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Lodovico Giustini: Sonate Da Cimbalo Di Piano E Forte

Giustini / Brunner
Release Date: 08/31/2010 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777207-2   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Lodovico Giustini
Performer:  Wolfgang Brunner
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GIUSTINI Keyboard Sonatas: No. 1 in g; No. 2 in c; No. 7 in G; No. 8 in A; No. 10 in f; No. 11 in E Wolfgang Brunner (fp) CPO 777-207 (71: 10)

Not many people have heard of Lodovico Giustini (1685–1743). He spent most of his life in and around Pistoia, not too far from Florence, where much of his work was written for the local cathedral, at least after he was appointed maestro di cappella in 1731. There and in his second job with the Congregazione dello Read more Spirito Santo, where he was an organist and music director, he focused mainly upon the day-to-day requirements for the church, writing the usual smaller pieces of sacred music, as well as masses. He was a homegrown person, whose life would have been indistinguishable from many other Italian maestri in smaller towns, save that he had the fortune to come into contact with a new and exciting keyboard instrument, the fortepiano, which was just then being manufactured by Bartolomeo Cristofori. This instrument maker had been engaged by Duke Ferdinando di Medici as early as about the mid 1690s to provide the Florentine court with keyboards. The duke, apparently a talented harpsichordist with the ability to play by ear, gathered a collection that numbered some 37 or more instruments, including harpsichords (33 of them), clavichords, portative organs, and arpicimbalo. By the time he died in 1713, Florence had achieved a reputation as a hotbed of keyboard invention, and Cristofori began to build fortepianos in earnest during the reign of Ferdinando’s successor, Gian Gastone. For whom these were built is still not always clear, but he somehow interested Giustini, who took a leave of absence at the age of 47 to travel to Florence to see and play these instruments.

This brings us to the second part of the tale. Apparently Giustini was impressed enough to publish a set of 12 sonatas for “cimbalo di piano e forte” there in 1732. Of course, this did not come out of the blue or because the composer felt impelled to do so. Rather, he was commissioned by a clerical diplomat, João de Seixas da Fonseca Borges, to produce new music for an instrument favored by the Portuguese court. Domenico Scarlatti had, of course, dabbled with the instrument back in 1710, but the dearth of music for it was a difficulty, particularly since a Cristofori instrument was already on its way to the court of Dom João V. Speculation in the excellent booklet notes by Gerd Reuther rests on a series of coincidental circumstances that resulted in this set of sonatas. This recording only delivers half of the bunch, but these are enough to demonstrate the rather transitional nature of the works. They are in format like Baroque four-movement sonatas or suites, with the bulk of the movements featuring dances. The music itself, however, is far more elegant and sensitive (in that galant vein). For example, the opening movement of Sonata No. 10 in F Minor is marked affettuoso and is an allemande, but the phrasing belongs to an era that still lay almost a decade in the future with its delicate nuances. The final gigue of the E-Major sonata would really not be out of place in C. P. E. Bach, even though there are some occasional turns that are pure Baroque. The Corrente second movement of the G-Major sonata is almost pure Bach, with no hint in the rapid figuration of an earlier style or age. It may be the varying dynamic levels that Giustini uses (hence the name of the instrument), but there is a feeling of stylistic confusion, where as little as one phrase or bar changes dramatically between Baroque sequencing of dances and Classical expanded themes and contrasts. The transition of the periods is truly evident here.

The performance, on a replica of 1726 Cristofori instrument, is universally excellent. Fortepianist Wolfgang Brunner knows just where to place the emphases with clear, precise phrasing. Given the variety of keys (from four sharps to four flats) one wonders about the temperament of the instrument, which should be more pungent harmonically the farther along the circle of fifths it goes. The clarity of this recording in all keys gives a feeling of equal temperament, and in this recording the music shines whatever the key. My only quibble would be with the translation into English in the booklet notes. Wonderful howlers like “By copying the fortepiano piano and the implicated deep examination” or “For example, he hided the second bent side in the way” mean that the editors of the booklet notes should have found a native speaker. There is also a YouTube video of the first movement of the G-Minor sonata demonstrating how the action works, which is a nice addition for a broader perspective. Anyone interested in the development of the fortepiano and its idiosyncratic music will want to purchase this disc.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer

Few developments have so strongly influenced the course of music history as the invention of the piano. Its dominant position in today's music scene is due to Bartolomeo Cristofori, who built the very first gravicembalo col piano e forte, as the instrument was originally called. Cristofori was born in Padua in 1655, but otherwise very little is known about him. Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici appointed him in 1688 to tune and maintain the harpsichords at his court in Florence. Here he started to think about building an instrument which was capable of playing forte and piano. It seems that he developed the hammer action before the turn of the century. The first report about this new instrument was written by the poet Scipione Maffei in his Giornale de' Litterati d'Italia in 1711.

