The Organ Of San Giuseppe De Brescia - Music Of Girolamo Frescobaldi
René Saorgin, organ
THIS RECORDING HAS NOT BEEN REISSUED BY HARMONIA MUNDI. WHILE NOT THE EXACT RECORDING, RENE SAORGIN DID RE-RECORD SOME OF THESE WORKS FOR A DIFFERENT LABEL. THIS TITLE IS AVAILABLE ON STREAMING SERVICES AND CAN BE ACCESSED BY CLICKING ON THE SERVICE BELOW.
by David M. Greene
I once, in these pages, used a Frescobaldi record to memorialize a perfectly dreadful calembour that had plagued my mind for nigh-on thutty year. However, just now I found myself puzzling over the meaning of such a name as Frescobaldi's, and how one would English it. Recourse to my not-very-good Italian dictionary confirmed what the parts seemed to be--fresco, fresh, unseasoned, green, cool, and baldi, probably the plural of baldo, daring, arrogant, haughty. This produced an unmistakable image--a swaggering fellow, fresh and haughty, pinching the ragazze, quick to anger, seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon's mouth. But, suspecting the combination to have an everyday meaning known to every Italian, I called Pattey DeBellis, our local roving authority on Romance languages. She was as puzzled as I. "Hmm!," she hmmed, "New bold ones." And suddenly there it was: Frescobaldi was, anglice, "Jerry Newbold." Anyhow, in the earlier article, I believe that I pointed out that Frescobaldi was a sort of ancestor of Presley and Sinatra and Kiss--one of the first musical performers for whom people turned out in droves. As organist of St. Peter's in Rome, he is said to have drawn the kind of crowds that have since been attracted there only by papal coronations and the like. And, like his earlier Roman confrere, Palestrina, he exerted a powerful and long-standing impact on musical composition.
MHS 4014 is a record devoted to canzone, toccate, capnccios, and ricercari from Frescobaldi's pen (or whatever he wrote with), and provides a good opportunity to discuss what those terms meant back in those times. For the canzone, side two gives a broad hint of their origins in the term canzone alla francese (i.e., in the French style). The term canzona goes back to the Latin verb canere (to sing). It has several musical and poetic applications in Italian, but here it is a direct translation of the French chanson, which, through another ramification, also comes from canere. Both words therefore mean, basically, song. Today a chanson is the kind of thing that, say, Charles Aznavour sings, but in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was specifically a secular song for several voices, each singing its own strand in complex imitation of the others, usually to an amatory text (often as not the kind of self-pitying affair that is the norm for most love-poetry). Such songs, because French and Flemish composers were in style and riding high, were popular all over Europe, and were even frequently the basis for the most serious religious music.
One way to produce lute (or organ or whatever) music in a hurry was to transcribe what was available. The current fad being the French chanson, Italians, who were in the instrumental vanguard, turned such works into instrumental canzone. And when they began writing new works, it was natural enough to imitate the style--et voila! CANZONE ALLA FRANCESE! Cut loose from subservience to a lyric, the instrumental canzone developed in their own way, but generally speaking, became a succession of contrasting sections, each with its own theme. Frescobaldi, however, as he proceeded, developed a means of unifying them by making the episodes (separated by free-form cadential formulae) variations on a theme rather than each something new and different.
The toccata is a "touch" piece (from toccare = to touch)--digitally, rather than emotionally; in other words, it is played, not sung. (See also canzona per sonar, song to be sounded.) The term appears as early as 1536 with the lutenist Francesco Canova ("Francesco da Milano''), but it becomes properly a keyboard work. Andrea Gabrieli wrote toccate for organ (the first such?) that interspersed chordal passages with runs. Later, much as did the canzone, they became alternations of free and imitative episodes. With Frescobaldi, the episodicity remains, but each episode becomes an individual exercise of the artistic imagination. The capriccio (caprice or whimsy) was another polyphonic form--an ancestor of the fugue, like the canzona and the ricercar. It is marked by an even freer play of the imagination, but is often based on a specific theme. Frescobaldi's is on a basso flamenga, which means neither a short flamingo or a Flamenco fish but simply a Flemish bass-line, which, lacking the requisite information, I shall guess to be one of those perversely named Spanish dance themes like "La Folia" that cropped up all over. Keyboard capriccios don't appear until around 1600, by the way.