Sinfonia from L’Olimpiade, RV 725
Concerto for Strings No. 8 in A major, “La Pazzia”
String Quintet in C major, Op. 30 No. 6, G. 324, “La musica notturna delle strade di Madrid” (version for string orchestra)
Fuga y misterio
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sinfonia from de L’Olimpiade
Allegro – Andante – Allegro – Allegro molto
How many operas did Vivaldi write? No one knows for sure. Vivaldi himself claimed about a hundred. Scholars have managed to track down only about half that number, but that’s still a lot. L’Olimpiade dates from 1734, and yes, as the title implies, the backdrop to the story is the Olympics—not the games being held in Tokyo this year, of course, but those of Ancient Greece. However, the libretto focuses not on the Games themselves, but on a complicated series of interpersonal relationships. The opera was premiered in Venice at the Teatro Sant’Angelo on February 17, 1734.
The overture (or “Sinfonia,” as operatic overtures were called at this time) consists of four short, connected sections. In the opening Allegro, churning, pounding, and furiously rushing lines, as well as frequent, sudden alternations of loud and soft passages (so designated in the manuscript score) denote the combative nature of the story to follow. Next comes a subdued Andante in the minor mode, followed by two lively episodes back in the major mode, the first in triple meter, the second in duple.
FRANCESCO DURANTE (1684–1755)
Concerto no 8 en in A major for Strings and Continuo (“La Pazzia”)
I. Allegro ̶ Affettuoso
Francesco Durante, a contemporary of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, was born the seventh of eleven children. From this large brood he rose to become among the most distinguished composers of early eighteenth-century Naples, a city that then ranked among the world’s musical capitals. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Dictionnaire de Musique, called him “the greatest harmonist in Italy, which is to say in the world.” Unlike most of his Neapolitan contemporaries, Durante was renowned not for opera but for sacred music. This and his eight concertos for strings and continuo keep his name alive today. Although his sacred music was conservative, his instrumental works were anything but. Composed in the late 1730s and early 1740s, these “quartet concertos” rarely evince conformity to the genre at that time.
The first movement of No. 8 opens with a vigorous Allegro episode that comes to a halt after only nine measures, upon which a solo cadenza for violin emerges in free tempo—almost operatic in character. Then follow no fewer than seven alternations of Affettuoso and Allegro passages, the former featuring violas (a rarity in this age) in the concertino role, the latter for full ensemble and often including virtuosic sweeps up and down the scale. The second and third movements are more traditionally laid out, but the Concerto’s subtitle, which translates as “madness” or “lunacy,” might well be taken for the musical description, in the first movement, of a bipolar mind.
LUIGI BOCCHERINI (1743-1805) & ASTOR PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
String Quintet No. 60 in C major, Op. 30, No. 6 (G. 324) (“La musica notturna delle strade di Madrid”) Arranged for string orchestra
Le campane de l’Ave Maria [The Ave Maria Bell]
Il tamburo dei soldati [The Soldiers’ drum]
Minuetto dei ciechi [The Minuet of the Blind Beggars]
Il Rosario: Largo assai ̶ Allegro ̶ Largo come prima
Passa calle [The Passacaglia of the Street Singers]: Allegro vivo
Il tamburo [The drum]
Ritirata (con variazioni) [The retreat]: Maestoso
Fuga y misterio
Las Cuatro estaciones porteñas
- Otoño porteño (autumn)
- Invierno porteño (winter)
- Primavera porteña (spring)
- Verano porteño (summer)
LUIGI BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Most concertgoers know the name Luigi Boccherini: he was the composer and contemporary of Haydn who wrote that famous little Minuet and a cello concerto. All correct, as far as it goes, but actually, it goes a lot further. Boccherini was enormously prolific, having turned out more than 550 compositions. There are about 125 string quintets alone (the popular Minuet comes from one of them), plus nearly one hundred string quartets, about sixty trios, thirty symphonies, and a dozen cello concertos in addition to numerous other works, nearly all of them instrumental. Boccherini is sometimes credited with inventing the string quintet, which is not exactly true, though he was the first major composer to write important works in the medium, and his dedication to the cause, like Haydn with the string quartet, resulted in an enormous catalogue of such works. Boccherini is also credited—quite correctly—with having formed the first established, fully professional string quartet, whose other members were Manfredi, Mardini and Cambini, all top-of-the-line professionals; Boccherini was the cellist.
