First Book of Fantasies

Girolamo Frescobaldi, 1608

In the preface to his first book of madrigals, Frescobaldi says that he was urged to publish them by musicians in Flanders whom he met while there with his patron Archbishop Bentivoglio. For the young composer in his middle twenties, the trip must have been an especially dramatic and exciting experience: he was at the source of an earlier musical world. His teacher Luzzascho Luzzaschi had studied under the famous Cipriano de Rore who hailed from Antwerp, a center of the Franco–Flemish tradition that had dominated the world of music for several centuries.

So it is not unreasonable to think that the same musicians held a similar opinion about Frescobaldi’s Fantasies, which he published in Milan on his way back to Rome to take up his new position as organist of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The works in the Primo libro delle fantasie a quattro (“First Book of Fantasies for Four Parts”) are altogether more sober than the madrigals published the same year, and are more strictly polyphonic than the madrigals. The collection is dedicated to Francesco Borghese, Duke of Regnano whom Frescobaldi would have known from his time in Rome — the duke was a general of the church — and who evidently had a penchant for this kind of music.

The fantasias comprise twelve numbers, three each of one subject, two subjects, three subjects and four subjects. Each unfolds with voices entering in turn with a subject, usually at the interval of a fourth or fifth from its predecessor. There are often large leaps of a fifth, sixth or octave, and the voice parts frequently cross, so that the work is much more easily followed in open score (in partitura, one part per stave) rather than compressed into the tavolatura of two staves, one for each hand.

Frescobaldi, Fantasia terza (excerpt

Themes are developed in a number of ways. Together with diminution, in which note values are compressed to impel a work forward, or augmentation where thematic note values are stretched,

Frescobaldi, Fantasia terza (excerpt

there are also alterations in the rhythm of a theme, and the same theme can be played against itself in different note values.

Frescobaldi, Fantasia terza (excerpt

In many cases triple time is used in a section of its own.

Frescobaldi, Fantasia terza (excerpt

In others, imitations are inverted,

Frescobaldi, Fantasia decima (excerpt

treated chromatically, or both.

Frescobaldi, Fantasia decima (excerpt

The 1608 Fantasies are not typically included with Frescobaldi’s traditional corpus of works, perhaps because they break no new ground but are instead rather didactic. Listening to them certainly requires work. Like Monteverdi’s Illo tempore, however, they show the composer’s firm grasp of the fundamentals of prima pratica, which may serve as some small comfort to those still struggling with the straight–jacket rules of elementary counterpoint.



Perchè fuggi? | Toccatas

↥ Top