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8.553553-56 - TRABACI: Keyboard Music, Book 2
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Giovanni Maria Trabaci (c

Giovanni Maria Trabaci (c.1575-1647)

Keyboard Music: Book II (1615)

In the appendix to his Scherzi Musicali Claudio Monteverdi wrote his own self-defence to the criticisms made against him by the theorist Artusi, though he had it signed by his brother Giulio Cesare. There he clearly speaks of a ‘second practice’ of composition, on the principle that certain rules had to be overcome if one wished to express the affect of the text. I believe it is necessary to speak of a similar need in our own age, though this time in the sphere of performance. It is a need that calls for practical (and not only musicological) application, especially in a field still as uncertain as that of music improperly called ‘early’.

The initial phase, that of the discovery and scrupulous observance of the musical document, can today be said to have been established. Now, however, it needs to be followed by a second phase: one showing awareness of the relativity of the evidence, which is often completed, if not contradicted, by other sources. The idea of a single manner of performing the music is therefore a profoundly wrong one. Music is a science that must be brought to life by poetry. Too often in ‘early’ music courses and teaching in general, one is merely offered the facts, and no space is allowed for the subsequent passage of musical interpretation.

In this respect, for example, the training of organists tends to be excessively sectorial and mainly ‘Bachian’. Excessive delight is taken in the more "cerebral" aspects of Bach’s work, for example, the mystique of numbers, without considering his sublime ability to use technique as a means to attain the highest peaks of emotional power: in short, too much lobotomy and too few gastroscopes of Bach’s genius. It fails to take into account the complexities of technique and interpretation, which in the past were hardly ever practised on the organ itself, for the obvious technological reason that there was no electricity. Nor does one sufficiently consider Bach’s immense respect for, and debt to, the preceding tradition, which led his contemporaries to judge him as old-fashioned and incomprehensible.

Too often we find claims to exclusive interpretational supremacy, whereas in piano playing or symphonic music, for example, widely diverging interpretations are accepted without any difficulty at all. In this the record critics also bear a small share of the blame, when they pass judgement on interpretations that are born of painstaking study and deeply pondered experiences, but may, unfortunately, not be in line with current fashions.

To return to Trabaci, I first wish to draw attention to my research into instrumental variety, an aspect typically in line with the Renaissance and Baroque aesthetic. I used the two grand organs of the Basilica of S. Petronio in Bologna (Lorenzo da Prato 1471 and Baldassarre Malamini 1595) and that of Giovanni Cipri (1556) in the church of S. Martino in the same city, as well as the instruments from my own collection: a Neapolitan positive organ (Felice Cimino 1702), a Neapolitan spinettone (anonymous late eighteenth century) and copies of a late seventeenth-century Italian harpsichord and regal (B. Formentelli). In addition, I have tried to offer the vocal models (Gregorian and madrigalistic) that clarify the compositions as fully as possible.

The music of Trabaci, like that of Frescobaldi, is only partly designed for the organ. In fact the term Intavolatura di organo (organ tablature) in Frescobaldi’s Toccatas points merely to the form of writing, that for a keyboard instrument. As can be gathered from Trabaci’s Preface to the Readers of Book I, this is music that can be played on any instrument, but more properly on the organ and harpsichord. The same idea is confirmed in the Preface to Book II, although it would seem from certain comments that here the composer prefers the harpsichord. In fact at the head of a composition certainly intended for the organ, the Cento versi sopra li Otto Toni Ecclesiastici (A hundred versets on the eight church modes), written ‘to delight the world and the professional organist’ (per giovare al mondo, ed a chi fa professione d’Organista), he does not hesitate to add that ‘since Nature, … in such fair order, has found an instrument of such worth as the harpsichord, composed of so many keys, I had to, and was able to, make use of it on this sort of occasion, as I have already done’ (già che la Natura … … con sì bell’ordine ha trovato un istrumento di tanto valore, com’è il Cimbalo composto di tanti tasti … … io dovea, e poteva in questa sorte d’occasione avvalermene, come già ho fatto).

