Arcangelo Corelli

George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

A seminal influence on the mid-Baroque period for all of Europe was the Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713), who studied violin in Bologna, one of the pre-eminent centers of violin performance, with its musicians at the cathedral of San Petronio and the Accademia dei Filarmonici, into which he was initiated at the age of seventeen.  Four years later he departed for Rome, residing there from 1674 until his death at age 60.


Jan-Frans-van-Douven-Arcangelo-Corelli

After stints as third, then first violinist in the orchestra of the chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, Corelli became musical director at the lavish Palazzo Pamphili, distinguishing himself as both solo violinist and conductor, and especially as the organizer of special events. In 1691, to honor the British ambassador, who had been sent to Rome by the Catholic King of England, James II, to attend the coronation of Pope Innocent XII, Corelli conducted an orchestra of 150 strings. The concert was sponsored by one of the most learned women of her age and founder of the literary Academy of Arcadia, the arts-loving Queen Christina of Sweden, who had secretly converted to Catholicism in 1654, renounced her throne, and migrated to Rome. (Nicknamed “Minerva,” she had attempted to make Stockholm “The Athens of the North,” welcoming eminent foreign writers, musicians, and scholars to her court, among them her philosophy teacher, René Descartes.)


Exterior-Palazzo-Pamphilj-Rome

Interior-Palazzo-Pamphilj-Rome

In 1689 Corelli entered the service of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, one of the great patrons of music and art of his generation who, according to Handel scholar Ellen Harris, “loved pomp, prodigality, and sensual pleasure, but was in the same time kind, ready to serve and charitable.” In addition to Corelli, Ottoboni’s “protégés” included Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, and Antonio Caldara.


Francesco-Trevisani-Pietro-Ottoboni

Queen-Christina-of-Sweden

Interior-Palazzo-Pamphilj-Rome

The Britannica records, “It is probable that Corelli also taught at the German Institute in Rome and certain that in 1700 he occupied the post of first violinist and conductor for the concerts of the Palazzo della Cancelleria Apostolica. In 1702 he went to Naples, where he probably played in the presence of the king and performed a composition by Alessandro Scarlatti. . . . [and] it is known that he met George Frideric Handel, who was in Rome between 1707 and 1708.  In 1706, together with the Italian composer Bernardo Pasquini and Scarlatti, he was received into the Arcadia Academy and conducted a concert for the occasion.”


Giuseppe-Vasi-Palazzo-della-Cancelleria-Apostolica

Interior-Palazzo-della-Cancelleria-Apostolica-Rome

Giorgio-Vasari-Fresco-in-the-Palazzo-della-Cancelleria-Apostolica-Rome

A-Concert-at-the-Palazzo-della-Cancelleria-Apostolica-Rome

In addition to violin concertos and concertos grosso, Corelli published five books of sonatas da chiesa and da camera (1681–1700) that became so popular they influenced composers not only in Italy, but in France, Germany, and England as well, inspiring an international style of violin sonatas by Tomaso Albinoni and Antonio Vivaldi in Italy, François Couperin and Jean-Marie Leclair in France, Georg Muffat and George Frideric Handel in Germany, and Henry Purcell in England. Johann Sebastin Bach studied the works of Corelli and based an organ fugue (BWV 579) on his Opus 3 of 1689.

Corelli’s church sonatas differ from his chamber sonatas not because of the building’s name where the music was performed — because they both weren’t played only in churches or chambers – but due to their musical style.  What their names imply is that Sonatas da chiesa were composed in the tradition of church music, drawing upon the means of polyphony, while Sonatas da camera were suites of dances, composed in the tradition of secular chamber music.  Today we shall enjoy two of his Sonatas da chiesa.

Let’s begin with Corelli’s Sonata da chiesa for Two Violins and Continuo in D major, Op. 3 No. 2 (Rome, 1689), which follows his standard four-movement plan. Introduced by a brief Grave in duple meter, with chains of syncopated dissonances known as durezze e ligature (harshness and ties/syncopations), the first Allegro, also in duple meter, sports a lively melody followed by other contrapuntal entries that round out an “exposition.” Further imitative polyphony and dialogue ensues. The sweetly sad Adagio, with its sometimes drooping melody, moves forward with points of imitation between the two violins and more durezze e ligature. The Allegro finale, also fugal in texture, offers a surprise – it’s in the 6/8 meter and the binary form (aa|bb) of a Gigue – which, actually, is not that uncommon in Sonatas da chiesa.

