ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS
with Stephen Redfield, Baroque violin
7:30 pm, Saturday, 10 January 2015, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church
3:00 pm, Sunday, 11 January 2015, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales
Music of the Italian Baroque
Passamezzo, from op. 8 Biagio Marini (c. 1594-1663)
recorder, violin, continuo
Sonata #4 in A minor Francesco Mancini (1672-1737)
Sonate “Didone abbandonata Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770)
Trio in C minor Giovanni Antonio Brescianello (c. 1690-1758)
oboe, violin, continuo
Toccata Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632-1692)
Trio in D major, RV 84 Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
recorder, violin, continuo
While our “Voices & Violins” theme refers to the guest artists with whom we’ve been privileged to work this season, it also encapsulates the genius of the Italian Baroque. This new style was born around 1600 on the Italian peninsula, where the expressive capacities of the solo voice led composers to break free—often in audacious and daring ways—from the constraints of Renaissance polyphony. The experimental spirit quickly spread to instrumental music, leading to the birth of the canzona and sonata as well as instrumental variation forms. This was also the golden age of violinmaking, and the versatile violin soon became the solo and ensemble instrument of choice. As a consequence, we and our guest violinist have found a plethora of musical riches from which to choose for this weekend’s program.
Biagio Marini, a violinist, singer, and composer, worked as both a church and a court musician in numerous Italian cities as well as at the German courts at Neuburg and Düsseldorf. While he produced a great deal of vocal music in his capacity as church musician, he is best known for his collections of instrumental works. The largest, and most innovative, of these is his opus 8, published in 1629 and titled Sonate, sinfonie, canzoni, passemezzi, baletti, correnti, gagliarde, e ritornelli, a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6. voci, per ogni sorte di instrumenti. From this volume we’ve selected a set of variations on the passamezzo antico for two violins—we’ll use violin and recorder—and continuo. The passamezzo was a rather stately dance, described by Thoinot Arbeau in his 1589 treatise Orchésographie as a “pavane played less heavily to a lighter beat” and typically composed over a standard harmonic progression. Marini’s passamezzo comprises 10 parti (variations, a.k.a. divisions or figurations) in a variety of rhythmic patterns. In one of these the bass is the active line, with the trebles essentially filling in the harmonies; in others, the intricately interlocking rhythmic figures of the treble voices suggest a single melodic line. The seventh and eighth parti arguably constitute the passamezzo’s musical centerpiece: the seventh is slower—moving mostly in quarter notes—and highly chromatic, while the eighth features continuous written-out trills over a slow-moving bass line.
Also built on the variation principle are two of the three short pieces from Giovanni Battista Vitali’s Partite sopra diverse sonate (the term sonata, in this context, is perhaps best understood in its original generic sense of “instrumental piece”). Vitali, a cellist and singer, was a major force in the development of the Baroque sonata, and he is credited with introducing various means of achieving both unity and variety in a multi-movement work, including the use of harmonic bass patterns, variation techniques, and pervasive use of dance rhythms. The Partite from which our selections are taken were first published only in the 20th century, and constitute a rare instance of Italian Baroque music for solo violin. From this volume our violinist has extracted a short suite that opens with a toccata—a type of free-form showpiece usually associated with keyboard instruments—and continues with two sets variations on popular dance forms. The Bergamasca is based on a simple, even stereotypical, harmonic progression (tonic-subdominant-dominant-tonic) that became associated early in the 17th century with a single tune on which Vitali bases a set of continuous divisions. The Ruggiero is composed over a longer ground bass that became a standard underpinning for any number of song and dance tunes.
