The Bossi Urbani organ dates back to 1882 and was made in a historical period characterised by the renewed need for severity and deepness in sacred music. At the time, both aspects were conveyed into the cultural movement which we now refer to – maybe by using an excessively generic expression – as the Cecilian reform, the effects of which concerned both music and organs. The instrument made for the San Giorgio in Sopramuro oratory appears to maintain strong roots in the glorious Lombard tradition, presenting a fonical disposition that could have well been planned many years earlier. However, the shape of this manufact reveals not only great expertise and taste in its structural characteristics and in the perfect balance of the phonic components, but also shows the signs of a new era. The keys resemble those of a late 19th century piano (obviously still far from a modern one), whilst the Cornets – previously typical in the phonic disposition of similarly sized instruments – are substituted by the reeds Violoncello 4’ Bassi and Clarinetto 16’ Soprani. Even the order of the so-called “concert stops” cuffs shows slight but meaningful changes: the Fagotto is followed by the Violoncello instead of the Tromba, whereas the Viola Bassi remains, but is separated from the Flauto Traversiere by the Flauto 4’ Soprani, placed between them. The repertoire I have chosen for this registration draws from the production of composers born in Emilia Romagna, with the exception of Father Davide da Bergamo, for whom Piacenza became the town of adoption. The concert no. IX from the Opera no. 6 by Arcangelo Corelli (born in Fusignano in 1653, deceased in Rome in 1713) was transcribed by the English musician Thomas Billington for “Organ, Harpsichord and Forte Piano”, as we can read on the title page of the London edition, probably printed around 1790. In Billington’s style we find the influence of the typical English Voluntaries writing, which inspired me for the performance of the Gavotta, enhancing the contrast between piano and forte through the alternation of Ottavino and the Tromba Soprani. The ouverture has been left to the brilliant fullness of the Ripieno, whilst the other movements reveal the neat sonority of the Principale and the Ottava, along with the softer sound of the Flutes. The extracts of the E minor Sonata, op. 2 no. 7, by Giovanni Battista Martini (1706-1784) differ clearly from the most famous compositions of the Bolognese clergyman, with their light and pleasant character. In these sonatas, on the contrary, Martini fully displays his sense and knowledge of composition, drawing inspiration in some way from Johann Sebastian Bach’s keyboard works. It’s almost impossible, for instance, not to revise the style of the two-voice Invention in the serious dialogue of the Prelude, or the harmonic style of an English Suite in the tight counterpoint of the Allegro. The last piece is an Air presenting four variations, which I decided to follow with a non written da capo, quite typical at the time. The figure of Ferdinando Provesi from Busseto (1770-1833) is strongly linked to the much more celebrated fame of his pupil, Giuseppe Verdi. In this C major Simphony, however, he succeeds in outlining the features of a perfect opera symphony, ideally transferred to the organ, thus creating a model for many similar compositions that were written in the first half of the Italian 19th Century. The theatralism of the music can be immediately perceived in the opening, which impresses for its simplicity and effectiveness; not to mention the ending, with its typical crescendo, or the Rossini flavour of the second theme, which I assigned to the Ottavino, imagining the colours of the orchestra at that time. A composer who can be indissolubly linked to a peculiar type of organ is Father Davide da Bergamo (i.e. Felice Moretti, 1791-1863). His bond with the Serassi models has left us a perfect repertoire for these instruments, perfectly recognizable in its traits, often very agreeable and presenting a considerable freshness of creativity. The G major Elevation in sol maggiore is almost Mozartian in its absorbed cantabile features. The refined sound filigree of the melody is committed to the wonderful “talking” sound of the Flauto Traversiere – it is a harmonic flute – is delicately accompanied by the sole Viola Bassi. On the contrary, the F major Suonatina is a composition presenting a double liturgical destination, both for the Offertorium or the Postcommunion.
Here we find the unmistakable style of Father Davide: two peremptory chords introduce a very lively motto, requiring the movement of both hands in unison and producing a performance that mixes – to use an orchestral term – the woodwinds and the piccolo with the strings, effectively reproduced by the registri di fondo. In the central part, a more cantabile theme is left to the Clarinet, whilst the Bells enlighten the repeated thirds. A further theme of great spirit reveals itself twice, alternating with repeated octaves that are typical of the contemporary piano literature, before leaving the scene to the usual tight finale. A vast literature has been left to us by Gerolamo Barbieri from Piacenza (1808-1871). I have chosen from his collection of Sixteeen Sonatas two compositions that could represent two antithetical but complementary characteristics of this interesting author, whose writing reveals a constant research of new technical and expressive schemes. In the G minor Sonata XIV, what dominates the piece is the moving aspect. An imperious unison immediately underlines the seriousness of the introduction, which continues with intense echo effects and repeated chords that enhance its expressive tension. A cantabile theme, almost a Siciliana, appears soon after, leading to a brilliant cadenza originating from the peculiar itinerary linking close tonalities; the piece is then sealed by the reprise of the introduction. The registration has been indicated by the instrument itself: the left hand playing the piano enhances the sound of the Principale Bassi (mainly in facciata), whilst the right hand sings with the Flauto Traversiere entwined to the Flauto 4’ Soprani, without compromising its balance. Completely different is the Rondino: liveliness, brio and eccentricity dominate this piece. However, also here the author avoids to give any indication regarding the registers, limiting himself to generical dynamic suggestions of piano and forte. The rich sound equipment of the Italian 19th Century organ offers all that is necessary to reproduce in the best possible way the taste of a piece like this one. The main theme is led by the Ottavino (together with the Flauto Traversiere), classically supported by the Viola in its union with the Ottava Bassi, whilst the reeds effectively reproduce the sharp sound of the ribattuti chords. We also have the opportunity of a dialogue between the Fagotto Bassi and the Clarinetto 16’ Soprani, with those typical orchestral effects that give an even more peculiar colour to the writing. Towards the finale, the tones create an effect of great phonic richness, but just before the gripping finale oddity returns on the tip of Barbieri’s pen, creating remarkable modulations that give a further touch of eccentricity to the piece. Not much is known about the life of Antonio Diana from Bologna (?-1862), although some critics have indicated in his name a pseudonym for Giuseppe Verdi. The E minor Elevation is explicitly destined to the stops of the Principali entwined to the Voce Umana (the so called “hunam voice” stop), following a tradition that associates this peculiar colour of sound to a crucial moment of the Catholic Mass. The E minor key gives great intensity to the piece, which is soon conveyed towards the relative G major key, clearly drawing from a certain piano literature in the richness of the chords doubled by both hands; a counterpoint then leads to the reprise of the initial theme, which fades out in a very intimate closure. The Polonese was usually played, in the liturgy of that time, at the end of the Mass. A serious introduction has the function to prepare with dignity the proper Polonese, which presents an unmistakable rythmic and melodical profile. Following is a Trio (Diana also describes it as “Pastorale”), in which the author himself indicates the use of Campanelli (little bells). The Polonese is then back again, enthralling the audience in an overwhelming finale, which exploits all the resources of the Bossi Urbani: the Ottavino and the Rollante join the complete Ripieno and the Reeds, not to mention the insertion in the last bars of the Terza Mano (third hand), a mechanical artifix also known as “the Movement that doubles the harmony”. Enrico Viccardi Traduzione di Elisabetta Morni