Saturday, February 22, 2014

La Serenissima: Sacred Music of the Venetian Settecento

The Cincinnati Early Music Festival has featured concerts of music by composers you may not have known. Our final event will introduce you to several more.  This concert, at Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Anderson Township (proud home of one of the finest organs in the city, prominently featured in the concert, ) will see the North American premiere of seven long-forgotten works by Venetian composers of the 18th century.  Cincinnati conductor and musicologist Scot Buzza has recently transcribed these lost choral works from manuscripts found in archives in Paris, Dresden, Munich, and Venice. 

Included in the program are works by Antonio Caldara (1670-1736), including a sepolcro, a subgenre of oratorio that was performed exclusively in the Hapsburg Court once a year, on Good Friday. Fewer than fifty were written, and this work was performed only once. Caldara used the orchestra to create a level of drama extraordinary for a sacred work.  Antonio Lotti’s (1667-1740) music was ahead of its time as well:  his use of dissonance in the vocal parts of his Credo was startling to the ears of his contemporaries, but spectacular to modern ears.  Ferdinando Bertoni composed his Vespers Psalm: Nisi Dominus in 1765. This charming work for choir and orchestra shows an unusual mixture of Baroque counterpoint and classical gestures, combined with bravura vocal writing. In the original score appear the names of the two sopranos for whom it was intended: Laura Risegari and Theresia Almerigo, both of whom achieved international fame during their lifetimes, despite the fact that neither ever stepped beyond the walls of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti, where they lived and performed.

The centerpiece of the concert will be Galuppi’s extraordinary Passion for Good Friday.  This piece was composed some time before 1750, also for the women of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti.  It was written for four-part women’s chorus and continuo, with all solo parts sung by women, including Jesus and Pontius Pilate--a radical departure from church music of the time. Another Galuppi piece, Vespers Psalm: In convertendo Dominus, written in 1771, is at times light-hearted, at times fiery, and always full of the charm for which Galuppi was famous. 

Baldassare Galuppi is still largely unknown in this country, but during his lifetime, 1706-1785, he was immensely famous, working not only in Venice but also Vienna, London, and St. Petersburg.  He composed an enormous body of music, religious and secular, vocal and instrumental, and he is considered to be the father of comic opera. He was beloved by his acquaintances and fought over by his employers.  But his job description required a constant supply of new music, so each work, as complex and acclaimed as it may have been, was quickly superseded by the next piece, and was filed away and forgotten.  Much of Galuppi’s oeuvre has been relegated to dusty monastic archives, where it has been awaiting rediscovery for almost 230 years.    

In addition to hearing music no one has heard for centuries, you will also hear the stories that come with them. Stories of Masses sung 300 years ago in a Latin cleverly manipulated to be completely comprehensible to the Italian congregants. Of following the trail of Napoleon’s armies 200 years ago when they commandeered manuscripts from Venetian libraries and took them back, sight unseen, to France. Of last summer, when boxes full of brittle, yellowing pages were thumped down on long wooden tables with the cheerful warning, “We close for lunch at 2!”  Of the excitement of holding faded, scribbled scores in the composer’s own handwriting that no one had ever copied out before.  

On March 2, the closing day of the Festival, Buzza will conduct a full Baroque orchestra and two choirs in a concert of music that tells all these stories and more.  All of this music will be a North American premiere, and some of it has never been played or heard anywhere in the world in 250 years.  Be among the first people in a dozen generations to hear this luscious music. Be a part of the discovery.  

Sunday, March 2, 3:00, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, Anderson Township
8101 Beechmont Avenue 45255

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