Passamezzo Moderno
Home Biographies Concert Schedule Programs Publications CDs Reeds Cadenzas Students Contact Us

Program Notes

Across the Alps
From Italy to Germany in the Early Baroque

The Origins of the Baroque

In the late 16th century, a group of philosophers, thinkers and musicians, who frequented the Medici court in Florence, sought to revive classic Greek ideals in modern Italy. One goal was to reclaim Greek practices for the declamation of poetry, which they believed was sung in ancient times. It was decided that simple music, one voice with limited instrumental accompaniment, best represented what the Greeks must have done. In conjunction with this new aesthetic, a new system of notation developed in which the middle voices of polyphony were omitted in favor of only a bass with figures indicating chord progressions. Thus, basso continuo was developed, and the musical era, which we call the Baroque, began.

Claudio Monteverdi's mastery and profound knowledge of musical traditions allowed him to revolutionize musical language. He channeled the virtuosic effects of the Venetian style into the new manner of writing for solo voice, producing a huge array of works in the genre that came to be known as monody. Adherence to the text was of paramount importance, and even when writing sacred monody, he masterfully preserved the identity of the motet while dividing it into segments that accentuated the affect expressed by the words. In Monteverdi's early works, and in the motets and madrigals of his contemporaries, the voice dominates. When instruments were first added, they often performed simple ritornellos serving to punctuate and allow a moment's rest for the voice. But in the 1620s, motets for voices with one or more obbligato instruments enjoyed considerable popularity. German composers who visited Italy transplanted this style to the German-speaking lands.

By the 1620s, motets had left behind the declamatory style of singing (stile rappresentativo) common to the first Baroque operas. The new, mixed style (stile misto) alternated between declamatory recitative and richly ornamented passages and melodic motifs. Other motets influenced by the Venetian aria began including extended passages in triple meter. Venetian composers imitated the new vocal style for the instruments they thought best suited – the cornetto and violin for the soprano, the organ, harpsichord, lute, viol and double harp for the continuo. The sackbut, dulcian and the viol were also favored for concertante bass parts. This new manner of instrumental writing was called stil moderno.

From Italy to Germany

Monteverdi's ties to German courts were well established. His son (Massimiliano, named after the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor) had the brother of the future Ferdinand II for a godfather, and we know that Monteverdi visited the Imperial Court at Innsbruck and Prague with Duke Vincenzo of Mantua. Following the marriage of the duke's daughter, Eleonora di Gonzaga, to Ferdinand II in 1622, Monteverdi adapted his second opera for performance in Vienna in 1628. Monteverdi's relation with the Imperial Court continued to the end of his life. His last two great publications were dedicated to Ferdinand III, who had succeeded Ferdinand II, his father, in 1637. Monteverdi was not alone in his ties to the Imperial Court. Under Ferdinand II Vienna was a center for the transmission of modern Italian music north of the Alps. A sizable number of Italian composers made Vienna their home.

Giovanni Priuli and Giovanni Giacomo Arrigoni both served at Ferdinand II's court, where sacred music was heard often both in and out of liturgical contexts. Politics and religion were closely linked during the Thirty Years War and the Counter-Reformation. As a result, court musicians enjoyed great largesse from Ferdinand II and thus were able to make significant contributions to nearly every important genre of the early 17th Century.

Giovanni Battista Buonamente was a violinist in the service of Vincenzo di Gonzaga in Mantua. In 1622, at the marriage of Eleonora di Gonzaga, Buonamente accompanied his mistress to Vienna and soon became chamber musician to the Hapsburg emperor.

Although it is not known whether Dario Castello ever served or even visited the Imperial Court, he did dedicate his second volume of Sonate concertate in stil moderno to Emperor Ferdinand II. 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.

Antonio Bertali spent most of his career at the Imperial Court in Vienna, first as a court violinist for Ferdinand II, then assuming the position of Hofkapellmeister in 1649 under Ferdinand III. He died while the Imperial Court was under his third Emperor, Leopold I.

In 1624, Biagio Marini was offered a position, "musico riservato," at the Wittelsbach court in Neuburg Germany, with which he would be variously connected for the next 25 years.

