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Italian Writers For The Piano

“The works of great masters are the only school where we may see, and from whence we may draw, perfection.”— Charles Avison, in “An Essay on Musical Expression” (third edition, 1775).
Italian air, mild and pure; the country’s shores washed by a sunny ocean, and its majestic mountains rising in the north, are features that can never fail to excite the fancy of an artist. A love for symmetry and beauty, an ear and eye for tone and color; in brief, a natural sense of form and sound, are characteristics of Italy’s people, and everyone who is anxious to study the nature and charm of melody, who desires to learn how to write for the human voice clearly and brightly, will turn with advantage to Italian models. Here is a land where the different towns exercise an immense influence upon the development of musical art; Rome boasts of having produced the first specimens of sacred music; Florence has the credit of having invented the opera; Naples points with pride to Alessandro Scarlatti, whose greatest work was the development of dramatic writing; Venice possessed the celebrated Antonio Lotti and the famous patrician Marcello, while Bologna owed its well-known music school to Paulo Colonna.
Now, as regards some of the characteristics of their music in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; there was hardly a composer who was not an organist, consequently the majority of musical compositions were of a religious character for voices. When instrumental music for keyed instruments came into use it was either for the organ or clavicytherium (about 1300), and later for the clavichord; the wires of the last-named instrument, set in motion by pressure on the key, produce a feeble tone, but under an artistic hand it yields excellent music, being favorable to staccato passages and giving great prominence to the melody. The clavichord was a favorite instrument of John Sebastian Bach, whom modern pianists incline to reproduce roaring like a lion seeking someone to devour.
As we are to pass in review some of the early players on the clavichord and spinet, whose compositions are being brought more and more to the notice of to-day, it is well to know that their teachings did not admit the use of the first or fifth finger; how much easier, then, is the playing of their music according to our way of using the fingers! Following their system, awkwardness and stiffness in execution must have been the result, not to mention a multiplicity of difficulties in rapid playing, but the rules were laid down with emphasis (vide Orgel oder Instrument Tabulatur: Leipzig, 1571), and there was no way of getting away from them. Gradually, however, when the black keys came more into play, the more daring spirits indulged in occasional deviations for convenience; a greater ease so obtained called forth new schools, new theories, till the use of the first and fifth fingers in all possible positions became an established teaching. In reality it was brought about by Bach’s equal temperament tuning (admitting of playing in any number of sharps or flats on a keyed instrument), as against the old system of unequal temperament which allowed but a scant use of chromatic alterations.
One of the earliest writers of suites for harpsichord was Bernardo Pasquini (1637-1710), who was honored with the title of “Organist of the Senate and of the Roman People.” A contemporary of his was Alessandro Scarlatti (1658-1725), a native of the isle where to this day the shepherd plays on his pipe music naïve and primitive as he watches his flock of sheep in the cool dusk of Sicily. But that was nigh unto three hundred years ago, before the assessor’s tax made Sicilians forsake their native fields for coffee plantations in Brazil, cattle raising in the Argentine pampas, or the vine, orange and lemon culture of California.
Opinions differ as to who were Alessandro Scarlatti’s teachers; Giacomo Carissimi (1604-1674), who cast aside Palestrina’s teachings to develop the monodic style, is accredited as having been one of them in Rome; but before reaching the Eternal City Scarlatti is said to have studied with Giovanni Salvatore and Francesco Provenzale. Primarily Alessandro was a composer of operas; he wrote one hundred and five of them, two hundred masses, over six hundred chamber cantatas and many other works. He was the first to aim at establishing in counterpoint a clearer, more singable style, and greater expression, and he rendered an immense service to art in divesting it of the barbaric taste which the Netherlandish School had imposed on contrapuntists. After Scarlatti had shown the way the heavy, monotonous labors of most intricate fugues became more simple, more melodic. To understand this one must know that a fugue is a characteristic musical composition subject to established rules; it takes its name from the fact that it has a principal idea (theme or subject) which is repeated by different voices without much interruption throughout the entire piece; hence it is said that the idea flees (fugge) from one voice to another, from one mode into another. Shortly after Mr. EdwardJ. Dent issued his remarkably interesting work on “Alessandro Scarlatti: His Life and Works”
Mr. J. S. Shedlock (1843 ) undertook the edition of some of that master’s harpsichord and organ music translated into our modern notation. It is a question whether that kind of music can, in these days, be brought to life again, even if it is the music of a supremely gifted craftsman; nevertheless, it should be doubly interesting to students; first, on account of its importance—though it should be well understood that the artistic form of instrumental music owes very little to Alessandro Scarlatti—and again for the fact that this music was written before anything of John Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) had been published. It is music that comes from a time when the harpsichord was hardly considered as a solo instrument by Italian musicians, undoubtedly because there was a decided lack of variety and pleasant expression in the earliest clavecin music.
