Official Release: 16 July 2021
This Da Vinci Classics album offers a unique insight into a repertoire largely – and unjustly – forgotten, which has been brought to light by the recording artist. Through a painstaking archival search, he has in fact unearthed a collection of keyboard works, found in manuscript form in the Library of the Conservatory “N. Paganini” of Genoa. He therefore decided to undertake an ambitious but very welcome project: to edit, publish and record these scores, so as to make them available both on the scholarly plane and as artistic products. It is no easy task, of course; but the possibility of studying a score – or rather a comprehensive collection of scores – from the double viewpoint of musicianship and musicology provides the listener and the reader with a complete, holistic and fascinating perspective.
This recording, therefore, is intended to be the first of a series, revealing the hidden gems of this and of the other Libraries of Liguria, and offering them to the larger public. The works recorded here were written, presumably, between 1730 and 1800 approximately; the manuscripts employed for this recording are not holographs, and therefore were copied by unknown hands and for unknown purposes.
Doubtlessly, in the eighteenth century Genoa was a capital of culture, wealth, art and refinement. The city had been one of the Sea Republics of the Italian peninsula, along with Venice, Pisa and Amalfi; its most important aristocratic family, the Dorias, had cultural and financial connections throughout Europe. Moreover, a branch of their family, called Doria Pamphilj, had also been occupying first-rank positions in the Church aristocracy of the Roman Curia.
It comes as no wonder, therefore, that the holdings of the Conservatory Library include manuscript copies of works composed elsewhere; culture circulated widely, and beautiful works – such as those recorded here – were in high demand.
I have written, in the preceding lines, that these works are for the “keyboard”. Today, and at least in the domain of “classical” music, a piece’s instrumental destination is probably the first binding element to be specified on a score. The relationship between work and timbre is considered as a qualifying feature of the piece, even though practices such as arrangement and transcription are common. But the very fact that they are described as such (that there is, in other words, a term for indicating a transcribed piece) reveals that the “original” piece and its transcription are considered to be two distinct entities. This phenomenon is not observed, for example, in pop or jazz music: there, a “song” maintains its identity even though it may be played on different sound media, and even with very different “notes”.
This used to be the case also in what today counts as “cultivated” music. In many cases, it was perfectly legitimate, if not strongly advisable, to transfer a beloved piece from one instrumental medium to another, provided that the result was aurally satisfactory and technically feasible. This happens with many of the works recorded here: only occasionally they were explicitly conceived for the organ, whereas in other cases they were intended to be played on any keyboard instrument, and in still others they were presumably intended for the fortepiano or harpsichord, but nothing forbade their performance on other keyboard instruments. Indeed, from a modern viewpoint, their overall concept is closer to that expressed on the fortepiano than on the organ; they are “chamber music” works, even though their breadth and complexity sometimes are reminiscent of symphonic music.
The organ employed for this recording is a Tuscan instrument. This choice appears as particularly interesting. On the one hand, even though this is a “Genovese” collection, not all of the composers are from Genoa; they were mostly based in central Italy, of which Tuscany is one of the main regions. Moreover, there was a curious phenomenon: Tuscan organs maintained an archaic look and sound well into the nineteenth century, whereas those found in other Italian regions were more forward-looking. A Tuscan organ of the mid-nineteenth century, as that employed for this recording, is therefore very well suited for an earlier repertoire. The style of these organs remained stable and fixed itself, as it were, on the ideal sound of the 1790s; even in their aesthetic appearance, they reveal the influence of the early fortepianos, rather than that of the Romantic pianos. They are, so to speak, “pipe fortepianos”, in the apt definition proposed by the performing artist of this album.
