Arnaldo Morelli, La virtù in corte. Bernardo Pasquini (1637–1710).

[ConNotazioni no. 12]
pp. XX+427 with 32 colour plates
LIM Editrice, 2016 ISBN 9788870968873 €60,00

Arnaldo Morelli is a prolific musicologist, an organist, and the chief editor of Recercare – Rivista per lo studio e la pratica della musica antica.

Before producing this substantial book on Bernardo Pasquini’s life and work, he produced critical editions of oratorios of Stefano Landi, Marco Marazzoli, B. Pasquini, Sebastiano Lazzarini and G. F. Anerio. Many of his articles are on sacred music, the circulation of oratorios and their texts, patronage and dating in 17th-century Rome, on portraits of musicians, on musical spectacles and the spaces used for them in Rome in the late 1600s, on the function, transmission and sources of Roman cantatas and opera in and after the late 17th century, on performance practice and basso continuo on the organ in 17th century Italian music and in Corelli’s time, and on the lasting influence of Palestrina.

The title of the present work, which is not from a quotation, and appears in larger print than Pasquini’s name and dates, is hard to render in English. ‘Virtue at court’ would be obviously misleading. The virtue in question is that of quality and competence, and refers to Pasquini’s abilities and activities in multiple courts, even simultaneously, and alludes to his virtuosity. All chapters are is headed by the most superlative words of esteem, taken from contemporary quotations. This volume, masterfully researched and well written, is engrossing to read. Morelli’s command of the vast complexities of the period transcends the paucity of existing biographical documents.

Morelli extrapolates and judiciously speculates, carrying the reader from Pasquini’s Pistoian Tuscan origin (Massa in Valdinievole) and brief formative stay in Ferrara (a major musical crossroad between Rome and Venice) to his fame and musical influence, his positions at the courts of Roman society and church, the compositions that we know of (surviving or not) and what we might assume to be his aims in teaching. Morelli is especially enlightening in the many areas about which less was known. Without this book, Pasquini would still be regarded more as a keyboard player than a composer, under the frequent erroneous assumption that he was influenced if not actually taught by Frescobaldi, who died when Pasquini was only 6.

Pasquini went to Ferrara in 1649 at the age of 12, becoming organist of the Accademia della Morte in February of 1654. Perhaps he studied with Cazzati, or Marini, or Cappellini between 1648 and 1653, all of whom had held the post. By the end of 1655 Pasquini had moved on to Rome.

His connections there are covered at length, as he found patrons who commissioned his operas, oratorios, cantatas, and employed him as a keyboard virtuoso, alone and in combination with Corelli and others. The Roman nobility figure throughout the next 300 pages of the 450-page book. They loaned their musicians to each other, and an artist could enter the service of another court, widening his opportunities for work, without breaking with his former patrons. Employment by Cardinal Flavio Chigi (very supportive of opera) may have led to his becoming a musical factotum for Giovanni Battista Borghese from 1668, in Venice as well as in Rome, in his residences, theatres, and in S. Maria Maggiore (playing, teaching, writing, producing operas, oratorios and cantatas). Pasquini was shared between them, even replacing Antonio Cesti, who died in 1669, and ‘inheriting’ the Aretine composer’s connection with the librettist G. F. Apolloni.

When the theatres were closed for religious reasons, production turned to oratorios; when they reopened, more operas followed. The Borghese were related to the Pamphilj. From at least 1677 Benedetto Pamphilij was writing oratorios to be set by Pasquini, even into the 1690s. When the Church became more hostile towards opera (after 1681 under Pope Innocent XI), impresarios and aristocrats stepped in, the Bernini and the Capranica, and from Naples the Spanish marquis Del Carpio and prince Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna. Morelli takes the reader year by year, carnival by carnival, work by work, describing the operas alternating with the oratorios. Numerous operas were also produced for the Medici in Florence.

In presenting Pasquini’s compositions Morelli discusses them literarily and theatrically where the librettos exist, as well as musically if we also have scores, and he quotes from letters and contemporary criticism to describe them as well. Other works were produced for special spectacular events. In 1687, in the palace of Christina of Sweden, Pasquini set the Accademia per musica  to celebrate the coronation of James II. The performance lasted until 5 in the morning, with a choir of 100 singers, with 150 players led by Corelli, and with every player and singer holding a candle. It disappointed some by ‘seeming to fly by in an hour and a half’!

Pasquini had written an opera a year for twenty years, the last being L’Eudossia, performed in 1692. Cardinal Ottoboni managed to have it performed in his theatre by promising an oratorio, La Bersabea, to the Jesuit Seminary. Again Corelli organized the instrumentalists.

In the same year, for economic reasons, G. B. Borghese had to let Pasquini go, after 25 years’ service. Ottobuoni stepped in to give Pasquini an apartment, while the composer took the opportunity to go to his cousin Francesco Ricordati in Tuscany. This may have prompted the performance of the Tirinto  in Florence that year, and then L’Idalma  in Livorno in 1693. Soon back in Rome he was hired by Marcantonio Borghese (in competition with his father) and moved back into the Borghese palace.

