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ClassicsOnline Home » GREAT BAROQUE MASTERPIECES (10-CD Box Set)
Baroque music describes the period in Western classical music dating from approximately 1600 to 1750. The Baroque period saw the development of functional tonality, as well as new instrumental playing techniques and musical notation. It was during this time that opera was established as a musical genre, and the period also saw the expansion of the range and complexity of instrumental performance.
This collection concentrates on the instrumental music of the period. No survey of the Baroque would be complete without the music of JS Bach, whose Brandenburg concertos are commonly regarded as the apex of Baroque music. The radiant concertos of Vivaldi demonstrate the exhilarating range of instrumental colour that flourished at this time and contrast with the orchestral zest of Handel’s robust Water Music. From classical favourites such Pachelbel’s Canon and Albinoni’s Adagio, to Concerti Grossi from composers as diverse as Corelli, Handel, Locatelli and Geminiani, this set is the perfect compilation of works from this most fascinating of eras.
GREAT BAROQUE MASTERPIECES
Bach • Handel • Vivaldi • Telemann • and many others
Various definitions have been proposed for the word baroque, since its first application to music in the eighteenth century. Derived from the Portuguese barroco, a pearl of curiously irregular shape, leading to the French baroque, it was adopted, sometimes pejoratively, as a term descriptive of certain styles in art and architecture, suggesting the exuberance of Bernini and the decorative architectural fashions that followed the Gothic. Whatever its original use, the word, in music, is now generally accepted as the designation of a period from c. 1600 to c. 1750, a period that can conveniently be divided into three of fifty years, Early, Middle and Late.
Periodisation, of course, has its dangers and must be used with some discretion. Nevertheless the Early Baroque period, from c. 1600 to c. 1650, covers the age of Claudio Monteverdi and the development in Italy of the art of opera and concurrently of styles of harmony and vocal writing that brought a new strangeness of proportion. The Middle Baroque period, from c. 1650 to c. 1700, is, in England, the age of Henry Purcell, and in Italy the age of the widely influential Arcangelo Corelli, whose instrumental style and forms provided a model for the following generation. The Late or High Baroque, from c. 1700 to c. 1750, is now the most familiar of all. This is the period of Antonio Vivaldi in Venice, of Johann Sebastian Bach in Cöthen and then Leipzig, and of the Italianate German composer George Frideric Handel in London for the greater part of his life.
The Late Baroque brought to a height the art of tonal counterpoint, the construction of fugal textures, instrumental or vocal, in which a melody is first proposed by one voice, answered by others in turn, one melodic line set against another. In instrumental music it brings the church sonata and chamber sonata, the first finding room for contrapuntal textures and the second for sets of dance movements, often scored for two melody instruments, with a bass instrument and a chordal instrument, harpsichord, organ or lute, to supply fuller harmonies. Parallel to these trio sonatas of either species is the orchestral concerto, whether in the form of a concerto grosso, in which a smaller group of instruments is contrasted with the full orchestra, or as a solo concerto, a form perfected by Vivaldi.
During the baroque period the orchestra developed from a varied collection of instruments to something approaching the form it has today in the string section of a modern orchestra. By the early eighteenth century the orchestra often consisted of first and second violins, violas, cello and bass, with a chordal instrument. This was the form of the orchestra generally used by the violinist Vivaldi. The instrumentation, however, could be varied, as in Johann Sebastian Bach’s vividly orchestrated Brandenburg Concertos, or, to a lesser extent, in George Frideric Handel’s concertos. The solo concerto of the High Baroque brought not only the varied use of solo instruments found among the five hundred or more concertos by Vivaldi, but the appearance of the keyboard concerto, whether in Handel’s Organ Concertos, designed to entertain an audience in the intervals of an oratorio, or in the Harpsichord Concertos Bach wrote or arranged for himself and his sons with his Leipzig University Collegium Musicum.
The present collection concentrates on the instrumental music of the period, principally of the High Baroque. The years also brought new forms of opera, from the mixed genres of the Middle Baroque and the old age of Monteverdi to the formal opera seria adopted by Handel and his contemporaries. In England it brought a new form, the English oratorio, largely Handel’s creation, while France had seen the apotheosis of French ballet and opera first with Lully and then with Rameau. CD 1 starts with an instrumental excerpt from a Handel oratorio, The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handel’s Solomon. The last CD ends with a concerto grosso, by Alessandro Scarlatti, whose operatic overtures led the way to the new symphonies of future generations. Every age, we are reminded, is an age of transition.
