program notes: baroque conversations 3
Thursday March 15, 2012
Locatelli Introduzione teatrale in G major, Op. 4, No. 4
Locatelli Sinfonia in F minor, “Sinfonia Funebre” (“Funeral Sinfonia”)
van Wassenaer Concerto Armonico No. 6 in E-flat major
Leclair Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 7, No. 6
Vivaldi Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, Op. 3, No. 11, RV 565, from “L’Estro Armonico” (“Harmonic Inspiration”)
Monica Huggett makes a welcome return to LACO’s Baroque Conversations in a program that looks at the burgeoning musical life in Amsterdam during the Baroque era.
In a few hundred years, Amsterdam went from being a peaceful little fishing village to a center of trade and culture. Besides hosting a well-traveled port, Amsterdam was also said to be the site of a miracle in 1345, which brought (and still brings) Catholics to Amsterdam every March. In the 16th century, the Dutch led a rebellion against the Spanish King for their independence. The Dutch were successful in their uprising and developed a policy of religious tolerance, which, of course, brought even more people to Amsterdam. By the early 1700s, Amsterdam was a busy center of trade, rich enough to send explorers out to discover new lands, and secure enough to cultivate the arts.
In 1680, Amsterdam started an opera company and opened an opera house on the Leidsegracht, one of the many canals that cross the city. In the city theatre, the Stadsschouwburg, the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully were performed. Music was also performed privately by a middle class that had enough money and leisure time to buy instruments and music. A group of great thinkers, the Muiderkring, delighted in putting aside their diverse disciplines and making music together. In the first half of the 18th century, there were some standout musicians in Amsterdam, notably the French lutenist Nicolas Vallet, viol player and composer Johannes Schenk, and virtuoso violinist and composer Pietro Locatelli.
The details of Locatelli’s life are scant. He was born in Bergamo, Italy, but was sent to Rome as a child to study with Arcangelo Corelli. While in his 20s, he published a set of concertos that follow the style of his teacher. In 1729, he moved to Amsterdam, where he lived the rest of his life. There is not much historical information beyond that. What we do know is that he wrote many works for violin, including concertos and sonatas. One collection, L’arte del Violino, was particularly influential in Europe. The pieces that Locatelli performed in Amsterdam, including the works on tonight’s program — the Introduzione teatrale in G major and Sinfonia in F minor — are similar in style to the music of Vivaldi.
Unico Willem van Wassenaer was born into the House of Wassenaer, a noble family, and served both in the military and as a diplomat. He composed music, but was reluctant to publish it under his own name. Consequently, when the set of Concerti Armonici appeared in 1740, no one knew the true composer. At first the works were attributed to a contemporary Italian violinist, Carlo Ricciotti, and later to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. It was not until around 1980 that Dutch musicologist Albert Dunning proved that the pieces were written by van Wassenaer. They are stylistically similar to the works of Locatelli. In the 20th century, Stravinsky drew upon the Concerti Armonici for his ballet Pulcinella, when they were still thought to be the work of Pergolesi.
Jean-Marie Leclair was born into a family of violinists and composers in France. Considered the founder of the French violin school, Leclair was given official recognition by King Louis XV in 1733. Leclair ended up in a dispute with rival Pierre Guidon over who was to direct the king’s orchestra, and he left Paris rather than share the job with Guidon. He went instead to the Netherlands, to accept an invitation from Anne, Princess of Orange, who was the daughter of England’s King George II. Anne, who had studied harpsichord with Handel, shared a musical affinity with Leclair, whom she invited to visit every year from 1738 to 1743. He often stayed for three months at a time, playing and composing music. Leclair’s Violin Concerto in A major dates from the period just before he visited the Netherlands for the first time. It is a concerto from a set of six he wrote in 1737 and dedicated to his own harpsichord teacher, André Cheron.
Antonio Vivaldi, arguably the best-known composer on the program, is mostly associated with Italy. It was in Venice that Vivaldi lived and worked, leading an orchestra of young women from the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage. But Vivaldi also traveled, both with his ensembles and alone, and the Italian style nurtured by Vivaldi and his contemporaries was very popular in Amsterdam. In fact, when the Stadsschouwburg turned 100 in 1738, Vivaldi came to Amsterdam to give a special concert. The amateur and professional musicians in Amsterdam during this time were both accomplished and culturally curious. The musical styles and genres popular there drew from both French and Italian styles and provided a place where composers and performers could live and work in a peaceful and tolerant society. Vivaldi was a prolific composer of concertos — he composed more than 500 in all — mostly for solo violin. Vivaldi is well-known for his energetic compositional style featuring a driving rhythmic vitality and strong contrast between soloist and accompaniment, and tonight’s piece is no exception. Bach found the piece striking enough that he arranged it for organ
as the Organ Concerto in D minor.
– Christine Gengaro, PhD