A Courtly Garland for Baroque Trumpet

A Courtly Garland for Baroque Trumpet
Orpheus Britannicus, Robert Farley, Andrew Arthur
Resonance Classics RES10220. 79’57

The 17th-century was a time of dramatic musical invention, both compositionally, and instrumentally, with several now mainstream instruments going through their birth pangs, or re-birth pangs. One such was the trumpet, hitherto a largely military or ceremonial instrument, with little, if any, music of real significance composed for it. It was the development of the clarino style of playing in the higher registers that freed the trumpet from its lower register, only capable of playing restricted arpeggio-like notes. The more melodic notes in the upper reaches of the harmonic series allowed for more tuneful writing. Girolamo Fantini (1600–1675) was one of the first known trumpet virtuosos, described as “the monarch of the trumpet on earth!” After five years in the service of Cardinal Scipio Borghese in Rome he was appointed principal Court trumpeter to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. In 1634, played in a concert with the famous organist/composer Frescobaldi (1583–1643), organist of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This seems to have been the first known recital of music for trumpet and organ, a popular combination to this day. Fanni is represented on this CD by four short pieces. 

Around forty years later, Giovanni Bonaventura Viviani, born in Florence soon moving to Innsbruck and the Court of the Hapsburg Emperor Leopold I. His two Sonatas for Trumpet and Organ are five-movement essays in a more developed style. the Moravian Gotfried Finger was a virtuoso viol player who spent some time in England before moving to Germany. His Sonata in C adds a solo violin to the trumpet and continuo is written in the continental stylus phantasticus manner with several interconnecting sections. It shows the trumpet in a more melodious and gentler mood.

The recording continues with a selection of music from the 17th-century, the sound of the trumpet balanced by the occasional organ solo, including a Toccata by Pasquini and two Canzonas by Frescobaldi, attractively played by Andrew Arthur. The best-known composer is probably Corelli, his only surviving Sonata for Trumpet reflecting the strong trumpet and instrumental tradition of Bologna where he spent much of his early musical life. The central Grave (of a five-movement work) is a lovely example of Corelli’s writing for string trio. Biber’s 1676 Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes were his first published works. He described the set of 12 instrumental sonatas as being “as much for the altar as for the table”. The two trumpet Sonatas included here were probably composed for Pavel Vejvanovský, a virtuoso player who mastered the art of playing some hitherto unplayable notes on the trumpet. They also indicate the dramatic nature of much of Biber’s music.

The CD is well recorded, in the sensible acoustic of the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge which gives an attractive bloom while retaining clarity. Robert Farley’s trumpet playing is most impressive. My only (slight) quibble is that there is little evidence of the more subtle sounds that the Baroque trumpet is capable of, as so wonderfully explored by Bach. The volume of the trumpet is fairly consistent throughout, regardless of the style of the music and the sensitivity of the accompaniments. There are some excellent contributions from the period instrumentalists of Orpheus Britannicus, notably Theresa Caudle, violin. Most of the tracks are recorded using Werkmeister III, but a few are in quarter-comma meantone, although you would need pretty good ears to notice the difference.

More information can be found here, and the programme notes are here