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8.550102 - BAROQUE FAVOURITES
See here the conqu'rlng hero comes (Judas
Maccabaeus) - George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
Any collection of popular Baroque music must concentrate on the later years of the period. In particular attention must fall on the great German composers Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, on the Italian violinist-composer Antonio Vivaldi, and, to a more limited extent, on Domenico Scarlatti, the Italian harpsichordist, who spent the greater part of his career in Portugal and Spain.
The present collection includes only one example of music from the early seventeenth century, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (The World's Fair Rose). The melody and the original words are from the fifteenth century and appear in the Speierschen Gesangbuch of 1600. Praetorius, among the leading German Lutheran composers of his time, published his four-part arrangement of the carol in 1609 as part of his Musae Sionae, a varied collection of Lutheran church music.
The period generally known as Middle Baroque, a convenient if over-simplified label to cover the years of the second half of the seventeenth century, is represented here by an excerpt from a trumpet concerto by the Italian composer Giuseppe Torelli, a musician of historical importance in the development of the concerto. Torelli was born in Verona and was associated intermittently with the musical establishment at the basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, with a brief intervening period in the service of the Margrave of Brandenburg at Ansbach.
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678, the son of a barber, who combined his craft with that of violinist. Vivaldi was ordained a priest and was to spend much of his life as a member of the musical establishment of the Ospedale della Pietà, a charitable foundation for the education of illegitimate or indigent girls. The Pietà, one of four such institutions in Venice, enjoyed a high reputation among Venetians and the many visitors to the city for its music, and Vivaldi was to start his career there as violin master, later assuming responsibility for instrumental music. A commission of 1723 required him to write two concertos a month for the Pietà, but his employment, subject to annual renewal by the board of governors, was interrupted at various stages in his career, allowing him a period in the service of Philipp, Land grave of Hessen-Darmstadt, governor of Mantua, and association with other representatives of the ruling Habsburgs. In Venice he became closely associated with the opera, both as composer and director of music, while his prowess as a violinist was a cause for wonder. In 1741 he left his native city, where his reputation had waned, and travelled to Vienna, where he died a month after his arrival, before any further opportunities had offered themselves.
The present collection includes excerpts from the famous set of concertos known as The Four Seasons, published by Vivaldi in 1725 with a dedication to Count Wenzeslaus van Morzin, a Bohemian nobleman and distant relative of Joseph Haydn's first patron. These concertos appeared as the first music in a publication with the title Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, the contest between harmony and invention, reason and imagination. Accompanying The Four Seasons were sonnets that explained in detail the programmatic content of each section. The second movement of Spring shows the idealised goatherd of pastoral convention guarding his sheep by sleeping peacefully, while his faithful dog, represented by the viola, barks at regular intervals, against the gentle murmur of the foliage. The first movement of winter offers a harsher picture of cold winds, stamping feet and chattering teeth.
Among the 500 or so concertos that Vivaldi wrote, a large number are for strings with a solo violin. While the guitar is not included among the solo instruments for which he wrote, a lute concerto provides an opportunity for the use of the instrument. Vivaldi's compositions for lute seem to have been written not for the Pietà but for another Bohemian nobleman, Count Johann Joseph von Wrtby about the year 1731, when the composer may have visited Prague.
Domenico Scarlatti was the son of the Neapolitan opera composer Alessandro Scarlatti. He made an early name for himself both as a harpsichordist and composer in his native Italy, visiting Venice and Rome, presumably in search of lucrative opportunities, before moving to Lisbon, where he entered the service of the Princess Maria Barbara, who was later to become Queen of Spain. Scarlatti's many harpsichord sonatas, over 550 in number, provide a highly characteristic addition to keyboard repertoire.
The year 1685 saw the birth of Domenico Scarlatti and his two great contemporaries Bach and Handel. The latter was born in Halle, the son of an elderly barber-surgeon of some distinction in his profession. His father reluctantly permitted him to study music, with the other subjects oj a general education, which he pursued briefly at the University of Halle, before moving to Hamburg, where he was employed at the opera-house, as violinist, harpsichordist and composer. There followed a period in Italy, appointment as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, and a move to England, where he finally settled in 1712, at first as composer and director of music for the Italian opera, and later as the creator of English oratorio, a form that allowed for the linguistic and religious prejudices of the English public.
The first music included here is an arrangement of one of the most famous moments in the 1746 oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. Much of Handel's instrumental music comes from earlier in his career, although he never hesitated to re-use his own music for whatever purpose seemed most appropriate. The various orchestral concertos provide problems of dating, although the dozen such works for strings only that form Opus 6 were written specifically for publication in 1739, The so-called oboe concertos of Opus 3 and the solo sonatas for various instruments, including the oboe, are earlier works in which other material is often found. The concerto for trumpet is a re-construction.
Johann Sebastian Bach, a musician by long ancestry, won himself a considerable reputation as an organist at the beginning of his career. A period as organist to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar was followed by a happy six years as Hofkapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Coethen followed by 27 occasionally contentious years as Cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, with responsibility for music in five of the city churches.
The first years in church employment in Leipzig brought a demand for a series of cantatas for performance on Sundays and major feast-days throughout the year. The cantata Num komm der Heiden Heiland formed part of such a cycle, but had been preceded in Weimar days by a chorale prelude on the well known hymn of that name. The Christmas hymn In dulci jubilo also served as the basis of a chorale prelude, both works appearing In the Orgelbuechlein. The Pastorale, a work showing clear Italian influence, appears among the organ music written during the composer's time at Weimar. The Cantata Wachet auf was written for performance in Leipzig in 1731, while five different versions of O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, (O Sacred Head Sore Wounded), appear in the great setting of the Passion from the Gospel of St. Matthew.
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