Performed by members of the Texas Christian University Collegium: violinists Chayong Lee (2nd-year doctoral student) and Julian Tello Jr. (3rd-year undergraduate student), violist da gamba Stuart Cheney (Professor of Musicology and Viola da Gamba), and harpsichordist Joseph Butler (Professor of Organ and Harpsichord)

 

In the lyrical Adagio that initiates Corelli’s Sonata da chiesa in C major for Violin and Continuo, Op. 5 No. 3 (Rome, 1700), the composer wrote only long-held notes, expecting the soloist to improvise the ornaments. Some of the embellishments in our recording stem from the 1710 Amsterdam edition by Estienne Roger, who maintained they were “composed by Corelli as he plays them,” to which Rémy Baudet has added his own flourishes. The solo violinist plays both of the initial fugal entries of the perky subject in the Allegro “A” section, followed by others in the harpsichord and more by the soloist.  A contrasting “B” section follows, full of virtuosic fiddlework. An abbreviated fugal “A” section balances the movement, crowned by a written-out Cadenza, again with extra ornaments by our soloist.  The soulful lyric Adagio, with highly ornamented melody, is in the contrasting key of A minor. An extra movement, an Allegro with rapid-fire arpeggios, brings us back to C major, in preparation for a lively closing Allegro Gigue in binary form that has a tonal surprise just before the end of the “b” section.

Performed by violinist Rémy Baudet, violoncellist Jaap ter Linden, and harpsichordist Pieter-Jan Belder.

Movements 1 and 2:

Movements 3 and 4:

Torelli and Platti

by George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

Recently we’ve been listening to concertos for harpsichord and violins. So it seems time to let two of the Baroque wind instruments come to the fore.

A real little sparkler is the Trumpet Concerto in D Major by Giuseppe Torelli (1658–1709. The Bach Cantatas Website (https://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Torelli-Giuseppe.htm) provides a detailed biography for Torelli, from which I shall draw my remarks.


Giuseppe-Torelli

Giuseppe Torelli, Italian violist and violinist, pedagogue and composer, ranks with Arcangelo Corelli among the developers of the Baroque concerto and concerto grosso. Born in Verona, he left his hometown in 1681 and shortly afterward may have taken the post as maestro di cappella at the Imola Cathedral in the Bologna province. On June 27, 1684, at the age of 26, he became a member of the Accademia di Filarmonica, Bologna’s Academy of Music, as “suonatore di violino.” He was active in the orchestra of the huge Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna from 1686 to 1695 as a violist.


San-Petronio-Bologna

Facade-of-San-Petronio-Bologna-Photo-Giovanni-DallOrto-2008

Nave-of-San-Petronio-Bologna-Photo-Giovanni-DallOrto-2008

Torelli’s first published works appeared in rapid succession:
10 Sonate a 3, for violin and basso continuo (1686)
12 Concerto da camera (dance suites) for two violins and basso continuo (1686)
12 Sinfonie, for two to four instruments (1687)
12 Concertino per camera, for violin and cello (1688)

His first trumpet works, the Suonata con stromenti e tromba, date from around 1690, his interest in the trumpet, unusual for a string player, likely owing something to the virtuoso trumpeter Giovanni Pellegrino Brandi, who occasionally performed with the San Petronio orchestra. Torelli went on to become the most prolific Italian Baroque composer for the trumpet, with some three dozen pieces, variously entitled sonata, sinfonia, or concerto, for one, two, or four trumpets.

In 1696 Torelli left Bologna and traveled to Ansbach, Germany, where he engaged in some joint musical ventures with his friend, the famous alto castrato and composer Francesco Antonio Pistocchi (1659–1726. Two years later we find Torelli serving as maestro di concerto (concertmaster) at the court of Georg Friedrich II, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach (1678–1703, killed at the Battle of Kittensee, early in the War of the Spanish Succession, which raged throughout Europe, 1701–14; Pistocchi was his counterpart as maestro di cappella (choir master). In 1699 Torelli left this position and traveled first to Vienna, and then by February 1701, returned to Bologna, where he became a violinist in the newly re-formed cappella musicale at San Petronio, directed by his former composition teacher, Giacomo Antonio Perti.  In the early 1700s Torelli and Pistocchi seem to have appeared in a number of concerts together, most likely earning substantial fees. In his final years Torelli composed the twelve Concerti grossi con una pastorale, Op. 8, which feature one of his more popular pieces, the so-called Christmas Eve Concerto (No. 6).


