During the second and third quarters of the 18th
century Johann Adolf Hasse was one of the most celebrated opera composers
in Europe. Together with his wife Faustina Bordoni he performed his
operas across the continent. His output in this genre is huge and is
not fully explored as yet. He also composed a large quantity of oratorios
and sacred liturgical music. His vocal output has largely overshadowed
his contributions to various genres of instrumental music, among them
music for keyboard. Hasse came from a family of keyboard players and
the harpsichord played a significant role in his life.
The fact that his keyboard works have remained largely unnoticed is
partly due to the fact that he never published any of them. Two collections
are known: a series of six sonatas printed in London and six concertos
for keyboard solo. However, it is unlikely that Hasse himself had anything
to do with their publication. His keyboard works are preserved in many
archives and libraries across Europe and a number of pieces have been
included in anthologies of the 18th century. It shows that they were
The present disc includes a survey of this part of Hasse's oeuvre; the
programme is ordered chronologically. It starts with the Toccata
and fugue in G
which dates from his time in Naples. Here he met
Alessandro Scarlatti and was for some time his pupil. His teacher's
influence becomes quite clear in this piece, especially in the toccata
with its brilliant passage work. If you know Alessandro Scarlatti's
keyboard music - for instance in recordings by Rinaldo Alessandrini
(Arcana, 1992) or Alexander Weimann (review
- you will recognize the stylistic similarities. The next piece, another
Toccata in G
, is interesting in that it is also attributed to
Handel. The manuscript simply says Del Sassone
, "by the Saxon".
was the name given in Italy to Handel and later to
Hasse. On stylistic grounds it is presumed that this piece came from
Handel's pen; it is included as Capriccio
under HWV 571 in the
Next follow four sonatas which Hasse composed for "the Royal Dauphine
of France". He knew her well: she was Maria Josepha, the daughter of
August III, King of Poland and Saxon Elector, who for many years was
Hasse's employer. She married the French heir to the throne, the later
King Louis XVI. The taste at the court in Dresden was Italian, and therefore
it comes as little surprise that these four sonatas are Italian in style.
They reflect the galant idiom which was dominant in the mid-18th century.
As Hasse visited Paris in 1750 these sonatas must have been written
shortly before. Luca Guglielmi has chosen a French harpsichord for these
sonatas. This results in an interesting confrontation of instrument
and idiom. Hasse may not be a household name in the keyboard repertoire
of the 18th century, and galant music may have the reputation of being
rather lightweight, but these sonatas are substantial. They have much
to offer and are well suited to repeated listening. That is also down
to Guglielmo's brilliant playing which holds the listener's attention.
The disc ends with a sonata of a later date. The liner-notes are silent
as to when it was written - it is probably not known anyway - but its
central movement, called cantabile
, is characterised as "ultimately
approaching an almost Mozartian sensitivity". It reminds me of some
later keyboard works by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and the texture seems
to suggest dynamic indications which Guglielmo realises by alternating
between the two manuals. I could imagine this sonata being played on
an early fortepiano as well, for instance an instrument by Silbermann.
That would definitely be an intriguing option. The closing allegro has
clear orchestral traces; it could almost be a transcription of a movement
from a solo concerto or symphony. It is played with panache.
Guglielmo makes a great impression throughout. He shows much sensitivity
to the stylistic features and to the development charted from first
work to last. That is also reflected in his choice of instruments. I
have already mentioned the French harpsichord he plays in the four sonatas:
it is a copy of an instrument by Goujon from 1749, extended in 1784.
The first two items are played on a copy of an Italian harpsichord from
1726, and the last piece on a copy of a German instrument by Christian
Vater from 1738.
This is a highly interesting disc and sheds light on a lesser-known
part of Hasse's oeuvre. Moreover, it is brilliantly played on stylistically
appropriate instruments. If you like harpsichord music, this is an essential
addition to your collection.
Johan van Veen