In another comment, this time before the Partite artificiose sopra il Tenor di Zefiro, he particularly praises this instrument, and he advises that it should also be employed where the use of the harp, the instrument most favoured by Spanish-Neapolitan taste, is indicated: ‘if in this present volume some things are ascribed to the harp, this is not to deny the use of the harpsichord, since the harpsichord is the lord of all the instruments in the world, and with it everything can easily be played’ (se in questo presente libro stà intitolate alcune cose per l’Arpa, non per questo soprasedisca il Cimbalo, perchè il Cimbalo è Signor di tutti gl’istromenti del mondo, ed in lei [sic] si possono sonare ogni cosa con facilità). On the present recording, therefore, I decided to offer two versions, for harpsichord and for harp, and I thank my good friend Andrew Lawrence King for joining me: in both poetic insight and technique, he is surely the artist best suited to this repertoire, which he tackles in absolutely the right spirit, as is abundantly shown by his reputation.

Trabaci supplies the performer with detailed instructions of phrasing, such as ‘allarga la battuta’ (broaden the beat), as well as the occasional witty comment, such as ‘Statti sano!’ (Be of good cheer). The repeats are indicated by elegant little hands, used also by Domenico Scarlatti for the changes of keyboard in the three Sonatas for chamber organ (see my notes to Domenico Scarlatti, Complete Sonatas, Sergio Vartolo organ and harpsichord, CD Stradivarius Str 33502 and to Domenico Scarlatti, Sonatas for harpsichord and mandolin, Sergio Vartolo harpsichord, Ugo Orlandi mandolin, CD Bongiovanni GB 5122/23-2). In Book II he accompanies the polyphonic text with detailed indications on the conduct of the voice parts (‘due fughe insieme’, ‘riversi della fuga principale’, etc.), and in the Preface he even offers a Tavola de i passi e delle cose più notabile (Table of the passages and things more worthy of notice). Trabaci is particularly innovative in his chromaticism and he also resorts to bold thematic writing: see, for example, the entry of the soprano in the third bar of the Verso Decimo, Quarto tono, creating the clash of an A against an E minor chord.

Trabaci shows exceptional mastery of counterpoint, and I have been able to find only a few passages in Book II where fault may be found: for example, octaves in contrary motion between bass and alto (Verso Duodecimo, Quarto Tono, third-last bar), parallel octaves between bass and alto (Verso Undecimo, Quinto Tono, fifth bar) and tritones in the tenor (Verso Quinto, Quarto Tono, third and fourth bars).

Comparison of Trabaci’s keyboard music with that of his contemporary Frescobaldi is very marked: all the genres treated by the Ferrarese composer are included in Trabaci’s work. We also note that Frescobaldi’s master, Luzzasco Luzzaschi, was highly valued by Gesualdo of Venosa, and therefore musical exchanges between Ferrara and Naples must have been close. Trabaci even invokes the authority of Luzzaschi to justify the possible irregularity of the answer in the Ricercare del VII tono con tre fughe of Book II: ‘Luzzaschi uses this at the beginning of his Ricercare in the 7th mode of Book III’ (Luzasco usa questo in principio del suo 7. Recercat. lib. 3).

In particular the Ricercate have their counterpart in Frescobaldi’s Capricci and Ricercari, the Canzoni francesi in Frescobaldi’s works of the same name, and the Cento Versi sopra li Otto finali Ecclesiastici (Hundred Versets on the Eight Ecclesiastical Finals) in the Inni (Hymns) of Book II and then in the Kyries of the Fiori Musicali. The comparison is even more conspicuous in the secular genres, such as the Book I Partite sopra Ruggero, a theme also dear to Frescobaldi, the Partite sopra Fedele (in Frescobaldi under the name of Follia), the Gagliarde, the Canzoni and the Madrigali Passagiati. Of the last category, that of the embellished madrigal, Ancidetemi pur (a piece that was ‘diminished’ many a time in the Neapolitan area) makes much of the expressive, chivalric element so typical of sixteenth-century taste, which in turn was so responsive to the amorous, melancholy and despairing aesthetic of the Marchese di Pescara, author of the equally popular madrigal Ancor che col partire (set to music by Cipriano De Rore). Between the two instrumental versions of the madrigal Ancidetemi pur, for harp and harpsichord respectively, I have included a sung monodic version: this manner of reducing a polyphonic texture to a single vocal line and continuo was very common in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, as demonstrated by the Codex MS Q34 in Bologna (which includes only the bass line of the two madrigals as a continuo part).

This ‘archaic’ aesthetic — after all, we are talking about poetic and musical works composed in the first half of the sixteenth century — imparts a sense of unity to the Italian keyboard literature, the last exponent of which was Gregorio Strozzi as late as 1687. Trabaci provides at least two other examples of such ‘archaism’: in the Canzone Francese V, based on Arcadelt’s madrigal Dunque credete ch’io of 1539, and in the madrigal Io mi son giovinetto, based on the work by Domenico Maria Ferrabosco of 1542, both in Book I. In Frescobaldi we find neither the Zefiro theme, which is none other than the Passamezzo nuovo o moderno (see, among others, Antonio Valente’s Intavolatura de cimbalo, Napoli, 1576), nor the canti fermi on the sixteenth-century melody Tenor di Spagna, which Trabaci calls Tenore di Costanzo Festa.

Moreover Frescobaldi, with some exceptions (for example the D sharps in the Fantasia VII), refrains from using notes specific to chromatic-enharmonic composition, whereas Trabaci provides a very fine example in Book II: the Toccata e Ricercare sopra il Cimbalo Cromatico. The cimbalo cromatico was an instrument with double black keys, which, however, Trabaci himself declared to be more limited than the enharmonic instrument, since it did not have all the keys of the latter ‘to give major thirds over D sharp’ (per dare Terze maggiore sopra D. semitonato), i.e. F double sharp. Therefore this is really a composition for the cimbalo enharmonico or archicembalo. Which is why he adds the instruction that on the cembalo cromatico one can resolve the problem without difficulty: ‘all those thirds that cannot be made major can be made minor, since they are not in final cadences’ (tutte quelle terze, che non si ponno far Maggiore si facciano Minore, già che non sono Cadenze finale). Modern technology, however, has made it possible (by using different takes and changing the meantone tuning) to play the whole Toccata as if on a cembalo enarmonico. An archicembalo was made for Alfonso II d’Este in Ferrara and on this, Bottrigari notes, Luzzaschi and Frescobaldi were accustomed to play, although the latter did so ‘not without great study’. It is also possible that Frescobaldi, and perhaps also Luzzaschi, who died in 1607, examined and played the Vito Trasuntino archicembalo built for Camillo Gonzaga in 1606, and today in the Museo Civico in Bologna.

We may assume that Trabaci’s keyboard was ‘short’ (or scavezza), but with double keys for D/F# and E/G#, at least judging by the presence of low D and F sharp in Io mi son giovinetto of Book I and also in Partita IV of Zefiro of Book II. The short octave is a special arrangement of the keys in the lowest octave: the four sharps C#, D#, F#, and G# were omitted, because there was almost no use for them in the music of that time, and on organs considerable expense could be spared by omitting these large and costly pipes.

According to this plan, the keyboard begins with an E key that plays the note C, then the F plays F, the F# plays D, the G plays G, and the G# plays E). From the player’s point of view, Trabaci does not spare him the more difficult wide stretches between notes, for which (as for Handel), the nose has often served me as an extra finger (in the Gagliarda II la Scabrosetta, whose theme recalls the Bassa Fiamenga, and the Gagliarda III sopra la Mantovana). Nevertheless I believe that Trabaci, despite his declared independence from the limitations of range of the church modes (as asserted at the head of the Cento Versi), was obliged, by the mere fact of using score, to write down in a rigidly polyphonic format what Frescobaldi would have more conveniently reduced to keyboard tablature. In concert performance the player is surely free to reduce such distances and find spacings more suited to the hand. In the recording, however, I have chosen to play them exactly as they are written in the score: die Musikwissenschaft über alles!

The verset form is one that allows a wide choice of registrations and Trabaci’s harmonic-rhythmic solutions are at their most ingenious and confident in these very concise composition types. For the versets I have ‘troped’ the melodies of the various Benedicamus Domino with a text of Adam von Fulda that underlines the expressive character of the individual modes: ‘the first mode is suited to all, the second is for the sad, the third is angry, the fourth is mild, the fifth is for the joyful, the sixth for those of proven mercy, the seventh for the young, the eighth for the wise’ (Primus est omnibus, sed alter tristibus aptus, tertius iratus, quartus dicitur fieri blandus, quintum de laetis, sextum pietate probatis, septimus est juvenum, octavus sapientium).

