Toccate e partite d’intavolature di cembalo (II)

Girolamo Frescobaldi, 1615

Included in the 1615 edition of Frescobaldi’s Toccatas were, as the title indicates, several partite based on popular songs and dance patterns. In its original, proper meaning, a partita was a variation, as used for example as far back as Vincenzo Galilei in his Romanesca con cento parti of 1584, or the variations which followed Kapsberger’s Aria di Fiorenza. The latter–day designation of a suite of dances as a partita is an unfortunate corruption largely based on a misunderstanding of later use of the term by those who thought the Baroque period began and ended with Bach and Handel.

The four partite of Frescobaldi’s collection were very much in keeping with the extemporaneous nature of their companion toccatas, featuring brilliant passaggi such as scale figures, quick points of imitation, arpeggios, chromaticism, and fully written–out groppi.

Thus the Partite sopra l’aria della Romanesca (“Variations on the Romanesque Air”) begins with a relatively commonplace setting over the Romanesca theme (the lower stave merely shows, roughly, the Romanesca bass pattern)

Frescobaldi, Partita sopra la Romanesca (I)

which is followed by thirteen variations — the theme itself counts as the first partita — based variously on rapidly ornamented but brief little snippets of imitation,

Frescobaldi, Partita sopra la Romanesca (VI, excerpt)

some superlative chromaticism as daring as you please but still well under control in keeping with the expected succession of chords that underly the Romanesca theme,

Frescobaldi, Partita sopra la Romanesca (IX)

and some startling, brilliant scale passages and ornaments.

Frescobaldi, Partita sopra la Romanesca (XII)

In each variation, Fresocabldi makes exquisite use of the repetition of the latter half of the Romanesca pattern in an elegant reprise.



Following the Romanesca set are variations sopra la monicha, sopra ruggiero, and sopra la folia, all familiar and popular themes, then four triple–time dances called corrente, perhaps tacitly furnishing melodies for our own improvisations.

⇐ Extemporization | Ricercars

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