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Giovanni Benedetto Platti. Antologia


Text of the booklet "Giovanni Benedetto Platti. Antologia"

Who is Giovanni Benedetto Platti? Today it is only a name, and an unknown name at that. One of many. How can we picture this man? Unfortunately, no reliable portraits have survived – we do not know what he looked like, and no image helps us conceive of his character. Existing reports about the musician and his own scanty notes only shed so much light on his life story. We are therefore bound to look for Platti’s traces in his music, in his numerous compositions which came down to us mainly as manuscripts.

Giovanni Benedetto Platti was one of the many Italian musicians who left their native land in the late 17th and early 18th century and headed north, to the countries whose inhabitants admired the fashionable Italian music. Francesco Geminiani from Lucca had spent his apprentice years in Rome with Arcangelo Corelli and in Naples with Alessandro Scarlatti, and later flourished in London, Paris and Dublin. Pietro Locatelli from Bergamo, another Corelli disciple, made his home in Amsterdam after studies in Rome. Platti’s career resembled the roaming lives of those composers.
In 1719 the newly appointed Prince-archbishop of Würzburg, Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, wanted to establish a court Kapelle. His crowning achievement was the arrival, at his behest, of the “new Italian people” in the spring of 1722. The new arrivals were the Kapellmeister Fortunato Chelleri, singer Girolamo Bassani and, among the other Italian virtuosi, the “oboista” Giovanni Benedetto Platti. These “magnificent musicians and consummate, say the least of it, virtuosi” were greeted with enthusiasm.

Platti’s previous life is virtually unknown, and even his date of birth is disputed. He was born in 1697 (or two years before that) and spent his childhood years in Venice (his father Carlo played viola at the St.Mark’s cathedral). Giovanni, or “Zuane” in the Venetian dialect, was a member of the musicians’ guild (Arte di sonadori). We do not know for certain whose apprentice he was, though Francesco Gasparini could have easily been his mentor. Having arrived in Würzburg, Platti stayed there for the rest of his life. His career was closely tied to the family of the counts von Schönborn, the patrons and connoisseurs of arts. Several brothers from this family chose ecclesiastical careers. Two of them at different times served as Prince-archbishops of Würzburg (hence managed the Kapelle where Platti worked). Another brother, Count Rudolf Franz Erwein (1677–1754), contrary to the family’s expectations, declined the priestly vocation. This man, an amateur cellist and ardent lover of music, constantly on the search for new compositions, assembled an impressive collection of sheet music and played a crucial role in Platti’s life and in the future destiny of his works.
Rudolf Franz Erwein’s musical tastes took shape in Italy, where he studied the cello – primarily in Rome, where he lived for several years from 1693 (like his brothers, he was sent there to be schooled). Apparently, he met Corelli there, as Corelli sends his regards to the von Schönborn family in one of his letters from 1709. Living in Rome or staying there on his way from Germany and back, the young Count von Schönborn several times used the chance to listen to “good Italian music” (“guete welsche Music”). It was during his Roman studies that he started collecting sheet music, either through buying prints (which he proudly adorned with his bookplate) or through ordering handwritten copies.

His betrothal to a young widow, Countess Eleonore von Dernbach from Wiesentheid, predetermined his future secular career. He settled at the Wiesentheid residence, not far from Würzburg, at the foot of the Steigerwald. Music was a passion of his, and his brothers shared this sentiment. After one concert in 1716 Rudolf Franz Erwein found in his papers some sheet music left behind by his brother. He dispatched it to the owner with a note which gave a hint of the Count’s domestic repertoire: signing off, the host “humbly bows È la Corelli, Albinoni, Mascitti and Vivaldi.”
Having learned that the Italians came to Würzburg through the efforts of his Prince-archbishop brother, the Count naturally became curious and wanted to hear them. The musicians visited Wiesentheid, and Rudolf Franz Erwein later wrote with touching gratitude: “I am especially indebted to you for directing the Kapellmeister and other virtuosi maintained at Your Grace’s court to lay their route through our domain. Those virtuosi displayed skills above all praise and presented themselves as men of uncommon merit, which made the improviso all the more pleasurable to myself.” Apparently, such visits were since repeated; the Prince-archbishop was happy to have “pleased and diverted [his] lordly brother” and cordially suggested to him: “[you should be] hereinafter so kind as to summon at any time at your convenience those or other musicians to feast your ears.”

Giovanni Benedetto Platti enjoyed Rudolf Franz’s special favour. He took care with the musician’s works, and thanks to him Platti’s manuscripts were preserved in abundance in the Wiesentheid collection. Small wonder Platti pays so much attention to the Count’s instrument of preference, the cello, in his compositions. Two volumes of Platti’s sonatas for cello and continuo (six cycles in each), twenty-eight concertos with cello obbligato, four ricercares (duos for violin and cello) have come down to us. Apart from that, Platti wrote nineteen trio sonatas, in which he defied tradition and gave one of the high solo parts to the cello instead of violin or flute as was the custom.
When in 1730 Rudolf Franz Erwein built a new parish church in his manor and devoted himself to soliciting church music for it, it was Platti who wrote a Mass for him, and, later, many other church compositions as well (including a Requiem and a Stabat mater). Sheet music from the Wiesentheid collection continues to yield previously unnoticed traces of Platti’s editorship. When Rudolf Franz Erwein decided to try his hand at composing, Platti masterfully reworked and finished the Count’s Miserere.

