About this Recording
8.553547-48 - FRESCOBALDI: Fantasie, Book 1 / Ricercari / Canzoni Francesi

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)

Fantasie Book I / Ricercari / Canzoni Francesi



As is apparent from their dates, the Fantasie and Ricercari come at the beginning of Frescobaldi's creative career. The Fantasie were published in Milan after his return from a stay in Flanders in the entourage of Cardinal Bentivoglio. From the dedication, dated Ferrara, 8th November 1608, to Francesco Borghese, Duke of Regnano and General of the Holy Church, they seem to be the prime fatiche (first efforts) that Frescobaldi had accomplished in Rome for the entertainment of the dedicatee. In fact the Ricercari too are described as primo e picciolo parto dell'ingegno mio (the first little part of my creative talent) in the dedication to Cardinal Aldobrandini, who, although he was responsible for the destruction of Ferrara and its refined civilisation, had also been the recipient of the dedication of the Madrigali a 1, 2 e 3 soprani, the masterpiece of Frescobaldi's teacher, Luzzaschi.


In the Fantasie the apparent choice of instrument and the aim of relieving Borghese, whose ears had often deigned to honour the composer (orecchi si sono

degnati di far pill volte [onore alIa mano di Frescobaldi]) of his heavy cares, would seem to indicate a non-liturgical chamber work, better suited to the harpsichord than the organ. The cultivated taste of the second part of the sixteenth century and the first part of the seventeenth was inclined towards music for entertainment based on counterpoint rather than the lighter form of dance music. Pietro della Valle, in a letter to Lelio Guidiccioni (1640) clearly states that the first style of Frescobaldi, probably referring to the Fantasie, the Ricercari and the Toccatas of Book I of 1615, were much more pleasing to Guidiccioni himself than the more modern galanterie alla moderna that did not please him so much (a VS. non piace tanto), developed by the composer in the appendix to the first Libro di Toccate of 1637, because, through experience he had learned that to give pleasure to everyone, this manner is more fashionable, although less scientific (perche con la sperienza avera imparato, che per dar gusto all'universale delle genti, questo modo e piu galante, benche meno scientifico).


The use of the harpsichord could be inferred also from the regular absence of ties, always missing in themes with long note values. In any case the harpsichord is to be preferred when performing Frescobaldi, in spite of his title of Vatican organist (discussed in Sergio Vartolo, "Girolamo Frescobaldi:

appunti sulla musica per strumento a tastiera" in Nuova Rivista Musicale Italiana, IV (1994), pp.620-663), In the records of the time the continual presence of Cardinals, principally [Del] Monte and Montalto, at secular gatherings, sheds some light on the apparent contrast between the position of Vatican organist and the chamber music of Frescobaldi, who indicates specifically where the organ is to be used, The liturgical part of the second Libro di Toccate reveals a probable request for this on the part of the hierarchy that would lead to the single volume clearly intended for the organ, the Fiori Musicali of 1635, in the Preface of which Frescobaldi, in apparent opposition to his other publications (Stampe d'intavolatura, ed in Partitura), declared explicitly that the principal aim was to give pleasure to organists (principal fine e di giovare alli Organisti), This naturally does not prevent the use of the organ but it is important to confirm that, contrary to common belief, the organ was not the principal instrument intended by Frescobaldi, including for the Fantasias.


For this reason it should be pointed out that if the composition of the Fantasias may appear, from the dedication, to precede the journey to Flanders, nevertheless one may not unreasonably suppose that Frescobaldi could have performed them on the organ as well as on the harpsichord during his stay there. We learn this from Frescobaldi himself in the dedication of 13th June 1608 to his 'most honoured patron' Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio,legate to the Netherlands and author of the three-part volume Della guerra di Fiandra (Of the War in Flanders, published by Francesco Baba in Venice), of the first book of Madrigals.


'I came to Antwerp with the permission of Your Illustrious Lordship to see this city, and ro try out a set of Madrigals that I had been composing there in

Brussels, in the house of Your Illustrious Lordship through whom I found myself in Flanders, and I have satisfied with equal pleasure the one and the other of these desires of mine; it has happened meanwhile that these musical gentlemen have shown great approval of my composition and have with the greatest importunity persuaded me to agree to their publication.'


It is legitimate to imagine that analogously with the Madrigals, published at Antwerp in 1608, the Fantasie too would have been submitted to the attention of the local musicians, who would probably have recommended the publication, which took place also in 1608 in Milan, a place unusual in the list of published works by Frescobaldi but probably a staging-post between Rome and Flanders.


