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Famous Baroque Concerti
Vivaldi J. S. Bach Handel
The present recording includes music by three of the greatestcomposers of the late Baroque period, flourishing in the first half of the eighteenthcentury. Once virtually forgotten, Antonio Vivaldi now enjoys a reputation that equals theinternational fame he enjoyed in his heyday. Born in Venice in 1678, the son of a barberwho was himself to win distinction as a violinist in the service of the great Gabrielisand Monteverdi at the basilica of San Marco, he studied for the priesthood and wasordained in 1703. At the same time he established himself as a violinist of remarkableability. A later visitor to Venice described his playing in the opera-house in 1715, hisuse of high positions so that his fingers almost touched the bridge of the violin, leavinglittle room for the bow, and his contrapuntal cadenza, a fugue played at great speed. Theexperience, the observer added, was too artificial to be enjoyable. Nevertheless Vivaldiwas among the most famous virtuosi of the day, as well as being a prolific composer ofmusic that won wide favour at home and abroad and exercised a far-reaching influence onthe music of others.
For much of his life Vivaldi was intermittently associated withthe Ospedale della Piet?á, one of the, four famous foundations in Venice for the educationof orphan, illegitimate or indigent girls, a select group of whom were trained asmusicians. Venice attracted, then as now, many foreign tourists, and the Piet?á and itsmusic long remained a centre of cultural pilgrimage. In 1703, the year of his ordination,Vivaldi, known as il prete rosso, the red priest, from the inherited colour of his hair,was appointed violin-master of the pupils of the Piet?á. The position was subject toannual renewal by the board of governors, whose voting was not invariably in Vivaldi'sfavour, particularly as his reputation and consequent obligations outside the orphanageincreased. In 1709 he briefly left the Piet?á, to be reinstated in 1711. In 1716 he wasagain removed, to be given, a month later, the title Maestro de' Concerti, director ofinstrumental music. A year later he left the Piet?á for a period of three years spent inMantua as Maestro di Cappella da Camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the GermanGovernor of the city, appointed by the Emperor in Vienna.
In 1720 Vivaldi was again in Venice and in 1723 therelationship with the Piet?á was resumed, apparently on a less formal basis. Vivaldi wascommissioned to provide two concertos a month and to rehearse and direct some of them. Thearrangement allowed him to travel, and he spent some time in Rome, while indirectly andvainly seeking possible appointment in Paris or Vienna. In 1741, with Venice now tiring ofhis music, as fashions changed, after severing his links with the Piet?á, he travelled toVienna, but any hope of employment was extinguished by the death of Charles VI, who hadseemed a possible patron. Vivaidi arrived in the city in June and had time to sell some ofthe scores he had brought with him before succumbing to some form of stomach inflammation.>
Vivaidi's concertos, numbering well over five hundred, werewritten for string orchestra with basso continuo, to which solo instruments or groups ofinstruments were added. His Concerto in G major, RV 516 for two violins is one ofa number of double violin concertos, while the Concerto in A minor, RV 461 for oboe is again one ofseveral such concertos. The Concerto in G major, RV 532, for two mandolines,played here, as often nowadays, on two guitars, is the only one of its kind.
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 at Eisenach, the son ofa musician and member of a musical family of long traditions. On the death of his parentshe moved to Ohrdruf, where he was taught by his elder brother and made his early career asan organist with an appointment in 1707 as court organist at Weimar. In 1717 he moved toCothen as director of court music for the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, a happyperiod of his life that came to an end with the Prince's marriage to a woman that Bachlater described as "amusica". In 1723 he moved to Leipzig, where he had securedthe position of Thomascantor at the Thomasschule, with responsibility for music in theprincipal city churches, to which he later added the direction of the University Collegiummusicum, founded some years earlier by Telemann. He remained at Leipzig until his death in1750.
It was at Cothen that Bach wrote much of his instrumentalmusic, including his violin concertos and his concerto for violin and oboe. Only three ofthe violin concertos survive in their original form. Others, including the work for violinand oboe, have been arranged back from Bach's Leipzig arrangements of these works for oneor more harpsichords and orchestra. The three movements of the Concerto in C minor,BWV 1060,two faster movements framing a central moving Adagio, allow intricate interplay betweenthe two solo instruments.
Bach's Easter Oratorio was originally a cantata, writtenfor performance in Leipzig on 1st April 1725. In the early years of his employment asThomascantor, Bach wrote a very large number of cantatas, vocal and instrumentalcompositions for each Sunday and each important festival in the church year. The Easter Oratorio
from which the present instrumental Adagio isdrawn, was revised between 1732 and 1735 as an oratorio to mark the feast.
George Frederick Handel was born in Halle in 1685, the son ofan elderly barber-surgeon of some distinction and his second wife. Destined by his fatherfor a career of greater distinction than music seemed able to provide, he was permitted tostudy music only through the intervention of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, at whose courthis father served, and after his father's death proceeded briefly to the University ofHalle. After combining the study of law with a position as organist in the Calvinistcathedral for a year, he abandoned further study in 1703 to work as a musician In Hamburg,where he played second violin in the opera orchestra, later taking his place asharpsichordist and writing his first Italian operas, which were produced in February 1705.
In 1706 Handel travelled to Italy, which in many ways was thesource of his inspiration and it was here that a meeting with Baron Kielmansegge, Masterof Horse to the Elector of Hanover, led to his appointment as Kapellmeister to theElector, who granted immediate leave for Handel to visit London for the staging of hisItalian opera Rinaldo.
Fifteen months later, in 1712, he sought permission again to visit London and this timeremained there, accepted at court after the accession to the English throne of the Electorof Hanover as George I, reconciled to the long absence without leave of his Kapellmeisterby the Water Music, if legend is to be believed.
Handel's career in England involved him initially with Italianopera and later with a form that he largely created, that of English oratorio. It is fromone of these works, Solomon,written in 1749, and combining as always the musical felicities of Italian opera withEnglish words and a religious text, that the famous Arrival of the Queen of Sheba istaken. In his concerti grossi Handel relied on the example of Corelli, a musician whom hehad met in Rome. The form that had developed brought contrast in an instrumentalcomposition between a small solo group, the concertino, and the body of the orchestra, theripieno players. An earlier set of such works, published in 1734 and using windinstruments in addition to strings and basso continuo,