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Girolamo Frescobaldi, the most significant figure in Italian keyboard music before Domenico Scarlatti, was

born in the north Italian city of Ferrara in 1583. Under the patronage of the Este family Ferrara had

developed into a major centre for the musical avant-garde, specialising in virtuoso singing and playing, as

well as in musical rhetoric. The young Frescobaldi absorbed all this, together with advances in keyboard

technique and composition from nearby Venice and from Naples. After visits to Rome and Flanders he

became organist at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1608, a position he occupied on and off until his death in

1643. The new St Peter’s was completed in 1615 and possessed two fine organs which Frescobaldi played

during regular services as well as on big ceremonial occasions, accompanying the choir and improvising

toccatas, canzonas and other forms, in line with the liturgical practices of the day. He was also in demand

for big festal celebrations in other Roman churches and for Lenten devotional services in oratories such as

those of the Archconfraternities of the Gonfalone and Santissimo Crocifisso. The visiting French violist,

André Maugars, described his playing at the Crocifisso in 1639: ‘the great Frescobaldi showed a thousand

sort of inventions on his harpsichord’ and said that ‘although his printed works give sufficient witness of his

ability, in order to judge of his profound knowledge it is necessary to hear him improvise toccatas full of

contrapuntal devices and admirable inventions’.

In 1615 Frescobaldi moved briefly to the court of the Duke of Mantua but this was not a success and he

returned to Rome. Between 1628 and 1634 he served as organist to the Medicis in Florence, also

performing at special celebrations in the city. Lured back to Rome by the Barberini family of Pope Urban

VIII, his final years were spent at the heart of the rich artistic circle patronised by that family which

included such luminaries as Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Pietro da Cortona. Frescobaldi was the first

composer to make keyboard music his major preoccupation. He did publish vocal motets and madrigals,

written according to the fashion of the time, but it was his steady stream of keyboard publications which

established his reputation – as well, of course, as the virtuosity of his performing. He applied a wide range

of styles, particularly in his toccatas, moving easily between them and encouraging a flexibility in

performance which parallelled that of the virtuoso singers of his day. His dance music and sets of variations

proved highly popular, as did his instrumental canzonas. Frescobaldi’s influence was widespread, reaching

composers as diverse as John Blow, Johann Jacob Froberger and Johann Sebastian Bach. His contrapuntal

music, especially that published in his Fiori Musicali of 1635, was particularly influential well into the

eighteenth century, providing a link between the music of Palestrina and Victoria (both of whom he copied)

and that of Bach.


In 1614–15 Girolamo Frescobaldi was restless. His Roman patron, Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini was not

on good terms with the Pope and Frescobaldi opened negotiations with Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga, the

new Duke of Mantua, for a position there. He moved to Mantua briefly in Spring 1615 but decided not to

stay. In the meantime he had dedicated his First Book of Toccatas and Partitas to the Duke who was in the

process of renouncing his cardinalate in order to marry and produce an heir. This was a landmark

publication for keyboard music, both for its contents and for the fact that it was the earliest example of

such keyboard music engraved on two staves, one for each hand, rather than in vocal score or in tablature.

It was a prestigious and very beautiful publication – one of the most attractive of all keyboard prints –

hand-engraved (writing in reverse) by Nicolò Borbone, himself a keyboard player and instrument maker.

The print went through a number of reissues over the next twenty-two years, each one making some

changes and additions. Frescobaldi initially included the twelve toccatas and just three sets of partitas;

within a few months he revised those partitas and added another set, as well as four dance movements, the

correnti. In 1637 he republished the earlier music, adding a substantial aggiunta or appendix of dance and

other lighter music, but also including the monumental cento partite (a hundred variations – there are in

fact 124) on the passacaglia bass pattern. The versions on this recording are those of this final edition.

The word ‘toccata’ comes from the Italian verb ‘toccare’ (to touch) and was a piece which started by

touching the keys slowly, trying out the intended mode and then leading slowly into more defined music.

Frescobaldi gave some detailed instructions in a foreword as to how his toccatas were to be played,

emphasising freedom of tempo and expression, comparing them to the new 17th-century madrigal style for

solo or a few voices, in which each word or phrase was given an appropriate musical gesture. Although

instrumental music, these toccatas are essentially heavily ornamented songs without words, arising from the

same compositional approach, representing a different affetto or emotion every few bars and bristling with
passaggi – virtuoso sections for one or both hands. Despite the brilliance and overflow of figuration each
piece has a very controlled and logical structure, contrasting expressive passages with those requiring

bravura playing. Interpretation is left very much up to the player who has great freedom within the

parameters set out by the composer. On this recording the initial ‘touching’ of the keys is shown by some

improvisatory flourishes which lead naturally into the beginnings of many of the toccatas.

The first four toccatas are in G Dorian mode, rather like the modern G minor scale, and explore different

aspects of that mode and related areas. Toccatas V and VI move to the E Phrygian mode for a more

reflective and transparent texture. Toccatas VII and IX plumb the deepest emotional sensitivity: both are in

the Aeolian mode, Toccata VII transposed onto D and Toccata IX on A. Toccatas VIII and X are in F

Lydian mode but only the sunny Toccata VIII is truly Lydian, since the even brighter Toccata X has the

customary Bb in the key signature, making it like the modern major scale. On his title-page Frescobaldi

simply says that his music is written for ‘harpsichord and organ’; all of the toccatas can be made to work

on both instruments, though most seem written for harpsichord. The final two C Ionian Toccatas XI and

XII, however, are clearly conceived for organ, with long pedal notes at the start. Toccata XII is a classic

example of the Elevation Toccata, intended for playing during the consecration and elevation of the host at

Mass. Since, for Roman Catholics, this was a re-enactment of the Passion, a particularly expressive style

was used for the music at this most solemn moment, using durezze e ligature (dissonances and suspensions)

to pile on the emotion.

Partite are sets of variations on well-known basses, chord-patterns or tunes. Three of the four sets in this

First Book are on common basses (Romanesca, Ruggiero, Follia) while the fourth is on a popular tune, the

Monica, which reflected the common practice of shutting-up of spare daughters in convents, often against
their will; the original song begins: ‘Mother, do not make me a nun’. The basses seem to have had their

origin in Spain, where they were used for improvising dance music, but by Frescobaldi’s time they had

become somewhat more formalised. Melodies could be fitted above them: the Romanesca bass, for

example, works with the tune Greensleeves. Frescobaldi himself fits a popular song, Frà Jacopino, over the

Ruggiero bass in his Capriccio (CD2, track 13) where he uses both melody and bass to generate what is

essentially another set of six partite. Frescobaldi’s partite are brimming with ideas, virtuoso flourishes,

clever disguising of the theme or bass and some highly expressive music, as in the chromatic ninth partita

on the Romanesca. Their figuration patterns are very reminiscent of those in the toccatas and the revised

partite on the Romanesca, Monica and Ruggiero basses have become highly sophisticated mini-toccatas,

straying far from their simple origins, while also leading naturally from one to the next. The partite on the

well-known Follia bass, added later, are simpler examples of the more standard treatment of the time.

Two of the most popular basses in the early 17th century were the Passacaglia and the Ciaccona, both

also originally from Spain. By the 17th century the Passacaglia was a simple repeated four-note descending

pattern (doh-te-la-soh); the Ciaccona was less fixed and more complex but in Frescobaldi could be reduced
to doh-soh-la-soh. Frescobaldi saw that both patterns were very similar and in the Cento Partite he uses

both, moving effortlessly between them and throwing in a corrente section for good measure. The
passacaglia was normally set in minor modes and the ciaccona in major, but even here Frescobaldi mixes

the two. The set is in three main sections, the third of which acts as an extended coda after the bravura

finish to the second section. Frescobaldi marks his modulations ‘altro modo’; strangely, the piece ends in E,

rather than in the D Dorian of the earlier sections. The piece is notationally quite complex, with constant

changes of time-signature, but in performance it is the seamless, almost relentless, quality that dominates.

We can sense Frescobaldi throwing in everything in his armoury to produce one of the finest variation sets

of all time.

The four correnti are, on the face of it, short dance pieces in triple time but in the hands of Frescobaldi

they have a sophistication which reflects the salons of early Baroque Rome for which they were written.

The same elegance characterises the dance sets in the aggiunta of 1637. These might – apart from the Cento

Partite – seem a somewhat inconsequential set of pieces for a composer’s swansong. Clearly, though,

Frescobaldi had been polishing these lighter forms and they provide a useful antidote to the more complex

music he had spent his life improvising and publishing. Here too there is care for organisation: the three

suites of Balletto-Corrente-Passacagli (the second does not have a Passacagli) prepare the ground for the

Cento Partite, the Passacagli of the third suite being longer and anticipating the more chromatic writing of

the Cento Partite. The Capriccio sopra la Battaglia is Frescobaldi’s addition to a long-standing genre of

battle-music, going back to Clément Jannequin’s chanson La bataille celebrating the Battle of Marignano of
1515. Frescobaldi does not attempt the full battle experience, which is provided for example by William

Byrd’s ‘Battel’ suite in My Ladye Nevells Booke, but he does manage to convey, mainly through fanfare

motives, something of the confusing atmosphere of a 17th-century battle. Two corrente and ciaccona pairs
provide a reminiscence of the Cento Partite and lead to the final piece in the aggiunta, a Capriccio

Pastorale, played here on organ flutes and based on a series of pedal notes in one of the parts. This is

clearly a Christmas piece, representing the shepherds in the fields, and part of a long line of pastoral

symphonies such as those by Corelli and Handel. In Rome it might have been played to entertain the

cardinals as they feasted in the Vatican between Christmas Matins and Midnight Mass.

In 1615 Frescobaldi also published a collection of Recercari and Canzoni, this one dedicated to Cardinal

Pietro Aldobrandini. He was keeping both patrons happy but also, between the two publications, providing

a compendium of keyboard works in all the main genres of the day. His toccatas and partitas have never

left the repertory of keyboard players and their challenges and rewards are just as stimulating today as they

were for those who eagerly snapped them up in the 17th century.

