CALDARA: Missa Dolorosa / Stabat Mater / Sinfonias in G and E minor (Aura Musicale Ensemble/ Diego Fasolis/ Rene Clemencic/ Swiss-Italian Radio Chorus) (Naxos: 8.554715)
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Stabat Mater MissaDolorosa
In May 1716 Antonio Caldara left Rome and his post as Maestro dicappella to the Prince Francesco Maria Ruspoli to become Vizekapellmeisterat the imperial court of Charles VI in Vienna. It was the climax of acareer that had seen Caldara move from his native Venice initially to theGonzaga court at Mantua and then on to Ruspoli's palazzo in Rome.
Caldara's first appointment, as Maestro to Ferdinando Carlo, Dukeof Mantua, in the summer of 1699 had followed a decade of freelance activity asa composer and cellist - itself a period that emerged from his years oftraining, some, allegedly, with Giovanni Legrenzi. Unfortunately, hisemployment at Mantua was blighted by the wars of the Spanish Succession whichsaw the court more often absent than resident in its home state, and it endedunceremoniously during the Duke's final exile in Venice in 1707.
There followed an eventful eighteen months. Rome, Barcelona and Veniceall welcomed Caldara and his music before he took up his position with Ruspoliin mid-1709. This offered a secure haven, politically, financially andartistically; Caldara was absent only once. In 1711 a quest for an imperialappointment ended in disappointment in Vienna and he returned to his tolerantpatron midway through 1712. Paradoxically, four years later, correspondencesecured the long-sought position when the death of the Kapellmeister Marc'AntonioZiani in January 1715 brought a reshuffling of personnel at the Viennese court.
Caldara honed his musical skills with each position. Opera and oratoriowere his main concerns in Venice, although his efforts in smaller forms gaverise to two sets of trio sonatas, published in 1693 (Op. 1) and 1699(Op. 3), and a volume of cantatas (Op. 2), also printed in 1699. Operasdominated Caldara's Mantuan years, reflecting the pleasure?¡-loving Duke's greatpassion. A few surviving pieces of church music in ceremonial vein hint atwidening horizons. Ruspoli's demands, however, centred on, the conversazioniheld in his palace each Sunday morning throughout much of the year. Thesegatherings of the Roman literati and secular and clerical dignitaries showcasedthe talents of his musical ensemble and his maestro. The cantata was thefavoured medium and within seven years Caldara had produced some 200 works.
Yet these experiences, individually or together, could scarcely haveprepared Caldara for Vienna. An array of instrumental and vocal resources,lavish and talented as befitted the pre-eminent musical establishment oflate-baroque Europe, awaited him, as did the challenge of an extremely onerousand complex annual round of duties.
The court operated a remarkably full calendar and observed a strictprotocol. The liturgical seasons and feasts as well as the saints' days werecommemorated with music befitting their status. There were lengthy andbrilliant Missae solemnes for the high feasts, more slender Missaemediocre for the lesser feast days and chaste da cappella settingsfor Advent and Lent. New music usually marked the secular Galatage, thebirth - and namedays of members of the imperial house. An annual carnival operawas required; four new oratorios graced each Lenten season. Caldara's recordtells its own story - 23 oratorios, 32 operas, numerous feste da camera andserenatas, more than 100 Masses, scores of psalms, antiphons and offertoriae,all written within twenty years.
The compositions on this recording belong to the Viennese court'sobservance of Lent and Holy Week, although they do not all come from the sameyear. The oratorio Gioseffo che interpreta i sogni ('Josephinterprets the Dreams') was performed in the Hofkapelle in 1726; Sant'Elenaal Calvario ('St Helen at Calvary') in 1731. An opera or oratorio overture(Introduzione) might well be recycled as a stand alone 'Sinfonia'or 'Sonata'; modification of the original was another matter, however. Both our'Sinfonias' have sprouted additions - and their authorship is in question. In Gioseffothe new Minuet conclusion avoids the original slow-tempo close which hadled into the first vocal number of the oratorio; the concluding slow-fast pairof movements attached to Sant'Elena converts the two-movement originalinto a balanced, and more practical, four-movement cycle.
The Stabat Mater had its place as the Sequence at Compline on thefour Saturdays in Lent. On these occasions court protocol required extendedsettings of the medieval text - an opportunity Caldara appears to havewelcomed. Just under half of the twenty verses are set individually; verses 2-4are combined, as are verses 5-10 and 16-17, into larger units. In the resultingtwelve-movement structure the choral movements (I, IV, VI, VIII and XI/XII) actas pillars linked by arching episodes for the soloists. These episodes are gorgeouslycoloured whether by differing combinations of the voices, by variedaccompanying instruments or by diverse textures. The choral movements are moresevere. Instruments strictly double the vocal lines; textures, both homophonicand imitative, are suffused with chromaticisms; note especially the tormented Facme tecum (VI), arguably the emotional climax of the work. Only in theconcluding movement (XII) does Caldara allow himself space for contrapuntalwriting. The double fugue is really a coda - the confident rising figure at Paradisigloria quells the despairing morietur which closed the previousmovement; its technical mastery and great length is a vision of the safe andeverlasting haven of the soul.
In 1727 Pope Benedict XIII instituted the feast of the Seven Sorrows ofthe Virgin Mary (Festum Septem Dolorum Beatae Mariae Virginis) tobe celebrated on the Friday between Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday. On 5thFebruary 1735 Caldara completed a Missa a 4 Voci concertata con V.V.
[violini] adding 'Dolorosa' alongside the title. To all intents this was aMass written especially for the new feast day, and with Easter falling late in1735 there was good time for the vocal and instrumental parts to be copied andrehearsals begun.
This extended setting has all the hallmarks of Caldara's late sty1e. Theconcluding fugues of the Gloria and Credo as well as the KyrieII (returning as the Dona nobis pacem) display his rich andseemingly effortless counterpoint. His expressive melodic style permeates thevocal writing and instrumental obbligatos in the duets (Christe eleison;Gloria: Domine Fili - note the solo bassoon - and Quoniam; and Benedictus)
and the one solo movement (Gloria: 'Domine Deus'). His sense ofstructure, more obvious in 'the ritornello-based closed forms of the solo andduet numbers, is just as secure in those ongoing sections where phrase afterphrase of text is held together by recurrent motives in the accompaniment or bya moto perpetuo instrumental line (Credo: Et resurrexit). Fromthe opening Kyrie his intermingling of solo ensemble with chorus hasemotional impact. But most masterly of all, perhaps, are his inspired harmonictouches that illumine the Qui tollis (Gloria) and the Etincarnatus and 'Crucifixus' (Credo).
Brian W. Pritchard
Stabat Mater MissaDolorosa