Boccherini was Italian, but spent much of his career in Spain, so a composition with the subtitle Night Music in the Streets of Madrid should come as no surprise. This quintet (with two cello parts, as are most of Boccherini’s string quintets; a few have two violas) is one of his few examples of program music, and deliberately intends to evoke the sights and sounds of the Spanish capital. We hear, in seven short connected sections, the tolling of the bells in the opening passage (the “Ave Maria”); the Minuet of the Blind Beggars, for which the cellists are instructed to place their instruments across their knees and strum them like guitars; a “Rosary,” in free time; the Pasa calle, which is not the Italian passacaglia (a musical form), but rather a description of people noisily enjoying themselves in the streets at night (this passage was used in the film Master and Commander); and finally the military retreat, which initially comes from the distance. This last section turns up in several other Boccherini compositions as well.
ASTOR PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Astor Piazzolla, whose centenary we are observing this year, is a name well known to most connoisseurs of the guitar and specially to tango enthusiasts. More than any other figure, he has dominated the tango scene during the last few decades. The majority of his compositions are tangos (over three hundred), and many of them have become classics in their field, with Adiós Nonino ̶ a lament for the composer’s father who died in 1959 ̶ being his greatest hit. Piazzolla’s most significant contribution to the tango has been the synthesis he achieved between the traditional dance form and mainstream classical music. In his incorporation of elements of jazz, dissonance, rhythmic subtleties, and chromatic writing, Piazzolla turned the tango into something we listen to, not just dance to.
Although born in a suburb of sprawling Buenos Aires, Piazzolla spent his childhood in New York City. Back in Buenos Aires, he won a prize to go to Paris, where he half-heartedly embarked on a course of study in classical music with the legendary Nadia Boulanger. It was she who discovered his true talent ̶ writing tangos ̶ and encouraged him to pursue this activity. Piazzolla returned to his native Argentina in 1956, developing first a national reputation, then, in the 1980s, international renown with his Quinteto Tango Nuevo, an ensemble consisting of bandoneón (a close relative of the accordion, with seventy-one buttons divided between both sides of the bellows, but no keyboard), electric guitar, violin, bass and piano.
Fuga y Misterio comes from María de Buenos Aires (1968), a short tango opera that combines elements of tango, jazz, and contrapuntal techniques Piazzolla learned from Boulanger. Fuga y Misterio is in two connected parts, the first a fugue built on a restless, jittery subject, the second a lyrical theme associated with the character María. The original orchestration called for, in addition to the pre-existing Quinteto Tango Nuevo, viola, cello, flute, percussion, vibraphone and xylophone, and a second guitar. The work now exists in dozens of arrangements, for anything from two pianos to six saxophones to twelve cellos to every manner of ensemble imaginable. The one we hear tonight was made by José Bragato, an Italian-born Argentine cellist, composer, conductor, arranger, and musical archivist who lived to the age of almost 102 (1915–2017). Early in his career he was principal cellist in the orchestra of the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. In the 1950s he gravitated toward the world of Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango, in which cello solos were featured for the first time in this type of music. Piazzolla later dedicated one of his tango compositions, Bragatissimo, to the cellist in recognition of their friendship and long professional association.
Las cuatro estaciones porteñas was originally written for the Quinteto Tango Nuevo. It has since been arranged for solo piano, piano duo, piano trio, flute and piano, and various chamber ensembles. In 1998, the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov arranged it for the same ensemble as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons—string orchestra with a virtuoso solo violin part. The title translates literally as “The Four Seasons of the Port City,” the port city being understood as Buenos Aires. Hence, this is both Piazzolla’s tribute to his native city and his contribution to the large repertory of works that depict the seasons in sound. Listeners familiar with Vivaldi’s interpretation will catch references in Piazzolla’s, but bear in mind that the seasons in Buenos Aires are reversed from those in Venice! Hence, references from Vivaldi’s “Winter” turn up in Piazzolla’s “Summer.”
Unlike Vivaldi and most other composers of “four seasons” music, Piazzolla did not originally conceive his quartet of pieces as a cycle. He wrote the first in 1965 for a friend who asked him for music for a play. “Verano porteño” (summer, Buenos Aires version) was a big success, so Piazzolla went on to write its three companions over the next five years. Like most of Piazzolla’s tangos and tango-inspired works, these four one-movement compositions exude a sense of abandon, an air of smouldering romance, repressed energy and rhythmic excitement. At times, the string writing takes on the quality of percussion instruments in its astonishing variety of sounds and effects. Abel López Iturbe describes “La Primavera” as music that “bursts into multicoloured bells mixed with the romantic airs of the porteños and the underlying scents of flowers that warmly caress the city.”
Program notes by Robert Markow