Notes and Editorial Reviews
Selected harpsichord works
Hank Knox (hpd)
EARLY-MUSIC.COM 7772 (62:46)
When we think of Baroque composers for the harpsichord, certain names spring to mind: Rameau, François Couperin, Domenico Scarlatti, Bach, and Handel; perhaps Duphly, Seixas, Louis Couperin, a few others. Geminiani is not among these. He was celebrated during his lifetime as a composer, a theorist, a violinist with an unusually sweet and beguiling tone that served him well, according to one account, in his final
concert, two years before his death at the age of 74. But what this album presents is harpsichord music by Geminiani.
These are arrangements of movements drawn from sonatas originally written for violin and accompaniment. The op. 1 collection that supplies two of the pieces on this album was first published in 1716, and the op. 2 collection that furnishes one cut was transcribed from concerti grossi published in 1732. All but one of the remaining 10 selections (a minuet, described in the liner notes as deriving from an unknown source, presumably part of the group of minuets by the composer published in various 18th-century anthologies) come from Geminiani’s op. 4 of 1739. The keyboard arrangements appeared in 1743, both in Paris and London, as
Pièces de clavecin tirées des diffrens ouvrages de Mr. F. Geminiani adaptées par luy même
. These would prove popular, especially in conservative England, where some were reprinted as late as 1778. Indeed, Geminiani was to remain a name to conjure with in British musical circles long after his star faded elsewhere. As late as 1792, the brilliant amateur composer John Marsh mentions in his diaries a public concert in which a talented friend included Marsh’s own organ transcription of a Geminiani “violin concerto.”
The arrangements are densely idiomatic, surprisingly so when one considers both their origins for violin and continuo, as well as the composer’s lack of known expertise on the instrument. Knox speculates that it was in 1742, while arranging for the publication of his music in Paris “drawn partly by the superiority of French music engravers” (though not mentioning how the composer no doubt wished as well to secure some financial restitution before the notorious Parisian publishers pirated his new publications) that Geminiani heard Duphly, Daquin, and Rameau in the salon of Madame Duhalley and her daughter. He might have learned something from these recitals, but it’s equally likely that he kept abreast of French developments through these same composers’ publications. In any case, the result is a fluently professional manner that moves easily between the styles of the French and Italian schools, as in the sonata movements marked
of op. 4/5 (the latter with overtones of Domenico Scarlatti, who also puts in an appearance in the gigue marked
of op. 4/4). This is imaginative, at times fanciful music that displays a gift to charm, while neglecting nothing in the way of technical or structural finesse.
Hank Knox manages the dual legacy of the French and Italian schools with ease. He is flexible where flexibility is clearly called for, as in the op. 4/8 movement marked
, and just as solidly rhythmic as required in the
from op. 4/6, or the
from op. 4/1. The
movement from op. 1/6 finds something between the two, both regular enough to maintain forward motion while phrasing elastically to highlight the harmonic underpinnings of each important entry. Technically there are no problems, tempos are well selected, and an understanding of each piece’s salient musical points is apparent. Knox’s sympathetic treatment of the
from op. 4/5 gives me hope we’ll at some point hear his Rameau.
In the manner of ornamentation, Geminiani, like François Couperin, was explicit in defining appropriate ornamentation of “good taste,” that he stated in one of his treatises was a matter of “expressing with Strength and Delicacy the Intention of the Composer.” He described 14 ornaments, as well as
, a dissonant note in a chord that is rolled upward or played simultaneously. He wrote out ornamented changes in repeated passages as well, supplying figurations or variations to the treble. Knox wisely chooses to follow Geminiani, or where no ornamentation is provided to proceed along similar lines.
Sound is good, with close miking of a sweet but bright instrument created by Jacob and Abraham Kirckmann in 1772, the earliest surviving harpsichord by the uncle-and-nephew builders. It includes an innovative “machine stop” that instantly changes between one and all registers. (Jacob Kirckmann was to prove less amenable to innovation when it came to installing Adam Walker’s so-called “Celestina stop” in a new harpsichord ordered by Thomas Jefferson 14 years later, because he felt the resin used on the silk thread ultimately destroyed the instrument’s entire tone. But the amiable Jefferson, as usual, knew his own mind, and the Celestina stop was installed.)
I’ve only one minor quibble. In his liner notes to this release, Knox offers the fact that Geminiani refused the post of Master of State Music in Ireland in evidence that the composer avoided permanent institutional positions. Knox may not have been aware that it was made conditional upon Geminiani converting from Roman Catholicism to Church of England. In any case, Geminiani never lacked for patrons in his adopted land, and seemed to have an instinctive gift for getting along with others that several of his other Italian violinist colleagues (including Veracini and Vivaldi) lacked.
Recommended? But of course. This is fine, highly characterized music, excellently played. More, if you please.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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