It does not happen frequently for a professional musician to be remembered by posterity for his dealings in visual artworks rather than for his compositions. But this is what happens to Lodovico Ferronati, a composer of whose life very little is known, and whose musical works are receiving their world premiere recording with this fascinating album, more than three centuries after their composition.
Indeed, the most abundant results of a search for his name regard his activity in the field of visual art. Several letters addressed to him were collected and published in a Raccolta di lettere – the complete title actually reads: “Collection of letters on painting, sculpture and architecture, written by the most celebrated people of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century”, edited by Giovanni Bottari. Here, some fifteen letters are addressed to Ferronati, and others mention him. The tone of the letters is warm, and bears witness to Ferronati’s charming personality; Paolo Zimengoli writes: “It looks to me as a thousand years since I was able to enjoy [the company] of your dear self and your valuable friendship”. Andrea Toresani invites him to Milan, saying that, should he come, “we’ll stay together as good fellows”. Ferronati is the recipient of articulated epistles, where people, facts, and works of the art market are discussed knowledgeably by his interlocutors. He is also referred to by Francesco Pollazzi, writing to Count Giovanni Pesenti: “I beg you to show [that artwork] to Sig. Lodovico Ferronati, since that gentleman understands painting”. A few letters addressed to Ferronati also discuss perruques, which lets us imagine that, for some reason, Ferronati dealt not only with music and paintings, but also with perruques; but this is a tantalizing image for which no support can be found in other documents.
Certainly, in the field of visual art Lodovico Ferronati was a personality; as these letters testify, he was involved with Pesenti and Pollazzi in the commissioning of paintings to adorn the Cathedral Church of Bergamo.
At a later date, Ferronati would also be in correspondence with Gian Battista Tiepolo, who wrote him at least twice (in April and November 1734) and in very friendly terms. Writing to Ferronati, the great Tiepolo expressed his regret for not having been able to start a commission (we do not know other details about it) due to other time-consuming engagements (he had been working on the frescoes for Villa Loschi).
As concerns the life and musical activity of Ferronati, much is left to speculation, and it is to be wished that the research leading to this album can bring fresh interest on his fascinating figure. We know that he came from Padua, the cultivated city of the University. Padua was the city nearest to Venice on the Italian mainland, and its cultural vocation led it to become Venice’s “learned twin”. Although we ignore the circumstances of his birth and his social status, Ferronati should have been familiar with the local nobility and aristocracy. The works recorded here, constituting his opera prima, were in fact dedicated to Count Duse Buzzacarini, whose family had been a protagonist of the Paduan political and civic life for centuries. Count Duse Buzzacarini probably acted as Ferronati’s patron, promoting his musical education and allowing him to pursue his formation and to cultivate his talent.
Having completed his musical studies, Ferronati moved to Bergamo. This was the westernmost city of the Serenissima on the Italian mainland. To the east, the Empire of Venice boldly conquered lands throughout the Adriatic and beyond it; but, as is well known, the Serenissima’s forte was the sea. It was rather untypical for Venetian armies to combat on field, and the lands of the Republic without a direct access to the sea were comparatively few. In spite of this, Bergamo was proudly “Venetian”; even though today Bergamo belongs in the region of Lombardy rather than in Veneto, Bergamo maintains, until present day, some distinctive traits of its erstwhile belonging to the glorious Serenissima.
In Bergamo, Ferronati’s first appointment was as a violinist, where he was employed in the famous ensemble of the Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore. Its tradition was noteworthy; past members of the Cathedral orchestra and choir included Maurizio Cazzati, Giovanni Legrenzi and Tarquinio Merula, several of whom were particularly appreciated as organists and composers of organ music.
What could have remained Ferronati’s first job, had he left for other employments, actually became also his last, and this in spite of a long life. Evidently, Ferronati enjoyed the cultural climate of Bergamo and the treatment he received; his dealings in the field of visual art bear witness to his good positioning within the city’s society, as well as with the larger cultural world of northern Italy. He belonged to Bergamo, and, in a manner of speaking, Bergamo belonged to him: this feeling is testified by the discovery of Ferronati’s signature on the organ’s box, in the singers’ lobby of the Basilica. That signature tells us about the feeling of reciprocal ownership between the musician and his adopted city.
In 1745, he was promoted to Chapel Master, and this prestigious appointment certainly was both the cause and the effect of his good relationships with the city, with the Cathedral clergy and with the authorities.
In the last years of his life, Ferronati was weakened by old age and infirmity; thus, a vice-Kapellmeister was appointed in 1759. It was Carlo Lenzi, who would become Ferronati’s successor, at the age of 32, upon the elderly musician’s death, which happened in 1767.
Ferronati’s death in 1767 invites us to consider the large temporal gap between the publication of his opera prima (1710) and his death: more than fifty-five years, during which we know very little of Ferronati’s compositional activity.
Yet, Ferronati was no minor figure. We know, for instance, that one of the greatest violinists of the time, Johann Georg Pisendel, owned, cherished and preserved a Violin Concerto written by Ferronati. Pisendel was a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach, and knew deeply the best musical works and trends of the era; thus, his esteem for Ferronati bears witness to the widespread dissemination of Ferronati’s works and to the appreciation they enjoyed at the time. The copy once owned by Pisendel is currently found in Dresden, at the Saxony University Library.
Still, only a handful of these works have been preserved. For instance, the Ensemble Locatelli which is the protagonist of this Da Vinci Classics album has recently performed a “Concerto a 4” in world premiere performance, and Thomas Chigioni has realized a critical edition of three sacred works by the same composer.
