become his favourites in the following years, and earned him fame and glory not only in his own Naples, but in many other important Italian cities. However, most of his operatic works were later conceived for the flourishing tradition of the Neapolitan theatres: about ten of them have been preserved and bear witness to the evolution in his musical style.
At his time, Naples was in the midst of political turmoil: at first under Spanish rule, it passed under Austrian domination in 1707. When this change was taking place, the master of the Royal Chapel, Alessandro Scarlatti, was on leave in Rome. With political shrewdness, Mancini demonstrated his staunch support for the Austrians, and was appointed Chapel master instead of Scarlatti. Understandably, Scarlatti was not flattered by this move, and, upon his return to Naples, he claimed and obtained his reinstatement. Nevertheless, Mancini maintained the salary he had requested as a Chapel master, along with the promise that he would succeed Scarlatti at his death.
The Austrian rule did not merely overturn the political balance of the city, but also opened its culture to new foreign influences; Mancini adapted, reworked and reinterpreted both libretti and already-written operas coming from the Viennese court. He did not disdain other provenances, however, and arranged an opera by Handel written for the Venetian theaters.
His operatic style is particularly touching in the pathetic pieces; he demonstrates care and skill in the instrumentation, as well as a keen feeling for the harmonic aspects; his recitatives are intense, expressive and diversified, and his arias show his progressive evolution in the direction of an increasing complexity of style and structure.
Along with his secular output, Mancini also wrote many sacred works, especially for the Neapolitan Confraternities, composing numerous liturgical pieces (such as Masses, Vespers and Te Deum) as well as motets, hymns, sequences and antiphons. His output was also rich in the instrumental and in the chamber music field, both instrumental and vocal (200 chamber cantatas), and his collection of Flute Sonatas recorded here was so admired and appreciated that its second edition would be prefaced by Geminiani. Similarly fascinating are his Sonatas for flute and strings, which demonstrate his contrapuntal skills and his interest in creating a dense and at the same time light texture of polyphony, whose complexity does not preclude their charm and amiability.
Mancini’s comparatively long career was abruptly terminated when, in 1735, he suffered apoplexy and remained paralyzed thereafter. Two years later, on September 22nd ,1737, he died in his Naples, where his career had flourished and whose musical culture owed so much to his talents and gifts.
Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
We present here a reinterpretation of Francesco Mancini’s Sonatas for flute or violin and continuo. Due to its specificity, this recording is unique within the (actually scarcely populated) discographic panorama dedicated to this composer, who was one of the most significant Neapolitan musicians of his generation.
We started from the indication on the London edition of these Sonatas – dedicated to John Fleetwood, the English General Consul to the Kingdom of Naples – which indicates them as “proper lessons for the harpsichord”. The habit of admitting, on the title-page, a possible adaptation for the keyboard of Sonatas for a solo instrument and continuo is certainly due to commercial astuteness, with the aim of increasing the number of potential buyers of the publication. However, this also reveals an attitude encouraging the reworking of these pieces on the basis of specific functions to which they may bend themselves, such as, for example, the purpose of highlighting the performer’s virtuoso skills. These pieces are therefore conceived as multifunctional musical objects. These Sonatas are destined first and foremost for an audience of advanced amateurs, such as Consul Fleetwood probably was. Mancini defines these dilettanti as “Amatori dell’Harmonia”, “lovers of harmony” in the collection’s dedication: they represented a large and commercially attractive public in London. At the same time, however, when these Sonatas are conveniently handled, they are also destined for the virtuosi. By intervening on the musical text with freedom and fantasy, within the boundaries of a well-defined language, music professionals would have transformed them into pieces suited for letting one’s bravura emerge, along with the composer’s creative invention.
Starting from these considerations, we oriented our interpretive interventions following some precise directions. Firstly, the flute part is enriched (particularly in the slow movements) by a florid Italianate ornamentation. This practice was generally inaccessible to the amateurs, for whom ornamentations were written in full in certain cases (but not in that of these Sonatas), particularly in the case of publications conceived for the London market. On the contrary, virtuosos were expected to ornament with skill, fantasy and abundance.
We decided to reserve some movements of this performance to the harpsichord alone, following the indication of the printed edition; we have reworked and adapted them to the instrument’s features with a certain freedom, without simply reproducing the printed text on the keyboard.
