Italian baroque specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini leads a program of Baroque jewels, with Pergolesi’s achingly beautiful Stabat Mater at the heart of the concert. Alessandrini also performs Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D Major.
- Geminiani: Concerto Grosso in E Minor, Op. 3 No. 3
- J.S. Bach: Harpsichord Concerto in D, BWV 1054
- Pergolesi: Salve Regina
- Pergolesi: Stabat Mater
One hour before the start of each performance from the stage in Jordan Hall.
H2 Young Professionals
Immediately following the Fri 10/28 performance at Lucca Back Bay.
Christina Day Martinson
Amelia Peabody Chair
The range and scope of the works on today’s concert is remarkable considering that the pieces were composed within 25 years of each other. The compositions all share, in some sense, Italian roots. The influence of the two Italian-born composers, Pergolesi and Geminiani, reached beyond Italy, and Bach’s concertos, which inspired later generations of composers, were influenced by another Italian, Antonio Vivaldi.
Instrumental virtuosos were often also composers, creating difficult and challenging solo sections customized to their own performing abilities. One such composer, Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762), began his career as a promising violinist. His father, who was also a violinist, probably gave Geminiani his first music lessons; he later studied with Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) and possibly Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725) in Rome.
In 1714, Geminiani moved to England. His first patron in London arranged for him, accompanied by Handel, to perform for the king. His music was highly regarded and thought to be on the same level as Corelli and Handel. After 1732, Geminiani lived in either London or Dublin; in these years he traveled, painted, and wrote an influential treatise on violin playing as well as treatises on music theory.
Often described as his best compositions, Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 3, first published in 1732 and
“carefully corrected” in 1755, present the composer’s individual style, while honoring Corelli. The Concerto Grosso in E minor, Op. 3, No. 3 opens with an Adagio that evokes his teacher with a reference to Corelli’s Op. 5. The Allegro section of the first movement then begins with an intriguing idea: a chromatically descending melody played by solo violin. As this melody unwinds, the other soloists enter and Geminiani blends this idea with continually changing melodic lines. The second movement, Adagio, features the solo violins playing first together in harmony, then in imitation. The final movement is a lively dance that challenges and highlights the soloists.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was a keyboard virtuoso who changed the role of that instrument in the concerto. In most ensemble music of the 17th and 18th centuries, the harpsichord was relegated to a supporting role, providing chords underneath the melodic line. With works like his Concerto in D Major, BWV 1054, Bach is the first known composer to alter the role of the harpsichord, extracting it from the orchestral tutti and highlighting it as a solo instrument.
The Concerto in D, is an adaptation of his Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042, composed in Cöthen between 1717 and 1723. As Kapellmeister (music director) at this princely court, Bach composed orchestral music, including concertos, for performance by his highly-skilled ensemble of musicians. Later, when he became director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, he returned to some of his earlier Cöthen compositions for concert material.
The Collegium Musicum, established by Georg Philipp Telemann in 1701, was an organization of connoisseurs. Members were mostly students from the university who rehearsed and performed for the sake of learning and enjoying music. Bach moved to Leipzig in 1723 and occasionally performed with the Collegium Musicum. From 1729–1737 and again from 1739 through the first years of the next decade, he was the group’s director. The Leipzig or “Bachische” Collegium Musicum (the director’s name was traditionally incorporated into the title) performed at Gottfried Zimmerman’s coffee house, which could accommodate an audience of 150. Concerts were held indoors during winter and in the garden in the summer. In Collegium Musicum performances of the harpsichord concertos, it is assumed that Bach, one of his sons, or his students would have performed the solo part.
Bach composed 14 harpsichord concertos, featuring one, two, three, or four solo instruments. Of the eight concertos for a single harpsichord soloist, Bach assembled six concertos into a set, including the Concerto in D as the third of the group. Bach wrote J. J. (Jesu juva, meaning “Jesus help”) at the start of the first concerto and Finis, S. D. Gl. (Finis, Soli Deo gloria, meaning “Completed to the glory of God alone”) at the end of the sixth work, indicating that he considered these concertos to be a set. All six concertos are adaptations of earlier works.
The three movements of the Concerto in D alternate between sections for the orchestra playing with the harpsichord (tutti), in which both the soloist and violins share the melodic line, and passages in which the orchestra is accompanying the harpsichord. Within this structure, Bach creates a variety of ideas for the soloist but always uses the orchestral melody that initiates each movement as a familiar point of return. The first movement’s ritornello (the first orchestral music that returns throughout the movement) is a bold and clear statement that helps ground as well as give impetus to the solo passages. The ritornello in the second movement is steady and contemplative with its melody played by the cello; this idea frames the slow movement. Bach created a gracefully dancing ritornello in the final movement; each return of the ritornello demarcates a new, progressively more difficult and ornate solo passage.
During his lifetime and well into the 18th century, the reputation of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736) centered on two vocals works, one secular and the other sacred. The secular work, a short opera or intermezzo, La serva padronna, uses fluid vocal lines and unadorned accompaniments along with quick rhythms to convey the posturing and underlying love between the main characters. In his most famous sacred work, Stabat Mater, Pergolesi expresses not only the meaning of the original poem but also the underlying content, using the music to “read between the lines” of the poem.
The Stabat Mater was used in the Catholic liturgy in the late 15th century. It was removed from the liturgy by the Council of Trent (1543–6), but restored in 1727. The text of the Stabat Mater describes Mary at the foot of the cross and asks for her intercession. Pergolesi’s setting, like his Salve Regina, was completed in the last months of his life. In his setting, Pergolesi chose to arrange the 20 verses of the original hymn into 12 movements, grouping verses for emphasis and impact. In the fifth movement, Quis est homo for example, verses five through seven of the hymn are grouped together. Verses five and six of the hymn are posed as questions rather than statements. Pergolesi sets each verse successively to similar melodic lines; they are then set simultaneously with a new accompaniment, which segues to the last section of this movement, verse seven of the hymn, which returns to the scene at the cross. In setting two different texts and melodies simultaneously, Pergolesi enhances the meaning of both texts musically.
Overall, Pergolesi fashions a setting that exploits the virtuosity of the soloists in a dramatic, even operatic, style from the very opening measures. It is no wonder that this work became so popular and that many composers, including J.S. Bach, made copies of this Stabat Mater for themselves.
Although no less virtuosic than his Stabat Mater, Pergolesi’s Salve Regina also embodies a sense of intimacy through the use of a solo voice and the interaction of the voice and strings. This text, one of four hymns of praise and supplication to the Virgin Mary from about the 11th century, consistently uses the first person plural (“our hope,” “pray for us”). Pergolesi does not alter the original text’s plural pronouns; the solo voice stands for all of the individual and private prayers of the faithful. In this way, Pergolesi’s setting is all the more powerful because, like an aria, it allows the listeners to experience, share, and become part of a personal moment.
The first notes of both the Salve Regina and the Stabat Mater are similar; both pieces were completed in the last two months of Pergolesi’s life. This is perhaps an unconscious connection made by the composer; however, unconscious or not, when we hear these works performed in proximity, the meaning of one cannot help but reinforce the meaning of the other.
These sacred vocal compositions and the two concertos epitomize a time of musical change in the first half of the 18th century. Together they codify the style from the previous century and point to the new style that will come to dominate the rest of the century.
Program notes prepared by Teresa M. Neff, PhD
2011–2012 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.
Pergolesi: Stabat Mater