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8.572371 - CIMAROSA, D.: Requiem (Kucerova, Kruzliakova, Ludha, Belacek, Lucnica Chorus, Cappella Istropolitana, Trevor)

Domenico Cimarosa (1749–1801)
Requiem in G minor


Domenico Cimarosa was born in December 1749 at Aversa, the son of a stonemason, and very soon after his birth the family moved to Naples. There his father was employed as a mason on the Capodimonte Palace, but died in a fall from scaffolding, leaving his mother to find work as a laundress at a nearby monastery. It was through this employment that the organist of the monastic Church of S. Severo de’ Padri Conventuali, Father Polcano, came to realise Cimarosa’s musical gifts, gave him his first instrumental lessons and helped him to a free place at the S. Maria de Loreto Conservatory. At the Conservatory Cimarosa’s teachers seem to have included the distinguished opera composer Sacchini and possibly, subsequently, Piccinni. His early musical duties were largely for the church, but in 1772 he wrote his first work for the theatre, the opera buffa Le stravaganze del conte, with a third act farsa, Le magie di Merlina e di Zoroastro, staged at the Naples Teatro dei Fiorentini and followed in 1773 by La finta parigina. Further works for theatres in Naples led to wider successes, with operas staged in Rome and then in Milan and elsewhere, as his reputation spread. In Naples in 1779 he had been appointed as an unpaid organist to assist at the Royal Chapel and in 1785 he became second organist with a regular salary. At the same time he held a position as a maestro at the Ospedaletto conservatory in Venice, where he now enjoyed a considerable reputation.

Cimarosa’s very considerable fame as an opera composer brought his appointment in 1787, on the recommendation of the ambassador of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to Russia, to the court of Catherine II in St Petersburg, and to reach that city he made a triumphal progress north, received with acclaim by a number of influential rulers, including his future patron, the Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany and the latter’s elder brother Joseph II in Vienna. Cimarosa’s position in St Petersburg, which he reached in early December, was weakened by the recruitment to the court musical establishment as second maestro di cappella of Martin y Soler, whose contributions to operatic repertoire there proved more successful and more congenial to the Empress. Dissatisfaction with his position, particularly after considerable economies in the Italian operatic establishment and dislike of the Russian climate brought Cimarosa back again to Western Europe in 1791 and to a period of two years in Vienna, where he received the patronage of the new Emperor Leopold II and wrote what was to prove the most successful and lasting of all his sixty or so operas, Il matrimonio segreto (The Clandestine Marriage). His operas had found a place in the repertoire that had been directed by Haydn at Eszterháza and had been staged by Goethe in Weimar, further evidence, if more were needed, of his position as the leading composer of opera of his time. By 1793 he was back again in Naples, where, in 1796, he was appointed first organist to the Royal Chapel. Political changes, however, with the French occupation of Venice and the establishment in Naples in 1799 of the Frenchbacked so-called Parthenopean Republic, bringing about the exile of the Bourbon King Ferdinand, found Cimarosa supporting the new rulers, a decision that proved disastrous when the Bourbon monarchy was restored during the course of the summer. Cimarosa’s attempts to ingratiate himself with his former patron were unsuccessful and in December he was imprisoned and under threat of death, a fate only averted by the intervention of influential friends, including Lady Hamilton, wife of the British Resident in Naples. Released after four months, he moved to Venice, where he died in 1801.

Cimarosa’s sacred music includes a dozen Mass settings, the first dating from 1765 and the last from 1800, psalms and canticles, and six oratorios, some written for Venice. His Missa pro defunctis, the Messa da Requiem in G minor, which it would be unfair to compare with the Requiem by Mozart, written four years later, was composed in a remarkably short time to mark the death of the wife of the French ambassador in St Petersburg in 1787. The work, which reflects something of his ability as one of the leading operatic composers of the day, is testimony to his remarkable facility and his immediate command of contemporary musical idiom.

Scored for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists with four-part chorus and orchestra, the Requiem opens, after a brief orchestral introduction, with a setting of the Introit, contrapuntal elements continued in the Te decet hymnus. This is followed directly by the emphatic Kyrie and contrapuntal Christe eleison, capped by the final Kyrie. Tenor and then soprano lead into the Gradual text, In memoria aeterna, and the Tract, Absolve Domine.

The Sequence, Dies irae, in C minor, its Largo opening recalling the opening of the whole work, moves forward to the Allegro of Quantus tremor est futurus, modulating to E flat for the Tuba mirum, set for soprano solo and making mild use of the two horns of the orchestra, with a modulation to B flat, the key of the choral Mors stupebit. This returns to C minor for the contrapuntal setting of Liber scriptus, which continues in F minor. Judex ergo, for alto solo, moves from A flat back to F minor, introducing the key of the Rex tremendae, an Allegro, its final modulation to the dominant followed by an F minor setting of the Recordare for soprano and alto soloists, its slow introduction leading to a lively operatic setting of Juste judex. The C minor Ingemisco is given to the chorus, alternating with a soprano soloist at the words Qui Mariam absolvisti, the words of the soloist echoed by the chorus. The operatic E flat Preces meae, after a brief orchestral introduction, is entrusted to the tenor soloist, with soprano, alto and bass soloists, now again in G minor for Inter oves, sung by the soprano, followed with the emphatic bass Allegro of Confutatis maledictis. The alto intervenes with the plea Oro supplex, and the texts return, with the verses overlapping, sung by all three solo voices, with the texts returning in a final Allegro. The Lacrimosa, set for the four soloists and in C minor, recalls the opening once more, with chorus and soloists continuing with Judicandus homo reus, before the final fugal Amen brings the Sequence to an end, a part of the Mass united, as before, by its use of related keys.

The Offertory, Domine Jesu, is in C minor and opens with a dotted rhythmic figure in a movement scored for soloists, chorus, horns, strings and continuo. There is a modulation to E flat major at the words Rex gloriae and the depths of the lake of Hell are illustrated by the basses at Et de profundo lacu and the largely descending contours of Ne cadant in obscurum. There is a return to the opening of the movement with the words Hostias et preces.

The original key of G minor is restored for the Sanctus, scored for the chorus and leading to a concluding Osanna in excelsis in 3/8. The soprano soloist introduces the Benedictus, followed softly by the chorus, with the earlier Osanna in excelsis repeated to close the movement. The key of E flat returns for the short setting of the Agnus Dei, with the opening of each verse given to soprano, alto and tenor soloists respectively, capped in each petition by the chorus Dona eis requiem and finished by the soloists. The Communion Lux aeterna, in G minor, leads to a full fugal setting of Cum sanctis tuis, followed by the return of the opening of the work at the words Requiem aeternam, in a passage scored for the soloists. The work ends with the return of the fugal Cum sanctis tuis.

Keith Anderson

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