Oddities and Trifles

The Very Peculiar Instrumental Music of Giovanni Valentini
Acronym 68:53
Olde Focus Recordings FCR904

When I tell you that Giovanni Valentini preceded Antonio Bertali as Kapellmeister in Vienna, your reaction probably depends on your familiarity with Acronym’s recording entitled Wunderkammer, which explores the music of 17th-century Germany, and which places Bertali’s music in a wider context. Valentini’s quirky compositions provide the musical foundations on which Bertali was building, and – as with Bertali – it is easy to hear the links with the eccentric music of the likes of Heinrich Biber from nearby Salzburg. For a representative sample of Valentini’s striking originality, listen to track 3, his Sonata in C (and indeed every other tonality); this was the piece which I heard some time ago on Radio 3, first alerting me to the existence of this unsuspected talent.

What is interesting is that Valentini belongs to the generation prior to Biber, and so allows us to trace this eccentric taste in textures and harmonies back to his training in Venice. The loss of his publication Messa, Magnificat e Jubilate Deo  of 1621, containing polychoral music in the grand Venetian style including parts for trumpets, is a tragic one indeed. Imbued with the tradition of the Gabrielis, he seems to have pre-empted Monteverdi in a number of musical developments traditionally ascribed to the latter composer. Boldly original and harmonically daring, Valentini’s music is beautifully played here by the innovative period string ensemble, Acronym, who have uncovered yet another highly distinctive and largely forgotten link in the chain of musical history. For Valentini to dictate musical taste for some 20 years in one of the great musical capitals of Europe, suggests the esteem in which he was held during his own lifetime, and, as we become more familiar with his music, I am sure we will more fully recognize his legacy in the music of the next couple of generations of German composers.

D. James Ross