Following are the last eleven measures of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Toccato Primo with indications of his own fingering fingerings.jpg its equivalent to that now in use being: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
 The most brilliant exponents of the school founded by Alessandro Scarlatti were his pupil, Francesco Durante (1685-1755); this man’s pupil, Nicola Logroscino (1700-1763), and Alessandro’s own son, Domenico, of whom Italy boasts as the foremost harpsichord player of the eighteenth century. Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) when quite young became celebrated for his great finger dexterity and wealth of imagination. Both Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783) and George Frederick Handel (1685- 1759) spoke enthusiastically of his art, the latter even going so far as to measure his strength with the Neapolitan at the invitation of Cardinal Ottoboni. When the great event was over Handel received the preference for his organ playing, but Domenico was declared the winner at the harpsichord, and Ottoboni bestowed on him the title of musices instaurator maximus. Considered as a composer, Domenico Scarlatti’s art is exquisite in delicacy, elegance and clearness of diction; and instead of dry, long-winded expositions of themes we are quite sure of finding always a brief, expressive moment within a short, sonorous figure. His sonatas, which abound in abbreviations, may not equal those of Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), third son of John Sebastian, but there is beauty of expression and sentiment within them, for they are animated by a spirit of joy. In the preface to his edition of Domenico Scarlatti’s works for the harpsichord Hans von Bülow (1830-1894) remarks that “humor and irony appear for the first time in the order of musical creation with Scarlatti;” Schopenhauer defines humor as “seriousness hidden beneath plaisantry,” and irony as “plaisantry hidden beneath seriousness.”
Now let us consider some of the later years’ issues of Alessandro Scarlatti’s harpsichord works: Hans von Bülow was a classicist par excellence, and each one of the eighteen numbers which make up the edition shines with the lustre of consummate skill and taste. Long before von Bülow, Carl Czerny (1791-1857) put forth a so-called edition of two hundred pieces; Carl Tausig (1841-1871) gave us a couple of well-fingered, charmingly restful transcriptions of a Pastorale and Capriccio; Louis Brassin (1840-1884), who for six years was one of the principal teachers at the Conservatory of St. Petersburg, left transcriptions of three pieces well adapted for to-day’s art of pianism: a Scherzo, an Adante (sic) same as the Aranjuez Bourrée) and a Capriccio. F. Boscovitz, of whom Arthur Pugin does not speak very enthusiastically, possibly because he did not know his transcription of antique airs and dances from the virginal, spinet and harpsichord, offers in that set a Burlesca of considerable humor and vivacity. Then there is the Buonamici edition of twenty-two pieces; “Fifty Harpsichord Lessons” revised and fingered by E. Pauer (1826-1905), the striking feature of their style being freedom, ease and brilliancy; and a complete issue of his works for the harpsichord, prepared by Alessandro Longo, published under the title of Opere complete per Clavicembalo di Domenico Scarlatti criticamente rivedute e ordinate in forma di Suites. We find here in place of the word arioso frequently used by Alessandro Scarlatti the substitution by Domenico of the word cantabile, meaning by it that the music so marked should be played or sung in the spirit of a tune, though it may not look like one at first sight. Longo’s edition presents contrasting movements or pieces of related keys grouped in suites, with phrasing, expression marks and an excellent fingering.
Besides these there is a splendid collection by Farrenc in the Trésor des pianistes, an edition of sixty sonatas by Breitkopf and Härtel, Köhler’s edition of twelve sonatas and fugues, Schletterer (18), André (28), some excerpts in Pauer’s Alte Meister and Alte Klaviermusik, also in Peters’ Alte Klaviermusik, and an edition prepared by Cesi, considered as the best.
Unlike Johann Kuhnau (1667-1772), who ridiculed the Italian masters in his comic romance, Der Musikalische Quacksalber (1700), another Saxon, George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), went to Italy to drink in the art of its masters, and he profited so well from his experiences in Florence, Venice, Rome and Naples that even the best of them, Buononcini (1660-1750), a man of rare talent, could not deprive Handel of the honors that were constantly accruing to him; indeed, as a composer of great varieties of forms and rhythms Handel stands on an equal footing with John Sebastian Bach, while Kuhnau is merely remembered for being the author of the most ancient sonatas for the piano.
Very much in the style of Bach and Handel wrote one Domenico Zipoli, who, according to some, was born in 1675, and, according to others, in 1687. To students his large work in two parts, published in 1716, in Rome, under the title of Sonate d’involatura per organo e cimbalo, is of great value. I quote here the theme of a Canzona of his that will reveal to any musical reader the intent of a man of genius who knows his counterpoint:
Venice, with its palaces and the foliated pinnacles of San Marco, gave the world Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739), a poet and musician; he was of noble birth and devoted five years of his life to the duties of a lawyer and the functions of a magistrate. Of all his sonatas I want to call the reader’s attention to one in C minor, because of its lively movements and harmonious design, differing from other sonatas of his in which he makes an abuse of sequences, besides showing signs of a lack of melodic fertility.
Another master who received his inspiration from the school of Domenico Scarlatti, and who was considered as first, outside of Domenico, among the Italian harpsichord players of the eighteenth century, was Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785), whom Robert Browning immortalized in one of his poems; he is called il Buranello by many of his compatriots, after the little island Burrano, in the Venetian lagune. A sonata of his in D, in three movements, full of fancy and requiring good finger facility, is given by Pauer in the second book of his Alte Klaviermusik; I offer here the theme from another sonata by Galuppi, one in E flat and in one movement, an allegro:
 (To be continued in February).

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