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8.572209 - STORACE, B.: Harpsichord Music (Selections from 1664 Collection, "Selva di varie compositioni") (Akutagawa)

Bernardo Storace (fl. 1664): Harpsichord Music
Selections from the 1664 Collection Selva di varie compositioni


Absolutely everything we know about Bernardo Storace’s biography is found on the title page of his only known publication, Selva di varie compositioni for harpsichord and organ (Venice, 1664), where he calls himself vice maestro di cappella to the Senate of Messina. Such paucity of information can be attributed to the earthquakes which periodically devastate Sicily. The survival of one of the finest collections of keyboard music of the latter seventeenth century more than balances the loss.

Storace stands in the formidable shadow of his Roman predecessor Frescobaldi, whose influence is felt in every bar, as is the loosening of the impossibly high standard set by the organist of St Peter’s. The brilliantly flashing, fragmented dynamism of the early baroque is smoothed over here, as in all the sister arts in this period, into something a little easier for the lazy to digest, and technical facility is becoming a dangerously prominent feature—but we are still a long way from the total surrender to “accessibility” represented by the rising school of Bernardo Pasquini.

The breakdown of polyphony is sadly evident in Storace—his collection contains only two ricercars, more suited to the organ than the harpsichord. One of the two toccatas [4] is a fine effort; the multiple fugal sections of Frescobaldi are here compressed into a single glossy canzona. But it is in the field of variations that Storace comes into his own. The Selva is one of the greatest outpourings of sheer inventiveness in music history. The passacaglias alone, two of which ([2] & [7]) are included here, contain no fewer than 320 variations on the descending tetrachord. An unusual feature of these long sets of dance variations, seen also in the Ciaccona [1]), the two Passamezzi, an antico [12] and a moderno [10]—and the Cinque Passi [6], is their transformation, always toward the end, into dashing correnti and gagliarde, thus forming embryonic variation suites. Storace, taking a cue from Frescobaldi’s Cento Partite, divides some of these sets into sections in different keys, providing an articulation at a higher level than the couplets, and some welcome relief from monotony in case of a flagging performance.

A few words about the other variations: the Spagnoletta [8] uses a tune that Praetorius says came from Holland; Sweelinck used it for some of his finest variations. Storace’s Follia [11] uses an aberrant version of the famous bass, again taken from Frescobaldi. La Monica [5], originally a daughter’s plea to her mother not to be sent to a nunnery, was one of Europe’s most popular tunes from the sixteenth century on; it eventually made its way into the Lutheran hymnal as Von Gott will ich nicht lassen. Finally, the Ballo della Battaglia [3] is a jolly illustration of humanity’s fatal fascination with the perceived glamour of warfare.

The harpsichord used in this recording is a copy of an instrument (1697) by a builder whom Storace may have known personally: Carlo Grimaldi of Messina.

Glen Wilson

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