C Noel O’Regan, 2008


Having previously published works conceived primarily for keyboard, in the late 1620s Frescobaldi turned

his attention to other mediums. In 1627 he published a collection of motets for one to four voices and, in

1628, a set of canzonas in one, two, three and four parts to be played on ‘all sorts of instruments’.

Canzonas and motets have much in common: both are based on traditional imitative procedures and, while

the canzonas have no texts, it is not difficult to imagine many of their lines with words. The instrumental
canzona francese grew out of the French vocal chanson and was popular throughout the sixteenth century.

Originally an arrangement of a vocal piece, it gradually developed an independent existence while retaining

the same general structure: a succession of sections, each constructed with imitative writing, followed each

other directly or were joined by short linking passages. Many used an opening motive in dactylic rhythm

(long-short-short) which became a characteristic of the genre; this was often, but by no means always, used

by Frescobaldi.

Canzonas could be for keyboard or for instrumental ensemble. By the early seventeenth century the new

style of solo and duet writing over a basso continuo was introduced into canzona writing. Aspects of

virtuoso writing also began to appear, especially in solo canzonas, just as in motets and madrigals at that

time. Frescobaldi had published earlier keyboard canzonas and, indeed, used one of these from 1615 as the

basis for one of his 1628 pieces: Canzona XXXVI (CD4, track 11), played here on organ and viola de

gamba. Among other innovations adopted for the first time here by Frescobaldi are tempo indications

(adagio and allegro) and words to indicate dynamics (piano and forte). The latter are used to mark echoes –

a common device here: adagio indicates the slowing up leading to a cadence, or a pivotal link passage

which lingers before returning to the original tempo with the allegro marking.

The 1628 Canzonas appeared almost simultaneously in two formats, both published in Rome: as a set of

separate part-books by Frescobaldi himself and in score format by his pupil Bartolomeo Grassi. The latter

omitted one item, Canzona II-bis (CD4, 20), and substituted another, Canzona XXXVII (CD4, 1), while

also adding three extra works (making forty in all); the score format also made the repertory available to

keyboard players. Frescobaldi revised some of them for a republication in 1634 but it is Grassi’s versions

that are the basis of this recording. Grassi also added titles to the canzonas: these refer to friends and

acquaintances in his native Lucca and have nothing to do with Frescobaldi, as far as is known. Both

Frescobaldi and Grassi arranged the canzonas in ascending order of voices; this grouping has not been

followed here, in order to maximise variety and contrast across both CDs 3 and 4.

Frescobaldi gave very few specific instrumental designations, preferring to use the generic terms canto (a

high instrument) and basso (a low instrument). The final three canzonas – XXXV (CD3, 13), XXXVI

(CD4, 11) and XXXVII (CD4, 1) – are labelled canto, alto, tenor, basso using the standard vocal

designations of the time. These represent the older style of variation canzona where each section uses a

variant of a common theme and all four parts are equal. Canzona XXXVII, which opens CD4, is a classic

example. Other canzonas use a similar technique, though not necessarily as rigorously. Three of the

canzonas a canto solo are labelled by Frescobaldi ‘violin or cornett’ and Canzona III (CD3, 8) is specifically

labelled for violin, as played on this recording; its affective writing suits that instrument, as does that of

Canzona IV (CD4, 4) with its highly-expressive falling fourths. The brightness of Canzonas II (CD3, 4) and

II-bis (CD4, 20), on the other hand, fits best with the cornett while the slightly dreamy nature of Canzona I

(CD4, 15) is well conveyed here by the traverse flute.

An innovation in this collection was the inclusion of canzonas for one and two bassi, played here on a
variety of bass instruments. In these the basso continuo part is not independent but doubles the soloist or
plays a simplified version of its part, while the keyboard player provides the harmony throughout and

searches out opportunities for imitation when the bass instrument is resting. Frescobaldi writes highly

demanding music which must have been very welcome to the virtuoso bass players of his day. The four solo

canzonas are given here to instruments appropriate to their character: the rhapsodical virtuosity of Canzona

V (CD4, 6) works well on the viola da gamba while the brashness of Canzona VI (CD3, 17) comes across

better on the dulzian (early bassoon); the quirkiness of Canzona VII (CD4, 13) fits the violoncello whereas

the reflective confidence of Canzona VIII (CD3, 6) suits the violotto (large viol). The four canzonas for two

basses also tend to be based on a single line, divided between the two instruments and doubled by basso

continuo. This is very clear in Canzona XVII (CD4, 8) which uses two viola da gambas, whereas Canzona

XV (CD3, 15) contrasts dulzian and violoncello. The other two contrast harpsichord and organ on the two

solo lines while using a single bowed instrument on the continuo.

The canzonas for two canti provide some of the most up-to-date music here, using antiphonal dialogue,

echoes and virtuoso figurations. Canzona IX (CD4, 2) played by two cornetts and Canzona XIII (CD3, 2)

by two violins are Monteverdi-like in their use of parallel thirds and echoes. The more reflective Canzona X

(CD3, 10) has a delighful introductory prelude, while Canzona XI (CD3, 19) has some very effective adagio

writing, played here on two violins. Contrast of register is exploited effectively in the six canzonas for canto

and basso; these are quieter and more reflective, on the whole, providing some of the most restful music in

the collection. There is lots of antiphonal dialogue, with Canzona XXII (CD3, 18) showing some very

effective contrary motion between the parts.

The three canzonas for two canti and basso exploit the extra possibilities with striking chordal openings
and some of the most imaginative adagio sections in the collection. Canzona XXVII (CD3, 9), in particular,

has a strongly Venetian sonority, with lots of antiphonal writing in which the treble instruments chase each

other effectively. Canzona XXIX (CD4, 3) shows how this particular instrumental combination was to

develop into the trio sonata. Those for two bassi and one canto tend to be dominated by the treble

instrument – though this can still be inspired, as in the jaunty triple-time section of Canzona XXIV (CD3,

3) or the catchy final section of Canzona XXVI (CD4, 12), both played here on flute. The canzonas for two

high and two low voices show Frescobaldi at his most inventive. Canzona XXXII (CD3, 1), chosen to open

this recording, is a classic Monteverdian call to attention while Canzona XXXI (CD3, 7) has more of the

atmosphere of Giovanni Gabrieli’s polychoral music. Canzona XXX (CD4, 19) has the most poignant of all

adagio sections exploiting suspensions and chromatic writing in the manner of the composer’s elevation

toccatas. Canzona XXXIII (CD4, 7) is a classic variation canzona using the signature dactylic opening.

The three extra pieces added at the end of Grassi’s score show a different side of Frescobaldi. All are

prescribed for the spinettina, a small harpsichord or spinet, perhaps tuned an octave higher. Two of these

are labelled ‘Toccata’ rather than Canzona. The first, for violin and spinettina (CD4, 16) starts with an

extended toccata-like prelude for the violin, followed by one for harpsichord, before breaking into a two-

voice canzona in which the violin is answered by the two hands of the harpsichord. It is very modern in

style, pointing forward to the stylus fantasticus of the late seventeenth century. The short second toccata
(CD4, 17) is rightly so-called and is played here on the lute, with pedal notes on the ’cello, while the third

piece (CD4, 22) is a short canzona for the two keyboard hands, the lower one here doubled on the violotto.
The canzona was a very flexible genre, useful in both sacred and secular contexts. In his later organ

masses Frescobaldi included canzonas to be played after the Epistle and at the end of Mass. They could also

be played at meals or other social events, both indoors or out. Their sectional structure meant that they

could be easily shortened or extended, depending on the circumstances. Frescobaldi published many

throughout his life and must have improvised them constantly. Those in the 1628 collection show his

wonderful inventiveness and profligacy with musical ideas which never outstay their welcome but are

constantly replaced with new ones or with modifications of the originals. They are forged from the simplest

of musical materials – a repeated interval, a fraction of a scale, a rhythmic pattern – but each is individually

crafted and ear-catching. The genre is inherently non-demonstrative and must have been used as

background music much of the time, but Frescobaldi never flags in imagination and the sheer range and

variety of his invention is breath-taking, underscored in these performances by a great diversity of


C Noel O’Regan, 2008


While primarily known for his keyboard compositions and virtuoso performances in Roman basilicas and

oratories, Frescobaldi was also active as a church musician, publishing a volume of motets for one to three

singers as well as leaving behind a small number of works attributed to him in manuscripts. Among these

are two settings of the Ordinary of the Mass which survive in just one source, a set of manuscript

partbooks in the music library of the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome. The only indication of who

might have composed them is the appearance of the letters ‘G. F.di’ on the organ part of the first of the

Masses. This has long been taken to refer to Frescobaldi and, since the two Masses appear together in the

same scribal hand in all the partbooks, it has been assumed to apply to the other Mass as well. Both are

very similar in style, as well as in their approach to setting the text, and it is reasonable to assume a

common authorship. The attribution to Frescobaldi has been questioned by some scholars but is generally

accepted. Even if we cannot be entirely sure that the two Masses are by him they do represent the sort of

music he would have written if commissioned to compose such settings in the early decades of the 17th

century. We know that he organized music for large-scale patronal feastday celebrations in at least one

Roman institution – the archconfraternity of the Gonfalone in 1623 – and there may well have been other

occasions in that city or in Florence. The existence of the two Mass settings in a St John Lateran manuscript

would seem to suggest that they were performed at that basilica but the manuscript might also have been

acquired as a gift or by other means.

The Missa sopra l’aria della Monica is based on a popular and slightly anti-clerical song, an unusual

choice on which to base a Mass at this period and one which might suggest a courtly context rather than a

religious institution. The words of the original song are a plea from a daughter to her mother not to force

her to enter a convent, something which was all too common for unmarried girls in the 17th century. The

song translates: ‘Mother do not make me a nun, for I don’t want to become one; don’t make me a habit, for

I don’t want to wear one. I would have to spend all day in the choir at Vespers and Mass, with the mother

abbess doing nothing but screaming at me. She should drop down dead!’

