NOTES BY ARTHUR F. EDWARDS
Annotator, Los Angeles Master Chorale
Venice, where the merchants were the kings, where St. Mark's is, where the doges used to wed the sea with rings. On Christmas Day, 1607, Jean-Baptiste du Val, a member of the French Embassy in Venice, attended the solemn festivities at St. Mark's, where he heard "organs and divers instruments of music, especially trombones, cornetti, and violins, with voices mixed among them, all together filling the church with a great and wondrous harmony." The following year Thomas Coryat reported that music in Venice was "so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super-excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like."
Tonight's concert traces the development and proliferation in space and time of the musical splendor that helped make Venice Queen of the Adriatic and Paradise of Delights. A unique line of teacher-pupil relationships extended from the beginning of the fifteenth century to the late seventeenth century—from the Flemish Dufay through the Venetian Gabrielis to the German Schutz. Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400-1474) united the lean complexities of ars nova and the English tradition of the gymel (the use of the third and sixth as consonances) brought to the Continent by John Dunstable (?-1453). Jean de Ockeghem (c. 1430-c. 1495), a pupil of Dufay, taught the great Josquin des Pres (c. 1450-1521), who combined the Flemish traditions and the popular Italian frottola to create what Friedrich Blume has called ars perfecta—characterized by expressiveness and love of consonant sonority. Josquin's approach was to remain the ideal until the twentieth century.
Ave Maria, published by Ottaviano del Petrucci (1466-1539) in Motetti A (Venice, 1502) utilizes two of Josquin's favorite devices: canonic imitation and the antiphony of duets between the high voices imitated by the lower voices. Josquin's influence reached Spain through his pupil Nicolas Gombert (c. 1480-1556) to Cristobal de Morales (c. 1500-1553), whose even-verse Magnificat in Tone I was published in Venice in 1542. The chant is used throughout as a cantus firmus until it appears in canon during the closing Sicut erat. Josquin's direct influence reached Venice through his gifted pupil Jean Mouton (c. 1470-1522), the teacher of Adrian Willaert (c. 1490-1562). Willaert became maestro di cappella of St. Mark's in 1527. His thirty-five years in this important post firmly grafted the Flemish polyphony onto the declamatory style of the frottolists to produce a truly Venetian School. His salmi spezzati, utilizing the two choir lofts at St. Mark's, set the example for the splendor to come. With Andrea Gabrieli (c.1520-1586), the Venetian School came into full bloom. His resounding Magnificat for twelve voice parts (Concerti di Andrea et di Giovanni Gabrieli, 1587) contrasts with Morales' by not only proceeding straight through, without chant sections, but also by the brilliant rather than introspective treatment of the text.
Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) who studied with his uncle Andrea as well as with Roland de Lassus (1532-1594) in Munich, is first represented by the serenely contemplative Beata es Virgo Maria (Symphoniae Sacrae, I, 1597). The delightful Plaudite, psallite (Symphoniae Sacrae, 1597), with its ritornello on Alleluia completes the first half of the program. Another pupil of Andrea Gabrieli and a lifelong friend of Giovanni was Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612). Laudate Dominum (Nuremberg, 1588) contrasts a treble choir and a male choir. Except for the polyphonic opening, the antiphony is simple and in the style of Andrea Gabrieli—St. Mark's is clearly the inspiration. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) became maestro di cappella at St. Mark's in 1613, and a new era of splendor began. Monteverdi composed three settings of the psalm Laetatus sum: one in the 1610 Vespers, and two in the posthumously published collection of 1650. The setting performed tonight is the only one for obbligato instruments; the other versions being for voices and continuo only. This largest is held together by a rigid and powerful use of a basso ostinato on the tones G-g-c-d, which is only interrupted at the Gloria Patri.
An exquisite example of the spread of the Venetian style is Pater noster (Tomus primus operis musici, Prague, 1586) by the Bohemian Jakob Handl (or Gallus or Petelin).
Heinrich Schütz was born in 1585, one hundred years before Bach and Handel. Twice he journeyed to Venice to absorb the splendor of St. Mark's composers. In 1609 he began studies with Giovanni Gabrieli, who left his ring to Schütz. In 1628, in the midst of the Thirty Years War (1618 -1648), Schütz returned to Venice to "investigate the new advances and present practices in music which had developed there since my first sojourn ... "
Cantate Domino (Cantiones Sacrae, 1625) "is kept throughout in presto time . . . almost the effect of the extreme contraction of a polychorus setting. In its triadic interlacings, like trumpet flourishes and fanfares of cornetti, it is the ancestor of many a Handelian jubilation chorus . . . " (Moser: Heinrich Schütz, p. 410.)
Firmly based on the Venetian School, and yet far advanced dramatically is the magnificent Saul (Symphoniae Sacrae Ill, 1650). The daring use of parallel seconds (was vefolgst du mich?), the eerily insistent solo tenor at the end are master strokes. "But one almost feels ashamed to apply the plumb line and the measuring rod to such inspiration. We have before us a pinnacle of the entire older music; a piece of spectral dramatic art; a distant whispering and rustling, the approaching threat, the roaring, the nightmare of a colossal cloud shadow finally dissipating itself specterlike into the mist, as it had begun mysteriously like the inescapable voice of conscience – all this reminds one of the colossal style of P. P. Rubens' 'Last Judgment.’” (Ibid., p. 625.)
Schütz died three hundred years ago: Dresden, November 6, 1672.
Sarabanda, giga e badinerle by the Roman, Arcangelo Carelli (1653-1713), serves as an entr'acte before we are returned to Venice and the High Baroque of il preto rosso, Antonio Vivaldi (c. 1675-1741). Dixit in Due Cori (Opere Sacre, volume V, Biblioteca Nazionale, Turin) was referred to by Malipiero as"Vivaldi's St. Matthew Passion. It is scored for two orchestras, two choruses, and a quartet of soloists. The orchestras both consist of strings and continuo with the occasional addition of trumpets and oboes (presupposing bassoons), used sparingly but most tellingly.
Eighteenth century Venice was completely opera oriented (Vivaldi was successful in this field for awhile, until the public deserted him for il Sassone-Handel). Accordingly, the delightful conceit of a scena for solo tenor would in no way shock an audience gathered to hear a religious work.
Dixit is vintage Vivaldi. It makes its appeal directly and simply to the listener. The sparing use of polychoral writing makes the effect more spectacular when it does occur. A few felicitous touches should be noted. In the treble duet, each soprano is accompanied by her own orchestra. Judicabit in nationibus looks forward to Mozart, Berlioz, and Verdi in its depiction of the last Judgment. In contrast the soprano aria De torrente allows Vivaldi to fondly limn a babbling brook. The Gloria Patri repeats the music of the opening. The Sicut erat in its polychoral complexity is worthy of comparison with Bach and far beyond the efforts of other Italian composers of the period.
Tonight's performance is, to the best of our knowledge, the West Coast premiere of Dixit.