If you ever took a music appreciation class in college, you were no doubt subjected to the customary ‘listening exam.’ The professor plays a recorded example and the student must identify the selection’s historical period, perhaps its national style, and name a probable composer and its form or compositional genre.
In the case of a new recording performed by Simone Stella, you could be forgiven for failing the listening exam. The composer on this recording of newly composed harpsichord music in French baroque style is Federico Maria Sardelli-an Italian, born in 1963.
A movement from Sardelli’s first suite the Prelude Le misanthrope, was composed in 1990, but is a veritable 17th century unmeasured prelude.
Two other keyboard suites, one from 2006, and the other completed in 2016 make up the rest of the recording. Like the others on this disc, the suites synthesize the style of the French harpsichord school in such a way that they could reasonably pass for the likes of Couperin or Rameau.
Originality is prized in the creative arts, and music is no exception. So when a modern composer writes antique music, it has the potential to come across as mere imitation rather than inspired innovation.
Old music, on the other hand if forgotten long enough, can be revived as something new. Sardelli’s vintage-new music somehow taps into all of these aspects. Perhaps Goethe said it best: "Everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again."
Federica Maria Sardelli: a person of many talents
Sardelli is a person of many talents. Adding to his activities as a composer, Sardelli is also a conductor and musicologist, as well as an illustrator and cartoonist, and a satirist with the online magazine Il Vernacoliere. In 2015 Sardelli published his first bit of historical fiction with his novel L'affare Vivaldi.
In 2007, Sardelli took over the curation of the Ryom-Verzeichnis, a catalog that assigns standard RV numbers to all of Vivaldi’s works. A two time grammy nominee, much of Sardelli’s work centers on Vivaldi—editing, performing and recording his compositions, often in their first modern performances. Sardelli is also a noted performer on historical flutes, and founded the early music ensemble, Modo Antiquo in the 1980’s.
Let’s return to the “listening exam” from the start of this podcast. Sardelli originally composed his Chaconne in 2009 as part of an orchestral suite dedicated to the memory of J.-B. Lully. For this recording, Sardelli arranged the Chaconne for harpsichord, using as his model that long standing 18th c. tradition of historical transcriptions, like d’Anglebert’s ornamented keyboard arrangements of Lully’s Phaëton or Armide.
This recorded set of baroque keyboard suites is the third such project in this vein for this composer. His recordings of neo-Baroque cantatas, and another of neo-baroque concertos are also available from Brilliant Classics.