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Gottfried Finger 
Sonatæ, Balletti scordati, Aria et variationes
Petr Wagner & Ensemble Tourbillon

  F1 0137   8595017413728   released 1/2005

His music is unlike any other for the viol, and, at long last it reveals Finger to be one of the greatest virtuosi of his era...  

play all Gotfried Finger - Petr Wagner 54:03
Sonata Secunda D dur - allegro 2:30
Sonata Secunda D dur - aria 2:38
Sonata Secunda D dur - adagio 3:07
Sonata Terza A dur - adagio 1:28
Sonata Terza A dur - allegro 1:05
Sonata Terza A dur - adagio 2:17
Sonata Terza A dur - allegro 0:57
Prelude e moll 1:31
Sonata Quarta d moll - adagio 1:20
Sonata Quarta d moll - allegro 1:38
Sonata Quarta d moll - adagio 2:24
Sonatina A dur - adagio 0:57
Sonatina A dur - allegro 1:32
Sonatina A dur - adagio 1:25
Sonatina A dur - chaconne 2:00
Aria et variationes D dur 3:03
Balletti scordati A dur - intrada 0:36
Balletti scordati A dur - allemande 1:48
Balletti scordati A dur - courante 1:40
Balletti scordati A dur - sarabande 3:27
Balletti scordati A dur - gavotte 0:41
Balletti scordati A dur - aria 2:09
Balletti scordati A dur - guige 1:04
Sonata Sesta a moll - adagio 1:48
Sonata Sesta a moll - aria 1:28
Sonata Sesta a moll - allegro 1:08
Sonata Sesta a moll - adagio 1:42
Sonata Sesta a moll - allegro 1:28
Sonatina d moll - toccatta 1:50
Sonatina d moll - allegro 3:08

Petr Wagner - viola da gamba

Ensemble Tourbillon
Natalia Sitarz - harpsichord, organ positive
Jan Krejča - theorbo, Baroque guitar
Přemysl Vacek - archlute
Robert Rawson - viola da gamba

was born into a vibrant artistic atmosphere in Olomouc, Moravia, during a turbulent period in the region’s history. The Czech historian Bohumír Dlabač claims that Finger came from Silesia, but the composer’s own Opus 1 (London, 1688) bears the inscription ‘Authore Godefrido Finger, Olmutio Moravo’. Despite the long-held assumption of some scholars that Finger was born c.1660 he must have been born sometime in the early to mid-1650s, since his music was already found in the hands of local scribes by the early 1670s. It is from the Bishop’s music collection at Kroměříž that the earliest pieces by Finger are preserved. He was almost certainly a viol player in the famous musical ensemble of Bishop’s Karl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno and Finger’s music for the viol reveals the influence of the formidable viol and violin virtuoso Heinrich Biber. Finger probably arrived in London in the mid-1680s and by 1687 he was a member of the Catholic Chapel Royal – one of the most prestigious musical positions in the country. The competition for such a position must have been immense and in the preface to his Opus 1 Finger wrote in his dedication that the King’s patronage would be ‘the safest protection against those donkeys and petty critics, at this I would have satisfied the greatest of my desires, and would have been lucky to obtain what others are often accustomed to seek by loquacious and importunate canvassing, but in vain’. Finger did not follow James II into exile in 1688, but remained in London and started a successful freelance career, composing music for over thirty-five stage productions including operas, masques, instrumental suites, songs, dialogues and choruses. In 1690 he published Six Sonatas or Solos (three for violin and three for recorder) – the first set of pieces for solo instrument and basso continuo ever to be published in Britain. In 1695 he wrote an ode Weep ye Muses on the sudden death of Henry Purcell and in the same year he was appointed to teach the viol at the proposed (but then abandoned) Royal Academy of Music. Finger’s success in England came to an unpleasant end when he came fourth in a competition in 1701 (the ‘Prize Musick’) to identify the best opera composer in London, where each contestant set Congreve’s libretto on The Judgement of Paris. The winner was the nineteen-year-old John Weldon, followed by John Eccles, Daniel Purcell, and Finger. According to Roger North, Finger was disgusted and declared that ‘he was to be judged by men and not by boys and thereupon left England for good’. In recounting the story later in the century, Oxford music professor Charles Burney (who himself travelled to the Bohemian Lands in a famous account) declared that Finger was ‘perhaps the best musician among the four’. Finger’s music for England continued to be reprinted and performed for decades after his return to the Continent. Finger arrived in Vienna in 1701, where he was apparently trying to further his opera career by organising a performance of Eccles’ setting of The Judgement of Paris (surely the first performance of English opera on the Continent). The next two decades were busy and productive, but almost no music survives from this time. In 1702 he was in Berlin in the service of the Queen of Prussia, Sophie Charlotte, and by 1706 he was in Breslau (today, Wrocław) in the service of Duke Karl Philipp of Neuberg, the younger brother of the Elector Palatine. He remained in Karl Philipp's service for the rest of his life; in 1707 he was a Kammermusiker in the Innsbruck Hofkapelle and rose to the position of Konzertmeister in 1708. He seems to have maintained this post when he followed the court to Neuberg an der Donau in 1717, to Heidelberg in 1718, and to Mannheim in 1720, where his expertise in handling a variety of instrumental forces helped lay the foundations for what would become the ‘Mannheim school’ made famous under Stamitz (Stamic). Throughout this later period Finger continued to travel widely and rub shoulders with many prominent composers of the age: Telemann saw him in Berlin, he collaborated with, among others, Johann David Heinichen (1683–1729), Jean Baptiste Volumier (c.1670–1728), Augustin Stricker (died after 1720, Bach’s predecessor at Cöthen), and on several occasions acted as joint godparent with Attilio Ariosti (1666–1729). The breadth and scope of Finger’s output is astonishing; he composed hundreds of works for a variety of instrumental permutations (often in pioneering ways), composed numerous comedies, dramas, singspiels and operas in English, Italian, and German, and probably visited every important European musical centre of his day. His name last appears on the court records in Mannheim in 1723 and he was buried there on 31 August 1730. Finger’s gamba music is typical of the Austro-Bohemian style, exemplified in the violin music of Schmelzer and Biber, among others. A common feature is the sort of patchwork design where the sections are sewn together by the ends of one section cadencing into the beginning of the next. Another prominent device is the opening flourish for the soloist over a drone bass, such as opens Sonata Secunda and the D minor Sonatina – a hallmark of the so-called stylus phantasticus. Several sonatas recorded here reveal a more clearly defined structure, showing something of the influence of the sonata da chiesa as well as the sonata da camera forms.

