Oddities & Trifles: The Very Peculiar Instrumental Music of Giovanni Valentini cover

Oddities & Trifles: The Very Peculiar Instrumental Music of Giovanni Valentini


Today, the name “Valentini” would be lucky to receive 50-50 odds in the (obscure, but useful) “pasta shape I’ve never tried or Italian Baroque composer I’ve never heard of” litmus test; but in early 17th century Vienna, it would have commanded instant recognition and respect. As Kapellmeister to Ferdinand II, Valentini sat atop the musical food chain of the entire Holy Roman Empire, a perch that afforded him the financial and reputational security to tinker. He did so with abandon in the canzone and sonatas of his first published work, the 1609 Libro Primo, which distort the prevailing consort music of the time through a gallery of funhouse mirrors and tricks-of-the-ear, replete with infinitely repeating modulations (the Sonata a 5 in C major), fish-eyed metrical asymmetries (the stop-start Sonata a 4 in D minor), wildly bulging dynamic ranges (the closing Sonata a 4 in G minor, which includes one of the earliest known directives to use pianissimo), and gruesomely concave chromaticism. For what they often lack in elegance and practicality, Valentini’s inventions never fail to dizzy and dazzle. That ethos is perfectly grasped by the Altmusik Camerata Resurrecting Old – but New to You – Music (ACRONYM), whose name alone embodies its guiding principles of cleverness, concision, and championing the unsung. Recorded in a historic meeting house in rural New Hampshire, they lavish Valentini’s “oddities and trifles” with immediacy, verve, and zest for their bizarre details. 

Zev Kane

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