Pietro Antonio Locatelli: A Modern Artist in the Baroque Era by Fulvio Morabito
The music of Pietro Locatelli (1695–1764) is not quite as well-known or as frequently performed as that of Corelli or Vivaldi (both a little earlier historically). He has a particular connection with the Netherlands where he lived from 1729 and published nine collections (the final set is lost). His Op. 3, no. 1 concerto was used as the theme music for the Dutch version of Doctor Finlay's Casebook (Memorandum van een dokter) in the mid-1960s, a surprising fact which is one of very few about Locatelli not found in this deeply-researched book.
Morabito's book takes a traditional life-and-works approach, with roughly equal space given to each. A sense of his thoroughness confronts us on the first page when we discover that in 1694 Locatelli's mother Lucia Crocchi brought to her husband a dowry which included among other things a 'little petticoat of crimson cloth' and 'a walnut sideboard'. This contrasts dramatically with the extraordinary inventory of Locatelli's goods after his death, which takes up thirty-seven pages. This document, unavailable in English until now, includes everything from a [End Page 173] stock of peat in the attic to a dovecote and a bird trap in the cellar, in a house of eleven rooms, not counting the garden shed where he kept 188 of his books. He had an enormous book collection, a large collection of prints and portraits, and several instruments; these included two harp-sichords, a fortepiano, four violins (including a Tecchler and a Stainer), a viola, a double bass, and a flute. In 1742 he was the wealthiest musician in Amsterdam with an annual income of 1,500 florins.
Locatelli's early years in Rome are relatively well-documented (including the ghost story involving him and Valentini). The period in the 1720s when he travels widely through northern Italy from Mantua to Venice and then perhaps Padua, before moving on to Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, and Kassel, however, has little solid documentation. Nonetheless, what there is is carefully presented, and some cautious conclusions are drawn. His arrival in the Netherlands, on the other hand, is the occasion of a detailed account of his publishing and other activities. Locatelli's last nine years are completely silent, but Morabito reasonably surmises that he participated 'in those activities that allowed him to live removed from the competition and servility of courtly culture'. He did not, apparently, die 'in the arms of an extremely vulgar French servant, a monster of ugliness and vulgarity', and evidence that he had a wife is somewhat thin. This biographical section of the book is almost certainly the last word to be said on the subject unless further evidence comes to light.
Concerning the works, Morabito is equally thorough—almost too thorough, as there are several important aspects which get lost among the other details. His account of the origins of the concerto grosso form from Giovanni Lorenzo Gregori, or the origins of the sonata, or the concerto, are perhaps over-specific, but his tendency to give substantial quotations—a general feature of the book—is to be welcomed. However, his explanation of what seem to be the distinctive features of Locatelli's Op. 1 is useful, especially his use of remote keys (B-flat minor at one point), his varied instrumental colours (using a solo—or sola?—viola), and his interest in contrapuntal textures. The horn-like writing in the Op. 4 collection, the surprising concerto for four violins which ends like Haydn's 'Farewell' Symphony, and the unusually detailed dynamics of the Op. 7 set all attract attention and prompt one to listen to the music. Again, while the preliminary discussion of the concerto form is perhaps superfluous, the examination of the L'arte del arco collection is fascinating. Readers may recall the recording of these works by Elizabeth Wallfisch using the 1743 cadenzas by Gottfried Reber in 2010—Reber also wrote down fingerings for the main text of these concertos. The question of how the Capricci are incorporated in the concertos is dealt with carefully but ultimately without making a firm recommendation. Morabito explores topics such as left-hand extensions and double stops with plenty of music examples; bow technique is equally well treated, with passages on the portato, bariolage, and cantabile bowing. I would suggest, however, that the case for a specifically staccato or spiccato bowing is not so well made, given that Locatelli uses no notation for this—the bow-stroke for the example from Op. 3, no. 12 (p. 187) is surely whatever the soloist feels most comfortable with.
Morabito goes on to consider Locatelli's reception. Whereas the English and Italians were not impressed by mere virtuosity, his reputation stood rather higher in Germany and France. By the early nineteenth century his Capricci were rediscovered and included in violin methods by Cartier, Choron, and Woldemar, and recommended by Baillot. That Locatelli no longer had a prominent place in early twentieth-century teaching was not, pace Morabito, only due to his system of abbreviations. An entirely different approach to teaching was under way, one which in many cases is still with us. But Locatelli's character is surely still recognisable: 'a composer, yes, but also a publisher, soloist, teacher, and salesman . . . a freelancer, outside the usual court circles, sheltered from those obsequious conventions incompatible with his proud and irreverent character'. Morabito's summing-up is superbly supported by his impressively detailed work on this celebrated violinist. The excellent translation by Warwick Lister reads very well while retaining a sense of the original writer's style. There are occasional oddities of punctuation, but very few proof errors. While this book is, I think, mainly for specialists, any general [End Page 174] reader who dips into it may well be drawn in deeper.