The tune is catchy and was widely known: Frescobaldi also used it as the basis of one of his sets of

harpsichord variations. In the Mass he follows the standard procedure of using it to start all movements,

but the melody also appears in other places, as the starting point for imitative entries in all the parts. In the

spirit of the time, following on the Catholic Counter-reformation, using such a song in a sacred context

might well have been seen as sacralizing it and neutralising its anti-church sentiments. It could also have

been seen as relating to the Virgin Mary who accepted God’s call at the Annunciation, in contrast to the

young girl of the song.

The Missa sopra l’aria di Fiorenza has a definite courtly context since the aria in question had become

something of a national anthem for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was first composed as the song ‘O che

nuovo miracolo’ (‘O what a new miracle’) by the Roman nobleman, Emilio de’Cavalieri, for the wedding of

Grand-Duke Ferdinando I to Christine of Lorraine in 1589. It began the last of six intermedi performed on

that occasion which used elaborate stage machinery and music on a grand scale to depict the descent of the

Gods to earth and the golden age which the dynastic wedding would usher in. It was subsequently used as

the theme of keyboard variation sets by a number of composers, including Frescobaldi who worked at the

Florentine court between 1628 and 1634; the Mass setting may date from that period. The original aria –

also referred to as the ‘Ballo del Granduca’ – was an extended sequence of dances with a recurring refrain

and it is this refrain that is used as compositional material for the Mass, appearing in all movements. Such

use of borrowed material had been a common practice in the 16th century and continued into the 17th with

composers generally preferring to turn to existing music as a basis rather than composing a Mass setting

from scratch. The result was something akin to the modern technique of remixing, with the original music

going through a series of resettings and being cloaked with new music, while always remaining

recognizable. The stirring atmosphere of the original tune and its harmony permeates all of the Mass

movements, particularly the Sanctus.

Both Mass settings are for eight voices in two choirs, which Frescobaldi uses in a flexible way, setting

sections for each choir on its own as well as using them both in antiphonal exchange; the full forces are

used only sparingly to emphasize particular phrases and at climactic points like the ends of sections. In both

Masses the ‘Christe eleison’ of the Kyrie and the central phrases of the Credo, ‘Et incarnatus est’ and

‘Crucifixus’, are set for single choir in order to allow these sensitive texts to come through clearly. Both

Masses have very short Sanctus and Agnus Dei settings, the former without the Benedictus; on this

recording the Benedictus is sung in plainchant and the ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ repeated; the second Agnus Dei

is also sung in chant and is followed by a repeat of the polyphonic setting, with the words ‘Dona nobis

pacem’ inserted in place of ‘Miserere nobis’.

Writing for two or more choirs was common practice for Roman feastday celebrations from the 1580s

onwards. It provided the excitement of stereophonic sound while allowing the text to be heard clearly, since

the individual choirs sang mainly in block harmony. The music was designed so that the choirs could be

physically separated on platforms and composers exploited the antiphonal possibilities of bouncing the

music back and forth between the choirs. The longer movements in which it was important to hear the

words – the Gloria and Credo – use a less contrapuntal style and exploit this antiphonal potential to the

full. Their texts are also made up of short phrases which make this easy to do. Frescobaldi’s Glorias are

especially bouncy with snappy exchanges between the choirs in response to the text and use of quick

declamation and syncopation to provide interest. There is still a sensitivity to the words, as in the chromatic

setting of ‘miserere nobis’ in the Gloria of the Missa sopra l’aria della Monica. There are also brilliant

Monteverdi-like outbursts as in the ‘Et ascendit in coelum’ from the Credo of the same Mass.

In the outer movements, on the other hand, where the text is shorter and needs to be repeated over and

over, Frescobaldi follows the Roman custom of using a more contrapuntal style, bringing in the eight voices

one after the other in imitation. In both Masses the use of rests in all parts before a tutti can be particularly

effective: this, too, is a hallmark of the polychoral style. In general, Rome-based composers of polychoral

music were a bit more restrained than their Venetian counterparts, especially in Mass settings where

moderation was seen as more appropriate to the gravity of the celebration. There are no specific parts for

instruments in these Masses, other than for the organ which acts as a continuo instrument binding the

voices together, especially in the swift antiphonal exchanges.

On this recording the two series of Mass movements are framed by plainchant settings of three items

from the Proper of the Mass: the Introitus, Offertorium and Communion. These are taken from the Mass of

the Virgin Mary and from that of St John the Baptist, respectively. Both are appropriate since St John was

the patron saint of both Florence and of the basilica of St John Lateran while the cathedral in Florence is

dedicated to the Virgin – S. Maria del Fiore.

What we have here is beautifully crafted music by an early 17th-century Rome-based composer who,

even if we cannot be completely sure he was Frescobaldi, represented the best traditions of that city’s

musical past fused with an up-to-date response to the needs of church ritual of the time. It was Palestrina,

together with his older Florentine contemporary Giovanni Animuccia and the younger Spaniard, Tomás

Luis de Victoria, who had pioneered the double-choir idiom in Rome in the 1570s. Frescobaldi copied

music by both of the latter composers and clearly learned much from them about the successful setting of

sacred texts.

C Noel O’Regan, 2008


The Fiori Musicali (‘musical flowers’) occupies a special place among Girolamo Frescobaldi’s works.

Published in 1635, it was his final publication of new music and is organised not by genre, like his earlier

keyboard prints, but as a series of three organ Masses, providing music to accompany the celebration of

feastday Masses in churches which had an organist but where a choir might not be available. The organist

is provided with toccatas, canzonas and recercars to play at set points during the service, as well as versets

to be played in dialogue with plainchant singers (perhaps just the celebrant) during the Kyrie. The

publication reflects Frescobaldi’s years as organist at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome but also consciously

provides music, mostly not too difficult to play, for organists at less well-endowed institutions. Apart from

the two final pieces in the collection, these are not vehicles for virtuosic display but rather deeply-felt

musical meditations on the various points of the liturgy at which they were played. As such, the publication

has had enduring success, its contents regularly used by church organists, and has provided models for

organ composers through the ages. Johann Sebastian Bach is known to have copied some of these pieces as

exemplars of the best of the Roman contrapuntal tradition which Frescobaldi, in turn, had learned from

Palestrina and Victoria.

The three organ Masses are for Sundays (Missa della Domenica), feastdays of Apostles (Missa delli

Apostoli) and Marian feasts (Missa della Madonna). Each begins with a short toccata for full organ taking

the place of the Introit, played as the priest approaches the altar. Frescobaldi gives instructions for their

performance in his foreword which are similar to those in the introductions to his earlier books of toccatas

and emphasize flexibility and the judgement of the performer. The player is told to slow down for passages

with trills or expressive melismata but to speed up for those with short notes in both hands. He should also

start somewhat slowly, later increasing the tempo according to the character of the piece.

The toccata is followed by Kyrie versets which use the chants commonly set for the three categories of

feast in one of the parts, with the others weaving counterpoints around it. There are nine repetitions: three

Kyrie eleisons (‘Lord have mercy’) are followed by three Christe eleisons (‘Christ have mercy’) and by a

further three Kyrie eleisons. With alternate versets played on the organ, starting with the first, five were

needed; in fact Frescobaldi provides extra versets for each Mass, labelled ‘alio modo’, providing alternatives

to be used at the player’s discretion and which, he says, can be played in other places as well. He also

suggests that some of the Kyrie versets can be played vivace and others slowly, as the player judges correct.

On this recording the first five versets are peformed alternately with the plainchant, followed by all of the

extra versets provided for each Mass.

Unlike the later French organ Masses of François Couperin, Frescobaldi does not provide any versets for
the Gloria, which must have been sung entirely in plainchant. The next item in each Mass is a canzona to

be played ‘dopo l’Epistola’ – after the Epistle (the first scripture reading) in the place of the plainsong

Gradual. These are multi-sectional pieces in a lighter and lively style, using triple as well as duple time

signatures. They have optional extensions labelled ‘alio modo’ in order to cover the variable length of the

liturgical actions at this point. The sections are marked off by extended written-out cadences marked

‘Adasio’. The canzonas are rhythmically interesting pieces with syncopations; some start with the traditional

long-short-short rhythmic pattern of the instrumental canzona francese.

During the Offertory (‘post il Credo’) Frescobaldi provides a recercar for each Mass; the Masses for

Apostles and for Marian feasts have two alternative recercars. The word ‘recercare’ means ‘to search’ and

these are highly contrapuntal pieces, modelled on the form of the vocal motet in which a series of musical

ideas is passed around each of the parts in turn while the others have countersubjects, much in the manner

of later fugues. Again they have optional extensions and, according to the composer’s foreword, can be

concluded at any cadential point once the celebrant has completed the liturgical actions and is ready to

proceed with the next part of the Mass. The alternative recercar for the Missa delli Apostoli has a

chromatic subject which in the second section is combined with a second subject to make a double fugue

and, in the third, is played in augmentation, i.e. with twice the note values. That for the Missa della
Madonna has a fifth ‘si placet’ part for a singer: Frescobaldi gives the singer a six-note phrase taken from

the Litany of Loreto where it sets the words ‘Sancta Maria’; he does not give these words in the print but it

is clear that they are what is intended. He also gives no indication where these interpolations should be

sung but editors over the years have found all the possible places where this phrase can be fitted into the

counterpoint of the other four voices.

A similar construct appears in a third recercar given for the Missa delli Apostoli but placed before the

final canzona (presumably to be played during the distribution of Communion): it is described in the print

as a ‘recercar con obligo del basso’. This is not written for a singer but the lowest organ part has a

recurring series of five notes (do–mi–fa–re–do) which move twice around the circle of fifths: first on the

sharp side, C–G–D–A–E, then returning to C before going out again on the flat side: C–F–B flat–E flat–F–C,

ending up once more in the home key. Such circumnavigations were common at the time and might reflect

contemporary navigators’ attempts to sail around the world.

