Back to index
Barker, Naomi Joy

Analytical Issues in the Toccatas of Girolamo Frescobaldi

Ph.D. Royal Holloway, University of London, 1995

The toccatas in Frescobaldi's two volumes of Partite e toccate (1614/15, 1627) and in his Fiori musicali (1635) represent a genre that is improvisatory in essence but preserved in print; their dual nature is emphasized by the composer's prefaces. Problems concerning the analysis of a musical text that is not fixed due to the inadequacies of contemporary printing technology, the demands of performance and the imprecise notation of an unwritten tradition are explored before several areas of analytical interest in the toccatas are addressed.

Examination of the motivic content of the toccatas reveals structural procedures that apparently belie their improvisatory origins. Their underlying subjects, complex motivic development and large-scale sectional formats may be interpreted as skeletal structures on which improvisational processes are based.

Moreover, some underlying procedures are apparently based on modal conventions, and this is supported by the evidence of the ordering and notation of Frescobaldi's three publications. Mode, expressed in terms of motifs formed by the characteristic intervals - especially the species of fifth and fourth - is also shown to be a possible basis for improvisation.

The chromatic compositions are discussed in the context of theories of chromaticism and of ancient tonality - their related issues of tuning - and that of contemporary hexachordal and modal theory.

Within these toccatas, motif and mode are discussed as manifestations of rhetorical principles: both these aspects are subject to elaboration within strictly defined formal parameters. Formulaic rhetorical procedures provide a framework for the control of musical ideas, which, whether motivic or modal in origin, provide the subject for composition and improvisation.