The two versions of the Toccate e partite appear to have exhausted momentarily Frescobaldi’s energies as a keyboard composer. After 1616 he published nothing new except a few fugitive vocal pieces until the appearance of the twelve Capricci fatti sopra diversi soggetti, et arie in partitura issued in 1624 by the Roman printer Luca Antonio Soldi, one of Soldi’s last volumes. The development of the Capricci from Frescobaldi’s previous contrapuntal works is evident in his observation that “In these compositions titled Capricci, I have not maintained as easy a style as in my Ricercari” (“In questi componimenti intitolati Capricci, non hò tenuto stile Cosi facile come nei miei Ricercari”).
The designation “capriccio” permitted Frescobaldi the unrestricted exercise of his personal fantasy, since it had been attached to almost every category of keyboard composition.1 The earliest use of “capriccio” in a musical context was the Primo, secondo e terzo libro del capriccio di Iachetto Berchem …. (Venice: Gardano, 1561), a set of madrigals on texts from Orlando furioso dedicated to Alfonso II d’Este. Vincenzo Ruffo’s instrumental Capricci à 3 of 1564 included a work on La Sol Fa Re Mi (transcribed in Stembridge 2015, 64-65). The theorist Pietro Pontio (1588) described a capriccioso style as the equivalent of fugato, a technique of presenting a theme in different ways. The capriccio and the canzona were equated in Ottavio Bariola’s Capricci overo canzoni of 1594. According to Stembridge (2015, viii, n. 21), Francesco Stivori’s Ricercari, Capricci et Canzoni à 4 (Venice, 1599) “contains the four earliest known printed pieces [individually] entitled ‘Capriccio.’”
The designation was applied to four pieces by Jean de Macque: a Capriccietto and a Capriccio sopra rè, fà, mi, sol, in the ms. London 30491 and a Capriccio sopra un sogetto and a Capriccio sopra tre sogetti in the later and more dubious ms. Naples 48. The Capriccietto, in keyboard partitura, is a short canzona-like work with successive points of imitation and a virtuosic flourish in the middle. The more extended Capriccio sopra rè, fà, mi, sol, in intavolatura, opens with a typically Neapolitan chordal passage in triple meter, in which the subject is concealed in the tenor. The work displays a variety of textures—note against note, note against figuration, wild coloratura—and passi doppi reminiscent of Frescobaldi.
Ex. 14.1. Macque, Capriccio sopra rè, fà, mi, sol: London 30491 a) fol. 25 b) fol. 26
By contrast, Banchieri’s Capriccio Capriccioso in the 1605 edition of L’organo suonarino is a short undecorated ricercar.
On the title pages of Andrea Gabrieli’s posthumously printed works the term Capriccio was applied to pieces as diverse as a a set of variations on the Passamezzo (1596) and a ricercar on the madrigal “Con lei foss’io” (1605). Trabaci and Mayone used the term generically for the contents of their collections, but the two capriccios in Trabaci’s 1603 volume (the only works in the four Neapolitan collections actually to bear the name) were treated as variation-canzonas.
In the only contemporary discussion of the capriccio, Michael Praetorius described “Capriccio or spontaneous fantasy” a a series of “fugues” that could employ “everything deemed acceptable in music—suspensions creating dissonances, proportions and so on.”2
Most of these varieties of capriccio appear in Frescobaldi’s collection. Nine of the twelve capriccios are composed on a subject identified in the title, and all of these are multisectional works resembling the canzona in structure. One of them, the “Capriccio sopra un soggetto,” is a variation-canzona in treatment as well as subject. The two capriccios whose obligo is a procedure rather than a subject, durezze (dissonances) and ligature al contrario (the resolution of dissonant suspensions upward rather than downward), instead resemble ricercars. The remaining capriccio, on Francesco Rasi’s “Aria Or che noi rimena in partite” (correctly “Hor ch’a noi rimena”) is a set of five variations that was deleted from subsequent editions of the collection. 3
Although in the Capricci Frescobaldi returned to the partitura format of his earlier works (partly for didactic reasons), the collection evinces a new softening of his contrapuntal writing through the figural resources of the toccatas and partite. His preface to the volume shows him still grappling with the central problem of the Toccate, the construction of coherent multisectional works whose components are governed by a variety of affetti:
Because the playing of these works could turn out for some people to be of great effort, seeing that they are of various tempi, & variations, as it also appears that the practice of the study of score is abandoned by many [,] I have wished to advise that in those things that would not seem ruled by the practice of counterpoint, one must first seek the affetto of the passage & the purpose of the Author for the delight of the ear & the manner that it is sought in playing. 4
Girolamo’s fears that the Capricci were discouragingly difficult were groundless: subsequently combined with the Recercari et canzoni, the book went through more editions in his lifetime than any of his other collections except the first volume of toccatas.