The period in Flanders was certainly very important for Frescobaldi, who had inherited from Luzzaschi the highest respect for that generation of Flemish musicians who had contributed so much to the development of counterpoint in Italy, Arcadelt, Willaert and, above all, Luzzaschi's master, the divine Cipriano de Rore, a native of Antwerp.


It may well be supposed and is highly probable that the curiosity of Frescobaldi to visit the city would have stemmed from the stories of Luzzaschi about the Flemish master, (whose extraordinary fame brought, in the mid-sixteenth century, the enthusiastic writing of Ms.Bourdenet or Bourdeney. W the learned Cipriano

Rore, he will never die nor will another such be born, the only Cypriano in the world...) who had left him a very rich collection of his teachings, expounded also verbally and probably through performance on local organs, on which, some years later, John Bull was to perform. In the cathedral in Anvers there were then two important organs. The first, built by Gillis Brebos in 1565-7, had two manuals (C to a’’’’), with the following stops, as reported by M.A. Vente:


Great Organ:

Bordone 16', Prestant 8', Holpijp 8', Octaaf 4', Open Fluit 4', Gedechte Fluit 4', Superoctaaf 2', Gemshom 2', Quintl1uit 1 1/3', Siflluit I " Mixtuur IV, Scherp VI, Cornet (from d'), Trompet 8', Schalmei 4', Zink 4'.



Quintadena 8', Holpijp 2', Cymbel, Kromhoorn 8', Regaal 8' or 4'


Manual-Pedal Coupler, Manual Coupler, Tremulant, Harp, Rossignol, Uccelli, perhaps Tamburo.


A second organ with two manuals, built in 1572, is still preserved in the same cathedral. For this reason the choice of the present recording to perform some

Fantasie and Ricercari on an organ built in Italy by a Flemish Jesuit is especially significant. The organ used brings together particular features in its construction, design, as well as Italian and Flemish sounds. This is the magnificent instrument preserved in the Church of the Holy Spirit in Pistoia, built in 1664 by the Jesuit Willem Hermans, a native of Flanders, born there in 1601, and excellently restored by the organ-builder Riccardo Lorenzini between 1990 and 1995 and very well conserved by Maestro Andrea Vannucchi, whom I must thank for his kind permission to allow me the use of the instrument.


The restoration in recent years of a number of instruments in central Italy has necessitated reconsideration of the particular stylistic features of late Renaissance and Baroque Italian organ construction, as well as of the registration and performance of music of the same period. On the one hand we have an active interest in the recent initiatives in organ-building in the matter of the restoration and construction of instruments under North European inspiration, while there are at the same time discussions of standards of registration based uniquely on the Renaissance art of organ-building in Lombardy and on the reading of its principal document, the Arte Organica of Costanzo Antegnati, also published in 1608.


Some years ago I recorded on an English organ, built by R. Dallam about 1653, in France, an entire programme of Italian music, using registration certainly not in accordance with Antegnati but as Frescobaldi himself would have done at the manual of organs that were not Italian or, in any case, not of Lombard manufacture. In Rome the organ of Luca Blasi, built for the jubilee of 1600 in the years 1597-99 in St John Lateran, certainly known and played by Frescobaldi, preserves elements (Trombone 12') that partly lie outside the characteristics of the instrument that for years was believed to be the only Italian type. The organ of Hermans is certainly anomalous in its specifications from the accepted traditional point of view but is absolutely in line with the trend of organ-building that we meet in the instruments preserved, for exarople, in Rome and in L' Aquila. The specification, which reflects a particular attention to the 'concerto' sound, is as follows:







Musetto soprano 8'

Cometto soprano 4 file

Flautino basso I'

Flauto 8'

Flauto in XII soprano 2' 2/3

Trombe basse 8'

Trombe soprane 8'

Voce Umana bassa 4', ancia

Contrabbassi 16' al pedale

Tastiera di 45 note (Do1-do5) con prima ottava corta.

Divisione Ira bassi e soprani fa#3/so13.

Pedaliera scavezza di 9 tasti unita alIa tastiera.