19th-Century-Bust-of-Francesco-Pistocchi

Georg-Friedrich-von-Brandenburg-Ansbach

The Trumpet Concerto in D major is cast in three movements, with outer Allegros framing a central movement that itself contrasts slow and very fast sections, the whole forming a tempo palindrome:

Allegro — Adagio–Presto–Adagio — Allegro

The tutti strings pronounce a trumpet-fanfare melody, followed by a typical Baroque gesture of running sixteenth notes.  The trumpet soon joins on the fanfare motive, leaving the faster notes to the strings. Before long, though, the temptation of the rapid notes becomes too much for the trumpet, who joins in, alternating with the strings in these energetic displays and adding its golden-toned trills to the longer notes.

The ensuing Adagio in B minor has the affect of a lament, with dissonant seconds falling on downbeats, then resolved sweetly, only to reemerge at the start of the next bar, and over and over again. The trumpet remains silent, as the strings work their poignant magic. Then suddenly, the mood is broken by a brief Presto of rapid-fire dueling strings, the first and second violins in unison against the lower strings in octaves. As the ensemble progresses, though, the upper strings lapse back into the dissonances of the previous section, leading to an abbreviated reappearance of the Adagio.  Principal violinist Carla Moore improvises a lovely little cadenza at the end.

The joyous Finale is an Allegro gigue that is rounded out with a descending fanfare.

All of this in an action-packed six minutes and forty-three seconds!

Performed by Dominic Favia, baroque trumpet, and the musicians of Voices of Music, playing from a new edition prepared from the original print published by Estienne Roger in Amsterdam

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIHzxgJAC-I

A native of Padua, the young Giovanni Benedetto Platti (1679–1763) joined his father in the musical establishment of St. Mark’s in Venice, where he was perhaps a pupil of Gasparini.  In 1722 he is listed as a virtuoso oboist in the service of the court of Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, where he remained active as an instrumentalist, tenor, singing teacher, and composer until at least 1761.


Giovanni-Benedetto-Platti

Johann-Philipp-Franz-von-Schönborn


Imperial-Hall-of-The-Bishops-Residence-Würzburg
Court-Church-of-the-Bishops-Residenz-Würzburg

A prolific composer, he wrote an opera, Arianna (Würzburg, 1729), a Requiem, six masses, two oratorios, and cantatas; six Concertos for Harpsichord and Strings (1742); six Sonatas for Flute and Cello (1743?); five Concertos for Harpsichord and Strings; twenty-eight(!) Violoncello Concertos; an Oboe Concerto; twenty-one Sonatas for Violin, Cello, and Bass; six Sonates pour la clavessin sur le goût italien, his op. 1 (1742; likely for the harpsichord, since they lack dynamics), and six Sonatas for Harpsichord, op. 4 (ca. 1746).

A guiding principle of late Baroque art, architecture, and music was to create an imposingly large space, but then fill in every bit of it with hyperactivity.  Witness the difference between the 15th-century San Petronio Cathedral in Bologna and the 18th-century palace of the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, with its combination of various German baroque styles with French château architecture and the imperial baroque style of Vienna.  The shell of the Würzburg palace was built from 1720 to 1744, the ceiling fresco in the Imperial Hall was completed from 1751 to 1753—all witnessed by Platti, whose music embraces the same aesthetic.

The opening Allegro of Platti’s three-movement Oboe Concerto in G minor is launched by an aggressive “turn” figure easy to recognize when it reappears as a structural ritornello, deployed above a bounding bass line.  The oboe enters with this motive, but elaborates out of the end of it, including roulades of turn-figures.

The triple-meter Largo, with its bleak detached chords and dissonances, sarabande-like rhythm, Neapolitan cadences, and soulful oboe solos has the affect of a lament—culminating in a searing sforzando chord.  Here is a composition to take through life with you!

The Allegro finale is an energetic, minor-key gigue cast in ritornello form.  The repeated head motive is again a turn.  Sudden, unexpected tonal shifts, incessantly running scales, and the virtuosity of the oboe solos engage our intense attention.  All and all, a truly capital piece!

Performed by oboist Alfredo Bernardini and the Bremen Barockorchester.  This video demonstrates how fine a socially distanced twelve-member ensemble can sound!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCjTAwaZHtE

The Stile antico and Stile moderno in Sacred Music

by George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

Today I’d like to share with you four pieces of sacred music, one in the Stile antico or Prima prattica of the High Renaissance, two that reflect the new style of composition—the Stile moderno or Seconda prattica—at the beginning of the 17th century, that is, at the start of the period we refer to as the Baroque, and one work from early 17th-century Germany in Italian madrigal style.

The proponents of the new styles believed that the words dictated the music, and therefore that the emotion of the text could justify a level of harmonic dissonance unknown in Renaissance sacred music.

As a point of reference, here’s what sacred music sounded like at the end of the previous century, during  the High Renaissance.  The work is by Spain’s pre-eminent composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria (ca. 1548–1611.


