Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671-1750): Concerto Grosso in F major, Op. 5, No. 2 Allegro Largo Allegro assai
Giambattista Cimador (1761-1805): Concerto for Double Bass and Strings Allegro Larghetto Tema con Variazioni
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Concerto in A minor for Two Violins and Strings, Op. 3, No. 8 (L'estro armonico) Allegro Larghetto e spiritoso Allegro
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in B minor for Four Violins and Strings, Op. 3, No. 10 (L'estro armonico) Allegro Largo Allegro
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Serenade in D major for Timpani and Strings, K. 239 Maestoso Minuet Allegretto
Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868): Sonata No. 5 in E-flat major for Strings Allegro vivace Andante Allegretto
Program Notes by Judith Eckelmeyer
Among the many glories of which Venice could boast in the baroque era was a tradition of music that was sumptuous, innovative, and accessible to a populace delighting in beauty and excitement. The vivid "stereophonic" polychoral works of Giovanni Gabrieli and the multi-faceted operas of Monteverdi at the beginning of the period set a groundwork for composers born late in the seventeenth century. These, in their own way, continued to provide striking and characteristic works with the Venetial stamp upon them.
By the time that Tomaso Albinoni and Antonio Vivaldi were writing their music, several instrumental genres had evolved: the principal ones were the concerto and the sonata. The concerto, especially, captured the Venetian imagination, for it made possible the contrast and interaction of disparate forces which might be boldly identified by timbre differences or by varying levels of virtuosic treatment. The solo concerto and the concerto grosso (or grand concerto) offered truly unlimited opportunities for exploring both coloristic and virtuosic possibilities for the individuals of the solo unit (the concertino), while a small cadre of strings and the ubiquitous continuo (consisting of a harmony-producing instrument and the bass-reinforcing instrument: harpsichord, lute, or organ, and cello) provided the fuller and more generalized presence (the ripieno).
By this time, two kinds of "formulas" had also evolved for writing a concerto, thanks in part to the work of Arcangelo Corelli a half generation earlier than Albinoni and Vivaldi. One formula was a series of four movements in a slow/fast/slow/fast pattern. The second formula, much preferred by the later generation was a three-movement series, fast/slow/fast. In this layout, several other factors could be expected The first movement, for example would operate on a ritornello concept in which a more-or-less unison or homophonic theme would recur, setting off episodes featuring the concertino instruments(s). In Corelli's earlier model, the ritornello would be the object toward which the soloists would drive, so that the end of the movement would be a magnificent summation of the previously introduced theme. But in the later concertos which Vivaldi typically produced, the ritornello would begin the movement in full bloom, triggering, as it were, all the subsequent material and episodic events; some historians credit Vivaldi with inventing this procedure. The three-movement concerto's second movement tended to focus on a beautiful melodic idea for the soloist(s), although it must be said that here, too, Vivaldi invented some distinct options to this treatment of slow tempo. The third movement might b another ritornello process or perhaps a fugue. Whatever the model, however, both Albinoni and Vivaldi were likely to try new ways of dealing with the underlying concerto principle and often produced works that were atypical of the majority of their output in the genre.
Albinoni composed because he like to do so, not because it was a profession. He was born into the family of a wealthy merchant and studied violin and singing privately. Opera fascinated him; he wrote over fifty for the public and thirty more for private performance, as well as a handful of shorter staged works and cantatas. But, he also produced over a dozen sets of instrumental works, including sonatas or concertos in groups of six or twelve. In spite of his amateur or dilettante status and his limited contact with the mainstream professional composers in Venice, his influence in shaping the literature of his own and later generations was enormous; Johann Sebastian Bach was but one of the German composers who borrowed from his music.
Albinoni's Concerto in F, Op. 5, No. 2, was published in a set of twelve in 1707. It is termed a concerto a cinque because of its scoring for three violins, viola, cello, and bass. The 'concerto' element is the soloistic writing for one of the violins, which surfaces as the featured instrument particularly in the first and second movements. The work is a miniature tempo plan popular in the late baroque. Its first movement is much simplified, not truly the ritornello form of the time.
Each of Vivaldi's roughly 500 concertos is more than twice as long as Albinoni's Op. 5, No. 2. The violin writing in them varies greatly, almost as if Vivaldi were exploring not only the idiom of the instrument but the capacity of the performers as well. This might indeed be the case, for Vivaldi wrote his instrumental works for a very special performing group, the music students from the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, one of four Venetian institutions which housed, educated, and raised orphaned, abandoned, and indigent girls. Evidently, Vivaldi's tenure as instructor and composer for talented music students at the Pietà--and even his departure from Venice--the ensembles continued to perform his concertos, which he would write in other cities on commission from the Pietà.
Vivaldi's career as a musician was really his sixth endeavor, following his stints as baker, wigmaker, paving contractor, and publisher, and somewhat in default of his inability (through illness) to pursue the liturgical responsibilities that would normally have accrued to him after his ordination to the priesthood in 1703. His composing spanned the genres of the time, including over twenty operas, many sacred works, and of course sonatas, concertos, sinfonias, and so on. Even more than Albinoni, Vivaldi was represented internationally through the publication of his music in Amsterdam; it was because of this that J.S. Bach, especially, came to know specific works and to transcribe a number of them. The twelve concertos comprising L'estro armonico, Op. 3, published in 1711, are a case in point; Bach, adapted the eight through twelfth concertos of this set. The works in L'estro armonico are arranged in four groups of three, each subset containing concertos for one, two, and four solo violins, thus, Bach explored twice over the breadth of vivaldi's treatment of the concerto element in this collection.