One reason for the popularity of the Capricci may have been the accessibility of its subjects, many of which had a long history in vocal and instrumental composition. The ascending hexachord, the subject of the first capriccio, and the motif La Sol Fa Re Mi of the fourth (famous from its use as the cantus firmus of a mass by Josquin Desprez) had been treated as the basis of polyphonic instrumental works as early as Giuliano Tiburtino’s three-part Fantasie, et recerchari of 15495, and “Lascia fare mi” continued to appear in the works of composers such as Vincenzo Ruffo (1564), Rocco Rodio (1575), and in the Bourdeney manuscript.
The Bassa Fiamenga and Spagnoletta, subjects of the fifth and sixth capriccios, were both familiar tunes from the Low Countries, perhaps reminiscences of Girolamo’s brief service there with Guido Bentivoglio. The Flemish Bass is derived from the second strain of a chanson of Claudin de Sermisy, “Au joly bois” (Paris, 1529). An additional section was added to form the “Almande Bruynsmedelijn,” which appeared first for four-part instrumental ensemble in Tillman Susato’s 1551 collection and then in a variety of prints: for cittern in Phalèse 1569 and Phalèse 1570, and for four-part instrumental ensemble in Mainerio, Venice, 1578 (= “Todescha”) and Phalèse 1583. A keyboard setting of Bruynsmedelijn appears in the Dublin Virginal manuscript (ca. 1570), and it was employed as the subject of the last of Ottavio Bariolla’s Capricci, overo canzoni … libro terzo (Milan: Tini, 1594/Bariolla 1986: “La tedesca”). A recently discovered Italian keyboard manuscript, Prontera 1, contains an incomplete Bassa Fiamenga del Stella of Scipione Stella, now revealed as a virtuoso keyboard performer and composer as well as the author of sacred works.6 Stella’ Bassa Fiamenga quotes the two phrases of the original tune, presenting them in all four voices.
Ex. 14.2. Scipione Stella, Bassa Fiamenga del Stella, ms. Prontera 1, from Fabris 2013
However, the “Bascia Fiammignia” that appears in Antonio Valente’s Intavolatura de Cimbalo of 1576 has nothing to do with Bruynsmedelijn.
The Spagnoletta tune, a variant of the Follia, according to Praetorius, “Was made in the Netherlands, and was rarely danced in France” (“Ist im Niederlande gemacht, und wird in Frankreich selten gedanzt”). The earliest known source is Fabritio Caroso’s dance manual Il Ballerino of 1581. The Spagnoletta was widely disseminated in simple manuscript versions and was also treated by composers as diverse as Giles Farnaby and Praetorius himself. It was regarded as an exemplar of the lascivious tunes forbidden in church and was reputed to induce dancing mania. The Ruggiero, the subject of the twelfth capriccio, was a bass-plus-harmonic pattern generally employed as the basis of variation-sets, as in Frescobaldi’s first book of toccatas, but it was also used as a ricercar subject by Trabaci in his 1603 collection. The vocal aria “Hor ch’a noi rimena” from Francesco Rasi’s Vaghezee di musica, 1608 resembles another northern tune, the Dutch student song More Palatino, also treated by Sweelinck.7
The choice of several of these subjects suggests the influence of the second volume of Lodovico Zacconi’s Prattica di musica, issued by Vincenti of Venice in 1622. Chapter 52, on composition, states that just as the first thing that singers learn is the hexachord, so the first subject of the novice composer is the “Obligo di dir sempre vt, re, mi, fa, sol, la,” and the subject given in the next chapter is the descending hexachord—the oblighi of Frescobaldi’s first two capricci. In chapters 67-68 Zacconi shows how a repeated ostinato may be combined with pre-existing materials. His first example is a single repeated note, the “sound of the bell” (“suono della Campana”); the second is “the song of the Cuckoo” (“il canto del Cu Cu,” transcribed by Zacconi as a falling whole tone rather than the descending minor third of Frescobaldi’s capriccio “sopra il Cucho”: see Darbellay 2007).
