The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 18th Century: Tartini (Part 1)

“Giuseppe Tartini is one of the leading figures of the Italian School of violin playing in the 18th century, a school whose art is as meaningful today as it has ever been. Tartini’s music is expressive, sincere, warm and melodious, and it is in these qualities that lies its appeal.” ~ David Oistrakh

The more I learnt about Tartini, the more I became engrossed in his life and musical achievements.  As with Vivaldi, there’s just too much to share to do him justice in one post. There’s a lot more to this iconic Italian master than his exceptional ‘Devil’s Trill’ sonata; however that incredible work is the main focus for part 1.

Monument to Tartini at St. Anthony's Basilica Padua

Monument to Tartin at St. Anthony’s Basilica Padua

If the violin is the so called ‘Devil’s Instrument’, then Guiseppe Tartini (8th April 1692 – 26 February 1770) is most definitely his composer of choice!

I think Paganini would have given him a run for his money on the fingerboard, but so far in my investigations into the great virtuoso violinists who were also composers, I feel that Tartini, more than the others, embodied the most evenly balanced skills in both composing and virtuoso performance.

Vivaldi, Viotti and Corelli I think leaned more towards composition, whilst Paganini, although highly talented in both, played with such virtuosity that his reputation as the ‘Devil’s Violinist’ will forever remain the stuff of legend.

Tartini however, would prove to be Lucifer’s student extraordinaire, as his most popular Violin Sonata, aptly named ‘The Devil’s Trill’, proves to this day to be one of the most wickedly sublime sonatas ever written for the instrument.

Legacy

Tartini left the world a vast heritage of music. As a result of his study, hard work, and imagination his quill penned no fewer than 350 works, most of which were written for the violin. Like Corelli and unlike Vivaldi, Tartini composed almost exclusively instrumental music, criticising composers of both vocal and instrumental music.

“These kinds of music are so different that he who is successful in one of them cannot be so in the other; each must remain within the confines of his own talent.”  To push his point home he also said, “I have received offers to work for theatres in Venice, but I have never agreed to this, for I know well that the vocal chords are by no means identical with the violin fingerboard. Vivaldi, who wanted to work in both genres, was always booed in the one, whilst in the other he was completely successful.”

Tartini’s influence reached beyond his contemporaries: Vivaldi, Laurenti and Boccherini across nations to what historians have discovered as traces of his style in the works of the young W.A. Mozart. Leopold Mozart recognised his genius by referring to Tartini as “one of the most splendid violinists of our time,” in citations that appeared regularly in the pages of his School for the Violin (1756).

Tartini himself it seems was a creative and sensitive soul with an inquiring mind, who was committed to mastering the technical aspects of the violin as well as finding the peak of his artistic taste and individuality.

He was greatly was influenced by a fellow virtuoso violinist from Florence, Francesco Maria Veracini (1690 – 1768), who had performed in London, Dresden, Poland and what is now the Czech Republic for Count Kinsky. It is thought the two met in 1716 in Venice at the festivities in honour of the Crown Prince of Saxony. Tartini was attracted to the romantic colouring of Veracini’s sonatas and was impressed by his manner of playing, which was bold and vivid, with a smooth-flowing tone and an easy mastery of bow and finger techniques, including the trill.

Tartini assimilated the skill and style of his eminent compatriot over the years that followed as he busied himself in seclusion in Ancona.

Not all of Tartini’s work has been published, but most of his original manuscripts can be found in the music archives of the chapel of St. Anthony in Padua.

Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua

Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua

How I wish I’d known that when I visited Padua in my early twenties! There are probably more autographs that have yet to be discovered, as was the case with Vivaldi. His first collection of violin concertos were published in Amsterdam in 1729, followed by his sonatas four years later.

In addition to his violin works, Tartini left a few compositions for viola da gamba, cello and flute.

The Devil’s Trill Sonata

Written in the key of G minor, the sonata is an example of one of the best 18th century violin classics. It begins with a beautiful, melancholy and expressive melody, the ‘Largo Affettuso’. I wonder if this is meant to represent Satan’s sadness at being kicked out of heaven?

My score!

My score!

It is both poetic and soulful, with a mournful lyricism that immediately creates an emotional pathos. It lulls you into a poignant state before the song like tune moves into the ‘Allegro’ where the tempo and temperament change dramatically.

The Andante provides a lyrical interlude before the Allegro assai assaults the senses! Vigorous, determined and virtuosic, it’s positively demoniacal to play; Tartini was most certainly gripped by a violent and turbulent passion…

The Allegro assai, where Tartini uses a continuous background of double-stopping trills. Looks like a lifetime of practice for me!

The Allegro assai, where Tartini uses a continuous background of double-stopping trills. Looks like a lifetime of practice for me!

“Such marvellous compositions of Tartini’s as his sonata in E minor and G minor (The Devil’s Trill) or his Concerto in D minor have been with me since my youth, throughout my life as a musician; these and other works by Tartini are now played by my pupils, but his music never loses its freshness for me, its colour and its emotional impact. I consider his Devil’s Trill sonata to be of such importance that I not infrequently conclude my solo concert (recital) programmes by performing it.” ~ David Oistrakh

His words perfectly complement his amazing performance of The Devil’s Trill in a feat of such jaw dropping virtuosity that I haven’t found a performance to top this one!

The Devil’s Dream

French astronomer and writer, Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, tells the story of how the Devil’s Trill Sonata came about as told to him by Tartini himself:

“One night in 1713 he (Tartini) dreamed that he had made a contract with the devil, who happened to be in his service.  Whatever Tartini wanted was granted to him, and all his wishes were anticipated by his new servant, who gave him his violin to see if he could play anything harmonious. But what was Tartini’s surprise when he heard a sonata so original and lovely and performed with such perfection and meaning that he could never have imagined anything like it! He experienced such amazement, admiration and delight that he was breathless; this strong emotion woke him up and he immediately seized his violin in the hope that he would be able to remember at least part of what he had heard, but in vain. The piece that Tartini composed then is indeed the best of all that he has ever done, and he calls The Devil’s Sonata. But the former one that amazed him was so much higher that he would have broken his violin and given up music forever if only he could have.”

The musical idea of the sonata had probably matured in Tartini’s mind long before the dream further ‘elucidated’ his ideas. He’d already worked hard on the trill, conceiving it not only as a technical device but as a means of musical expression.

Painting of the devil's trill

Although the dream story has an air of the mystical about it the cause of the dream was undoubtedly Tartini’s creative drive at work. He later devoted much attention to the trill in his Treatise on Ornaments.

Debate over the date of composition 

The Tartini scholars, Paul Brainard, Andreas Moser and Antonio Capri assert that the artistic content of the sonata, its depth, harmony, originality and technique are more in line with his mature final period, and suggest it wasn’t written before 1730/1740.

However, Johann Quantz heard Tartini perform in Prague in 1723 and made a point of Tartini’s skill in playing double trills. These comments prompted Italian violinist Michelango Abbado, (father of conductor Claudio), to surmise that the sonata had already been written by 1723.

Sadly, the original autograph of the Devil’s Trill sonata no longer exists, and as Tartini was prone not to date his works it may not have shed light on the debate in any case. It’s also logical to assume that if it was composed in Tartini’s youth that over time he would have practiced and perfected the sonata, as well as teaching it to his students. It’s also understandable that Tartini himself didn’t want to shout from the rooftops that he was dreaming of the Devil whilst a violin soloist and director of music at the Chapel of St. Anthony!

Here are some other wonderful performances and interpretations of the brilliant Opus 1 No. 4 composition.

Henryk Szeryng:

Joshua Bell’s interpretation with the harpsichord:

An arrangement for violin and orchestra by Marc-Oliver Dupin, performed by Orchestre d’Auvergne and Jean-Jacques Kantorow:

A lovely performance on authentic instruments from the Palladian Ensemble for violin, viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, archlute & baroque guitar:

A 16 year old Yehudi Menuhin in a fabulous vintage recording:

The inimitable Itzhak Perlman:

Nathan Milstein from 1959:

Publication

Jean Baptiste Cartier first published The Devil’s Trill sonata in his method (L’art du Violon ou Collection Choisie dans les sonatas des Ecoles Italienne, Francaise et Allemande), that came out in Paris in 1798 followed up by a second edition in 1801.

The sonata then had a dormant period of 54 years and reappeared in 1855 with a piano accompaniment by Henri Vieuxtemps and Robert Volkmann. That edition also revived interest in Tartini’s works in general not just The Devil’s Trill.

