Further Listening – Close Encounters … of the Italian kind

by Lucas Harris, lute/guitar

If you enjoyed our concert program Close Encounters … of the Italian kind, featuring Patricia Ahern and Christopher on violin, Stefano Marcocchi on viola, Felix Deak on violoncello, and myself on lute and guitar, I encourage you to explore some of the following:

We played Antonio Vivaldi’s Ciaconna from Concerto in C Major, RV 114. But the Ciaccona was a bass line or harmonic pattern that nearly every baroque composer used somewhere! One of the most famous ones is Monteverdi’s Zefiro torna for two tenors and continuo. Check out the first recording I heard of this piece by the group Tragicomedia in its older formation from the early 1990s.

In fact, an even earlier style of this “ground bass” comes from Spain (and in fact maybe from the New World originally). Spanish musicians loved to set risqué texts about dancing the “chacona,” often rhyming the word with “vida bona” (the good life).  Once my wife (Tafelmusik violinist Geneviève Gilardeau) and I created a concert about the evolution of the ciaccona called “The Secret of the Good Life: The Ciaccona’s Dance to Fame.” (We also have a dog named Ciaccona.) Check out Juan Arañés Un Sarao de la Chacona here. Note that it was illegal to dance the chacona according to the Inquisition, but people did it anyway.

Emilia Giuliani was an illegitimate daughter of the more famous Mauro Giuliani, the most notable guitarist in Beethoven’s Vienna. Mauro tried to cash in on the huge popularity for Italian opera by writing virtuosic guitar pieces based on melodies from Rossini operas, calling them “Rossiniane.” Here’s Julian Bream playing one of them.

Emilia followed her father’s example and wrote several pieces in the same vein, but using material from operas by Bellini, calling them “Belliniane.” Here’s the Italian guitarist Federica Artuso playing one of them on a period guitar.

It’s well known that some of Luigi Boccherini’s music has the influence of Spanish music, as he lived and worked in Madrid. He wrote about a dozen quintets for strings and guitar, and we played three movements from #7 in E Minor. The most famous of these quintets is #4 in D Major, which ends with a fandango, another Spanish dance. Here is a recording by La Real Cámara in which performers take the liberty of using a separate percussionist in order to have the castanet sound in more of the work.

Boccherini’s score asks the cellist to drop out for a few bars to play the castanets at one point (presumably this was the part Boccherini himself played—the cello part is extremely virtuosic). This performance takes the liberty of using a separate percussionist in order to have the castanet sound in more of the work. It is also notable that this performance uses a six-course double strung Spanish guitar (there is some controversy over whether Boccherini intended the guitar parts for such an instrument or for a single-strung instrument which would have been more prevalent in France at this time).

Finally, we finished the concert with Francesco Geminiani’s orchestral reworking of Archangelo Corelli’s variations on La Follia for solo violin and continuo. Have a listen to Corelli’s original here in a recording that influenced me when I first starting to play early instruments.

The follia is yet another chord pattern for the Spanish guitar which the Italians and others took up as a common framework for virtuosic variations into the eighteenth century. But like the ciaccona, the follia has roots from much earlier. In the seventeenth century, Spanish instrumentalists improvised passagework (called “diferentias” or “glosas”) over repeating chord patterns. Fortunately for us today, they occasionally would publish some of this kind of passagework to give an example of how it was done. Have a listen to Andrew Lawrence King and The Harp Consort playing their arrangement of a follia for harp by Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz.


You can watch and listen to all of the music on our YouTube channel at youtube.com/tafelmusik1979 in the playlist titled Further Listening – Close Encounters … of the Italian kind.

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