About this Recording

Famous Baroque Concerti

Vivaldi • J. S. Bach • Handel

The present recording includes music by three of the greatest composers of the late Baroque period, flourishing in the first half of the eighteenth century. Once virtually forgotten, Antonio Vivaldi now enjoys a reputation that equals the international fame he enjoyed in his heyday. Born in Venice in 1678, the son of a barber who was himself to win distinction as a violinist in the service of the great Gabrielis and Monteverdi at the basilica of San Marco, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. At the same time he established himself as a violinist of remarkable ability. A later visitor to Venice described his playing in the opera-house in 1715, his use of high positions so that his fingers almost touched the bridge of the violin, leaving little room for the bow, and his contrapuntal cadenza, a fugue played at great speed. The experience, the observer added, was too artificial to be enjoyable. Nevertheless Vivaldi was among the most famous virtuosi of the day, as well as being a prolific composer of music that won wide favour at home and abroad and exercised a far-reaching influence on the music of others.

For much of his life Vivaldi was intermittently associated with the Ospedale della Pietà, one of the, four famous foundations in Venice for the education of orphan, illegitimate or indigent girls, a select group of whom were trained as musicians. Venice attracted, then as now, many foreign tourists, and the Pietà and its music long remained a centre of cultural pilgrimage. In 1703, the year of his ordination, Vivaldi, known as il prete rosso, the red priest, from the inherited colour of his hair, was appointed violin-master of the pupils of the Pietà. The position was subject to annual renewal by the board of governors, whose voting was not invariably in Vivaldi's favour, particularly as his reputation and consequent obligations outside the orphanage increased. In 1709 he briefly left the Pietà, to be reinstated in 1711. In 1716 he was again removed, to be given, a month later, the title Maestro de' Concerti, director of instrumental music. A year later he left the Pietà for a period of three years spent in Mantua as Maestro di Cappella da Camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the German Governor of the city, appointed by the Emperor in Vienna.

In 1720 Vivaldi was again in Venice and in 1723 the relationship with the Pietà was resumed, apparently on a less formal basis. Vivaldi was commissioned to provide two concertos a month and to rehearse and direct some of them. The arrangement allowed him to travel, and he spent some time in Rome, while indirectly and vainly seeking possible appointment in Paris or Vienna. In 1741, with Venice now tiring of his music, as fashions changed, after severing his links with the Pietà, he travelled to Vienna, but any hope of employment was extinguished by the death of Charles VI, who had seemed a possible patron. Vivaidi arrived in the city in June and had time to sell some of the scores he had brought with him before succumbing to some form of stomach inflammation.>

Vivaidi's concertos, numbering well over five hundred, were written for string orchestra with basso continuo, to which solo instruments or groups of instruments were added. His Concerto in G major, RV 516 for two violins is one of a number of double violin concertos, while the Concerto in A minor, RV 461 for oboe is again one of several such concertos. The Concerto in G major, RV 532, for two mandolines, played here, as often nowadays, on two guitars, is the only one of its kind.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 at Eisenach, the son of a musician and member of a musical family of long traditions. On the death of his parents he moved to Ohrdruf, where he was taught by his elder brother and made his early career as an organist with an appointment in 1707 as court organist at Weimar. In 1717 he moved to Cöthen as director of court music for the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, a happy period of his life that came to an end with the Prince's marriage to a woman that Bach later described as "amusica". In 1723 he moved to Leipzig, where he had secured the position of Thomascantor at the Thomasschule, with responsibility for music in the principal city churches, to which he later added the direction of the University Collegium musicum, founded some years earlier by Telemann. He remained at Leipzig until his death in 1750.

It was at Cöthen that Bach wrote much of his instrumental music, including his violin concertos and his concerto for violin and oboe. Only three of the violin concertos survive in their original form. Others, including the work for violin and oboe, have been arranged back from Bach's Leipzig arrangements of these works for one or more harpsichords and orchestra. The three movements of the Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060, two faster movements framing a central moving Adagio, allow intricate interplay between the two solo instruments.

Bach's Easter Oratorio was originally a cantata, written for performance in Leipzig on 1st April 1725. In the early years of his employment as Thomascantor, Bach wrote a very large number of cantatas, vocal and instrumental compositions for each Sunday and each important festival in the church year. The Easter Oratorio from which the present instrumental Adagio is drawn, was revised between 1732 and 1735 as an oratorio to mark the feast.

George Frederick Handel was born in Hallé in 1685, the son of an elderly barber-surgeon of some distinction and his second wife. Destined by his father for a career of greater distinction than music seemed able to provide, he was permitted to study music only through the intervention of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, at whose court his father served, and after his father's death proceeded briefly to the University of Hallé. After combining the study of law with a position as organist in the Calvinist cathedral for a year, he abandoned further study in 1703 to work as a musician In Hamburg, where he played second violin in the opera orchestra, later taking his place as harpsichordist and writing his first Italian operas, which were produced in February 1705.

In 1706 Handel travelled to Italy, which in many ways was the source of his inspiration and it was here that a meeting with Baron Kielmansegge, Master of Horse to the Elector of Hanover, led to his appointment as Kapellmeister to the Elector, who granted immediate leave for Handel to visit London for the staging of his Italian opera Rinaldo. Fifteen months later, in 1712, he sought permission again to visit London and this time remained there, accepted at court after the accession to the English throne of the Elector of Hanover as George I, reconciled to the long absence without leave of his Kapellmeister by the Water Music, if legend is to be believed.

Handel's career in England involved him initially with Italian opera and later with a form that he largely created, that of English oratorio. It is from one of these works, Solomon, written in 1749, and combining as always the musical felicities of Italian opera with English words and a religious text, that the famous Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is taken. In his concerti grossi Handel relied on the example of Corelli, a musician whom he had met in Rome. The form that had developed brought contrast in an instrumental composition between a small solo group, the concertino, and the body of the orchestra, the ripieno players. An earlier set of such works, published in 1734 and using wind instruments in addition to strings and basso continuo, had been derived from a variety of earlier sources. The concerti of Opus 6 were all written with a direct view to their publication and were composed consecutively between 29th September and 20th October 1739.

Budapest Strings
The Budapest Strings chamber orchestra was established in 1977 by former students of the Budapest Liszt Academy of Music under the direction of the distinguished cellist Károly Botvay, who made his earlier career with the Bartók Quartet. The leader of the orchestra is Béla Bánfalvi, leader of the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra from 1979 and a member of the Bartók Quartet from 1982. The Budapest Strings is among the best of such ensembles in Hungary and has performed at home and abroad with considerable success with a wide-ranging repertoire that includes music written for the orchestra by younger Hungarian composers.

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