At the turn of the 19/20th century a large number of arrangements of the sonata were produced by Joseph Joachim, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Auer and Georgi Doulov which further spread appreciation and performance of this brilliant sonata.

I’d love to hear from you with your favourite versions of The Devil’s Trill as well! Until part 2…

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 17th Century: Vivaldi (Part 2)

Having covered the more factual parts of Vivaldi’s life and music in part 1, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the maestro’s music…

Antonio Vivaldi portrait

‘L’estro Armonico’ (Harmonic Inspiration) Opus 3

This is a set of twelve concertos for one, two and four violins composed by Vivaldi in 1711.

“Perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the eighteenth century.” ~ Michael Talbot

It’s impossible to highlight so few works out of such an incredible oeuvre but here, in no particular order is a selection of some of my favourites from this opus for your listening pleasure!

Violin Concerto in G major, Op. 3 No.  6, (RV 310) performed by Elizabeth Wallfisch and Tafelmusik:

The amazing harpsichord version transcribed by Bach (BWV 978) played by Chiara Massini:

Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 3 No. 6, RV 356 by Elizabeth Wallfisch:

Concerto for two violins, strings & B.C in A minor, RV522 Op. 3 No. 8 by Tafelmusik:

Concerto for four violins in B minor, Op. 3 No. 10, RV 580 by Il Giardino Armonico:

The astonishing performance of Bach’s transcription for 4 keyboards (BWV 1065), Argerich, Kissin, Pletnev, Levine and a host of top notch violinists! I challenge you to listen to this and not feel happy afterwards!

Concerto for 2 Violins, Cello, Strings and B.C. in D minor Op. 3 No. 11, RV 565 by Tafelmusik:

Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention) Opus 8

Written between 1723 and 1725 and published in 1725, Vivaldi’s Opus 8 consists of twelve violin concertos which he labelled ‘Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione’, of which the first four concertos were his famous The Four Seasons.

The Four Seasons: Opus 8 Nos. 1-4

Had it not been for the Turin collection The Four Seasons may have never been resurrected from their archive, dusted down and brought back into public awareness. Although ‘Le Quattro Stagioni’ were not among the Turin find the excitement about the discovery meant they were granted a new lease of life.

Vivaldi - manuscript Inverno

Score for L’Inverno (Winter)

The first four Opus 8 concertos are now the most widely recorded pieces in classical music history repertoire. Since the very first recording made by Alfredo Campoli in 1939 there have been over a thousand different recorded versions.

Vivaldi - I-Musici-Felix-Ayo-Vivaldi-The-Four-Seasons

With records, CDs and digital downloads to sell and with so many versions of such a popular work it’s crucial for artists to emulate a critical business practice: differentiation.  There’s an array of classical and period baroque instruments, chamber groups, orchestras and ensemble styles, giving licence to the soloist and musicians to embellish, alter the tempo and put their personal touch to it,  in order to distinguish them from other recordings and performances.

Vivaldi - Alan Lovbeday AOSMITF 4 Seasons

The seminal 1969 recording by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields featuring violinist Alan Loveday under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner, reputedly catapulted the piece from its recondite realm to that of mainstream consumption.

The third movement from ‘Winter’ of that album:

Nigel Kennedy’s 1989 recording of The Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra sold over two million copies, becoming one of the best-selling classical works ever.

Vivaldi - Nigel Kennedy 4 seasons

Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recorded The Four Seasons as well as a music video for the first movement of ‘Winter’ that was featured regularly on The Weather Channel in the mid-1990s.

Today, it seems unthinkable that Vivaldi could have been forgotten and overlooked by history.

Personally, I love to play The Four Seasons and find ‘Winter’ by far the hardest to master, being written in the key of F minor.  I love the hashtag (sharp notes) but four flats haunt me…

I recently learnt that Vivaldi actually wrote sonnets to accompany the Four Seasons, which the music relates to perfectly. It’s an early example of programme music, a genius of descriptive musical storytelling that conjures up vivid scenes in your mind…

Vivaldi - Perlman IPO 4 Seasons

Between 1718 and 1720 Vivaldi left Venice and travelled to the countryside of Mantua; where it is believed he absorbed the setting and inspiration for his most ‘nature oriented’ work!

La Primavera (Spring) RV 269

In the first movement the birds are represented by the most sublime trills, and the gentle melody that evokes the murmur of the brook, followed by the semi quavers which indicate a quick storm, followed by the birds again as the air clears…

Itzhak Perlman and IPO strings delight:

L’Estate (Summer)  RV 315

The first movement in particular gives me a sense of a sweltering, bleak and languid environment. I can feel how hard it must be for Vivaldi to breathe, his asthma aggravated by the humidity. It’s written in G minor, which is considered to be the ‘darkest’ key. Overall the feel of the second movement is listless. It fills me with torpor…until the third movement he unleashes the storm to end all storms!

Julia Fischer and the strings of The Academy of St. Martin-in-the Field perfectly capture the deeply suffocating spirit of this concerto:

L’Autunno (Autumn) RV 293

The third movement seems to poke fun at the hunters; I think Vivaldi was definitely a member of the anti-hunting lobby!

The dotted quavers  signify the plodding hooves of cruel men on their clumsy horses. As the tempo increases you can hear the prey running for its life. The chords begin to raise a semitone with each phrase, increasing the pressure on the animal as the hunters and dogs close in. Gun shots ring out, the animal finally gives up its struggle and you imagine you can hear the dogs laughing… The final insult occurs after the main theme returns at the end of the finale signifying the hunters going about their deathly business.

I love Giuliano Carmignola and I Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca’s interpretation:

L’Inverno (Winter) RV 297

The opening movement sounds very metallic and visceral, (thanks to the use of the bow very close to the bridge). You can definitely hear teeth chattering!

This performance by Il Giardino Armonico sends chills down my spine!

Arrangements of The Four Seasons

Vivaldi actually re-scored his ‘Spring’ allegro for use in the opening overture and chorus of his opera Dorilla in Tempe, thus setting the trend for future transcriptions, covers, remixes, adaptations and mashups.

The fact that so many improvisations have been possible is testament to Vivaldi’s skill as a composer.

In 1765 French organist and composer Michel Corrette arranged ‘Spring’ as a choral motet for choir and orchestra: Laudate Dominum de Coelis, subtitled “Motet à Grand Chœur arrangé dans le Concerto de Printemps de Vivaldi”. The words of Psalm 116 are set to the music with vocal soloists performing the solo violin parts.

Vivaldi’s inventiveness paved the way for Beethoven to write the ‘Pastoral’ symphony in 1808 also featuring drunken peasants and a storm.

In 1969 the Swingle Singers did an a cappella cover from their album the Joy of Singing.

In Argentina Ástor Piazzolla published Estaciones Porteñas, ‘The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires’ in performances by various artists since 1970.

Jacques Loussier and his jazz trio covered the ‘Four Seasons’ in this wonderful performance:

Vanessa Mae was the first violinist to use an electric violin on her crossover version of the Presto from ‘Summer’ and following in her footsteps there have been various arrangements for harp, electric guitar, choral and rock remixes.

I particularly like this choral version of ‘Winter’ by the Accentus Chamber Choir:

Arrangement for Flute of ‘Winter’ by Jean-Pierre Rampal & Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra:

A gorgeous second movement from ‘Winter’ for the oboe with Albrecht Mayer and New Seasons Ensemble:

In 2012 composer Max Richter created a postmodern and minimalist re-composition released as ‘Recomposed – Vivaldi The Four Seasons’. Working with solo violinist Daniel Hope, Richter discarded around seventy five percent of the original source material. A live recording with the composer at Le Poisson Rouge in New York:

There’s even a flamenco/tango arrangement of Spring by Gustavo Montesano and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra!

Opus 8 Nos. 5 – 12

Here are three of the remaining eight works that follow The Four Seasons in the Opus 8.