Identifying music by Finger has been a difficult task at times, since he often deliberately obscured his identity. In the 1960s the pioneering work by Arthur Marshall on Finger’s viol music identified an otherwise anonymous set of six gamba sonatas and in doing so he found two of the otherwise missing continuo parts; but for the sonatas Secunda, Terza and Sesta we have had to reconstruct them. The theme of the Sonata Terza is identical to one used in a trio sonata by Finger preserved in Brussels, and to our delight the continuo part worked for the opening section of the viola da gamba sonata. All of the pieces recorded here survive in Finger's own hand, except the Preludium (copied by Philip Falle), the Balletti scordati and the Sonatina in A major; the latter two copied by the English botanist and musical enthusiast James Sherard (1666-1738) in cooperation with Finger himself.
The Balletti scordati bears no title at all in the manuscript, nor does the opening movement, but we have adopted the titles from the common convention at Kroměříž and from similar works by Finger and his contemporaries. Likewise, there is no title on the autograph manuscript for the Aria et variationes. The latter work is probably one of the earliest pieces recorded here (from the early 1670s), while the Preludium in E-minor may be one of the latest (c.1700) and it is preserved in the large collection of viol music belonging to the viol-playing Philip Falle (1656-1742), Canon of Durham Cathedral. It is very curious to note that a violin version of Finger's Sonatina in D minor was included among Ignazio Albertini's (c.1644-85) XII Sonatinae (Vienna/Frankfurt: 1692). Finger's viola da gamba version is almost certainly the earlier of the two. Albertini‘s Sonatinae may have been composed as early as 1683, but Finger had already left Moravia by then and his surviving autograph of the piece was copied in England in the the early 1690s. Finger's Sonatina was most likely composed in Moravia in the 1670s and copies probably remained in circulation throughout the region when Albertini joined the elite band of musicians at the Imperial Court in Vienna in the early 1680s. Albertini was himself a fine virtuoso and, it seems, something of a flamboyant character – Schmelzer had felt it necessary to apologise to the Bishop of Olomouc for his behaviour. Albertini made some rather bizarre and often meandering additions to Finger's piece and compromised the idiomatic writing for the viola da gamba.

