A fascinating programme from a real thinking musician with a crystalline technique. Giulio Biddau brought the sonatas by Domenico and Alessandro Scarlatti vividly to life with just a minimum of ornamentation helped a little by Von Bulow.Always in such good taste and style and was a good visiting card for his new CD.
Standing in at the last minute for an indisposed colleague he gave a recital of impeccable style and technical prowess.
Not only Scarlatti but Haydn Andante and variations were played with a simplicity and clarity that reminds me of Alicia de Larrocha.
Brahms Handel Variations were played with the same refreshing clarity where Brahms’s sometimes orchestral sounds were given a refreshing sense of line never overwhelming these intricate variations with unnecessary volumes of sound or grandeur.
A masterly performance of Chopin’s revolutionary study was his way of thanking his enthusiastic public in this interesting series in Viterbo directed always by Professor Franco Ricci.
Scarlatti to Scarlatti is the title of the new CD of
Giulio Biddau and I print some of the very interesting notes from the very serious study that has gone into these interpretations
Editions of Domenico Scarlatti’s almost 600 keyboard sonatas were for a long time based on uncertain sources. The resulting editorial confusion gave rise to different readings at different times and in different places. A prime example is Hans von Bülow’s selection of eighteen of the sonatas (published in 1864), viewed through the prism of Romanticism. On this double album the pianist Giulio Biddau compares that version with a recent critical edition. Each sonata is played twice, thus alternating the perspectives and shedding light on two different approaches to Scarlatti’s work.
Se scrivo così alla buona, e non con eleganze di bel dire, mi contento, e non sarà poco, che mi consideri come Musico, non come Rettorico.
Francesco Gasparini, L’armonico Pratico al Cimbalo, Venezia, 1708
1 ”If I write plainly and without the niceties of a cultivated style – so be it; I shall not be hurt if you consider me a musician, not a rhetorician.” (trans. Frank Stuart Stillings, New Haven: Yale School of Music, 1963)
Scarlatti: sources and the modern piano
By recording Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard repertoire, one is inevitably confronted to the problem of source materials: no autograph manuscript of his sonatas has ever been found. Only 30 pieces of Scarlatti’s vast output were ever published; these appeared in 1738 in a volume entitled Essercizi per Gravicembalo. Posthumous editions of his compositions were often ‘Revised with a Variety of Improvements’, as Ambrose Pitman’s 1785 edition of The Beauties of Domenico Scarlatti put it. Not until the 20th century did research carried out by specialists establish more faithful texts. Thanks
to Maria Barbara of Braganza, the prescient Spanish queen who was Scarlatti’s student and benefactor, modern editors possess reliable and complete sources of the sonatas in two series of manuscripts that were probably copied from originals that were subsequently lost. The manuscripts are preserved in the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma and the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. They form the basis for the critical edition I chose for my recording, which was published in 1978 by Emilia Fadini, the recently deceased Italian harpsichordist and musicologist who accompanied me throughout my research on Scarlatti.
One must wonder, however, whether there is a contradiction between the desire for authentic sources and the adaptation of Scarlatti’s music to the modern piano. For many years it was thought that his sonatas had been primarily written for the harpsichord; the organ was sometimes considered as a possible instrument for their performance, and the fortepiano not at all. Ralph Kirkpatrick, who spearheaded the philological rediscovery of Scarlatti, unambiguously reaffirmed this hypothesis in 1953. Certain musicologists still share his opinion today, despite the fact that historians have established a surprising correlation between the spread of Bartolomeo Cristofori’s Gravicembalo col piano e forte on the Iberian Peninsula and the movements of Scarlatti and Maria Barbara’s court, where the presence of this instrument is well documented.
Perhaps one day we will know more about the instrument for which these works were written. In the centuries following their composition, Scarlatti’s sonatas were not played on the harpsichord and were adapted several times, first for the fortepiano and then for its modern counterpart. This pattern began in 1791 with Muzio Clementi’s edition of Scarlatti’s Chefs-d’oeuvre, in which the musical text was appended for the first time to include dynamics
(piano and forte), new phrasing, and suggestions about rhythm.
Scarlatti’s music was published ‘in colour’ until the 1950s: the most important editions, those of Carl Czerny for Haslinger (1839) and Alessandro Longo for Ricordi (1906), were still intended for pianists, and included an arsenal of indications dealing with articulation and expression on their instrument.
But it was after 1850 that indications in the score reached their greatest density; Bülow’s anthology belongs to this generation of publications. I discovered his edition, which had never been recorded before, during my research on the fortunes of Scarlatti’s work. The encounter was enlightening for me, because it provided the answer to another question I had been asking: how to choose among Scarlatti’s sonatas?
