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ClassicsOnline Home » PLATTI: 6 Flute Sonatas, Op. 3
Giovanni Benedetto Platti had his musical apprenticeship in Venice, where his teachers
may have included older contemporaries such as Vivaldi. From 1722 until his death in
1763 he was employed at the episcopal court in Würzburg, described as an oboist and
violinist, greatly respected for his virtuosity. His Flute Sonatas, presumably composed
over a number of years, range from the late baroque to the early classical in style.
By David Denton
Little is known of the early years of the Italian musician,
Giovanni Benedetto Platti, even his date of birth being unclear, but was probably
1697. His teachers could have included Vivaldi or Albinoni, as he was an oboist
and violinist of such quality that in 1722 he was taken to Germany and engaged
to play in the court orchestra of Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Wurzburg. It
was there he was to spend the rest of his life, becoming the highest paid member
of the court musicians, even ranked above the kapellmeister. He also appears
to have been a teacher and a quite prolific composer. Whether he could play
the flute is unclear, though at the time an oboist would probably have been
proficient on the type of flute that predated the transverse instrument. The
concertos were composed in 1743 and, as was tradition at the time, were in a
group of six, though they are in character markedly different?At the time they
would have represented a stiff technical challenge to the soloist, though the
accompaniment is functional. Playing a period instrument, the Norwegian flautist,
Paul Wahlberg is a specialist in this era of composition, and plays with the
nimbleness required. Try the fourth sonata for a sample, particularly as it
is here accompanied by the clavichord, giving the impression of a strummed guitar
that really suits the music. In total we are not talking about major discoveries,
but these are engaging, unassuming pieces, nicely crafted, pleasing melodies
and each ending with a happy and vivacious finale. The recording is nicely balanced.
Giovanni Benedetto Platti (1692 or 1697–1763)
Six Flute Sonatas, Op. 3
In 1743, Sei Sonate a Flauto Traversiere Solo con Violoncello overo Cembalo by Giovanni Platti was published by Johann Ulrich Haffner in Nürnberg. It is a magnificent edition dedicated to "Pietro Filippo di Krufft of Cologne, a dilettante flautist".
Little is known about Krufft, but it is of interest that Platti uses the word 'dilettante' about him in his dedication. It is the first time this concept is used in the German-speaking world. It was a widespread designation in Italy at the time, of musicians or other artists who were not dependent on their art to support themselves – mostly noblemen. Tomaso Albinoni referred to himself as a dilettante, as did Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello. They were all highly respected artists in the Venetian musical arena from which Platti emerged. One can assume therefore that Krufft was a highly competent flautist.
Giovanni Benedetto Platti was born in Padua or Venice in 1692 or 1697. He was musically educated in Venice. His teachers were most probably Francesco Gasparini, Vivaldi, Lotti and indeed Albinoni and the Marcello brothers. There is no significant information about his life before he came to Würzburg in 1722 together with a group of Italian musicians. Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn who was Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Würzburg was deeply preoccupied with Italian music and wanted to expand the music at court. He employed a number of foreign musicians, mostly Italians. Together with Platti six further Italian musicians were employed in 1722. After the sudden death of the Prince-Bishop in 1724, conditions for the musicians at court deteriorated. The number of musicians was considerably reduced, and only two of the Italian musicians could stay on. In 1723 Platti married the soprano Maria Theresia Lambrucker. She was also employed at court. When Friedrich Carl von Schönborn, brother of Johann Philipp, was elected new Prince-Bishop in 1729, conditions improved. Platti stayed in Würzburg until his death in 1763. His wife gave birth to at least ten children. She died in 1752.
Platti was "Oboist, Violinist und Tenorist". A list of the court musicians from 1730 shows that "Virtuos Platti" was the best paid musician, and continued to be so, despite changes of monarch. He earned twice as much as the "Kapellmeister". Platti's position at court was unique. He was involved in chamber and church music and served as oboist and violinist. Later on he was assigned other tasks, including pedagogical ones. In a decree of 1730 it is stated that he was to teach Johanna Wolf (daughter of the Dance Master), the castrato Busch, and (after Busch's disappointing lack of development) the soprano Vogel. In a record from 1757 it is mentioned that two military band musicians were to stay at court in order to follow Platti's tuition. He was thus also supposed to teach oboists.
