Reviewed by Paul Whitehead*
1.2 Instrumental works are spread across
approximately one-half of Marini's extant publications, three of which,
Op. 1, Op. 8, and Op. 22, contain exclusively non-vocal pieces.(note
1) These instrumental works, and particularly the sonatas, have
attracted the most attention from musicians and scholars alike. To be
sure, the sonatas are not the exclusive preserve of the solo violin: Marini
composed such pieces with a range of instrumental combinations in mind,
and his instrumentation often allows for substitution. Nevertheless, the
association of idiomatic, expressive, and challenging string writing with
the development of free-standing musical structures, associated particularly
with the sonata, remains an area of great interest The importance of Marini
in this connection has long been acknowledged, but there are also some
developments, and perhaps changes of emphasis, to be discerned over the
course of his career. His musical style appears to have shifted focus
somewhat, from the solo display evinced in the earlier works towards a
more thoughtful working-out of themes in the context of fewer, but lengthier,
sections. But in addition to the sonatas, Marini's legacy includes variation-based
works and many examples of the standard dance genres of the day. This
recording, with its inclusion of several pieces from the surviving Libro
Terzo of Op. 22 (a collection that does not preserve any true solo
sonatas), should help broaden the popular image of Marini from that of
a special-effects innovator to that of a versatile and highly gifted composer.
2.2 Almost inevitably, the modest proportions of these individual dances from Op. 22, and their positioning back-to-back on the recording, encourage one to perceive them as a larger group. (The effect is reinforced on repeated hearings.) In the absence of any commentary in the program notes, however, one assumes that these opening tracks on the disc were not planned as a larger entity. They comprise an opening sinfonia, followed by a balletto, a corrente, a zarabanda and a balletto allemano, in various keys but all taken from Op. 22. However, it would have been useful had the notes provided some kind of rationale for the ordering usedparticularly so since a common practice in the early-to-mid-seventeenth century was to print pieces in "like-with-like" configurations (for instance, all the ballettos together, then the zarabandas, and so on, the principle followed in Op. 22). This means that, in many cases, performers and performing conventions were ultimately responsible for the selection and ordering of pieces. Interestingly, though, the layout of Op. 22 itself presents an ingenious departure from the common procedure: the second balletto (and the final item on the Romanesca recording) itself comprises an explicitly ordered sequence of entrata, balletto, gagliarda, corrente, and retirata. The whole encompasses, as violinist Andrew Manze points out, a wide tonal range, even concluding in a key remote from that of the opening. Unique though this particular procedure might be among the Op. 22 ballettos, it suggests, when considered together with the division of several of the collection's sonatas into clearly labeled sections, that Marini was becoming interested in the explicit indication of hierarchical structures.(note 2)
2.3 Op. 3, otherwise an exclusively vocal
collection, closes with the composer's impressive set of variations on
the Romanesca. The inclusion of this piece comes as no surprise, as it
enjoys a privileged position in the repertoire of this ensemble. Manze
informs us that, of several sets of variations on the Romanesca published
between 1600 and 1630, he considers Marini's the closest in spirit to
its original nature as a vehicle for inspiration. Indeed, this very set
of variations provided the inspiration for the ensemble's name.
3.2 For the dances and sinfonias of Op. 22
Romanesca steers towards the richer end of the textural spectrum allowed
for in Marini's print, employing the optional viola part (played by Jan
Schlapp), for instance, wherever one is provided. Seventeen of the twenty-five
pieces in Op. 22 also include a part for the chitarra spagnola; this comprises
alfabeto chord designations above the stave in the Basso Continuo partbook.
Again, Romanesca takes advantage of this option more often than not; Nigel
North skillfully alternates between this instrument and the chitarrone.(note
4.2 The contents of the recording are nothing if not diverse, and the following dance numbers illustrate this to perfection. Romanesca captures the spirit of the individual dance types, and are more than ready to elaborate on the printed music when this seems fitting; an example is the second part of the Balletto Quarto Allemano (track 5), where embellishments are improvised with great flair and a crescendo added to Marini's already humorous ostinato.
4.3 Marini's sonatas are undoubtedly his most complex works and, in their mercurial contrasts of style and their advanced technical requirements, his most challenging for both performer and listener. Romanesca does not attempt in any way to mask the inherent sectionalism of these sonatas. Rather, the figuration in one section stands in clear relief from that of its surroundings, but structural fragmentation—always a danger in the early sonata repertoire—is for the most part avoided. I suspect that the group made their sonata selections partly with structural considerations in mind. Conversely, in the several fairly lengthy restatements of the long opening line that occur in the Sonata Prima a 2 of Op. 8 (track 13), an additional element of contrast is brought to the performance so as to alleviate the slightly repetitious nature of the music. The alternation between the two violinists, Andrew Manze and Caroline Balding, is nicely complemented by that between the accompanying harpsichord and chitarrone (John Toll and Nigel North, respectively) in but one of many passages performed with a superb sense of ensemble. Manze points out that an effect of redundancy in these restatements is mitigated by Marini's changes in key, modestly ignoring the kaleidoscopic changes in color and timbre projected by the ensemble itself.
4.4 The Romanesca, Pass'e mezo, and Passacaglio appear in Op. 3, Op. 8, and Op. 22, respectively. The poignant Passacaglio, in which three repeated sections are framed by an Introdutione and Finale, forms the majestic conclusion of Op. 22, itself Marini's last surviving opus. The performers do full justice here to the plangent harmonies of the theme and its rondeau couplets by playing them relatively unadorned. On the other hand, they recognize that the Romanesca requires a more spirited and daring approach, particularly with regard to tempo and meter. They bring out well the "hidden" triple meter of the theme (in the source it appears in tempus imperfectum notation) long before the gagliarda and corrente variations impose triple meter towards the end.
4.5 These performances are, in short, both thoughtful and inspired. And the welcome dedication of an entire disc to the music of Marini presents us with a more rounded picture of this impressive figure.
* Paul Whitehead (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a specialist in German instrumental music of the seventeenth century. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996 and was subsequently Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Franklin & Marshall College. In September, 1999, he joined the faculty of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Music at Istanbul Technical University.
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Notes1. Thomas D. Dunn, "The Sonatas of Biagio Marini: Structure and Style," The Music Review 36 (1975), 16179, is the principal published study of Marini's sonatas.
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2. The first balletto of Op. 22 bears some organizational
similarities with the second one in that it, too, is divided into labeled
sections. These, however, are unified by key, and they are mostly of the "numerical" type ("Prima Parte," "Sec. parte," and so on); only the final,
fifth section bears an additional designation, "Corrente".
3. The chitarra spagnola is indicated for all but one
of the ballettos (the tonally wide-ranging Balletto Secondo), and all
of the zarabandas, correntes, and sinfonias. Ottavio Beretta's edition
of Op. 22, cited above, includes, as part of a thorough description of
the publication's contents, information on the performance techniques
of the chitarra spagnola.
Op. 8: Sonate, symphonie e retornelli (Venice, 1629); facsimile edition: Florence: Scelte, 1979. Modern edition of the sonatas by Thomas D. Dunn (Madison: A-R Editions, 1981).
Op. 22: Per ogni sorte d[i] strumento musicale, Diversi generi di Sonate, da Chiesa, e da Camera (Venice, 1655); modern edition by Ottavio Beretta (Milan: Suvini Zerboni, 1996).
The Dunn and Beretta editions contain scholarly introductions, and Beretta
includes an up-to-date bibliography.
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