Born in Bologna, Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632–1692) spent all his life between his birth city and Modena, where he moved in 1674. There is something noteworthy in this geography of the composer: Vitali’s move from Bologna, then part of the Papal States under the administration of Rome, to the smaller but significantly more secular and artistically stimulating Modena, under the rule of the splendid Este family, is suggestive of a desire to achieve greater expressive freedom. All composers must tackle the dilemmas of their times, and Vitali’s legacy is his ability to use his great skill to achieve that ideal synthesis between tradition and innovation.
Artificii Musicali (Modena, 1689) has given Vitali a respectable place in music history, particularly if one considers the oft supposed idea that it served as inspiration for J.S. Bach’s Musical Offering, J. Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum (1725) and G.B. Martini’s Saggio Fondamentale Pratico di Contrappunto sopra il Canto Fermo (1774). Vitali’s Artificii Musicali appeared at a historical crossroad, during the final decades of the 17th century, when there was an explosive rise in instrumental music. The sprout of creative freedom for composers of instrumentalmusic was immensely liberating, as the previous generations of musicians were often limited in their artistic endeavors by the rigid structures of choral polyphony or the madrigal form. Artificii Musicali is a unique pedagogical music handbook, a theoretic treatise of canonic science, and ultimately a testament to the originality and genius of its author.
There are 40 canons in this work and interspersed among them there are 4 that can be classified as riddle-canons or enigma-canons. These intriguing pieces are accompanied by a brief Latin motto containing the key for their realization, which is left to the reader to decipher (of note, Bach also included two riddle-canons with Latin mottos in the Musical Offering). The final 9 pieces in the Artificii are an eclectic collection of balletti, capricci, a passagallo, and 2 violin sonatas, representative of the main forms of instrumental music at the end of the 17th century. Although Artificii was originally written for violin and bass, Andrea Coen performs here on a harpsichord, and furthermore a harpsichord in equal temperament. Such a choice is not the result of simplification or trivialisation, but is based on confirmed historical evidence reportedby Patrizio Barbieri: 'For the entire fifty years in the middle of the 17th century, concrete attempts were made in Europe to tune harpsichords, organs and harps no longer with the usual mesotonic, but with equal temperament'. Furthermore, the recording choices on this album were of tantamount importance, and Riccardo Cimino has shaped and spatialized the sounds with great musical sensitivity and powerful sound engineering. The finalisation of the recording in Dolby Atmos gives many possible ways of listening to the Artificii, depending on the chosen media: from the three-dimensional Atmos music audio down to a binaural stereo. This, compared to traditional stereo, presents much greater depth.
· Recorded June 2022 in Rome
· Booklet in English contains liner notes by Giuseppe Gullo, Andrea Coen and Riccardo Cimino
· Harpsichord by Giulio Fratini, 2012, after the original instrument by Ignazio Mucciardi, Tagliavini Collection, Bologna. A = 415 Hz, temperament: equal
· Born in Bologna on 18 February 1632, Giovanni Battista Vitali (d. 1692) was one of the most outstanding composers of his generation. Rising to become sotto maestro di cappella at the court of the music-loving Duke Francesco II d’Este in 1674, the Italian’s output ranges from cantatas and oratorios to various instrumental works.
· The Artificii Musicali Op.13 (1689) is one of the most comprehensive studies of counterpoint before Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge and Musicalisches Opfer. The sixty pieces are an impressive display of contrapuntal technique for a variety of scorings, arranged in order of increasing difficulty. The collection contains canons for two to twelve voices, many incorporating additional compositional devices (e.g., canon 25. Canon à 2, at the fifth above, which ascends a step on repeating). Vitali also employs similar compositional devices in the non-canonic pieces in the collection – for example, a balletto in three different meters simultaneously, a passacaglia which modulates from E flat major to E major through the cycle of fifths, and another Balletto for two treble instruments which has one line written in G and the other in F.
· The present recording is unique in that everything is performed only with one harpsichord, artfully multiplied by working in multitrack and using other sophisticated technological 'artifices' in order to do justice to the fascinating and complex nature of this work. For this the artist collaborated with one of the major Italian sound designers, Riccardo Cimino, who, besides being a composer and guitarist, owns a studio equipped with cutting-edge technologies of the highest level, including "ambisonics".
· Andrea Coen is an organist, harpsichordist, and fortepianist, who has studied with such distinguished artists as Ton Koopman and Alan Curtis, and has collaborated with such figures as Christopher Hogwood and Monica Huggett. His recordings of Baroque and early-Classical keyboard repertoire for Brilliant Classics have attracted glowing reviews. Coen recorded the “Kleine Kammermusik” (BC 95683) and made the first complete recording of Telemann’s “100 Menuets” (BC 96249) and Telemann’s Fantasias (94228). According to MusicWeb International: ‘Coen, an experienced, insightful instrumentalist with a profound knowledge of historical performance practice and a sackful of important recordings under his belt, could make Telemann sound special even on a typewriter.’