(See CD sleeve for track list)
The first half of the eighteenth century saw a musical synthesis of styles from Italy, France and Germany. From Italy came ‘song’, from France ‘dance’ and from Germany a more academic approach that could weld these song and dance elements into a whole. This collection provides examples of favourite Baroque works, incorporating these three different styles.
The Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) spent his later life in Rome, where he established himself as a violinist and composer. Contemporaries and later composers were strongly influenced, in particular, by his Concerti grossi, orchestral compositions in which a small group of solo players (two violins and continuo in Corelli’s work) are contrasted with the full string orchestra. His so-called Christmas Concerto, designed for performance on Christmas Eve, includes a pastoral movement suggesting the shepherds at Bethlehem in a musical form that was much imitated . Georg Frideric Handel (1685–1759) had met Corelli in Rome during the earlier years of the eighteenth century. Born in Halle, he had worked first at the opera in Hamburg, before travelling to Italy. Recruited as director of music to the court at Hanover, he soon found a way to move to London, where he was at first primarily occupied in the provision of Italian opera. Handel’s melodic facility and the form his musical language took suggest a different balance in the developing baroque synthesis. Nevertheless Corelli, leading an orchestra for Handel in Italy, claimed he could not grasp the latter’s ‘French’ style. While continuing an intermittent connection with Italian opera, by 1740 Handel had found a new musical compromise in a new form, that of English oratorio. The present collection is introduced by the familiar Arrival of the Queen of Sheba , an instrumental movement from the oratorio Solomon, first heard at Covent Garden in 1749. Equally familiar is the Largo from Handel’s 1738 opera Serse, originally an aria in which Xerxes is overheard expressing his admiration for the plant life around him .
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was the son of a musician and member of a musical family of long traditions. On the death of his parents he moved to Ohrdruf, where he was taught by his elder brother and made his early career as an organist with an appointment in 1707 as court organist at Weimar. In 1717 he moved to Cöthen as director of court music for the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, a happy period of his life that came to an end with the Prince’s marriage to a woman that Bach later described as “amusica”. It was at Cöthen that Bach wrote much of his instrumental music, including his violin concertos and his concerto for violin and oboe. Only three of the violin concertos survive in their original form including the fine Concerto for two violins. The slow movement is one of particular beauty, the two solo violins in dialogue above the gently lilting rhythm of the bass-line in the orchestra . In Leipzig Bach arranged a number of his earlier concertos as concertos for solo harpsichord or harpsichords. His Harpsichord Concerto in F minor derived its outer movements from an oboe concerto that is now lost and its slow movement, here included, from a church cantata. Accompanied by plucked strings, the solo harpsichord offers a fine melody, gently elaborated . Other concertos, including the work for violin and oboe, have been arranged back from Bach’s Leipzig arrangements of these works for one or more harpsichords and orchestra. The three movements of the Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060  two faster movements framing a central moving Adagio, allow intricate interplay between the two solo instruments. Bach’s Easter Oratorio was originally a cantata, written for performance in Leipzig on 1 April 1725. In the early years of his employment as Thomascantor, Bach wrote a very large number of cantatas, vocal and instrumental compositions for each Sunday and each important festival in the church year. The Easter Oratorio from which the present instrumental Adagio is drawn , was revised between 1732 and 1735 as an oratorio to mark the feast.
Bach owed much to Vivaldi and other composers in Venice, where the solo concerto had developed. He made his own solo harpsichord arrangement of the Oboe Concerto by Alessandro Marcello (1684–1750), a Venetian nobleman and dilettante. The slow movement of the Oboe Concerto in D minor  is here included. Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706) was a prolific composer who had drawn much from his experience of Italian music. Pachelbel served as an organist in Erfurt, where he had connections with the Bach family and taught Johann Sebastian Bach’s elder brother, Johann Christoph, with whom the former lived after the early death of his parents. Pachelbel was able to spend his final years as organist at St Sebald’s in his native Nuremberg. While his other work may be known principally to organists, his Canon and Gigue , an ingenious composition originally for three violins and continuo, has enjoyed very wide popularity, appearing in a variety of arrangements.
Giuseppe Torelli (1659–1709) was active in the orchestra of the huge Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna, first from 1686 to 1695 as a violist and then, from 1701 to 1709, as a violinist. His main historical contribution was to the development of both the violin concerto and the concerto grosso, but he was also the most prolific Italian composer for the trumpet, with some three dozen pieces, variously entitled sonata, sinfonia, or concerto, for one, two, or four trumpets. The so-called Concerto No 2 by Torelli  appeared in about 1715 as the sixth in a series of concertos by Bitti, Vivaldi, and Torelli published in Amsterdam by Etienne Roger, who was also Corelli’s publisher. The concerto is notable for the highly expressive and virtuosic writing for the strings in the middle movement in which the trumpet is silent, but with its marked themes and motoric rhythms it has become a staple of today’s Baroque trumpet repertoire.