The opening flourish over a tonic pedal in the Sonata Secunda (a stock in trade device of the Austro-Bohemian style) owes much to the violin sonatas of Biber. This is followed by short, lyrical adagios that are repeatedly interrupted by effusive, virtuosic passagework. The ensuing aria with variations is one of Finger’s favourite tunes, and can be found in two other pieces on this recording. A somewhat agitated and melancholy adagio follows in the relative minor, only for the brightness of the opening bars to return for the two final triple-time dance-like sections. It stands in emotional and structural contrast to the tunefully elegant and Italianate Sonatina in A major. The solo Preludium in E minor is probably one of the latest works recorded here, and may have formed part of a lost suite. It shows the influences of English preludes for the viol, those of Christopher Simpson and William Young in particular, and it has an improvisatory flow about it. The opening theme of the Sonata Quarta is a reworking of the main theme from his still earlier Sonata Augustiniana for two viols, so perhaps the set represents music from Moravia as well as England. The opening adagio and subsequent allegro are rare moments of imitative counterpoint in Finger’s music for solo viol with continuo; in fact the independence of the continuo part asserts itself again in the final melancholy bars. This is a remarkable piece of great sophistication, demonstrating, perhaps better than any other of Finger’s gamba sonatas, his mastery of idiomatic writing for the viol and well as excellent judgement and form – it is close to the heart of many modern viol players. The Aria et variatio is one of Finger’s earliest surviving works and it is based on a melody that Finger would revisit many times (also heard in the Sonatina in A and in the Sonata Secunda). The variations reveal an astonishing level of virtuosity as well as preserving early evidence of Finger’s trademark writing for the viol: cantilena in the highest register of the instrument, thick-textured and guitar-like chordal writing, as well as rapid arpeggiation throughout the range of the instrument. The Balletti scordati is typical of the sonata da camera of Biber, Schmelzer, and other central European composers; and the opening Intrada is a giveaway to these origins. Another Austro-Bohemian trait is the use of scordatura, by which the player retunes the instrument and the notation only tells the player where to place his fingers. Although this requires some mental gymnastics, the result is a beautiful and resonant sonority. Unlike Biber, Finger was much more in tune with the French style and this suite is a testament to his absorption of certain French dances and traits. There is curious feature in the slow penultimate movement (adagio) where the grave and serious mood is interrupted by a rather rowdy folk dance (presto), as if a group of revelling peasants had stumbled into a sombre courtly gathering – such juxtapositions often caught the imagination of central European composers (such as Schmelzer’s Dudelsack sonata and Biber’s Die Pauern-Kirchfahrt genannt). The Sonata Sesta is probably one of Finger’s most restrained works, revealing clearer structures and simpler melodic invention. The opening thematic material evolves rather organically from a rising a-minor triad and the lucidity and vigour of the first section of the work is contrasted with the rather odd chromatic, rhetorical slow movement. It has some structural similarities to the clearly defined sections of the Sonata Terza, and reveals strong Italian influences in terms of form. The long passages of running semiquavers are evidence of the newer Italian style championed by Corelli. The difference in form and style between the Sonatina in D minor and, say, the Sonata Terza suggest that this is a much earlier work. Again, there are opening flourishes over a tonic pedal (this time in the minor), and after the intervening aria the contrasting sections are sewn together, sometimes by the continuo alone (another favourite device of Finger). There is a stormy quality about the piece that comes to a head in the final restless and prolonged plagal cadence that only finds solace in the ultimate Tierce de Picardie – the final plagal cadence is not often found in central European works and only used by Vejvanovský in works of rare gravity. Curiously, Finger never published any solo gamba music, but rather he seems to have kept it for his own performance. Unlike much of the music he published for the amateur music market, his music for the viol is often very personal and emotionally exaggerated; ranging from the musing and mournful to the folksy and exuberant dance-like music of his native Moravia. Finger’s viol music reveals an informed and ambitious musical mind with a tendency to include and reuse his own ideas as well as folk songs and popular arias. Olomouc must have remained close to his heart since, among other pseudonyms, Finger used ‘Msr Hannak’. His music is unlike any other for the viol, and, at long last it reveals him to be one of the greatest virtuosi of his era.

Robet Rawson

© Studio Svengali, April 2024
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