Gottlieb Muffat’s oeuvre, dedicated almost in its entirety to keyboard instruments and skilfully straddling the stile antico and stile moderno, deserves more detailed attention than it has ever been afforded. The majority of sources containing music by Muffat are unpublished, with only two collections published at the composer’s own behest during his years in the Emperor’s service in Vienna. One of these is the Componimenti Musicali per il Cembalo (Augsburg, 1739).
This collection contains 6 Suites and a Ciacona with 38 variations for solo harpsichord. The composer describes these seven works as capricci or galanterie to be performed in the stile moderno and to suit modern tastes. Although arranged in the conventional order of Allemande–Courante–Sarabande–Gigue, Muffat also added various optional dances, displaying no shortage of innovation. The first movements are introductory in nature, often fugal in form and varying in style and pace: Ouverture (Suites 1 and 5), Prelude (Suite 2) and Fantaisie (Suites 3, 4 and 6). The seventh piece in the collection, the Ciacona con 38 Variazioni, is a special case. As Christopher Hogwood suggests in his introduction to the modern edition (Orpheus, 2009), the Ciacona could be another tribute to the imperial family, as the number of variations matches the age Charles VI’s niece, Maria Amalia, would have been on 22 October 1739.
Muffat’s interest in contemporary harpsichord composition is most clearly evident in his transcription and reinterpretation of works by George Frideric Handel, based on a manuscript copy of the Suites des pièces pour le clavecin he held in his library. Muffat reworked the suites in Handel’s collection, suggesting new ornamentation, distributing the notes differently between the hands, changing the clefs and sometimes note values, and adding slurs and cadenzas. He then applied everything he had observed while rewriting Handel’s suites to his own Componimenti musicali: including a table of ornaments, which the composer asks be played with ‘art and discretion’; he considers the positioning of the player’s hands on the keyboard in his writing and avoids using multiple clefs on one line to prevent confusion; he describes the optimum way to use the thumb for accidentals; and he provides the correct technical interpretation of trills and slurs.
Study of the Componimenti reveals what could be defined as a pedagogical intent, as well as a clear desire to make the score unambiguous and accessible by means of his introductory instructions. The collection contributed greatly to setting a new benchmark for keyboard writing in the lands of the Viennese Empire.
- Recorded July 2022 in Baone, Italy
- Roberto Loreggian plays a harpsichord by Patella/Pergolis (1998, after M. Mietke, 1719)
- Booklet in English contains liner notes by Myriam Guglielmo and a profile of the artist
- Gottlieb Muffat (1690 -1770), was born in Passau, Germany, as son of the composer Georg Muffat. He served as Hofscholar under Johann Fux in Vienna from 1711 and was appointed to the position of third court organist at the Hofkapelle by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1717. He acquired additional duties over time including the instruction of members of the Imperial family, among them the future Empress Maria Theresa. He was promoted to first organist upon the accession of Maria Theresa to the throne in 1741.
- Muffat's compositional output is primarily limited to keyboard music. His major publication, Componimenti musicali per il cembalo (Augsburg, ca. 1736), is remarkably progressive in its outlook. This collection of six suites, while maintaining the traditional Allemande, Courante and Sarabande format, is more lavishly ornamented than was characteristic of Austro-German music of that era. Some of the movements are even given fanciful French titles like La Coquette or L'aimable Esprit as were popular among the clavecinistes. The preface to this work contains an ornamentation table with symbols and performance instructions for 57 ornaments.
- Played by the eminent Italian Roberto Loreggian, an Early Music specialist with an impressive discography to his name. This recording is the first of a complete cycle of Muffat’s keyboard works Brilliant Classics. Critical praise for Roberto Loreggian on Brilliant Classics: ‘Loreggian has a real gift for making the music sound as if he is improvising it – it is easy to imagine Frescobaldi himself in the room with the listener.’ Early Music Review (Unpublished works, 96154). ‘An unprecedented achievement… The sheer naturalism of Loreggian’s interpretations captivates the listener.’ Suonare News (Frescobaldi Toccatas and Partite, 93767).