Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

Thursday April 1, 2010

Mozart Overture to Die Zauberflöte (“The Magic Flute”) (1791) – 18th-century arrangement for four-part strings

orchestration: 2 violins, viola, cello

Durante Concerto for Strings No. 8 in A major, “La Pazzia” (“The Folly”)

orchestration: strings; harpsichord

Ferrandini Il Pianto di Maria (formerly attrib. Handel) Il Pianto di Maria (“Mary’s Lament”), HWV 234 (c. 1735)

orchestration: solo soprano; strings; harpsichord

Some composers, like Mozart, dedicated themselves to writing music in many genres. Mozart excelled at writing instrumental works like symphonies and string quartets, but the gift for melody that served him so well in these kinds of pieces was especially evident in opera. Mozart enjoyed writing opera, but it wasn’t always his main focus. As a younger composer, he concentrated on his career as a soloist, writing piano concertos and sonatas. When Mozart was about 30, however, he began collaborating with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, and their partnership produced such classics as The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. In Mozart’s last year, he collaborated with another librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, to produce The Magic Flute. Technically a singspiel—a work that combines arias and spoken dialogue— The Magic Flute tells a fairy tale that features a number of Masonic symbols. In both his operas and singspiels, Mozart used all of his gifts for writing instrumental music and vocal melodies. Proof of this is the popularity of Mozart’s opera overtures, which are often played as independent instrumental works. Tonight’s program features an 18th-century arrangement of the Overture to The Magic Flute for four-part strings.

Not every composer has been as versatile as Mozart. There have been some composers over the years who have dedicated themselves to a certain kind of writing to the exclusion of other genres. Examples include Palestrina, Scarlatti and Francesco Durante. Durante’s output consists of masses, requiems, a setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, sacred dramas, and antiphons (a simple responsorial chant or song that is part of a church service). In terms of secular and instrumental music, Durante composed toccatas and sonatas for the keyboard, concertos and some pedagogical works for his students.

Durante was best known in his time as a teacher and church composer. He was said to have taught Paisiello and Pergolesi notesamong others. Unlike his contemporaries, Durante did not gain fame through opera, which was the quickest way to celebrity since opera houses offered the popular entertainment of the day. Durante was unusual as a composer in that it was his church music that brought him international recognition. His Concerto No. 8 in A major, “La Pazzia” that we hear tonight is one of a small set of concertos per quartetto that he wrote. It is in the traditional three-movement format with a slower “Affettuoso” movement in between two lively Allegros. “La Pazzia,” which means “insanity,” is the only one of the set with a nickname, one that suggests frenetic energy and a mercurial personality.

For many years, Giovanni Battista Ferrandini was perhaps best known as one of the many people Wolfgang and Leopold Mozart visited on their travels through Europe in 1771. Although he spent most of his career in Venice, he retired to Padua, where the Mozarts met him. Ferrandini’s name has since become associated with a piece of music that was long thought to belong to Handel, a cantata called Il Pianto di Maria. The words of the cantata are loosely based on the Stabat Mater, a sacred poetic text added to the mass (called a Sequence) that recounts Mary’s sorrow at the crucifixion of Jesus. Ferrandini also set other texts that pertain to the crucifixion. Il Pianto di Maria contains both recitatives and arias in the manner of a typical Italian cantata, but unlike an Italian cantata, Il Pianto di Maria has a sacred subject. Generally speaking, Italian cantatas resembled short, unstaged, secular operas sung by a single unnamed character. Ferrandini used both accompanied and unaccompanied recitatives in Il Pianto di Maria. Unaccompanied, or secco (“dry”), recitatives feature a singer and the simple accompaniment of a keyboard or lute player. The secco recitative allows the singer to take liberties with timing, since there is only one instrument that needs to follow along. These recitatives are often highly emotional, since they draw attention to the singer and, by extension, the character. Accompanied recitatives cannot be as rhythmically or dramatically flexible because the ensemble is playing together with the singer, but the presence of the other instruments makes pictorial representation of the text possible. Ferrandini achieves great drama with the accompanied recitatives in Il Pianto di Maria. Ferrandini’s instrumental music suggests the Italian school of string playing led by Corelli and exemplified by students Geminiani and Locatelli.

– Christine Lee Gengaro, PhD