Frescobaldi: 11 Toccatas Madrigale «Ancidetemi pur»


  • Artist(s): Ivana Valotti
  • Composer(s): Girolamo Frescobaldi
  • EAN Code: 7.46160915913
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental
  • Instrumentation: Organ
  • Period: Baroque
  • Publication year: 2023
SKU: C00754 Category:

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He was as eminent in composing as in playing extemporanously.

Among the musicians who were active in the first half of the seventeenth century, Girolamo Frescobaldi (Ferrara, 1583 – Rome, 1643) stands out not only as an organist whose virtuosity and technical skill were superlative and incomparable, but also as a formidable musician who was able to interpret the artistic stirrings in the musical language of his time and to incorporate them, in an effective and significant way, into his vast production for keyboard instruments.
It is no coincidence that he was called “marvel of the organists” he was defined the “amazement of the keyboard”, the inventor of many styles of performance; he was praised for “the artfulness and agibility of the hands”, his ability at improvisation (he was as eminent in composing as in playing extemporaneously), but above all for his own personal style of interpretation which opened a new horizon on the musical panorama of the time.
His “new way of playing” and his very distinctive performance practice are summed up in his well-known advice «to the reader», which he added, in the early short version, to the first edition of his “Primo libro di Toccate e Partite d’Intavolatura di Cimbalo (1615): “[…], First, that this manner of playing must not remain subject to a beat, as we see practised in modern Madrigals, which, although difficult, are facilitated by means of the beat taking it now languid, now quick, and even suspending it in the air, according to their “affetti”, (emotions) or sense of the words”.
So the crux of this style is to overcome the rigidity of the fifteenth-sixteenth century horological tactus, in favor of a tempo that molds itself, moment after moment, on the basis of the affects and of the sound effects suggested by the musical text.
Paradoxically, Frescobaldi’s reference point is a vocal form, the madrigal, which Monteverdi defined “di seconda prattica”, meaning with this term a kind of composition bending the musical discourse to render the most effective representation of the expressive and immaginative content of the poetry.
But while in the madrigal the poetic text is a concrete reality, Frescobaldi’s “seconda prattica” is evoked in an indirect and ambigous way , through a kaleidoscope of musical images which adhere to the significant values of a text not written, but only pre-supposed.
In place of words, we have “affetti cantabili”, “lyric emotions”», (to use Frescobaldi’s expression), sound structures which not only reverberate the expressive halo of an imaginary poetry but are also an everpresent, inexhaustible source of excitement,, «marvel» and emotion for the listener.
The variety of musical ideas and sound gestures used by Frescobaldi in his instrumental pieces is really singular and unique: his style is recognisable for its brilliant inventiveness and fantastic creativity, its melodic intensity, its unceasing play of contrasts, the mutability of its lexical figurations and chromatic proocedings, its astounding rhytmic imagination, the refined ornamental embroidery that surrounds its chordal passages, its constant tendence toward a free counterpoint, and its restless harmonic daring. It’s a style so personal that shuns all rigid or predictable patterns and constantly pursues new original solutions in order to enhance and exalt the expression and communication of the “affetti”.
“Great grace, ease, variety of measure and elegance” says the preface to “Secondo libro di Toccate” (1627) are the “conditions necessary to this new manner of “sonar con affetto”.
There is no doubt that the fascination of Fresobaldi’s art lies in the unpredictable succession of changing musical gestures.
On the other hand, the unceasing play of contrasts is the vital sap that feeds all the multi-section instrumental forms adopted by the famous organist: he alternates the austere, rigorous counterpoint style with fantastic free inventions; diatonic elements with chromatic ones; binary metres with the ternary ones; the “mensural tactus” with the “tempo dell’affetto”..
In fact, Frescobaldi not only inaugurates a new manner of playing but also illustrates a new refined “modus componendi” through a language of astonishing modernity.