While Kirkpatrick catalogued 555 sonatas by Scarlatti, further discoveries have brought the tally up to around 600 keyboard pieces. Almost all of them are one-movement works, and musicologists have long debated about how they should be grouped. First Kirkpatrick and then Joel Sheveloff identified correlations between successive sonatas in the Parma and Venice manuscripts, which led to the conclusion that Scarlatti sometimes imagined his sonatas as bi- or tripartite works, which were common at
the time. Other solutions appeared in revised editions. Alessandro Longo, for example, suggested groups of sonatas that he termed suites, and these sequences, although they are completely arbitrary, are often quite successful.
The Bülow edition
A commercial adaptation
The most surprising procedure was carried out by the legendary pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow in the anthology of Scarlatti sonatas he published in 1864. In order to make the repertoire more interesting to the German public, Bülow selected 18 sonatas from the Czerny edition and arranged them in groups based on key signatures (sometimes transposing them into new keys2) to form three six-piece suites. In these new configurations the term sonata, which Scarlatti had used in keeping with Baroque practice, was often replaced with the name of the dance with which Bülow associated the music.
These adaptations of course also altered tempo indications. Examples include K. 83, which was changed from Allegro to Moderato, ma deciso, and K. 446, which Scarlatti labelled Pastorale: Allegrissimo and Bülow modified to Siciliano: Andantino.4 Tempo changes like these, which appeared during the same period in pianist Carl Tausig’s edition, were not without consequences: for many years Scarlatti’s sonatas were performed at these slower tempos, and what had originally been editorial remarks evolved into a performance tradition.
Indications in the score
The most interesting thing in the Bülow edition for the modern performer is the phrasing. Bülow’s indications in the score correspond quite precisely to the advice given in the treatises of Quantz, Leopold Mozart, and Türk. Although the overall effect is sometimes rather muddled by an excess of romantic dynamics, this edition contrasts with those of the early 20th century, in which the lovely phrasing
is replaced with staccato markings that aim to mimic the sound (but not the playing technique) of the harpsichord.
Unfortunately, Bülow sought only to perpetuate the German tradition, probably because he was unaware of 17th and 18th centuries Italian tutors like the one written by Francesco Gasparini, one of Scarlatti’s teachers. He therefore missed out on certain performance practices that Gasparini explains, such as the suonar pieno (and the acciaccatura) – the simultaneous playing of a chord with other short nonharmonic notes – and deviations from the rules of counterpoint like doubling certain octaves and fifths.5
Since Bülow did not understand the originality of and the traditions associated with Scarlatti’s writing, he systematically corrected it.His wish to make Scarlatti resemble
J.S. Bach should not be seen as an outrage, as the philological precautions of today were not in place at the time. The dissemination of earlier repertoires inevitably took place through new editions and on the stage, and performances of these works, including Hummel’s Mozart and Busoni’s and Godowsky’s Bach, very often brought them up to date.
In light of our current historicist sensibilities, it would be better to refer to the Scarlatti-Bülow score as a transcription rather than an edition. Confronting such transcriptions can be quite fruitful for today’s performer, because their attention to dynamics and widely varied phrasing is the most authentic and faithful route back to the performance tradition, unlike the editions of the early 20th century. Bülow’s interventions are also interesting to analyze because they suggest ways of varying the repeats in the sonatas, such as by adding counterpoint.7 Although Bülow’s variants are often a far cry from Scarlatti’s style, they sometimes result in charming hybrids. One
of these can be heard in Sonata K. 96,8 in which passages of repeated notes metamorphose into an almost Mozartian style.
It should be mentioned in closing that, among the 18 sonatas included in Bülow’s anthology, two of them were not written by Domenico Scarlatti: the Fugue in F minor and the Prelude in G major9 are by Alessandro Scarlatti, his father. I chose to include them in the present recording, however, in order to preserve the
structure of the suites.
The Fadini edition
The critical edition
I felt the need to base a second recording of these Scarlatti sonatas on more up-to-date critical editions: it was crucial to blend the problems of the Bülow edition with historical and musicological information acquired since his time. Emilia Fadini’s edition struck me as the most complete: its critical apparatus is wide-ranging and brimming with information; it faithfully reproduces the original notation; and
most importantly, it preserves the Andalusian harmonies that other editions misinterpreted.
Once I had solved the problem of which text to use, I concentrated on the performance questions posed by the Bülow edition, developing them in my second reading.
Although musicians of the past abstained from varying repeats – perhaps also because of Kirkpatrick’s indications –, it has become more common to do so nowadays. This parallel with Bülow’s edition encouraged me to vary each repeated passage with slight or more elaborate modifications, sometimes developing a contrapuntal passage, sometimes using a different affect. I gave myself permission to feel free in these instances, as musicians did in the baroque period, and in contrast with the romantic era, when such matters were the prerogative of the composer – or the editor…
Questions of tempo
My comparison of the two Scarlatti editions also dealt with tempo choices. My research showed me how much the meaning of tempo indications has changed over the centuries. After the baroque era these indications gradually became steps on a scale of speeds stretching from Largo to Prestissimo, whereas earlier they had been more flexible, and defined more the character of a piece than its pace. In the baroque period the word Andante, for instance, was much closer to its literal meaning (“at a walking pace”), and indicated performance speed as well as the mood of the music. In Bülow’s edition, however, it is used as a synonym for Langsam.
