03 August 2016

Bernardo Pasquini

I posted on Facebook today that I'm working on playing three sets of keyboard variations by the not-exactly-well-known 17th/18th c. Italian composer principally known for his keyboard music, Bernardo Pasquini (1637-1710).

Very little information is available about Pasquini; even the Wikipedia article is rather spare. Here's from a review of one of the few disks available of his keyboard music (on Stradivarius, an Italian early music label):

Bernardo Pasquini was one of the most celebrated keyboard virtuosos of his time. He can be considered the successor of Girolamo Frescobaldi who - like Pasquini - worked in Rome for most of his career. Pasquini is an important link between the music of the renaissance and early baroque periods and that of the first half of the 18th century.
He was born in Massa Valdinievole in Pistoia and moved to Rome at the age of 13. Here he worked as organist in various churches. He played a crucial role in musical life in Rome, and often collaborated with Arcangelo Corelli in performances of his own vocal works. Today he is best known for his keyboard music, but he also composed operas, oratorios, cantatas and motets. It is interesting to note that not only was he influenced by Frescobaldi but also studied the oeuvre of Palestrina extensively.
Although he mostly worked in Rome, he twice travelled abroad: once to the imperial court in Vienna, and in 1664 he played to Louis XIV in Paris. His high status is reflected by his title of 'organist of the Senate and Roman people' and his inclusion in the Arcadian Academy, alongside such masters as Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti.
Very few of his keyboard works were printed during his lifetime. The largest part has come down to us in two manuscripts which are preserved in Berlin and London respectively. They show a great variety in forms, and Luca Guglielmi has recorded a programme which includes specimens of the different genres.
It is especially in the toccatas that the influence of Frescobaldi comes to the fore. These are pieces in improvisatory style, often beginning in a slow tempo and then speeding up, following the instructions Frescobaldi added to his compositions in this genre. One of the toccatas is based on the imitation of the cuckoo, which was very popular in the 17th century. The same goes for pieces on a basso ostinato; Guglielmi plays two passagagli. A third genre which we also find in Frescobaldi's oeuvre is that of the variation. Guglielmi plays Variazioni in C and Partite diverse di follia. The latter is on a pattern which frequently returns in the baroque period, for instance in the last of Corelli's violin sonatas op. 5 and in Vivaldi's trio sonatas op. 1. There is also a 'modern' element in Pasquini's oeuvre: the suite. Pasquini introduced this French form to Italy, although he didn't strictly follow the texture as had become common in France and Germany. The two suites in the present programme have no sarabanda. They begin with an alemanda, which is followed by a corrente and a giga. The suites close with a bizzarria. These suites are pretty short; the last two movements take less than a minute each.
Guglielmi plays a Pastorale as a bonus track. It is the only piece which is played on the organ. This reflects Pasquini's activities as an organist. The Pastorale is a genre which was also popular in Italy, often associated with Christmastide and imitating the flutes of the shepherds.
This is a nice disc whose programme is largely different from that which was recorded by Roberto Loreggian for Chandos and reviewed here (review ~review). Luca Guglielmi is a busy man who has produced several discs lately. This programme was largely recorded in 2003 and as far as I know has not been released before. That is rather odd, as Pasquini's music is not that well represented in the catalogue. His oeuvre is versatile and compelling, and so is Guglielmi's interpretation. He uses a copy of a beautiful late 17th-century Italian harpsichord, whereas the organ dates from 1752. I only regret that this disc is so short; I would have liked to have heard more.

Johan van Veen

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