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Text:

Non lo diro’ col labbro
che tanto ardir non ha;
forse con le faville dell’avide pupille,
per dir come tuttárdo,
lo sguardo parlera’.

English Translation:

I will not say it with my lips
Which have not that courage;
Perhaps the sparks
Of my burning eyes,
Revealing my passion,
My glance will speak.

Preserved in the 1752 first Venice volume of Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas, this work likely predated that manuscript source by a year or two. That makes this C major effort a late work, despite the fact that almost 400 more keyboard sonatas would flow from Scarlatti’s pen before his death in 1757. Listening to the work, however, one might believe its joviality and youthful playfulness clearly suggest it was the creation of a young man. But the ever-spirited, forward-looking Scarlatti produced many such pieces, early and late, throughout his distinguished set of 555 sonatas.

Marked Allegro, the Sonata opens with a lively theme whose perky character and sense of joy are, if anything, enhanced by the mostly descending contour. The music effervesces as it moves in light patter about the keyboard, seeming to cackle or giggle in its busy but carefree work. The exposition, which is repeated in accordance with Scarlatti’s usual sonata structure, is quite short, lasting but a minute or so, and is followed by the lengthier development portion of the work. Here the music transforms relatively little and the mood, too, remains quite joyful and light.

A crab canon (also known by the Latin form of the name, canon cancrizans; as well as retrograde canon, canon per recte et retro or canon per rectus et inversus[2]) is an arrangement of two musical lines that are complementary and backward, similar to a palindrome. Originally it is a musical term for a kind of canon in which one line is reversed in time from the other (e.g. FABACEAE played simultaneously with EAECABAF). A famous example is found in J. S. Bach’s The Musical Offering, which also contains a canon (“Quaerendo invenietis”) combining retrogression with inversion, i.e., the music is turned upside down by one player, which is a table canon.

Monteverdi’s work, often regarded as revolutionary, marked the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period. He developed two individual styles of composition — the heritage of Renaissance polyphony and the new basso continuo technique of the Baroque. Monteverdi wrote one of the earliest operas, L’Orfeo, an innovative work that is still regularly performed. He was recognized as an innovative composer and enjoyed considerable fame in his lifetime.

 

Very little of Purcell‘s functional music for four-part viol consort survives. Only the incomplete Suite in G major, Z. 770, and the Chacony in G minor, Z. 730, are known. It seems most of Purcell‘s music he wrote as court composer for the Twenty-Four Violins after 1677 involved the voice. It is not known for what exact occasion Purcell composed the Chacony.

“Chacony” is a variant of the English “chacone” and is the same as the French chaconne and Italian ciaccona. It was a relatively new type of composition in England; the earliest known English example is the three-part Chacone by Robert Smith, published in 1677.

Purcell‘s Chacony is restrained and stately, much more suited to dancing than a similar piece by John Blow from the same time, which has intricate contrapuntal sections and shifting accents. Purcell builds his melodies from groups of dotted notes (an aspect of the French chaconne) and the piece is nearly devoid of contrapuntal artifice, making it easy to perceive the rhythms and turns of the melody and ground bass. Apparently, it was intended to be performed without continuo.

Throughout the Chacony we find Purcell stretching the boundaries of traditional dance music while creating an overall structure that is appropriate for dancing. The eight-measure ground is suitable in length for dancing and begins with the typical passacaglia device of descending through a fourth. What is unusual is that in the second measure there is an F sharp and in the fifth, a B natural, both chromatic alterations in the key of G minor. These moments are harmonized with great freedom and imagination each time they occur. Fleeting modulations appear in variations Nos. 6 and 14, in which the ground migrates to the viola and second violin, respectively, while the four-voice texture continues. In variations Nos. 8 and 11, however, the bass drops out and the ground moves upward respectively into the first violin and viola, creating a welcome change in texture. In the Chacony, Purcell employs each of his variation techniques twice, making pairs of variations that create a satisfying, large-scale structure. What is “asymmetrical” about this symmetry, however, is that the corresponding variations are not consecutive, but spread across the piece.

Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach’s set of seven Toccatas for keyboard date from 1707-11, just prior to and during the first years of his post in Weimar. During these formative years he experimented with a wide variety of compositional models. Overall, these early toccatas lack the profound expression and technical mastery of Bach’s later music and are thus some of the least performed of his works. All too often, they come off as improvisatory and mere virtuosic pieces for keyboard. Nevertheless, they show the steady growth of one of music’s greatest geniuses.

The Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 is one of Bach’s least known works for keyboard. Most likely composed in either 1707 or 1708, it nevertheless portrays Bach’s developing composition style. The brief opening section of the toccata bears an inconspicuous resemblance to Bach’s later organ works, particularly with the octave leap that occurs repeatedly in the left hand. Furthermore, retrograding chords of the sixth with off-beats in the right hand might remind some listeners of a similar passage in the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor. A fugato section follows with a lively rhythmic figure predominating. This section does not venture far from the E minor tonality, though its strictness of counterpoint causes it to stand out among the other early toccatas.

The following adagio is highly improvisatory. Arpeggios and scalar passage abound with plentiful embellishments. An extended fugue for three voices forms the final movement. The subject of the fugue, four bars in length, is actually identical to that of an anonymous fugue in a previously dated Italian manuscript. Furthermore, the two fugues share a striking number of similarities. While the composer of this earlier fugue is unknown to us, Bach was quite likely familiar with it at the time he composed his own. Today, Bach’s “version” would without a doubt be condemned as plagiarism. However, during the Baroque, the “recomposition” of another composer’s work was not uncommon and, in fact, considered a form of flattery. Bach’s fugue, however, enhances on the original version, by expanding its harmonic scope and conforming more to idiomatic keyboard writing. Joseph DuBose

Part of Elena Kuschnerova’s all-Bach recital that was released on ORFEO in 2001. Rosette in Penguin Guide 2003/04

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