Plucked-string instruments are among the oldest in music history: and shortly after the invention of the monochord – on which the basic properties of the intervals were discovered – the idea came about of combining several monochords in a single instrument. In antiquity, it is true, the strings of many plucked-string instruments were played mainly individually, in a melodic fashion; yet, the very possibility of plucking two or more strings at once paved the way for the earliest concept of instrumental polyphony. Instruments similar to the lute are found in almost all developed musical civilisations, regardless of chronology and geography. While their common roots, or at least their shared principles, are easy to grasp, their evolutions at times took very different itineraries. Moreover, their history, and that of their repertoire, dovetails – particularly in the West – with the history of keyboard instruments. On the one hand, in fact, some keyboard instruments act on strings which are plucked by jacks: this is the case, most notably, of the harpsichord. In this case, from the viewpoint of timbre and sound, these instruments are closely related with others in which a similar sound is produced by plucking the strings manually, without the aid of keys. On the other hand, the similar performing technique brings together keyboard instruments which may have entirely different strategies for actually producing the sound. The pipe organ and the harpsichord are no more related with each other, from the viewpoint of timbre and sound production, than the flute and the lute, but are similarly played by the performer’s hands. This ambiguity, far from constituting a problem, triggered countless musical experimentations, cross-exchanges, and hybridizations. Indeed, under certain viewpoints, the transition from lute to harpsichord and vice versa could be easier to accomplish, at least in terms of repertoire, than that from harpsichord to organ. Lute and harpsichord, in fact, belonged primarily to the secular sphere, and there they could share the repertoire of, for instance, dance suites; in spite of their very different performing techniques, their kinship of timbre and their shared capability to play several sounds at once rendered them close to each other when this repertoire was at stake. This Da Vinci Classics album brings the parallelism even further. It inserts, within the tête à tête between harpsichord and lute, a third party, i.e. the guitar. In principle, it shares with the other two interlocutors those same qualities we have just listed. However, in practice, it lived a life of its own, at times impervious to the positive contaminations with other instruments and repertoires. What has been attempted here is, therefore, a very welcome artistic undertaking – one rarely realised, although not entirely unheard-of. The possibility of playing keyboard music on the guitar is in fact widely acknowledged, and particular attention has been given, by a handful of musicians, to the Baroque repertoire. Yet, the objective difficulty and complexity of this initiative limit its scope, lending an aura of uniqueness to efforts like this one. The programme opens with a transcription after a keyboard work by Dietrich Buxtehude. Born in Helsingborg in 1637, Buxtehude was a polymath and one of the most important musicians, let alone organists, of his era. Buxtehude came from a musical family; his father was an organist and moved regularly, during Dietrich’s childhood, depending on where his duties called him. Particularly during their stay in Elsinore, Dietrich received a good musical education, which he would later deepen and broaden through contacts with some of the great performers of his time. Having accomplished his training, Dietrich followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming the titular organist of Elsinore, and later of Lubeck. Here he would remain, in a city which was known as the “organs’ city”, and with a very stimulating cultural context. In turn, Buxtehude would greatly contribute to the improvement of musical life, in particular through his Abendmusiken, concerts of spiritual music which became increasingly complex, refined, and lavishly gorgeous. In spite of Lubeck’s geographical position, at the northernmost corner of Germany, Buxtehude’s fame travelled like wildfire, and attracted crowds wishing to hear them. Among those enthusiasts, as is well known, was also Johann Sebastian Bach, who outstayed the leave he had requested and obtained from his employers in order to learn as much as possible from his elder colleague. The scores for Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken, sadly, have all been lost. The same seemed to have happened to most of his works for solo harpsichord, but, fortunately, many scores have surfaced in the twentieth century. His Suite BuxWV 237 belongs in a group of works written for a keyboard instrument without pedals; the preferred attribution to the harpsichord or to the clavichord is of course reinforced by the presence of dance pieces and rhythms. While the standard succession of the dances is respected, Buxtehude inserts an unexpected addition in the form of a second Sarabande. From the musical viewpoint, Buxtehude seems to draw from a variety of styles and influences, deriving from France a predilection for the style brisé, and from Germany some aesthetic guidelines which can be traced back to the influence of J. J. Froberger. And it is precisely to Froberger that this recording turns immediately after. He was and still considered as one of the greatest masters of the harpsichord in his century. Froberger, like Buxtehude, came from a musical family and was initiated to performance by his father, who owned a magnificent musical library, and who sang as a tenor in the Hofkapelle. Johann Jakob followed in his footsteps already as a child soprano; however, when his talent was discovered by the Swedish Ambassador, Froberger was invited to