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Girolamo Frescobaldi - A Variety of Inventions
by Richard Lester
Publ. 2022
104 pp
ISBN-13: 979-8781218080
Peacock Press

Girolamo Frescobaldi, A Variety of Inventions is a didactic book – instructive, educational and informative – appearing to have been a labour of love for the author Richard Lester.

Details of the life and career of this composer may be unfamiliar to many music lovers but a quick glance at Wikipedia reveals the following summary information. Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi (1583–1643) was an Italian composer and virtuoso keyboard player. He was born in the Duchy of Ferrara and one of the most important composers of keyboard music in the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. A child prodigy, Frescobaldi studied in Ferrara and was influenced by many composers. He was appointed organist of St. Peter's Basilica, in Rome, from July 1608 until 1628 and again from 1634 until his death. Frescobaldi's printed collections contain some of the most influential music of the 17th century. His work affected such luminaries as Johann Sebastian Bach and Henry Purcell, as well as other major composers. Pieces from his celebrated collection of liturgical organ music, Fiori musicali (1635), were used as models of strict counterpoint as late as the 19th century.

The author of the present book, Richard Lester (b. 1945), is an English harpsichordist, organist, forte-pianist and musicologist. Reading through the work, it becomes obvious he has great admiration for Frescobaldi, his music and inventiveness. Lester has recorded Frescobaldi’s music on period harpsichord and organ for Nimbus Records, all critically acclaimed. MusicWeb reviewed these recordings. You can read the review of volume 3 here; another review of volume 3 with references about volumes 1 and 2 here and finally a review of volume 4 here. Additionally, in 2011, MusicWeb International collaborator Glyn Pursglove, chose Richard Lester’s volume 3 recording of Frescobaldi’s Harpsichord and Virginals as one of his recordings of the year.

The reason why I mentioned above that this book appears to have been a labour of love for its author, Richard Lester, is to a certain extent due to the dedication. Lester movingly dedicates the book to the memory of his parents and to his wife. But it is not the only reason. The level of detail and care Lester took in explaining Frescobaldi’s genius, imagination and innovation positively express his great admiration, appreciation but also respect and passion for the man and his work.

Lester writes in a clear, factual way. His language is fluent and articulate, making it easier to understand the contents even for a non-musician. Having said that the book is too detailed and technical for someone who does not know music in depth. Lester goes into the detail of fingering at the time of Frescobaldi and now, as well as trills, registration, toccatas, ornamentation and more. There are six chapters in total. Four are dedicated to the list I have just enumerated. The first chapter is a brief history of the period when Frescobaldi lived as well as a summary of his life. Lester begins the book with a Preface, written by himself, serving as an introduction to the work and to Frescobaldi. In this he adds information about his recordings for Nimbus as well as about a documentary where yet more detail is included. The film and a lot more can be watched and read on Richard Lester’s website. He ends the book with a chapter on the instruments he used for the recordings, explaining how he came to use them and details of each one.

The work is thoroughly illustrated with facsimiles of music sheets incorporating examples of modern techniques as well as of Frescobaldi’s work and innovations, plus colour and black and white photos of the instruments described in the last chapter. Notably the very beautiful organ by Costanzo Antegnati, built in 1588, restored in 1996 by Marco Fratti and that was used in the recordings. Here as in the rest of the book or in Richard Lester’s website, the affection of the author for his subject is patent throughout. And it is this affection and the clear language that make the book interesting. However, as I already said, if one is not a musician or musicologist, the book is too technical and people who are merely interested in music may not understand most of its contents.

At the end of the work, after the bibliography, Lester added extracts from reviews of his Frescobaldi recordings, which are interesting to read and include two by MusicWeb collaborators.

Girolamo Frescobaldi, A Variety Of Inventions is available as hardcover or paperback, but not as e-book, possibly because the facsimiles of the music sheets, containing examples of techniques and Frescobaldi’s work, would not reproduce well in the electronic format.

Personally I found the book pleasing. In a sense it is a curiosity, divulging a composer and virtuoso keyboard player who is not very familiar nowadays. However, I would only recommend it as a tool for learning and gaining detailed information about Frescobaldi and various technical aspects of music then and now. It is definitely not the kind of book that one may choose to read simply for entertainment.

Margarida Mota-Bull

Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online:

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