Concerning tempo and mensuration in the Capricci Frescobaldi wrote in a preface addressed significantly not to “the Reader,” but to “The Students of the Work”:
The beginnings must be begun slowly to give greater spirit and beauty to the following section & the Cadences [must be] sustained greatly before beginning the other section, and in the triplas, or sesquialteras, if they are major, let them be taken adagio, if minor somewhat more allegro, if of three semiminims, more allegro [;] if they are six for four let their tempo be given making the beat move more rapidly. 8
The triple sections in the Capricci occur in a variety of mensurations—trippole, o sesquialtere … maggiori… adagio: O.3, 03/1, 3, ¢3; minore alquanto piu allegre … 3; se di tre semiminime più allegre … 3, 3; sei per quattro 3, 6/4.
In the triple sections notation thus indicates tempo. Sesquialtera maggiore, notated in half and whole notes, is performed “adagio.” Sesquialtera minore, written in whole and half notes, is “somewhat faster,” and a measure of three quarters, the smallest note values, is performed the fastest of all. The signature 6/4—new six in the time of the preceding four in C—is proportional since it is cancelled by the indication 4/6 (as 12/8 is cancelled by 8/12 in the Toccate); 4/6 can also equal a return to the basic C after a triple episode. Black notation indicates a faster tempo.
The proportions between C and triple mensurations are given in Stembridge 2015 (N.B.: in all triple mensurations groups of six may be divided 3 x 3 or 2 x 2 x 2). Sesquialtera maggiore: O.3, two whole notes in C = three whole notes; O3/1, one whole note in C = three whole notes (3 = a return to O3/1 after C); ¢3 in black notation, C = ¢3 black whole = quarter note in C; sesquialtera minore: 3, a whole note in C = three half notes.
The multi-sectional capriccios (I-VI, X-XII), with the exception of the variation-set “Or che noi rimena” (VII), all begin and end in C, and at least a measure of C serves as a kind of plaque tournante for each change of meter, since all of the ternary mensurations are referred to the underlying C tactus. For example, in Capriccio VI on the Spagnoletta, mm. 84-92 a section in C (four half-note measures) is followed by one in 3: whole note in C = three halves in 3; a single measure of C (two halves) is followed by 3 in black notation, returning eventually to C:
Ex. 14.3. Spagnoletta, metric structure of mm. 84-92
There are two variants of the mensuration C having divergent Notenbilder. At the beginning of each capriccio the measures are barred in two whole-note units and the pulse is four halves, each divided only into two quarters, “long” C (this holds also for the mono-sectional Capricci VIII and IX). In “short” C the measure may be either of one or of two whole-notes in length, the pulse is in subdivided halves, and the surface motion is in eighths with sixteenth subdivisions. These opening duple sections of the capricci are to be taken “adagio to give greater spirit and charm to the following passage” (“adagio a dar maggior spirito e vaghezza al seguente passo”) proposes that the note-values of the opening section be doubled by comparison with those of the following duple passages. Etienne Darbellay has advocated a variable duple tactus in which passages barred in breves in C and notated in a white Notenbild (“long” C), notably the opening sections of the capricci, indicate a rather fast semibreve tactus but a relatively slow tempo, while passages barred in semibreves and featuring sixteenth-notes (“short” C) denote a slow minim tactus but a fast tempo. 9
The first two of Frescobaldi’s capriccios recall Luzzaschi’s ricercars in Il Transilvano, since the ascending hexachord of the first is reversed to form the subject of the second, and the two pieces are further complementary in that contrasting hexachords (descending in the first, ascending in the second) appear as prominent countersubjects. Both works are typical of the Capricci as a whole in infusing the contrapuntal rigor and resourcefulness of the fantasias and ricercars with the freer keyboard figuration of the toccatas and canzonas. Like the other sectional capriccios, the two hexachord capricci begin with a ricercar-like passage in duple meter whose straightforward counterpoint moves in a half-note pulse with quarter subdivisions and ends with a clear cadence. Duple and triple sections follow in fairly regular alternation, cadencing usually on the tonic or dominant and ending—again like all the sectional capricci—with an extended duple passage highly saturated with the subject of the work.
