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The Consort

Penelope Cave

Summer 2009, Vol. 65

Balli per Cembalo
90 pieces from early Italian manuscripts
Edition HH, HH075.SOL, Bicester, 2007 (pbk 25)
ISMN 979 0 708041 81 8

The Selosse Manuscript
Edition HH, HH077.SOL, Bicester, 2008 (pbk 33)
ISMN 979 0 708059 33 2

The excellent Edition HH continues to expand its list of unusual areas of interest for keyboard players. Here, a volume entitled Balli per Cembalo comprises four of the earliest Italian manuscript collections of keyboard dances and dance-songs from about 1540 to about 1620, while the Selosse Manuscript is a recently discovered volume of music by the Jesuit composer Selosse, which can probably be dated to the third quarter of the 17th century. Both volumes have a clear layout and provide the scholarly introduction and textual notes that we have come to expect from the first-rate luminary editors who are employed by this highly regarded publisher. Each collection boasts a coloured print on its covers, and the two are ring-bound, in landscape format.

The Balli per Cembalo opens with the illustrated title page from the earliest printed source of Italian keyboard music (Andrea Antico's Frottole of 1517), aptly showing a musician seated at the new harpsichord, while the lute is relegated to the monkey and the vocal scores are laid aside. The first manuscript in Christopher Hogwood's collection consists of anonymous pieces from the earliest known source of dance music, in Venice. Four of these pieces will be recognised from Howard Ferguson's inclusion of them in his anthology of early Italian Keyboard Music, now out of print; there was also a complete, modernised edition published in Copenhagen in 1962. For the performer looking for items to complement those found in Balli per Cembalo, it is also worth mentioning the Intabolatura Nova di varie sorte di balli, printed in 1551, which is available in a modern edition and sits well alongside this collection.

Music from the Venetian source is followed by transcriptions from a pair of Florentine manuscripts. Most of these short and idiomatic pieces from the two anonymous Florentine manuscripts of about 1600-20 are here transcribed into modern notation for the first time. They are not difficult but their performance, as in the earlier manuscript, requires a strong rhythmic vitality. This is a rich source of tunes and harmonic patterns, ripe for embellishment and variation. To end this collection, the editor includes a much more sizeable work by Facoli, consisting of a dozen variations on the passamezzo antico, now found in a volume of fragments of vocal music in the Royal College of Music. This tantalisingly displays the quality that might have been found in Facoli's lost Libro d'intavolatura di balli d'arpicordo of 1586.

It must have been one of those serendipitous moments, when a volume bound in brown calf with a gold tooled spine was discovered in a second-hand bookshop in 2004. It was found to contain 36 substantial pieces which, apart from John Bull's The King's Hunt, are apparently composed by Selosse, copied in the same professional hand and demonstrating the styles of the period. Almost no music survives from the English Jesuit colleges and very little of this period from those in Europe, so the importance of the Selosse manuscript as a source of English Catholic music is considerable.

Apart from their historical significance, the pieces are of a high quality, and although the book starts with what appears to be a teaching version of variations on La Folia extending to nearly 400 bars, much of the music will fit beautifully into a programme of music composed between the virginalists and Purcell. There is an unusual fugue and two fine chaconnes; the second piece in the book is a particularly characterful, syncopated example. A high number of attractive suite movements also employ variation technique, and a virtuosic hunting piece with a variety of figuration gives the impression of being a 17th-century 'take' on John Bull's earlier composition. I am glad to have these two volumes on my shelves.

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