Frescobaldi: Fiori Musicali

Frescobaldi: Fiori Musicali
ed. Andrea Macinanti & Francesco Tasini
124pp, 235×315 mm, ISMN: 979-0-2153-0642-4
Ut Orpheus Edizioni ES39.

Frescobaldi’s Fiori Musicali was published in 1635. He was at the height of his musical powers, having just returned to Rome (after six years with the Medici’s in Florence) to work for the Barberini Pope and Cardinals, and continued his post as organist of St Peter’s in Rome, a post he had held throughout his many travels. Although many pieces in Frescobaldi’s earlier books of Toccatas (1615/16 and 1627) were clearly intended for organ and would have presumably have been playing in a liturgical setting, Fiori Musicali is his only organ book specifically geared towards use in the Mass. It was his last publication of new music, although he did re-issue some earlier volumes. It quickly became one of his most popular publications, and was used as an exemplar of polyphonic writing well into the 19th century. Bach also studied it and copied it out.

The bulk of the pieces in the Fiori Musicali are arranged into pieces for three Masses, Domenica (based on the Gregorian Mass XI, Orbis factor), Apostoli (based on the Gregorian Mass IV, Cuntipotens Genitor Deus), and Madonna (based on the Gregorian Mass IX, Cum Jubilo), each with its own distinctive format and mood and with a varying range of pieces for organists to choose from. All three open with an introductory Toccata Avanti la Messa, following by a selection of verses for the nine-fold Kyrie, from which the organist can choose the required five to be played in alternatim with the choir. Music for other parts of the Mass includes lively Canzonas after the Epistle and the Communion, austere Recercars after the Credo, and the gorgeously mystical Elevation Toccatas. Two rather curious pieces conclude the third, Madonna, Mass, both based on very secular melodies – the Berhamasca and the Capriccio sopra la Girolmeta. The editors argue that these would indeed have been also intended for liturgical usage, although they could also have been intended for teaching purposes.

The Ut Orpheus edition of Frescobaldi’s Fiori Musicali was published in 2001, but I am updating an earlier printed review for the purposes of this much more widely circulated and accessible website. It is a very well presented volume, in landscape format, with very clear text. As it is based on a publication, the actually notes are not so much of issue when comparing publications, as is the method of presentation and the presence, or otherwise, of editorial additions. Having said that, the original was published in open score, with a separate stave for each musical line, rather like a vocal score. All editions reduce this to a normal two-stave layout. In this edition, editorial tampering is minimal and, where it is exists, is sensible and well explained in the annotations, usefully translated into English as well as the original Italian. Beaming of quavers and semiquavers is generally based on the original separate note format – a result of moveable type method of printing, but also, potentially, having implications for articulation. Page turns have been well considered, with pages showing the original publication inserted at intervals to allow a two-page piece to start on a new page to avoid a page turn.

The well-known Recercar Con obligo di Cantare la Quinta parte senza Tocarla, where the organist is expected to sing an additional, fifth, part at unspecified points in the composition keeps the suggestions made by Alexandre Guilmant and Joseph Bonnet in one of the first modern editions. Apart from being an excellent edition of an important work, this is also an ideal introduction to the music of Frescobaldi, as a prelude to attempting some of his far more complex pieces. A sample page can be viewed here.

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