CARISSIMI: Jephte / Jonas (Consortium Carissimi/ Vittorio Zanon) (Naxos: 8.557390)
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Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674)
Jephte Jonas Dai pi?? riposti abissiDedicated to the City of Marino (Rome) on the occasionof the 400th Anniversary of the Birth of GiacomoCarissimi (1605-2005).
Giacomo Carissimi began his professional career ascantor, organist and then maestro di cappella ininstitutions near Rome such as the Cathedral of Tivolior the Church of S. Ruffino in Assisi. Towards the endof 1629 his career took an important leap as he took onthe task in the heart of Rome as maestro di cappella atthe Jesuit Collegio Germanico Ungarico withresponsibility for the music of the church ofSant'Apollinare, which belonged to the GermanSeminary. He held this position until his death in 1674.
From this highly prestigious position Carissimi wonearly fame throughout Europe, becoming one of theleading figures in the music of the seventeenth century.
The obligations of maestro di cappella at theCollege were divided between composition and thedirection of all musical activities of the Seminary, andteaching. Many musicians of the time came to studywith him directly, including the FrenchmanMarc'Antoine Charpentier and the Germans ChristophBernhard and Johann Kaspar Kerll, or indirectly,through the music itself, and learnt this new style ofcomposition. It is owing to Carissimi that much of thistraditional Italian style of composition was maintainedthroughout continental Europe for the entireseventeenth century.
Carissimi's activity was not limited to the Collegeonly, but also included important appointments outsidethe Church, such as service as maestro della musica dacamera for Queen Christina of Swede. He alsocollaborated with the Roman Oratories, particularlywith San Marcello, the Oratorio del SantissimoCrocifisso, for which it is quite probable that many ofhis oratorios were composed.
There is little direct information concerningperformances at the College or at the SantissimoCrocifisso, but written testimony survives that givessome idea and makes it clear that both institutions hadample means for musical performance. FrancisMortopf, a traveller passing through Rome some time inthe 1650s, is recorded as describing the musicperformed at Santissimo Crocifisso (H.E. Smither: TheOratorio in the Baroque Era): '... a music so sweet andharmonious which, once having left Rome, can never behoped to be heard again on the face of the Earth. It wascomposed with at least twenty voices, organs, lute, violaand two violins, all of which were playing music somelodious and delicious that Cicero with all hiseloquence would never have been able to describe it'.
Jephte is perhaps the best known composition ofCarissimi today. Together with Jonas, it is also one ofthe few for which chronological references can beestablished, some time before 1649. The text is a freetreatment of the Old Testament narrative (Judges 11:28-38), and is much fuller than the original biblical text.
The narration is entrusted to the Historicus, sung invarious places by different voices. In addition to theparaphrasing of passages from the Vulgate, completelynew texts provide dramatic moments.
The oratorio can be divided into two major sections.
The first of these describes Jephthah's victory over theAmmonites, and the other deals with the drama of thesacrifice of his child, to which Jephthah has sworn. Inthe first part the chorus interventions are among thenumerous dramatic amplifications of the biblicalnarrative. Other details such as the introduction of theword ululantes in the description of the conqueredAmmonites, which is absent in the biblical passage,allow the composer to make use of the dramatic topos ofthe lament. Of still greater effect is the separationbetween the celebration of Jephthah's victory and theintroduction by the narrator of the idea of Jephthah'soath. The final part with the lament by Jephthah'sdaughter and the repeated chorus, is extremelyeffective.
Jonas is probably more or less contemporary withJephte Here there is an analogous situation as far asconcerns the biblical source and the oratorio text. TheVulgate is largely followed in the narrative, withoutparaphrase, but again there are dramatic interpolations.
This oratorio too can be divided into sections. The firstfollows the biblical adventures of Jonah (Jonah 1: 1-4)and the first interpolation is heard in the chorus Etproeliabantur venti (and the winds battled), which usesthe technique of two separate choirs, effectivelyreflecting the storm which threatens the ship whereJonah is sleeping. The biblical text, however, onlybriefly mentions this episode. The second section isdedicated to the dialogue between Jonah and the sailors.
Close to the original text, this is also expressed indialogue. The sailors' interventions are varied, first aduet, then a chorus, and then alternation of solo voicesfrom the choir. The third episode is made up entirely ofJonah's prayer to God from the belly of the whale(Jonah 2). The refrain Placare, Domine, ignosce,Domine, et miserere (Forgive, Lord, and have mercy),strengthened with the presence of instrumentalritornelli, divides the long recitativo into three differentbut equal sections. The conclusion condenses in just afew lines the whole of the third biblical chapter. Thefinal chorus is in fact a mea culpa of the Ninevites,which again is a free invention of the librettist.
The catalogue of Carissimi's vast output is notmade up only of sacred music and oratorios, butincludes secular cantatas for various groups ofperformers. Consortium Carissimi presents atranscription of the serenade Dai (trai) pi?? riposti abissi(From the most hidden abysses), originally set for twosopranos, bass and basso continuo. Here it is offeredwith two tenor voices instead, making use of a commonpractice of the time, replacing the higher register voiceswith tenors. The text is by Francesco Balducci (1579-1642) 'a greatly ingenious man, but haughty and toovague for adventure... easily lost for love and poetry,little lover of fatigue [who] attempted to live off Princesand Cardinals (Guido Pasquetti)'. Balducci is normallyallowed an important position in the codification of themusical genre of oratorio. He was also a poet, andfrequented high Roman ecclesiastical and aristocraticcircles. Balducci was particularly associated with theBarberinis. The serenade, therefore, in its choice of textand its connotations of Roman high society, represents afine example of Carissimi's extramural activity. From amusical point of view, this piece demonstrates astructure quite typical of its genre in the early baroqueperiod. Distinct musical sections correspond to theverses of the text, which make use of differenttechniques and styles, alternating between recitative,aria, ternary episodes and solo sections, dialogue, tuttisections and instrumental ritornelli. All of these aspectsdelightfully underscore the details of the text itself,admirably communicated in a dense language which atthe same time reveals absolute technical and expressivetransparency.Angela Romagnoli
Translation by Garrick Comeaux