join him as a court musician in Vienna. While he spent long periods in Vienna in the subsequent years, Froberger owed much also to Italian music, which he studied in the Peninsula: first and foremost to Frescobaldi, who was unanimously revered as the masters’ master, but then also Athanasius Kircher, the learned Jesuit. Froberger’s eventful life led him eventually to Paris, where he would die. From his august mentors, Froberger derived, among other elements, a taste for, and a deep knowledge of, the stylus phantasticus. The catalogue of Froberger’s surviving Partitas for the keyboard numbers approximately thirty works, and is constantly being updated thanks to new discoveries and doubts about the authenticity of works already known. His A-major Suite, FbWV 608, is found in a set issued in 1656, and is particularly appreciated for its luminosity, lightness, and clarity. Each of the movements it is composed of is clearly characterized – gravity in the Allemande, singing style in the Sarabande, which still does not eschew provocative harmonic patterns and itineraries. The Courante seems to establish a musical “concord” with the Allemande, with which it shares part of the motivic component. The Gigue, as it often happens, is a tour de force in terms of a whirlwind of notes and ideas, all woven with each other through counterpoint, but still maintaining a character of freshness and spontaneity which is invariably captivating. If Froberger’s music paved the way for Buxtehude’s, so did the latter pave the way for J. S. Bach, who, as has been said, was a keen admirer of the organist from Lubeck. The Suite recorded here is a particularly apt choice for this experiment in timbral transformation, since it has been transmitted in two versions: one destined for the Lautenwerk, or “lute-harpsichord”, and another for the lute proper, though doubts have been cast over the latter version’s authenticity. The traditional order of Bach’s suites is slightly disrupted here: for one thing, the Prelude is followed by a Fugue, replacing the traditional Allemande and Courante; for another, the Gigue is provided with a Double. So, the first part of this Suite seems to allude to the Sonatas, among Bach’s violin solos, whilst its second part is closer to the Partitas. Bach, in turn, was not only eager to learn from the masters of the past, but also from those of the present. In particular, at the latest in 1739, he met with Sylvius Leopold Weiss, arguably the greatest lute virtuoso of the era. So impressed was Bach that he created some pieces for him. It has been maintained that the two of them, i.e. Weiss and Bach, competed in a kind of musical duel; however, the anecdote is probably spurious. What is certain is that Weiss, in spite of his extraordinary accomplishment (or perhaps for that same reason) was very jealous of his works, and published very little, favouring a more intimate, personal relationship with the score he had created. Weiss’ ability was unequalled, as a later chronicler recounts: “Anyone who knows how difficult it is to play harmonic modulations and good counterpoints on the lute will be surprised and full of disbelief to hear from eyes-witnesses that Weiss, the great lute-player, challenged J. S. Bach, the great harpsichord and organ-player, by playing fantasies and fugues”. Certainly, Bach did appreciate his colleague’s skill, and was very glad to arrange some of his music, as the most evident token of appreciation one could wish for. The work recorded here comes from the London Manuscript, which is the single most important source for Weiss’ music, including nearly 250 tablatures for solo lute. Together, these works reveal the net of relationships between musicians of different generations, but united by the same pattern of transmission of music, of its styles, of its gestures. They evolved in time, while maintaining a unique unity of their own. It is precisely for this reason that these masterpieces stand victoriously the test of time, and even the more demanding test of transcription: by listening to these works, we fully understand how a change in timbre not only does not damage the true masterpieces, but rather allows us to hear them with new ears.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Francesco Molmenti: Guitarist and a musicologist. He was introduced in the six-strings world by his first teacher, Lucia Pizzutel, who supported him until his graduation - accomplished cum laude at Conservatorio “G. Tartini” in Trieste with the teacher Frédéric Zigante. He enhances his education attending electronic music and conducting courses and, in particular, delving into musical history and theory. He graduated cum laude in the musicology course of study at the University of Cremona, where he earned his PhD with his thesis dedicated to the theorist of the Renaissance Johannes Tinctoris.
From 1994 to 2001 he distinguished himself in different national and international competitions, always winning the first prize: “Rovere d’Oro” (S. Bartolomeo al Mare), “Premio G. Crespi” (Azzano Decimo), “Città di Ortona”, “Riviera della Versilia” (Lido di Camaiore); A.GI.MUS. (Varenna), “Città di S. Mauro” (Torino), “Salmaso” (Viareggio), “Levrone Bottero” (Mondovì), “O. Caiazzo” (Napoli). “Selezione giovani concertisti” (Parma) ", “Ansaldi-Servetti” (Mondovì) e “I. Padovez” (Croazia). In September 2003 he won the second prize (first prize not awarded) at prestigious International Competition of Gargnano and the first prize at Abbiategrasso Guitar Competition (Milano). He also won the second prize at Asian International Guitar Festival and Competition.
In the summer of 2002, in a word premier, he played as soloist in the orchestral version of the concert “En las tierras altas” by Angelo Gilardino with the Orchestra Sinfonicque Institut Musical de la Vallée. In the same year, he won the guitar competition “Ansaldi Servetti” in Mondovì and consequently made a CD in recognition of his prize-winning performance.
