Concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky makes her H&H solo debut in Vivaldi's virtuosic The Four Seasons. Audiences will tour Italy and experience the richness of the Italian culture from Handel's operas, written while he lived there, to J.C. Bach's dramatic symphony, composed shortly after a visit to the country.
- Handel: Overture to Agrippina
- Corelli: Concerto Grosso in C Minor, Op. 6, No. 3
- J.C. Bach: Symphony Op. 6, No. 6 in G Minor
- Handel: Overture to Rodrigo
- Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D, Op. 6, No. 4
- Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
One hour before the start of each performance in Symphony Hall's Higginson Hall.
H2 Young Professionals
Immediately following the Fri 1/20 performance at Lucca Back Bay.
Christina Day Martinson
Krista Buckland Reisner
Heather Miller Lardin
Opulent opera houses and magnificent palaces were the venues for opera and concerto performances in the early 18th century. These awe-inspiring locations were musical centers within the bustling, international cities of Florence, Venice, and Rome. For German-born George Frideric Handel (1685–1759), the musical opportunities that Italy offered could not be ignored, while Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) built the fame he acquired in Venice to international renown. The influence of Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) reached well beyond his home in Rome, particularly with his posthumously published concerti grossi. Later in the century, the symphonies of Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782) highlighted the increasing prominence of instrumental music and the emergence of the public concerts in London’s elegant halls.
As a young musician, Handel traveled to Hamburg, where he staged his first opera. There he also met Gian Gastone de’ Medici, Prince of Tuscany, who urged Handel to visit Italy. In Florence in 1707, Handel led the premiere of his opera Rodrigo, originally titled Vincer se stesso è la maggior vittoria (To conquer oneself is the greater victory). The story of broken promises and reconciliation begins as Rodrigo promises to divorce his wife and marry Florinda, with whom he has a child. This scenario leads to war and the capture of Rodrigo. As he is about to be executed, Rodrigo’s wife pleads for his life. Rodrigo begs his wife’s forgiveness; she grants it and the two go into exile.
The overture to Rodrigo falls into three parts. The first features stately short-long rhythms; in the second part, these become faster, imitative lines that are passed through the orchestra. The overture closes with a return to the opening rhythmic ideas.
Handel’s second opera in Italy, Agrippina, premiered in Venice in December 1709 and was an immediate success. John Mainwaring (1735–1807), an early Handel biographer, wrote of the premiere: “The theatre at almost every pause resounded with shouts of Viva il caro Sassone! [Long live the beloved Saxon!]” The plot of this satirical opera centers on Agrippina’s efforts to ensure that her son Nero is the next Roman emperor.
The overture to Agrippina features a stately opening section followed by a contrasting section, which conveys an air of excitement and nervous energy. Beautiful, concerto-like solo passages interrupt the rhythmic momentum and ultimately transition to a return of the opening material.
Handel’s stay in Italy offered opportunities for him to compose different types of music and to meet prominent patrons as well as composers such as Corelli, who led the orchestra in performances of Handel’s works. In 1709, Handel probably met Vivaldi while in Venice.
Antonio Vivaldi is remembered today primarily as the composer who shaped the instrumental concerto, a piece that alternates passages for soloist with those for orchestra, and his concertos collectively titled The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni) are an integral part of that legacy. Vivaldi was employed by the Ospedale della Pietà, one of four charitable institutions dedicated to the care and education of indigent children in Venice. His work for the Pietà did not require his continued presence in Venice, so he traveled extensively and pursued his many compositional opportunities, particularly in opera.
Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons were published in 1725 as part of a larger collection of 12 concertos for solo violin and string orchestra numbered as Opus 8. Scholars now believe the concertos were composed at least 10 years earlier and then chosen and ordered by Vivaldi for publication. Vivaldi also supplied a descriptive title and poem for each of the four concertos; we can hear the harvest celebrations in Autumn and feel the bitter cold of Winter. This, plus letters in the performing score that correspond to lines in the accompanying sonnets, create a one-to-one correspondence between the poems and the music. In this way, Vivaldi has taken written descriptions associated with instrumental music beyond general impressions to a level of specificity usually found only in vocal music.
