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Harpsichord and fortepiano

John Collins

April 2010

Balli per Cembalo 25.00 HH075: Editor Christopher Hogwood.

Available through www.editionhh.co.uk


In Balli per Cembalo Christopher Hogwood presents no fewer than 89 short dances taken from three Italian MSS and one very much longer piece taken from a MS in the Royal College of Music Library. The first forty-one pieces are taken from the earliest known source of Italian dance music now preserved in Venice; originally containing forty dances and two liturgical settings, Veni Creator and Et exultavit spiritus meus, one folio is missing with the loss of one complete and two partial dances. This is the first modern edition of the pieces in their original note values and also included is the illuminating information on proportional notation. Many of the dances are short, even with the repeats where indicated, and the majority consist of a melodic RH, occasionally lapsing into divisions, over chords of either a triadic composition or, far more frequently, of 1-5-8 in the LH. Included are the earliest settings of the passamezzo antico, two salterellos (barred a cut C but with a definite triple-time lilt) and a paduana. These pieces make excellent companions to the Intabolatura Nova de Balli of 1551, both of these collections predating the extensive collection of dances at Castell'Arquato, which shows far more fluid RH divisions.

Two MSS from collections in Florence provide a further twenty-four dances and arias each. Dated ca 1600-20 they contain further examples of the passamezzo bass as well as settings of the popular Romanesca, Ruggiero and Spagnoletta along with Gagliardas (one of which is in C time, also found in the Ercole Pasquini and much later Spanish examples), Pavanas and a very early Corrente. There are also several aria settings ranging from the purely chordal to an elaborated RH melody over chords. Some of the Passamezzo settings may well have been intended to be played consecutively, like those in the 1551 print. In the intervening 60-80 years between these sets of MSS there is little evidence of an increasingly sophisticated stylisations found in the contemporary prints of Trabaci, Mayone and Frescobaldi and the MSS of Ercole Pasquini and the Neapolitans, but a few of these charming pieces show some felicitous touches such as the single-note walking bass in the first half of no. 69, then transferred in thirds to the treble, and several pieces display an increased division activity in the RH. It is interesting and instructive to compare different settings of the same aria or bass formula. The pieces in these three collections have no respect for academic rules of composition regarding consecutives and application of accidentals; Christopher Hogwood has indicated suggestions for the latter but the player is free to choose for him/herself.

The final piece is a substantial set of variations on the passamezzo anticho by Marco Facoli, a copy of whose second book of dances from 1588 has survived, but not the first from ca1586. Divided into twelve sections plus the represe, the LH frequently employs the triads, and octaves plus fifth of the earlier dances (a formula used with much enthusiasm by the later Picchi) but the RH divisions become increasingly virtuosic and the written out ornaments will pose a stiff technical test to even accomplished players. This piece is indeed a far remove from the earliest version in the Venetian MS.

Apart from the Facoli piece these dances pose no great technical difficulty, although care must be taken with some of the chordal leaps in the LH, and will give much pleasure on playing through; they are equally suited to harpsichord (preferably of a Mediterranean type), clavichord or even a chamber organ. Because they are so short there is plenty of scope for repeats with the player adding further ornaments and divisions. There is a comprehensive critical commentary containing an invaluable concordance of these dances with lute sources in particular. The editing is exemplary and the printing is very clear. Several pages of facsimiles are worth studying, although the number of the Terza Rima in this modern edition is incorrect.



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