There is no music for the Sanctus (or Agnus Dei), which must have been sung in plainchant. The next

item in each of the three Masses is an elevation toccata performed during the central act of consecration of

the bread and wine. These are meditative pieces which exploit dissonance to remind the listeners of the

Passion which, it was believed, was symbolically re-enacted at this central moment of the Mass. The toccata

for the Missa della Domenica is particularly chromatic and is indeed labelled ‘toccata cromaticha per le

levatione’. The first two Masses conclude with a second canzona labelled ‘post il Comune’, intended to

cover the end of the Mass. These are again sectional pieces with various possible ending points; they are

generally livelier than the canzonas played after the Epistle.

Instead of a final canzona at the end of the Missa della Madonna Frescobaldi provides a Bergamasca, a

set of variations on a well-known tune from Bergamo. It is essentially a more extended canzona, divided

into sections with changes of time signature. The tune appears constantly in different rhythms, now in short

notes and again in long ones, as well as in major and minor versions, sometimes with chromatic

accompaniments. It is a tour de force, something recognized by Frescobaldi himself who appended the

comment: ‘che questa Bergamasca sonarà, non pocho imparerà’ (‘whoever plays this Bergamasca will have

learned not a little’). It gives us a sense of what Frescobaldi’s own playing must have been like when

improvising on a melody for a full congregation in the then newly finished St Peter’s Basilica.

The final piece in the collection is the Capriccio sopra la Girolmeta, based on a tune whose name is the

feminine version of Frescobaldi’s own. Like the Bergamasca it is an extended sectional canzona-like piece

which presents the tune in a variety of guises. It was presumably intended as an alternative concluding piece

to this or one of the other Masses.

An unusual feature of the Fiori Musicali is that it was published in open score on four separate staves,

though intended to be played by two hands. This was done for ideological reasons, to encourage players to

continue playing from score rather than from the engraved two-stave format which Frescobaldi had used

for his books of toccatas. In his preface he says that he considers it very important for the player to practise

playing from score for two reasons: to get to know the music better, since score format made the

contrapuntal voice-leading clearer, and because it was a skill which ‘distinguished the genuine artist from

the ignorant’. The use of this format also meant that the pieces could be played on four separate

instruments as well as on the organ; this could have applied in particular to the canzonas but also to the

more contrapuntal pieces like the recercars and would have made the collection more marketable. Clearly

close to Frescobaldi’s heart, this collection distills the experience of his years and remains a milestone in the

history of European keyboard music.

C Noel O’Regan, 2009


By 1627 the 44-year-old Girolamo Frescobaldi was at the height of his powers: he was organist at the

largest church in the world – St Peter’s Basilica in Rome – and in great demand as a player and teacher, with

a number of publications to his credit. Following the success enjoyed by his First Book of Toccatas of 1615,

he felt confident enough to preface his Second Book of 1627 with an engraved portrait of himself. The

volume, again beautifully hand-engraved by Nicolò Borbone, was dedicated to Monsignor Luigi Gallo,

Bishop of Ancona and nuncio in Rome of the Kingdom of Savoy. The nephew of an important cardinal,

Gallo was also an excellent keyboard player and Frescobaldi’s pupil.

The Second Book of Toccatas is a more eclectic collection than the first. It has 11 toccatas to start but

continues with an intabulated madrigal, some canzonas and some stylised dance music, four sets of

variations and a set of liturgical items appropriate for Vespers. It is these last pieces, especially, which mark

out this volume as different. Reproducing the sort of music Frescobaldi played regularly in St Peter’s or in

other Roman institutions, it consists of sets of versets for alternatim performance with a plainsong choir, of

four hymns, and of Magnificats in three of the church tones or modes. The toccatas in this Second Book

also have a more liturgical leaning, with four specifically written for organ and a fifth clearly intended

primarily for that instrument.

The term ‘toccata’ comes from the Italian word ‘toccare’ (to touch) and the genre grew out of the
improvisations with which keyboard players tried out the instrument and the mode in which they were

about to play, whether in church or in chamber performance. On this recording the initial touching of the

keys is represented by some improvisatory bars which lead into the beginnings of a number of the toccatas.

In the 1637 reprint of the Second Book of Toccatas Frescobaldi included his instructions to the player

originally printed in the First Book in 1615. In these he emphasized freedom of tempo and expression and

compared the toccatas to modern madrigals in which short musical gestures illustrated individual words

and phrases. The toccatas, of course, had no words but the music is similar, representing a different

emotion or affetto every few bars. They are also virtuosic showpieces, laden with figurations or passaggi

and giving players considerable freedom in interpretation.

The toccatas in Book Two seem even more assured than those in the earlier book, more structured but

also more diverse, many of them including triple-time sections and more regular canzona-like segments.

Similarly the canzonas in this second book have toccata-like free sections which link their more regular

imitative ones. The first two toccatas are in the common Dorian mode, transposed from D up to G, which

is close to our modern G minor scale. Both were intended for harpsichord and they alternate wistfully

expressive sections with more extrovert and showy ones. Toccatas 3 and 4 are elevation toccatas, intended

to be played during and after the elevation at Mass. In D Dorian and A Aeolian modes, respectively, they

use chromatic movement and suspensions to create an atmosphere appropriate to the central action of the

Catholic liturgy, where the Passion of Christ is re-enacted. Toccata 4 is here played on the voce humana
stop which creates a tremolo effect by using two sets of pipes tuned to slightly different pitches.

Toccatas 5 and 6, on the other hand, are for full organ and for playing at more exuberant moments in

the liturgy in a large building like St Peter’s. They are designed to be played either with long-held pedal

notes (as on this recording) or without. The use of the pedals adds to the harmonic build-up and the

subsequent release of tension when the note changes, normally resolving onto a note a fifth or fourth down.

In the G Mixolydian and F Lydian (with a B flat) modes respectively, these toccatas use scales, arpeggios

and chromatic movement to fill out the slow-moving harmonies. Toccata 7 marks a return to the

harpsichord for one of the most tightly constructed of all Frescobaldi’s toccatas, again in the D Dorian

mode, which includes a mini-ricercar or imitative section in the middle. Toccata 8 is subtitled ‘di durezze e

legature’ (‘with dissonances and suspensions’) and has much in common with the elevation toccata genre,

using a continuous series of dissonances and resolutions which particularly exploit the differences between

intervals in non-equal temperament. It shares the Lydian F mode with Toccata 9, the most mercurial of the

set, which exploits quick rhythms and calls for a high level of independence between the hands. Frescobaldi

acknowledges this by appending the phrase ‘non senza fatiga si giunge al fine’ (‘not without exertion is the

end reached’) at the end of the piece. The final two toccatas return to the mood of the first two, exploiting

common figurations in the D Dorian and G Mixolydian modes respectively.

In place of a 12th toccata Frescobaldi includes a heavily ornamented intabulation of the madrigal

Ancidetemi pur, originally composed by the early 16th-century French composer Jacques Arcadelt. Having

settled in Florence, Arcadelt was largely responsible for the madrigal’s replacing of the French chanson as

the premier genre of Italian secular music in the 1530s. Going back so far for a model must have

represented an antiquarian interest for Frescobaldi, analogous to that shown by Caravaggio in painting a

music print open at an Arcadelt madrigal in his Lute Player, painted for the music-loving Marchese

Vincenzo Giustiniani in the 1590s. Frescobaldi may also have been paying homage to the Neapolitan

keyboard tradition, since two of its leading exponents, Ascanio Mayone and Giovanni Maria Trabaci, had

published intabulations of the same madrigal in 1603 and 1615 respectively.

The six canzonas which follow are among Frescobaldi’s most attractive. Originally an intabulation of a

vocal chanson, the canzona genre grew into a flexible succession of sections which could be used during

both church services and secular celebrations. Played here on the organ, the first four start with the

traditional long–short–short rhythm and have a succession of imitative sections in duple and triple time,

separated by more rhapsodic link passages. The final two, both in the C Ionian mode, exploit the

possibilities of triple time only, without link passages.

Vespers hymns were some of the best-known plainchants to the seventeenth-century composer. We know

that Frescobaldi copied out polyphonic hymn-settings by both Palestrina and Victoria, the giants of the late

16th-century Roman style. They had been written in strict vocal counterpoint and made use of the

plainchant, with which the polyphony alternated, as a basis, either as a long note cantus firmus or as fodder
for points of imation. Frescobaldi does the same thing in these versets for organ, which would also have

alternated with plainchant. On this recording the first verse is sung in chant, to introduce the strophic

melody which is then continued as the basis for the organ versets. The hymns are: Lucis Creator optime for
Sunday vespers, Exultet coelum laudibus for feasts of apostles, Iste confessor for confessors and the well-

known Ave maris stella for feasts of the Virgin Mary. A similar technique is applied to the three

Magnificats, here sung in alternatim with the chant in the appropriate mode, which again provides the

musical material for the organ versets.

The partite on the Aria detta balletto and La Frescobalda represent something which has been a constant

activity for all composer-performers down the ages: the improvisation of variations on popular tunes. The

balletto was a chord pattern used for dancing; here Frescobaldi shows particular mastery in constantly

moving from duple to triple time and back. The more reflective La Frescobalda, whose tune may be the

composer’s own creation, is treated in a similar way. The book continues with five galliards and six

correnti; these are, on the face of it, examples of contemporary dance music, but in Frescobaldi’s hands they

are also sophisticated miniatures, decorated with figures similar to those used in the toccatas.

The first edition of the Second Book of 1627 ended with two further sets of partite or variations, on two

of the most common chord patterns of the time, the ciaccona and the passacaglia. Originating in Spain,

both were based on closely related four-note recurring bass patterns. They represented early workings

towards what became Frescobaldi’s tour de force in this genre, the Cento partite sopra passacagli, which he

added to the revised edition of his First Book of Toccatas in 1637, simultaneously removing these two early

workings from his revision of the Second Book.