From Germany to Italy and Back

Johann Hermann Schein, Samuel Scheidt, and Heinrich Schütz are often mentioned together as the leading German composers of the first half of the 17th century. Schein was one of the first to absorb the stil moderno of the Italian Baroque and, in the forward to his instrumental collection, Banchetto Musicale, of 1617, he announced his intention to produce music fully in the new Italian style in his next collection. Scheidt included a separate continuo part in his instrumental collection, Ludi Musici of 1621. Yet, of these three, only Schütz actually made the trip to Italy. Schütz went to Italy twice. At the age of 24, he spent four years studying with Giovanni Gabrieli. At age 43 and now famous, he returned to Italy to keep up with latest developments and to escape the troubles of the Thirty Years War.

In 1634, Nuremberg officials granted Johann Erasmus Kindermann permission and money to travel to Italy to study. Nothing is known about his stay in Italy, and in 1636 he returned to Nuremberg to take the position of second organist of the Frauenkirche.

Christoph Bernhard made two sojourns to Italy to further his musical education. His first visit in 1650 was to Venice, and, after his appointment as assistant Kapellmeister in Dresden in 1655, he went to Rome. On both occasions he returned with Italian musicians for the court of the Prince Elector of Saxony.

The Composers and Their Music

Claudio Monteverdi was born in 1567 in Cremona. In 1590, he began working at the court of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga in Mantua as a vocalist and viol player. By the time Monteverdi became maestro di cappella at St. Mark's in Venice in 1613, his reputation as a master composer was well established throughout Italy. In addition to his operas, his most influential contributions are his nine books of madrigals, the first six composed in Mantua and the rest in Venice. Through them he evolved his vision of what he termed seconda prattica, the use of free counterpoint with a hierarchy of voices, emphasizing soprano and bass, where word dominates harmony. Salve, o Regina, o Mater, although anonymous, it is almost undoubtedly by Monteverdi. It is a variant on the Salve Regina text and was first published in a collection by Lorenzo Calvi, at that time a bass at Pavia Cathedral.

Biagio Marini, born in Brescia, one the most famous violinists of the time, first appears in records at the age of 15 at St. Mark's. He returned to Brescia in 1620, then traveled to Parma, Neuburg, Germany, and Milan, before returning to Venice in 1653. His opus 8, one of the largest instrumental collections of its time, is dedicated to Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia of Austria, whom he had met on a visit to Brussels in 1624. The works contained in opus 8 include experimental violin writing, as in the Capriccio che due violini sonano quattro parti, along with more typical instrumental writing.

Giovanni Priuli was born into one of the oldest patrician families of Venice. Probably a student of Giovanni Gabrieli, the earliest record of Priuli's tenure at St. Mark's is from 1600. He assumed the post of chapel master at the future Ferdinand II's court in Graz around 1615 and in 1619 accompanied Ferdinand II to Vienna, where he remained until his death.

Born in Mantua, Giovanni Battista Buonamente was probably a student of Monteverdi there. After his tenure in Vienna, 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. The famous theme, Il Ballo del gran Duca, is the last piece in the intermezzi of La Pellegrina composed by Emilio de' Cavalieri for the marriage of Ferdinand de Medici in 1589.

Johann Herman Schein was born in Saxony and received his education in the Dresden Court Chapel. He was appointed Hofkapellmeister in Weimar in 1615, then Cantor to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig in 1616, a post which he held for the rest of his life. On the title page of his Opella Nova II, he writes that these sacred concertos were composed "according to the Italian invention now in use." However, Schein retained traditional German Lutheran sources and Biblical texts predominate.

