Primo libro delle canzoni

Girolamo Frescobaldi, 1628, 1634


While Frescobaldi spent time in Milan before beginning work in Rome in 1608, an anthology of Canzoni per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti Girolamo Frescobaldi
Girolamo Frescobaldi
(Wikimedia Commons)
(“Canzonas to Play for All Kinds of Instruments”) was published in Venice by Alessandro Raverii. It included works for ensembles of between four and sixteen instruments, among them numbers by Gabrieli, and three by Frescobaldi himself.

Not until 1628 did his own collection of music for instrumental ensembles appear. That year, he met Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Duke of Tuscany, and dedicated his Primo libro delle canzoni (“First Book of Canzonas”) to him. In November, Frescobaldi was excused from his position at Saint Peter’s, and moved to Florence as Ferdinando’s court organist (or, according to some documents, as maestro di capella). In 1634, however, he was back in Rome Francesco Barberini
Francesco Barberini
(Wikimedia Commons)
after an offer from Cardinal Francesco Barberini, whose uncle was now Pope Urban VIII. He returned to his job at St. Peter’s but received various additional pensions and support from his new patron, whose private musical organization employed such others as Kapsberger and Virgilio Mazzocchi, younger brother of Domenico.

Frescobaldi’s Canzoni appeared in three separate versions, bracketed by his time in Florence. The original partbooks were published by Robletti in Rome in 1628, the edition intended for Ferdinando de’ Medici. The same year, a version in partitura (score) was prepared by Fresdobaldi’s pupil Bartolomeo Grassi and published by Paolo Masotti which, although containing essentially the same works, received more care. Grassi affixed names to some of the canzonas in honour of various Roman patrons. The third version was published in Venice in 1634, and includes, in addition to some new works, extensive revisions and alterations to the earlier numbers.

It is no great surprise to find that Frescobaldi’s canzonas are rather more conservative and contrapuntal than similar works in contemporary collections. He was after all, working in Rome, where dramatic monody was given a cooler reception than it received in the north. Moreover, Frescobaldi had already published keyboard canzonas in his 1615 collection of ricercars, classic works that treated specific soggetti in various ways, particularly imitative. Thus even in the instrumental canzonas for soloist, the bass is more likely to participate with a contrapuntal line than might otherwise be expected.

Frescobaldi, Canzona quarta (1634)



Obviously as the number of voices increases, so does the contrapuntal complexity, while the opportunities for flashy passaggi diminishes.

There are the conventional works sopra Rugier and sopra Romanesca, albeit with more contrapuntal texture and less monodic dramaturgy. On the other hand are the remarkable canzonas for what otherwise would be considered unorthodox combinations of instruments, such as two basses, or two basses and canto. Conditioned as we are to the early Baroque soprano–bass dichotomy, these can at first be difficult, but repeated listening brings its own rewards.



⇐ Giovanni Fontana

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