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Harpsichord & fortepiano

John Collins

Volume 16, No. 1

Work: Giovanni Paisiello Capriccio
(Favourite Sonata) in D minor
Editor: Adriano Cirillo
Publisher: Edition HH, HH267.SOL, Bicester, 2010


Paisiello (1740-1816) is probably better known today, like many 18th century Italian composers, for his operas, but he left a substantial quantity of keyboard pieces in manuscripts, very few of which have been made available in modern editions. Taken from a collection of rondos and capriccios compiled during his stay in St. Petersburg for his pupil, the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorvna, this particular piece was published in London in c.1798 by Harrison, Cluse & Co who entitled it "a favourite Sonata", this print being used as the basis for the modern edition.

Covering 16 pages, this piece is divided into several loosely defined sections marked by tempo changes; it opens with a Poco adagio, the theme D-F-A-Bb-C#, particularly the falling diminished seventh at the end, being taken as a very general focal point throughout, frequently with the missing intervals inserted. Further sections are headed Allegro (in F, closing in the dominant), Poco andante in Db, Poco allegro that opens in Bb Minor, and Poco lento in G Minor that leads into a Poco adagio; the piece concludes with a lengthy Allegro vivace that opens in Bb with the material from the earlier Allegro that soon degenerates into much arpeggiation over stock basses or semi-breve or minim chords. Towards the end a left hand quaver figure that ends with on augmented second is heard persistently, this leading to more arpeggiation and a close of dominant and tonic chords punctuated by rests.

The texture is predominantly two-part or three-part with the occasional four parts in chordal passages, including syncopated crotchet writing. Most of the piece consists of lengthy passages of Alberti or Mürky basses in semiquavers beneath winding semiquaver figures or more arpeggiation or in the right hand - there are even passages of arpeggiated chords in contrary motion. The slow movement that opens abruptly in Db does offer a few bars of more lyrical writing that is quickly subsumed into semiquaver figuration; the slow movements do have something of the recitative about them in places. The relatively few dynamic markings imply a far greater suitability to the by then dominant pianoforte, or even the clavichord. This extensive use of such oscillating Muërky basses gives the piece a motoric forward impetus. This is at the expense of the lyrical melodic lines found in other Italian keyboard and opera composers such as Rutini and Cimarosa, and is similar to keyboard works by Paisiello's Neapolitan precursor Giacomo Selitto. Paisiello's use of the minor second in written out trills reminds us of the Venetian Picchi some 150 years earlier.

The print is clear and, even with up to seven systems a page, easily readable, There is nothing to trouble a good sight-reader (not even the seventh-chords arpeggios which sweep through four octaves requiring alternating hands) and the end result sounds most impressive - it is great fun to play! Perhaps Signor Cirillo would like to offer further examples of Paisiello's sonatas in the future, particularly those in the more traditional form - in the meantime, thanks to him for bringing us this piece and particularly to Per Hartmann for being enterprising enough to publish it.

We are grateful to John Collins for permission to reproduce this review.
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