In all other movements we opted for a performance in which the harpsichord contributes with a realization of the continuo bass line whose elaboration makes it an obligato component of the composition, to the point that it occasionally appropriates the flute part. The result is that these pieces are transformed into true concertante Sonatas, following a stylistically consistent perspective, which aims at accompanying and showing the openness of Mancini’s language toward a more modern and galante style.
Actually, a precise and pertinent witness of this florid and concertante style of continuo realization is easily found in the examples given by Francesco Geminiani in his The Art of accompaniment (London, n.d.). The treatise’s examples and instructions all aim at overcoming the simple chordal realization of the continuo. Rather, a manner of playing is proposed which can give to the ear “the Pleasure of a continued and uninterrupted Melody”; this goal can be reached by deriving “diversified and agreeable singings” from the harmony.
This path would lead, within a few decades, to the partial abandonment of the sonata for a melodic instrument with continuo, in favour of the new Sonatas with concertante keyboard; here, the relationship between keyboard and melodic instrument is radically reconceived, up to a nearly complete overturning of the hierarchies.
This approach also led us to renounce the contribution of an instrument such as the cello or bassoon for supporting the bass line. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that, in the contemporaneous chamber sonatas, the joint performance of the bass was an exception rather than a rule. On the other, a rich and dialoguing realization of the continuo such as the one we chose makes the reinforcement of the bass line superfluous within the economy of an efficacious balance of the parts.
So-called Historically Informed Performance, in its most advanced ramifications, has since long and rightfully overcome the delusive and misleading concept of Werktreue. This is a useless tool within a context in which the work does not represent the motionless witness of the composer’s will, but rather a living organism capable of adapting to diverse circumstances and uses, and also a formidable instrument for stimulating the instrumentalist’s creativity and virtuosity. Within this perspective, our operation aims at replacing a sterile purpose of “authenticity” in the reproduction of a written text. We rather aim at a bold fidelity to a complex of living practices and musical cultures, marking a continuity and an almost affective bond linking generations of musicians so distant in time.
Album Notes by Maria de Martini
and Salvatore Carchiolo
Salvatore Carchiolo is an italian harpsichordist, continuo player and musicologist. He was born in Catania (Sicily). He is graduated at the “Sweelinck Conservatorium" in Amsterdam, where he studied under Bob van Asperen. He is graduated as well in literature and music history at the University of Catania and his activity covers also musicological research. He has collaborated and recorded with the most renowned italian early music ensembles and has performed in countless prestigious concert venues all over the world.
Salvatore Carchiolo is harpsichord professor in Catania Conservatory and has taught thoroughbass in the Conservatories of Verona, Trapani and Torino. He is active as well as a musicologist and is the author of the most comprehensive essay on italian continuo performance practice as Una perfezione d’armonia meravigliosa. Prassi cembalo-organistica del basso continuo italiano dalle origini all’inizio del Settecento published by LIM.
I was born on October 29th, 1965. My father, Mimmo, died just after I was born, bequeathing me an old MC on which he sang Brassens with his guitar and a deep, warm voice. My mother had nothing to envy to an actual opera singer, but she was terribly proud of her musical illiteracy. My grandmother Ida actually went to the Conservatory but devoted her life to the family. My Grandfather Franco escaped the Nazi concentration camps to the pace of Boogie Woogie... he improvised with two stiff hands that barely spanned the keyboard. On the long car journeys to Calabria, we all (managing not to throw up) sang loud songs of the Italian resistance, popular songs from all the regions of Italy, arias from Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, Traviata, Elisir d'amore, canons, roman stornelli... but back at home, I couldn't wait to put on the Inti Illimanos record and play El Condor Pasa with my plastic flute. I lived in a musically stimulating environment but without the pressures of a musicians' children, who have to make music at all costs, and that's why I'm musically omnivorous and playful.
At the age of twelve, Louisa di Segni, the progenitor of the Dalcroze method in Italy, saved me from traditional solfeggio, and Pedro Memelsdorff, a child at that time but a formidable flautist already, made me love the recorder and the Telemann’s duets. One day, playing with my sister Anna, I confessed... I played by ear! She reassured me and showed me a basic trick for the musical reading that I still jealously attended: she told me that in essence the music first rises and then goes down. Meanwhile, at the Italian Ancient Music Center, Sergio Siminowich gathered a real army of young talents. I sang in the choir and played in the orchestra with joy and pride as a real amateur. In a few years, I learned a significant part of the baroque repertoire. To satisfy the bureaucracy, I took a diploma at the Royal College of Music in London and another at the Conservatoire Populaire de Musique Ancienne in Geneva. The meeting with Alessandro de Marchi opened up new creative horizons, and together with other colleagues, we founded the “Teatro Armonico”, an ensemble with which we rigorously performed only unpublished scores.
