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Famous Adagios

The Italian word Adagio had become by the time of Mozart a generic term for the central slow movement of an orchestral composition. A direction originally suggesting that the music should be played in a leisurely way or even according to the player's wishes, by the eighteenth century the word had come to mean 'slow', although there was argument as to whether adagio was in fact slower than largo or lento, or even grave, the traditional Baroque Adagio provided scope for improvised ornamentation, a practice that was occasionally exaggerated by instrumental soloists or singers.

The Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni was born in Venice in 1671. The son of a well-to-do merchant, he devoted himself to music rather than to business. His most popular composition today is an Adagio that is not in fact his at all. The piece, an effective enough composition, is by the twentieth century musicologist Giazotto, an expert on the work of Albinoni, who allegedly based the Adagio on material by the composer to whom it has been popularly attributed. Among Albinoni's genuine compositions are two sets of oboe concertos. The second of these, issued as Opus 9, was published in 1722. The slow movement of the Concerto in D minor, Opus 9, No.2 is characteristic of the composer's vocal style of instrumental writing. Alessandro Marcello was a near contemporary of Albinoni, born in Venice in 1684, the son of a senator in Venice and therefore a member of a social class that allowed a purely dilettante interest in music and the arts. His best known composition, the Oboe Concerto in D minor, was published in a collection of concertos in 1717 or 1718 and was transcribed by Bach for harpsichord solo.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born at Eisenach in 1685 and after serving at the courts of Weimar and Cöthen spent the last 27 years of his life as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He absorbed Italian influence in his study of music by Corelli and by Vivaldi, while his interest in Marcello is evident in his transcription of the latter's Oboe Concerto. His violin concertos were written during the period from 1717 to 1723 at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt- Cöthen and were later transcribed as concertos for one or more harpsichords with string orchestra. Three violin concertos survive in their original form, two of them for one solo violin. The Concerto in E major, like its companion in A minor, has a slow movement in which an elaborated melody, like an aria, unwinds over a repeated bass pattern.

The son of a composer and violinist, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756. He travelled widely as a child on extended concert tours but later found the restrictions of service of the Archbishop of Salzburg, his father's and then his own employer, irksome. From 1781 until his death in 1791 he lived in Vienna in precarious independence, his initial success followed by periods of difficulty. His violin concertos were largely written for his own use as concert-master of the Salzburg court orchestra between 1773 and 1777, and served his colleagues and successors well enough. Once again the slow movements of these concertos, as in the Violin Concerto in G major, K.216, suggest an elaborated and finely spun vocal aria. It was during his earlier years in Vienna that Mozart found occasion to write his greatest piano concertos, designed for his own use in subscription concerts, a necessary and useful element in his income. The Piano Concerto in A major, K. 488, a work of particular delight, was completed on 2nd June 1786. Mozart's command of an inspired melodic line and of instrumental colour is evident in one of his last compositions, the Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, written shortly before his death. The concerto exploits the range and contrasting registers of a newly developed instrument with an extended lower range, the so-called basset clarinet, the invention of one of the two court clarinettists, Anton Stadler, for whom the work was written. The clarinet expresses above all that element of poignancy that underlies so much of the music of Mozart.

Among the most popular violin concertos of the later nineteenth century in the Violin Concerto in G minor by the German composer Max Bruch, remembered above all for this work. The slow movement of the concerto is in a mood of intense tranquillity, after the opening Prelude, to be followed by a particularly energetic finale.

The guitar, which enjoyed some popularity in the early nineteenth century, was later to attract even wider audiences, particularly after the modifications to the instrument inspired by the guitarist Andrés Segovia. Its association with Spain is continued above all in the very popular Concierto de Aranjuez by the blind Spanish composer Rodrigo, who couples idiomatic writing for the solo instrument with colourful and subtle orchestration that never overwhelms the soloist.

The present collection ends with the famous Adagio of Samuel Barber. Written in 1936 while the composer was in Rome after winning the Pulitzer Travelling Scholarship and the American Prix de Rome, it originally formed part of a string quartet. It was arranged for string orchestra by the composer and performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Toscanini in New York in 1938. Its popularity, spread still further through a recording by Toscanini, was thereby assured and has continued to move audiences through its strong appeal to the feelings.

Disc: 1
Adagio for Strings
1 Adagio In G Minor
2 Adagio from Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042
3 Adagio from Oboe Concerto in D minor, Op. 9, No. 2
4 Adagio from Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 2
5 Adagio from Oboe Concerto in D minor
6 Adagio
7 Adagio
8 Adagio
9 Adagio
10 Adagio for Strings
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