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8.550014 - BEST OF BAROQUE MUSIC (CAPELLA ISTROPOLITANA)
The word Baroque now seems to have won general acceptance as a term denoting a period in Western music dating from the end of the sixteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth century. This span of 150 years includes a wide variety of music, although certain technical features exist throughout, and certain forms, particularity of instrumental music, have their development during these years. Borrowed from art historians, the word Baroque was once pejorative, implying the bizarre. As a description of music of the eighteenth century, at least, it has entirely lost this meaning.
The Baroque Hits included on the present release are taken principally from works written towards the end of the Baroque period, the age of Bach and Handel, who were both born in 1685, of Telemann, four years older, who outlived them both, and of Vivaldi, who won fame in Venice during the same period.
Johann Sebastian Bach was a member of a prolific family of musicians. He was trained in the craft of his father, his uncles and his brothers, and won an early reputation for himself as an organist and as an authority on the building of organs. Initial appointments as organist, finally in the Grand Duchy of Weimar, led to promotion to the position of Court Director of Music to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Coethen in 1717. It was during his six years at Coethen that Bach wrote much of his instrumental music. His later career, from 1723 until his death in 1750, was spent in Leipzig, where he was Kantor at the Choir School of St. Thomas, responsible for the training of the choir and the provision of music for the five city churches.
It was at Coethen, however, that Bach wrote his violin concertos including a Concerto in D for two violins, the slow movement of which is included here. The second and third of the four orchestral Suites were probably written in Leipzig. From the Second Suite, for flute and strings, comes the playful Badinerie, while the Air from the Third Suite may be better known by the title Air on the G String, from a late nineteenth century violin arrangement by the violinist August Wilhelmj.
George Frideric Handel was born in Hallé, the son of a court surgeon, and after some time at university, a privilege Bach had never enjoyed, worked at the opera in Hamburg. From there he travelled to Italy and quickly began to gain acceptance as a composer of opera. It was in this capacity, as a composer of Italian opera, that this German musician found himself in London in 1710. He was to remain in England for the rest of his life, dominating English music in his own time and for generations to come.
The four excerpts from the music of Handel included here start with a movement from the Water Music, written for an excursion on the River Thames by King George I and his courtiers. Handel bad briefly been in the employment of Kiug George in Hanover before that monarch's accession in the English throne. The composer had moved to London with a limited leave of absence, which he had long outstayed when the death of Queen Anne led to King George's move to London. There seems, however, no truth in the old story that the King and his former musician were reconciled by the Water Music. There was, no doubt, a tacit understanding, that Handel's earlier defection from Hanover was to be ignored.
The Royal Fireworks Music was written many years later to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which brought to an end the War of the Austrian Succession. The occasion was a magnificent one, with a crowd of 12,000 watching the rehearsal, and the music played in London's Vauxhall Gardens by a band of 100 musicians, as reports alleged.
Handel had not always enjoyed unqualified success. By the 1730s Italian opera had begun to lose its popularity, and his new opera Serse (Xerxes) achieved only five performances when it was staged in 1738. The aria "Ombra mai fu" won later fame as "Handel's Largo", in spite of the original direction Larghetto it has become one of the best known ol Handel's compositions, rivalling in this respect the so-called Harmonious Blacksmith.
The final Handel excerpt is taken from the last of the set of twelve Concerti Grossi, Opus 6, written in 1739. These concertos, in imitation of the ever-popular work of Corelli, contrast a group of three - two violins and bass instrument - with the rest of the string orchestra.
Arcangelo Corelli, to whom Handel was here indebted, was born in 1653. His career had been spent largely in Rome, where he was held in the greatest respect as a violinist, a teacher and a composer. He had met Handel in the early years of the century, when it seemed that Handel, the German visitor to Italy, was too French in style for Corelli.
The work of Corelli had considerable influence over the course of instrumental composition. He himself left sets of solo and trio sonatas and twelve concerti grossi, of which the eighth is generally known as the Christmas Concerto. The association with the festival, for which the work was written, is expressed largely in the final movement, included here, in which a gentle shepherd dance recalls the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem.
In the Republic of Venice Alessandro Marceilo, a movement from whose D minor Oboe Concerto is included here, was a relatively unimportant figure, like Albinoni, whose style is so ably copied by Remo Giazorto in the popular Adagio. Of greater contemporary and posthumous importance was Antonio Vivaldi, a priest, known in Venice as it perte rosso from the colour or his hair. Vivaldi spent much of his working life in the employment of one of the four famous musical orphanages, the Ospedale delta Pieta, where girls might receive a remarkably thorough training in the art.
For the Pieta Vivaldi wrote concerto after concerto to display the talents of pupils and teachers. The set of concertos known as The Four Seasons is among the better known of the five hundred or so works he wrote in this form, and was among the small number of works actually published in the composer's life-time, when they formed part of a set of twelve. The Four Seasons, for solo violin and strings, include, in the published version, sonnets that explain the apparent programme of each work. Spring depicts the appearance of the birds, the gentle breeze and sudden storms, thunder and lightning, after which the birds resume their song. Autumn ends with huntsmen in pursuit of game, cornering their prey, which resigns itself to death.
To relegate Georg Philipp Telemann to a footnote is unjust. In his day Telemann was considered superior to Bach. He was certainly a composer of great facility and great versatility, presiding over music in Hamburg for 46 years, until his death in 1767, when he was succeeded by his godson, Carl Philipp Emannel Bach, second surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach by his first wife. The G major Viola Concerto, of which the third movement is included here, is a work well known to viola players, who suffer from far too small a possible repertoire. It is a thoroughly characteristic example of Telemann's easy style of composition.
Capella Istropolitana (Slovak Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra)
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