Picking a Composer at Random: Teodorico Pedrini

I’m bored and can’t sleep, after having had a touch to drink in Westherspoons, so I thought it would be a fun distraction to pick a random composer to write some first impressions on.

To pick one I went onto Wikipedia to list composers by name. Using an online letter dice, I narrowed the list alphabetically. I kept rolling the dice until I got a composer. The first roll was P, then E, then D, then R, and finally rolled an I. Pedrini, Teodorico Pedrini.

Born in 1671, Pedrini was an Italian composer — but also a missionary in China. According to Wikipedia, he ‘is the author of the only Western Baroque music compositions known in China in the 18th century’. This surely makes him a highly important figure in the early export of western classical music.

So, onto YouTube I go. First video:

Forgive me, but I did not listen to the whole hour. Instead just the first two pieces. It’s certainly very Chinese, the first piece sounding like it could have been written for the erhu. It’s not strictly pentatonic, but it’s quite obviously the scale on which it’s centred.

The second piece is more interesting, and more recognisably baroque, basso continuo and all. Each movement is short and delightful. It doesn’t sound especially remarkable to my ears, but one can only imagine how alien it must have sounded to audiences in early 18th century Beijing. I notice, however, that the portrait of Pedrini included in the video suggests that he successfully assimilated into Chinese culture. The music is perhaps fascinating in this one sense, Pedrini being the only Chinese (or near enough) baroque composer I can think of. He clearly borrows from Chinese traditional music, giving it a personality distinct from any other music of the time.

Becoming a bit more curious, I’m skipping to half way through, around the 27 minute mark. More pentatonic scale on the cello. Now at 30:15, it gets much better. The cello starts playing an attractive minor-key melody, and the accompaniment is quite good. It does go on a bit though, losing focus somewhat. The allegro is sounding very monotonous to me.

Next video:

I think I prefer this. The lute, or whichever instrument it is, is particularly pleasant. It doesn’t sound quite as oriental, but the harmonies work well. The flute is the solo instrument, and texturally seems a better fit than the cello. Much lighter, more endearing.

I would be interested to read about Pedrini’s inspirations. Did his Catholic faith (recall his status as a missionary) inspire his writing? Did he become more interested in Confucianism, as his assimilation into Chinese culture might suggest, and did this affect his music? Regardless, an interesting composer, at least historically, and definitely worth a listen.