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8.553020 - GEMINIANI: Concerti Grossi, Vol. 2
Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762)
Concerti Grossi Vol. 2
The violinist and composer Francesco Geminiani was one of those Italian musicians who found a ready livelihood in England in the first half of the eighteenth century. Born in Lucca, probably in 1687, he was a pupil of Corelli and of Alessandro Scarlatti in Rome, after earlier violin lessons from his father, whom he succeeded in Lucca in 1707 in the Capella Palatina, the principal musical establishment of the city. He was released from his obligations there in 1710, as a result of the alleged frequency of his absences, and led the opera orchestra in Naples from the following year. Here he was referred to as furibondo, reference to a tendency to freedom in rhythm that was not always welcome, a trait perhaps acquired from his teacher Corelli, who had had his own problems in Naples. According to Charles Burney, who cannot always be trusted in these matters, he was demoted to the viola section for his remaining time in Naples. In 1714 Geminiani moved to London, where he enjoyed immediate success as a performer and the patronage of Johann Adolf Baron von Kielmansegg, the Hanoverian courtier who had been instrumental in bringing Handel to Hanover and helping to establish him in England. Geminiani dedicated his first set of a dozen violin sonatas to von Kielmansegg in 1716 and was indebted to the Master of the King's Horse for his introduction to the court of King George I, before whom he played, accompanied, at his own insistence, by Handel.
Geminiani won the support of a number of the nobility in England and exercised very considerable influence also through his pupils, including the young violinist Matthew Dubourg, who spent a considerable part of his life in Dublin, where he led the orchestra at the first performance of Handel's Messiah, Michael Festing, later Master of the King's Musick, and the Newcastle composer Charles Avison. Charles Burney, whatever his later thoughts on the subject, admits in a letter of 1781 that as a young man "Handel, Geminiani and Corelli were the sole Divinities of [his] Youth", although he was later "drawn off from their exclusive worship . . .by keeping company with travelled and heterodox gentlemen , who were partial to the Music of more modern composers whom they had heard in Italy". Indebted as he was to his own teacher Corelli, Geminiani derived his own style of writing largely from him. Evidence of this may be seen in his publication in 1726 and 1727 of Corelli's twelve violin sonatas as concerti grossi. Through the agency of the Earl of Essex it was proposed in 1728 that Geminiani should become Master and Composer of State Music in Ireland, but from this position he was, as a Catholic, excluded and the honour went instead to his pupil Dubourg.
In London Geminiani continued teaching and performing, taking part in series of subscription concerts and in 1732 publishing two sets of concerti grossi, Opus 2 and Opus 3. He extended his activities, at the same time, to Ireland, where Matthew Dubourg was now established, continuing his connection with Dublin as occasion and Dubourg demanded during the following years. Quarrels with the London publisher Walsh, who had pirated Geminiani' s compositions as he had Handel's, would have been settled by the granting of the royal privilege of exclusive rights to his compositions in 1739 and a similar licence in France the following year. Other publications followed in the 1740s, notably his Opus 7 concerti grossi in 1746 and a set of cello sonatas listed as Opus 5, in the same year, works later arranged for violin and harpsichord. He travelled abroad to the Netherlands and to Paris, presumably attending the performance in the latter city of a staged version of his musical interpretation, later published in concerto grosso form, of an episode in Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, under the title The Enchanted Forest.
It was in 1748 that Geminiani published his Rules for Playing in a True Taste and the fuller A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick in the following year. In 1751 he published his very influential The Art of Playing on the Violin, a vital source of information on contemporary practice. Of less importance are his Guida armonica and The Art of Accompaniment, with a later supplement to the former and a final The Art of Playing the Guitar or Cittra appearing in Edinburgh in 1760, published by his former pupil Robert Bremner.
Geminiani finally settled in Dublin, at the invitation of Dubourg, although there were still visits to Scotland and to England. The last concert of his of which there is any record was in Dublin in 1760, when he was still able to give a masterly account of himself, through his artistry concealing the physical weakness of age. He died in Dublin in 1762.
The form of the concerto grosso owes much to Geminiani's teacher, Arcangelo Corelli. Written as early as the 1680s, but published only posthumously in 1713, Corelli's twelve concerti epitomize a form that was to appeal to a very wide public, attracting both professional and amateur performance. If the dominant instrumental form of the period was the trio sonata, a composition for two melody instruments, with a figured bass line for cello or viola da gamba and keyboard, the concerto grosso was an extension of this. The latter form contrasts a small solo group, usually of two violins, cello and harpsichord, known as the concertino, with the main body of the now generally four-part string orchestra and its keyboard instrument. It was easy enough to transform the sonata into a concerto by allowing the main body of the orchestra, the so-called ripieno players, to reinforce the louder sections, leaving softer passages to the concertino. The concerto grosso developed soon more individual concertino parts that differed in elaboration from those of the ripieno or concerto grosso. In origin, then, the concert grosso may be seen as a trio sonata writ large, a trio sonata arranged for orchestra. It should be added that both trio sonata and concerto grosso existed as either secular da camera compositions or as sacred da chiesa works, the former akin to a dance suite in a number of movements and the latter incorporating more solemn fugal elements in the second and often the fourth of its four movements. The rigid distinction between the two forms, clear enough in Corelli, did not continue.
