Giuseppe Antonio Bernabei: Orpheus ecclesiasticus

Edited by Michael Wilhelm Nordbakke
A-R Editions, Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, B195
xii + 6 facsmilies + 203pp, $175.00
ISBN 978-0-89579-849-7

When this volume arrived, I espected a collection of church music. Instead, it is a set of 12 sonatas (prefaced and concluded with texted canons for six and four voices respectively), dedicated to Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, dated 1698.

The 12 Symphonias  (as they are called) are divided into two groups; the first six are for two violins with continuo, while the second half features a (lost) chelys gravior  (Nordbakke calls this cello) or pentachordum  (gamba). In producing this edition, the editor has added the missing line. Nos. 1–6 have between four and six movements and average 165 bars, while the other six range from six to eight movements and are around 240 bars. Tempo markings are in Latin (just as the instrument names are in Greek), which may reflect the composer’s perception of Vienna as a seat of learning, and the Emperor as a highly educated man.

I would like to hear the music, perhaps alongside pieces by Colista and Henry Purcell; while it lacks the “perfection” of Corelli, this is precisely the kind of music that informed the latter’s contributions to the genre.

Brian Clark