The music of Frescobaldi’s Second Book of Toccatas has retained its popularity down to the present day,

a popularity based on its utility, its intense harmonic language based on immense contrapuntal skill and its

sheer delight in exploiting all the possibilities of the 17th-century keyboard.

C Noel O’Regan, 2009


The bald statement that Girolamo Frescobaldi was born in Ferrara in 1583 conveys much more than dry

biographical facts: it tells us that the future composer spent his youth immersed in one of the most splendid

musical cultures of his day, one that had few equals anywhere in Europe. One of the glories of musical life

in Ferrara, cultivated by Duke Alfonso II d’Este, demonstrates the prevailing high standards of

music-making in the city: the celebrated Concerto delle dame principalissime, an elite group of the finest

and most virtuosic female singers of the day, who performed madrigals for the private enjoyment of Alfonso

and his guests, and accompanied themselves on the harp, viol and lute. But the duke’s Concerto grande, a

collection of the greatest Italian and Flemish musicians, should not be overlooked. Its members played every

kind of wind, string and keyboard instrument, and their ranks were swollen by ‘every citizen of Ferrara

who was able to sing and play’. In a modern spirit of education, the duke managed to combine the

international ‘star-system’ with cultural promotion at home, involving the entire city, with the result that in

Ferrara ‘such was the extent of singing and playing that almost all the children of every father were singers,

and one could say the city itself was a single academy’. The undisputed leading figure in this vibrant

musical life was Luzzasco Luzzaschi, today remembered principally for his madrigals. During these years,

the young Girolamo was learning the organ – the identity of his teacher remains unknown – and he made

rapid strides: ‘When he was still a very young man he played all the principal organs in his native city, and

achieved great things,’ Agostino Superbi, his first biographer, wrote in 1620. Luzzaschi himself took the

promising organist on as a pupil, making Frescobaldi the final member of an ideal dynasty of Ferrara

madrigalists, together with Della Viola, Cipriano de Rore and Luzzaschi, to give only the most significant

names. He was to remember his first teacher with gratitude for the rest of his life.

In 1597, the death of Alfonso II with no legitimate heir and the violent transfer of Ferrara into the Papal

States quickly put an end to the musical splendours at court, and the celebrated musicians went their

separate ways. Frescobaldi found a patron in Guido Bentivoglio, a member of a powerful family with

homes in Bologna and Ferrara. Bentivoglio, who was more or less the same age as Frescobaldi, was later

known as an historian and scholar, a follower of Giovanni Battista Marino, but he had a distinguished

musical background too, as the son of Isabella Bendidio and nephew of Isabella’s sister Lucrezia, who both

sang in the first Ferrara Concerto delle dame. The association with this first employer opened up new paths

and perspectives for the young Girolamo. Guido Bentivoglio embarked on a career in the church, becoming

papal secretary and nuncio, then Archbishop of Rhodes and finally Cardinal of Aragon. As a result of his

patron’s diplomatic missions, Frescobaldi moved away from a Ferrara that was now in danger of economic

and cultural decline. As part of the powerful Bentivoglio retinue, Frescobaldi travelled first to Rome – a

veritable Mecca for musicians in the early 17th century – and then, between 1607 and 1608, to Flanders,

the home of the many great composers who had been the life-blood of Italian madrigal writing throughout

the entire 16th century. At the court of Archduke Albert in Brussels, Frescobaldi came into contact with

musicians from all over Europe – from Flanders, Spain, Italy and England. One of these was Peter Philips,

an English composer who had spent three years in Rome, an experience that particularly influenced his

madrigal writing. And it was here, in Flanders, that Girolamo decided to have his first works published.

The genre he chose was that of the madrigal, felt to be the best test of a young novice composer. The

dedication that accompanied the publication provides some interesting details. The work is, of course,

dedicated to Bentivoglio: ‘This first fruit of my labours will see the light of day, as is only proper, under the

name of Your Most Illustrious Lordship. With infinite kindness you have always deigned to favour me in

the exercise of the talent that it has pleased blessed God to bestow on me’. The work was written entirely in

Brussels, and consists of a collection of madrigals ‘which I have been composing in Brussels, in the house of

Your Most Illustrious Lordship, since I have been in Flanders’. The poetry chosen also demonstrates the

Bentivoglio connection: Frescobaldi sets texts by three authors from Ferrara, Annibale Pocaterra, Giovanni

Battista Guarini and Orazio Ariosti, the Bologna writer Cesare Rinaldi, as well as Giambattista Marino,

whom Bentivoglio admired, and imitated in his own writings. Other poems are now thought to be by

Bentivoglio himself or his brother Enzo. Returning to the dedication, we read the statement – utterly

conventional in the context – that the composer has agreed to the publication of his efforts only at the

‘great urging’ of several ‘musicians’, and not without ‘some embarrassment’. For all that, there is a genuine

sense of trepidation at ‘submitting my work to the judgement of the World’. The work was published by

Phalèse, whose press was in Antwerp, and the dedication also tells us that Frescobaldi had gone to the city

to oversee the printing: ‘I have come to Antwerp by the leave of Your Most Illustrious Lordship to see this

city and to review a set of madrigals’. The result is an edition by one of the best-known publishers of the

period, made under the personal supervision of the composer, providing a rare and welcome guarantee of


This first and only collection by Frescobaldi may prove disappointing, it should be said, to those who

look for audacious and idiosyncratic touches, for madrigals that provide the thrill of extreme chromaticism,

or are fascinated by the unusual harmonic sequences and formal daring of a Gesualdo or a Monteverdi.

With his Opus 1, written when he was barely 25 years old, the composer paid a masterly homage to the

musical tradition and culture of his formation in Ferrara, vying with his teachers and skilfully assimilating

their language, and recasting it in a personal but not drastically different way. The nineteen madrigals with

which Frescobaldi introduced himself have an admirable clarity of formal design that gives each line its due

weight in terms of duration and emotion, and a transparent counterpoint that favours delicacy over density

as a stylistic means, homophonic and polyphonic sections being cleverly alternated. It is pleasing to see the

respect that Frescobaldi pays to the texts: the words are set to graceful melodic phrases, and never obscured

by excessive counterpoint, but interpreted literally with immediate attention to meaning. I leave to the

listener the pleasure of discovering the many metaphorical links between text and music, but I would like to

single out a few, by way of example. In No.20 the words ‘Se lontana voi siete’ (if you are distant) are set

with a ‘distant’ leap of an octave for one soprano; the few instances of melismatic writing are reserved for

words such as ‘riso’ (laughter), and ‘gioia’ (joy) in No.14, ‘fuggi’ (flee) in No.10, ‘invola’ (snatch away) in

No.17, but also ‘ira’ (anger) in No.6. After ‘partì la vita’ (life has departed) in No.18, there is a silence

more eloquent than any flurry of notes. The homorhythmic setting of ‘Cara armonia celeste’ (dear, celestial

harmony) in No.4 places the emphasis on the harmonic element alone. There are some madrigalisms that

cannot be heard, but only deciphered visually from reading the score: words like ‘funeste’ (deathly) and

‘cieco’ (blind) are set in the black notes that indicate triple time.

In his madrigals Frescobaldi thus adopts a style that leaves room for florid vocal decorations and

elements of colour from the instrumentation. All this has deep roots in the Ferrara tradition, which can be

heard in Modo Antiquo’s interpretations. I have chosen women’s voices in line with the many high

tessituras in the score, and have allowed for a dialogue between voices and different instrumental colours,

as was the case in Alfonso d’Este’s secret music room. In a number of other instances, contemporary reports

have provided an ideal guide to interpretation. These include the words of Nicola Vicentino, who urges the

performer to take every freedom with rhythm, timbre and dynamics, as long as the music and text justify it:

‘In performing songs in the vernacular, in order to give satisfaction to the listeners, one must sing the words

in a way that conforms with the opinion of the Composer; and express with the voice those intonations the

words accompany, with passions that are now merry, now sad, at times gentle and at times severe, and with

one’s delivery adhere to the pronunciation of the words and of the notes; and at times one uses certain

procedures in the compositions that cannot be written, such as singing soft and loud, and fast and slow, and

according to the words changing the measure to demonstrate the effects of the passions, the words and the

harmony’. His words were echoed almost a century later by Pietro della Valle, who praised those singers

who knew the ‘art of soft and loud, of gradually increasing the volume of the voice and gracefully letting it

fade, of judiciously following the words and their sense, of making the voice merry or melancholy, tender or

bold as required, and other such refinements’.

Bettina Hoffmann


The apparently simple, even banal title Arie musicali that Frescobaldi uses for his collection covers an

astonishing variety of musical and poetic forms, styles, content and compositional techniques. To take

musical structure alone, for example, we find open forms in recitative style, variations on a bass, and

strophic arias for one, two or three voices – and, finally, articulate mixed forms. Tradition and innovation

are juxtaposed in a single publication of pieces defined under a single term, and these elements merit some

detailed examination.

Both books open with a number of songs or sonnets in recitative style, composed, that is, in the manner

that seemed so novel and arresting when it was introduced in the first operas conceived and performed in

Florence around 1600. This is manifestly a homage to the Florentine tradition and Frescobaldi’s adopted

city, as well as to the house of Medici which, 30 years before, had played a central role in the experiment in

opera and which the composer was now, from 1628 to 1634, serving as organist and maestro di cappella.

With these pieces of pure musical recitation, Frescobaldi is looking to the past; by 1630, when the two

books of Arie musicali were printed, ‘recitar cantando’ had already lost its allure as something novel and
experimental, and after this date it would rarely be used as the sole basis for a piece of music. In addition,

Frescobaldi takes a pure, uncompromising approach to recitative, creating a continuous outpouring of

melody to give a faithful interpretation of the text without forcing it into any set musical structures or

imposing many repetitions. The words are mostly declaimed syllabically, with only rare flights of melismatic

writing. The single exception, and one that stands out for its vocal virtuosity, is the sonnet for solo bass,

Donna siam rei di morte (CD 10, track 9).

