Yet Three More from Accent

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Program: #18-04, Air Date: 01/16/18

The tireless label of the Baroque gives us love songs of the 17th century, early Baroque Italian cello works, and suites by Johann Schmierer.

I. Johann Abraham Schmierer: Zodaici Musici (1698) (Ensemble Tourbillon/Petr Wagner). Accent CD ACC 24294.

Johann Abraham Schmierer: Zodiaci Musici - Orchestral Suites

There are few composers who have vanished from music history to the extent of Johann Abraham Schmierer. We know very little about this composer’s origins, education, career and life journey. Some listeners, during or after hearing this recording, may well wonder why this music – despite its undeniable qualities and relatively early publication (already in 1902 in the tenth volume of Denkmäler Deutscher Tonkunst) – has not been recorded earlier. One reason is surely the fragmentary character of the collection, for six suites are obviously missing. The main reason why his music was ignored for so long, however, was most probably the composer’s name. Even an unbiased musicologist, interpreter or music lover who stumbles across his name ('Schmierer' is German for 'scribbler') may instinctively ask “Can a composer with such a name manage to write good music?” Now, thanks to Petr Wagner and his Ensemble Tourbillon anyone can hear for himself than he can indeed do so!

From Gramophone: Johann Abraham Schmierer (literally ‘scribbler’) was discharged from Augsburg cathedral choir in 1680, but it was in the same city that Zodiaci Musici was published in 1698. Notwithstanding the unwieldy original title, alluding to the signs of the Zodiac, there is no discernible connection between the musical content of the six suites and astrology. The music reveals the typical fascination in late-17th-century Germany for French style, with each suite adopting Lullian character and structure (a French overture followed by seven dances). Schmierer wanted the suites to be multi-purpose, suggesting in his preface that they could be ‘for comedies, dinner music, serenades and other such cheerful gatherings’, and noting that they could be performed by just four solo string instruments and a harpsichord, or alternatively could be expanded by the addition of doubling wind instruments.
Ensemble Tourbillon mix up approaches, performing three suites with only solo strings and continuo but adding flute to No 3 and two oboes and bassoon to some of No 5, and they opt to play No 6 exclusively on woodwind instruments (a smoothly cantabile quartet of two oboes, taille and bassoon). Fluent little dances are served effectively by the ensemble’s brightly alert and responsive playing: there is plenty of vitality produced by edgy string bowing in quicker dances (such as the Bourée in No 2), but in various tripping menuets and rondeaus rhythmical inégales are unforced and natural.

Suite für Orchester Nr. 1 F-Dur
1. Ouvertüre
2. Entrée
3. Passacaille
4. Menuet
5. Ballet
6. Gigue
7. Gavotte
8. Rondeau
Suite für Orchester Nr. 2 d-moll
1. Ouvertüre
2. Allemande
3. Rondeau
4. Bourrée
5. Menuet
6. Gavotte
7. Gigue
7. Plainte
Suite für Orchester Nr. 3 D-Dur
1. Ouvertüre
2. Entrée
3. Chaconne
4. Courante
5. Sarabande
6. Bourrée alternativement avec le Trio
7. Air
Suite für Orchester Nr. 4 h-moll
1. Ouvertüre
2. Allemande
3. Courante
4. Sarabande
5. Bourrée
6. Air
7. Ballet
8. Rondeau
Suite für Orchester Nr. 5 B-Dur
1. Ouvertüre
2. Allemande
3. Chaconne
4. Bourrée
5. Menuet
6. Gavotte
7. Gigue
8. Rondeau
Suite für Orchester Nr. 6 g-moll
1. Ouvertüre
2. Entrée
3. Menuet
4. Bourrée
5. Melodie
6. Gavotte
7. Gigue
8. Air

II. Meraviglia d’amore: Love Songs from 17th Century Italy (Marco Beasley/Private Musicke/Pierre Pitzl). Accent CD ACC 24330.


The programme of this disc brings together pieces by Italian authors from the first half of the 17th century, both vocal and instrumental pieces, here performed by a period guitar ensemble. Many of the included works are signed by lesser-known composers, such as Antonio Carbonchi, Biagio Marini, Michaelangelo Galilei, or Angelo Michele Bartolotti, but the disc also includes pieces by Girolamo Kapsberger, one of the most famous theorbo players of his time, and Francesco Corbetta, “the greatest guitar player”, according to his contemporary Gaspar Sanz. The songs presented on this recording centre on love, moving in a labyrinth which includes hope, sorrow, optimism, disappointment and joy. Marco Beasley is a specialist in 17th-century vocal music and has some fine recordings to his name. His light and agile voice is excellently suited to these fine Italian delights of the early Baroque period. He is accompanied by Private Musicke under the direction of Pierre Pitzl, great experts in this kind of repertoire.

