In 1640, the Bolognese guitarist, Angiol Michele Bartolotti published a book in Florence. He was in the service of a nobleman with connections to the Medici family, Jacopo di Salviati. The book was dedicated to him. In the book are 6 suites, two sets of variations (a chaconne and a folias), and 24 passacaglias. The passacaglias are a stunning achievement, and perhaps a landmark first in the history of European art music. They might be the first effort of a composer to every utilize all 24 major and minor keys. The Well-Tempered Clavier of JS Bach is often heralded as a similar effort, containing a prelude and fugue in each of the 24 keys, but Bartolotti’s effort predates this by nearly a century.
I recorded the entire set of passacaglias in 2012. You can learn more about this recording here. As far as I am aware, this is the only such recording of this material. Bartolotti published a second book in 1655, and this exquisite music has rightfully received a great deal of attention, but it would seem as though the 1640 book has been sadly neglected. So, I have decided to complete the project, and have recently undertaken the task of recording the rest of the book: the 6 suites and two sets of variations.
You can hear the D major suite, the chaconne, and the folias variations here, from an online concert I played in April. I also play the A major passacaglia.
I began recording this material back in December, when I did the tracking for the first three suites and the chaconne. I recently did another session where I was able to also get two suites and the folias “on tape.” I’m hoping to get the tracking finished by the end of June and the recording should be available before the end of the summer.
Committing recorded music to a compact disc format seems like a strange thing to do in the age of digital downloads and streaming. The compulsion to record will probably exist, if for no other reason than to capture and archive an artistic achievement which can only really happen in real time. However, the means of delivery is constantly changing with people’s tastes, new technologies, evolving markets, and the like. I’ve been thinking for years that in the age of internet music delivery, those of us responsible for making and marketing content are still trying to figure the whole thing out. That being said, I still feel the need to have a physical product, and I am not exactly sure why, other than it seems more real when I have a tangible object in my hand. I certainly deliver much more of my content digitally through download and streaming than I ever sell hard copy CDs, but I still want to create the product. Perhaps this makes me a dinosaur, but, I am, after all, playing archaic music on a replica instrument!
In any case, this project represents the culmination of nearly a decade of research and study for me. I’m extremely passionate about this music. It represents the highest level of composition and virtuosity for the instrument that existed in the first half of the 17th century. There are contributions to musicology as a whole, and specifically to the evolution of the guitar and its repertory which have been ignored, and this humble effort is my mission to bring this all to light. I’m very excited to be sharing it with you, and I’m also excited about seeing the the project near completion.