Violin Concerto ‘La Tempesta di Mare’ in E-Flat major, Op. 8 No. 5 RV 253 by Giuliano Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra:

Violin Concerto in C Major, ‘Il piacere’ Op. 8 No. 6, RV180 – Andrew Manze and the Academy of Ancient Music:

Concerto No. 7 in D minor, ‘Per Pisendel’, Op. 8 No. 7 RV 242 by Giardino Armonico:

Other Violin Favourites

I love the way Anne Akiko Meyers plays all three parts in his Triple Violin Concerto in F Major RV 551:

Il Rosignuolo – Concerto for violin, organ, strings & B.C. in A major, RV 335a by MusicaAdRhenum:

Violin Concerto in E Major, RV 271 ‘L`amoroso’ played as a tender love song by I Musici:

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.  11 No.  2 ‘Il Favorito’ (RV 277) first movement by Giuliano Carmignola & I Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca:

´La Stravaganza` 12 Violin concertos Opus 4, by Rachel Podger and Arte Dei Suonatori:

Violin Concerto in A Major, ‘The Cuckoo’ (RV 335) with Giuliano Carmignola:

Violin Concerto in D Major, ‘Il Grosso Mogul’ (RV 208) by Il Giardino Armonico:

Sonata for 2 violins & B.C. in D minor, Op. 1 No. 12 (RV 63) ‘La Follia’ by Il Giardino Armonico:

Transcriptions and Arrangements

Violin Concerto in D, Op. 3 No. 9 (RV.230) – arr. for trumpet, violin, cello and harpsichord with Alison Balsam:

Bach Sicilienne from Concerto in D minor, BWV596 after Vivaldi RV 565, Alexandre Tharaud:

The largo of the Lute Concerto in D Major, RV 93 performed on classical guitar by John Williams always transports me to a place beyond words:

Trio Sonata Op. 1 No. 12 ‘La Follia’ by the Barrios Guitar Quartet:

Concertos for other instruments

This one really pulls my heart strings! Adagio from the Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major RV 398 by Rostropovich:

Heinz Holliger on form in the second movement of the Oboe Concerto in C major, RV 452:

Piccolo Concerto in C major, RV 443 – Il Giardino Armonico:

Flute Concerto in G minor, ‘La Notte’ RV439 with Fabio Biondi & Europa Galante:

Examples of sacred music

I don’t think there’s any doubt about Vivaldi’s faith when you listen to his sacred works. Here is a selection of some of my favourites, but there are many I have yet to discover!

Gloria in Excelsis in C Major, (RV 588):

Motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera (RV630):

“Et in terra pax hominibus” with Emma Kirkby, Michael Chance & Tessa Bonner:

Dixit Dominus was rediscovered in 2005 by Australian scholar Janice Stockigt. (RV807):

Nisi Dominus (RV608) by the Academy of Ancient Music and Christopher Hogwood:

Modern Catalog of Works

Although both CE (Complete Edition) and Fanna numbers (F.) have been used in the past, the modern catalog of numbers attributed to Vivaldi’s multitudinous works was created in the 1970’s by Danish musicologist Peter Ryom and take the prefix RV – “Ryom-Verzeichnis” or “Répertoire des oeuvres d’Antonio Vivaldi”. They do not necessarily follow in consecutive order with adjacent works.

The end in Vienna

Although Vivaldi lived a comfortable life in Venice, (he made around 50,000 ducats in his lifetime) changing musical tastes meant his music was no longer in demand so he sold off a chunk of manuscripts to finance his last trip to Vienna.

He planned to serve as a composer at the imperial court of Emperor Charles IV and perhaps stage operas. Unfortunately his patron died soon after his arrival in the city, leaving Vivaldi without an income and he died penniless. Not a fitting end to such a magnificent career. His funeral took place in St. Stephen’s and he was laid to rest next to Karlskirche.

I have come to the conclusion that Vivaldi lived his life with as much exuberance as his music arouses in the listener. The sheer volume of his output is unmatched to this day; a feat of such unbridled passion for music as will probably never be seen again…

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 17th Century: Vivaldi (Part 1)

“There are no words, it’s only music there.” ~ Antonio Vivaldi

Listening to Vivaldi’s music always conjures up such joy and serenity in me. His lively, melodic allegros are uplifting and life affirming, whereas his soulful adagios have a transcendental quality. It strikes me that he must have possessed an unrelenting zest for life. He certainly made the most of living with a fertile mind trapped inside a sick body.

Famous for his evocative ‘Four Seasons’ concertos and sometimes referred to as “il Prete Rosso” (the Red Priest), due to the colour of his hair; he lived, performed and composed his immortal music almost entirely in Venice.

Antoni Vivaldi portrait2

Vivaldi is now considered one of the key figures of the baroque era. However, his work and reputation only started to garner attention and gather steam in the early 20th century. Since then the flamboyant Venetian maestro has more than made up for lost time…

Knowing how much I love Vivaldi’s music, I can see it’s going to be a challenge for me to exercise brevity in this post! Because of the volume of his work I have decided to dedicate two posts to him.

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (4 March 1678 – 28 July 7141)

I think it’s fair to suggest that Vivaldi was the ‘rock star’ of his day. Although he was a priest he refused to say mass and was suspected of being involved in a ménage à trois with two teenage girls.

His music was passionate, dangerous, dramatic and yet ethereal. His creativity produced a massive body of violin sonatas and concertos, as well as concertos for a range of other instruments, operas, arias and sacred music. It’s thought he wrote nearly 800 compositions during his lifetime.

His main contemporary, the grand-daddy of them all, JS Bach, was influenced by him and incorporated some of Vivaldi’s works into his own repertoire for harpsichord, thus keeping his work alive in Europe, known only to a handful of musicologists and scholars.

However, unlike Bach and Händel whose memories and music survived their mortal reign, after Vivaldi’s death, his music fell from favour and Vivaldi himself was remembered more for being an eccentric violinist and cleric than as a prolific composer. He was very nearly a Venetian nobody instead of his rightful place as the Venetian Master.

Early life 

Vivaldi was born in Venice, the eldest of 6 children. Just as the legend of the storm that raged in Vienna the moment Beethoven passed away has proliferated, so goes the story that Vivaldi was born during an earthquake in Venice. It’s a romantic notion that would support his often visceral, elemental music, whether true or not.

He was born with severe asthma, which as you can imagine, in the late 17th century would have proved fatal in most cases. Little Antonio’s mother may have done a deal with God, that if he spared her first born then she would dedicate his life to the church.  Asthma plagued Vivaldi all his life, however he did become a priest, but is only known to have actually said mass for about a year after being ordained.

Vivaldi & Son

Before Johann Georg Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, there was Giovanni Battista and Antonio Lucio Vivaldi; an enduring and successful father and son partnership. Giovanni was a successful musician, performing with Vivaldi as well as peddling his music manuscripts on the streets and generally helping his son’s career wherever he could.

Career

Thankfully for us Vivaldi followed his heart and his real passion – music. Those that heard him play commented on the ferocity of his technique. Only a violin virtuoso could write such demanding music for his instrument!

Ospedale_della_Pietà - VeniceIn 1703 Vivaldi was assigned to the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage for abandoned and illegitimate babies. The unfortunate infants were passed through a hole in the wall, which had a warning issued above it from Pope John Paul urging parents to keep their children if they were able to care for them. In Vivaldi’s day there could be as many as four babies deposited a day. Sadly, before the orphanages opened many were tossed in the canals as unwanted appendages.

The boys were taught trades, such as stone cutting and weaving, whereas the girls were tutored in music and singing. It was the perfect vocation for Vivaldi, as master of violin he was able to write music for his students (approximately two concertos a week), and his young female protégés performed in a small section of the Pietà behind a decorative grille.

Venice became popular as a tourist destination after its position as a trading centre and economic power had waned, hence Vivaldi and his ensemble of young ladies were added to the list of the city’s attractions!

The tradition of the students giving concerts at the Pietà continued long after their first and most famous composer passed on and in 1770 the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, after seeing a performance commented:

“I have not an idea of anything so voluptuous and affecting as this music; the richness of the art, the exquisite taste of the vocal part, the excellence of the voices, the justness of the execution, everything in these delightful concerts concurs to produce an impression which certainly is not the mode, but from which I am of opinion no heart is secure.”

Imagination and inventiveness

The three movement style (fast – slow – fast) became firmly established in Vivaldi’s concertos, and the first movement generally consisted of five tutti (ensemble together) and four soli (soloist). He was influential on the sonata form and the creation of the classical concerto of the 18th century.

Professor Livanova remarks that his concertos, as distinct from Corelli’s Concerti Grossi, are characterised not only by:

“free development of orchestral texture,…but also by the singling out of the concertante solo of the solosist’s principle part, which would be executed with the brilliance of virtuosity. It was in the violin concerto that they found the most direct expression for instrumental virtuosity, analogous to the aspiration for vocal virtuosity in the operatic aria of the time… However, in the first stages of development the violin concerto had not yet sacrificed its artistic meaning to external virtuosity.”

