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CD-16255 -
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The Flute Sonatas by Francesco Mancini
Neapolitan Baroque


Francesco Mancini (1672–1737), a contemporary and the most important rival of Alessandro Scarlatti, always kept an intimate affection for his birthplace, Naples, and his music is an expression of native Neapolitan tradition. The sonatas for flute and basso continuo are œuvres of extreme liveliness, in which heart-rending lament alternates with the expression of vehement joy.

Of Mancini’s main œuvres, his extensive opus of operas, oratorios and cantatas, only a very small part was known before today. It only can be guessed how many treasures are yet to be discovered! In Naples alone, nineteen of his operas were performed! But Mancini’s art was famous outside of Italy, too. By 1724, at the climax of his career, and when his collection of sonatas, “XII Solos for a Flute with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord or Bass Violin,” was published in London, the Neapolitan conductor at the court had already made a name for himself in the English capital. He had won the favour of the English public with his opera “Idaspe fedele” which had been performed in London in 1710.

For this recording we chose six pieces from “XII Solos for a Flute”: sonatas I (D minor), II (E minor), IV (A minor), VI (Bb major), VII (C major) and X (B minor). The musical structure of the “Solos” is mostly the form of a sonata, with four movements in the sequence slow-fast-slow-fast (sonatas I, II, VI, X). The initial movements of sonatas IV and VII have the character of a fast concerto followed by a slower end. Mancini offers a rather free introduction, and in the following three movements he uses the forms fugue, arioso and dance.

In some of the sonatas we decided to insert improvised preludes and interludes for both harpsichord and lute to create atmosphere or to connect single movements. With these improvisations we hope to retain one of the natural musical traditions of the late Baroque period that, like the liberty of the soloists in ornamenting solo voices and basso continuo, was practiced less and less during the classical period and is rarely heard today.

Mancini, who mainly composed operas and oratorios, would never himself have dreamt that he would become popular today with his flute sonatas. His mastery in handling the voice can be found in the flute sonatas, too—the slow movements in particular are excellent examples of pure “bel canto” music. Thus, we chose to employ, for the interpretation of these sonatas, the means of expression used in the “bel canto” style that appeared on the scene in Naples at the time. The free rhythmical performance with tempo rubato and the frequent use of coloratura are features of this technique of chant.

Pier Francesco Tosi’s “Observations on the Florid Song,” first published in Bologna in 1723 as “Opinioni de’ cantori antichi e moderni,” helped us achieve this as much as the ornamentations found in the works of Arcangelo Corelli, George Frederic Handel and Franceso Geminiani. In particular, the music of violin virtuoso Geminiani, a student of Corelli and Scarlatti, closely resembles Mancini’s, and he corrected the second edition of “XII Solos for a Flute” for London publisher Walsh.

The treatises of Francesco Gasparini and Georg Muffat, as well as the manuscript of an anonymous author, entitled “Regole per accompagnare sopra la parte” (Biblioteca Corsiniana, Rome), were our references as far as the setting to music of the basso continuo is concerned. Moreover, we discovered in 1994 in the Parisian Bibliothèque Nationale, a manuscript entitled “Regole o vero toccate di studio” which included a voluminous collection of basso continuo works written by Francesco Mancini! It is very likely that Mancini, who was director of the famous Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto from 1720 to 1739, used this collection for his lessons.

A comparable collection, “Partimento per il cembalo” by Francesco Durante, a contemporary and Neapolitan “neighbour” of Mancini’s, gives us further hints on our way to an authentic interpretation. In Durante’s collection we not only find études but suggestions on how to use them for ornamentation and embellishment. We were able to adopt some of these suggestions literally into Mancini’s sonatas.

Our decision for a double instrumentation of continuo with harpsichord and archlute (with freely-vibrating bass strings) provides the basis for a transparent sound that contrasts excellently with the cantilenas of the recorder. Suggestions by Francesco Gasparini for the instrumentation of his chamber cantatas substantiate that this instrumentation corresponds to Italian practice in performances back in the 18th Century.

In this way, we hope that the recording gives, in addition to pure listening pleasure, an impression of how this music would have sounded in the period of its creation.

“The present sonatas, composed by me for the lovers of harmony, shall serve in particular for the recovery of the fatigued spirit from the troubles caused by arduous private as well as public commitments.”

(Francesco Mancini, in the dedication of the “XII Solos” to the English envoy in Naples.)

© Cécile Roumy, Dirk Börner & Shizuko Noiri, 1999
Translation: Friedemann Hellwig & Kaia Turner

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