Text and music should therefore be considered as a single entity in the opening arias: recitative is a style

that offers music the greatest scope for depicting the words. Take, for example, those pauses, laden with

rhetorical pathos, on the words ‘Hor fuggo; hor torno, hor temo’ in Ardo e taccio (CD 10, track 3) and

‘Ardisci, e spera, e priega’ (Vanne, ò carta amorosa, CD 11, track 1). The words ‘l’anima unita/Ho teco (il

sai mio Redentor, mio Dio)’ in A piè della gran Croce (CD 10, track 6) and ‘O beata armonia d’un cor

soave’ (Degnati, ò gran Fernando, CD 10, track 2) prompt striking moves to distant harmonies. Note, too,

the recurring chromaticisms on ‘lacrime’ (tears) and ‘pianto’ (weeping), and particularly on the words

‘ch’eternamente pianga’ (that I should weep for eternity) in Ohimè che fur (CD 11, track 4). Both singer

and accompanist require a rich expressive range and a wealth of different timbres, together with clear

enunciation, to be able to respond to the promptings of poet and composer.

Through this very emphasis on the text and respect for the words, we find Frescobaldi applying recitative

in his two books to an extremely wide range of content. The two songs that open the first book (Signor,
c’hora fra gli ostri and Dègnati, oh gran Fernando (CD 10, tracks 1 & 2) are surprisingly self-referential:

they dedicate the work to Ferdinando II de’ Medici and hope that it will be sympathetically received. The

first songs ends with a wish for the future: ‘Come the time when you will victoriously/conquer the pride of

wicked Thrace, I shall/tell of your glories in a thousand pages’. The prediction could not have been more

mistaken: Ferdinando II undertook no hazardous and costly military ventures in an attempt to achieve

glory, while Frescobaldi himself would leave Florence only a few years later, tempted by a new post at the

papal court, and did not dedicate a single page, let alone a thousand, to his patron. The subsequent texts

deal not only with the usual dramas of love, but also, more unusually, spiritual ones. Pieces such as Dove

Signor (CD 10 track 4), Dove, dove sparir (CD 11, track 5) or A piè della gran croce (CD 10, track 6)

employ vivid colours to give a musical depiction of the anguish of the repentant sinner or the torment of

Mary Magdalene. Given the mood of strict religious observance that Ferdinando II’s two guardians –

Christina of Lorraine and Maria Magdalena of Austria – instituted at the Medici court, these pieces, suited

to devout and heartfelt private devotion, would have been particularly well received there.

The rest of the pieces deal with love, whether happy or unhappy. The settings are predominantly strophic:

coming after all the recitative, this is music having revenge on words. As well as simple repetition,

Frescobaldi also has a fondness for strophic variation, where he keeps the bass unaltered but every time

reshapes the vocal line, demonstrating his exceptional melodic gifts. Sometimes the bass line is one he has

invented himself (as in Se l’onde ohimé, CD 10, track 8, and Troppo sotto due stelle, CD 10, track 11); in
other examples, it is borrowed from the shared musical property of the time, such as the Romanesca
(CD 10, track 7) and the Ruggiero bass (CD 11, track 6). On the other hand, the two pieces defined as a

passacaglia and chaconne (Così mi disprezzate, CD 10, track 16, and Deh, vieni da me, CD 11, track 18)

do not follow any set harmonic scheme or ostinato bass. Nevertheless, the two dances named in the titles

are easily recognisable by their strong rhythmic character, with frequent syncopations and hemiolas. Many

other duets have the character of a canzona da ballo because of the strong, triple-time rhythms (Begl’occhi
io non provo, CD 10, track 18, Occhi che sete, CD 10, track 19, Non vi partite, CD 11, track 12, and

Gioite o selve, CD 11, track 13). In Se l’Aura spira (CD 10, track 15) and Corilla danzando (CD 10,

track 22), the words explicitly refer to dance: Modo Antiquo’s interpretation emphasizes this with a

prominent contribution from the players.

Formally, the greatest innovations are to be found in the pieces that divide into separate sections. The

composer responds to each new line and change in the character of the text with a change of metre and new

thematic material (for example, in Se m’amate, CD 10, track 17, Eri già tutta mia, CD 10, track 21, Bella

tiranna, CD 11, track 14, Quanto più sorda, CD 11, track 17, and Oh dolore, CD 11, track 20). This is

reminiscent of the form of the instrumental canzonas which Frescobaldi himself had published in a masterly

collection a few years previously. But the seeds of future developments are more to be found in the structure

of Così mi disprezzate (CD 10, track 16), Dove ne vai (CD 10, track 20) and Deh, vien da me (CD 11,

track 18), where the melodic sections alternate with short recitatives. This, in embryo, is the form of the

cantata and even the late Baroque opera, with their alternation of recitative and aria. And if Frescobaldi

was not the first composer to take the first, timid steps in this direction and produce miniature cantatas

ahead of their time, he was certainly the most influential.

The fact that this was not the first time Frescobaldi was experimenting with arias structured in

thematically defined sections is demonstrated by the three examples published in various miscellaneous

collections as early as the beginning of the 1620s (CD 10, tracks 24–26). This is their first appearance on

disc, and their inclusion makes a vital contribution to filling out the picture we have of Girolamo

Frescobaldi the composer of secular vocal music.

Bettina Hoffmann


Frescobaldi’s introduction

To the students of this work:

Since for some the performance of these pieces might prove difficult, in view of the different tempos and

variations, and, further, since it appears that many have abandoned the practice of studying from a score, I

wish to point out that in those places that seem not to be governed by contrapuntal practice, one should

first search for the affect of the passage, and the composer’s intention for pleasing the ear, and discover the

manner of playing it. In those compositions entitled Capriccio I did not maintain as easy a style as in my

ricercars, but their difficulty should not be judged before trying them out adquately at the keyboard, where

one will discover through study which affect must prevail. Furthermore, since my purpose is ease of

performance as well as beauty, it seems appropriate that the performer to whom the playing of a piece from

the beginning to the end seesm too difficult, shall feel free to paly whichever passages he likes best, as long

as he ends with those the conclude in the dey.

The beginnings should be taken adagaio, in order to give more spirit and beauty to the following passage,

and the cadences should be held back somewhat before the next passage is begun. In the trippole or

sequialtere: if they are major, one must play adagio; if they are minor, somewhat more allegro; if three

semiminims, more allegro; if there are six against four, one must take their tempo by an allegro beat. It is

appropriate to hold back at certain dissonances and arpeggiate the, in order to make the following passage

more live.

This is said in all modesty, and I entrust myself to the good judgement of the students.

Published by Frescobaldi in 1624 when he was at the height of his powers, the Primo Libro di Capricci was

dedicated to Alfonso D’Este, Prince of Modena and successor to the Dukes of Ferrara, the city in which

Frescobaldi was born. In the dedication he refers to Ferrara, acknowledging his debt to his teacher there,

Luzzascho Luzzaschi, whose own keyboard works and madrigals were an inspiration for these pieces.

For Frescobaldi the word ‘capriccio’ describes a fairly rigorous genre, based on contrapuntal ingenuity, but

with a degree of freedom and an invitation to display inventiveness and even quirkiness. It represents a

cross between the composer’s stricter ricercars and his freer canzonas. Like the former, each musical idea is

worked through consistently; from the latter comes a structure in separate sections, marked off by well-

defined cadences which are often decorated with ornamental, quasi-improvisatory flourishes, as well as

regular changes of tempo and time-signature. The capriccios are conceived as music for cognoscenti, who

could appreciate the clevernesses and occasional musical jokes, but they can appeal to anyone who is

prepared to listen repeatedly. As the Frescobaldi scholar Alexander Silbiger has written in the New Grove
article on the composer: ‘the capriccios are not among the most performed of Frescobaldi’s works but they

provide the connoisseur with continual surprises and pleasures and demonstrate Frescobaldi’s compositional

ingenuity and imagination functioning at their highest levels’. While playable on any keyboard, or indeed by

four separate instruments, it is on the organ that these pieces work best, their sectional nature allowing for

changes in registration to provide contrast and climactic buildups.

The capriccios also give us an insight into the improvisation techniques which won Frescobaldi huge

acclaim in early-17th century Rome, showing his ability to take a very simple musical idea and run with it

for up to eight minutes. The initial subject provides the material for almost everything else: it is inverted,

augmented and diminished as well as providing material for a variety of countersubjects. There is usually a

chromatic version which fills up the gaps with semitones, and regular changes of time-signature allow for

different rhythmic readings.

The 12 capriccios take a variety of musical ideas as their basis. Five are based on the solmization syllables

used to sing and learn the first six notes of the scale. These were the same then as they are today, except

that the first was ‘ut’ rather than ‘doh’. The resulting hexachord, ascending or descending, provided the

most basic of themes, used in the first two of Frescobaldi’s capriccios. The fourth piece uses a popular

variant of the descending hexachord; the eleventh has an added vocal part which uses five of those six notes

while the third uses the two-note call of the cuckoo (‘sol-mi’). Capriccios Five, Six, Seven and Twelve

employ popular melodies or basses of the time; the tenth is based on a short theme which is presumably

Frescobaldi’s own. Capriccios Eight and Nine are different in employing compositional techniques rather

than specific themes. The whole book can be seen to have an educational purpose: leading students from

pieces based on simple scales to more complex patterns, through an ostinato (the cuckoo call), chromatic

patterns and suspensions, the adding of a voice for the performer to sing and, finally, the opportunity to

show off (both creatively and as performer) in the virtuosic final capriccio based on a well-known chord


In the first two capriccios Frescobaldi plays with our expectations by sometimes changing the final note of

both hexachords. In the second section of the first capriccio, the final note, which we expect to be ‘la’ (A),

drops back to what seems to be ‘mi’ (E) but is in fact ‘la’ in a different hexachord, that starting a fourth

lower on G. Hexachords were used to transpose and modulate and so people at the time would not have

been wholly surprised by this move, while not necessarily expecting it. The third section sharpens ‘fa’ (F

sharp) a few times before returning to the basic form. At the start of the second capriccio the ‘ut’ at the end

of the descending hexachord is a semitone higher than expected (C sharp rather than C, G sharp rather

than G); this did not affect its labelling as ‘ut’ but allows the music to have tonal cadences in A minor and

D minor. We do get the standard modal version later in the piece.