Tomás Luis de Victoria

Kyrie eleison from the Missa O Magnum Mysterium
Kyrie eleison – Christe eleison – Kyrie eleison
Lord, have mercy on us – Christ, have mercy on us – Lord, have mercy on us

Performed by the Yale Schola Cantorum, conducted by David Hill
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kJO0O1eWBQ

Note the well-controlled polyphonic entries of the four voices, the little melismatic embellishments on the word “eleison,” and the rapid resolution of each slight moment of dissonance—all of these features creating a warm, secure, otherworldly sacred realm.  In the initial Kyrie, the voices enter S–A–T–B, for contrast in the Christe, reversed as B–T–A–S, and then in the second Kyrie, interlocking T–S–A–B with more rapid entrances.

Even the radical Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) could write in this style, when the occasion demanded, as when he aspired to take up employment with Pope Paul V in Rome in 1610.  Here is the Kyrie from his six-voice Missa In illo tempore, which he dedicated to the Pope, using motives from a mass of the same name by the late Franco-Flemish composer Nicolas Gombert and creating a brilliant display of every technique in the art of counterpoint:


Claudio Monteverdi

Kyrie eleison from the Missa In illo tempore
Performed by the Ensemble Vocal Européen, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZ0uk5H69Ng

You’ll note, though, the dissonances in the Christe eleison and the faster-moving rhythms in the second Kyrie eleison. The Gloria (with its greater length of text to cover) sounds rather like a secular madrigal, and it was not a big step to the other more modern works that Monteverdi sent to Pope Paul, the set of motets entitle Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin)—works that we may refer to as sacred madrigals.

A goal of madrigals—in addition to being fun to sing—was to create musical equivalents for keywords in the poem, so-called madrigalisms. Renaissance madrigals were polyphonic, though they could include homophonic passages. With the rise of opera in the early 17th century, solo singers were accompanied by an ensemble of instruments, including a basso continuo group to play the bass line and improvise on the given harmonies—at least one melodic bass instrument (violoncello, violone, bassoon) and one harmonic instrument (harpsichord, guitar, harp, organ).  Secular madrigals were composed in the same style, usually setting poems of love. How appropriate that Monteverdi should adopt this new style when setting the sacred text “Pulchra es,” a love song from Solomon’s Song of Songs.

Claudio Monteverdi, Pulchra es

(Solomon’s Song of Songs, 6:4–5)

Vespers of 1610

Pulchra es amica mea suavis et decora, filia Jerusalem.
Pulchra es amica mea suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.
||: Averte oculos tuos a me quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt. :||

Thou art fair, my love, beautiful and comely, daughter of Jerusalem.
Thou art fair, my love, beautiful and comely, as Jerusalem, terrible as an army set in array.
||: Avert thine eyes from me, for they have made me flee away. :||

Performed by Emma Kirkby & Tessa Bonner, with the Taverner Consort, directed by Andrew Parrott
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmkzpyCajJ8

Note the sudden harmonic shift at “avert our eyes” and how the singers “flee away” on rapid extended melismas.  These final phrases of music are so engaging that Monteverdi repeats them.

Monteverdi had hoped that the two works of 1610—the Mass and the Vespers—would be his “ticket out of Mantua,” where he had become disillusioned due to the ungenerous way the Duke treated him, aggravated by the Duke’s favorite singers and artists being paid more than Monteverdi. As Jan de Winne has noted, these two compositions represented “a kind of visiting card in which Monteverdi evinced the full range of his learning and his mastery in the field of religious music—on the one hand, the Mass, written in the old style, or prima prattica, a direct inheritance from the Renaissance, and, on the other hand, the Vespers, a masterpiece in the new style . . . of the early Baroque era,” or second prattica.

But Monteverdi’s hope of a position in Rome was not fulfilled, and he had to remain at Mantua, until the Duke’s brother Francesco succeeded him and dismissed both Monteverdi and his brother Giulio Cesare, due to court intrigues and cost-cutting measures. Claudio and Giulio returned, almost penniless, to their hometown of Cremona. In 1613 Monteverdi successfully auditioned for the post of maestro at the basilicas of San Marco in Venice. Hard luck continued to plague him: on his trip back to Cremona after his audition, he was robbed by highwaymen of the 50 ducats he had received to cover his travel expenses, together with all his other belongings!

Composers north of the Alps took note of the latest trends in Italy.  A prolific composer, with over 500 individual pieces still surviving, Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672) made two trips to Venice, first in 1609–1612 to learn the Venetian polychoral (multiple-choir) style with Giovanni Gabrieli, and then in 1628–1629, to meet and study with Monteverdi.  Near the end of his first stay, at the age of twenty-six, he published his Il primo libro de madrigali (First Book of Madrigals), op. 1 (1611), a volume of nineteen secular pieces in Italian. The culmination of his second stay was marked by the publication in Venice of his first book of Symphoniae sacrae, twenty settings of biblical texts for voices and instruments in the style of the seconda pratica.


