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2.110505 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - VENICE: A Musical Tour of the City's Past and Present (NTSC)
A Musical Tour of Venice
First Impressions of Venice
Glimpses are caught of some of the principal sights of Venice, its canals and buildings, including St Mark’s Square, with its campanile, the Grand Canal, and the Rialto Bridge.
Arcangelo Corelli was born in Fusignano in 1653, had lessons in Bologna and made his career as a musician in Rome, serving the exiled Queen Christina of Sweden, Cardinal Pamphili and the young Cardinal Ottoboni. At his death in 1713 he left a set of Concerti grossi, a model for contemporary and later composers, and some four dozen trio sonatas. Like the concertos these are either in the stricter form of so-called church sonatas, or, as here, in the form of chamber sonatas, sets of dance movements. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550619]
Built on an archipelago, Venice, with its hundred canals, is partly protected from the open sea by the Lido, which serves as a breakwater. The Lagoon, a shallow expanse of water between the Lido and Venice proper, has channels marked out for the boats that ply between the islands.
Born in Venice in 1678, the son of a musician, Antonio Vivaldi won fame as a virtuoso violinist and as a composer. Ordained priest, he served the musical establishment of the Ospedale della Pietà, an institution for the education of indigent, orphaned or illegitimate girls, famous for their standards of musical performance. Many of his concertos, of which five hundred or more survive, were written for the Pietà. The collection of twelve concertos L’estro armonico (Harmonic Inspiration) was published in 1711. [Recommended recording included in Naxos 8.505013 (5 CD set)]
St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
The Piazza San Marco, the centre of life in Venice, is bounded on one side by the Basilica of San Marco, while colonnades, below the impressive public buildings at the sides of the square, provide a place for cafés and their orchestras, sometimes in discordant competition.
The son of a well-known composer, Domenico Scarlatti worked first in his native Naples, spent time in Venice and then in Rome, before moving to Portugal and finally to Spain. He was employed by the Portuguese princess Maria Barbara, who later became Queen of Spain, writing for her some hundreds of single movement keyboard sonatas. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550252]
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is sited on an island and faces St Mark’s. The building was started by Palladio in 1565 and the design of the classical façade is his, although it was completed after his death. Formerly a Benedictine monastery, the monastic buildings now house the Giorgio Cini Foundation, devoted to the study of the history and culture of Venice. Among the treasures of the church are paintings by Tintoretto and other Venetian masters of the period.
Born in Turin in 1731, Pugnani was taught the violin by a pupil of Corelli. He established a reputation for himself as a virtuoso, with concerts in Paris, where his Op.1 trio sonatas were published in 1754, and in London. In Turin he held a leading position in the royal musical establishment, serving as a composer and as a violinist. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550619]
Glassworks at Murano
The island of Murano has been the centre of Venetian glass-making since the thirteenth century, developing the Venetian discovery and, for many years, monopoly of crystal glass.
Among Vivaldi’s concertos are works for solo flute and solo recorder. These generally follow the usual pattern, with three movements, the outer two faster and the central movement in the form of an aria for the solo instrument, accompanied by the string orchestra and harpsichord. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.553829]
The Arsenal, established first in the early twelfth century, was an important element in the power and prosperity of Venice. Considerably developed in later centuries, it incorporated materials brought from the eastern Mediterranean, including the stone lions that are symbols of St Mark and of Venice itself.
Corelli’s concerti grossi established a pattern for such works. The set of twelve that he left at his death are written for an orchestra of strings and harpsichord, with a solo group or concertino of two violins, cello, and accompanying harpsichord. The smaller, solo group is contrasted with the body of the orchestra, the ripieno, with soloists and ripieno appearing in alternation. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550403]
The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
The Doge’s Palace was the residence of the elected ruler of Venice. The present building dates from the fourteenth century, with various modifications and additions over the years. It adjoins the great Basilica of San Marco, to the east side of the Piazzetta di San Marco, which leads from the Piazza di San Marco to the waterside. The palace holds a large collection of paintings by leading artists of Venice, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto and others.
Torelli spent much of his life in Bologna and is of importance in the development of the concerto grosso and the solo concerto. His concerti grossi include a Christmas Concerto, with a pastoral movement to suggest the season. A faster movement from this concerto is here included. [Recommended recordings Naxos 8.550567 and 8.553477]
St Mark’s (Basilica di San Marco)
The building of the great church dedicated to St Mark, whose remains are preserved in the high altar, began in 829. It was rebuilt in the eleventh century on the Byzantine model. The gilded mosaics of the vaulted interior, dating from the late twelfth century, illustrate events in the life of Christ, his Passion and Ascension, and of the Blessed Virgin. The basilica, and indeed Venice itself, owed much to the booty brought back from Constantinople in the early thirteenth century, after the Fourth Crusade.
