Johann Gottlieb Graun: Concerti for Strings

“…Johann Gottlieb Graun was born in 1701 or 1702 in Wahrenbrück. He studied for several months between 1721 and 1723 with Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) in Padua. Tartini had a lasting impression on the young Graun; this can also be heard in his compositions. In 1740 Graun was nominated as concertmaster and conductor at the court-orchestra of Frederick II of Prussia. Graun’s duties included having to scout for new talent for the orchestra, and the direction of the court concerts in Berlin. After the Seven Years’ War, Graun retired from active duty for reasons of health. He died, highly esteemed, on 7 October 1771 in Berlin. Instrumental works utterly dominate the extensive oeuvre of Johann Gottlieb Graun as a composer. It is hardly surprising that among them – besides overtures, symphonies, quartets, trios and wind concertos – he wrote a great number of concertos and solo sonatas for the violin. He composed at least 83 solo concertos, double concertos and several ensemble concertos with solo violin…”

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Domenico Mazzochi: La Catena d’Adone

Nothing is known of the musical training of Domenico Mazzocchi (1592–1665). He was a seminary student in his birthplace of Civita Castellana, took lower orders in 1606, and sometime around 1619 was made a Doctor of Laws in Rome. It was as a musician, however, that he joined the court of the powerful Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini, who served as papal chamberlain. Mazzocchi was a consummate player of the Italian patronage system. His sole surviving opera—heard here in what we are told is the premiere recording—was commissioned by the cardinal’s brother, Prince Giovanni Aldobrandini. That prince’s daughter, Olimpia Aldobrandini Borgehese, was the recipient of his Musiche sacre, e morali ’s dedication in 1640. In turn Olimpia’s second husband, Camillo Pamphili, was the nephew of Giovanni Battista Pamphili, who as Pope Innocent X arranged a benefice for Mazzocchi. It wasn’t the composer’s first benefice, however, as he was also on exceedingly good terms with the Barberini clan, especially Cardinal Antonio Barberini and Maffeo (later Pope Urban VIII) Barberini.

La Catena d’Adone was first performed in 1626. The subject was of the kind to draw the approval of its urbane, well-educated audience, its five acts concerned with the intertwining love affairs of Venus, Apollo, Adonis, and the plot motivator, an enchantress named Falsirena. Typical, too, was the Christian allegory offered at the conclusion of the score, one that informs us among other matters how “Adonis … who far from the Deity of Venus goes through encounters of various labors, is the Man, who far from God makes many mistakes.” It is unknown how seriously the allegory-of-the-minute was taken by the nobles and ecclesiastics after the night’s Greco-Roman mythological entertainment.

Musically, the work is also typical of Roman opera at its time: sophisticated in its allocation of vocal and orchestral forces and conservative in approach to the medium, similar to Florentine opera of a quarter of a century earlier. The almost continuous recitar cantando is closer to Jacopo Peri in its chromaticism, striking juxtaposition of keys, and bold dissonances than to his main rival Caccini, but the latter’s popular manner and texturally divided forms can be found in a few brief instances. Adonis’s “Dunque piagge ridenti” and Falsirena’s “Quà tragioie gradite” are good examples of Mazzocchi’s short walking-bass ariettas; the scene for nymphs and shepherds, “Mira, mira gioioso,” with its mix of chorus, soloists, and duet textures, suggests familiarity with Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo . Interestingly, a couple of those ariettas, or mezz’arie , occur at the end of scenes, pointing to what would become a rigid convention under the evolving rules of opera seria . If the music only seldom rises to an inspired level of lyrical impulse, it yet provides a fascinating glimpse into a time when opera was still in its early stage of development, and many different solutions were being tried to fit words and music together.

— Barry Brenesal,

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Philippe Verdelot: Madrigals for four voices

“…Philippe Verdelot played a very important role in the development of the madrigal during the Italian Renaissance. Born in France, he probably moved to Italy at a young age. From 1522 onwards, he held the most important positions in church music in Florence – first he was maestro di capella at the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral, and a year later also at the Cathedral itself. After 1530, with the riots surrounding the expulsion of the Medici family and the siege of the city, all biographical traces are lost, and no works created after these events seen to have survived. In the years before, however, Verdelot had initiated important musical developments with his madrigals, which at that time were the most published in Italy. The Ensemble Profeti della Quinta presents a selection of four-part madrigals from an anthology published posthumously (1540, 1565). A special feature of their performance is that each singer reads from the originally notated single voice – unlike in a modern score with parts notated one above the other. The musicians must therefore listen to each other much more closely and be able to react spontaneously. This spontaneity can be felt throughout the recording, and takes the listener to the beginnings of the Italian madrigal in a very intense way…”

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