Love

When he was 48 years old Vivaldi fell for singer Anna Giro, a sixteen year old girl who was to be his muse and companion for the rest of his life. Her older sister Paolina was her chaperone, thus many spurious rumours began to spread about the nature of their relationships. What is known is that Anna lived with him, featured in most of his operas and she was with him when he died in Vienna in 1741.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - Girl with a mandolin

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – Girl with a mandolin

This brilliant article (Saint or Sinner?) by Susan Orlando investigates his character and relationships more closely.

Obsession with Opera

Vivaldi claimed he had written 94 operas, but only 50 of them have been discovered. Being an opera impresario was more of a side line for Vivaldi, and although he had limited success it was his ‘thing’. I haven’t even scratched the surface of his operatic output, let alone the many arias that comprise them. His skill at setting music to a story probably stood him in good stead when he composed the Four Seasons.

Here is an impassioned rendition from contralto Sonia Prina of ‘Vedrò con mio diletto’ from Giustino:

Viva Vivaldi! A fabulous selection of arias from mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli:

Vivaldi’s personal archive (the Turin manuscripts)

Sometime after his death, Vivaldi’s private collection of handwritten manuscripts were sold to the Genoese Count Giacomo Durazzo (1717 – 1794), the Austrian ambassador in Venice who was a patron of Gluck. Perhaps as an act of charity on behalf of Durazzo, around half of the collection was gifted to a Salesian monastery in Piedmont.

Vivaldi - Gloria image Miles Fish

Vivaldi – Gloria Manuscript – Turin Image credit – Miles Fish

Hidden in a musty store room, ensconced among 97 volumes of music scores, Vivaldi’s music lay gathering dust for two hundred years at what is now the Collegio San Martino near Turin, until they were re-discovered unexpectedly in 1927 by Alberto Gentili, a professor of music history at the University of Turin, who was called in to value the collection so that it could be sold.

National University Library Turin

National University Library Turin

Gentili soon reaslised that he had an amazing find on his hands, and wanted to keep Vivaldi’s original autographs in the city of Turin. However, after careful sorting it became apparent to Gentili that only half the works were present, and he suspected the missing scores were still owned by descendants of the Durazzo family. His hunch turned out to be correct and eventually after tracking down the Durazzo heir, the remaining manuscripts (along with the original find) were purchased by local businessmen Roberto Foa and Filippo Giordano respectively, in memory of their sons, for the Turin Library.

I would so love to visit Turin just to see this collection! On an upper floor of the Turin National University Library, safely on display, are Vivaldi’s original manuscripts consisting of 450 works: 110 violin concertos, 39 oboe concertos, over a dozen operas and a substantial selection of sacred music.

Manuscript of the Gloria RV 589 - image credit Miles Fish

Manuscript of the Gloria RV 589 – image credit Miles Fish

What is striking is that the notes appear to have been transported straight from Vivaldi’s brain onto the paper, with very little crossing out and no sketches. The mark of a genius!

In part 2 I’ll be focusing on the Opus 3 concertos, the Four Seasons and some other gems from his vast musical legacy.

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 17th Century: Corelli

“In Italy it was not only the human voice that began to sing. The principle that singing is breathing tool a firm hold on all the music. It is well known how the violin began to sing. Soon there came into being style, and forms, and a special kind of music-making, in which the chief figure was the soloist.” ~ Boris Asafyev

It wasn’t until I started doing a bit of research into this Italian baroque superstar that I began to realise just how talented, influential and virtuosic Corelli really was for his epoch.

Arcangelo Corelli

I knew his work mainly through playing his violin sonata, La Folia – twenty three variations on a theme inspired by the folk music of the people. This final work (sonata number twelve in D minor), of his fifth opus encompasses all the violin techniques that had been used in the sonatas that came before it.

Here is my favourite interpretation of the work by violinist Henryk Szeryng. His technique is clean and smooth but infused with emotion and with baroque style embellishments, I just love it!

To understand the influence and relevance that Corelli still has in classical music, it helps to look back at the zeitgeist that Corelli lived and worked in, that blossoming period of creativity in music, the arts and human evolution – the Italian Renaissance – and the importance of Italian musicians in the development of the violin (and cello) in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Corelli paved the way for his equally brilliant violin and composer compatriots Antonio Vivaldi and Guiseppe Tartini (who I’ll write about in later posts).

Arcangelo Corelli: (17 February 1653 – 8 January 1713)

In the 17th Century the Italian city of Bologna was a flourishing centre for music and the arts, a place where musicians, composers and singers would meet, perform and discuss music, prompting its sobriquet “the Italian Athens” by Carlo Goldoni.

One of the societies in Bologna was the renowned Academia di Filarmonici, founded in 1666, of which Corelli was a member; he passed their admission audition at the tender age of seventeen.

Accademia_filarmonica Bologna

The youngest of five children, Corelli was raised by his mother as his father died shortly before his birth. It is thought that Corelli’s early music tuition was undertaken by a priest in the town of Faenza, When he was thirteen he moved to Bologna.

There can be no questioning Corelli’s violin pedagogy – he hailed from the Bologna Violin School, founded by Ercole Gaibara. Corelli signed his first three Trio Sonatas, “Arcangelo Corelli from Fusignano, called the Bolognese.” I don’t think it was because he liked pasta!

Portrait of Arcangelo Corelli by Jan Frans Douven.

Portrait of Arcangelo Corelli by Jan Frans Douven.

It is thought Corelli may have been an admirer of the French baroque composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully.

During the second half of the 17th century Corelli and his fellow musicians were not concerned with technical possibilities on the violin, they followed a more eloquent path, one with a desire to create deeper emotional content, to typify forms, to adhere to simplicity, clarity and lyricism, as well as bringing together chamber and sacred music in sonata and concerto forms and to explore instrumental music as a means of expression.

12 Concerti Grossi (Opus 6)

Corelli found fame through his violin sonatas and his twelve concerti grossi composed under opus 6. One of my all-time favourites is his Concerto Grosso number 8 in G minor, Fatto per la Notte di Natale (Christmas Concerto), performed here by the Accademia degli Astrusi and Federico Ferri in the Teatro Communale di Bologna:

In celebration of the 300th anniversary of the publication of the Opus 6 concertos in Amsterdam in 1714, Voices of Music recorded this delightful performance of Concerto Grosso number 4 in D Major on period instruments. It explodes with pure joy!

I just recently purchased the ABRSM violin Grade 8 music listing with some scores for the 2016 – 19 syllabus, and one of the pieces on List A is Corelli’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in G minor, Opus 5, specifically the Adagio and Vivace. I might just choose this as one of my three exam pieces. Here is the sonata in its entirety:

Corelli moved to Rome in about 1675 living in the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni until his death. He founded and headed the Rome Violin School, gave violin lessons as well as continuing to compose and play in chapels himself. Two of his students were Francesco Geminiani and Pietro Locatelli, who became great violinists and composers in their own right.

Concerto Grosso No. 1 in D Major, Opus 6 played by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under the baton of Nicholas McGegan:

Corelli’s Opus 6 concertos fall into two broad structural categories. The first stems from the Italian tradition of the sonata da chiesa, or “church” sonata, consisting of a series of movements in alternating tempi (slow and fast), often employing rich contrapuntal textures. In contrast, the sonata da camera, or “chamber” sonata, is assembled as a suite, featuring dances such as the allemande, corrente, sarabanda, gavotta, and giga in addition to instrumental preludes and intervening movements.

Transcriptions based on La Folia

The expressive theme of Corelli’s Folia (already an existing theme that he modified), was to be used later by composers Alexander Alabiev in his ballet The Magic Drum, Franz Liszt in his Spanish Rhapsody and Sergei Rachmaninoff in his Variations on a theme of Corelli.

The inimitable Cziffra:

A Russian affair with Ashkenazy:

Corelli the composer is inseparable from Corelli the performer. According to Corelli’s pupils and other contemporaries, his style of execution was distinguished by exceptional expressiveness and dignity. He could be lyrical, thoughtful and absorbed and at the same time animated, emotional, headlong.

By limiting the compass of the violin to three positions (2.5 octaves), roughly the equivalent of the human voice, and by limiting his bowing technique to the detache and legato strokes, Corelli strove to obtain a greater effect from the expressive means he used so sparingly. His use of polyphonic devices (two voices) and arpeggio bowing and bariole were rather daring for his time.  ~ Dr. Lev Ginsburg

A period instrumental arrangement of la Folia by baroque musician Jordi Savall and his ensemble:

Corelli’s music was published in six opera, each opus containing 12 compositions: Opus 1 (1681), 2 (1685), 3 (1689), and 4 (1694) are trio sonatas; Opus 5 (1700), solo sonatas for violin and continuo; and Opus 6 (1714), concerti grossi for string orchestra.