The musical talents of Heinrich Schütz were discovered by Moritz von Hessen-Kassel while Schütz was a choirboy. Mortiz sent Schütz to Venice from 1609-1613 to study with Giovanni Gabrieli. Schütz was appointed court composer of the Elector of Saxony in Dresden in 1617 and held this position for the rest of his life. He wrote Symphoniae Sacrae, named in probable honor of his teacher's great work, Sacrae symphoniae, during his second trip to Venice. The texts are mostly taken from the Old Testament and are in Latin (instead of Luther's German translations used in most of Schütz's other compositions.) Schütz's Kleine geistlicher concerte systematically explore virtually every combination a small group of solo singers with continuo may require. During the 1640s, Schütz spent much of his time away from Dresden to avoid the hardships of the Thirty Years War. His second collection of Symphoniae Sacrae came therefore after a long period without publications. While the first Symphoniae Sacrae called for varied combinations of instruments, the second catered to German performing conditions, calling for just two violins and violone. Considerably more virtuosity is required from both singers and players, but the major difference is that the second Symphoniae Sacrae is in German, largely taken from the Psalms.

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.

Little is known about the life of Giovanni Giacomo Arrigoni. Born in San Vito al Tagliamento, he was engaged as Ferdinand II's organist by 1632. He had moved to Venice by 1640 (records show he competed for a position as organist at St. Mark's) before returning to San Vito in 1648, becoming chapel-master there in 1663. Unfortunately, his surviving collections are few, although his importance is made clear by the number of his works that appear in anthologies with Monteverdi and other masters.

Samuel Scheidt was born in Halle, and after early studies there, went to Amsterdam to study with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. He was appointed Kapellmeister at the Halle court of the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1620. Unlike many musicians, he remained in Germany during the Thirty Years War, managing to survive by teaching and a succession of smaller jobs until he was allowed to resume his post. The only copy of 70 Symphonien in Konzert-Manier which has survived is incomplete, missing the second soprano part. Various editors have undertaken to supply the missing part allowing performance of these short works intended as preambles or interludes in a religious service.

Johann Erasmus Kindermann was born in Nuremberg. After a visit to Italy, he remained in Nuremberg for the rest of his life, becoming an acclaimed musician and teacher. Kindermann was also instrumental in spreading the Italian style in music in south Germany, publishing several collections of his own music and of others. His Sonata Giardino corrupto refers not to a patch of weeds, but to the maze Kindermann creates by supplying the same music for each of the violinists, only one begins in the upper left hand corner of the first page while the other beings in lower left hand corner of the second page, momentarily meeting for brief, consecutive unisons.

Antonio Bertali was born and trained in Verona. His sonatas presage the importance of violin sonatas in the future, and his music formed the basis for compositional taste and style in German-speaking regions during his lifetime. Bertali is often recognized as the first composer to produce Italian operas for non-Italian audiences.

Christoph Bernhard was born in Kolberg, Pomerania. He studied in Gdansk and Warsaw and by the age of 20 was singing at the electoral court in Dresden under Heinrich Schütz. When he was 35, he moved to Hamburg to work for the Johanneum, and for the next ten years he directed the latest compositions from Italy and Vienna. Bernhard was recalled to Dresden in 1674, where he continued composing, directing, and caring for the music library in Dresden until his death in 1692. Schütz's influence is clearly seen in the rhetorical declamation and vivid song lines of Aus der Tiefe ruf' ich.

<< Back to Programs

Listen to Us

We have chosen a few of our concert recordings for you to listen to. Please click on the links below to download mp3 files. Enjoy!


Sonata a 4

Play Sample!


Sonata 8 a 3

Play Sample!


Sonata 4 a 3

Play Sample!

Sign Up For Our

Mailing List!

Enter your email address and stay informed about upcoming concerts and events!

Make a Donation!

Passamezzo Moderno is a fiscal affiliate of the San Francisco Early Music Society (SFEMS), a not-for-profit corporation. Your donation, made payable to SFEMS and acknowledged in writing by SFEMS, is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

To make a donation online, please click Donate to Passamezzo Moderno through SFEMS

Be sure to type "FOR PASSAMEZZO MODERNO" in the comment line of the donation form, or we will not receive your donation.

Or, to mail your donation, please click here for a form letter and mail your donation to: Passamezzo Moderno, 1320 Berrellesa Street, Martinez, CA 94553
Thank you!

Press Kit

Click here for the Passamezzo Moderno Press Kit