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EXPLORING MUSIC:ROCK-SOLID PERFORMANCES / Muffat's Apparatus Musico-Organisticus

The MHS Review 396 Vol. 11, No. 18, 1988

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David Raymond


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Eclecticism is in. There is much talk these days in critical circles of con­solidating musical styles that were once considered mutually exclusive, but in truth this has been an issue throughout music history.

One of the great concerns of the baroque period, for example, was the defining of "national styles." French music was praised (and not just by Frenchmen) for its "flowing, natural movement" and harmonic simplicity--an offshoot of the French ballet music tradition. Flash and vir­tuosity were found in Italian music, with its flourishing traditions of string and vocal writing and its composers' taste for more chromatic and "affec­tive" harmony.

But once these styles became established, some composers began to wonder how they might be combin­ed into a cosmopolitan style that would have the best aspects of both. Francois Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau tried to combine French and Italian styles in their keyboard and in­strumental music (one of Couperin's pieces is straightforwardly titled "The Styles Reunited"). So did a less well­-known composer, Georg Muffat. His interest in musical cross-pollination came easily to him; he was a French­-born composer whose ancestors were Scottish, and he worked in Vienna and Prague before settling in Passau, Germany.

Muffat's fearsomely titled Ap­paratus musico-organisticus (1690) has nothing to do with devices for playing the organ, but is an omnibus title for an omnibus work: a compen­dium of aspects of baroque musical style in the form of 12 toccatas, "touch pieces" which test the keyboard musician's mettle. It runs the gamut of styles available to Muf­fat, and this is apparently its first com­plete recording.

If you wanted to put the baroque era into a time capsule, Apparatus musico-organisticus might do about as well as anything else. The in­fluences of earlier and contemporary composeres (Frescobaldi, Corelli, and Lully, who was Muffat's teacher) are many, and the attempts to reconcile the developing concerto style, with its alternation of soloist and orchestra, with the demands of a keyboard in­strument would be echoed in many of J.S. Bach's organ and clavier works.

It may sound suspiciously like a specialist's record, but the 12 toccatas are a fascinating grab bag of styles and "affects." They're notable for their virtuoso demands, their harmonic adventuresomeness, and their overall grandeur of conception and physical sound, all of which come over well on this recording.

Robert Cavarra's performances are well-informed (every decoration seems to be in its proper place) and rock solid. The typical capriciousness and volatility of the baroque era are conveyed in the music itself, and not in the playing. Cavarra's performances are enhanced by the clarity and pleas­ing sound of two instruments: Col­orado State University's Casavant Organ, and the Phelps Organ of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Fort Col­lins, Colorado.

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