While Vivaldi's A minor and B minor concertos on this evening's program are both laid out in the same general pattern, the B minor, with its four soloists, quite outshines the two-violin work in technical impact. It allows each of the soloists to present his material individually and in combination with the others, often with segments of themes interchanged or in imitative sequence with each other. The slow movement is exceptional in having three sections: the first and last contain slow, dotted chords, and the middle is a series of slowly changing chords energized by etherial arpeggios in both the solo and ripieno violins over pulsating notes in violas and cellos. The concert's spectacular conclusion is a vigorous gigue.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, new patterns of writing emerged and were often applied to lighter genres intended principally for amusement and background entertainment. In the case of Giambattista Cimador, upbringing in a noble Venetian family may have provided the disposition and means for exploring the new style in dramatic music. However, having decided to give up composing, he move to London in 1791 and embarked on a career in singing and publishing. Through the latter he made a number of Mozart's works available to the public, often through his transcriptions of the music.
Cimador's concerto for double bass, written while he was still in Venice, intended to show off the young virtuoso bassist, Dragonetti. Every bit of the Venetian tradition for display and beauty has been transmitted through the new, lighter style. Perhaps Cimador's lightness was too predominant: Dragonetti went to the trouble of adding his own variations as an extension of the last movement.
Mozart ventured into the "entertainment" business, as it were, by writing not only in the new galant style but also designating a number of his works as "diversions" of one sort or another. The Serenata Notturna ([redundantly] nocturnal serenade), K. 239, is a truly amusing work from his Salzburg years, written when he was twenty. It is scored oddly, having a kind of lopsided concerto grosso solo group of two violins, viola, and violin (double bass), and a ripieno of strings without double bass but including two timpani. If the date of January 1776 is correct, we might wonder what special occasion called forth the unusual style and scoring and the inherent sly humor of this piece. Might the Archbishop, Mozart's employer, have had a party? Was Fasching early that year? The first movement march has several "false steps" in it, giving comic gesture to the already distinctly unmilitary caste of the instrumentation. The second movement is a tuneful and delicate minuet with its solo trio. The third movement rondo uses the intervening excursion sections as the opportunity for playing musical tricks. Besides giving the listener some abrupt surprises, Mozart may have been quoting local songs that he thought would mean something to the audience in that situation--and undoubtedly he was contributing even more to the good fun by his diversionary piece!
Gioacchino Rossini wrote his six sonatas for two violins, cello, and bass in 1804, at the age of twelve, before he had received any formal musical training. He was, however, born into an extremely musical family: his father was a professional symphonic horn player and his mother was a singer; both performed actively throughout Gioacchino's childhood. There were also a few private lessons from local teachers, so it is unlikely that these Jugendwerke sprang from absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, they are remarkable for their coherence and variety of content, not to mention their evidence of the young composer's precocious awareness of the likes of Mozart (in particular). The sonatas also show elements of Rossini's later style, which is more than amply reflected in fourteen sacred works of varying sizes; twenty-five cantatas, hymns, or choruses; over fifty miscellaneous vocal works; nearly thirty instrumental works; and nearly four dozen operas: tragic, serious, melodramatic, farce, comedy, and so on.
The fifth sonata, in E-flat, is in three movements. The first is an experimental sonata form, with lots of violin activity and occasional bass prominence; the development drops for a while into minor with a passage strongly reminiscent of Mozart's G-minor string quintet's last movement; the recapitulation material is shared by viola and violin with an accompaniment of a characteristic bass motive. The second movement is a soulful melody for the violin; there are several heartrending moments in the harmonic content. The final movement is a merry, tripping dance with many frills to challenge the unwary or inexperienced ensemble.
As I Solisti Italiani performance is not available on YouTube, please enjoy these performances:
Albinoni's Concerto Grosso in F major, Op. 5, No. 2 Collegium Musicum 90 | Directed by Simon Standage
Cairo Symphonic Orchestra | Ahmed El Saedi, conductor Gerd Reinki, Doublebass
Vivaldi's Concerto in A minor for Two Violins and Strings, Op. 3, No. 8 Tallinn Tallinn Music High School String Orchestra | Toivo Peäske, conductor 1st violin: Katariina Maria Kits (15) | 2nd violin: Maria Tiimus (14)
Vivaldi's Concerto in B minor for Four Violins and Strings, Op. 3, No. 10 Karol Szymanowski Music School Orchestra in Wrocław, Poland | Marcin Grabosz, conductor Jagoda Ciechańska, violin | Nadia Kłos, violin | Aleksandra Lenkiewicz, violin | Dominika Szyler, violin | Anna Wąsik, cello
Mozart's Serenade in D major for Timpani and Strings, K. 239 Kremerata Baltica | G. Kremer, conductor
Rossini's Sonata No. 5 in E-flat major for Strings Lyric Opera Orchestra | Maestro Enrique Mazzola, conductor
Complete Program PDF
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