"The Fantastic style ... is the most free and unrestrained method of composing; it is bound to nothing, neither to words nor to a melodic subject; it was instituted to display genius and to teach the hidden design of harmony ... and is divided into categories commonly called Fantasias, Ricercars, Toccatas, and Sonatas." Athanasius Kircher, a German-Jesuit historian, music theorist and theologian, thus defined the fantastic style in his influential Baroque music treatise "Musurgia Universalis" (1650). Born in Italy, the fantastic style, also called "stylus phantasticus" and "stil moderno," gained in popularity throughout the 1600's. It was an improvisatory, virtuoso solo instrumental style with dramatic contrasts, sudden quicksilver changes of tempi and character, novel and strange flights of fancy. It wandered into bizarre harmonic and chromatic language, and favored extravagant angular gesture to melody. It arose from instrumentalists' desire to imitate the exciting new vocal expression and drama of the early Baroque opera, and may also have roots in melismatic chant. Its instrumental predecessor, the "stravaganza" (Italian for "extravagance" or "fantastic eccentricity"), was first seen in the late 1500's. It was characterized by a free form and extravagant and unusual melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic features such as wide leaps, strange and dissonant harmonies, and bird and animal imitations.
Fantastic style works usually consist of one short multi-sectioned movement with contrasting tempi and characters. This unrestricted form allowed for an extremely wide range of expressive possiblities and experimentation which challenged both the musical and instrumental limits of the time. What a long road the sonata has travelled from its early fantasia-like freedom to Beethoven's formalized works of motivic architecture, rigid with expectations to be either predictably followed or surprisingly thwarted! The toccata, primarily unique to solo keyboard instruments, evolved throughout the era as well. Frescobaldi, already a skilled contrapuntalist, began writing in the new style which used music as a rhetorical vehicle to express the affectations. He in turn influenced younger composers who further developed different threads of the toccata. Froberger, who had been court organist to Emperor Ferdinand III in Vienna, studied with Frescobaldi in Rome. His toccatas place greater structural importance on imitative writing. Frescobaldi was also friend and mentor to the famous virtuoso violinist Michaelangelo Rossi. Rossi's toccatas employ chromaticism which surpasses both Frescobaldi and Froberger, and his Toccata VII is one of the most striking pieces of early 17th-century Italian harpsichord music. Picchi’s toccata is full of brilliant running passages interrupted by grave chordal sections. It pre-dates Frescobaldi’s toccata and somehow found its way into the important English manuscript, The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.
The solo violin was born on the wave of the fantastic style. As Renaissance polyphony gave way to the new solo recitativo style of opera, violin ceased to be merely a consort instrument for accompanying ballets, madrigals, and ceremonies. Suddenly the violin "aspired to the same flights of fancy and bursts of virtuosity granted the heroes and heroines of opera" and gained status and character as "a purveyor of high art of Apollonian character." * It was into this ripe atmosphere that Pandolfi entered -- some fifty years into the early Italian violin school of Cima, Fontana, Farina, Castello, Marini and Uccellini -- providing a link to the Austrian-German-Bohemian violin school of Schmelzer, Biber and Walther.
Unfortunately we know next to nothing about Pandolfi. More unfortunately, his only surviving works are his 12 violin sonatas of Op. 3 & 4 (1660), and another possibly dubious publication of 18 sonatas and dances from 1669. We don't even know his name for sure: his 1660 opuses state his name as Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, while the 1669 opus uses D. Gio. Antonio Pandolfi. Pandolfi was probably born in the 1620's or 1630's in Umbria, Italy. He may have had some musical training in Perugia -- two of his sonatas are dedicated to Perugian prior Benedetto Stella. He worked, probably as a violinist, for Innsbruck's Hapsburg ruler Archduke Ferdinand Karl, an avid music patron who brought numerous Italian musicians to his court. Some of Pandolfi's music may have been onboard a boat which sunk in the Danube River in 1665 while moving the Innsbruck music library to Vienna.** His Innsbruck salary expired in 1660, and his 1669 publication indicates that he was a violinist in Messina, Sicily.
By far the most striking aspect of Pandolfi's violin sonatas is his extraordinary harmonic and chromatic language, including his use of the forbidden tritone. He writes out numerous ornaments and trillos (quick repetitions of the same note, often in one bow), and uses the same chromatic cadential pattern (F#-F E D) in five sonatas. Willi Apel suggests that some short motivic melodies in La Clemente and La Vinciolina imitate the "motto aria" of Pandolfi's contemporaries Cesti and Legrenzi.*** The sonatas are almost all dedicated to Pandolfi's Italian musical colleagues at the Innsbruck court. La Cesta is dedicated to opera composer Antonio Cesti, famous in his day and choirmaster at the Innsbruck court. La Viviana is dedicated to choirmaster Antonio Maria Viviani; La Castella to court organist Antonio Castelli; and La Clemente, La Biancuccia and La Monella Romanesca to court castrati.** The "most illustrious" and "singularissima" Signora Teodora Vinciolini is a mystery woman to us today. We don't know the nature of Pandolfi's relationships with these people -- were these dutiful dedications, homages or satires? Did he employ personal jokes? Quote dedicatees' compositions, ornaments or favorite songs? Use sound effects to poke fun at their gestures or personality quirks? It's all conjecture, but it provides much grist for the imagination!