From Early Music Review: This delightful CD presents a series of instrumental pieces by the likes of Cario Calvi, Antonio Carbonchi and a whole plethora of largely unfamiliar composers interspersed with songs by the more familiar Kapsberger, d’India and Marini. The original slant comes from the fact that Private Musicke can call upon two Baroque guitars, theorbo, cello and gamba, producing a wonderfully rich and lively sound in the instrumental pieces and a full and imaginative accompaniment to Marco Beasley’s singing. Clearly letting their instruments lead them, the instrumentalists play with a winning mercurial quality, strumming and thrumming their way through the repertoire, with inspired cross-rhythms and exploratory introductory sections which set this music in a very believable context. My one reservation is about the recorded quality, which is very close, and in the case of the singer a little edgy, giving his voice a brittleness which a more generous recorded acoustic would have alleviated. One advantage of the close recording, however, is the placing of the various instruments, which allows very clear give and take back and forth between the various players. These are passionate and musically imaginative interpretations of this repertoire, which in the likes of the masterly O del ciel d’Amor by Sigismondo D’India reach remarkable heights of expression and drama. It is easy to hear in these performances the theatricality of music which was being composed just as the medium of opera was taking shape.

1 - Ballo Dell'Granduca (Intavolatura di Chitarra E Chitarriglia, Bologna 1646) (2 :50)
2 - Sfere, Fermate (Le Musiche Do Cantar Solo, Milano 1609) (1 :30)
3 - O Dolci Sguardi (Vilanelle A Una E Più Voci, Roma 1619) (2 :57)
4 - Ciaccona (Sonate di Chitarra Spagnola, Firenze 1640) (2 :12)
5 - Toccata (Le Cinque Libri Della Chitarra Alla Spagnola, Roma 1640) (1 :22)
6 - Allemanda (Armoniosi Concerti Sopra la Chitarra Spagnuola, Bologna 1650) (2 :33)
7 - O del cielo d'Amor (Le Musiche da cantar solo, Milano 1609) (6 :34)
8 - Passacaglia (Varii Scherzi di Sonate Per la Chitarra Spagnuola Libro Quarto, Bruxelles 1648) (2 :34)
9 - Meraviglia D'amore (Scherzi E Canzonette, Parma 1622) (4 :06)
10 - Toccata (Sonate di Chitarra Spagnola, Firenze 1640) (0 :44)
11 - Alma Mia (Vilanelle A Una E Più Voci, Roma 1619) (3 :07)
12 - Toccata - Volta (Primo Libro di Intavolatura di Liuto, München 1620) (4 :55)
13 - Cinta di Rose (Libro Quarto di Vilanelle, Roma 1623) (2 :59)
14 - Canzoni di Sonare : Canzona (3 :45)
15 - Mirami (Scherzi E Canzonette, Parma 1622) (3 :03)
16 - Allemanda (Libro Primo di Chitarra Spagnola, Firenze 1640) (1 :35)
17 - Brando (Armoniosi Concerti Sopra la Chitarra Spagnuola, Bologna 1650) (1 :12)
18 - Ite, Sospiri Miei (Libro Quarto di Vilanelle, Roma 1623) (4 :14)
19 - Già Risi (Libro Quarto di Vilanelle, Roma 1623) (3 :44)
20 - Passacaglia (Varii Scherzi di Sonate Per la Chitarra Spagnuola ... Libro Quarto, Bruxelles 1648) (3 :27)

III. The Cello in Baroque Italy (Roel Dieltiens, ce/Anthony Woodrow, db/Konrad Junghänel, theorbo/Robert Kohnen, harpsichord). Accent CD ACC 24304.

Cello in Baroque Italy: Gabrielli, Marcello, Vivaldi

From MusicWeb International: In the 18th century the cello developed into one of the main string instruments. It was often used in the basso continuo but increasingly also as a solo instrument. Its history is not straightforward. The word 'cello' seems to have been used for the first time in 1665 by Giulio Cesare Arresti, an organist and composer from Bologna. That doesn't mean that the instrument he referred to did not exist before; it was probably just a new name given to an already existing instrument. In the first half of the 17th century no fewer than 24 different words were used for a string bass instrument. These don't always refer to different instruments; several words may have been used for one and the same. It is very hard to establish which kind of instruments are meant.

These two discs by the Belgian cellist Roel Dieltiens present a kind of history of the cello as it was played in Italy. That has to be taken with a grain of salt: Geminiani was an Italian composer, but worked most of his life in England, and his sonatas op. 5 were published in Paris. Vivaldi composed some of his cello sonatas for a German amateur cellist.

Dieltiens' journey starts with Domenico Gabrielli, the first composer in history to write music specifically for the instrument we now know as the cello. He had the nickname Minghino dal violoncello, 'minghino' being the diminutive of Domenico. He was born in Bologna and studied the cello with Petronio Franceschini, whom he succeeded as cellist in the basilica San Petronio after his teacher's death in 1680. He composed vocal works as well as instrumental music. His main importance from a historical point of view is his contribution to the development of the cello as a common instrument. His oeuvre of pieces for his instrument is small but he also gave it parts in some sacred compositions as well as in his sonatas for trumpets and strings. His seven Ricercari were never printed and were probably written for pedagogical purposes. These ricercari, the Canon for two cellos and two sonatas for cello and basso continuo constitute his complete extant output for the cello.

It is strange that the first disc is entitled "The Beginnings" as the compositions by Benedetto Marcello, Giovanni Bononcini and Willem de Fesch were written at a time when the cello had already established itself. Bononcini was the only cellist among these three masters but his oeuvre for the instrument is very small. In fact, the Sonata in a minor is his only extant cello piece; it was included in a collection of six sonatas for two cellos by various composers, published in 1748. Marcello was a dilettante and was educated as a singer. De Fesch was a Dutch violinist who made a career in England. The Sonata in d minor is attributed to Alessandro Scarlatti, but its authenticity cannot be established.

The pieces by De Fesch and Bononcini date from about the same time as the sonatas by Vivaldi and Geminiani which are included on the second disc. Vivaldi composed a large number of cello concertos and gave the instrument prominent roles in concertos for various instruments. The catalogue of his works includes only nine pieces for cello and basso continuo. It is quite possible that he wrote more and some of his works have been lost. Vivaldi didn't bother to publish his cello sonatas. Six of them were published in Paris by Charles-Nicolas Le Clerc in the late 1730s. It is likely this happened without Vivaldi's knowledge. The publisher tried to exploit the popularity of the cello in France at the time, and simply put together six sonatas which were circulating in manuscript. Some sonatas may originally have been written for the pupils of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. Others were the result of commissions by dilettantes, mostly aristocrats. One of them could have been Count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn, for whom Giovanni Benedetto Platti also composed a considerable number of pieces. The Sonatas in g minor (RV 42) and in B flat (RV 46) are included in the library of the Counts of Schönborn-Wiesentheid.

The popularity of the cello in France may also have been the reason that Geminiani in 1746 published his op. 5 in Paris. France had long resisted the influence of Italian music, but around 1700 more and more composers began to embrace the Italian style aiming at a mixture of French and Italian elements. In time the Italian style overshadowed the French taste. That came especially to the fore in the decline of the viola da gamba - symbol of everything French - in favour of the Italian cello. It is not known whether Geminiani had a specific cellist in mind when he composed his six sonatas. They contain some influences of the French style. A striking example is the second section of the last movement of the Sonata No 6. It is in slow tempo, and very much reminds me of the French tombeau. Geminiani's sonatas are remarkable for their marked rhythmic structure. In this respect they are quite different from Vivaldi's sonatas in which melody is one of the main elements.

Both aspects are perfectly conveyed by Roel Dieltiens. He produces a beautiful singing tone in Vivaldi and there is no lack of expression in the slow movements in both Vivaldi and Geminiani. The rhythms in the latter's fast movements come off through strong dynamic accents and differentiated articulation. The sonatas by both composers - and especially Vivaldi - are available in various complete recordings. Even so the reissue of this recording of 1991 is most welcome. Dieltiens delivers much better performances here than in his recording of 2009 (Et'cetera) which is marred by all sorts of inappropriate improvisations (review). The first disc also has some competition as far as Gabrielli is concerned but overall the music on the programme here is far less known. Again Dieltiens is totally convincing in his interpretations. The improvisational features of the ricercares can't be overlooked, and these are well exposed here. Richte van der Meer is Dieltiens' equal in the pieces for two cellos.

The liner-notes are not always clearly intelligible, probably the effect of the translations from the Italian originals. It is rather odd that the back insert of this set lists the pieces by Domenico Gabrielli as two sonatas, lasting 30:05 and 11:06 respectively. I have corrected that in my header.

Cello aficionados will be happy to see that these two recordings have been reissued.

Domenico GABRIELLI (1659-1690)
Sonata in g minor [5:43]
Ricercar I in G [2:05]
Ricercar II in A [8:18]
Canon à due violoncelli, uno entra una battuta doppo l'altro in D [2:15]
Ricercar VII in D [5:25]
Ricercar VI in G [3:22]
Ricercar III in D [3:21]
Sonata in A [5:20]
Ricercar IV in E flat [4:07]
Ricercar V in C [1:44]
Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739)
Sonata in g minor, op. 2,4 [5:56]
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747)
Sonata for two cellos in a minor [8:39]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725) (attr)
Sonata in d minor [3:56]
Willem DE FESCH (1687-1761)
Sonata in a minor, op. 13,6 [5:53]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sonata in e minor (RV 40) [13:22]
Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)
Sonata in a minor, op. 5,6 [8:48]
Sonata in B flat (RV 46) [11:53]
Sonata in C, op. 5,3 [12:24]
Sonata in d minor, op. 5,2 [11:29]
Sonata in g minor (RV 42) [12:28]

Composer Info

Johann Abraham Schmierer, Antonio Carbonchi, Biagio Marini, Michaelangelo Galilei, Angelo Michele Bartolotti, Girolamo Kapsberger,Francesco Corbetta, Domenico GABRIELLI (1659-1690), Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739), Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747), Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725), Willem DE FESCH (1687-1761), Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741), Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)

CD Info

CD ACC 24294, CD ACC 24330, CD ACC 24304