Deux CD Elegia nous donnent à entendre, sous les doigts agiles de Daniele Proni, un ensemble de six sonates pour le clavecin et autant de cette même forme à l'orgue, du compositeur connu sous le nom de Padre Martini. C'est avec délice que l'on se laisse charmer par la fraicheur juvénile de ces pièces dont l'allure peut parfois évoquer les sonates de Domenico Scarlatti. Il est plaisant de se laisser mener à suivre les évolutions d'une figure mélodique, parfois une petite ritournelle, durant le parcours d'un mouvement. Si toutes les pièces présentées n'ont pas la même inventivité, cet enregistrement nous invite, assurément, à une promenade enchanteresse tout au long d'un paysage sonore rempli de silhouettes légères et gracieuses, qui sont autant d'agréables compagnies pour vivre la fuite du temps. Daniele Proni déploie une élégante maîtrise du répertoire baroque italien dont il est un spécialiste reconnu. (Alain Letrun)
Giovanni Battista Martini was born on April 24, 1796 and began the study of music in his childhood under the guidance of his father, a bowed instrument player, as well as his older brother Giuseppe. Within the context of the home school of Dom Giuseppe Auregli and of the Church of Our Lady of Galliera, he learned reading, writing, arithmetics and received religious training. He immediately showed a bright intellect and manyfold interests in the field of music, so much to be sent to study with some of the best teachers in Bologna: Angelo Predieri, who taught him singing and composition, and Giovanni Antonio Riccieri, who perfected his knowledge of counterpoint. Francesco Antonio Pistocchi taught him the techniques of singing in depth, while Giacomo Antonio Perti gave him the final precious advice. He was admitted into the family of Saint Francis, a sort of religious apprenticeship, and there he was ordained as Friar Minor in 1725. At the time, he had recently become the assistant of Ferdinando Gridi, choirmaster and organist, who was in poor health: indeed, after just six months, Gridi died and Martini replaced him in his duties, and in a couple of years he became his successor. In 1729, he was consecrated as priest and concluded his own canonic education rapidly: at barely 23 years of age, Giambattista was already what he remained until August 3, 1784, day of his death. It is difficult to describe Martini in a few paragraphs, but we can begin from the compositions that he left us: over 1.000 catalog entries of manuscript and printed musical compositions of several genres, sacred and profane, vocal and instrumental, and 3 volumes of a History of Music, plus 2 more drafts, in addition to an essay on counterpoint and hundreds of annotations on the practice and theory of music. To this, we must add almost 6.000 letters, among those sent and received, which constitute an epistolary with an incredible historical value. This, not counting his legacy of over 17.000 musical volumes and the gallery of paintings: one of the most important collections in the world in this field. When asked to become the assistant of the choirmaster in Saint Peter’s Chapel, he answered with a laconic “Nonetheless, I pass over this matter, and thank the Good Lord that Rome is 300 miles away from Bologna; and here, a more sincere air breaths”, and decided to refuse any proposal that would take him away from his small cell in the convent of Saint Francis, that was his safe haven where he could retire to investigate, study, compose, and transcribe music. He asked the Pope, Cardinal Lambertini of Bologna who was then elected to the pontificate under the name of Benedict XIV, to be exonerated from the obligation to celebrate Mass in church because of his poor health. We will never know how much of a truth was behind this motivation, but he obtained what he wished, that is the freedom to dispose of his time for his research. The Pope, who knew him well, was generous in allowing freedom to a person whom he judged as capable to leave a profound legacy in the history of music: “By the Apostolic authority of the Pontiff Benedict XIV, on this day, September 9 of 1750, it is decreed that 1) the codex, books, parchments, single sheets, both manuscript and printed, collected from everywhere by Friar Giovanni Battista Marini choirmaster at his own expense, 2) after his death, be promptly placed in the Library of this convent, from which they will never be removed, 3) under the punishment of excommunication”. Martini also found time to devote to dozens of students who came to him to receive precious advice on counterpoint, of which art he is an unrivaled master. Among these, young Mozart, who in a letter of 1776 wrote: “…I never cease to be afflicted in seeing myself far from the person that I love, venerate and appraise most in the world, and of which I inviolably claim to be the humblest and most devoted servant of His Very Reverend Paternity”.With regard to his style of composition, he was halfway between Baroque and Gallant styles in instrumental music, while his vocal music is inspired by Palestrina, showing great care in treating the choral masses, dense with counterpoint but at the same time imbued with a sense of melody that the Gallant spirit, in its imminent onset, tends to shape. The keyboard music comprises about one hundred sonatas for organ and harpsichord of which only 18 were printed: 12 Sonate d’Intavolatura per l’organo, e’l cembalo printed in Amsterdam by Le Céne in 1742 (op. 2) and 6 Sonate per l’organo e il cembalo printed in Bologna by Lelio Dalla Volpe in 1747 (op. 3). This, in addition to 6 manuscripts of harpsichord concertos that are now in the process of being published. The Sonatas op. 2 describe the utmost genius of the keyboard compositions by Martini. If this were possible, his artistry is even overflowing when he proposes in pieces where the counterpoint becomes decisively thicker, passages at the limit of the ability to be performed, because the ideas tend to surpass the form. These sonatas are difficult to play and listen. Movements in an almost Gallant style alternate with composite and refined pated that sometimes force the listener to be extremely focused. In contrast, the six sonatas of op.3 shine for the lightness, simplicity and clarity, both formal and of the melody. The project for this recording finds its origin in these sonatas and their genesis. The Sonatas op.3 were six in number, while the new editor Lelio dalla Volpe in the catalog distributed in the course of 1747 spoke about a second collection of Sonatas, that were never composed. The project existed, but evidently something made it so that this was never completed. In my long, in depth work on the manuscripts of the friar, I tried to imagine what other pieces he could have wanted to include in a second collection and I deduced that most likely he would have utilized something that he had already written. His keyboard music was collected in an effective manner and many “detached papers” are collated in the folder denominated HH.35 in the International Museum and Music Library of Bologna. This miscellanea contains very pleasant music, pieces useful for entertainment and daily practice. They are not related to each other, with small exception which led me to compose an epithetical op.4, for which I even imagined a programmatic evolution. The sonatas of op. 2 are all very schematic, that is, all formed by five movements, and at the same time, those of op.3 appear to be more concise, for the motivations explained earlier. They follow a rule: three movements, almost all with ritornello for variations, for the harpsichord sonatas, and two movements with no ritornello for the organ sonatas. The formal scheme that characterizes the new sonatas, instead, aims at collecting all of the ideas by Martini, though with more freedom, and with a reference to the number of five, for the first sonata, and a increase to three movements for the last organ sonata. This is almost a will to consolidate the form that was consolidated in the second half of the 1700s. An alternation between the two instruments remains, but I hope that the greater variety of the form will contribute to delineate a picture if possible more complete of the model of composition of the author.