Zipper Concert Hall
200 S Grand Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012
First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica
1220 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA
British conductor and violinist Monica Huggett leads this evening’s concert, a curated collection of music featuring composers who were each virtuosos in their own right. Many of these composers knew each other or at least crossed paths during the course of their careers.
Czech-Moravian composer Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky (c.1630s-1693) specialized in music for his own instrument, the trumpet. He worked at the court of Prince-Bishop Karl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno in Moravia. He served the Prince as the leader of the court ensemble and composer of many works for its use, but also maintained a stellar music library, filled with important works of the time that Vejvanovsky himself copied out. This would become a significant archive of the music from central Europe as well as music Vejvanovsky collected on his travels. As a trumpet virtuoso, Vejvanovsky composed impressive works for the instrument. In his other works for different ensembles, he favored a folk-like style. Other musicians at the Prince-Bishop’s court include fellow composers on this program Heinrich Biber and Philipp Jakob Rittler. In the opening movement of Vejvanovsky’s Serenade in C major, the strings and brass offer alternating phrases and then join forces to provide a stately and noble opening to this evening of fine music. The second movement has a slower tempo and a more intimate feel. The third movement feels almost like a processional. The fourth movement is lively and the final movement brings everything to a regal close. Two shorter works which the composer designated as sonatas offer further validation of his mastery.
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (1623-1680) was an Austrian violinist who played and composed at the Habsburg court, eventually attaining the position of Kapellmeister a few months before his untimely death from the plague. His virtuosity helped him develop violin technique that was very influential on players at the time. Schmelzer also helped popularize certain genres in Austria, including the sonata and the suite. He was a great influence on another composer on the program, Biber. The Fencing School, which dates from 1668, is a multi-movement work that features percussion, strings and recorders. It is a charming work, and the presence of percussion makes it feel particularly festive.
Italian composer Alessandro Melani (1639-1703) came from a musical family. One brother was a composer and another was a castrato singer. Alessandro Melani composed primarily in Rome and wrote a lot of music for the church, including motets and oratorios. He worked in numerous churches, spending over three decades at San Luigi dei Francesi. Pope Clement IX and Pope Innocent XI were both fans of Melani’s work and commissioned pieces from him. His Sonata à 5 features two trumpets and a small string ensemble. This work and others of his trumpet sonatas date from the 1660s and are some of the earliest examples of this genre.
Composer Georg Muffat (1653-1704) was very much influenced by his contemporaries in both France and Italy. In Paris, he likely studied with Jean Baptiste Lully; later, in Italy, he studied organ with Bernardo Pasquini. His primary instrument was the organ, but he wrote sonatas for other instruments and concertos for ensembles. He composed many works for strings, which were published in collections called Florilegium Primum and Florilegium Secundum. He composed a dozen concerti grossi in 1701, which were some of his latest works. Concerto Grosso No. 1 bears the nickname “Bona nova” and has five movements.
Composer and priest Philipp Jakob Rittler (c. 1637-1690) worked primarily in Austria and Moravia. He made contact with Vejvanovsky while in Moravia, and it is likely he also met Heinrich Biber there, as well. He began working at the court of the Bishop of Olomouc as chaplain, but he was more interested in a musical job. Eventually, he got his wish when he was hired at the Wenceslas Cathedral. He was the conductor of the choir there until his death. Like all of the composers featured tonight, he was a virtuoso on his instrument, which was the violin. His Ciaconna was composed for two trumpets, strings and continuo.
Heinrich von Biber (1644-1704) was a violin virtuoso who lived and worked in Austria. He worked for the Archbishop in the city of Salzburg. His Battalia was composed for string orchestra and is part of a tradition of musical depictions of battle started by earlier composers like Clément Janequin and William Byrd. Biber uses a number of novel techniques to show war-like actions. In the first movement, the strings are told to play col legno, where the string players use the wood of the bow to play the instrument, rather than the hair of the bow. The second movement, which is quite dissonant, mirrors the drunken singing of various factions, and uses different folk tunes played simultaneously. In the third movement, one of the instruments may mimic the snare drum by introducing a piece of paper into the strings to create a percussive buzz. There are eight movements in total, ending with a solemn lament. Biber’s musical take on warfare ends in sadness and loss, bringing a dose of reality, balancing the playfulness of the earlier movements and reminding us of the cost of battle.
This series is generously sponsored by Carol & Warner Henry, a Friend of LACO and the Ronus Foundation.
Our thanks to the many patrons who contributed to the Carol & Warner Henry Challenge.