The first capriccio is typical of the entire set in its profusion of sophisticated contrapuntal devices: diminution and ostinato (mm. 24-30), inversion (mm. 63-67, T, B, mm. 95-113), and chromatic inflection (mm. 95-113). These are balanced by free toccata-like flourishes at cadences (mm. 84-86). Throughout the volume, however, the technical achievement of the contrapuntal writing never obscures an infectious sense of sheer fun as the music emerges under the player’s fingers, “the ingenious jesting of Art” (“lo scherzo ingegnoso dell’Arte”) as a later composer called it, as well as the “profound Understanding” (“profondo Intendimento”) that he disclaimed.
Three of the capriccios are based on ostinato treatment of their subjects: III and IV, on the cuckoo and La Sol Fa Re Mi, and X, with the obligo of singing the fifth part. In the capriccio on the cuckoo the soprano part consists of nothing but the cuckoo-call, the falling third D-B; third-derived material abounds in the countersubjects as well (mm. 1-2, 24-25, 38, 78-79, 87-88, 142-143). Although the ostinato would tend to encourage V-I cadences in G, Frescobaldi displays considerable ingenuity in avoiding these (cf. mm. 35-36, 54-55, 111-112). As in the Ricercar sesto, the partitura format makes the ostinato clear:
Ex. 14.4. Capriccio sopra il Chucho [!], mm. 144-65
By contrast, the companion capriccio on La Sol Fa Re Mi not only presents the subject repeatedly in the soprano but also in every other part, with an insistence reminiscent of the Fantasie. Unlike the capriccio on the cuckoo, Frescobaldi’s treatment of this motif conceals rather than emphasizes the material through rhythmic transformation:
Ex. 14.5 Capriccio on La Sol Fa Re Mi, a) mm. 32-51 b) mm. 87-103 c) mm. 112-22
The third ostinato capriccio has an obligo apparently without precedent in keyboard music: “Capriccio [with the] Obligo of singing the Fifth part, without playing it, always with the Obligo of the written Subject. If you wish.” (“Capricci [!] Obligo di cantare la Quinta parte, senza toccarla, sempre di Obligio [!] del Sogetto scritto. Si placet.”) The subject on which the capriccio is written is given at the beginning. Where the first hexachord syllable of the theme, re, is indicated in the tenor part, the player may sing the subject as a fifth voice on either the natural or hard hexachords. In a fashion that recalls Monteverdi’s Sonata sopra Sancta Maria Ora pro Nobis in the 1610 vespers this ostinato is superposed on a canzona-like structure with alternations of duple and triple meter, toccata-like cadences, and extensive variation of the initial motif. (Only the intavolatura version of Darbellay 1984 resolves the ostinato puzzle in the text of the capriccio.)
The Capriccio sopra un sogetto is a variation canzona. An extended section (mm. 37-52) presents the typical canzona subject against a sustained burst of toccata-like figuration, the most extensive of the Capricci except for the finale of the Ruggiero. At m. 53 a countersubject is introduced against the subject in augmentation. The simplified canzona theme is transformed at m. 78 into a faster sesquialtera maggiore in black notation (Stembridge 2015, xiv). A stretto in mm. 88ff. presents the subject in inversion against its original. In the final section, mm.101-13, the theme is spelled chromatically (a technique already employed in Fantasia II) against a motive derived from the expansion of the theme against itself in augmentation:
Ex. 14.6 Capriccio sopra un sogetto, mm. 92-113
The materials of the capriccios on the Bassa Fiamenga, Spagnoletta, and Ruggiero differ from the previous in that they all have some built-in outline, either a melody-bass structure or a rhythmic pattern as well as a pitch sequence. In the Capriccio on the Bassa Fiammenga, Frescobaldi takes from the Alamanda Bruynsmedlijn only the two strongly-profiled phrases of Sermisy’s original tune (mm. 1-2: alto, mm.2-3: alto). The second phrase appears both at its original pitch and transposed up a fourth, a useful tool for modulation. Frescobaldi treats it as both the continuation and a countersubject of the first phrase in a variety of textures ranging from dense chromaticism to lively triple passages (mm. 1-3, 72-76, 85-86). The mensurations include the invariable opening in C (mm. 1-30), a section in 6/4 proportion and a return to C indicated by 4/6 (mm. 31-56), and two triple sections: 3 (semiminim), two breves in C = two black dotted quarters in 3 (“probably slightly faster”: Stembridge 2015, xvii); and O3/1 (sesquialtera maggiore), one breve in C = three breves in O3/1.