Looking more closely at the first two concertos, we can follow the close relation between poems and music. In the first concerto, Spring, the first four lines of the sonnet describe the birds, breezes, and streams. This is the subject of the first part of the first movement of the concerto, and Vivaldi immediately sets the scene with bright melodic lines and steady rhythms. Next, a storm gathers. Although ominous, the storm does not last long and the birds soon return. In the remainder of the sonnet and concerto, humans are introduced to the story through pastoral images: first, a goatherd asleep with his dog near him and, finally, shepherds and nymphs celebrating with a bagpipe and dancing.
In the second concerto, Summer, a scene similar to that of Spring is brought to mind with bird calls (cuckoo, turtle dove, and goldfinch), but now the sun is described as harsh and its effect on man and nature is pronounced. Vivaldi captures this feeling vividly with a descending, or one might even say wilting, melodic line. The second movement is filled with the threat of a storm, as well as annoying insects, and in the third movement the swift and powerful storm arrives, leaving destruction in its wake.
The musical characterizations in The Four Seasons speak to the individual performer and listener alike in the detail of the scene depicted as well as the emotions associated with that scene. Vivaldi’s music then unites those separate experiences in a common musical one.
Compared to Vivaldi, Corelli wrote relatively few compositions; however, the influence of those works on the next generation of composers, particularly Handel, is without question. Corelli’s Opus 6 concerti grossi are true masterpieces. Published after his death in 1714, these works probably circulated in manuscript form as early as the 1680s. Each concerto is carefully crafted, balanced in form and variety of movements, and filled with musical connections both subtle and bold.
The Concerto in C Minor, Op. 6, No. 3 contains three movements that are divided into five sections. The first movement begins slowly (Largo) with dotted rhythms that create a lilting effect; it is paired with a lively Allegro in triple meter. In the next movement, Corelli again pairs slow and fast sections. The Grave section features suspensions that seem to dissolve, and the following Vivace begins with the soloists in harmony. The final Allegro dances with its imitative patterns that coalesce before again splintering off.
There are similar pairings of slow and fast in Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op. 6, No. 4. In the first two movements the slow introductions lead directly into the subsequent fast sections. In the third movement, Corelli pairs two fast sections (Allegros). The first section has a lilting rhythm while the second pushes forward, heightening our sense of expectation. Corelli reinforces this harmonically by creating more tension in the first Allegro. The release of this harmonic tension in the final Allegro, combined with rhythmic momentum, provides a brilliant and exciting conclusion.
Johann Christian Bach, “the London Bach,” was the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Christian lived and studied with his older brother Carl Philipp Emanuel after their father’s death in 1750. Four years later he went to Italy, gaining invaluable experience with Italian opera that influenced his compositional style. In 1762, he accepted an offer to compose operas for the King’s Theatre in London. Bach also published and, with his friend and fellow composer Carl Friedrich Abel, established a series of concerts featuring vocal and instrumental works performed by leading musicians of the day. One composer deeply influenced by Bach was Mozart. The two met in London in 1764; on Bach’s death in 1782, Mozart wrote it was “a loss to the musical world.”
Bach’s Symphony in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 6 was published in 1770. The constantly changing rhythms over a steady bass impart a lovely complexity and momentum to the first movement. The second movement, for strings, remains in a minor key and opens with a bold statement played in unison by the whole orchestra; Bach then uses this figure as a reference point throughout the movement. Interspersed between these statements are more delicate passages that bring to mind opera arias. Wonderfully complex rhythms combine with short, less complex melodic ideas in the final movement, which returns to the drive and impassioned outbursts heard in the first movement.
All four composers had first-hand knowledge of opera composition or performance and each composer drew on that experience in their instrumental music. Whether overture, concerto, or symphony, each work on today’s concert shows a mastery of expression that reflects the abundant musical riches of the 18th century.
Program notes (c) by Teresa M. Neff, PhD
2011–2012 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.