I started to do some concerts, playing with the Academia Montis Regalis (L. Mangiocavallo, T. Koopman, C. Banchini, B. Kuijken, A. Bjlsma, S. Balestracci, J. Savall), Concerto Italiano - R. Alessandrini, Le Concert des Nations - J. Savall, Wiener Akademie - M. Haselbock, Il Complesso Barocco - A. Curtis, La Risonanza - F. Bonizzoni, Ars Antiqua Austria - G. Letzbor, Europa Galante - F. Biondi, L'Astrée, Musica Antiqua de Toulon, Il Teatro Armonico - A. De Marchi, La Cappella della Pietà dei Turchini - T. Florio, Accademia Bizantina - O. Dantone, I Sonatori della Giosiosa Marca - G. Fava, I Barocchisti - D. Fasolis, Modo Antiquo - F. M. Sardelli.
But a sudden and uncontrollable desire to attend the lower frequencies of the orchestra brought me closer to the baroque bassoon and then, an equal desire pushed me to explore his recent history, armed with the classical bassoon, then romantic, and I arrived at Beethoven and Rossini.
I participated in tours throughout Europe and South America at the main concert institutions and the most important ancient music festivals. I am also President of the Cultural Association “RACCONTARCANTANDO” with which I carry out concerts, theatrical and pedagogical activities, as a flautist, bassoonist and director of musical theatre for children.
I founded and run my own theatrical space in Rome, which is called “Prima”, for concerts, shows and initiatives out of the ordinary.
Now I teach recorder and ensemble for ancient instruments at the L'Aquila Conservatory and the baroque bassoon at the Latina Conservatory.
Francesco Mancini: (b Naples, 16 Jan 1672; d Naples, 22 Sept 1737). Italian composer. He entered the Conservatorio di S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini in 1688 as a student of organ, where he studied with Provenzale and Ursino; after six years he was employed as an organist. At the beginning of the 18th century he entered the service of the viceroy and in 1704 became the principal organist of the royal chapel. He was appointed maestro di cappella there in 1708 but by December of that year the post was returned to Alessandro Scarlatti and Mancini became his deputy (in 1718 he obtained a guarantee that he would succeed Scarlatti). In 1720 he became Director of the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto, and so played an important part in the training of a new generation of composers. Mancini succeeded Scarlatti in 1725, remaining in the post until his death. In 1735, however, he suffered a stroke and remained semi-paralysed until his death two years later.
As far as is known, Mancini’s first composition was the pastoral opera Il nodo sciolto e ligato dall’affetto, written for Rome. From 1702 onwards Mancini worked almost continuously at composing and arranging operas. He was most productive when he was Scarlatti’s deputy; his creative output slowed down following his appointments as Director of S Maria di Loreto and then as maestro of the royal chapel. While Mancini composed serenades, pieces for special occasions and cantatas throughout his life, his oratorios are concentrated in the period 1698–1708, with several later exceptions, including his last oratorio, Il zelo animato, which appears to have been intended as an exercise for his pupils at S Maria di Loreto.
Mancini’s contribution to sacred music was considerable, and the wide distribution of his music in libraries throughout Europe is a reflection of its popularity. Instrumental music was not of primary concern to Mancini, and that which remains appears to have been intended for teaching purposes (for example the two toccatas for harpsichord). The peculiarity of his instrumental writing can be seen in his sonatas, for example the rich harmonies accompanying the melodies and the contrapuntalism of the second movements, which are often almost proper fugues (see Giani).
While Mancini did not travel far from Naples, except for the occasional trip to Rome, stylistically his music fits into the transition between Scarlatti’s generation and the era of the spread of Neapolitan opera across Europe. His operas, which display a preference for the pathetic style (but he was no stranger to the comic), make simultaneous use of archaic features, such as a thick contrapuntal texture, swift rate of harmonic change and fast-moving bass line, as well as more modern features, such as the precise delimitation and greater extension of the sections of his arias and the use of the harmonic pedal. Mancini’s instrumentation is varied and colourful; the many directions for the bass part, which often indicate detailed orchestration and which may vary within a single aria, are also of importance. He was a skilful writer of melodies, able to achieve a perfect balance between words and intonation, even in recitatives, and able to shape the vocal line effectively as well as simply.