Cuckoo calls were commonly used as an ostinato, or repeated figure, in music of the baroque period –

Louis-Claude Daquin’s Le Coucou being the most famous – presenting the challenge of avoiding potential

monotony. Frescobaldi’s top part consists only of the repeated minor-third cuckoo call, always at the same

pitch, but with the time intervals between them varying constantly so that, as in nature, we never know

when to expect one. The harmony underneath shifts constantly and there is great rhythmic variety,

including sections in triple time so that, even with the other parts also permeated by minor thirds, we don’t

get bored. The solmization syllables ‘la, sol, fa, re, mi’ seem to have been first used by Josquin des Prez in

the late fifteenth century as the basis for a Mass. They mapped onto the Italian phrase ‘lascia fare mi’ (‘let

me do it’). This fourth piece has some of Frescobaldi’s most inventive countersubjects and the shortening of

note-values as it goes on increases the sense of moving to a climactic conclusion.

The next three capriccios are based on well-known chordal patterns or basses used for dancing, to which

melodies such as La Spagnoletta were fitted and with which they became associated. The melody over the

Basso Fiamengo has the long-short-short rhythmic pattern used in canzonas of the period. The seventh

capriccio is an exception in being in fact a set of five partite, or variations, on the aria ‘Or chè noi rimena’;

Frescobaldi was to omit it from his second edition of 1626. This aria has again been fitted around a

bass/chordal pattern used for dances and is very similar to the Aria detto Balletto on which Frescobaldi was

to base a set of variations in his Second Book of Toccatas of 1627.

The short eighth and ninth capriccios use a different musical language from the others, that of the

elevation toccata played at the central point of the Mass when host and chalice were elevated. Since the

Mass was considered to be a re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary a dissonant style, similar to that

used for Holy Week music, was employed for these toccatas. This consisted in chromatic passages,

suspensions (ligature in Italian) and other dissonances (durezze) which resolved according to accepted rules.

One of these rules was that suspensions – where a note is prepared as a consonance and then tied over, or

repeated, to become a dissonance – should subsequently resolve downwards by step to become consonant

again. Frescobaldi’s eighth capriccio uses ‘ligature al contrario’ where the suspension resolves upwards,

breaking with convention. To our ears this is nothing strange, since such retardations (as they came to be

called) were common practice in the Classical and Romantic periods, but at the time they would have

seemed contrary and unsettling. The ninth capriccio rights the balance by correctly resolving its many

suspensions downwards by step, softening the effect of its durezze. Both pieces explore the tonal space in

what may appear a random way but is actually carefully planned.

The soggetto of the tenth capriccio again reminds us of a canzona opening and lends itself to stretto

entries which pile up on top of each other at close range. The eleventh uses a compositional device which

challenges the performer: finding all of the places in the written-out four parts where a short fifth ostinato

part can be fitted and sung. The most commonly used phrase for this was the six-note plainchant melody of

the litany refrain ‘Sancta Maria’. This was used by Monteverdi in the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria which

forms part of his 1610 Marian Vespers (Monteverdi wrote out all its appearances in that case) and was to

be used by Frescobaldi in his Fiori Musicali of 1635 where the singer, as here, had to work out where to

enter. In this eleventh capriccio the obbligo has eight notes: the solmization syllables can be used or a more

extended saint’s name like ‘Sancte Ioannis Baptistae’ could be fitted, since the opening notes are the same as

those of the litany refrain.

The final Capriccio is based on another popular bass/chord pattern, associated with the character

Ruggiero from the crusading epic, Orlando Furioso, by Ludovico Ariosto, who spent time working for the
Este family in Ferrara. It thus emphasises the Ferrarese origins of the collection’s dedicatee, Alfonso D’Este.

The tune which eventually emerges is similar to the Bergamasca with which Frescobaldi was to end his Fiori
musicali. Like that piece, the twelfth capriccio is a virtuosic tour-de-force which ends in a riot of short notes

and descending scales, linking back to the opening pieces of the collection.

C Noel O’Regan, 2010


The ten Recercari recorded here were first published in 1615 and dedicated to Frescobaldi’s patron,

Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, who had taken possession of the composer’s native Ferrara on behalf of the

pope in 1598 and to whose patronage the composer gravitated when he moved to Rome. In that same year

he also published his First Book of Toccatas, in this case dedicated to a hoped-for new employer, the Duke

of Mantua. Musically, too, the two publications looked in different directions: the Toccatas might be said to

represent the future and the Recercars the past. In the latter Frescobaldi shows his abilities in contrapuntal

artifice, continuing a tradition which went back to Franco-Flemish composers of the fifteenth century. The

word ‘recercare’ means to search or tease out and describes a piece in which short abstract musical motives

are manipulated through imitation, inversion, and combined in an impressive variety of ways, sometimes

with self-imposed restrictions known as obblighi. The musical arguments are always clear, using the long
note-values of the sixteenth-century motet and avoiding distracting time-changes or excessive

ornamentation. Smooth and singable, Recercars are ideally suited to the organ, with Frescobaldi’s

inventiveness ensuring continued interest.

On this recording each of the first nine Recercars is preceded by a Toccata taken from a manuscript

thought to have been copied for the rich Fugger family of Augsburg. While not having the authority of

Frescobaldi’s carefully-prepared printed Toccatas, they nevertheless show some unmistakeable Frescobaldi

fingerprints. A Toccata was originally an improvised piece in which the player touched (Italian toccare) the

keys of the instrument to try it out and establish a particular mode. In the forewords to his printed Toccatas

Frescobaldi gave the player licence to vary the tempo and the expression, in line with the affekt or emotion

which a particular passage was trying to represent. Like the madrigals of the time, a succession of

emotional states is portrayed by quick changes of mood, ranging from the contemplative to the virtuoso,

the former expressed by slow-moving harmonies and inward-looking figures moving between the hands, the

latter by bravura passagework, often in contrary motion.

The pairing of Toccatas with Recercars on this recording demonstrates both sides of Frescobaldi’s genius,

somewhat in the manner of J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue pairings – though the pairings here owe nothing

to Frescobaldi himself. Where possible Toccata and Recercar are matched according to mode. The first

Toccata is a short written-out improvisation whose purpose is simply to establish D Dorian modality. This

leads nicely into the first Recercar which starts on D, though moving quickly up a fourth into G Dorian,

rather like our modern G minor. It is based on three short themes which are played in the first four bars

and thereafter developed, together and separately, in a single tightly-constructed unit. The more extended

second Toccata in that same mode shows some quirky harmonic and rhythmic shifts as well as

opportunities for virtuoso playing. Recercar Secondo is in three sections, each having two complementary

themes – a subject and a countersubject – both of which are also inverted, the ensuing four musical ideas

then developed. The opening theme is like a standard litany refrain of the time, reminding us of

Frescobaldi’s main employment as organist at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The next Toccata (CD13, track 5) exploits the different areas of the keyboard, imitating different voices
in dialogue, a common technique used by the composer. This breaks off briefly for a section of what were

called ligature, suspension dissonances which were especially associated with Toccatas played during the

Elevation of the Mass and were intended to depict the suffering of Christ’s Passion. The virtuoso ending

uses contrary motion between the hands. Recercar Terzo, again in three sections, uses a peculiar additive

technique where the subject of the first section is added on at the end of the second and both to the third;

all three themes are combined at the end. The Toccata which follows, the longest of the set, displays the

whole range of Frescobaldi’s techniques, including another short section with ligature. Towards the end a

long series of figurative solos for the left hand leads to another virtuoso flourish in contrary motion.

Recercar Quarto, in the Phrygian mode, is the first of the set to be expressly based on a pattern of

solmisation syllables, mi fa fa mi, which starts on either A or E. It is played first in semibreves, then in

breves and finally in double breves. Each section uses a different countersubject (the second is chromatic),

imitated in all the parts, and also inverted in the second and third sections. The Toccata on track 9 starts

like an Elevation Toccata, here played on the voce humana stop with its characteristic vibrato caused by

two sets of pipes tuned very slightly apart. Recercar Quinto is again based on three themes, announced at

the opening and developed individually before being combined at the end. The next Toccata is short and

may be incomplete; having established the F Lydian mode in a lively manner it leads easily into the sixth

Recercar, based on a five note theme called Fra Jacopino in Italian or Frère Jacques in French (the first note
is repeated here). The following Toccata/Ricercar pair works in a similar way, this time in G Mixolydian


The G Dorian toccata on track 15 is particularly effective and leads to the eighth Recercar with the

unusual obbligo of avoiding any stepwise movement. This shifts the focus onto thirds and fourths in a piece

of pointilistic clockwork, played here on high organ pipes. The final Toccata is played over long held pedal

notes, making for static harmony but nevertheless building up tension ahead of each change of pedal note.

The ninth Recercar again works four different themes which are combined only at the end, while Recercar

Decimo uses a five-note ostinato or recurring theme based on solmization syllables, presented in a variety of

note values and accompanied by various countersubjects worked imitatively. While these Recercars might

look back to a long contrapuntal tradition they certainly did not represent the end of a road: Frescobaldi’s

ingenuity and championing of the idiom ensured that, as fugue, this style of writing would continue to

occupy composers for centuries afterwards.

