About this Recording
9.70230 - GIUSTINI, L.: Piano Sonatas, Op. 1: Nos. 2, 4, 7, 9, 10 (Polimanti)

Lodovico Giustini da Pistoia (1685–1743)
12 Sonate da cimbalo di piano e forte, Op. 1: Sonatas Nos. 2, 4, 7, 9 and 10


Born in Pistoia in 1685, the auspicious year that had seen the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Frideric Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, Lodovico Giustini was the son of Francesco Giustini, organist at the Congregazione dello Spirito Santo. His uncle Domenico Giustini was the composer of a Mass for twelve voices and choir and his great-uncle Francesco served for fifty years as a singer in the cathedral choir. Lodovico succeeded his father as organist to the Congregazione dello Spirito Santo in 1625, retaining this position until his death in 1743. Lodovico also served as organist at the Jesuit Chiesa di S. Ignazio and as maestro di cappella at the Jesuit seminary, the Collegio dei Nobili, for which he provided various compositions. In 1730 he was put forward by Gian Gastone dei Medici as a candidate for the position of organist at the Chiesa della Santissima Vergine Madonna della Umiltà, but was unsuccessful. In 1734, however, he was appointed organist at the Cathedral in Pistoia, under the maestro di cappella Francesco Manfredini, a family connection.

The greater part of Giustini’s music for the church has been lost and he is chiefly remembered for his 12 Sonate da cimbalo di piano e forte detto volgarmente di martelletti, Op. 1, (12 Sonatas for keyboard with loud and soft, popularly called with hammers), the first known work to have been specifically written for the pianoforte. This was seemingly published in Florence in 1732 with a dedication to the Portuguese Infante Don Antonio de Bragança, who had such an instrument and had been a pupil of Domenico Scarlatti. The prefatory letter of dedication, in Italian, was written by the Benedictine monk Dom João de Seixas, who claims to have seen the sonatas during a visit to Italy. The dating of the publication of the sonatas, the place of publication and the possible influence of Veracini are matters discussed by Daniel E. Freeman in his helpful article of 20031. Bartolomeo Cristofori, who died in 1731, had been employed at the Medici court in Florence for many years, and at the turn of the century had worked on an instrument che fà il piano e il forte. In 1732, when Giustini’s sonatas were allegedly published, this instrument (the original pianoforte) was still a relative rarity in the possession of members of the Portuguese court and before long at that of Spain. The harpsichord was to retain its place for some years to come, but the new instrument, which could play soft and loud with its hammer action, gradually gained ground. There were and are ways of producing different levels of sound on the harpsichord with its mechanism of plucked strings, particularly on instruments with two manuals, but no good means of producing gradual nuances of dynamics; while the clavichord, with its delicate hammer action of brass tangents, cannot give the same volume of sound as the pianoforte, as greater weight on the keys will produce changes in pitch. The advantage of Cristofori’s invention was that the new instrument could play loudly and softly, but was also capable of gradations between the two, a nuance specified in Giustini’s sonatas, with directions such as più forte and più piano.

Giustini’s sonatas are in four or five movements, which generally have dance titles, as in the usual sonata da camera. In one general respect, however, they follow the form of the sonata da chiesa, the church sonata, with its alternation of fast and slow movements. The first of the sonatas included here, Sonata No. 2 in C minor, starts with a slow movement, marked Grave, each half repeated. This is followed by a rapid Corrente and then an unusually slow Giga in E flat major. The original key of C minor is restored for the quick second Giga and a final Minuet.

Sonata No. 4 in E minor starts with a Preludio, a solemn aria in which the right hand has the melody. This is followed by a Presto, with no other title and offering clear contrasts between loud and soft. The third movement, marked Largo, is a Sarabande. The sonata ends with a Giga.

Sonata No. 7 in G major provides each movement with a dance title. The first, an Alemanda, a traditional opening to the Baroque suite, is marked Andante. It follows convention by proceeding to a Corrente, with the tempo direction Presto assai. The second half of the movement, in which both halves are, as usual, repeated, has an example of the possibilities envisaged for the new instrument with the direction piano followed by più piano. The third movement is an E minor Siciliana, with its traditional dotted rhythm. The sonata ends with a particularly lively Gavotta.

Sonata No. 9 in C major begins with a Sarabande, marked Affettuoso and containing passing idiosyncratic harmonies, its repeated sections decorated, as always, on their return. The second movement is an uncommonly sprightly Alemanda. This leads to a C minor Rondò with well defined echo effects. The last movement is a cheerful Gavotta.

The last work included here, the Sonata No. 10 in F minor, has a solemn first movement, under the title Alemanda and with the direction Affettuoso. This leads to a Canzone, marked Tempo di Gavotta but reverting to an older and traditional contrapuntal form, interspersed with more modern interventions. The third movement is again an Alemanda, Grave e Affettuoso, and ends unexpectedly on the dominant of the key of F minor. It is followed by a final Corrente.

Keith Anderson

Close the window