Vitali’s contributions to the sonata appear to have influenced Arcangelo Corelli, the pre-eminent Italian composer of the middle Baroque who, in turn, influenced a generation of composers in Italy and beyond. Among these, most likely, was Francesco Mancini, the only non-string-playing composer on our program. An organist, Mancini worked at the royal chapel in Naples and also served as director of the conservatory there. He composed primarily operas and sacred music, leaving only a handful of instrumental works including a set of twelve sonatas for recorder and continuo. Our selection from this set is on the model of the Corellian four-movement sonata da chiesa (“church sonata”). The opening Spiritoso movement, with frequent points of imitation between recorder and continuo, segues into a brief Largo, followed by a fugal Allegro and a second, songlike Largo. The rather quirky finale is marked, curiously, “Allegro spiccato,” suggesting that the sonata might have had a previous incarnation as a violin piece – or, perhaps, that the recorder’s articulations should emulate the violinist’s spiccato (“bouncing bow”) technique!
The lone composer on our program to spend his entire career outside of the Italian peninsula was the violinist Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello. Born in Bologna, Brescianello served as Kappellmeister (music director) at the Württemburg court in Stuttgart from 1717 until his retirement in 1755—with a seven-year hiatus when the court went bankrupt, during which time he focused on composition. Most of his output consists of chamber music for the violin in various instrumental combinations. The first movement of the C-minor trio is reminiscent of the French overture, prototypically a stately opening section in dotted rhythm, followed by a quicker fugal section. In Brescianello’s French overture, however, the slow opening is more affective than stately, and the fast section contains points of fugal imitation rather than a fully worked-out fugue. The Adagio suggests an operatic dialogue between oboe and violin, and the concluding Allegro might be described as a quirky minuet.
Despite the pre-eminence of the violin, and of violinist-composers, in Baroque Italy, you may have noted that these composers tended to produce significant volumes of sacred music—not surprising, given that the church was a major employer of musicians—and opera. An exception to this trend was the violinist, pedagogue and theorist Giuseppe Tartini, whose oeuvre consists almost entirely of sonatas and concertos (with string orchestra) for the violin. As Tartini once wrote to a friend: “I have been asked to write for the opera houses of Venice, but I always refused, knowing only too well that a human throat is not a violin fingerboard.” Yet some of his violin sonatas reveal a theatrical flair that anticipates the Classic-Romantic era. His most famous composition, the “Devil’s Trill” sonata, was purportedly inspired by a dream in which Tartini hands his violin to the devil, who play[s] with consummate skill a sonata of … exquisite beauty ….” Many of his sonata movements bear epigraphs taken from Pietro Metastasio, who supplied the librettos for numerous 18th-century operas. “Didone abbandonata,” the name by which our selection has come to be known (although it may or may not have been attached to the sonata by Tartini himself) is the title of Metastasio’s first libretto, in which Queen Dido of Carthage throws herself into the flames upon being rejected by Aeneas in the aftermath of a series of political and romantic intrigues. This sonata, while designated “da chiesa” à la Corelli, is in the three-movement (slow—fast—fast) form that became current in the mid-18th century. The opening Affettuoso has the character of a lament, the middle Allegro suggests raging grief, and the final Allegro evokes a melancholy gigue.
We conclude with a chamber concerto by Antonio Vivaldi, that most beloved—despite the hoary quip that he wrote the same piece (fortunately, a good one!) 500 times—of Italian Baroque composers. Despite its trio-sonata scoring, this work is on the model of the characteristic late-Baroque concerto, where one or more soloists are pitted against the larger ripieno group—roughly, the orchestra. The fast movements are in ritornello form, where the ripieno group presents its theme in various keys, alternating with contrasting solo episodes. Here, the entire ensemble takes the ripieno role, while the virtuoso solo episodes in the outer movements are played by the recorder with continuo. The songlike second movement provides the soloist with ample opportunity for ornamentation over slow-moving, almost mechanistic, harmonies.
Italian styles proved to be highly exportable, giving rise during the 18th century to an international Baroque idiom. The sole holdout—for a while, at least—was France, where the prevailing musical aesthetic was the near-polar opposite of the Italian. For a look at this other side of the story, we invite you to join us at our next concert, featuring Baroque violinist Dana Maiben in a program of French Baroque music.
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