This recording presents some instrumental pages (the eleven Toccatas and the Madrigale “Ancidetemi pur” d’Archadelt, passagiato) belonging to one of the best known and most admired (in Italy and in Europe) Girolamo Frescobaldi’s keyboard music collections: “Secondo libro di Toccate, Canzone, Versi d’Hinni, Magnificat, Gagliarde, Correnti et altre Partite d’Intavolatura di Cimbalo et Organo (Rome, Nicolò Borbone, 1627).
It is music that seduces by its spontaneity, by its freshness, by the naturalness of the melodic gesture.
The toccata is undoubtedly the preferred formal Frescobaldi’s model, the one in which his fantastic genius and his boundless creativity attain their peak.
It is a spontaneous composition, a refined example of improvisation rich in fantasy and freedom and filled with sophisticated inventions: the Toccata is the quintessence of a particular way of composing defined by the Italians “stile a mente non a penna”, strictly connected to the stylus phantasticus. Frescobaldi’s Toccata is one of the kind. It is superbe for its structure inspired by Merulo’s model, (it alternates contrasting sections: free episodes are countered by imitative sections); for its bold texture that highlights its eloquent language; for its creative exuberance and astonishing rhythmic and agogic contrasts; for its language full of imagination and feeling, constantly intent to emphasize the expressive and cantabile function of the “affetto”.
Some Toccatas adopt simple formulas, reminiscent of the Venetian toccatas; others, on the contrary, reveal a higher degree of complexity, exhibiting sophisticated games imbued with instance of chromatism, suspensions (“ligature”) and dissonances (“durezze”), heterogeneous and unpredictable material, with little repeated decorative gesture between the hands, side by side with arduous, virtuosic idiomatic writing such as doubles passages, double trills, singular accents, unusual rhythmic motifs, bold harmonies, unwonted modulations.
It is interesting to point out as Frescobaldi’s language, rich of novels effects, harmonic ideas, constantly pursues new original solutions in order to move the passions of the spirit.
For this reason, it is difficult, in these toccatas, to identify common compositional models and recurring structural schemes even when the melodic lines appear to be homogeneous. On the contrary each toccata lives on an autonomous life, it has its own free and original structural basis, perfectly modelled on the expressive effect of an unwritten but implied word in order to rouse in the listener the broadest possible range of contrasting emotions and states of mind.
What appears singular in Frescobaldi’s way of proceeding is the originality of the solutions adopted: in his expert hands, the list of compositional devices becomes vast. In fact he employs artifices such as the imitative elaboration, the technique of variation, the reiteration of small ornamental cells, up to the use of short-lived values to enhance the rhythm and intensify the emotional tension.
Nevertheless, this individual approach does not prevent Frescobaldi from giving his work a sense of coherence and unity.
This «modus componendi» is certainly the most exclusive and unequivocal trait of his compositional art, a sort of linguistic mark that permeates not only the eleven toccatas of the collection but all of his instrumental production.
It is interesting to notice that, while the first book of Toccate (Rome, 1615-16) opened with twelve toccatas, a traditional number probably derived from the earlier practice of providing a set of toccatas in all the church modes, the second book contains only eleven toccatas. Instead of a twelth one, Frescobaldi places his intabulation of Arcadelt’s madrigal Ancidetemi pur, grievi martiri. It is his only contribution to the genre. This suggests that Frescobaldi intended his Ancidetemi pur d’Arcadelt to form the crowning end-piece for the magnificent series of toccatas of the Secondo libro.
In this recording, this piece is preceded by the original version of the madrigal for four voices, in the performance of the Collegium Vocale «Nova Ars Cantandi”.
The model for Frescobaldi’s intabulation is a four-part madrigal from Arcadelt’s celebrated Primo libro di madrigali, published around 1540, a collection of profane vocal music that continued to be much admired in Frescobaldi’s time. Some fifteen editions were still issued during the first half of the seventeenth century, including one prepared by no other than Monteverdi and published in Rome in 1627, the year of the “Secondo libro di Toccate”.
Examples of the ancient intabulation practice were frequent in the sixteenth century. In fact it was a tradition cultivated above all by musicians from the Neapolitan area, (Ascanio Mayone, 1603, Giovanni Maria Trabaci, 1615, Gregorio Strozzi, 1687), but for Frescobaldi this practice assumes a particular nuance, playing a fundamental role: It is a sort of compositional model for all his instrumental work since both the madrigal and the toccata are compositions, strictly connected to the art of improvisation.
Not by chance, Frescobaldi’s toccatas resemble madrigals in their succession of phrases of irregular lenght and unpredictable, often startling content.
The overall continuity is not a musical one, but that of an impassioned speech, designed to carry us to the extreme of emotion.
Several times, in his works, Frescobaldi invokes the “affetto” by associating it with the search for the delight of hearing (“dilettatione dell’udito”).
This reference, in particular, aroused in Ivana Valotti, the interpreter of this recording, the desire to propose, for the first time, a musical reading differing from the usual ones, being entrusted exclusively to an organ performance. This choice allowed her to experiment, research and emphasize emotional expressive communication through the extraordinary richness and charming beauty of Antegnati’s tone colours.
With the simple force of sound, with the infinite color range of this magnificent instrument, masterpiece of the organ art, the Frescobaldian musical panorama has been enriched, cloaking itself in new and unexpected sounds.
In fact, the pages of the illustrious organist enjoy the luminous and exceptional sonorities of a marvelous example of Italian Renaissance organ building art, belonging to one of the most famous dynasties of Brescian builders, active in the years between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the Antegnati. In particular, it is an historical organ built by Graziadio Antegnati in 1565, located, in cornu epistolae, in the splendid palatine basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua.
For every melodic movement, for every virtuosic formula, for every change of harmonic register, for every brilliant gesture, for every audacious chromaticism, the player has sought the most suitable stop, adapting, every time, the mode of her performance to the quality of the musical passage to be interpreted, to its affetto.
The variety of registration, recommended by the early Italian masters, not only created a symbiotic relationship between the musical page and the instrument itself, but also developed an intimate relationship (feeling)between the source timbre and the sensitivity of the interpreter; in combining the stops she followed the registration instructions suggested by Costanzo Antegnati in his Arte organica (1608): “changing register every time, and, during a performance, changing style by playing sometimes slowly with slurs, sometimes quickly, and sometimes with diminutions”.
Since the toccatas are full of “affetti cantabili e diversità di passi, copiose di passi e di effetti”, notice how the clear sound transparency of this instrument allowed the performer to emphasize the refined stylistic qualities of a lexicon so pervaded by vagueness, vivacity, gracefulness, gravity, sweetness, harshness, delight , sadness, torment, boldness.
And if the absolute purity of “Ripieno”, perfect for the majestic sparkling chords of the «beginnings of toccatas» (Toccatas I, II, V, VI) is surprising; the delicacy and gentless of the “principale” appropriate to meditative movements, to lyric melodic passages, to chromatic and languid inflections, to «complaining, sad, mournful» harmony, (Toccatas III, IV, VIII) is fascinating. Similarly, as the registrations with “gaps” exalting the “merry, sweet and sonorous harmony” of episodes in imitation, of metric contrasts, of daring gestures, of decorative and virtuosic formulas such as minutes, double passages (toccata I, II, IX, X, XI) are enchanting; so the fresh brightness of the flutes stops, suitable for imitative passages, for mellow and lively melodies, for quick rhythmic dynamic gestures, for diminutions, (Toccata I, IX, X) are ravishing.
The entire collection is pervaded by a magic of sounds that seemingly unending emotional tension. For his music is a special music.
It is the art of the imaginary par excellence, it is an art of sounds that knows no demarcation of time or space.
Ivana Valotti © 2023


Ivana Valotti
Ivana Valotti is considered one of the major specialists of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Italian repertoires for organ. Since 1990, she is an organ professor at the Conservatory “Giuseppe Verdi” in Milan, where she also teaches “Basso continuo”, “Hystory and Analysis of Early Organ music repertoire” and “ Renaissance and Baroque Performance Practice” in the advanced course of Early music for Organ. Valotti graduated in Piano, Organ and Harpsichord from the Milan Conservatory, specialising in Italian and German Baroque repertoire with Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini, Michael Radulescu and Harald Vogel. She won the organ competitions of Noale (Venice, 1980) and Rome (1983), and received the “Girolamo Frescobaldi Award” at the Noale competition in 1983. In the corse of her intense concert activity, she has participated in many festivals in Europe and Latin America, both as soloist and as an instrumentalist of the Collegium vocale et instrumentale “Nova Ars Cantandi”, directed by Giovanni Acciai.
As a soloist, Valotti has realized numerous CD for the labels Dynamic, Universal, Tactus, Archiv Produktion and Naxos labels, (“De divina inventione” with organ works of Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Sebastian Bach; the world premiere recording of the complete Organ works by Girolamo Cavazzoni; the world premiere recording of “Musiche inedite dai Codici Chigi” by Girolamo Frescobaldi, “Organ works by Giovanni Salvatore).
These productions were particularly admired and acclaimed from critical rewews (Musica, Classic Voice, Early music review, Grammophone, MusicVoice, IMD) for its exemplary performances.
As an instrumentalist of “Nova Ars Cantandi” she has realized numerous world premiere recordings of Italian Baroque sacred vocal music: “Armonici entusiasmi di Davide”, op. IX by Giovanni Battista Bassani; “ Arpa davidica, ovvero Salmi e Messa concertata a tre, quattro voci e continuo”, op. XVI by Tarquinio Merula; “Contrafacta” by Claudio Monteverdi; “Responsoria” by Leonardo Leo (this recording received the prestigious Franco Abbiati Award 2019); “Compiete” op VII, by Giovanni Legrenzi; Harmonia d’affetti devoti”, op. III by Giovanni Legrenzi; “Salmi e Magnificat” by Francesco Durante.
She has held masterclasses in various European institutions (in Paris, Stuttgart, Munich, Prague, Seville and Stockolm).
She has published some articles and musicological essays such as “The emotional language in the Orgelbuchlein of Johann Sebastian Bach” and “Music and Reformation: the “chorale” for the books of the Conservatory “Giuseppe Verdi” of Milan.
In 2015 Valotti joined the Réseau Européen de Musique Ancienne, and in 2022 with “Nova Ars Cantandi” she became member of Fédération des ensembles vocaux and instrumentaux spécialisés (FEVIS).
Since 2022 she has been the artistic director of Musica Mirabilis, Festival musicale Internazionale “Giovanni Legrenzi” alongside Giovanni Acciai.


Girolamo Frescobaldi: (b Ferrara, bap. mid-Sept 1583; d Rome, 1 March 1643). Italian composer and keyboard virtuoso. He was one of the greatest keyboard composers of the first half of the 17th century.