La Follia by Corelli

Corelli wrote forty-eight trio sonatas made up into four volumes, (Op. 1-4, the last of which appeared in 1694), twelve sonatas for violin and bass (Op.5 published in 1700) and twelve concerti grossi Op. 6 (which were published posthumously).

His legacy extended to the 18th century Italian violin school as well as providing inspiration to the baroque greats, George Frederick Händel and Johann Sebastian Bach. His music continues to influence modern composers, such as 20th century composer Michael Tippett, who wrote Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli:

Corelli was laid to rest in the Pantheon in Rome, (as is the High Renaissance painter Raphael), having collected around 150 fine works of art by the likes of Trevisani, Onofri and Dughet, as well as many fine violins by the time of his death.

Interior of the Pantheon by Giovanni Paolo Panini.

Interior of the Pantheon by Giovanni Paolo Panini.

The Purcell Quartet playing Sonata da Camera, Op. 4 No. 9 in B-Flat Major:

12 Violin Sonatas Opus 5, brought to vivid life by Arthur Grumiaux:

“If you take a violin, you can make it sound 50 different ways. Not just pizzicato and played by the bow, but ponticello, and harmonics, and tremolos. If you take an oboe and play it, there’s about one way you can make it sound: like an oboe.” ~ John Corigliano

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 18th Century: Viotti

“…the violin — that most human of all instruments…” ~ Louisa May Alcott

Giovanni Battista Viotti: (12 May 1755 – 3 March 1824)

I have to admit, I didn’t know that much about Viotti before I began writing this post.

Giovanni_Battista_Viotti_afterTrofsarelliHe was 27 years older than his more famous and infamous compatriot, Paganini; but in my view he deserves just as many plaudits. Viotti was a key influence in the lives of many violinists and composers, such as Rodolphe Kreutzer, Pierre Rode, Pierre Baillot, Louis Spohr and Paganini indirectly, (via his pupil August Duranowski).

Beethoven himself drew inspiration from Viotti’s violin concertos.

Many modern violin greats can trace their pedadogical legacy back to Viotti. He is the founding father of the style of violin tuition from the early days of the Paris Conservatoire.

It’s probably fair to say that his skill as a violinist outshone his skill as a composer.

However, I had no idea he wrote such a substantial body of work: 29 violin concertos, 2 symphonie concertantes, many violin duos, violin and cello sonatas, string quartets and trios, a cello concerto, around 17 piano concertos (arrangements of his violin concertos), as well as 2 flute concertos, (also based on his violin concertos), plus other chamber works.

Uto Ughi and Guido Rimonda perform the duetto per due violini (music commences at 44 seconds):

Viotti’s musical education was under the patronage of Alfonso dal Pozzo della Cisterna in Turin and later by violinist Gaetano Pugnani. He served at the Savoia Court in Turin for eight years before touring as a soloist, initially with Pugnani throughout Germany, Poland and Russia, before he found favour in Paris; making his debut as a violinist in 1782 where he became the court musician to Marie Antoinette at Versailles.

He remained in France as a teacher and opera impresario, founding a new opera house in Paris under the patronage of the king’s brother (Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, comte de Provence), in 1788. He worked closely with his friend and opera composer, Luigi Cherubini whom, incidentally, Beethoven regarded as the greatest contemporary composer.

Despite his affiliation with the French monarchs Viotti was philosophically aligned with the Enlightenment movement and the teachings of Jean-Jaqcues Rousseau. After the French Revolution took a turn for the worse Viotti’s opera house was renamed Théâtre Feydeau in order to distance himself from the unpopular French Royalty.

Viotti kept his head and moved to London in 1792 where he became popular both as a violinist and musical director of opera concerts. He met Joseph Haydn in London in 1794, whose musical influence can be heard in Viotti’s later concertos.

Viotti - Violin Concerto no. 22 sheet music cover

Tension between Britain and France led to him being expelled from Britain because of the Alien Bill in 1798, under the false charge of being a Jacobin; only to return two years later from Germany to live in secret with his English friends and supporters, William and Margaret Chinnery.

Around 1801 Viotti set up a wine merchant business, stating, “I find that the English prefer wine to music.” Unlike Paganini, who adored the limelight, Viotti was happier performing at smaller, more intimate gatherings. During this time he continued to compose and put on private concerts.

His friend (and younger brother to the Prince of Wales), the Duke of Cambridge, made it possible for Viotti to become a naturalised British Citizen in 1811, and Viotti became a key figure in the creation of the Philharmonic Society in London in 1813. At this stage of his career he played mostly as a chamber musician and orchestra leader.

When his wine business failed he returned to Paris to become the director of the Italian Opera between 1819 and 1822.  He returned to London in 1823 with Mrs Chinnery and died a year later.

Here is my favourite of his violin concertos, No. 19 in G minor, written in the 1790’s which has a contemporary sounding lyrical drama and a gorgeous melody, performed by Rainer Kussmaul:

The first movement of the same concerto arranged for piano:

Viotti’s Violin Concerto No. 22 in A minor was composed in 1803, and was revived by the virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim in the 1870’s, elevating it to the most popular of his violin concerti. Brahms was also an admirer of this work, using artistic license from it in his own violin concerto. Here is one of the greatest violin virtuoso’s of the 20th Century, Itzhak Perlman, playing the third movement:

Origins of the French National Anthem

In 1781 during his time at Versailles, Viotti composed his Theme & Variations in C Major, which was copied in 1792 by Rouget de Lisle and dubbed ‘Song of War’. The ‘song’ was later adopted by volunteers from Marseille, and thus the “Marseillaise” was established, first becoming France’s national anthem in 1795. It seems rather unfair that de Lisle took all the glory!

Franz Liszt also wrote a piano transcription of the Marseillaise:

Viotti’s Violin

Viotti’s violin was made by Antonio Stradivari in 1709, and was given to him by Catherine the Great.

Viotti’s Strad also features in the opening chapter of my novel, The Virtuoso. My protagonist, the concert violinist Isabelle Bryant, is giving a Masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music, where the violin is now on display. Here’s the excerpt from Chapter 1:

Her violin represented another limb to her, it was that precious. It felt so natural, like an extension of her body. She gently rubbed her neck which was feeling a little sore. The rough, red patch of skin on her neck just below her jaw was often mistaken for a love bite, when in fact it was she affectionately referred to as a violinist’s hickey. Many hours of gruelling practice had left their marks.

Her mind drifted to her earlier private viewing of the Academy’s museum, where she had been shown round by the curator in person. She had spent a blissful afternoon paying particular awe and reverence to their recent acquisition of Italian virtuoso Giovanni Battista Viotti’s 1709 Stradivarius, renamed as the Viotti ex-Bruce to honour its British donor, which the Academy extolled as one of the most important and well preserved Stradivarius violins in the world.

She had studied the the sheen of the dark, pinky brown maple; picturing the old master craftsman huddled in his workshop in northern Italy; surrounded by the distinctive wooden shapes that would become so valuable over three hundred years later. Sadly there were so few of them remaining.

Her own violin, a modern Nagyvary, was crafted by the eminent Hungarian professor Joseph Nagyvary, who had spent his life studying the craftsmanship of Cremonese violin makers; namely Stradivarius and Guarnerius.

Nagyvary violins were made as closely to those of the ancient genius as possible, and there had been many debates about whether or not they sounded as good as those of the master. Isabelle adored it sonorous tonal qualities and projection power. If a Nagyvary violin had been good enough for Yehudi Menuhin to play for fifteen years, then it was good enough for her.

I found a great vintage recording of Raff’s Cavatina by violinist Pauline Hall, playing on Viotti’s Stad in 1912:

In the late 1600s the finest instruments originated from three rural families whose workshops were side by side in the Italian village of Cremona. First were the Amatis, and outside their shop hung a sign ‘The best violins in all Italy.’ Not to be outdone, their next-door neighbours, the family Guarnerius, hung a bolder sign proclaiming ‘The Best Violins In All The World’ At the end of the street was the workshop of Anton Stradivarius, and on its front door was a simple notice which read ‘The best violins on the block.’ ~ Freda Bright

#TheVirtuoso – First the Book, Now the Music!

