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Classical 101

A Blog Post about a Lovely Piece of Music. That's All.


[AUDIO] A new recording replete with beauties landed on my desk recently. The recording, Flights of Fancy:Early Italian Chamber Music, performed by Monica Huggett and the Irish Baroque Orchestra Chamber Soloists, contains many gorgeous Italian early baroque works beautifully played. But the work that really grabbed my ear is Biagio Marini's Passacaglio à 4. Quite frankly, I fell in love with it and thought you might enjoy hearing it. Here's a taste of how it goes after its brief introduction: [audio:marini_1.mp3] I'm not sure I had ever heard this piece before listening to it on this new recording. Still, it sounded somehow vaguely familiar. Maybe its tunefulness dredged up from the convolutions of my lizard brain memories of other similarly tuneful Italian early baroque pieces. And the Marini's familiarity could be because of its form: the Baroque was a period somewhat rife with passacaglias (essentially, works based on repeating chord patterns, called grounds, overlaid by varied melodies), many of which were based on the same ground. So, though it might be a bit of stretch, one could argue that all baroque passacaglias are first cousins of each other and share a family resemblance. Passacaglias also share a similar - and very interesting - idea. In another blog post, I've written about the notion that passacaglias seem to have been understood by composers and listeners in the Baroque as means of conveying emotional anguish. Laments and embodiments of insanity frequently appear as passacaglias in opera, monodies and madrigals of this period. The idea here is that the repeating cycles of the passacaglia ground lock the mourner or the madman (or, more often in this repertory, madwoman) in seemingly unbreakable cycles of despair. As such, passacaglias do seem never to want to end. And it is the composer's bounden duty to ensure that the listener gets at least some beauty from the experience. Call it pleasure in pain, if you will. There's plenty of aching beauty in the Marini. While listening to it, I found myself willing - even eager - to lean into the the work's obsessive plaintiveness, longing for the heartbreak of every taughtly wound dissonance. Yes, the expressive elegance of the Irish Baroque Orchestra Chamber Soloists' performance certainly helped. But the raw material is all Marini's. Here's just a little bit more of it: [audio:marini_2.mp3] If you listen to WOSU 89.7 FM, you'll likely hear this piece on our air, so keep listening. If you do manage to catch an airing of this piece, I hope you find it as lovely as I do. - Jennifer Hambrick