Gottlieb Muffat: Ricercatas & Canzonas

Gottlieb Muffat
32 Ricercatas & 19 Canzonas (Ed. Erich Benedikt)
Vol  1: Ricercatas I-XIX
52 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-19074-5 • Softbound
Doblinger DM 1336

Muffat DM-01336_.jpg

Gottlieb Muffat is one of those unfortunate composers who is overshadowed by his father, in his case, Georg Muffat. The latter was one of the key instigators of an international keyboard style, infusing the Italian keyboard influence of Frescobaldi with musical influence from France. Gottlieb is generally known, if at all, through his connections with Handel, who ‘borrowed’ an extraordinary amount of his music, notably in the Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day, Samson, Joshua, and Judas Maccabeus. mostly from the six Suites in the 1736 Componimenti Musicali. 

This edition of Gottlieb Muffat’s 32 Ricercares and 19 Canzonas (Die 32 Ricercaten und 19 Canzonen) was first published by Doblinger in 2003 but has now been reissued in a smart new cover. Volume I (of three) includes the first 19 Ricercatas, plus an additional variant of Ricercata VII. The first three Ricercatas of this volume set are highly ornamented, in the manner of Georg Muffat, but there are few, if any, ornaments in the other Ricercatas. Muffat’s own table of ornaments from the Componimenti Musicali are included in this volume and are essential reading if you are to grasp the musical style of the period. As complex as they may seem (for example, there are 9 different types of trill), understanding them is essential in performance. Incidentally, knowledge of ornaments like this will also help to make sense of some of John Blow’s music, such was the international influence of the Frescobaldi/Froberger ‘school’. Having grasped the concept from the first three Ricercare, adding ornaments to the other pieces would be entirely appropriate. 

The Ricercares are outstanding little examples of the stile antico, reflecting the continuation of strict Renaissance polyphony well into the Baroque era. They range from 33 to 73 bars. Like Bach’s own example in his Art of Fugue, the original manuscript was in open score, notated in white notes. If this edition were published today, it may well have kept the white-note format, but would probably have retained the two-stave layout used here. If you want to try playing from the original and can read period clefs, a single page from the manuscript is included at the back of the volume. Voice-leading indications are included where necessary where a voice crosses staves. The overall layout of the music is excellent, with no page turns to worry about, except for the last extended piece, where a left-hand rest allows a quick turn. Ricercar VII has a variant, in halved note lengths, marked Allegro, and with added ornaments. Ricercar XI in two parts, following a much earlier tradition. The last of the set is double the length of the others. Editorial suggestions are clear but unobtrusive. There is a detailed list of the sources and a critical commentary (Kritischer Bericht), in German only. The fact that this includes the pieces in all three volumes suggests that the other two volumes may not include this information.

The Preface is in English and German, and includes information on the composer and his works, accidentals, ornamentation and editorial decisions on the layout. They would be very useful for service use and, perhaps in a contrasted group, in recital. But I think they are also important for personal study at all levels of performance skill, to reinforce an understanding of contrapuntal writing and interpretation.