“When you play a violin piece, you are a storyteller, and you’re telling a story.” ~ Joshua Bell

I’ve been itching to write this post for weeks….

Paradoxically, now the time is here I’m slightly lost for words. I have many superlatives for the work of film/TV composer Tim Johnson and virtuoso violinist Adelia Myslov, and to tell the truth, I feel quite emotional…

In a good way I hasten to add!

Whenever I listen to the superb soundtrack that Tim and Adelia created I can hardly contain myself. The music is playing on a continuous loop inside my head alongside the events of the novel.

After I finished writing The Virtuoso I knew I wanted to have an original piece of music written for it. To tell the story of a violinist and not have a musical narrative to complement it seemed somehow incomplete.

Virtuoso iTunes Cover ONLINE ARTWORK (2)

The journey so far…

Adelia and I met last summer after one of her concerts – she had just given a tear-inducing performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin concerto – and I was bowled over by her talent. We met briefly afterwards, and I wrote about her in one of my early posts: Gem of a violinist illuminates Church Concert. We hooked up on Twitter, and Adelia read my book prior to publication.

I was quaking in my boots, I can tell you. Luckily she enjoyed it, and endorsed how ‘real’ it was, so I was relieved that a virtuoso violinist had authenticated the musical aspects of my story. I suggested it would be wonderful if she could play the ‘theme’ for it, and to my absolute delight Adelia agreed!

We met up to discuss the project, and Adelia put me in touch with Tim (who she met while studying at the Royal College of Music), and the rest, as they say, is history!

About Tim

Tim began playing classical guitar at the age of 9, then moved to electric shortly after. He has always enjoyed music that was loud and fast, regardless of the genre, be it punk, metal, drum and bass or Bach.

Tim JohnsonOn track to study as a sports scientist in college, Tim did a U-turn and decided he wanted to be a professional musician. He completed his music technology A-level in just one year (instead of the usual two), alongside a traditional A-level; after which he gained a place at the University of Hertfordshire to study for a B.Sc. in commercial music composition and technology. During that time he discovered a love for writing film music.  He always enjoyed listening to it, but it was during his time at university when he decided that it was the career for him. Tim left Hertfordshire with a 1st Class Honours degree.

Despite fierce competition in the world of film composition Tim managed to write for a few adverts and other jobs when he started out, but in light of how tough it was to get hired he decided he should continue his education. He was accepted into the Royal College of Music to study Musical Composition for Screen under Francis Shaw.

Along with a good friend, Konstantine Pope, Tim was the first student to be allowed to use the main concert hall for a live electronic concert, with full orchestra, rock band, electronics and a cinema screen with visuals.

“They obviously saw enough potential in me. The experience was incredible and I learned a colossal amount, about how to write good music, about the industry, about networking and communicating with musicians… respect for musicians and their talents.”  ~ Tim Johnson

Since then, Tim has written music (or created sound design) for AAA games, trailers, movies and of course, for The Virtuoso!

The Brief

I explained to Tim that I wanted a unique theme with a classical feel to it, perhaps a little Beethovenesque (due to his part in the novel), that would serve three aims: to dramatise the story, give the listener an idea of Isabelle’s character and also a musical experience of the overall essence of The Virtuoso.

After we recorded the music Tim told me about how he initially struggled with the concept of a virtuosic piece, and the idea of playing notes for the sake of playing them. He confided in a respected colleague; the conductor and film composer, Nic Raine, who advised him that just a single note can sound virtuosic; it’s how the musician plays the note that matters, it’s their interpretation that makes the difference. He said that Tim should concentrate on a memorable theme. His advice clearly paid off!

Tim has done that and more, with a divine melody that Adelia has brought to life on her 18th Century Lorenzo Storioni violin, crafted in Cremona.

Adelia's Storioni Violin

Adelia’s Storioni Violin

As an aside, I recently learned that Arnold Steinhardt (the leader of the legendary Guarneri Quartet), also plays on a Storioni violin.

The Music

The theme has three distinct parts, akin to the novel. The beginning has a very upbeat feel. You immediately hear Isabelle’s virtuosity on the violin, as well as a sense of her personal struggle, culminating in a flurry of semiquaver passages ending with the dramatic chords synonymous with her terrible accident. It then proceeds in a minor key with the most heart rending melody. This is my favourite part of the composition.

Adelia plays this movement incredibly soulfully. Her performance is laden with powerful vibrato and a profound palette of emotional colours, reflecting the time of deep sadness, devastation and introspection for Isabelle; delivered with flawless intonation in a smooth legato style. The tone she gets from her Storioni is so full and resonant.

The finale returns to the opening theme and changes key into C major. There are some incredible semibreve and minim high notes (she makes her Storioni sing, even at the top of the fingerboard in 8th position), which has the effect of fully immersing the listener in Isabelle’s fateful journey before ending on a similar note to the novel.

The Recording

Adelia in action2We got together over the May Bank Holiday to record it. I’m full of admiration for Adelia; both as a person and as a musician. She had the difficult task of playing a demanding piece alongside a backing track with a large microphone in front of her. To play normally is one thing, but to play so beautifully and at a fast tempo wearing chunky headphones is quite another!

Eat your heart out Jascha Heifetz!

As a much in demand concert violinist, her energy and enthusiasm during the recording process – and indeed for the whole project – has been nothing short of miraculous.

“I am grateful to have met Virginia and to have been part of Isabelle’s story through music. Her novel, The Virtuoso is powerful, beautiful, and very human; and sure to touch many hearts like it did mine.” ~ Adelia Myslov

I couldn’t imagine anyone else telling the musical story of The Virtuoso quite like Adelia does.

We were able to take sections of the score and make sure we were happy with the result before moving on to the next phrase. Tim, in his sound wizardry, was able to take all the best bits and put it together in this finished version.

The Official Soundtrack

In a few weeks the official soundtrack to The Virtuoso will be available to purchase on Amazon and iTunes alongside the novel.

I put together a You Tube video to showcase the music, but please do support the artists by purchasing the track if you like it as much as I do!

When I started writing The Virtuoso I could never have imagined that Isabelle’s theme would be so exquisite and encapsulate so perfectly the story I have written. Bravo Tim and Adelia!

I’m so grateful to them for working with me and sharing their immense talents on The Virtuoso.

I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the music, please do leave a comment or get in touch. I know it would mean a lot to Tim and Adelia as well.

I now have a book launch to organise! Until the next time folks…

A Song and Dance with Messrs Bach, Händel and Lully

I don’t want to make a song and dance about these giants of the baroque era, ergo this post has no airs and graces, just a selection of Airs and Gavottes!

Bach - G & R

In lieu of modern inventions such as TV and radio, the people of the baroque era had to find other ways to amuse themselves. Basically, this meant a lot of singing and dancing and live music performance, and an expectation from the composers of the day to provide the basis of said entertainment.

The Song

The ‘Air’, derived from ‘Aria’ or any lyrical work, is a song in instrumental and vocal music.

From Wikipedia:

Lute ayres emerged in the court of Elizabeth I of England toward the end of the 16th century and enjoyed considerable popularity until the 1620s. Probably based on Italian monody and French air de cour, they were solo songs, occasionally with more (usually three) parts, accompanied on a lute. Their popularity began with the publication of John Dowland’s (1563–1626) First Booke of Songs or Ayres (1597). His most famous ayres include Come again, Flow my tears, I saw my Lady weepe, and In darkness let me dwell. The genre was further developed by Thomas Campion (1567–1620) whose Books of Airs (1601) (co-written with Philip Rosseter) contains over 100 lute songs and was reprinted four times in the 1610s. Although this printing boom died out in the 1620’s, ayres continued to be written and performed and were often incorporated into court masques.

The most famous ‘Aria’ of all is probably from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Here is the incomparable Glenn Gould to carry you off to heaven:

Händel – Air in D minor from Suite No. 3 HWV 428 on piano by Murray Perahia:

I love this unusual transcription of Lully’s Air Tendre et Courante for the alto saxophone and piano:

I can imagine this being performed at Versailles! Lully – Airs pour Madame La Dauphine: Pavane des Saisons, for Triple Baroque Harp by Andrew Lawrence-King:

Lully – Air des Espagnols from ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’ (Sarabande), in a vibrant interpretation from 21st Century Baroque:

I also love this recital by Jordi Savall and Le Concert Des Nations:

Air on the G String

There are so many lovely versions of Bach’s immortal ‘Aria’ from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major BWV 1068, which was transcribed for violin and piano in the 19th Century by German violinist August Wilhelmj and titled ‘Air on the G string’.

