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Hyperion Records

CDA66264 - Geminiani: La Folia & other works

Recording details: June 1987
St Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: July 1988
Total duration: 51 minutes 42 seconds


'The Purcell Quartet play with dedication and spirit' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'Another example of the riches Hyperion finds in Baroque corners' (The Magic Flute, USA)

La Folia & other works
Largo  [3'16]
Andante  [2'12]
Allegro  [3'23]
Allegro  [2'44]
Spiritoso  [1'40]
Andante  [2'05]
Allegro  [2'27]
Andante  [2'02]
Allegro  [2'09]
Allegro  [2'05]
Presto  [1'38]
Presto  [1'20]
Andante  [1'24]
with The Purcell Band
Allegro  [3'03]
with The Purcell Band
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Francesco Xaverio Geminiani was baptized in Lucca on 5 December 1687: his exact birthdate is unknown. He studied first with his father, but spent a while in Rome as a pupil of Corelli before returning to Lucca to take his fatherís position as violinist. He was dismissed in 1710 for Ďfrequent absencesí. For a while he was leader of the opera orchestra in Naples but, according to the English music historian Charles Burney:

he was soon discovered to be so wild and unsteady a timest, that instead of regulating and conducting the band, he threw it into confusion, as none of the performers were able to follow him in his tempo rubato, and other unexpected accelerations and relaxations of measure.

The career of a virtuoso soloist and composer was more suited to his temperament. He arrived in London in 1714 and spent most of his life there, though he travelled on several occasions to the Netherlands, Paris and Dublin, where he died in 1762. He was an immediate success, but seems at first to have performed more in the houses of the wealthy than in public. He held no official positions though he might have become Master and Composer of State Music in Ireland had he not been a catholic. He dabbled in picture dealings; his failure in that may have been why he mounted a series of twenty concerts in Hickfordís Room in 1731 and 1732. Sir John Hawkins gives a description of his inability to direct a performance later in his life: he seems to have been incapable of organizing and directing performances of his music.

Geminianiís first publication was, not surprisingly, a set of sonatas for violin and continuo (1716). It was dedicated to Baron Kielmansegge, George Iís chamberlain (otherwise known to musical history for his organization of the famous water party with Handelís music). Geminianiís reward for the dedication was the opportunity to play at court, where he was accompanied by Handel. Both Handel and Geminiani shared the need to return to their early works. Handel would sometimes transfer whole movements from one work to a new one with minimal change, but more often took just an idea from a previous work (or one by someone else) to set his imagination working. Geminiani more systematically revised complete publications. In 1739 he produced another version of opus 1 which he dedicated to Dorothy, Countess of Burlington, a distinguished patroness of music. Subsequently, he arranged the sonatas as trio sonatas, and also issued parts for ripieno violins and bass so that they could be played as concertos. The 1739 versions recorded here differ from the 1716 versions chiefly in the degree of ornamentation. Some of it is detailed, and it is not clear whether Geminiani is trying to make explicit the manner in which the earlier versions might have been performed, or whether he is indicating a change of taste over the quarter-century between the editions. Some of the additions are in a French style which would probably have been foreign to the composer in 1716. Occasionally, as at the opening of the solo sonata Op 1 No 3, the later version is simpler. His didactic propensity (he was later to produce an important instruction book, The Art of Playing on the Violin) is shown by the indication of fingering. Opus 4 was also published in 1739, and has a violin part in the style of the revised opus 1, though the bass parts clearly reveal the conservative nature of Geminianiís style.

The most influential orchestral music in England (and to a lesser extent France and the Netherlands) in Geminianiís lifetime was Corelliís set of Concerti Grossi opus 6, published in 1714, the year after his death. Apart from the intrinsic qualities of the passionate but restrained music, they were ideal for the performing circumstances, especially of provincial England; professionals could play the difficult solos parts (two violins and cello) while the main body of strings could be supplemented by amateur players of less technical skill. According to Burney, Corelliís solos and concertos:

were thought inimitable, until the arrival of Geminiani, who though Corelli had been one of his masters, and of whom he always spoke with reverence, yet, gifted with a more powerful hand, a bolder modulation, and a less symmetric style, he intrepidly stepped forth and convinced the musical world that Corelli had left his disciples a demesne that was still capable of higher cultivation and improvement.

Geminianiís first concerto publications can be considered as homage to his master, or perhaps an attempt to profit from their popularity. In 1726 and 1727 he issued arrangements of Corelliís sonatas for violin and continuo opus 5 as concerti grossi. The last of these comprises twenty-four variations on La Folia, a dance theme of Iberian origin which had become popular as the basis for elaboration. In Geminianiís setting, Corelliís virtuosic violin part is mostly unchanged, but a second solo violin part is ingeniously added and the whole work is shaped by the contrast between tutti and solo.

Geminiani made one change to Corelliís orchestral disposition, adding a viola to the solo group. This does not, as used to be thought, enable the concertino group to function without a harpsichordóthe cello part is still figured and this recording properly uses two keyboard instrumentsóbut it gives a fuller texture. This feature appears in opus 2 and opus 3 (1732) and was retained in opus 7 (1746). That set is dedicated to the Academy of Ancient Musick. Geminianiís preface claims that the dedication lacks the usual pecuniary motivation:

From the Time of my first appearance in London, to the hour, I have enjoyíd the Happiness of your Countenance and Favour; and such has been ever my sense of it, that I thought it highly deserving my best Acknowledgements.

The second concerto follows the normal Corellian pattern of two pairs of linked slow and fast movements. The solo sonatas, however, are more varied in pattern and the composer seems to have tried to link each into an uninterrupted whole with short adagio links between movements.

Burney and Hawkins, the great English music historians of the eighteenth century, both reveal a lack of enthusiasm for Geminiani. Hawkins sums up his qualities as follows:

Notwithstanding the fine talents which as a musician Geminiani possessed, it must be remarked that the powers of his fancy seem to have been limited. His melodies were to the last degree elegant, his modulation original and multifarious, and in their general cast his compositions were tender and pathetic; and it is to the want of an active and teeming imagination that we are to attribute the publication of his works in various forms.

The modern listener is able to stand beyond the shadow of Handel, whose music was the yardstick of contemporary critics, and enjoy Geminianiís characteristic and individual musical language and his mastery of his own instrument, the violin.

Clifford Bartlett © 1987

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