Francesco Maria Veracini: Sonatas For Violine
Recorded September 2003
After decades during which the unaccompanied violin sonatas and partitas of Bach stood alone, regarded by all but specialists as rather freakish musical occurrences, recent years have seen a growth of interest in the virtuoso violin repertory of the Baroque. Composers like Biber, Pisendel, and Tartini have all shown up with increasing frequency on concert programs and recordings. Here is more high-quality Baroque violin music that's plenty enjoyable for anyone to hear. The Italian violinist and composer Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768) worked in Italy, Germany, and England, competing with Handel and absorbing the music of both Corelli and Vivaldi. On the evidence of the music for violin and continuo presented on this disc, he was a paradoxical musical personality: a mercurial and exciting player and thinker who nevertheless had a preference for conservative forms. The four sonatas included here date from between 1716 and about 1760. They fall into the sonata da chiesa (slow-fast-slow-fast) and sonata da camera (a sequence of dance movements, often introduced by an overture) patterns of Corelli and his epoch, with little of the innovative large-scale architecture that Vivaldi developed. Into these decades-old molds, however, Veracini poured sparkling and innovative music. This is not extreme virtuoso violin writing like that of Bach or Biber, but instead music with vivid folk-like effects and passagework that's well enough wrought that a lyrical spirit often effervesces. The primary audience for this rather obscure music may be violinists in search of new and exciting recital material. They'll find it in abundance here, and lovers of the violin and the High Baroque should also sample this disc. Violinist John Holloway does a fine job matching the sound of his Baroque violin to the music at hand; only those with perfect pitch will even stop to notice that they're listening to a historically authentic instrument. ECM's sound design, with the Propstei St. Gerold (a provost's house in the Austrian countryside) as a setting, is superior.
All Music Guide
John Holloway's "violinist's journey" through great works of the 17th and 18th century, begun with his acclaimed New Series recordings of Schmelzer, Biber and Muffat, reaches a new stage with his account of the sonatas of Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768). The present recording - introducing a new ensemble, as Dutch cellist Jaap ter Linden joins British baroque violinist Holloway and Danish harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen - offers fascinating insights into the work of a composer whose musical achievements are still often undervalued, or overshadowed, in contemporary accounts, by the idiosyncrasies of his personal life.
In his liner notes, Holloway says of Veracini: "With his combination of brilliant technical and compositional innovation firmly rooted in the best music of the previous generation, Veracini earns an honoured place in the short list of truly great violinist-composers which includes Biber and - from a much later generation - Ysaye .... and, of course, Bach".
That the Italian was one of the outstanding virtuosi of the 18th century was clear enough to his contemporaries. There are numerous reports of the clarity and forcefulness of his playing cutting through the sound of an orchestra. Even the great violinist Giuseppe Tartini is said to have been so overwhelmed by Veracini's playing that he took time off from public performance to hone his own skills.
Veracini was one of the first musicians of his time to prefer the existence of a freelance soloist to a career as an employed court musician. From 1714 on, he enjoyed his success in London as well as in various other musical centers of Europe. He was a 'star' par excellence, brilliant eccentric, with no doubts about his own abilities, frequently asserting that there was only one God, and one Veracini!
Although he wrote secular and spiritual cantatas, concertos, oratorios and operas, Veracini's significance as a composer rests on his four collections of violin sonatas, which, composed or published in 1716, 1721, 1744 and the late 1750s, span virtually his whole creative career. For the present CD, John Holloway has chosen one characteristic example of each - music that speaks for itself while allowing us to trace Veracini's development as an artist.
The twelve "Sonate a violino, o flauto solo" with their strict use of four-movement sequences follow the sonata da chiesa form, but have no fugues. Yet the twelve sonatas published as Opus I in Dresden in 1721 represent a significant step forward, coming closer to the ambitiously contrapuntal German style. The first sonata on the present CD begins with a French overture in dotted rhythms, revealing 'experimental' traits in sound and technique.
But his grip on his craft was very firm. Some of his pieces, including the Sonate accademiche, were orginally composed not for the general public but for learned societies of music lovers. This was highly erudite music reminiscent of late Bach, but formal concerns and a "wild and flighty" quality coexist in the best of Veracini's music.
"It is tempting to look for the bizarre in Veracini's music and over-emphasise it", John Holloway remarks. "I think this would be to underestimate him. The quality of his music lies not only in the learned counterpoint, or in the outstanding writing for the violin: there is throughout a feeling for melody and harmony which display a remarkable and very personal expressivity."