Platti was no doubt a virtuoso. Whether he was also a flute virtuoso has not as yet been ascertained. There is no document from his time in Würzburg recording him as a flautist. It might have been a matter of course for an oboist also to play the flute, but when Platti left Italy, the new, modern "Flauto Traverso" was still not widely known and rarely used there. In the list of musicians at the court of Würzburg a "Herr Caspar Tritt, Hoboist und Flautraversist" is included. In the same document Platti is referred to as "Herr Johann Platti, aus Venedig, Virtuos auf der Violine und Hoboe". Would a plausible conclusion be that the oboist Tritt played the flute while Platti did not? Platti's wife, Theresia Platti, is recorded as second on the list after the Kapellmeister. Husband and wife evidently had a prominent position in the court orchestra.
As a composer Platti is renowned for his harpsichord sonatas, numerous pieces for cello and his church music. His work has distinct pre-classical features, associated with composers such as Haydn. His melodious imagination and lively, elegant style are apparent. His slightly anonymous existence in Würzburg obviously contributed to the fact that he never gained the recognition he deserves.
The flute sonatas show a marked virtuoso character. This is particularly true with regard to the last sonata, No. 6 in G major. In this sonata and in No. 4 Platti wrote short solo cadenzas in the flute part, which did not become an established practice until much later. They are also very elegantly conceived, absolutely in accordance with Quantz's directions in his big "Versuch" a few years later.
The six sonatas for flute are fairly disparate. They constitute in many ways a development from baroque to classical style, and may have been composed over a longer period of time. Numbers 4 and 6 have, as mentioned, distinct classical features. We play them at a higher pitch and on a slightly later flute, typical of the prevailing instruments at the end of Platti's career. We play the other sonatas at a lower pitch, which was common practice in the early 1700s. In this case we use a flute which Platti might have encountered on his arrival in Würzburg. This is a copy of a flute made by Denner in Nürnberg in approximately 1715.
We have chosen to use double bass and harpsichord in our performance. Platti's harpsichord sonatas are a great resource for the harpsichordist to gain idiomatic ideas for the realization of the figured bass. Therefore in the flute sonatas, with the double bass one extra octave beneath, the harpsichordist has greater freedom to execute these ideas on the full range of the keyboard. Sonata No. 4 is in A major and is in this respect in a very different tonal world from the others. We wanted to give it another distinct timbre, and this is why we play it on a clavichord. The clavichord was in general use at the time as a practice instrument, in solo sonatas and in ensemble playing.
In the final movement, Giga, of Sonata No. 3 in E minor, Platti repeatedly noted "tre:" in the solo flute part. Most probably it means tremolo, and is to be played in a kind of rhythmic vibrato. The term comes from a tremulant, a device in use in many organs from the 1500s onwards. At Platti's time the designation was often used in music for the clavichord. Platti also uses the term in his harpsichord sonatas, which implies that they were composed for, or can be played on, the clavichord. "Tre:" was generally used for long notes in slow movements. In the flute sonata Platti indicated the use of it in a lively, dramatic last movement. Conceivably it could mean "trill": in the harpsichord sonatas "tr" and "tre" are used randomly. Neither tremolo nor trill seemed convincing as a solution for this part of the flute sonata. We chose another solution for which there is no documentation in Quantz's works or others. We know that there was a wide variety of instruments and a great deal of innovation at this time. The 'Toy Symphony' by Leopold Mozart is well known. In this piece of music a number of imaginative instruments are listed in the score. In the organs of the time, one finds similar items. In Casparini's famous Sonnenorgel in Görlitz the following effects are to be found, in addition to the ordinary organ stops: "Cymbelstern, Nachtigall, Vogel-Gesang, Tamburo 16', Kuckuck". We have taken the liberty of aiming for a similar effect.
Flutes made by Eugene Crijnen:
After Denner (c. 1715) a=390, Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5
After Grenser (c. 1750) a=415, Sonatas Nos. 4 and 6
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PLATTI: 6 Flute Sonatas, Op. 3