Program Notes for 20 & 21 October, 2001

ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS

MUSIC FROM THE ITALIAN PENINSULA
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 20 October, at Los Altos Christian Church
3 p. m., Sunday, 21 October, at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales
 

Two Canzonas:  La Treccha and La Cattarina………………………….....Tarquinio Merula (1594/95-1665)
recorder, violin, continuo

Sonata.............................................................................................................Domenico Gabrielli (1659-1690)
 Grave—Presto—Adagio
 Allegro
 Largo
 Prestissimo
viola da gamba, continuo

Sonata a tre, op. 1, no. 8...............................................................................Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750-51)
 Grave
 Allegro
 Grave
 Allegro
voice flute, violin, continuo

Sinfonia, op. 5, no. 1……………………………....………………Giovanni Battista Bassani (c. 1650-1716)
 Allegro
 Grave
 Allegro
 Adagio—Prestissimo—Adagio, e forte—Prestissimo
oboe, violin, viola da gamba, continuo

****intermission****

Sonata, op. 16, no. 6……………………...………………...…………………Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704)
 Adagio—Allegro e presto
 Vivace, e largo—Spiritoso
 [Adagio]
 Aria.  Allegro
 Veloce
violin, continuo

Sonata in F major..............................................................................................Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
 Adagio
 Allegro
 Adagio
 Allegro
 Adagio
 Allegro
recorder, continuo

Concerto in D major, RV 92……………….....………………………………..Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
 Allegro
 [Larghetto]
 Allegro
recorder, violin, continuo

Program Notes

Italy has long been considered the cradle of the Baroque, where new music acclaiming the supremacy of the solo voice and the affective intensity of dramatic contrasts found ready ears and enthusiastic support in the early 17th century.  No other geographical region was prepared to accept this new aesthetic as wholeheartedly as Italy did., and the spread of the movement on the Italian peninsula was rapid and wide.  Though the earliest Baroque devices and theories were applied specifically to vocal music, they quickly infected instrumental genres.   Similarly, though the earliest Baroque music was performed at court or at “academies” in palaces of wealthy people, it soon was heard in churches and, after such places opened, in opera theatres.

Most of the music on our program would have been presented first in a church, and most of the composers of these pieces functioned at least part of the time as church musicians.  All seven composers furnished music for use in church liturgy.  Merula and Bassani were church organists, and Gabrielli and Corelli played, respectively, cello and violin in church ensembles.  Leonarda entered a convent at age 16 and remained there for the rest of her life, teaching music and eventually rising to the rank of mother superior.  Vivaldi never held a church position, but his instrumental music was performed as part of sacred rituals in the Venetian orphanage where he worked.

This leaves Albinoni, who indeed held no paying position at all, living off his inheritance and the proceeds from his extremely popular publications and numerous opera productions.  His music attracted other composers, including J. S. Bach, who used the second movement of the sonata we’ll play to create a keyboard fugue, BWV 951.  Others of our composers also enjoyed successful public careers.  Gabrielli, Bassani, and Vivaldi, in addition to Albinoni, were active opera composers and, in that capacity, cosmopolitan travelers.  All but Leonarda and Albinoni performed at academies, in church ensembles, or as soloists.  Gabrielli was one of the first cello virtuosos.  Vivaldi was widely known as a virtuoso violinist, and Corelli’s influence as violinist and teacher reached deep into the 18th century.  Bassani’s violin playing was once termed “better than Corelli’s,” and  Merula played violin as well as keyboard.

Four of our composers, then, were violinists.  If there is a catchword for Italian Baroque instrumental music, it is this:  fiddle!  The violin had emerged in northern Italy during the first half of the 16th century, and for about a half century it served mainly to accompany dancing and to amplify the vocal parts in largescale entertainments.  Since violinists were professionals, not gentlemen, they were of distinctly low social status and were barred from aristocratic circles.  By the late 16th century, however, professional musicians were more in demand, and the violin quickly became not only socially acceptable, but the preferred solo and ensemble instrument.  Why was it so desirable?  It was flexible enough to be retiring and aggressive by turns.  It could sound like a fine singer.  It could accomplish florid and dramatic figuration with aplomb.  Further, the famous Italian violin-making schools in Cremona and Brescia had been formed, and good fiddles were being built.

Our wind player justifiably complains that she has to play many melodies originally designated for violin.  On this program, she’ll be doing just that in the pieces by Merula, Bassani, Albinoni, and Corelli.  The title of  this last, a sonata for solo recorder and continuo, implies that it has a solo wind part, but it’s an anonymous 18th-century transcription of a violin sonata by Corelli.  In fact, in all seven pieces we’ll play, the only line originally for a wind instrument is in the Vivaldi concerto.

Meanwhile, our violinist is very content with her lot!  Not only does the ensemble music we’ll play have idiomatic parts originally for her instrument, but she’ll also perform an outstanding piece for solo violin and continuo: the sonata by Leonarda, apparently the first such work published by a woman.

While the violin was enjoying its esteem among Italian composers and the rich repertory they provided, the cello was hardly appreciated in Italy until late in the 17th century.  Domenico Gabrielli was the first Italian to compose sonatas for solo cello.  Our bass player will perform one of his sonatas on viola da gamba instead of on cello, so we have transposed the piece to a more appropriate key.

*****

Of the seven composers represented on this program, two, or perhaps three, may be known to most of our audience members:  Corelli, Vivaldi, and maybe Albinoni—in other words, those from the late part of the Baroque era.  We do hope you enjoy the music that’s new to you as well as that by the more familiar composers!  We will play the pieces in more or less chronogical order, from the Merula canzonas of 1637 to the Vivaldi concerto of the early 18th century;  the remaining works date from the 1680s and 1690s.  You may notice a gradual change of emphasis, from the fantasy and unpredictability of the earlier music to the patterning and discrete movements of the later music.  However varied, though, these approaches share a sense of passion, of yearning for a meaning beyond the mere notes.  Modern performers of this music aim to recapture this passion, and want listeners to appreciate it, too.  The Albuquerque Baroque Players is an instrumental ensemble, yet we know and feel that the music we perform, especially the Italianate music, is profoundly rooted in the expressive act of singing—which, after all, is what inspired the beginning of the Baroque.
 

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