A second aspect I considered was the sonatas’ brilliant, virtuoso side, which I feel is often exaggerated. Many of these works were written for pedagogical purposes, and it is necessary to put certain anecdotes – like Charles Burney’s description of Scarlatti’s music as “ten hundred devils at (the) instrument” – and partisan readings – such as those of the “futurists”, who feel that Scarlatti was a precursor
of their modernity – into a different perspective. I chose not to exaggerate the virtuosity of Scarlatti’s music, and instead opted for speeds that were guided by the Andalusian rhythms, and by their at times dizzying repetition.
The Spanish element
The necessity of underscoring the Spanish element also informed my decision to present the original text side by side with the version from Bülow’s anthology. Apart from the following description of Sonata K. 377 – “composed in Aranjuez, the Spanish King’s palace, 1754” – Bulow did not show much interest in Iberian elements, and reserved his praise for sonatas that prefigured romantic music.10
The research and the critical apparatus included in Emilia Fadini’s edition are, on the other hand, extremely thorough, and allow us to grasp the importance of the Spanish influence. Certain sonatas – for instance K. 96 and K. 17311 – provide meticulous descriptions of the Andalusian universe. The listener experiences the zapateados of the bailadora, the clicking
castanets, and the rasgueados and punteados of the guitar accompaniements. The repetition of these figures often results in accelerandos, tempo changes, and sudden pauses, after which Scarlatti catches the listener with a new type of expression. These sudden and intensely lyrical passages are reminiscent of the cante jondo tradition, the melismata through which persecuted Andalusian minorities expressed their despair and rebellious feelings. Although García Lorca acknowledged the influence of the cante in Debussy’s music (in La Puerta del Vino and La soirée dans Grenade), we should also recall that the first great composer to illustrate this tradition was Scarlatti.
Pairing the same pieces as mirror images of one another enabled me to demonstrate two visions that travel between Spain and Germany, the court to the inn, and the baroque to the romantic. This double interpretation of these sonatas, this toing and froing between the transparence of the Urtext and the perspective of Bülow, projects Scarlatti’s music into the kaleidoscope of history.
10 This includes Sonata K. 525 which corresponds to the Scherzo, the last piece in Bülow’s second Suite, and which in his opinion anticipated the music of Beethoven.
Born in Cagliari, Sardinia, in 1985, Giulio Biddau took up the piano at the age of twelve with Arlette Giangrande Eggman (a pupil of Dinu Lipatti and Nikita Magaloff) at the Cagliari Conservatory, and with Boris Petrushansky in Genoa. He then moved to Paris to attend classes with Jean-Marc Luisada at the École Normale de Musique, where he obtained his Diplôme Supérieur de Concertiste. In 2007 he continued his studies at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome with Sergio Perticaroli, and for the past two years, he has been coached by Aldo Ciccolini, whom he meets regularly in Naples and Paris.Giulio Biddau has won several international competitions, including the Casagrande Competition in Terni, the Iturbi Competition in Valencia, the Porrino Competition in Cagliari. In September 2009 he won first prize at the Concours international des Nuits Pianistiques – Lauréats SPEDIDAM in Aix-en-Provence, as a result of which he has been invited to take part in some of the most important festivals in France, including the Festival de Radio France-Montpellier, the Pablo Casals Festival in Prades and Piano en Valois in Angoulême.He has given many concerts in Europe, playing for such institutions as the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Teatro Lirico in Cagliari, the Dino Ciani Festival in Cortina, the William Walton Foundation of Ischia, the Villa Medici in Rome; in France he has played at the Salle Cortot in Paris, the Grand Theatre de Provence in Aix, and in Pontoise, Nancy, Rouffach, Gerberoy; in Spain, at the Palau de la Musica of Valencia and Leon; in Sweden, at the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm; and in Slovenia, Austria, etc.He has appeared with orchestras including that of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Orchestre National de Montpellier, the Orquesta del Palau de la Musica in Valencia, the Orchestra del Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Les Siècles, the Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese… under Lawrence Foster, Francois-Xavier Roth, Tan Dun, Max Bragado…As a chamber musician Giulio Biddau plays in duo with the violinist Anna Tifu and he works with singers Lisa Visentin and Alessandra Martirossyan.His repertoire includes many composers of the second half of the twentieth century, including Ligeti, Gubaidulina and Dutilleux, and he is also committed to contemporary music. In March 2010 he gave the first performance of The Banquet Concerto for piano, orchestra and chorus by Tan Dun at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome with the composer conducting. The concert was broadcast by RAI Radio Tre. He has also played for France Musique and for Japanese television, NHK.