Three original fortepianos of Cristofori have survived. The oldest dates from 1720 and is preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Museo Strumenti Musicali in Rome has a fortepiano from 1722, and the third is in the Grassi Museum in Leipzig. This instrument was built in 1726 and has been copied by Reiner Thiemann in Nuremberg in 1995. This copy is used here by Wolfgang Brunner in his recording of five of the 12 sonatas opus 1 Lodovico Giustini composed specifically for the fortepiano. This is indicated by the title: Sonate da cimbalo di piano e forte detto volgarmente di martelletti (Sonatas for harpsichord with piano and forte, commonly called harpsichord with hammers). They date from 1732 and were published in Florence the same year.

These sonatas were composed at the request of the Brazilian priest and diplomat João de Seixas da Fonseca Borges and were meant as a welcome present for his patron Don Antonio de Braganza, brother of the Portuguese King João V. It is not quite clear why Lodovico Giustini received the commission for these sonatas. He wasn't exactly a widely known or famous composer. He was born and died in Pistoia, where he has worked all his life, mainly as an organist. Very little about his life is known, and nearly all other music from his pen has been lost; only some fragments from vocal works have survived.

The fortepiano wasn't an immediate success. Some 30 years were to pass before the instrument was to become accepted by composers and performers. Most keyboard music from the 18th century, at least until the 1780s, could be played either on harpsichord or fortepiano. Even though the sonatas by Giustini include indications like piano and forte they can be performed at the harpsichord. That said it is understandable that Wolfgang Brunner, in his personal notes in the booklet, confesses he played some sonatas on the harpsichord, and was never really satisfied. He also played them on instruments of the late 18th century, and they sounded trifling to his ears. It was only when he was asked by Reiner Thiemann to present his copy of a Cristofori fortepiano that he found the ideal instrument on which to play Giustini's sonatas. That encouraged him to play some sonatas in concerts, and here he presents five of them.

This is not the first or only recording. In the 1970s the legendary pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski recorded all the sonatas on the 1720 Cristofori of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (for the American label Titanic). He had already played some of them on this instrument as early as 1952. This year (2010) a complete recording was released by Brilliant Classics, with the Italian keyboard player Andrea Coen on a copy of the same instrument of 1726 which Reiner Thiemann has copied. I haven't heard that recording yet, so I can't use it as a comparison to this disc.

The present recording is a convincing plea for the fortepiano of Cristofori as well as the sonatas by Giustini. The instrument and the sonatas turn out to be an ideal match. I haven't heard this music at the harpsichord, but I can imagine that without the possibility to play piano and forte they wouldn't be as captivating as they are in this recording. That is also due to Wolfgang Brunner who really feels at home at the instrument. This selection gives a good impression of the quality and the variety of Giustini's sonatas. They have four or five movements, which mostly have an indication of the tempo (andante, allegro) and the character (giga, siciliana).

Anyone interested in keyboard music is well advised to look for this recording. I would especially urge piano aficionados who don't like historical instruments to give this disc a try. They could at least pay tribute to the man who has laid the foundation of the instrument they value so highly. And maybe they will like the instrument after all.

-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Sonate (12) da cimbalo di piano e forte, Op. 1: no 1 in G minor by Lodovico Giustini
Performer:  Wolfgang Brunner (Fortepiano)
Period: Baroque 
Venue:  Neumarkt (Allemagne), Historischer Reits 
Length: 11 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Keyboard Sonata No. 2 in C minor by Lodovico Giustini
Performer:  Wolfgang Brunner (Fortepiano)
Period: Baroque 
Venue:  Neumarkt (Allemagne), Historischer Reits 
Length: 13 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Keyboard Sonata No. 7 in G major by Lodovico Giustini
Performer:  Wolfgang Brunner (Fortepiano)
Period: Baroque 
Venue:  Neumarkt (Allemagne), Historischer Reits 
Length: 12 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Keyboard Sonata No. 8 in A major by Lodovico Giustini
Performer:  Wolfgang Brunner (Fortepiano)
Period: Baroque 
Venue:  Neumarkt (Allemagne), Historischer Reits 
Length: 10 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Keyboard Sonata No. 10 in F minor by Lodovico Giustini
Performer:  Wolfgang Brunner (Fortepiano)
Period: Baroque 
Venue:  Neumarkt (Allemagne), Historischer Reits 
Length: 9 Minutes 14 Secs. 
Keyboard Sonata No.11 in E major by Lodovico Giustini
Performer:  Wolfgang Brunner (Fortepiano)
Period: Baroque 
Venue:  Neumarkt (Allemagne), Historischer Reits 
Length: 11 Minutes 38 Secs. 

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