The stream of personalities who came to Rome to hear, visit or study with Pasquini is historically interesting. It boosted his fame as an organist, which resulted in numerous manuscripts being prepared and finding their way into collections in England, Austria and Germany. At the end of 1704 Pasquini retired as organist of S. Maria Maggiore but continued to teach until 1708. He died on November 21, 1710, in the Borghese palace, his home for 40 years. This ends Morelli’s first chapter!

Chapter II takes the reader through 16 or so operas from 1672 to 1692. Musical examples help illustrate how different theatrical genres were conceived, and character roles typified. Comedies, in the 1670s are contrasted with dramas in the 1680s; types of comedies are distinguished by the comic roles themselves, whether lower class characters or quartets of lovers; dramas also reflect on the figures who commissioned them, and the public for which they were destined. Arias and recitatives are described, especially those with sections in contrasting meters and tempos, or with four instrumental parts in addition to the continuo. (In Example 8 a mistaken elision in the underlay, just where a comma may have been intended, caused the music-writing program to anticipate all the syllables from the end of bar 13 to the beginning of bar 17: as in the repeat of the phrase, the final rhyming syllables are on the same long melisma, with a breath before the principal initial upbeats.)

All the examples illustrate the clarity of Pasquini’s style. As we’d expect when voice and/or instruments define the harmony, there are hardly any continuo figures. But there are occasional notes odd enough that if not erroneous, they should have been marked ‘?’ or ‘sic’ or even editorially corrected (e.g. in Ex. 12, bars 39 and 50). They may well be the notes a scribe wrote, but that doesn’t make them right. Morelli’s extended descriptions of the operas, whether by means of musical examples or descriptive plot synopses, make the reader yearn to hear them, because he always discusses the music in relation to the plot, and the style called for by the type of drama.

It was thought that no score of L’Eudossia  (1692) existed after one in Würzburg was destroyed in WWII. Another, copied possibly by Flavio Carlo Lanciani (employed by Cardinal Ottoboni), has come to light, and Morelli was able to examine it for one day and also make a copy of it. His discussion and the examples he gives are therefore a scoop.

The third chapter, halfway into the volume, is only a few pages long, with no examples. Pasquini was a prolific composer of cantatas (circa 50 for solo voice, a few for two or three, and a few with instruments). Morelli refers us to Alexandra Nigito’s highly recommendable edition of Pasquini’s Cantatas (Brepol, 2012). Most of the sources are in the Estense library in Modena, but a table of the titles, vocal ranges (the soprano parts are often high, reaching a” and b”; mezzo-soprano parts can be considered for altos, rarely going beyond d” and e”) and the locations of the manuscripts would have been very useful here.

In Chapter IV, Virtuosi trattenimenti  [moral entertainments], ricreazioni spirituali  [spiritual distractions], we get musical examples from some devotional works, whether for the Borghese family chapel or the magnificent palatial salons to which a vast public was invited. The oratorio Caino e Abele  1671), with Apolloni’s libretto, was for domestic consumption. It presents the only two couples on earth (Cain +Abel and Adam + Eve), plus Satan, God and a narrator, with recitatives, arias (including examples 34 and 35: Satan’s aria with two violins and Cain’s recit and lament with bass lira), duets, and choruses. Morelli includes a colour plate of a painting of Homer playing a 13-string lirone with 11 strings over the fingerboard and 2 off, noting that such a lira da gamba could accompany Cain’s lament better than inflexibly tempered continuo instruments such as organ or harpsichord. It could also play chords on three strings at once. The recitative requires the dominants of b, e and f# minor keys, with problematic leading notes a#, d# and e#. The juxtaposition of major and minor chords is not problematic, especially as it is confirmed by continuo figures. Morelli leaves the figures as found, even where they were misleading. In bar 4: 5-6/# is presumably over #3-4 and the hyphens mean to defer the chord change for quite a while; in bar 11: 6# here means 6/#3; in bar 14, # can only mean #4, not a major third; in bar 25 a surprising 9# for a #2 was not the normal way of indicating the dissonance in the bass (6/#4/#2) – which Pasquini used frequently in his figured bass sonatas – so ‘6 – 9#’ was shorthand for the exact skip in the voice. Morelli edited and recorded this oratorio in 1988.