The first set of original concerti grossi by Geminiani, after those earlier works based on Corelli, was published in London in 1732, followed by a second edition in 1755 of both Opus 2 and Opus 3, printed for the author by John Johnson, in Cheapside, in score for the first time, as well as in parts, as in 1732, but now corrected and enlarged, some thought to the detriment of the works. For this new edition it seems that he borrowed from Dr Burney a transcription that the latter had made many years before, not having the originals by him. Burney adds that Geminiani failed to return the manuscript.
The present volume includes two concerti from Opus 3. In this collection the ripieno, unusually, is without a viola, while a solo viola is included in the concertino, a procedure possibly dictated by purely practical considerations. The fifth of that set, the Concerto grosso in B flat major, Op,3, No.5, is in the usual four movements. The first of these is an Adagio that makes some use of dotted rhythms before a compound rhythm Allegro. It is followed by an E flat major Adagio, leading to a final triple-metre Allegro.
The Concerto in E minor, Op. 3, No.6, follows a similar pattern, with a solemn opening Adagio and a first Allegro of fugal suggestion. There is a very short second Adagio that serves, as so often, as a simple transition to the final Allegro.
Opus 7 was published in London by John Johnson in 1746. The collection is preceded by a dedication to the Royal Academy, in which Geminiani takes the occasion of pointing out the unsatisfactory nature of ill-informed praise, which is "like jarring Dissonance on the Ear" and declaring his concerti to be designed for the discerning, and, in particular, the Academy. The concertino is again expanded to include a solo viola, while now violas are included in the ripieno. The first of the set, the Concerto in D major, Op. 7, No. l, starts with an Andante, here a slow introductory movement that finds room for the expected contrast between the smaller and larger groups of players. It is followed by a fugal movement, described by its title as L'Arte delta Fuga, à 4 parte reale, worked out with the "great Study and Application" that Geminiani had claimed in his dedication to have used. This ends with relative suddenness, to be followed by a slow movement that moves from Andantino to a concluding Adagio. There follows an Allegro that makes use of the compound rhythm expected in a final movement.
Concerto No.2 in D minor has an opening slow movement marked Grave, including dramatic dynamic and textural contrasts. This leads to an Allegro of fugal texture, again using compound rhythms and making considerable use of descending scale patterns. There is use of the fuller concertino in the succeeding Andante, before the final Allegro, in which it is apparent that Geminiani is making marginally greater technical demands on his soloists than had his teacher Corelli.
The Concerto No.3 in C major is described as composti in tre stili diferenti (composed in three different styles) and is, in consequence, in only three movements. The device of imitating the supposed musical or behavioural characteristics of different peoples was not a new one. Among others Telemann, in his Ouverture des nations, had produced entertaining, if prejudiced, vignettes of the inhabitants, old and young, of various countries. Geminiani offers a first movement Francese, which, in a spirited Presto presents the French in lively and jerky rhythms and passages of three-part solo writing. There is an appropriately stately conclusion, before the appearance of the English, a solid Inglese movement, described as an andante con due flauti, which suggests unusual optional alternative instrumentation. The Italians are less formal in the final Italiano, an Allegro assai, which offers a Handelian triple-metre, with hints of Vivaldi in some of its effects.
The fourth of the set, a Concerto in D minor, starts with a moving Andante, an extended movement that makes ample use of imitation and contrasts between concertino and ripieno. This leads to a cheerful Allegro, dispelling any trace of melancholy. The original mode is restored for a last movement that includes, in a spirited framework, an Adagio passage of gentler pastoral suggestion. The Concerto No.5 in C minor is in the form of a French overture, opening with the marked dotted rhythms characteristic of the form. This is duly followed by an Allegro, a movement of fugal texture. There is a brief transition, marked Grave, leading to the final Allegro, an original and attractive movement, with a moving bass, all in the French style.
The set ends with the Concerto No.6 in B flat major, a work of greater variety, that has a precedent in Corelli, except for its optional inclusion of a bassoon. Here there are thirteen episodes, changes of speed and mood, contained, broadly, within four movements. This offers a fine example of the variety possible within the traditional form developed fifty years before by Corelli. Geminiani is, of course, relatively conservative, writing music of a kind that was certain of a market in England and that suited admirably his own style of performance. He is none the worse for that and is able to impart to the form of the concerto grosso an unusual variety of texture and mood, within the established general structure.
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