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Program Notes

Venice and Vienna in the Early 17th Century

From Venice

Venice was always distinguished from the other great Italian cities due to her economic ties to the east and the booming commerce pursued through international shipping. At the beginning of the 17th century, she was already past her political zenith, but Venice was still home to a powerful oligarchy that enjoyed considerable wealth. Musicians from throughout Italy and Europe came to Venice to find employment sustaining the display of Venetian magnificence in music. The musicians in the latter half of 16th century Venice developed a style that was recognizable for its spectacular approach, divided choirs, and virtuosic writing for the voice, now known as the “Venetian School.” In the early 17th century, Venice became a hotbed of experimentation in instrumental composition, as well as a center of opera, publishing, and other musical activity. Most of the musicians of this century worked for at least some time in Venice, primarily at the basilica of St. Mark’s. All of the collections from which these pieces are taken were published in Venice, whose presses played a central role in the diffusion of printed music throughout the century. Works by authors from all over Italy and Europe were published there. This immense amount of musical productivity emanated from Venice to influence the whole of Europe.

To Vienna

The Venetian style was strongly felt in Imperial lands, where Archduke Ferdinand of Graz, Austria, placed his court ensemble under the direction of Italian composers and maestri di cappella at the end of the 16th century. When he became Emperor Ferdinand II in 1619, he transferred his then entirely Italian ensemble to the Hapsburg residence in Vienna. Antonio Bertali was third in the line of Italian maestri di cappella. Giovanni Battista Buonamente was the Imperial chamber musician and composer in the Vienna Hofkapelle. Massimilano Neri dedicated his sonata collection (apparently composed for Vienna) of 1651 to Emperor Ferdinand III, who eventually raised Neri to the nobility. Thus the Imperial musical establishment was dominated by Italian musicians and styles, and Venetian styles met Viennese music, and evolved into a new idiom.

Instrumental music forms

In the early 17th century, instrumental music, following a radical change in Italian vocal music, expanded as never before. The first great master of the new style of vocal music, Claudio Monteverdi, maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s, has found a solid place in our concert halls, but the instrumental repertoire of that time remains relatively unknown to today’s audiences. Monteverdi, though prolific, left no independent instrumental music. Instrumental music played a secondary role in the written culture of church polyphonists, but it was nevertheless essential on many occasions, from the Mass to civic ceremonies.

The Sinfonia

The sinfonia is a short, instrumental work used to introduce other works in entertainments or theatrical productions. It was used in both secular and religious settings.

The Canzona

The emergence of truly idiomatic music for instrumental ensemble began with the canzona da sonare (“song to be played”), modeled on the chanson (the French song). The addition of the basso continuo (a system of notating bass parts with figures to indicate which chords to play) to the 16th century canzona allowed for solo and duo sections to alternate with tutti passages, eventually leading to canzonas for fewer than four instruments. Canzonas were generally a conservative form with only occasional changes in meter, although many later canzonas are similar to the new sonata form.

The Sonata

The sonata takes elements of the traditional multi-voiced Venetian canzona, includes virtuoso solo writing and concertante exchanges between players, and creates an extended work for fewer musicians. Sonata means “something played.” The early sonatas are in one continuous “movement.” Although different sections of a sonata clearly require different tempos, tempo marks are generally absent in the earlier works, and did not become standard until after 1650.

The Chaconne

Popular dance music has always been brought into the world of art music. The chaconne was a lewd and riotous dance that came to Italy from Spain. The development of the basso continuo increased the importance of dance genres such as the chaconne that rely on a repetitive ground bass. The chaconne became one of the most popular and important of these genres. A chaconne’s syncopated bass line is typically eight –measures long.

Instrumental music based on vocal music

Creating new works from familiar songs is the basis of much of music of the Renaissance, and this practice continued in the 17th century. The Ruggiero may have begun as a simple chord progression used for singing poetry. The name refers to Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, which was probably sung to its tune. Rossi’s sonata uses the Ruggiero ground bass eight times. La Monica was a popular song, the complaint of a young girl forced to become a nun. Marini’s sonata consists of several variations of the song’s harmonic progression, although the tune itself is never used.

The Composers

Pier Francesco Cavalli was born Francesco Caletti-Bruni in Crema. He took the name Cavalli in homage to his benefactor, Federico Cavalli, who took him to Venice in 1617. Cavalli began his career at St. Mark’s as cantor, became second and then first organist, finally becoming maestro di cappella in 1668. Cavalli was a true disciple of Monteverdi, writing for both church and theatre. Monteverdi made eloquent use of the descending fourth, usually a bass line for a lament, as does Cavalli in his Sonata à3 from Musiche sacre.

