Saturday, 17 September 2016


“The violin sings.” - Joshua Bell

Ignazio Albertini was born, probably in Milan, around 1644. The first preserved document that mentions him is a letter from composer Johann Schmelzer to the Prince-Bishop Olmuca where it is mentioned that Albertini was prized as a violinist, although prone to “bad behaviour”. Albertini was supposedly murdered in Vienna in 1685, at the time he was a musician in the court of the Empress-mother Eleonore Gonzaga, who was a great patron of musicians. In the Austrian capital Albertini belonged to a circle of selected soloists who have been linked to the Habsburg court, and we can we conclude this from his close relationship with Schmelzer, the leading composer in Vienna at that time.

To date, the only known works by Albertini are violin sonatas, which have come down to us in  the collection printed in 1686 in Frankfurt, seven years after the composer’s death. The only remaining copy is now kept in the National Library of France in Paris. Belonging to a long line of violin sonatas published in the second half of the seventeenth century, Albertini’s compositions have some original characteristics, but in terms of musical language, the composer shows a clear blend of Italian style and violin virtuosity characteristic of the German cultural space.

Albertini’s sonatas are multi-sectional pieces, quite varied in content and structure, and all of the highest quality. Some idea of the rich variety of forms found in the “Sonatinae” may be gleaned from the following examples: Sonata IX is a passacaglia in which the main theme is presented as a canon at the fifth in the first and the last sections; and statements of the ostinato sometimes overlap with formal sections of the sonata. Sonata XII, the last in the cycle, consists entirely of imitative movements, unlike other sonatas, in which imitative movements are either absent or are surrounded by free sections, such as slow lyrical arias, toccata-like movements with rapid passagework over sustained bass notes, etc. Albertini’s sonatas are very demanding technically, with frequent instances of difficult fast passages, leaps, sudden changes of register and, particularly in the last sonata, double stopping.

The sonatas are also somewhat reminiscent of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (12 August 1644 (baptised) – 3 May 1704) who was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. No doubt, these two composers knew of each other’s work (if not personally acquainted with one another).

Little else is known of Albertini’s life (and quite tantalisingly little of his murder by stabbing). One can still enjoy listening to his violin sonatas, here performed by Hélène Schmitt with Jörg-Andreas Bötticher, Karl-Ernst Schröder and David Sinclair on various continuo instruments. There’s poise and grace in Schmitt’s performances, as well elevated lyricism. But most of all there’s passion: A passionate intensity of line, a passionate concentration of tone, a passionate brilliance of color, a passionate love of this fiercely expressive and violently beautiful music. Schmitt’s trio of continuo players are sympathetic players and each gets his/her own sweet solo Prelude or Toccatina interspersed with Schmitt’s Sonatas.

1 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 1 in D minor (8:06)
2 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 2 in F major (5:50)
3 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 3 in B minor (5:56)
4 Prelude (3:56)
5 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 4 in C minor (6:35)
6 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 5 in A major (6:51)
7 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 7 in A minor (6:52)
8 Toccata (4:28)
9 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 8 in D minor (7:04)
10 Prelude (0:54)
11 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 10 in E minor (8:16)
12 Toccata No 5 for keyboard (2:49)
13 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 11 in G minor (5:20)
14 Sonata for violin & continuo No. 12 in A minor (4:46)

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