Christoh-Spätner-Heinrich-Schütz-ca.-1660

Heinrich Schutz’s setting of another of Solomon’s Song of Songs shows that he learned his lessons well from Monteverdi.  Note how the music for opening line permeates the rest of the piece, acting as a ritornello, between phrases of decorated recitative, and how the sweet pair of violins add to the pastoral quality, all anchored firmly over a basso continuo.

Heinrich Schütz, O quam tu pulcra es
(Solomon’s Song of Songs, 4:1–7)
Symphoniae Sacrae, op. 9 (1629)

O quam tu pulchra es,
Amica mea, columba mea,
Formosa mea, immaculate mea,
O quam tu pulchra es.
Oculi tui columbarum.
O quam tu pulchra es.
Capilli tui sicut greges caprarum
O quam tu pulchra es.
Et dentes tui sicut greges tonsarum.
O quam tu pulchra es.
Sicut vitta coccicinea labia tua.
O quam tu pulchra es.
Sicut turris David collum tuum.
O quam tu pulchra es.
Duo ubera sicut duo hinnuli capreae gemelli.
O quam tu pulchra es.

O, how beautiful you are,
My beloved, my dove,
My lovely one, my perfect one,
O, how beautiful you are.
Your eyes are as doves,
O, how beautiful you are.
Your hair is as a flock of sheep
O, how beautiful you are.
And your teeth are like newly shorn ewes.
O, how beautiful you are.
A scarlet ribbon are your lips.
O, how beautiful you are.
Your neck is as the tower of David.
O, how beautiful you are.
Your breasts are like two fauns, twins of a gazelle.
O, how beautiful you are.

Performed by tenors Tobias Mäthger Artist: Georg Poplutz, with an ensemble conducted by Tobias Mäthger
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbjABJ3R7DY&list=RDJbjABJ3R7DY&start_radio=1

Johann Hermann Schein (1586–1630), who served as cantor at St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig a hundred years before Johann Sebastian Bach held the position, never went to Italy.  But he studied the music of Giovanni Gabrieli and Monteverdi from afar and adapted the Italians’ styles to the German language.  Schein composed secular and sacred madrigals, as well as Venetian-style polychoral music and dance suites.  His setting of two famous verses from Psalm 126 reveals his artistry as a sacred madrigalist who makes vivid the emotion of each phrase of text through his music.


Johann-Hermann-Schein

Johann Hermann Schein, Die mit Tränen saen
(Psalm 126:5–6)
Fontana d’Israel (The Fountain of Israel), 1623

Die mit Tränen säen,
werden mit Freuden ernten.
Sie gehen hin und weinen
und tragen edlen Samen,
und kommen mit Freuden
und bringen ihre Garben.

May those who sow in tears  –  Rising chromatic imitation
Reap with shouts of joy!  –  Joyful, dance-like
He that goeth forth weeping,  –  Rising line + dissonant harmonies
Bearing the seed for sowing,  –  Neutral setting
Shall come home with shouts of joy,  –  ¾, homophonic, cross-accents
Bringing his sheaves with him.  –  Climactic, slower tempo

Performed by the Ensemble Vocal Européen (sopranos Vasiljka Jezovšek & Elisabeth Scholl, alto Simon Berridge, tenor Hervé Lamy, bass Peter Kooy), directed by Philippe Herreweghe

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbBbCuwyqNk

Bach’s Vivaldi

by George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

As we saw last weekend, during his employment at the court of Weimar, Johann Sebastian Bach prepared solo harpsichord versions of concertos by Antonio Vivaldi. Today I’d like us to listen to one of the Vivaldi concertos that he transcribed for the organ.


Pier-Leone-Ghezzin-Caricature-of-Vivaldi-1723

As a performer, Bach was first and foremost an organist. His first job was as organist of the Neukirche in Arnstadt (1703–07; where he got into trouble with the church authorities for overstaying his leave to walk to Lübeck to hear Dieterich Buxtehude perform his choral and organ music. Bach’s next professional position was as organist of the Divi-Blasii-Kirche (St. Blasius Church) in Mühlhausen (1707–08; where he composed organ preludes, fugues, toccatas, and fantasias, as well as his two earliest-known cantatas—Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (From the Depths I call to you, Lord, 1707) and the well-known Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ Lay in the Bonds of Death, by 1708), two choral works that, once heard, journey with one through life.


