Claudio Merulo's reputation rests principally on his great, imaginative Toccatas. A recent complete edition of the Canzoni d'intavolatura d'organo (edited by W. Cunningham and Ch. McDermott, Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance, vols. 90-91, 1992) has allowed us to increase our knowledge of another field of composition in which Merulo proved himself a master. What still remains to be established are his achievements as a composer of instrumental music in strict counterpoint. It is true that Merulo's Toccatas contain passages in imitative polyphony; it is also the case that evidence of Merulo the polyphonist, as revealed in the three great Messe d'intavolatura d'organo (1568) has been available to modern scholars ever since the truly pioneering edition of them by Jean-Baptiste Labat, published as early as 1865 by Richault in Paris. Although this edition was available on the market until quite recently, it remained virtually unknown to the majority of organists and scholars.
The present Edition, devoted to the consummate contrapuntal art of Merulo's Ricercari d'intavolatura d'organo deserves a better fate. Merulo published this work himself in 1567 as the first volume of "that series which I have composed and hope gradually to bring into the light of day", as the dedication to Conte Marcantonio Martinengo puts it. This suggests that Merulo intended to publish no less than the twelve libri d'intavolatura d'organo mentioned in the Privilegio which was printed with the Ricercars. This ambition was, as far as we know, only partly realised by Merulo in the remaining 37 years of his life (the Messe in 1568, 1st book of Canzone in 1592 and the 1st book of Toccatas in 1598). In addition there are the posthumously-published 2nd book of Toccate (Simone Verovio, 1604) and the 2nd and 3rd books of Canzoni (published by Merulo's nephew Giacinto in 1606 and 1611). The three books of Ricercari da cantare (1574, 1607 and 1608) are worth mentioning, and should be counted as 'keyboard works' inasmuch as they were described as "lucubrationes, quas Deo in organis obtuli" and by Giacinto Merulo as "produced for the benefit of students of the organ".
So far as is known, only one copy of the first (1567) edition of the Ricercari d'intavolatura survived. This was in the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in Berlin until the second world war, but afterwards appeared to be either lost (see H. M. Brown, Instrumental Music Printed before 1600 (Cambridge, Mass., 19672) or actually destroyed (C. Sartori, Bibliografia della musica strumentale italiana (II, Firenze, 1968). The apparent loss was only partly ameliorated by the existence of a second edition (Venice, Angelo Gardano, 1605) because of its variants and mistakes and also the poor state of preservation of the single surviving copy (Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale di Bologna). It was not, however, a total loss, because of the complete manuscript copy of the 1567 edition made by Alfred Einstein, and preserved in the library of Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.
Armin Gaus and Andrea Marcon were not, however, satisfied with the idea of basing their new edition solely on Einstein's copy and were, in fact, able to go directly to the original. The single surviving copy that had been in Berlin was, thanks to Andrea Marcon's intuition and dogged determination, finally tracked down to the Biblioteka Jagiellonska in Cracow. The present Edition, then, owes its existence to a somewhat sensational discovery.
Merulo's Ricercari, as already outlined, were republished by Angelo Gardano a year after the composer's death (an edition, which despite the gaps in the sole surviving copy, was republished in facsimile by Forni, Bologna in 1982). Although Gardano assured his customers that the Ricercari had been printed "with all diligence", the second edition is in fact less correct than the first. Furthermore it displays a notable curiosity: a great number of diminutions and ornaments are presented in simpler versions of the ones found in the first edition. I venture to suggest that we are dealing here not with an editorial simplification, but rather that Gardano was working not from a copy of the first edition, but from an earlier manuscript which does not represent the composer's last thoughts on the matter. This bears a notable similarity to the circumstances surrounding the publication of the three organ masses of Girolamo Cavazzoni some decades earlier. These were first published during the years 1543-1549 together with Hymns and Magnificats; then later (probably between 1556 and 1569) by Antonio Gardano, father of Angelo. This second edition presents, just like Merulo's Ricercari, various diminutions in simpler forms, as well as some archaisms (particularly in the Kyrie of the Missa Dominicalis) that leads to the hypothesis that the later edition is based, in the same way, on a earlier version.
Quite rightly, the present Edition is based on the music text of the 1567 edition, with the differences and mistakes in both earlier editions fully described in the Critical Commentary. Furthermore, all the variants of the second edition are printed out in full. The Editors' determination to provide a clear text that is of practical use to non-specialists but which is also faithful to the notation of the original tablature is to be applauded. As is already well-known, it is a characteristic of Italian keyboard tablature that it makes a priority of practical instructions for the player's hands, but thereby somewhat obscures the logic of the polyphonic structure of the music. The distribution of the music across two staves rigorously delineates the work of each hand; thus the numerous rests do not indicate that one voice stops, but that the voice in question passes from one hand to the other (see, for example, bars 21 and 26 in the Ricercar del primo tuono). Additionally, unisons are normally not printed out, and are often replaced by rests (one example among many is in bar 52 of the same Ricercar del primo tuono). All such details are reproduced in the Edition.
This practical aspect of the notation, however, does not hide the contrapuntal voice-leading, nor does it hinder analysis of the polyphonic structure of the music, and should be no reason for undervaluing Merulo's achievments as a composer. One can now see how the polythematic Ricercar characteristic of his predecessor Cavazzoni has been developed in the hands of Merulo, in that the long series of sections based on single subjects of the earlier form has given way to a more sophisticated treatment, so that such masterpieces as the Ricercar del secondo tuono or the Ricercar del duodecimo tuono assign a central role to a single major theme. In contrast to many of his predecessors, contemporaries and successors who chose to dress their Ricercars in sober fashion, clothed with only moderate diminutions or none at all, Merulo's are richly decorated. The re-publication of this book further enriches our knowledge of that valuable and exemplary school of diminution which Merulo's keyboard works represent for us.
I hope very much that this Edition will win the favour of academic and practical musicians. Keyboard players will find in Merulo's Ricercari confirmation of Girolamo Diruta's recommendation of 1593 (albeit in a statement about 'quilled instruments' but certainly also pertinent to the organ): "whoever wishes to play with refinement and grace should study the works of Signor Claudio, and there he will find everything he requires".
Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini