The overwhelming response to our former record with Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas incited the Copenhagen Saxophone Quartet to take on even more baroque music, especially the Italian. The choice fell on three composers who are represented on this CD, i.e.
Arcangelo Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Giavinni Battista Pergolesi.
This time, contrary to Domenico’s piano sonatas, the challenge was making arrangements/transcripts of more orchestral baroque works as saxophone and baroque music are a somewhat unusual combination.
These days, with a highly fulfilling focus turned on original instruments and practice of performance, performing this kind of music on a saxophone might almost be considered a “musical-political incorrectness”,
However, the infinite ingenuity and powerful, melodious vein of Italian baroque music form an altogether too tempting musical material for an ensemble like ours.
A saxophone quartet has the power to sound like a mixture of strings, woodwind and brass instruments, and renders to the baroque music a rare and authentic quality which fascinates us.
If played in respect towards tradition, and with a cultivated approach, this music, when subjected to the four saxophones is perceived as surprisingly natural.
Music historians have exhibited a desire for systematizing music, and placing it within certain time limits. Naturally, musical history is undergoing development in terms of composition techniques, structure, harmonically, etc. This, however, does not reveal much of the emotional content of music, and does not contribute to its redemption.
When, as a practitioner, you stand before the music itself, naturally you have certain knowledge of the aspects of musical science, but this soon fades away once you start playing it. As a musician you must breathe life into the emotions no matter when the music was composed. In this perspective, one might feel tempted to postulate that all music is romantic as basically it expresses feelings and emotions.
The composers of this cd very much express a violently emotional music. When looking in the scores, these may not necessarily seem difficult but transferring the romantic intensity is quite a different matter as the structural complexity reveals nothing of the emotional complexity.
Try and listen, for example, for the heavenly peace of “Adagio”, and the refined popular pleasure of “Pastorale” from Corelli’s “Concerto Grosso No. 8”.
In order that we might play some of our favourite works, and to create variation in the tone, we invited Viggo Mangor on baroque organ and Matthias Hedegaard on vocal to join us for some of the works.
For the sake of good order we should also mention that for the good of the impact and tone of the saxophone, we decided to transpose Alessandro Scarlatti’s two grossi down a full note.
Furthermore, it should be noted that Pergolesi’s “Orfeo” and “Salve Regina” was originally composed for soprano.
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
One of the most famous and respected composers of his time left behind just a few works, all of which are instrumental. This at a time when vocal music was dominant on the musical stage. Even then, he was the great violin star of his time, went on several international tours, and played a decisive part in the technical development of his instrument. He grew up in the flourishing artistic environment connected with the St. Petronio Church in Bologna, and joined the famous “Bolognese Accademica Filharmonica” when he was only seventeen years old.
Five years later, he moved to Rome where he gave concerts, taught, directed, and composed for the rest of his life. Corelli died a very rich man, and was buried in the “Pantheon” of Rome, a clear evidence of the high respect he enjoyed among his contemporaries.
Even though Corelli is not regarded as the most innovative composer of the baroque, his works are still of a spontaneous and rich nature, easy to sing. His harmonics generated a modern sense of tonality, for which he was admired by his contemporary colleagues all over Europe.
When reading about Correlli, one forms a clear picture of a highly electrifying man. On stage with his violin, his hair on end, ferocious eyes, en enormous charisma and musicality – absolutely dedicated.
This, certainly, is in stark contrast with music historians’ descriptions of Corelli’s music as being simple, non-innovative, and even suited for amateurs and school orchestras!
One should bear in mind that in his age, his music was regarded as being the most complicated and hard to redeem.
Nowadays, his collection of ”12 concerto grossi opus 6” is considered to be his most important work. These concerts were widely known then, and have undoubtedly served as model for Händel’s concerto grossi and perhaps that of Vivaldi, too.
The ”Concerto Grosso No. 8” of this record is the one which is played most, and has been nicknamed “Christmas Concert” (Fatto per la Notte di Natale) as in all probability it was composed for and performed in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome during Christmas midnight mass. It has been the subject of countless performances and recordings. In our version we have elected to place ourselves close to some quite interesting historical sources which originate from a performance in 1757 by the Italian violinist, composer, and conductor, Nicolo Pasquali (he himself a great admirer of Corelli’s aesthetics). Present was the Scottish music publisher, Robert Bremner, who actually made timings of each movement using one of the primitive stop clocks of those days!
The result of these fairly precise timings show us that the pace of “Pastorale” (last movement) was probably meant to be much quicker than indicated by the general interpretations of this largo-movement. (The measurements demonstrate a pace of approximately 75-85 on stippled quarter note (12/8) bestowing on it a refined folklore quality).
Anyway, it is interesting that this source, like numerous other sources, indicates that in southern European baroque tradition, when deciding on pace and dynamics, sharp contrasts are more dominant than is the case in northern European performance practice.
A ”concerto grosso” distinguishes itself through the ensemble playing and the contrasts between a small group called “concertino” (normally 2 violins and a cello) and the “ripieni” (the remaining string players). Corelli was among the first to utilize this form of composing, and to refine it to perfection.
In 1789, the English music historian, Dr. Charles Burney, wrote the following about Corelli’s concerto grossi: ”The Concertos of Corelli seem to have withstood all the attacks of time and fashion … and the effects of the whole … [is] so majestic, solemn and sublime that they preclude all criticism.”
Historical sources indicate that some of his concerto grossi were performed already in the 1680’es; however, what we do know for certain is that Corelli kept refining and correcting them throughout his life. They were first published in Amsterdam in 1714, a year after his death.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was born in Jesi near Ancona in 1710, and died from tuberculosis in 1736, only 26 years old. Most of his life he worked at court in Naples, where he composed 12 cantatas and a wealth of other sacral music. He experienced little success during his short lifetime but nevertheless, his name became known to his posterity, mostly thanks to his compositions within “opera buffa” (comical opera). 15 of this kind did he accomplish and his opera “La Serva Padrona” from 1733 in particular has been performed quite frequently.
In his last year of life, already severely stricken by disease, he wrote his last three sacral works, i.e. the cantata “Orfeo”, the large-scale mass “Stabat Mater”, and an antiphone for soprano and string players, “Salve Regina”.
These three significant sacral works were created when he had given up his opera career to regain his health in a convent north of Naples.
Stabat Mater was ordered for performance every Good Friday in the St. Maria dei sette Dolori church in Naples. (Thus, it replaced A. Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater, which for years had served that same purpose). At first, the work was accused of being altogether too inspired by opera and, therefore, inappropriate for ecclesiastical purposes, however, it quickly gained in popularity. So, Stabat Mater became one of the most published works of the 18th century, and has been subject to countless performances including those by J.S. Bach, who used it as a basis for his motet “Tilge, Höchste, meine Stünden”. Parts of Stabat Mater have also been used in films like “The Mirror” (1975), Jesus of Montreal (1989),
“Smilla’s Sense of Snow” (1997), and “Amadeus” (1984).
The “Salve Regina” of the record gets most of its musical material from Stabat Mater and the openings of the two works are already quite similar in their intermittent dissonances and chromatic harmonics. The work exists in two versions, i.e. one in c-minor, and one in a-minor (and even a transposed version of the latter for alto).
This by some music historians is thought to be Pergolesi’s very last composition. In this, as in his Stabat Mater, he juggles with elements from both opera and sacral music.
The brilliance of Pergolesi’s music is not to be found in complexity, as is the case of Bach’s music; it exists in his wonderful, melodious lines, all of perfect length and gesture. Like many of his contemporary, Italian composers, he is not particularly concerned with contrapoint composing techniques and when he actually does apply these, it is generally in the form of early polyphony known from the period of “stilo antiko” (Monteverdi a.o.).
Pergolesi also had time to write a number of instrumental works, e.g. a violin sonata and a violin concert. It should be noted, though, that a lot of instrumental and sacral works which were formerly tied to Pergolesi, have turned out to be of dubious authenticity.
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
Probably, no one within the Italian baroque wrote music as varied and vivid for singing as Alessandro Scarlatti.
He is considered to be one of the greatest vocal composers of baroque, frequently regarded as the founder of Neapolitan / gallant aesthetics in opera. He dominated the genre right up to the times of Gluck.
He was among the first to systematize the ”da-capo aria” and the so-called “Italian overture” for orchestral accompaniment during the recitals, and for composing operas which were either totally “seri” (serous) or totally “buffi” (comical). Moreover, he contributed to the abolition of the much used and popular castrate singes of that time.
After his childhood in Sicily, he worked alternately in Rome and Naples. His career in Rome had a “flying start” as he became maestro di capello for the Swedish queen (in Rome in 1679), then became conductor at court in Naples in 1684 (a year later, his son, Domenico, was born). Due to dissatisfaction with his salary and the way he was treated in Naples, he returned to Rome, and became chief of music at the Santa Maria Maggiore church (1703). Finally, though, he returned to Naples in 1708, and was taken on again at court with a promise of higher salary and better working conditions.
Alessandro Scarlatti was active within all the musical forms known for a baroque composer, and is thought to have composed well over 100 operas, 80 of which have survived, and been published. Today, more than 800 chamber cantatas are found in various library collections, as are 40 oratories, 30 serenades, and 100 sacral works.
His essential, artistic heights are found in his cantatas, which are immensely imaginative, and have a fabulous ensemble playing between voice and instruments. All the more deplorable is it to realize that these musical jewels are performed far too seldom today.
In comparison to his enormous vocal ”output”, the number of instrumental compositions is modest. Among these are, 12 sinfonia di concerto grosse, 6 concerti in sette parti, 7 sonate per Flauto, 6 concerti per cavicembalo e orchestra, and numerous sonatas, toccatas, sinfonias and suites for harpsichord. “Six Concerti in seven parts for two violins and violincello Obligato with two Violins more a Tenor and Thorough Bass, Compos`d by Sigr Alexander Scarlatti”, as they were called when for the first time they were published by Benjamin Cooke, London, as late as in 1740, are not distinctly concerting, despite the title. They are almost homogeneous of structure, and do not allow the soloist to show through much like in some of Corelli’s and Händel’s grossi.
It is not known when these were written, what can be determined for sure, though, is that these are very personal scores, thereby contributing to strip away all myths about Alessandro Scarlatti as a conservative composer.
Of these ”Six Concerti in seven parts”, theNos. 1, 2, 4, and 6 were composed so that they could also be played as string quartets. Scarlatti specifically named them “sonata a Quattro senza cembalo”, and they may therefore be among the earliest chamber music specifically for string quartets.
We wish to express our THANK YOU TO: Viggo Mangor who once again has drawn on his inexhaustible enthusiasm and professional knowledge. Your efforts as a producer and organ player was/is rewarding, as always. This record is without doubt as much Viggo’s as it is ours.
Thank you so much!
We also wish to thank,
Mathias Hedegaard: A young, exceptionally gifted singer with a naturalness to his voice and a phrasing which we just had to play with. Fabulous that you agreed to be in on this project!
Christian Hougaard who on short notice assisted in the recording of “Orfeo”.
Peter Olufsen at ”Classico Records” (for being so generous and believing in us for the fourth time!)
Dansk Musiker Forbund for its financial support.
Hendriksholm Kirke for, once again, letting us record and enjoy the highly suited acoustics of the church into the wee hours.
Torben Snekkestad – April 2006
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