Johann-Friedrich-Wender-organ-Neukirche-Arnstadt

Mühlhausen-ca.-1650

St.-Blasius-Church-Mühlhausen

Such was Bach’s mounting fame as a “hot-shot” organist that the very next year he was hired as court organist—as well as violinist, concertmaster, and director of chamber music—by the Duke of Weimar. At that court he composed Fugues on themes by Corelli, Legrenzi, and Albinoni, many Preludes and Fugues, the Fantasia & Fugue in G minor, the Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C major, and his two most famous works for organ, the Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565—musical rhetoric in action!—and the massive Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, as well as his two organ arrangements of Vivaldi Concertos, one of which we shall hear today.

CONCERTO No. 8 in A minor, RV 522 —> BWV 593 in A minor

As Elaine Thornburgh has noted and we saw last week, Bach was particularly attracted to the Italian style in which one or more solo instruments alternate section-by-section with the full orchestra throughout a movement. From the Italians he learned to write dramatic openings and employ dynamic rhythms and harmonic schemes.

In practically all of the instances where Bach arranged Vivaldi’s concertos from L’estro Armonico (The Harmonic Whim), Op. 3 (1712), he was not satisfied with a literal transcription—he did not simply make a “keyboard reduction.”  Instead, as we saw last week, he enriched the original by strengthening its often meager polyphony, sometimes even rewriting the entire bass line. The A-minor Concerto for Two Violins is an exception— Bach paid it the compliment of making no changes at all. And the compliment is well deserved. The concerto has no weakness in its structure and is highly inspired and masterfully written throughout.  So let’s take a deep dive into how it “works.”

First Movement (no tempo indicated)

The concerto’s opening movement is built on the usual late-Baroque ritornello principle, which means that the sturdy first tutti statement or parts of it reappear regularly throughout the movement and at the end, providing structural “pillars” that support the entire movement. Usually the ritornello presents one distinctive, easy-to-recall musical event, but in this movement Vivaldi radically creates an opening ritornello consisting of five sections, each with its special musical purpose:

  • A: Three chords followed by a rhythmically energetic surge, to launch the movement (00:00 for the Tafelmusik orchestral version linked below)
  • B: A brief four-note motive (eighth-sixteenth-sixteenth-eighth) played four times (later used by the soloists, too), to surge forward (00:06)
  • C: A falling melodic/harmonic sequence of rhythmically driving seventh chords, to change key (00:10)
  • D: A wavering treble line over a pedal point, to leave us dangling mid-air (00:18)
  • D’: The wavering treble line in a descending sequence to a tonic cadence, to resolve the tension that has built up (00:27)

Yes!  And all of this in less than 32 seconds! Only then do the two solo violins first enter with still more new material (00:32).

To get your bearings, here is a scrolling-score of Bach’s version, performed by the English organist Simon Preston (who recorded the complete works of Bach for DGG), with enlivening articulation in the fast movements and lovely coloring of the central movement:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFjXo1E2vsI

As the movement progresses Vivaldi selects one or more of the ritornello sections to serve as his structural “pillar,” placing them in different keys as he modulates, before returning to the tonic at the end of the movement. One never quite knows what to expect. If he wants to push forward, he deploys B; if he wants to leave us dangling mid-air for a while, he employs D; if he wants to resolve some built-up tension, he uses the cadential D’, etc.

Between the ritornellos Vivaldi spins out the solo passages that are not only softer by their nature, but also lighter in character, more playful, or more lyrical, thus bringing the contrast of tutti (full ensemble) vs. solo (violin duet) into sharp focus. In spite of the multiplicity of themes, the form of the movement remains admirably clear, concise, and balanced – a joy to follow, once you catch on to Vivaldi’s new methods.

Second Movement: Adagio – Senza Pedale a due Clav (3:22)

The somber mood of the second movement is created by a powerful unison statement centered on a downward leap of an octave, repeated three times in a downward sequence, as in a classic Baroque lament bass. Bach indicates that this passage should be played piano, though in Vivaldi’s original it is not marked as soft, and might have been played more boldly.

This strong opening acts as a preface to a middle part of enchanting tenderness in which the two solo violins—in the best tradition of Claudio Monteverdi’s madrigal duets like Zefiro torna and Pulchra es, partly intertwined, partly in harmony—spin out a lovely melody over a steady background of a descending ostinato in the upper and middle strings that is a faint echo of the movement’s opening statement. The delicacy of this middle section is enhanced by the silence of the lower strings and continuo—a striking texture Bach would use in his Passions.  All the sharper and more dramatic, then, is the contrast when the full unison tutti breaks in at the end with a repeat of the opening musical gesture. This beautiful elegy is one of my favorite pieces of Baroque music—or music of any period.

