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The Consort

Ursula Brett

Volume 74, Summer 2018

Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709)
Motet: Ite, procul abite, maestitiae, for soprano, 2 violins and basso continuo
ed. Michael Talbot
Edition HH, HH433.FSP, Launton, 2017 (pbk, £12.50
ISMN 979 0 708146 39 1

Motet: O fideles, modicum sustinete tempus, for alto, 2 violins and basso continuo
ed. Michael Talbot
Edition HH, HH434.FSP, Launton, 2017 (pbk, £12.50)
ISMN 979 0 708146 40 7

Motet: Totus orbis, umbra canit, for soprano, 2 violins and basso continuo
ed. Michael Talbot
Edition HH, HH435.FSP, Launton, 2017 (pbk, £12.50)
ISMN 979 0 708146 41 4


It is unusual to find a vocal work by the violinist-composer Giuseppe Torelli. Born in Verona in 1658, he was admitted to the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna in 1684 as a suonatore di violino, or violinist. He studied composition with Giacomo Antonio Perti (1661-1756), a composer-member of the Accademia Filarmonica, whose uncle, Don Lorenzo Perti, was a mansionario (or beneficed priest) at the huge basilica of San Petronio in Bologna. Thus, the young Torelli associated with the cream of Bolognese musical society both as a member of the Accademia Filarmonica, and as a member of the cappella musicale of San Petronio, into which he was admitted in 1686. There he followed in the footsteps of such eminent composers as Cazzari, Perti, Colonna, Vitali and Corelli.

Torelli left Bologna for a time when the cappella musicale of San Petronio was temporarily disbanded (1696-1700), and in 1698 was appointed maestro di concerto for the Margrave of Brandenburg at Ansbach. It was probably during this period that he wrote the three motets under consideration here. Although they are technically anonymous, Michael Talbot argues, with fairly convincing evidence, that they should be attributed to Torelli. The transcription is from a German manuscript, recently discovered in 2001 when it was returned to the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin after lying in obscurity in Kiev since World War II. It is now held in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

The manuscript certainly shows signs of Bolognese influence. When I accessed the Staatsbibliothek website, I found the first page of each motet set out in partitura, using modern time signatures and regular bar lines. But the key signatures accord with the ‘modern’ seventeenth-century tones (or modes) used variously by the Bolognese theorists – motets 1 and 2 using Tones 8 and 6 respectively at their natural pitch. These original features pertaining to key and time signatures are retained in the transcription.

A big advantage of this edition is that it allows the student to uncover the original music insofar as is possible. Editorial adjustments are recorded in the critical notes. Whether or not these motets are by Torelli, they form a very attractive set that would make a useful addition to the repertoire of any parish church having a couple of competent violinists and singers who can cope with the melismatic writing.

The Latin texts, which come with an English translation, are non-liturgical. The first motet reflects on the transitory nature and purpose of life, and the second is designed for feasts of the Virgin Mary, while the third motet is suitable for Christmas; it contains an interesting allusion to a Central European pastorella melody, a carol that was widely sung and often quoted in compositions for Christmas. All three demonstrate Torelli’s skilful use of word-painting, while his structural inventiveness is evident in the arias and alleluia sections.

Musically, each motet comprises a series of three, four or five short (some very short) numbers in contrasting moods which include one or two arias, recitatives and perhaps a sinfonia. An extended vocal range is not required. In keeping with the theoretical requirements of the time, the range rarely stretches beyond the octave – soprano e'-e'' and alto c'-c''. The two violins are integral to the arias, interweaving in imitative, trio-sonata fashion both with each other and the voice. Basso continuo is used throughout, the editor providing a simple realisation, which can be modified if desired.

This edition has much to recommend it. The motets can be purchased separately. Introductory background material is presented in English and German; critical notes (in English only) are individual to each score. A particularly useful feature is the supply of separate violin 1, violin 2, basso, and voice parts that come with the score. These are clearly set out and easy to read. The full score has a nice, clear layout, but the small size of the print might present a problem for older readers. Perhaps Edition HH might bear this practical point in mind for the future.

We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.

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