Salomone Rossi “Hebreo” was born in Mantua and spent his life working for the Gonzaga family. We know that he worked in close collaboration with Monteverdi for several years, but his compositions remain on a fairly basic level, unlike those who worked with Monteverdi at St. Mark’s. Very little is know about Rossi, probably because he was Jewish, and even the respect in which he was held as a composer did not eliminate all of the obstacles for a Jewish musician functioning in a musical culture dominated by Italian Catholicism.

Though his parents were Italian, Francesco Turini was born and lived the early part of his life in Prague. A child prodigy, he was appointed court organist at the age of 12, later traveling to Rome and Venice to study. He served as a private organist in Venice before becoming organist at Brescia’s Cathedral. His only instrumental works are included in his first collection of madrigals.

Giovanni Antonio Bertoli was possibly born in Brescia. His book of nine solo sonatas for bassoon and continuo was dedicated to the cathedral organist of Brescia, Francesco Turini, who may have been Bertoli’s teacher or co-performer. It is the oldest know collection devoted exclusively to solo sonatas, a distinction made all the more extraordinary by the fact that the collection is for a bass instrument. Bertoli--who must have been a bassoonist of considerable standing himself-- composed the sonatas at the suggestion of violinist Antonio Bertali.
Biagio Marini, born in Brescia, was one the most famous violinists of the time, first appearing in records at the age of 15 at St. Mark’s. He returned to Brescia, in 1620, traveled to Parma, Neuburg, Germany, and Milan, finally returning to Venice in 1653.

Little is known about Giovanni Battista Fontana except what we find in the introduction to his posthumously published collection of sonatas. He was evidently a violin virtuoso who worked in Brescia, Venice, Rome, and Padua. Fontana took the sonata forward, allowing each instrument an individual voice, notably freeing the bassoon from its previous continuo role. His sonatas represent some of the earliest instrumental experiments with the new basso continuo style and contribute to the rise of the violin as the leading instrument of the later seventeenth century.

Marco Uccellini was one of the principal movers of violin technique in the middle of the 17th century. He was maestro di cappella to the royal courts of Modena and Parma, but published his collections in Venice.

Tarquinio Merula was born in Cremona, and after brief tenures in Bergamo and as court organist in Warsaw, settled in Venice. While in Venice, Merula further developed the instrumental sonata, giving it greater structural order and clearer thematic coherence. He eventually returned to his hometown as the cathedral’s maestro di cappella.

Born in Mantua, Giovanni Battista Buonamente was probably a student of Monteverdi there. He was a violinist and was in the service of Vincenzo di Gonzaga. In 1622, Eleonora di Gonzaga married Emperor Ferdinand II. Buonamente accompanied Eleonora to Vienna and soon became chamber musician to the Hapsburg emperor. He returned to Italy to settle in Assisi at the Basilica di San Francesco, the highest honor for a composer in the Franciscan Order. Buonamente composed seven books of instrumental works, but only the last four have survived. In the Sonata “Cavaletto Zoppo” (“limping horse”), he creates a vivid musical description in a strict and elegant formal framework.

Massimilinao Neri was born in Brescia. He became organist at St. Mark’s in 1644, directly after Monteverdi’s death. He traveled to Vienna for Ferdinand III’s wedding, but spent the rest of his career in Bonn, Germany.

Antonio Bertali was born and trained in Verona, but spent most of his career at the imperial court in Vienna, first as a court violinist, then assuming the position of Hofkapellmeister in 1649. Although his sonatas presage the importance of the violin in sonatas in the future, Bertali is most often recognized as the first composer to produce Italian operas for non-Italian audiences.

Dario Castello published in Venice two volumes of “Sonate concertate,” and nearly all our knowledge of Castello’s life comes from the title pages and dedications to these volumes. He was a member of the Venetian Doge’s six-member piffari (wind-players) and a musician at St. Mark’s. His first volume is the first printed collection ever to be devoted entirely to instrumental works, while his second is the first ever to consist entirely of sonatas. Castello was a pioneer of musical notation, being one of the first to include clear tempo markings, bar lines throughout, and indications to use the harpsichord instead of the organ as a continuo instrument. It is clear that Castello’s style was influential, particularly judging by the numerous editions of his works and their presence in collections throughout Europe. Castello dedicated his second volume to Emperor Ferdinand II.

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