A Flamboyant Sonata from an Italian Mad Head

Bach BWV 529-1
© Charles Thibo

There’s nothing like a good book plenty of things I didn’t know yet. The biography on Luigi Boccherini I recently read is such a book. First of all it makes an excellent read on a sunny autumn day – I know I am obsessed by sunny autumn days. Second I learnt an awful lot of details about Boccherini’s interesting life in Europe’s cultural capitals. And finally I discovered a whole range of Italian composers, contemporaries of Boccherini, that I had never heard of before. Composers like Francesco Maria Veracini, who composed the Sonata in B-Flat Major No. 2 which I will present today.

Veracini lived from 1690 to 1768 and rose to fame both as a composer and a violinist. The English music writer Charles Burney (1726-1814), actually the first blogger on classical music, wrote that “he [Veracini] had certainly a great share of whim and caprice, but he built his freaks on a good foundation, being an excellent contrapuntist”. Burley also noted that Veracini was usually qualified with the title of “capo pazzo” (mad head). With a chronicler like that, you have your reputation made all over Europe!

It is true that the composer picked a number of (verbal) fights with fellow musicians after he had been appointed to the Saxonian court in Dresden. He had moved to Dresden in 1717 after a first series of concerts in Venice. The Saxonian court however proved to be a vipers’ nest, mutual jealousy among several eminent musicians being the main reason.  Apparently Veracini leapt out of a third-storey window after either a dispute or in a fit of madness due to overwork and too much reading og alchemy. In 1723 he moved back to his native town Florence.

Sonata in B-Flat Major No. 2 was published along with eleven others in 1744 under the title “Sonate accademiche”, Veracini’s op. 2. By then Veracini had moved to London where he produced a number of operas and gave numerous concerts. He dedicated the collection to Augustus III, the Elector of Saxony, possibly in hope of a renewed appointment at the Dresden court. Oxford Music Online explains the title: “[It] suggests that the sonatas were of the sort to be played at private concerts (accademie in Florentine parlance) rather than in theatre, church or chamber; they are not academic in the modern English sense.” Burney seems to have heard them when he attended one of Veracini’s concerts in 1745. It was his last concert in London  since Burney reported that shortly after it the composer was shipwrecked crossing the Channel.

The sonata has four movements: I. Polonese. Tempo giusto II. Largo, e staccato III. Capriccio Terzo, con due soggetti. Allegro, e grandioso IV. Aria schiavona. Tempo comodo The title of the movements gives you an idea about the allure of the work. It is follows the rule fast-slow-fast-slow and  has at times a flamboyant flavour, at others it is more dance-like. Perhaps an allusion to the composer’s very special character? E un Italiano, dopotutto! The musical language follows the fashion of the time, it reminds much of Boccherini and Carl Stamitz.

Veracini’s piece, just like the rest of op. 2, is wonderful to accompany through a, right, a sunny autumn afternoon. This said, it works in rainy days too as it is simply wonderful music. The collection “Sonate accademiche” has been recorded by the Locatelli Trio.

© Charles Thibo

My apologies to Johann Sebastian Bach who was scheduled for this post. His Sonata IV in C (BWV 529) did not inspire me at all and Veracini was a serious competitor, hence the change of plan. Music promotion is a cruel business.

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de Chareli

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2 thoughts on “A Flamboyant Sonata from an Italian Mad Head”

  1. I love Veracini. I have a recording of his violin sonatas by the wonderful Riccardo Minasi and Musica Antiqua Roma. And the illustration on the CD box is fun.

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