Ex. 14. 7. Spagnoletta
The original Spagnoletta melody consists of three sections.10 Frescobaldi bases the first section of the piece, mm. 1-16 in “long” C (subdivided halves), on the first phrase of the tune, as three rising thirds. At m. 17 he introduces a descending countersubject derived from the second phrase of the tune, presented in “short” C (subdivided quarters).
Ex. 14.8. Spagnoletta, mm. 1-17
At m. 31 the mensuration changes to 3, sesquialtera minor, in which a whole-note in C = three half-notes in 3 = 6/4. That this is proportional is shown by mm. 52-59, where the original half-note in C is equated with eighth-note triplets in 6/4, returning to C by a rhythmic modulation. 3 recurs twice, at mm. 85 and 122, with the same meaning, with a faster triple passage in 3 black notes at m. 91 (see Ex. 14.3 above). Mm. 85-90 give a brief whiff of the tune as it was performed for actual dancing. The final section of the work (mm. 139-53) is permeated with the rising thirds of the first half of the tune and the descending thirds of the second.
Ex. 14.9. Spagnoletta, mm. 142-53
The “Capriccio sopra l’aria di Ruggiero” extends the technique of treating a harmonically conceived subject in a polyphonic context. Trabaci’s ricercar on the Ruggiero had employed the material as the basis of a sectional contrapuntal work, but his main subject was not a quotation of the bass but a counterpoint to its first phrase.
Ex. 14.10. Capriccio sopra Ruggiero
Frescobaldi ignores the harmonic aspect of the original complex and divides the bass line into its four component phrases, presented both on G and D. Frescobaldi does not intertwine the four phrases, as he did in his fantasias on four subjects, but rather states them singly and in a variety of combinations. The first half of the opening section (mm. 1-17), in “long” C (4/2), employs sections 1 and 2; the second half (mm. 18-35), in “short” C (2/2) employs sections 3 and 4. In mm. 111-32 section 1 is treated chromatically. The work is further unified by the anapest figure that initially appeared as a counterpoint to all four subjects in mm. 87-111; it takes over again (with a downbeat, as a dactyl) in m. 132 to blossom into the unusually extended scale figuration of the final section (mm. 152-65), based on sections 3 and 4:
Ex. 14.11. Ruggiero, mm. 142-65
The “Capriccio cromatico con ligature al contrario” and the “Capriccio di durezze” represent Frescobaldi’s first explicit ventures into the chromatic territory so long dominated by his Neapolitan contemporaries, although these two works are foreshadowed in Toccate I: in the pivotal free sections of the toccatas; in the durezze e ligature sections of in Toccata XII, which states four of its five chromatic pitches in its first three measures; and in the chromatic variation of the Romanesca. Both capriccios are notably shorter than their fellows. Both show less contrast in texture, without changes of meter or passaggi (neither goes beyond a quartering of the basic pulse). And both are chromatic, although the “Capriccio cromatico” is the more highly inflected of the two. The repertory of chromatic pitches is the same in both works: F-, C-, and G-sharp, B- and E-flat. Despite their announced chromaticism, both pieces are thus playable on the ordinary meantone keyboard, unlike the two toccatas for the “Cimbalo Cromatico” in Ascanio Mayone’s Secondo libro di diversi capricci of 1609 (see Chapter 11).