C Noel O’Regan, 2011


This recording is dedicated primarily to the music from Frescobaldi’s second publication, his Fantasie of

1608. In that year the composer became firmly established in Rome, obtaining the coveted position of

organist at St. Peter’s basilica, where his playing for most of the ensuing 35 years gained continued

admiration for its virtuosity. He dedicated the Fantasie to Francesco Borghese, brother of the reigning Pope

Paul V, a calculated move encouraged by his having already played many of them to the dedicatee, as he

tells us in the dedication. It was the composer’s first keyboard publication and announced his arrival on the

European stage.

What sort of works did Frescobaldi choose for this important print? Significantly he picked pieces of a

strongly contrapuntal nature. The term ‘fantasia’ could mean different things in the early 17th century but

generally it described pieces in which consistent imitation between different ‘voices’ or sections of the

keyboard played a key role. In Frescobaldi’s hands there is little to differentiate the Fantasia from the

Ricercar (both were published in open score), while both are rather different from the more free-flowing

Toccatas engraved on two staves. The fantasias are sectional works, based on between one and four distinct

(though sometimes related) subjects or themes. Successive sections can be quite contrasted, often having

changes of time-signature. They are complex works written for cognoscenti and include devices such as

augmentation and diminution which are not easily heard without consulting the score. This is not to say

that they cannot be appreciated without reading the music, but the full extent of their ability to combine

both rigour and imagination only hits home on repeated listening.

The twelve fantasias are organised into four groups of three, based successively on one, two, three and

four motives. These are introduced at the start of each fantasia; additional counter-subjects provide

rhythmic and harmonic variety. The fantasias are also grouped in pairs in ascending modal order, using the

twelve-mode system of Glareanus rather than the traditional eight-mode ecclesiastical system. The two

fantasias in each pair use a different part of their particular modal range, those with odd numbers being

generally a fourth higher than those with even numbers.

On this recording the Fantasia pairs are sandwiched with seven canzonas, part of a set of eleven from a

manuscript now in the British Library (the remaining four appear on the recording of Canzoni alla

Francese, CD15). The instrumental canzona started life in the early 16th century imitating French vocal

chansons and gradually developed an independent existence. It is similar to the fantasia in structure, with a

series of sections, each based on a basic musical idea; changes between duple to triple time often mark out

the different sections here too. While some doubt remains about the authenticity of these canzonas they

certainly adequately represent Frescobaldi’s late canzona style in which sections are separated by

improvisatory-like passages, some with virtuoso fingerwork, giving the whole work both flexibility and

continuity. On this recording the player improvises briefly at the beginning of each canzona, following the

custom of the time and using Frescobaldi’s own toccatas as models.

The recording commences with one such toccata, taken from the same British Library manuscript, which

displays features common to the genre: short passages capturing particular moods come in quick succession,

with musical ideas moving between the hands and featuring bravura fingerwork at the end. Canzona Prima

is also typical of its genre, featuring the common long-short-short rhythm in the first main subject (after the

opening improvisation) and following with a series of contrasting sections; the others follow a similar

pattern. The first two fantasias are in the transposed Dorian mode on G with one subject each, transformed

rhythmically in successive sections. The theme of the first resembles the plainchant litany refrain which

everyone at the time would have known. Fantasia Seconda’s subject uses the stepwise falling fourth which

in this period signified sorrow and weeping, and was most famously used by the English composer John

Dowland to set the words ‘Flow my tears’. In the final section Frescobaldi increases the tension by adding a

semitone to make a partly chromatic fourth.

The third and fourth fantasias are in the Phrygian mode, the third based on a simple rising and falling

semitone pattern (E–F–E) typical of that mode. The fourth has two complementary subjects: one features a

leap of a fourth, followed by stepwise descent, while the other moves by step both up and down a fourth,

later filled out chromatically as in the second fantasia. The two subjects of the Lydian fifth fantasia are

mirror images of each other, making the whole piece very homogenous. Fantasia Sexta contrasts a strong

four-note subject in slow notes with a quicker repeated-note figure, though augmentation and diminution

later changes the relationship between the two. The next two three-subject fantasias, in the Mixolydian

mode, use very similar themes and rely on rhythmic transformations for variety. Fantasia Ottava ends with

another dark chromatic section. The ninth fantasia in the Aeolian mode is the most chromatic of the set,

with Frescobaldi exploiting the unequal semitones produced in meantone tuning. Two of the four subjects

of Fantasia Decima are simply inversions of the other two; it too turns chromatic at the end.

Each of the final two fantasias relies on a strong first subject for its character: Fantasia Undecima uses a

falling fifth followed by a rising fourth while Fantasia Duodecima uses the same C–A–D–C motive found at

the start of the sixth fantasia, linking this final fantasia with that at the halfway mark. Written in the Ionian

mode on F (essentially our modern F major), they provide a strong conclusion to the set. In Frescobaldi’s

hands the three genres represented here have much in common, each blending improvisation with

contrapuntal rigour in slightly different proportions. Although the fantasias and canzonas come from both

ends of Frescobaldi’s creative life, they fit together convincingly, united by the composer’s lifelong

exploitation of the creative tension between formal precision and imaginative extemporization.
C Noel O’Regan, 2011


The canzona alla francese for keyboard or other instruments originated in the early 16th century as an

arrangement of the popular French vocal chanson. Before long, composers began to write canzonas

independently of vocal originals, while continuing to follow the same basic pattern: a succession of different

sections in which a series of simple musical motives was imitated and worked through the different ranges

of the keyboard or of different instruments. The musical material was simple and tuneful and the genre’s

attraction lay in the skill with which composers manipulated it. Many canzonas start with an opening

motive in dactylic rhythm (long–short–short) which became somewhat totemic of the genre, though not an

essential component. The opening notes often repeated the same pitch or exploited a well-defined interval

such as a fourth or fifth.

Canzonas could be used in all sorts of contexts, both sacred and secular. Frescobaldi, for example,

included some as part of the organ Masses in his Fiori musicali print of 1635, to be played after the Epistle
or at the end of Mass. They could be played during meals or on other social and ceremonial occasions, both

indoors and outside. Since they had a sectional structure they could be shortened or extended according to

the needs of a particular occasion. Their composition was very much the bread and butter work of

instrumental composers in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

The keyboard canzonas on this recording come from three quite separate sources. The first five were

published by Frescobaldi in 1615, together with ten ricercars, and represent his earliest works in this genre.

Numbers one to three are in the Dorian mode, transposed up a fourth to G: the third, in the secondo rather

than the primo tono, occupies the range of a fourth lower than the first two. All three are in five sections,

delineated by changes from duple to triple time or vice versa. The first canzona uses a different theme for

each section, the only one of this group to do so. The other two are examples of what is called a variation

canzona, where successive sections are based on versions of the same theme; this can be transformed

rhythmically and melodically in all sorts of ways, but the basic interval pattern is retained, with a series of

countermelodies adding colour and rhythmic contrast. The motive of Canzona Seconda rises by step to a

fourth above before leaping down the same fourth and then back up again; Canzona Terza does the reverse,

descending stepwise by a fourth before leaping back up and then down again. In the fourth and fifth

canzonas the opening motive returns in the concluding section, after segments based on other themes,

though the return is heavily disguised in the case of the A mode Canzona Quinta. Canzona Quarta is the

longest of this set, in seven sections; it is in the true Lydian mode on F, without a B flat in the key signature,

and also has a couple of freely-composed link bars between some of the sections, a feature more commonly

found in the later canzonas.

The next eleven canzonas come from a posthumous publication of 1645, printed in Venice two years

after Frescobaldi’s death. We can be pretty confident that these are genuine works and they show how the

composer’s approach to canzonas developed over his lifetime. The titles, referring to Venetian personalities,

were assigned by the publisher, Alessandro Vincenti. All but two are played here on the harpsichord which

helps bring out their greater quirkiness and allows the performer freedom for improvisation in the link

passages, which regularly occur between sections, and at the end. These passages have much of the freer

toccata style about them, with virtuoso passaggi or written-out ornamental figuration; this is particularly so

in Canzonas 4, 6 and 8. All eleven are variation canzonas with a single underlying musical motive.

Modally these 1645 canzonas are quite polarised, with five in F Lydian (numbers 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9 –

though only Canzona Quinta is in true Lydian mode without B flats) and four in G Dorian (1, 3, 6 and 7).

Of the remaining two the tenth is in A Aeolian and the final canzona is in G Mixolydian. There is a

correlation between mode and opening motive, reflecting the common plainsong patterns which helped

define those modes. An upward leap of a fourth generally characterises the Lydian and Mixolydian

canzonas, while those in G Dorian feature filled-in downward fifths or stepwise movement. The Aeolian

Canzona Nona has perhaps the most distinctive subject of all, combining an upward leap of a fourth with

repeated notes. By filling out the fourth in the second section Frescobaldi creates an even more memorable

version which he could not resist repeating at the end.

The third and fourth canzonas in this set are played on the organ. This is particularly appropriate for

the very homogenous Canzona Terza which has no tempo changes; there is a nice chromatic touch to the

end of its motive which is exploited as the piece progresses. Canzona Quarta demonstrates that the free

link-passages can also work idiomatically on the organ. The longest and most imaginative of the set, it even

includes a short passage of ligature (dissonant suspensions and resolutions), which leads via two short
sections to a final toccata-like flourish.

The final four canzonas on this recording come from a manuscript preserved in the British Library where

they are the last four in a set of eleven attributed to Frescobaldi (the other seven appear on the recording of

the 1608 Fantasie in this series). They show further stylistic development over the 1645 set, especially in

more elaborate improvisatory openings and link passages between sections, and could possibly be the work

of a later composer though, if so, an accomplished one well steeped in Frescobaldi’s style. They retain the

inventiveness shown in the 1645 canzonas, using even shorter motives and expanding harmonic and tonal

possibilities. For Frescobaldi, writing canzonas was much more than a routine chore: it provided a template

which allowed him to explore some of his most imaginative ideas and show off his technical ability with

considerable panache.

C Noel O’Regan, 2011