2 Usignoli, Taroburo e Tremolo.


The player used to the Italian organ will find quite anomalous the presence of an eight-foot Flauto and a real Mixtur, the high specification of the manual and therefore not in the Spanish style, the flute in XII in the upper register, the presence of Trombe and of the Cornet to 4 file (on the necessity of bringing out the upper voice, see the instructions of Fasolo, who in the Annuale of 1645 advises that the upper part should be played with the right hand, repeating the suggestion in the course of the work), the Voce Umana with reeds in the bass, the Musetto and the presence of a bass flautino. However, a careful reading of the Arte Organica reveals 'anomalous' indications, never much used by players, of registrations such as XXII to provide a concerto of cornetti or the registrations to provide a double chorus between soprano and bass with the pedals. This demonstrates that the aesthetic of Italian organs was deliberately conceived, for academic reasons, as the antithesis of organ-building methods North of the Alps as we]] as being forcibly relegated to a limbo of simplicity and aesthetic purity that was certainly artificial and did not correspond to reality in all its many aspects.


Another important element must be stressed in the present recording of the Fantasie and Ricercari. It is clear that these publications include elements that Frescobaldi would use and develop in subsequent works, in particular in the Capricci, certainly the most important and finished of his compositions, in which the subjects treated in the Fantasie and Ricercari are qualified as ascending and descending hexachords or as la sol fa re mi (with which Josquin Desprez lamented the debts of Ascanio Sforza). The notes in solmisation of the Fantasias and Ricercari openly include the name of the popular melody that is their origin (Ruggero, Bassa Fiamenga).


The fusion of the forms of Fantasia and Ricercare appears clearly in the structure of Frescobaldi's Capricci, where sections in which the theme is transformed and expanded in the manner of the Fantasia alternate with others in which counterpoint is used in the form of the Ricercare. It is in fact in the Preface to the Capricci, which, it will be seen later, are always issued together with the Ricercari and were perhaps first intended as a second book of Ricercari, that the major difficulty appears in relation to the

Ricercari, a stylistic and performing difficulty borrowed from the Fantasie: 'in these compositions called Capricci, I have not kept to a style as easy as that in my Ricercari'. The compositional form of the Fantasie influences more directly the Capricci in structure: the theme or themes are broadly stated in the opening and then progressively made quicker rhythmically and melodically, given in triplets and treated chromatically to end in the form of an Alla breve in the final section. The technical device of augmentation and others employed in some profusion in the Fantasie are not used as fully in the Capricci in which appear instead (as in the subsequent Canzoni francesi of the Fiori Musicali) rhythmically free clausulae in toccata form that we see borrowed from the Canzoni francesi of the book of Ricercari, in a return to the enriched origins of a synthesis of all compositional experience.


The realisation of the polyphonic texture must seek to bring out the themes through the phrasing, highlighting them with a particularly appropriate touch as G.B. Fasolo clearly indicates in the preface to his organ work Annuale (Venice, 1645): '...give delight by distinguishing the subjects of the fugues [counterpoint] striking the keyboard with a staccato stroke (di polso battendolo, accio spicchi); this will also be done in fugues [subjects] over the four accompanying parts'. In Ricercari we can see how J.S. Bach, the last great master of counterpoint, relied, both for ideas and themes, on Frescobaldi's work. The connections between the two musicians seem to me to be brought out in the Goldberg Variations, where the final Canon, the Quodlibet, quotes and combines with comic and very skilful self-irony, two secular melodies, as Frescobaldi himself does in the two Capricci at the end of the Fiori Musicali. In particular, in the last of these there is play on his name Girolamo with the title of the melody Girometta-Girolmeta. One of the two melodies of Bach's Quodlibet (a term that is synonymous with that of Capriccio) coincides, moreover, with that used by Frescobaldi together with the beloved Ruggero in the last Capriccio: Bergamasca and Kraut und Rube. The last war has deprived us of the copy made by Bach of the Fiori Musicali, preserved in Berlin (where there exists, however, a copy of the Fantasias made by Bemardo

Pasquini) but the incontrovertible analogies between the Ricercari and the work of Bach show that the latter very probably had had the chance of knowing the principal publications of Frescobaldi. The theme of Ricercare IV, in fact, is none other than a very slight modification of the name of Bach himself mi re fa mi (E D F E = H A C H), while the theme of the last Ricercare is almost identical with that of the Fugue in C minor, BWV 871, in The Well-Tempered Clavier, in which - a rare occurrence in the whole work – the theme is augmented as Frescobaldi does in a procedure of which he makes considerable use in the Ricercari and in the Fantasie.


In Fantasia III of interest is the use in the bass of G sharp and low E. the extension of the cadence suggests a short octave (scavezza) but with double keys (D sharp F sharp, E G sharp).