This recitative of Cain shows another interesting characteristic of Pasquini’s that Morelli doesn’t mention: where Pasquini sets a single syllable to two slurred (beamed) notes, as happens in a downward skip, an appoggiatura, a resolving suspension, or an accented passing note (all occurring here), he deliberately halves the duration of the higher note, whether dissonant or not, suspended or not, in order to anticipate the lower note, which is then repeated on the next beat. This belies our penchant for stressing dissonances and also, very practically, cues the continuo player to the sharpened 3rd, 6th, or 7th coming on the next beat. This shying away from a higher note in order to play the lower note twice is also an expressive written-out ornament used in cadences and elsewhere in the melodic line (bars 4, 7, 10, 21, 23). I don’t know if there is a term for this slightly exceptional type of anticipation, and since most of the discretionary appoggiaturas are not indicated at all, it may even derive from the older use of ligatures for setting a syllable to a short melisma: all the paired notes on single syllables are in fact short enough to be beamable (quavers or semiquavers). Interestingly, Morelli says that the expressive effects in Caino e Abele  and in La sete di Cristo  (1689), both for small publics, are not found in Pasquini’s operas.

The insert of 29 beautiful colour plates on glossy paper precedes the next chapter. It is a welcome way to recall the ground covered so far. Or perhaps it increases the suspense, because as a harpsichordist and continuo player I did not expect the chapter on Pasquini at the keyboard to come so late in the book! It is also very short, and followed by an even shorter one on the seven – not all surviving – portraits of the composer.

The heading for Chapter V, ‘The truest, most beautiful and noble manner of playing and accompanying’ [La più vera, bella e nobile maniera di suonare e di accompagnare] describes Pasquini at the keyboard. These are the middle words of an immensely significant sentence about Pasquini by Francesco Gasparini (1708), who calls the manner and its effect ‘so full’ that one hears from his harpsichord ‘a perfection of marvellous Harmony’. Pasquini’s keyboard works, which he may have intended for didactic use, from the easiest pieces to the most virtuosic, remained in manuscript, unprinted for almost 200 years, and only in part surviving, principally from sources in Berlin and London. They are described without examples.

Morelli gradually works back to Gasparini, and to another composer who studied with Pasquini, Georg Muffat (1699), discussing the utmost importance of Pasquini’s teaching of continuo. It is impossible, however, to do so in general terms, as there really are too many aspects of it. In fact Morelli says that to reconstruct his style of playing and accompanying would ‘verge on utopia’. In addition to various treatises of rules attributed to Pasquini, his 14 solo Sonatas and 14 Sonatas for two harpsichords notated only as figured basses (and quite fun to play) do give an almost complete picture of his vocabulary of figures. Following Anthony Newcomb, Morelli assigns them to a new genre: compositions, whether written or not, designed to give the impression of being spontaneous improvisations. (The figuring in his vocal works, however, are typically incomplete because vocal and instrumental lines supply or imply all the necessary notes.) Before presenting only a few short examples, Morelli mentions the use of added inharmonic notes as described by Gasparini, even if not explicitly found in Pasquini. The evidence that his full sound must have been replete with such acciaccature and mordenti  is only that it ‘had to be witnessed’. Maybe so, but I would argue that this ignores Gasparini’s concluding words, precisely regarding its fullness: una perfezione di armonia meravigliosa. Both the perfection and the fullness would come from doubling the consonances and using good voice leading, not from strange ‘wrong’ notes and contrapuntal licenses. After all these references (including Marcello’s) to such false [false notes] Morelli does also admit that they aren’t actually to be found. However – and this is the point – the very title of Salvatore Carchiolo’s authoritative and indispensable book on Italian continuo practice is Una perfezione d’armonia meravigliosa  (LIM 2007-2011). He, too, is quoting Gasparini on the marvellously harmonic continuo style of Pasquini.

Example 60a on p. 343 is given an improbable realization in 60b (oddly termed ‘an acciaccatura … between the vocal part and the basso continuo’) which Morelli says ‘only the continuo figure 2 makes evident’. Ex. 60a is seen in context in Ex. 12 on p. 157: the figure 2 in question is not in a recitative passage, but in a 3/2 arioso phrase between a few bars of recitative. It refers to the only note that the continuo must supply, so that the voice’s B flat, which we would call the root of the coming harmony, will be immediately heard as such, before and while the suspended dissonant bass note resolves down to the 3rd of the chord. It is true that in his figured bass sonatas Pasquini loved 6/4/2 chords, usually figured 4/2 and always followed by a chord change, which is not what happens in this example. Why would one play an f minor chord between the continuo’s e and the singer’s b flat? The beauty of a 5/2 chord is that when it is held while the bass drops it becomes a 6/3. The B flat is even dotted, a further indication that it is an essential note, a cue to the continuo player to play plenty of B flats and Fs and to hold them over the next bass note as well. Another observation on the realization proposed might be that if an accompaniment is to be ‘full and harmonious’, why shy away from playing the singer’s notes? This applies to the last note of the following bar as well, where the realization seems so constrained to remaining below the voice that it doesn’t play at all! Again, if a chord does not change it can be held or repeated.

Let me end by saying that all of the 62 musical examples (many long) in this book are exciting to discover. I think that the quotation of 1679 that heads Morelli’s Chapter II (Pasquini and the theatre) is indeed an understatement: ‘Of the most excellent composers in Rome, he is second to none.’

Barbara M. Sachs