Third Movement: Allegro (6:15)

Again in ritornello form, the last movement resumes the rhythmic energy of the first movement, with even more breathless drive. A stunning feature is the sudden emergence of a hauntingly beautiful, widely arched melody in the second violin against arpeggios in the first violins—one of those truly magical Vivaldi moments that come out of the blue and transport us to another realm.

If you’d like to see an organist play this virtuosic piece, here is Ulf Norberg’s performance in Hedvig Eleonora Church, Stockholm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhgATpiXPHo

Note how the organist changes among the three keyboards to alter the dynamics and color, and how sometimes two keyboards are used, in addition to the foot pedals.

To hear an organist not afraid to add his own pyrotechnics to Bach/Vivaldi, check out Ton Koopman’s fine performance.  His improvised arabesques in the middle movement deepen the mystery even further. And the tempo of the Finale is just right:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Kh2aYPyELI

But now to hear the composition’s original version! Farewell, Weimar!  Welcome to Venice!

Vivaldi: Performed by the Tafelmusik ensemble of Toronto, one of the world’s top baroque orchestras.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E-RTI-H2oI

So what became of the man who could write such beautiful music, and was a seminal influence for a genius like Bach?  Well, his life did not have a happy ending.

As the scholars quoted in the Wikipedia essay recount, Vivaldi had met the Hapsburg Emperor, Charles VI, in 1728 while the emperor was visiting Trieste to oversee the construction of a new port. Charles admired Vivaldi’s music so much that he is said to have spoken more with the composer during their one meeting than he had spoken to his ministers in over two years. He knighted Vivaldi and gave him a gold medal as well as an invitation come to Vienna. In exchange Vivaldi presented to Charles a manuscript copy of a set of his concertos.


Johann-Gottfried-Auerbach-Emperor-Charles-VI

Two years later Vivaldi, accompanied by his father, traveled to Vienna and Prague, where his opera Farnace was presented and garnered six revivals. Two of his later operas were created in collaboration with Pietro Metastasio, the major representative of the Acadian movement and court poet in Vienna.

But with his compositions no longer held in such high esteem in Venice as they once had been, due to changing musical tastes, Vivaldi decided to relocate to Vienna. His hope was that the success of his meeting with Emperor Charles VI would yield a position for him as composer to the imperial court.

Vivaldi took up residence near the Kärtnertortheater, but shortly after his arrival in Vienna, Charles VI died, leaving Vivaldi without royal protection or a steady source of income. He soon became impoverished and died during the night of July 27/28, 1741, at the age 63, of an “internal infection.” Vivaldi was buried in a simple grave in a cemetery next to the Baroque Karlskirche that was owned by the public hospital fund.  The precise site of his tomb is unknown.


Karl-Wenzel-Zajicek-Kärtnertortheater-by-1923

Fischer-von-Erlach-Karlskirche-1737

The Classical and Romantic periods were little aware of Vivaldi’s art.  Only in the early 20th century, when the Fritz Kreisler composed a Violin Concerto “in the Style of Vivaldi” that became quite popular, did scholars like Marc Pincherle start to unearth and study Vivaldi’s music.  Among the new fans instrumental in Vivaldi’s revival were the Italian composer and conductor Alfredo Casella, the American poet Ezra Pound, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, the German scholar Arnold Schering, and the American violinist Louis Kaufman.

Over the years, numerous Vivaldi manuscripts have been discovered, including a cache of fourteen bound volumes of his works previously thought to have been lost during the Napoleonic Wars, but found in a monastery in Piedmont in 1926.  The volumes contained 300 concertos, 19 operas, and over 100 vocal-instrumental works!

Since the Second World War, Vivaldi’s compositions have enjoyed wide success, aided in no small part by concerts and recordings of historically informed performances on period instruments.  And previously unknown works continue to be found.  Settings of the psalms Nisi Dominus and Dixit Dominus turned up in 2003 and 2006, and an entire opera, Argippo (1730), was discovered in 2006 and produced two years later in Prague Castle.  The year 2014 yielded an unknown Trio Sonata for Violin, Cello, and Continuo, and the year 2015, a youthful Sonata for Violin in A major.  (A mirthful “New Discovery Teaser,” including a phone conversation with Vivaldi (!), is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfxHwqiCbPY; be sure to click on the English closed captions.)