In Fantasia VII the presence of two 0 sharps at bars 40 and 44 suggests a keyboard with double keys. A chromatic-enharmonic archicembalo was built for

Alfonso II (perhaps the Trasuntino preserved in the Museo Civico of Bologna); Bottrigari reports that Luzzaschi and Frescobaldi played on it 'not without great study' ('non lo fa se non con grande studio'). For this Fantasia in the present recording the instrument is tuned in mean-tone with all sharps.


In Fantasia VI there is a marvellous technical transformation of the first theme at bar 46. I have regularised a probable chromatic anomaly at bar 55 and a rhythmic one at bar 60. The syncopated rhythm at bars 63 and 64, as it were alla francese that characterizes the ending (bars 93 and 95) is of interest.


In Fantasia VIII the second theme anticipates the La Sol Fa Re Mi of the Capricci and is sl11ted in this fonn in bars 80 and 81. That Frescobaldi is imitating Josquin's joke seems clear in the Fantasia sopra solla re of the Secondo Libro (a manuscript superbly copied in 1649) of his pupil Froberger in which lascia fare mi is clearly written under each entry.


The whole of Fantasia IX is based on sharps.


In Fantasia X the second theme anticipates the Capriccio on the cuckoo.


Ricercare II is in three sections with four different themes in each. The second and fourth themes are the inversion respectively of the first and third, while the first theme of the third section is practically a retrograde version of the second theme of the upper part of the second section. The first theme of the first section returns constantly in the Capricci and Fiori Musicali as the fifth part (see Ricercare IX). The third section develops in ascending and descending scales that anticipate the hexachords of the Capricci.


Ricercare III has a first theme that is the same as the first of Fantasia IX. The scheme followed offers three sections in the first of which the first theme is elaborated, in the second the second theme and the first, and in the third section all three themes together.


Ricercare IV has an accompanying theme E D F E (= H A C H), which, slightly modified, suggests the name of Bach, and very probably served as an inspiration to the latter. It is subdivided into three parts in which the theme is combined with various countersubjects and progressively augmented. In the first section the theme appears in diminution, while in the second the chromatic countersubject is combined with its opposite.


Ricercare V has three themes, which are presented in succession in the first section. The first part elaborates the first theme only and the second and third similarly the other two themes. In the last section the three themes are combined.


Ricercare VI has a theme found in the appendix to the first book of Toccate (1637), where it appears as Capriccio Fra Jacopino sopra l'Aria di Ruggero Partite 6. This is set in the alto as an ostinato, progressively augmented, passing through a transformation into triplet rhythm of three crotchets, minor and major according to the classification of the Capricci. At bar 14 are the notes La Sol Fa Re Mi (A G F D E).


Ricercare VII has a theme, in the tenor, that is actually the last part of Ruggero ('e piu se piu si puote', without the last note), progressively augmented. In his Ricercata of the Ottavo tono sopra Ruggiero in Book I, Trabaci also uses a fragment of the song ('sino alla morte').


Ricercare VIII. The prefaces and titles of Frescobaldi often seem to justify'the highly critical Doni, who accuses him of being illiterate. In this case the misundertanding of the word 'uscir' is made clear by the lack of the same word in the very concise title of the first edition. 'ob(b)ligo di non mai di grado', which means that in the Ricercare (the only one in which the word 'ob(b)ligo' is left) there is no movement by step but only by leap.


Ricercare IX has four subjects of which the first is another much favoured by Frescobaldi, who was to compose a wonderful Capriccio on it and similarly a magnificent Canzona in the Messa della Madonna of the Fiori Musicali, the Bassa Fiamenga. The fourth theme already contains the idea of the much favoured theme from the fifth part of the song, present in Ricercare II and then elaborated in the Capricci and in the Ricercare con obbligo della quinta parte of the Messa della Madonna.


Ricercare X has a theme augmented in the upper part and then stated again in the final part with a rhythmic intensification of dramatic effect. The theory that Bach took the theme of the Fugue in C minor from the second book of The Well-Tempered Clavier is reinforced by the augmentation that is relatively infrequent in the two books.


I am indebted for the study of technical devices to the excellent and very full preface by Alda Bellasich to the Suvini-Zerboni edition of the Fantasie.


The five admirable Canzoni Francesi develop the varied melodic and rhythmic scheme of the theme alternating with duple and triple time episodes ending with toccata-like episodes which, as we have seen from the Fantasie, become characteristic of the Capricci (as in the Canzoni of the Fiori Musicali), justifying in the mixture of genres, the name that replaces that of Ricercare.


Sergio Vartolo

English version by Keith Anderson









Close the window