Georg Friedrich Händel and Antonio Vivaldi
Dramma per Musica
Royal Castle in Warsaw
Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759)
Overture to the opera Agrippina
Furie Terribill from the opera Rinaldo
Piangerò La Sorte Mia from the opera Giulio Cesare
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto for Strings and Basso Continuo in G minor RV 157
Sposa son disprezzata z opery Bajazet
Agitata da due venti z opery La Griselda
Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759)
Oboe Concerto in B flat major HWV 301
M’adora l’idol mio from the opera Theseus
Anna Mikołajczyk – soprano
Ancient Instruments Ensemble of Warsaw Chamber Opera
Musicae Antiquae Collegium Varsoviense
George Frideric Händel and Antonio Vivaldi are masters of not only operatic scores or writing down the phrases dedicated to instruments and the human voice, but also they’re the inspired composers who work wonderfully in the sphere of orchestral music, brilliantly reflecting the spirit of their era – Baroque, on staves. And all to the rhythm of emotions and spiritual ecstasy.
One could say that they led a lifestyle at the opposite ends. Vivaldi – a priest focused on his vocation: spiritual work and music, which made him immortal. This is almost a contradiction of Händel’s lifestyle, so vividly described in Paul Barz’s hit comedy about a fictitious meeting between Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Händel, dated to 1747 (Four Hands Dinner). Well, today we would say a celebrity, a sybarite, even a bon vivant. And only one thing is missing in the case of both Masters, the thing which unites them above all differences. They were both genuine geniuses.
Looking at the history of opera today, it is hard to imagine it without Händel’s works: Rinaldo or Giulio Cesare. They are overshadowing the numerous items that do not appear on opera posters as often as those aforementioned works, and fragments of which – as in the case of the overture to Agrippina or the aria M’adora l’idol mio from the opera Theseus – will also be heard during the concert. And it is worth remembering that 42 operas by this composer have been catalogued, the vast majority of which sounded for the first time on the royal stage in London. This list is significantly extended by the unfinished collection or fragments of opera works. It is also known that some of his oratorios were staged not only in a concert formula, but also in an opera-like form. He himself approached his work very seriously, since each time he sat down in front of the sheet music, he had, as he said, a mission, as: I should be sorry if I only entertained the audience. I wish to make them better.
It is no different with his Oboe Concerto in B flat major (HWV 301). It is the fruit of love. What kind of love? It is significant that historians prove that the preserved concert legacy of the composer is only a part of what he created, other, numerous compositions have been lost. Fortunately, this work lasted, what’s more, it is one of the gems of this form in the Master’s output. He himself did not hide the fact that he liked this instrument and thanks to this love he attributed to it numerous solo parts in oratorios, operas, concerti grossi and sonatas. What’s more, he did not hide his fondness: I used to write like the D-v (Devil) in those days, but chiefly for the oboe, which was my favourite instrument. A little known fact is that he liked the oboe so much that he learned to play it from his teacher, the organist Friedrich Zachov. The known legacy of about 20 concertos for an instrument are mainly those created for the organ, only one for violin and three for oboe (HWV 301, 302a and 287) have survived to our times, whose authorship is not questioned. The last one is best known for its transcriptions for other instruments. It is worth knowing that several other oboe concertos have been attributed to Händel by the musicologists Friedrich Wilhelm Stein (theologian and musicologist, teacher of, among others, Sergiu Celibidache) and Fulvio Cialdini (pianist, composer and musicologist) and his brother, the oboist Sandro Cialdini. This group included three concertos, probably having their source in modified arias from Händel’s operas.
Operas, oratorios and concert music are also the legacy of Antonio Vivaldi. The Italian wrote almost 60 ripieno concertos, mainly for strings and without emphasizing a specific solo instrument, all in a spirit and style very close to the sinfonias of his operas. The concerto presented this time in the key of G minor, numbered RV 157, survived both in the private collection of Antonio Vivaldi’s manuscripts and as the first concerto in the collection of the Paris Manuscripts (stored in the library of the Paris Conservatory) in copies made by Vivaldi’s father, Giovanni Battista ( c. 1655–1736). Since there is no soloist to attract attention, the genre also known as concerto a quatro gave the composer a lot of freedom, while at the same time it gave the whole orchestra a lot of room to show off. The first movement is based on the figure of the ostinato bass, against which – as scholars of the composer’s music rightly point out – the violins almost dance with each other in a continuous dialogue over the chromatic bass. The contrapuntal second movement is based on a interrupted theme close to the form of a fugue, which builds an intriguing network of dissonances, introducing anxiety so typical of Vivaldi. This atmosphere seems to be interrupted by the beginning of the final section, where Vivaldi builds tension through fast progressions of passages in the lower registers, with particular emphasis on the double bass, while imposing syncopated rhythms in the violin part. As is often remarked, this grand finale creates a mood similar to the turbulent final movement (Summer) of Master Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. No wonder that the orchestral music of The Red Priest (Il Prete Rosso – as Vivaldi was called because of his hair colour and divine service) found many admirers, although many would prefer that, due to, for example, the financial issue, he should focus on the opera. Replying to this, he himself was to say: Nothing more is needed, there are no words, it’s only music there.
Speaking of opera, the programme of this part of the concert will be complemented by two arias: Sposa son disprezzata from the opera Bajazet, telling the story of the battle between the eponymous Turkish ruler, Sultan Bajazet, also known as Lightning, and Tamerlano, and the aria Agitata da due venti from the opera La Griselda with a captivating libretto full of truly romantic metaphors: Agitated by two winds trembling waves in the turbulent sea and the frightened steersman already awaits to be shipwrecked. By duty and by love this heart is assailed; it cannot resist and seems to give up and begins to despair. Both arias are part of the crowning, showpiece repertoire of the masters of Baroque opera.
It is significant that in a letter to Marchese Bentivoglio in 1737, it is reported that Vivaldi composed 94 operas. Unfortunately, fewer than 50 have been discovered and their authorship is confirmed. An astonishing variety is the list of artists who admit that Vivaldi’s music not only shaped them, but even influenced their careers. If we put one of the most famous singers, Cecilia Bartoli, and the giant of the rock guitar, Yngwie Malmsteen, side by side, we see that it’s a wide range of admirers. And if we add that the music of the Italian composer accompanied the star of American football, Billy Cannon in the moments of the greatest career (as he mentioned many times), the phenomenon of Il Prete Rosso’s music is even more amazing.