These results led him to perform, as a soloist, soloist with orchestra, and in various chamber ensembles, in several Italian and foreign Countries, including: Croatia (Buzet, Delnice, Labin, Opatija, Pula, Varazdin, Verteneglio), France (Gironde, La Réole, Nizza, Périgueux), Japan (Tokyio, Fuji, Kyoto), Italy (Aviano, Bassano, Brugnera, Burano, Pordenone, Parma, Caldarola, Campagnola Emilia, Casolta, Castel San Giovanni, Cavezzo, Cervia, Clusone, Crema, Cremona, Courmayeur, Erto e Casso, Fermo, Foligno, Fossalta di Piave, Fusignano, Gradisca d’Isonzo, Grafignana, Gorizia, Gromo, Lignano, Lodi, Milano, Modena, Mondovì, Monte Rubbiano, Oristano, Parma, Perugia, Piacenza, Pisa, Pordenone, Portobuffolé, Sacile, Salsomaggiore, San Marino, Treviso, Trieste, Venezia), Slovenia (Capo d’Istria), Spain (Almeria), Tailandia (Bangkok), Taiwan (Taipei), Usa (Los Angeles, Oklahoma City), UK (London).
He currently performs as a soloist, with the In tempore Belli guitar trio and with Luigi Accardo in the Extravagantia – guitar & harpsichord duo, with whom he recorded a CD dedicated to the J.S. Bach’s six Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530 (Dynamics 2019). He’s the Ensemble ‘Un pizzico di corda’ leader.
(b ?Helsingborg, c1637; d Lübeck, 9 May 1707). German or Danish composer and organist. He is best known as a composer of organ music, of which he was one of the most important composers before J.S. Bach. He also left equally impressive repertories of sacred vocal and instrumental ensemble music.
Johann Jacob Froberger
(b Stuttgart, bap. 19 May 1616; d Héricourt, nr Montbéliard, France, 6/7 May 1667). German composer, organist and keyboard player. Considered the foremost mid-17th century German composer of keyboard music, he was court organist in Vienna, studied with Frescobaldi in Rome, and travelled and performed in the Low Countries, England, France, Germany and Italy. He crafted a distinctive personal idiom from stylistic features of Italian, French and German keyboard music. His works strongly influenced Louis Couperin and German keyboard composers into the time of J.S. Bach.
Johann Sebastian Bach: (b Eisenach, 21 March 1685, d Leipzig; 28 July 1750). Composer and organist. The most important member of the family, his genius combined outstanding performing musicianship with supreme creative powers in which forceful and original inventiveness, technical mastery and intellectual control are perfectly balanced. While it was in the former capacity, as a keyboard virtuoso, that in his lifetime he acquired an almost legendary fame, it is the latter virtues and accomplishments, as a composer, that by the end of the 18th century earned him a unique historical position. His musical language was distinctive and extraordinarily varied, drawing together and surmounting the techniques, the styles and the general achievements of his own and earlier generations and leading on to new perspectives which later ages have received and understood in a great variety of ways.
The first authentic posthumous account of his life, with a summary catalogue of his works, was put together by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel and his pupil J.F. Agricola soon after his death and certainly before March 1751 (published as Nekrolog, 1754). J.N. Forkel planned a detailed Bach biography in the early 1770s and carefully collected first-hand information on Bach, chiefly from his two eldest sons; the book appeared in 1802, by when the Bach Revival had begun and various projected collected editions of Bach’s works were underway; it continues to serve, together with the 1754 obituary and the other 18th-century documents, as the foundation of Bach biography.
Silvius [Sylvius] Leopold Weiss
(b Breslau [now Wrocław], ?12 Oct 1686; d Dresden, 16 Oct 1750). A son of (1) Johann Jacob Weiss, he was trained by his father and in his seventh year he performed for Emperor Leopold I. By 1706 he was in the service of Count Carl Philipp of the Palatinate, who was then resident in Breslau. His earliest datable sonata, no.7 (1706), was written while he was on a visit to the court of the count’s brother in Düsseldorf. He spent 1710–14 in Italy with the Polish Prince Alexander Sobiesky. The prince lived in Rome with his mother Queen Maria Casimira, who engaged first Alessandro and later (1709) Domenico Scarlatti as her music director. Thus Weiss doubtless worked with the Scarlattis, and probably was exposed to the music of Corelli and other composers in Rome. After the prince’s death in late 1714 Weiss returned to the North. He reentered the service of Carl Philipp, now Imperial Governor of the Tyrol, perhaps as early as 1715. By 1717 he was listed as a member of the chapel at the Saxon court in Dresden. He was formally appointed to the chapel in August 1718 with a high salary, and by 1744, he was the highest-paid instrumentalist at the court. Weiss’s activity as a performer nearly came to a premature end when in 1722 he was attacked by a French violinist named Petit who attempted to bite off the top joint of his right thumb. Handwritten notes by Weiss found in continuo parts to operas by J.A. Hasse which were performed at court between 1731 and 1749, suggest that Weiss was regularly involved in ensemble performance (see Burris); this activity may have been as important as his duties as a solo performer.