Bach–Vivaldi

by George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

Last weekend I mentioned that, in addition to arranging a four-violin concerto from Antonio Vivaldi’s popular L’estro Armonico, op. 3, for four harpsichords and strings, Bach “reduced” three concertos from this set for unaccompanied harpsichord, and two more for organ. He most likely prepared these “reductions” during the period July 1713–July 1714, while he was serving as organist to the court of the Duke of Weimar and learning the new Italian style stemming from sunny Venice. I’ve placed “reduced” and “reductions” in quotation marks because, while fitting the full tutti onto just a keyboard, Bach went further and added more contrapuntal lines to Vivaldi’s texture. Some of the concertos he transposed into different keys.


Canaletto – The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice

Canaletto-The-Bucintoro-Venice

Canaletto-Veduta-del-Palazzo-Ducale-Venice

CONCERTO No. 3 in G major, RV 310 —> CONCERTO in F major, BWV 978

  1. Allegro
  2. Largo
  3. Allegro

A scalar motive, easy to hear when it returns, opens the ritornello. The solo violin offers up echos and sequences. Standing in stark contrast is the minor-key Largo, with lyrical wisps and arabesques in the solo violin supported by bleak orchestral chords (“Winter”?).  Active life is rejoined in the Allegro Finale, which is all hustle and bustle, with the bass charging forward, echo effects and engaging syncopations in the upper strings, and the soloist showing off fast-note virtuosity.

Vivaldi: Performed by Elizabeth Wallfisch, violin, with Tafelmusik, by Jeanne Lamond
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6b7WH9Le-E

Watch how Bach adds to the left-hand imitations of the right hand’s scalar motive, to increase the movement’s dynamism.

Bach: Performed by the elegant young French harpsichordist and organist Benjamin Alard
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv3sUq-GJe0

CONCERTO No. 9 in D major, RV 230 —> CONCERTO in D major, BWV 972

  1. Allegro
  2. Larghetto
  3. Allegro

For this work we’ll listen to two recordings: Fabio Biondi playing the Vivaldi and Richard Egarr performing the Bach.  The Allegro is announced with a group of well-spaced, snappy dotted rhythms open to interpretation — is it a slow introduction (Biondi) or an assertive overture (Egarr)? The same interpretative options are available for the central Larghetto, as witness our two recordings — is it soulfully sad, or is it melancholy yet strongly anchored?  On the harpsichord Egarr’s Finale is a bold burst of sound, replete with bounding chords and improvised trills; with Biondi’s orchestra, it is a spritely, dance-like dash-to-the-finish, with quick minor-key inflections.

Vivaldi: Performed by violinist Fabio Biondi with Europa Galante
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ymn1i-kMn2M

Bach: Performed by the English harpsichordist Richard Egarr, playing on a 1640 Ruckers harpsichord
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CACAlhcmKPM

As Egarr notes, “Bach added an interesting part for the left hand in the third movement, and in the first movement he fitted a whole string orchestra onto one harpsichord, while also making the music more appropriate for keyboard.” For a demonstration of how Bach did this, see Richard Egarr’s chat at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWYCEqH3RfE&t=os

CONCERTO No. 12 in E major, RV 265 —> CONCERTO in C major, BWV 976

  1. Allegro
  2. Largo (Vivaldi) —> Largo e spiccato (Bach)
  3. Allegro

The chipper ritornello Allegro, with its bouncing repeated notes, is always welcome on each reappearance.  The solo violin appears with a bit of the opening motive in sequence before weaving its own extensions of fancy fiddle-work, specializing in showy cross-string playing.  The Largo features contemplative dueting between soloist and first violin, often in stepwise sequences, ending in warm, secure cadences. In The English Concert’s interpretation the ritornello of the Allegro final has a galloping feeling, setting off the soloist’s rapid-fire displays of virtuosity. Yet, all ends quietly.

Vivaldi: Performed by violinist Simon Standage with Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bGxZMUoBh8

Bach: Performed by Robert Hill on a harpsichord built by his brother, Keith Hill, with a scanning score that allows you to see, as well as hear, the step dynamics in the tutti sections using the two keyboards, the brilliant passage-work in the solo sections, as well as how a fine harpsichordist ornaments the melodic lines, inserts poignant hesitations (especially in the Largo), and employs a wonderful variety of arpeggiation (or rolling) of full chords to create lush “orchestral sounds.” After hearing Vivaldi’s original Finale, you’ll be amazed at the incredible arrays of left-hand passage-work that Bach adds to drive the movement forward at a manic pace. You’ll need to take some deep breaths after the roiling, then crashing climax!  In Bach’s hands (and Hill’s performance) Vivaldi’s quiet closing takes on a certain nobility of accomplishment.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL0LLFcJENg

During his years in Weimar, Bach also transcribed two of Vivaldi’s double violin concertos for the solo organ. We shall explore these works next week.