The expressive sense of the Gregorian modes was described thus by Guido D’Arezzo: ‘The first mode is serious, the second sad, the third mystic, the fourth harmonious, the fifth glad, the sixth devout, the seventh angelic, the eighth the perfect one.’ On the other hand, Juan de Espinoza, a sixteenth-century writer, comments: ‘ the first is all glad and has the power to tame the passions of the spirit...; serious and with a mournful character is the second; it is the most fitting to cause tears...; the third is very effective to urge wrath...; whereas the fourth has in itself all joy; it urges delight and moderates vice...; the fifth causes joy and pleasure to those who are in sadness...; weeping and pious is the sixth...; pleasure and sadness meet in the seventh...; perforce the eighth is very glad... " (Treatise of Principles, 1520).

In the various versets we find the use of melodic formulae (see the Liber Usualis) to mark the various cadences typical of the individual modes: ‘the first, the second … mode starts thus, the flex is thus and the mediation thus, and thus it finishes’ (primus, secundus …tonus sic incipitur, sic flectitur et sic mediatur atque sic finitur). The monotony of the Gregorian cadences, however, merely underlines the variety of fantasy of Trabaci’s Baroque manner. The performing version of the melodies is deliberately rendered mensurally; and it is also my belief that the ornamentation in Gregorian solo performance stands at the origin of much medieval, and even Baroque, embellishment. In particular the quilisma can be identified with the hoquetus and with various forms of ornamentation (glissando) proper to ethnic music, of which the last offshoots in art music can be identified with the acciaccatura (upbeat ornamentation). As for the oriscus and the various repercussiones (see the Liber Usualis: apostropha numquam sola adhibetur; geminata distropha dicitur; trigemina, tristropha; et amplius iterari potest), they surely become the ribattuta (repeated-note ornamentation), an embellishment that Caccini boasts having invented and which is found in Trabaci under the name riditta and in Frescobaldi in the graphic form given by Caccini, described by Strozzi (1687) in performance as the repetition of the same note.

In Trabaci the trill is played from the upper note, contrary to common modern practice, in which the trill from the upper note is reserved exclusively for the French and German schools. Of this there is an example at the end of the Canzone francese VI of Book I, while of particular interest is the upper note of the trill with appoggiatura at the end of the Verso XII del Quarto tono. The indication of a trill often appears not exactly by the note to which it refers, but such problems can be resolved by analogy and, of course, by usage. The trill is always free and sometimes indicated only by a ‘T’: in Ancidetemi pur there is a double trill to be played with resolution; and at the start of the Cento versi Trabaci declares that when one finds the letter T one must play the trill always complete (disteso) together with the riditta. In other words, to the common trill one must add the Caccini repeated-note trill (see particularly the end of the Verso Settimo, Quarto Tono). Like his contemporaries, Trabaci uses the dot as a fermata sign, as for example in bar 18 of the Toccata IV of Book II, as we later find in the works of Frescobaldi and Froberger

Trabaci is indeed an extremely important representative of the famous Neapolitan School that goes back to the Flemish tradition, of which Luzzaschi (through his teacher Cipriano de Rore) and Jean de Macque were the final heirs and masters in Trabaci’s generation. The ultimate testimony of keyboard writing in score was to be Bach’s Art of Fugue: with this work, continuity with the tradition came full circle.

In conclusion I should like to thank Oscar Mischiati and Nicola Ferroni for making available their valuable transcriptions of Trabaci’s music. Nevertheless I regret that Mischiati’s work has not been published, perhaps owing to the problem of deciding how to transcribe it. The ‘score versus tablature’ dilemma, however, can be overcome, either by adopting the criterion of double transcription (as in Frescobaldi’s Capricci and Fantasie in the modern Suvini-Zerboni edition, though here the risk is that only the tablature will be used) or, better still, by resorting to score (and perhaps tablature) for the Ricercate and tablature alone for the Toccate and Canzoni francesi: Frescobaldi docet!

Sergio Vartolo

English version by Keith Anderson

and Hugh Ward-Perkins

For a fuller discussion, see: Sergio Vartolo, Girolamo Frescobaldi: appunti sulla musica per strumento a tastiera, (Nuova Rivista Musicale Italiana, IV, 1994.)


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