A composition whose basic conceit was the reversal of orthodox dissonance treatment was an uncommon caprice on the part of the organist of St. Peter’s, the stronghold of Palestrinian counterpoint. It is probably no accident that its companion contains three suspensions in its opening four measures, all of them now resolved conventionally. The capriccio “Cromatico di ligature al contrario” offsets the wandering tendency inherent in its obligo by a clear organization into three sections. The first is based on two subjects related by inversion, and in the course of the section the opening subject is transformed into a rising chromatic line leading to a cadence on A in m. 28. The second section (mm. 29-45), cadencing on D, is set off from the other two both by its new pair of themes and by higher ranges, which, with the frequent absence of the bass, produce a brighter and more transparent texture. The third section returns to the second of the two opening subjects and in a dazzling coda presents it, its continuation, and the rising chromatic figure from the first part against the inversion of the chromatic line in the bass, with a chain of clashing suspensions.
Ex. 14.12. Capriccio cromatico, mm. 54-62
The Capriccio di durezze has a few antecedents, Neapolitan and for the most part of dubious provenance. The manuscript London, British Library, Add. 30491 contains music by southern Italian composers datable around 1600; the opening section was copied by Luigi Rossi, probably in 1614-17. It contains a “Prime Strauaganze” and a “Seconde Strauaganze” notated in partitura and attributed to “Gio: de macque” (d. 1614). Both stravaganze intersperse a homophonic texture with brilliant passaggi. One such passagggio in the first stravaganza demands scales in contrary motion in treble and bass two octaves apart against sustained chords in the inner voices, only playable on the harp. The manuscript Naples ms. 73, copied in 1675, contains a purely homophonic “Consonanze stravaganti” and a “Durezze e ligature” ( = Prime Strauaganze of the London ms.).
The only securely dated examples of the durezze are the two published by Macque’s younger associate Giovanni Maria Trabaci (d. 1647) in his first book of Ricercate of 1603: a “Durezze, & ligature” and a “Consonanza strauaganti.” The Durezze is completely homophonic in half-notes, while the (short) Consonanza moves more freely. Two similar works are attributed to Ercole Pasquini—like Frescobaldi, a Ferrarese working in a Neapolitan genre. The Naples ms. 73 contains a “Durezze e ligature,” homophonic except for a cadential passaggio. The manuscript Rome, Conservatorio S. Cecilia, A/400, copied probably after 1700, contains a Durezze, shorter and entirely entirely homophonic and requiring a C/E short octave keyboard.
Frescobaldi’s Capriccio di durezze goes far beyond his predecessors in harmonic direction and motivic coherence. Unlike the successive enchainment of material in previous durezze, the capriccio presents its complete motivic repertory in the opening measures: a an oscillating motif in the soprano, a descending line in the alto, and a descending leap of a sixth in the tenor. Even the increased rhythmic activity generated by the figure that begins in m. 30 can be traced back to the continuation of the tenor subject in m. 3.
Ex. 14.13. Capriccio di durezze, mm. 1-24
This motivic continuity is also reflected in the structure of the work, whose harmonic movement is interrupted only once by a cadence (m. 22) and whose rhythmic motion is continuous.
The variations on “Or che noi rimena” (Frescobaldi’s orthography) seem to have wandered into the Capricci from the world of the smaller variation-sets in the Toccate, perhaps to bring the contents of the volume up to the canonical number of twelve or to fill in empty pages. Rasi’s original aria consists of two sections (A, B), the first repeated and both in ¢.
Ex. 14.14. Francesco Rasi, “Hor ch’a noi rimena” (1608, after Stembridge 2015)
Frescobaldi maintains this structure but blurs it by casting the first statement of A in a Neapolitan chordal triple meter O.3 and B in duple C, which is maintained throughout the second parte. The ternary (3)—binary (C) division is maintained in the third and fourth parti. The concluding parte is in C rounded off by a ripresa in 6/4.
Ex. 14.15. “Hor ch’a noi rimena, “Quinta Parte”
With the removal of the variations on “Or che noi rimena,” the Capricci became a coherent witness of Frescobaldi’s growing ability to conceive and realize extended and variegated musical structures and to infuse them with unfailing wit and invention. The publication of a volume of keyboard works of Frescobaldi in Venice, the center of European music publishing, in 1626 marked a new stage in his career. Alessandro Vincenti’s volume combining the Capricci with the Recercari, et canzoni thus summed up Frescobaldi’s development as a contrapuntal composer.