Unfortunately, the fruitful relationship of that unique person with Giovanni Benedetto Platti lasted not very long; there is no evidence to confirm the composer’s later visits to Wiesentheid after 1730. In the meanwhile Rudolf Franz purchased new compositions and rearranged his existing collection. An avid amateur of modern music, the count familiarized himself with the works written at the Viennese court, where he used to travel on business. His music collection grew by various sources, and its significance is enormous. Its oldest part – 150 prints and about 500 manuscripts, many of them unique – contains compositions of both well-known and presently almost forgotten composers and allows us to have a glimpse of 50 years of 18th-century music through the eyes of a contemporary, a Frankish count. A hundred years ago the library of counts von Schönborn-Wiesentheid was returned to the residence where Rudolf Franz Erwein had started it.

Platti’s life in Würzburg is known to us only in outline. Having married the court singer Theresia Lambrucker in 1723, Platti in due time fathered many children, which probably bound him to the episcopate on the Main for the rest of his days. The prince-archbishop who had originally invited him, Rudolf Franz Erwein’s brother, suddenly died two years after the Italian’s arrival in Würzburg. His successor, prone to asceticism and reluctant to patronize the muses, dramatically cut the orchestra’s allowance. Many of Platti’s colleagues went to try their luck in other cities, but he did not. Yet another reversal of fortune came about in 1729: the other Franz Rudolf Erwein’s brother, Friedrich Karl von Schönborn, took the episcopal seat in Würzburg. He reviewed the situation and considerably broadened Platti’s work description – apart from his former duties, he now had to act as singer, violinist and teacher. The composer performed these ample tasks until the end of his life. Thanks to an entry in the court calendar, the exact date of Platti’s death is known to us: he died on January 11, 1763.

Platti’s works are now kept in the libraries of Berlin, Dresden and Munich, even though the musician’s life was not connected with these cities. Of special importance is the Wiesentheid collection numbering over sixty of his works – mainly original manuscripts, but also some copies. In Würzburg, where Platti spent 40 years, not a single line is known to have survived. Among the lost works are some oratorios we only know about thanks to the printed copies of libretti (where Platti is mentioned as the author of music). The scores may have perished during the World War II air raids on Würzburg.

It seems strange that Platti, the court virtuoso oboist, only wrote one concerto for his instrument, and even that in his early years, so that it was preserved in Wiesentheid. Twenty-eight Wiesentheid cello concertos clearly indicate the composer’s interest in the genre; but for some reason he gives the solo part to oboe (and violin) just once. Probably the pieces he had written for his instrument were not found.

This album contains four solo concertos, one church composition and one chamber opus. The concertos were written in the second quarter of the 18th century; their chronological order is as follows: cello concerto, then oboe and violin concertos, and finally the keyboard concerto. They represent the concerto form which was the most “avant-garde” at the time, both tonally and structurally.

Trio Sonata for violin, cello and basso (WD 689) is one of those sonatas where the cello performs the high solo part. Such compositions are usually in four movements (slow-fast-slow-fast); this cycle is concluded by a slow siciliana and a fast fugue. The two solo instruments often play fugato – with or without continuo. Striving for clarity, Platti precisely indicates piano and forte in the parts, which helps elucidate his idea. In the final cadences he uses chromaticism, long suspensions, unisons and hemiola rhythm. Such cadences are highly characteristic of his chamber music.

In Stabat mater the instrumentation is unusual: the solo bass is accompanied by two oboes, two violas and basso continuo. In Roman Catholic liturgy, Stabat mater is performed during the mass on the feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin. Platti only takes the first of the ten stanzas of the sequence – it is possible, though, that what we have is a fragment of a larger composition.
Giovanni Benedetto Platti – who was he? On the title pages of the Nürnberg editions of his works, Platti calls himself Musicien de la chambre or Virtuoso di camera, the “court musician” of the Würzburg Prince-archbishop. The 19th century saw Platti as “an industrious composer of pleasing instrumental music, a diligent violin and oboe virtuoso” (EncyklopÊdie der gesammten musikalischen Wissenschaften, Stuttgart, 1837). Platti the man himself, with the years dividing us from his era, has become not less but more discernible. Today, the interest in period performance brings us to such sources which were previously overlooked or neglected. In the 21st century, our acquaintance with Platti is just beginning – and it promises to be a moving and fascinating one.

Frohmut Dangel-Hofmann, translation by Viktor Sonkin


Text of the booklet "Giovanni Benedetto Platti. Antologia"


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