A Venetian nobleman and younger contemporary of Vivaldi, Alessandro Marcello was a dilettante with varied artistic interests. As a member of the Arcadian Academy, under the name Eterio Stinfalico, he published various instrumental concertos. This oboe concerto was also arranged for harpsichord by Bach, who was influenced by the Italian solo concerto of the period. [Recommended recordings Naxos 8.551077, 8.553435 and 8.550556)]
Rialto, Market, Palaces, Grand Canal
The Rialto Bridge dates from 1592 and provides an important crossing-point of the Grand Canal. Wide enough for shops, the bridge was at one time the only crossing, and the surrounding district was the commercial centre of the city, with adjoining markets. The Grand Canal winds through Venice, a major artery. Flanking it are over a hundred palaces built over the centuries, many bearing famous names of the great families of the old republic.
Scarlatti had competed with Handel in Rome, with the result that Handel was declared the better organist and Scarlatti the better harpsichordist. At the royal palace in Madrid he had a number of keyboard instruments at his disposal, including examples of the newly developing pianoforte, although in general his keyboard sonatas must have been designed for the harpsichord. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550252]
Church of Santa Maria della Salute
The Church of Santa Maria della Salute was erected in the seventeenth century in thanksgiving after the ending of the plague. It stands at the beginning of the Grand Canal and contains paintings by Titian and Tintoretto, with statues of St Mark and other saints.
The Trio Sonata in C major, RV779, was originally written for violin, oboe, organ and chalumeau, the early form of clarinet, but, as so often, can equally well be played in the more traditional instrumentation of two violins, cello and harpsichord or chordal instrument. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550377]
Carnival, the four weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday and, formerly, to the traditional limitations of Lent, was once a season of relaxation, a historical custom now revived, even in the snow in St Mark’s Square.
La follia or Les folies d’Espagne was one of the most popular dance tunes of the Baroque period, serving composer after composer as a basis for imaginative variations. For Corelli it provided material for a violin sonata, while even in the twentieth century Rachmaninov had recourse to the same theme in a virtuoso work for solo piano. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550377]
The period of Carnival, before Shrove Tuesday, was once one of celebration, with theatrical performances and masked balls, customs now revived in the exotic costumes and masks donned by some for the occasion. The season, however, is not the kindest, as it may well bring snow.
Vivaldi left no concertos for the contemporary guitar, but works intended for another plucked instrument, the lute, have served to provide a pleasing addition to guitar repertoire. Vivaldi’s sonatas and the concerto that include the instrument seem to have been written for the Bohemian nobleman Count Wrtby, and suggest that, about 1731, when he was apparently absent from Venice, Vivaldi may have been in Bohemia. [Recommended recordings Naxos 8.550483 and 8.550274]
Burano, Cemetery of San Michele, Torcello
The Island of Burano, with its painted houses, is a fishing-village, but famous for its lace. The Island of San Michele is the cemetery of Venice, with a Renaissance church and a monastery. Among those buried in the cemetery are the composer Igor Stravinsky and his wife Vera. The Island of Torcello once had importance as a place of refuge during Lombard invasions. It has a cathedral dating from the early eleventh century, Byzantine in design, with mosaics.
Albinoni was a Venetian contemporary of Vivaldi, the composer of some fifty or more operas and of a number of instrumental works. Most popular of all must be the Adagio attributed to him, in fact the work of a more recent composer, Giazotto, who claimed to have based it on a fragment by Albinoni. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.553221]
Evening in St Mark’s Square
The Piazza di San Marco offers a picturesque sight in the fading light of evening, approached from the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The façade of the basilica, with its lions, emblems of St Mark and of Venice, stand guard over the square, with the great bell-tower, the campanile.
Torelli is also associated with music for solo trumpet, a reflection of the high standard of trumpet performance available in Bologna, in particular in the musical establishment of the Basilica of San Petronio. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550243]
The Lagoons at Night
At night the Lagoons take on a mood of their own, with channels lit by piles, guiding boats to the islands, many of them now deserted.
Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico was dedicated, on its publication, to Grand Prince Ferdinand of Tuscany, the Medici prince who had provided patronage for Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Albinoni and Handel. The fourth concerto of the set of twelve is written for four solo violins. [Recommended recording included in Naxos 8.505013 (5 CD set)]
Midnight in Venice offers a sombre scene. The city was once described by Ruskin as a ghost upon the sands of the sea, and in the night it takes on a spectral air.
The third of Corelli’s published Concerti grossi is in the more formal church style, the present slow movement providing an interlude between contrapuntal movements. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550402]
Light in Venice has a quality all its own, the inspiration for so many painters, as it is reflected from the water and the buildings. Even in the snow of winter the city has its own magic.
The last of Corelli’s Concerti grossi is a chamber concerto. It opens with a prelude in which the solo instruments, two violins and cello, appear first, soon followed by the other string instruments of the body of the orchestra. [Recommended recording Naxos 8.550403]
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