As mentioned earlier, Giovanni (Calisto Andrea) Zanotti was not a Genovese musician. Indeed, he spent most of his life in the city of Bologna, where he was born on October 14th, 1738 and where he would die on November 1st, 1817. He came from a wealthy and cultivated Bolognese family; his uncle was a famous figure of the city, being a celebrated scientist and scholar. The composer had the opportunity of studying under the guidance of Padre Martini, the erudite Franciscan friar to whom Italian musical culture owes so much. Martini’s teaching was fundamental for Zanotti in order to be admitted to the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica in 1758; three years later, he began his career as assistant chapel master, and later chapel master, in the Church of Bologna, San Petronio. The piece by Zanotti recorded here, thus, was arguably composed for the organs of San Petronio in Bologna. His main field of activity was sacred music; however, he composed at least one opera, L’Olimpiade, which was performed in the city of Modena during Carnival. He was also invited to Venice, where he obtained a job from an aristocratic patron; his long career was crowned by an eight-year-long tenure as a Professor of Piano at the Liceo Filarmonico of Bologna, which would later become today’s Conservatory. A performance of one of Zanotti’s works, a Psalm setting, was heard by both a very young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and by Charles Burney, the English traveler and proto-musicologist, who was enthused by Zanotti’s music: “There were all the marks of an original and cultivated genius. … The accompaniments were judicious, the ritornels always expressing something, the melody was new and full of taste, and the whole was put together with great judgment, and even learning. In short, I have very seldom in my life received greater pleasure from music than this performance afforded me”.
Giovanni Battista Predieri was born in a very musical family, at least seven members of which are known as composers and musicians. Giovanni Battista was born in 1678 and died in 1764, in Bologna, where he became a member of the Accademia Filarmonica in 1749; in turn, he befriended Padre Martini and knew Zanotti, as is testified by a letter of 1761. At around the same time, he was chapel master at the Church of San Paolo; his compositional output is marked by stylistic features typical of the transition between Baroque and style galante. His activity as an organist is testified by his many organ Sonatas, mainly conceived for the Offertory of the Mass, which display self-assured virtuoso traits; he also wrote several oratorios (two performed in Bologna and one in Fermo) and solo concertos.
Still less is known about Bartolomeo Lustrini, who is attested in Rome. A report of the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, which convened at the Capitol in Rome, cites a performance of his works (1754): “Once the orator finished his speech, a second Concert with the same number of instruments was performed; it was a new composition by the excellent Chapel Master Mr Bartolomeo Lustrini”. He is also known to have composed Oratorios such as La gratitudine di Salomone, for the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady in 1759, on a libretto by Gioacchino Pizzi, and Il Gionata, on a libretto by Carl’Antonio Femi. This work was performed on the first Sunday of Lent 1753 at the Congregation of the Oratory, and, on the libretto’s title page, Lustrini is qualified as “Modenese”, i.e. from Modena. This leads us back to the region of Emilia Romagna, whence also Zanotti and Predieri came. A further link is the dedication of Lustrini’s Il Gionata to Cardinal Mario Bolognetti, who was the Papal Legate to Romagna. Curiously, a manuscript with a Mass by Lustrini was recently rediscovered in Salamanca, together with one attributed to Tommaso Traetta; their presence in Salamanca bears witness to the circulation of their music internationally.
A similar pattern can be observed also in the transmission of Degola’s Sinfonia, which is found in Genoa but whose composer is not attested there. In the opinion of the recording artist, the score’s destination “Per forte piano” should not be interpreted as limiting its performance to the fortepiano, but rather inviting performance on every keyboard instrument which is capable of dynamic shades, as is the case with the organ.
Last but not least, the album includes Sonatas by an anonymous composer, whose initials might be “D. G. P.” (although they might also indicate the copyist or owner of the manuscript). Stylistically they belong to the late Classical era. Most of them seem to have been conceived for the fortepiano; however, the last one is a Pastorale, following the typical formal scheme of the genre, and evoking flutes and bagpipes in the standard “pastoral” idiom. This fully justifies the choice of proposing this work and its companions on the organ, paying homage to the flexible instrumentation of the era, and also highlighting the timbral variety and richness of these works’ imaginative scoring.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
Rodolfo Bellatti: He is currently organist of the Basilica N.S. della Rosa in Santa Margherita Ligure (Genoa - Italy). He studied organ and harpsichord with Flavio Dellepiane and Barbara Petrucci at the Genoa Conservatoire. He went on to obtain his solo diploma in the master class of Guy Bovet at the Bâle Hochschule für Musik, and his Master in Organ Music with Roberto Antonello at the Vicenza Conservatoire. In national and international competitions he won eight prizes to date.In addition to his concert-giving activities, he is also a researcher in the areas of organ building and musicology. He made a number of recordings for radio and produced several CDs devoted to historical instruments.