‘Ottavio Bariolla represented absolute musical perfection. The organs of the [church of] Madonna di San Celso are honoured to have passed through the hands of such an excellent performer. His listeners rejoiced while he pressed the keys, and the original way he moved up and down the keyboard provided an earthly imitation of the harmony of heaven.’ This rapturous description, provided by the abbot Filippo Piccinelli in his work L’Ateneo dei Letterati Milanesi (Milan, 1670), provides a good summary of all the biographical information available for the organist and composer Ottavio Bariolla.
Johann Gottfried Walther also provides us with commentary on the Milanese composer, noting under ‘Bariolla’ in his Musikalisches Lexikon (Leipzig, 1732): ‘an excellent composer and organist in Milan, at the church of Madonna di San Celso, who printed Ricercate per suonar d’Organo [t]here in 1585, and in 1594 printed Capricci or Canzoni aÌ 4, in 3 volumes.’ Bariolla’s fame was therefore not only alive and well over 100 years after his death, it had even spread beyond Italy.
The organist and organ builder Costanzo Antegnati, son of the renowned Graziadio Antegnati who built the organ for the church of Santa Barbara in Mantua played on this recording, bears witness to the fact that Bariolla was still alive in 1608, naming him in his Arte Organica (Brescia, 1608) as one of the many ‘illustrious and most excellent composers’ that inspired him to write his treatise.
The only copy currently known of Ottavio Bariolla’s Ricercate per sonar d’Organo (the original has been lost) is contained within the German organ tablature held in the Biblioteca Nazionale di Torino (Fondo Giordano 8). This tablature, which has been dated to between 1637 and 1640, was drawn up by scribes working in southern Germany and is the largest manuscript source of keyboard music, featuring an incredible 1770 compositions.
Bariolla was one of the first composers in the prime of the ricercar to break away from monothematic composition, preferring to use multiple themes in his Ricercate and therefore pre-empting the direction taken by his successors, including Giovanni Maria Trabaci, the best-known composer of the Neapolitan school, and Girolamo Frescobaldi.
All the compositions show a clear desire for originality, both in the choice of themes and in the texture of the music, which often achieves an astonishing density when various themes and their variations are employed simultaneously.
Little is known about the life of Ottavio Bariolla, not even his birth and death dates. He was active in Milan of the 16th century and was a respected and notable organist and composer. In 1619 Paolo Morigi writes in La Nobiltà di Milano: ‘The great Ottavio Bariolla, organist at the highly renowned church of La Madonna di San Celso, is still worthy of praise; he not only plays sweetly and proficiently, but is also praised by intelligent people for his compositions.’
This new recording presents Bariolla’s 12 Ricercares for organ, published in Milan in 1585. Bariolla was one of the first composers in the period when the ricercar was at its prime to break away from monothematic composition, preferring to use multiple themes in his Ricercate and thereby paving the way for his successors, notably Giovanni Maria Trabaci, the best-known composer of the Neapolitan school, and Girolamo Frescobaldi. All the compositions show a clear desire for originality, both in the choice of themes and in the texture of the music, which often achieves an astonishing density when various themes and their variations are employed simultaneously.
Silva Manfrè studied organ and organ composition at the Conservatory of Music in Verona (Italy) and at the University of Music and Performing Arts of Vienna (Austria) and Musicology at the Universities of Pavia and Vienna. Among her main interests are lesser known or rarely performed compositions of the Renaissance and the Baroque. She plays on the organ of the Palatine Basilica of Santa Barbara that was built by Graziadio Antegnati in 1565 according to the indications of Girolamo Cavazzoni, the specifications of which are included in the booklet.