Of another Solo Sonata for violin and continuo, in three movements, the handwritten manuscript is found in an American Library (The Musical Library of the University of California at Berkeley). We know that other works had been written by Ferronati; for instance, in 1719 a serenata composed by him had been performed. It was dedicated to a Venetian noblewoman, Pisana Cornaro Mocenigo, who would later become the wife of a Venetian Doge. This serenade was co-authored by Ferronati, who was, at the time, a violinist of the Bergamo chapel, and by Giacomo Gozzini, who was chapel master. A further collection of Sonatas, issued in 1715 by the same publisher as Ferronati’s opera prima (Antonio Bortoli) has likewise been lost.
The interest provoked in the Italian musical world by Ferronati’s opera prima is also testified by the fact that two of the Sonatas found in this collection were included in an anthology currently found in Parma. Here, Ferronati’s music is surrounded by that of some of the most famous composers of the time, among whom Albinoni, Corelli and Somis; they are offered in a transcription for recorder, revealing that the original destination for the violin was certainly idiomatic, but not so much that it prevented other possibilities from being explored.
Indeed, also in the Sonatas recorded here the composer does not seem particularly keen on exploring the most daring solutions of violin technique. Different from some of his contemporaries, such as Tartini or Corelli, his attention seems to be turned to the musical – and up to a certain point “abstract” – component of music rather than on finding new and extreme virtuoso possibilities, even though moments of utter virtuosity are certainly not missing. On the other hand, some of his choices are unequivocally “violinistic”, such as the frequent use of bariolage.
Among the influences which can be identified on Ferronati’s style, one of the clearest appears to be that of Giorgio Gentili (1669-1737), a Venetian composer who was concert master at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice and who authored collections of Sonatas, Capricci and Concerti.
On the other hand, Ferronati influenced deeply some important musicians of his time in turn, including Pietro Antonio Locatelli, who studied with him in Bergamo and was later encouraged by Ferronati, in all likelihood, to move to Rome and to study there with Corelli.
Generally, the Sonatas op. I obey some recurring principles, which we can identify as typical for their composer. All Sonatas are in four movements, and begin with a touching Adagio – a form which might recall that of the sonata da chiesa, even though, in this case, their destination is rather that of chamber music. Ferronati seems to avoid with equal care both the complex counterpoint often found in the quick movements of the sonate da chiesa and the pronounced dance-style which characterized many sonate da camera; his option is for an aurea mediocritas, which is also mirrored by his predilection for square phrases, linear developments, and clean structures. The slow movements, which are frequently the most expressive and touching moments of the Sonatas, occasionally display interesting forms of ornamentation, bearing witness to the actual performing practice of these works and of their composer.
Therefore, these Sonatas appear as highly interesting discoveries: for their intrinsic artistic worth, for their beauty, but also as documents of a musical culture, of its characterizing features, and of the world it represented.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2023
Founded in 2014 Ensemble Locatelli is an early music group based in Bergamo, Italy. Its formation goes from chamber music settings to a full baroque orchestra. The name of the Ensemble is a tribute the virtuoso violinist Pietro Antonio Locatelli, whose 250th death anniversary occurred in 2014.
Driven by a great passion for research and historical performance practice, the group works constantly to make music from past centuries accessible to today's audiences.
Ensemble Locatelli goes against the trend of the cultural crisis in Italy: at a time when orchestras are closing down and it is increasingly difficult to carry on activities, Ensemble Locatelli has managed to consistently offer high quality products over the years in a completely autonomous manner, increasing the level of cultural proposals and the number of performances from year to year. In a context where the so-called 'brain drain' from Italy is becoming increasingly frequent, Ensemble Locatelli has managed to become a pole of attraction in which some of the best Baroque musicians of the new generation collaborate.
Ensemble Locatelli is performing actively in Italy and Europe, and was invited for several tours in France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019; performing in important festivals and venues (Sagra Malatestiana di Rimini, Settimane Barocche di Brescia…).
In 2022, the Ensemble was invited to perform at the Konzerthaus Wien for the Festival Resonanzen.
Among the most important production in the last years: Membra Jesu Nostri (Buxtehude), The Fairy Queen (Purcell), Dido and Aeneas (Purcell).
The discographic effort from the Ensemble already produced two CD: “Trio sonate op.V” from Locatelli (Classicadalvivo, 2015) and “Per la Sig.ra Geltruda” (Panclassics, 2020). In the next years more projects are on the way presenting first recordings of works by Torelli and Ferronati.
The Ensemble Locatelli project, a real "musical start-up", is continuously growing, and given the increase of the group's activities, in 2019 "Associazione Pietro Antonio Locatelli" was founded.
Thanks to this Association, the Ensemble can present every year its own Season of concerts in Bergamo inviting prestigious conductors and soloists to collaborate (V. Luks in 2021 with the Brandenburg concertos, Ensemble Concerto di Margherita in 2021, V. Makarenko with “Le quattro Stagioni” in 2022); as well as several pedagogic activities such as masterclasses, courses, school projects.
From 2019 Ensemble Locatelli starts a collaboration with the Cappella Musicale della Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, conducted by M° Cristian Gentilini, as the instrumentalist partner of the vocal Ensemble of the Basilica.
In 2020 Ensemble Locatelli, during the COVID-19 emergency, the Pietro Antonio Locatelli association raised funds for the Bergamo Hospital by offering a digital download of the live album "Highlights of the 2019 season" in exchange a donation, managing to donate over €10,000 for the city hospital.
The Ensemble's artistic and musical director is Thomas Chigioni.
Jérémie Chigioni, violin
Thomas Chigioni, Cello and Artistic direction
Giulio Tanasini, Double-Bass
Mauro Pinciaroli, Archlute
Arianna Radaelli , Harpsichord