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ClassicsOnline Home » O Sole Mio - Classic Love Songs for Violin and Orchestra (Nishizaki, Polish National Radio Symphony, Breiner)
O Sole Mio - Classic Love Songs for Violin and Orchestra
George Frideric Handel, born in Halle, made his early career in music in Hamburg
and then in Italy, the source of his operatic style. From there be was appointed
director of music to the Elector of Hanover, later George I of England, but
almost immediately took leave of absence to fulfil a London commission for an
Italian opera. By 1712 Handel had established himself in London, his primary
concern the Italian opera. He was later able to find a new role as the creator
of a specifically English form of oratorio, a genre that satisfied religious
and linguistic prejudices then current. His dominant position in English music
continued long after his death in 1759, eclipsing lesser native talents.
'Dank sei Dir, Herr', although popularly attributed to Handel,
is now known to be the work of the German chorusmaster and composer Siegfried
Ochs (1858-1929), who intended it for insertion in a German performance of Handel's
oratorio Israel in Egypt. The following two songs are among the best
known operatic arias by Handel. The first, popularly known as Handel's Largo,
comes from his comic opera Serse, first staged at the King's Theatre
in London in 1738. At the opening of the work Xerxes, the King of Persia, sings
in loving terms in the shade of an adjacent plane-tree. 'Lascia ch'io pianga'
is an aria of a very different kind. Handel's opera Rinaldo, the first
of his operas for London and the first Italian opera composed for that city,
was staged at the Queen's Theatre in 1711. The Italian libretto was based on
an English version by Aaron Hill, derived from Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme
liberata, and concerns the machinations of the sorceress Armida, who attempts,
with ultimate failure, to ensnare the gallant crusader Rinaldo. The lament is
sung by Almirena, daughter of the Christian captain Goffredo and betrothed to
Rinaldo, but at this juncture held captive by Armida and wooed by Argante, Saracen
King of Jerusalem.
The form Italian opera had taken after the reforms of the early eighteenth
century had, over the years, tended to place formal requirements before any
attempt at dramatic realism. Christoph Willibald Gluck, however, with the collaboration
of his librettists, brought about a very considerable change, which brought
new prominence to the language and drama. In his Orfeo ed Euridice, staged
first in Vienna in 1762 in its original Italian version, he returned to a well
known operatic subject, illustrating the power of music. Orpheus, the legendary
musician of antiquity, seeks, by the power of his lute, to bring back from the
underworld his beloved Euridice, an exploit that brought varied success, although
Gluck's opera allows the pair to be re-united, through the agency of Cupid.
Orfeo's famous lament for the death of Euridice, 'Che farò senza Euridice' (What
shall I do without Euridice?), reflects his desperation when, having disobeyed
the injunction of the blessed spirits not to look back as he leads her back
to life again, he turns and thus forces her to return to the world of the dead.
The tradition of German Lieder is represented in the songs by Ludwig
van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes
Brahms, and followed by the Norwegian Edvard Grieg. Beethoven's 'Ich liebe dich'
(I love you) is a setting of words by Karl Friedrich Herrosee, composed in 1797
or 1798, during the composer's first decade in Vienna, where he had settled
in 1792, establishing a position as a pianist and composer of force and originality.
Schubert, a native of Vienna, did not enjoy the distinguished patronage that
Beethoven had had since his arrival in the city. The son of a schoolmaster,
he thrived at the heart of a circle of friends, never achieving any official
position in music, but gradually winning a wider reputation as a composer at
the time of his early death in 1828. His contribution to the body of German
song was remarkable and very considerable. Two of his sets of songs: Die
schöne Müllerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill) and Die Winterreise (The
Winter Journey) were composed as cycles, each containing a narrative element.
A third cycle, Schwanengesang (Swan-Song), was compiled after Schubert's
death. 'Wohin?' (Where?) is from the first of the song-cycles, in which the
young man, his apprenticeship now completed, sets out happily on his journey,
following the course of the stream from the mill. 'Ständchen' (Serenade) is
part of the posthumously compiled Schwanengesang, a gentle setting of
a poem by Rellstab. 'Heidenröslein' (Rose among the Heather) is a setting of
a well known poem by Goethe, in which a boy plucks a rose, which takes its own
revenge by pricking his finger. 'Ave Maria! Jungfrau mild!' (Hail Mary! Maiden
mild!) sets a translation of a poem by Sir Walter Scott.
In 1840 Schumann turned his attention to song after song. His Liederkreis
(Song-Cycle), Op. 39, is a set of twelve poems by Eichendorff composed in this
year of song. The fifth of these, 'Mondnacht', depicts a moonlit night. Grieg's
'Ich liebe dich' (I love you), its title in German translation, is a setting
of a poem by Hans Christian Andersen. Mendelssohn contributed more directly
to the tradition of German Lieder. 'Romanze' is the tenth of a group
of a dozen songs published in 1828. 'Wenn sich zwei Herzen scheiden' (If two
hearts part) is a setting of a poem by the Lübeck poet Emanuel Geibel. It is
the fifth of a group of six songs forming the composer's Op. 99 and was written
in 1845. The additions made by Brahms to German Lieder repertoire are
highly characteristic. 'Sonntag' (Sunday), opening with the words 'So hab ich
doch die ganze Woche' (So I still have the whole week), was written in 1860
and is a setting of a traditional poem published in Uhland's Alte hoch-und
Italy, pre-eminently the land of song, has its own particular
tradition of singing, with music to match, Gioachino Rossini, famous for his
operas, comic and serious, spent much of his later life in Paris, no longer
concerned with the composition of opera, after Guillaume Tell in 1829.
In his final years of retirement, between 1857 and 1868, he wrote a variety
of shorter works, assembled in thirteen volumes, and described by him as Péchés
de vieillesse (Sins of Old Age). 'L'amour a Pékin' (Love in Peking) is the
fifth of the twelve pieces that form the third volume of Péchés and described
in an explanatory subtitle as a little melody based on the Chinese scale. It
is not a song and was written for piano. Salvatore Cardillo, Eduardo di Capua
and Ernesto de Curtis represent a more overtly popular development of Italian
song, typical both of the country and the period. Cardillo is remembered chiefly
for the song he published in 1911, 'Core'ngrato' (Thankless Heart), its popularity
rivalled by di Capua's 'O sole mio' and 'Torna a Surriento' (Come back to Sorrento),
as well as 'Non ti scordar dime' (Do not forget me) by de Curtis, his near contemporary.
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