By transposing the original key of D Major into C Major and lowering the notes by an octave he was able to play the entire piece on one string, the eponymous G string. It was one of Bach’s first works to be recorded in the early 20th century.

If there was ever a musical piece that could be classed as a form of meditation; this is it.

Yehudi Menuhin in vintage form. His bow control is awesome. I always think it’s harder to play at slower tempos, especially in a more legato style. He doesn’t get an attack of the “pearlies” (problems keeping the bow in constant contact with the strings) here!

Voices of Music on period instruments:

Fascinating chat beforehand with Anne Akiko Meyers about her Guarneri del Gesu violin (once owned and played by Henri Vieuxtemps) The music starts at 3.32:

A wonderful mellow transcription for trumpet, with Russian ace Sergei Nakariakov:

Daniil Shafran with a string orchestra playing the most divine cello transcription of Bach’s Aria:

It’s also perfect jazzed up by Jacques Loussier and his superb trio!

I can’t resist this gorgeous, ethereal vocal version by Libera:

The Dance

The Gavotte is a dance, and a stately one at that. With its origins in France, this traditional folklore dance can be lively or slower in tempo. The Gavotte is said to have taken its name from the ‘Gavot’ people of the Gap de Pays region in south-east France.

From Bach.org:

The gavotte traces its history back to the late 16th century, and continued as a popular courtly dance form to the end of the 18th century. Bach wrote 26 pieces he titled “gavotte”, including movements in three of the four orchestral suites. A gavotte is a stylized French dance, moderate in tempo, always in duple meter, with each phrase beginning half-way through a measure. The phrases are almost always groups of four measures each, and are often paired in an antecedent-consequent manner. Like the air, it is a binary form, with two repeated sections. It is graceful, sometimes joyful, but not as romping and raucous as a gigue.

Among other types of dance, the Gavotte was popular at the court of Louis XIV. I can imagine groups of ladies and gentlemen dressed in their finery, feet poised, knees bent as they bow and step in unison. An example of a Baroque Gavotte dance:

Hilary Hahn in a beautiful recital of Bach’s Gavotte en Rondeau from the Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006:

Lully – Gavotte for Cello & Piano with Mischa Maisky and pavel Gililov:

Lully – Gavotte en Rondeau for Piano, played so beautifully by Cziffra György:

Bach – Gavotte from Cello Suite No. 6 with Mischa Maisky

The Gavotte from Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in G minor, BWV 808 with Trevor Pinnock at the Harpsichord:

A spritely Gavotte from Bach’s French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817 by Glenn Gould:

As I had a few versions of Bach’s Aria from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068, here are the Gavottes I and II from the same suite in its original form by Capella Istropolitana:

Händel’s Gavotte in G Major, HWV 491 transcribed for classical guitar and performed by Andres Segovia:

So, with a skip and a hop and a hum, I will leave you to enjoy the music! I’m off to practice the Gavotte en Rondeau on my violin…

A Musical Surprise from Johann Sebastian Bach

“Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter – to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way, as if we were sitting by a mountain lake and contemplating hills and woods and clouds in the tranquil and fathomless water.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

With my children and their friends running me around in circles this half-term I almost gave up on the idea of publishing a new blog post. But then I made a discovery, and I wanted to share it. By the way, if all you guys and gals out there already know about this gem do feel free to tell me…

I thought I knew all Bach’s violin concertos. I often play them when I practice. His Double Violin Concerto in D minor BWV 1043 is so well known, it seemed odd that he would have written a Triple Violin Concerto that is virtually unheard of.

However, the other day as I was browsing through YouTube that is exactly what I came across!

It was the 2nd movement being performed by Sir Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh’s musical dynasty, (his son, Igor and grandson Valery), in Moscow. I was intrigued. It’s not in mainstream repertoire, or surely I would have heard of this piece before?

So I did a little digging, and unearthed the reconstructed Concerto for 3 Violins in D Major BWV 1064R.  This wasn’t published as an original Bach violin concerto; it’s a reconstruction of the Concerto for 3 Harpsichords, strings and Continuo in C Major, BWV 1064.

Bach - Triple Violin Concerto BWV 1064R

Here’s where the uncertainty creeps in. Whether Bach used one of his own earlier (now lost) violin concertos or one composed by Vivaldi is unclear. But the point is, there actually was a violin concerto used as the basis for BWV1064, and the piece has been transcribed back to the violin in the key of D Major to give us that wonderful original sound.

Whilst it may not be as melodic and lyrical as Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, the Triple Concerto has a certain charm, and so as far as I’m concerned it’s a case of ‘better late than never’.

All of Bach’s harpsichord concertos (with the exception of the Brandenburg concerto) are thought to be arrangements made from earlier concertos for melodic instruments probably written in Köthen. In many cases, only the harpsichord version has survived.

Here is the Freiburger Barockorchester, on period instruments, performing the entire concerto:

Christopher Hogwood Transcription for chamber ensemble musicians.

The original published version for harpsichord with Hogwood, Moroney and Rousset:

I also really like it arranged for 3 pianos:

Again, it just goes to show how versatile and universal Bach’s music is that it suits so many different instruments.  See my earlier post about the Chaconne for solo violin.

With a plethora of top violinists recording Bach, it’s hard to imagine that the early recordings of Bach’s violin music were made back in 1904, when Fritz Kreisler first performed the Prelude in E and ‘Air on the G String’ in Berlin. The Double Violin Concerto was recorded by Kreisler and Efram Zimbalist in January 1915, the first time a complete recording of a major work by Bach was made, and also the first time that two leading violinists played together in a recorded performance.

With such a large body of work it’s hardly surprising that Bach’s music continues to offer surprises, and I’d like to toast to many more to come.

I must scoot Bach to doing the housework now, humming as I go…

“No one can give a definition of the soul. But we know what it feels like. The soul is the sense of something higher than ourselves, something that stirs in us thoughts, hopes, and aspirations which go out to the world of goodness, truth and beauty. The soul is a burning desire to breathe in this world of light and never to lose it – to remain children of light.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

Mozart – The Miraculous and the Mundane

“The passions, whether violent or not, should never be so expressed as to reach the point of causing disgust; and music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music.” ~ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from The Journal of Eugene Delacroix.

Mozart_Portrait_EdlingerThe name ‘Mozart’ conjures up an image of a divine genius, a demigod of music, unsurpassed child prodigy, composing savant with steam coming off his quill, operatic icon, inquisitive about the world and the mysteries of life, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and creative output. Not to mention an ardent admirer of women (especially ones who could sing), and who possessed a desire for fun and the simple pleasures of drinking and social discourse. An individual who was little in stature but large in intellect, who loved life and seemed to live it Allegro Con Brio.

At least, it does for me…

His fame has spanned centuries and his name is known by just about every human being on the planet. Whatever your impressions of this giant of classical music are, one thing’s for sure; his miraculous outweighed his mundane. By the time of his death in 1791 at the age of 35, he had written over a staggering six hundred compositions, in the form of sonatas, symphonies, concertos, chamber pieces, operas and choral music.

Revered by composers that followed, and most likely envied by his contemporaries (cue Salieri), Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart has probably touched more souls than any other composer in the history of music. And I think he was able to do that because of the mundane.

His mind was in another sphere, but his physical body was ordinary, and shared the same mundane functions as the rest of us mortals.  He experienced the everyday emotions of life that we all do: happiness, sadness, love, hate, desire, jealousy, pride, excitement, ambition, despair, longing, and well, the list goes on.

Because the miraculous isn’t possible without the mundane…

mozart_requiemTherein lay the very substance for transmutation into the sublime, his inspiration of what it means to be human in musical form: collections of notes and pitches, silence and resonance, arranged for different instruments in different styles, something for everyone, and that anyone can relate to today, 224 years after his death.

His star shone bright (I’m talking supernova), and burned rapidly, but luckily for us Mozart was a prodigious and prolific composer, and despite his often challenging circumstances he created a stunning legacy of music for the world to enjoy.

Einstein on MozartHis father Leopold would have been proud. His early tuition for Wolferl and Nannerl on the violin, clavichord and in classical composition (Mozart wrote his first sonata at the age of 5), along with their childhood travels across Europe, their family performances in front of royalty and the aristocracy, would eventually pay dividends far beyond his fatherly comprehension! Now his music is in space, courtesy of NASA.

He even has his own scientific phenomena: The Mozart Effect.  Play Mozart to your children, and even better, if they can learn to play him.

