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Anna BON DI VENEZIA (c.1740-1767?)
Six Sonatas for Harpsichord, Op.2 (1757)
Sonata I in G minor [9:46]
Sonata II in B-flat major [9:53]
Sonata III in F major [11:58]
Sonata IV in C major [8:05]
Sonata V in B minor [12:46]
Sonata VI in C major [11:33]
Barbara Harbach (harpsichord)
rec. Readfield, Wisconsin, January 1998
MSR CLASSICS MS1241 [64:45]
Experience Classicsonline

I first heard the music of Anna Bon some ten years ago when, in a music shop in Arezzo, I stumbled across a CD (Mondo Musica MM96006) of her Opus 1, VI Sonata da camera, per il Flauto Traversiere e Violoncello o Cembalo, played by Claudio Ferrarini (flute), Andrea Corsi (bassoon) and Francesco Tasini (harpsichord). That collection was published in 1756, when Bon was only sixteen. All of the sonatas are in three movements, full of florid melodic lines above a slowly changing harmonic bass. While hardly revolutionary or profound, the Opus 1 sonatas are striking evidence of considerable musical precocity. The six harpsichord sonatas which constitute Bon’s Opus 2 are more impressive still and, stylistically speaking, more forward looking – and, remember, their composer was probably only seventeen at the time.

Details of Bon’s life are somewhat sketchy. On the title pages of both the flute sonatas and the harpsichord sonatas (published as Sei Sonate per il cembalo) she is described as “Anna Bon di Venezia”. She was probably the daughter of Girolamo Bon, a Venetian architect, painter and theatre designer and his wife, Rosa Ruvinetti, an opera singer originally from Bologna. Girolamo Bon worked in Germany (by turns in Berlin, Dresden, Potsdam, Frankfurt and Bayreuth) between 1746 and 1761. Anna Bon’s first two publications appeared from a press in Nuremberg. She appears to have married an Italian tenor called Mongeri and, in 1767, to have been resident with him in Hildburghausen in Thuringia, central Germany. After the harpsichord sonatas she published only VI Divertimento per due flauti e cembalo, 1759. The present CD gives 1767 as the date of her death, but on what evidence is not clear. She disappears from the records around then, but she may well have continued to live beyond that date, without contributing to the world of music. Or, just possibly, there is work yet to be discovered in manuscript.

The six harpsichord sonatas - some of them would work quite well, I suspect, on the fortepiano - are all in three movements. Barbara Harbach puts the matter rather well in her booklet note, when she writes that “the pieces are a mixture of the German musical style and Italian rhythm and temperament”. Several of the slow movements – such as the andantino in Sonata I – have considerable elegance about them; the adagio of Sonata III is emotionally expressive in a way that reaches well beyond the Opus 1 Flute sonatas. The gallant is infused with anticipations of later developments. Bon’s music here seems to claim for her a place amongst the musicians of what one might, at the cost of some simplification, describe as the gradual shift from the musical paradigms of the baroque to those of early classicism.

Bon’s formal invention is considerable and various. There are movements in simple binary form, there are movements built around variations; some movements are ternary in structure, some are through composed. Barbara Harbach’s playing complements such variety in the well judged use which she makes of a wide range of registrations. The instrument she plays is a copy, made in 1989 by Willard Martin, of a two manual harpsichord made, in eighteenth century Paris, by François Blanchet – and what a nice range of thoroughly musical sounds it makes! Player and instrument bring out the dramatic dimensions of some of Bon’s music – as in the allegro moderato which opens Sonata V, full of unexpected and expressive pauses, rich chords and dotted rhythms. Like much else on the CD it persuades one that a good deal was lost when – presumably – Bon swapped the life of composition for life as a married woman.

Clearly and brightly recorded - but not overly so - this makes a very persuasive case for the precocious musical virtues of the young Anna Bon and will surely interest and give pleasure to all lovers of the harpsichord tradition. The ‘feminist’ reclaiming of lost writers, composers, painters etc. has sometimes involved some over-generous aesthetic judgements. Bon needs no special allowances – this is fine music.

Glyn Pursglove



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