Friday, August 15, 2014

Lodovico Giustini -- A Forgotten Yet Important Composer for Piano

Most pianists have never heard of Lodovico Giustini.  I first heard of him a couple of years ago when reading the book, Piano Roles: 300 Years of Life with the Piano by James Parakilas (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999). [Much of the information that I am sharing below is derived from this book.] Virtually all of his music is lost except for a few fragments of vocal pieces. The only surviving piece and the only one to be published was a set of 12 sonatas for a keyboard instrument.

Here is a link to the IMSLP scan of the first edition:
<Giustini - 12 Sonatas for Piano>.

And here is a YouTube playlist of all 12 sonatas recorded on a reproduction Cristofori pianoforte performed by Andrea Coen:
<Giustini - Sonatas for piano, performed by Andrea Coen -- YoutTube playlist>.

"So what is the big deal?", you ask.  These 12 sonatas are the first known pieces written specifically for the piano.  They were written in 1732 and predate any other work specifically intended for piano by about 30 years. These sonatas are ordered as a "sonata da chiesa" (church sonata)-- 4 or 5 movements ordered slow - fast - slow - fast.  They range in style from stern contrapuntal movements, through the dance movements of the day, into the modern up-to-date styles like the Style Galant.  These sonatas contain the terms piano and forte liberally sprinkled throughout, often being used against the grain of the music -- where full chords would create more volume, Giustini uses piano and where moving from a lower register would to a higher would cause a perceived decrease in volume, Giustini uses forte.  In the earlier sonatas, these markings are also used in an "echo" manner in identical repetitions, or to distinguish "question" and "answer" phrases. In the later sonatas, píu forte and píu piano ("louder" and "softer") to indicate a gradual increase or decrease in volume as we use crescendo and diminuendo today.

Giustini was probably not intending to create an idiomatic style for this new piano. Indeed, listening to the above recordings, when I first started listening, I thought that they had been recorded on a harpsichord.  I, of course, had in my mind the sound of the modern day piano and even some of the historic pianos that I have heard, which themselves sound to me closer to the modern sound than the older harpsichord sound. Yet, this piano had very much a harpsichord sound, so there would seem to be little need for a totally different style of playing for the piano. Rather, Giustini seems to be exploring and demonstrating the possibilities that this new "hammer harpsichord" could do that the other keyboard instruments of the day could not (O.K., the clavichord did have dynamics -- from soft to softest -- but it could barely be heard from any distance if someone was even breathing). These works help to show what could be done with the keyboard music of the day when performed upon the new pianoforte as opposed to the older plucked string instruments.

The fact that we even know about these sonatas and their composer, Lodovico Giustini, is in itself a miracle. The fact that these are the only known pieces to be published by this provincial man who spent his life in his small town of Pistoia (about 20 miles northwest of Florence in Tuscany) is also a miracle. I will address this in a later post. For now, let's see what we can find out about Lodovico Giustini.

[Much of the following is derived from Wikipedia. We all know that it is on Wikipedia that it must be true, right? No, I don't trust everything that I read on Wikipedia, but I find, particularly if the article is referenced, that it can be good place to start.  The article on Giustini cites the following references, although the author did not even include some pertinent information.  They are:

Edward Higginbottom, "Lodovico Giustini", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980.ISBN 1-56159-174-2

Jean Grundy Fanelli: "Lodovico Giustini", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed November 14, 2005), (subscription access) (Note: the articles in the two editions of Grove are by different authors, and each contains unique material)

James Parakilas, Piano Roles: 300 Years of Life with the Piano. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-300-08055-7. [Note: This is the earlier hard cover version of the one that I cited above.]

Lodovico Giustini, The 12 Sonatas for piano, ed. Dominique Ferran, 3 vol. Paris-San Diego, Drake Mabry Publishing, 2003.

Freeman, Daniel E. "Lodovico Giustini and the Emergence of the Keyboard Sonata in Italy." Anuario musical 58 (2003):111-30. [My note: This article is available on-line for download a t<Lodovico Giustini and the Emergence of the Keyboard Sonata in Italy>.]

Lodovico Giustini (12 December 1685 – 7 February 1743) was born in Pistoia, Tuscany, Italy (a town about 20 miles northwest of Florence) to a family of musicians which can be traced back to the early 17th century. This is of course the same year that J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti were born.

Giustini's father was organist at the Congregazione dello Spirito Santo. An uncle, Domenico Giustini, was also a composer of sacred music. Upon his father's death in 1725, Giustini became organist at the Congregazione at age 40 where he acquired a reputation as a composer of sacred music, mostly cantatas and oratorios. In 1728 he collaborated with Giovanni Carlo Maria Clari (27 September 1677 – 16 May 1754) on a set of Lamentations, which were performed that year [Note: there is a Wikipedia article and some of his music is available on IMSLP].

19 June 1732 he requested to be relieved of duties as organist of the Congregazione dello Spirito Santo in order to make a trip to Florence. He planned to arrive there on 1 July. By November of that same year he was back in Pistoia. It was during this time that he wrote the 12 Sonatas for Pianoforte. [Bartolomeo Cristofori had died in January of that same year]. [Note: this information comes from the Freeman article cited above.]

In 1734, Giustini was hired as organist at S Maria dell'Umiltà, the Cathedral of Pistoia. He held this position for the rest of his life and died in Pistoia, 7 February 1743.

In addition to playing the organ at the two mentioned religious institutions, he performed on the harpsichord at numerous locations, often in his own oratorios.

It should be said that 1732 was a momentous year for the pianoforte, now in its 30's. This was the year that its inventor, Bartolomeo Cristofori, died in January (although some sources indicate Jan 1731). This was the year that Gottfried Silbermann produced his first pianofortes in Germanay, after having acquired plans and a 1725 German translation of the 1711 journal article by Scipione Maffei announcing and describing Cristofori's pianoforte. It is also the year that Joao de Seixas, a Brazilian cleric and musician, visited Florence from July - October. [This connection becomes important as we look further into some "mysteries" surrounding these sonatas in a later post.] 

Some questions do come to mind. Was his trip to Florence the only time that he had left Pistoia? Was this his only trip to Florence up to that time? Had he had an opportunity to meet Cristofori before the latter's death? Was this his first opportunity to actually see, hear, and explore a pianoforte?

I will explore these and some other questions that arise in a later post.

If anyone who reads this has any corrections or new information, I welcome your input. I hope that you enjoy the music.

No comments:

Post a Comment