A list of Mozart’s musical compositions; which were numbered and classified in chronological order by Ludwig von Köchel as either ‘K’ or ‘KV’ in the Köchel catalogue.

A Few Mozart Facts:

  • His favourite string instrument was the viola, and he wrote the Sinfonia Concertante as a beautiful conversation between the violin and the viola. The andante from that music is one of the most moving pieces of music I’ve ever heard.
  • In the spring of 1770 whilst in Italy with his father, the Pope conferred on Mozart the Order of the Golden Spur. It was in Italy that he met and became friends with the violinist and British prodigy Thomas Linley (who also died tragically young).
  • Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who was head of the Imperial Library of some 300,000 volumes in Vienna, granted Mozart access to works by JS and CPE Bach and Handel. Thus Mozart learnt to graft ‘counterpoint’ onto sonata form and find his own unique style which wasn’t popular at the time.
  • Wolferl and Constanze had six babies, but only two of them survived into adulthood: Karl Thomas, born in 1784, and Franz Xaver Wolfgang in 1791, just before Mozart died.
  • Beethoven thought that Mozart had an affair with one of his (Mozart’s) pupils and had also borrowed money from her husband.  Even more bizarrely they were neighbours to the Mozarts, and the day after Mozart’s death the husband committed suicide after attacking his wife, who was five months pregnant, slashing her across the face, neck, shoulders and arms with a knife. It is thought the woman and baby survived the attack.
  • Mozart became a Freemason in 1783, at the time there were around thirteen ‘lodges’ in Vienna with 700 members, around half of which were nobles.
  • His opera Don Giovanni was popular in Prague, but the performance in Vienna was a flop.
  • In the year of his death it’s estimated that Mozart’s income was between 5,000 and 6,000 florins.
  • At the time of Mozart’s death only one fifth of his compositions were in print, whereas by the 1820’s nearly two thirds were.
  • Constanze claimed that Mozart thought he had been poisoned with Acqua Toffana, and that he was writing the Requiem for himself.

There’s a lot of information and myth about Mozart, and I could go on all day, but instead, I recommend watching the fascinating and fabulous BBC documentary: The Genius of Mozart.

Part 1 – Miracle of Nature:

Part 2 – A Passion for the Stage:

Part 3 – The First Romantic:

If you are on Twitter and you enjoy Mozart’s music why not join the celebration of his birth in the 6th annual #MozartChat on Tuesday 27th January, conceived and run by pianist and writer @waynemcevilly. Check out his website and piano masterworks for children.

You’ll be most welcome!

Beethoven’s Heroism

“The piece is a monster. I have never seen anything like it; it may not be music at all.” ~ Wenzel Sukowaty (from the BBC film Eroica).

In honour of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 244th birthday on 17th December 2014, and the composer chat conducted by my esteemed musicians and friends on Twitter (hashtag #LvBchat), I thought I would focus on his most heroic of compositions – the Sinfonia Eroica. It was composed during the summer of 1803 and completed in April 1804.

The 9th of June 1804 was a very important day for our dear Ludwig, but it was also a watershed in the history of classical music, absolutely critical to the future development and evolution of music and for composers and artists in general. Beethoven set the benchmark. However, I doubt that Beethoven realised the profound significance of what he had achieved, he was just doing what he did best – following his heart and his muse.

This was the day that his legendary third symphony in E-Flat Major, opus 55 was first privately performed at the Bohemian residence (Castle Eisenberg), of Prince Franz Lobkowitz, to whom the work was dedicated, and one of Beethoven’s most ardent supporters and patrons. Rehearsals prior to the public premier of the symphony (which took place on 7th April 1805 at the Theater an der Wien), were held in the concert hall of the prince’s Palais Lobkowitz in Vienna, (later named the Eroica Saal after this momentous composition), and was to unleash music of the likes the Viennese had never heard before. Now that’s brave!

Ceiling of the Eroica Saal at the Palais Lobkowitz

Ceiling of the Eroica Saal at the Palais Lobkowitz

A temporary respite from the hostilities between Napoleon and Europe was holding. Beethoven embraced this revolutionary turmoil and the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, and firmly placed himself as an artist at the centre of his third symphony by writing what he felt, and what he wanted, breaking away from the accepted symphonic structures and norms at the time. It was a beacon of originality. He was a man who had entered into the most creative period of his life.

Eroica: The Day That Changed Music Forever

The BBC dramatised the event of the private premier of the third symphony in the film, Eroica, with the strapline: the day that changed music forever. It was first broadcast in 2003, written by Nick Dear and directed by Simon Cellan Jones. The film follows Ludwig, Ferdinand Ries, the Lobkowitz family, friends, and the musicians as the new music unfolds on an unsuspecting audience, and takes you on Beethoven’s personal journey into the history books.

What I love about this film is the care and accuracy with which it was made, drawing on the recollections of Ferdinand Ries (Beethoven’s pupil and secretary), and from reports about the event.

Ian Hart plays Beethoven just how I imagine him; enthusiastic about his music, bold, dynamic, forthright, (blunt even), brutally honest, brusque, impatient, with frequent outbursts of temper, but underneath that he displays a simmering passion and tenderness for his lover, the widowed Countess Josephine von Deym.

The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique directed by Sir John Eliot Gardiner perform the music on authentic, period instruments (none of the violins have chin rests, which were yet to be invented), and in the numbers and proportions that Beethoven intended it for.

I love the way it switches from Beethoven walking with Ries to the Lobkowitz residence, to the palace staff going about their business, getting ready for the event, and the musicians, especially the horn player, Otto, who is known to Beethoven.

The camera work is very sensitively done, moving around the sections of the orchestra as they tackle this new, epic work, and capturing their shocked reactions at the nature of the notes and markings presented to them by Beethoven’s copyist Wenzel Sukowaty.

It is longer, more difficult and unlike anything they have ever attempted or played before, and a few re-starts are required until Beethoven is satisfied that they have reproduced the sound he wants.

Eroica film still

It’s unthinkable that a modern orchestra would sight read a new symphony at its premiere (private or not), let alone consume beer before doing so. They might start seeing more than one baton!!

There are so many magical touches, one being the introduction of Beethoven to Prince Lobkowitz’s cousin, Count von Dietrichstein; and when asked if he is a land owner, Beethoven proclaims that he is a brain owner! Dietrichstein shows himself to be egotistical, ignorant and rigid in his ideas about music, but strangely his views on Napoleon Bonaparte turn out to be erudite.

We see a scene where the musicians, exhausted from their exertions are having a break and some lunch, and begin to debate the war and Napoleon’s agenda.

Beethoven’s views that an artist is on the same level as the nobility, are borne out by his behaviour and of course Ries’s comment, ‘that he doesn’t accept the inequality,’ to the copyist, who replies, ‘men have been executed for less.’ It could be considered heroic that Beethoven never compromised his artistic integrity for the whims or desires of any of his wealthy and titled patrons.

There is a very endearing moment when Beethoven and Josephine are alone discussing his marriage proposal, and she refers to him as ‘Louis’. However, it does not go well.  It’s my personal view that Josephine was his ‘Immortal Beloved’.

In the third movement we glimpse Beethoven’s distress and distracted expression as he deals with his rejection from Josephine, whilst directing the scherzo marked allegro vivace, which personifies his hot-blooded nature.

The elderly Haydn’s entrance just before the start of the fourth and final movement is brilliant, as is the ensuing exchange of comments about students, and what idiots they are. The inference is not lost on Beethoven, who was championed by Haydn and became his student as a young man in 1792.

I’m going to shut up now, and let you watch the film uninterrupted!

Beethoven’s idealism and his abhorrence of tyranny are at the root of the Eroica. The fervour of freedom embodied by the Eroica is just as relevant and ground-breaking today as it was 210 years ago. There is always room for heroism in our lives!

Neither before or since, has music evoked such passion as Beethoven’s. He was in-tune with his creative spirit, and had endured more than his fair share of suffering; so who better than Herr Beethoven to write music that represents the struggle and overcoming of life’s challenges?

When asked by a close friend some fourteen years later, which was was his favourite symphony, Beethoven responded without hesitation: ‘the Eroica.’

We know that with the inevitable onset of his deafness and heart-break, that his heroism would eventually far outshine what he achieved in the summer of 1804. But for me, it’s the starting point of his heroism, it’s the moment we are blessed by his courage and the music that gives us a first insight into the depth of his spirit.

“He gives us a glimpse into his soul. Everything is different from today.” ~ Joseph Haydn (from the BBC film Eroica).