Tomaso Albinoni (1671–1751) made his prolific career as a composer in Venice. His compositions include a number of fine oboe concertos, from one of which an Adagio is included . His name is best known, however, for an Adagio attributed to him by its true composer Remo Giazotto, who offered it as an elaboration of a fragment by Albinoni . Giuseppe Sammartini (1695–1750), brother of the better known Giovanni Battista Sammartini, was one of the eight sons of a French oboist and his Italian wife and was born in Milan in 1695. With his brothers he performed as an oboist and after 1728 made his home in England, where he was well known as a performer and as a composer, serving as music master to the Princess of Wales and her children from 1736. He had a strong influence on English oboe-playing and his compositions, published posthumously, were held in great esteem for a considerable time. The slow movement of his F major Recorder Concerto, in the key of A minor, is a gently pastoral Siciliano . A native of Bergamo, Pietro Locatelli (1695–1764) was born in 1695 and started his career there as a violinist at the church of S Maria Maggiore, a position he left in 1711 in order to study in Rome. There it is suggested that he took lessons from Corelli, a leading figure in the music of the city. The forms used by Locatelli largely echo those in the published work of Corelli, with the eighth of the Concerti grossi Op 1 set also a Christmas concerto, ending with a pastoral movement, a Siciliano , suggesting the shepherds at Bethlehem, a convention widely followed. The violinist and composer Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762) was one of those Italian musicians who found a ready livelihood in England in the first half of the eighteenth century. Born in Lucca in 1687, he was a pupil of Arcangelo Corelli and of Alessandro Scarlatti in Rome. The form of the concerto grosso owes much to Corelli. The third of Geminiani’s Opus 3 set of Concerti Grossi, the Concerto grosso in E minor, has the briefest of Adagio introductions, six bars that lead to a contrapuntal Allegro. The second movement is an Adagio, with a moving quaver pattern sustained at first by the two violins of the concertino. There are contrapuntal entries in the final Allegro , the subject suggested by the first violin, repeated by the second and briefly, in inverted form, by the viola and then by the cello.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No 1 in F major, BWV 1046
Brandenburg Concerto No 2 in F major, BWV 1047
Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G major, BWV 1048
Brandenburg Concerto No 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G major, BWV 1049
Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major, BWV 1050
Concerto in A minor, BWV 1044
Concerto in F major, BWV 1057
Johann Sebastian Bach belonged to a dynasty of musicians. In following inevitable family tradition, he excelled his forebears and contemporaries, although he did not always receive in his own lifetime the respect he deserved. He spent his earlier career principally as an organist, latterly at the court of one of the two ruling Grand Dukes of Weimar. In 1717 he moved to Cöthen as Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold and in 1723 made his final move to Leipzig, where he was employed as Cantor at the Choir School of St Thomas, with responsibility for music in the five principal city churches. In Leipzig he also eventually took charge of the University Collegium musicum and occupied himself with the collection and publication of many of his earlier compositions. Despite widespread neglect for almost a century after his death, Bach is now regarded as one of the greatest of all composers. Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis numbers, abbreviated to BWV, are generally accepted for convenience of reference.
On 20 April 1849 Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn, at the time custodian of the music collection in the royal library in Berlin, reported a remarkable discovery. “While compiling my catalogue of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach existing in Berlin I have come across many works of the greatest significance which up till now have remained unknown (unknown even to his sons Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann as well as to Forkel, who is always so exact), among them six concerti grossi dedicated to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg.” Since Philipp Spitta’s monumental Bach biography the name Brandenburg Concertos has established itself for these concertos, which were thus awoken, like the Sleeping Beauty, from over a century of slumber, and under this name they are today among the most well-known works of the composer, in fact of the musical literature of the whole world. In the Brandenburg Concertos Bach enriched the concerto genre in many significant aspects and ran the gamut of possibilities the genre presents. It is not easy to find a comparable cycle of works of this era which manages to combine bold experiment with solid craftsmanship and musical richness with conceptual consistency in such perfection.
The first Brandenburg Concerto in F major BWV 1046 contrasts three groups of instruments (horns, oboes, strings) with one another, fusing together in the first movement into a complex texture of motivic layers and in the third movement providing a subtle accompaniment to the virtuoso solo passages of the violino piccolo. The sostenuto second movement uses only the oboe and the string groups, the upper voices of which spin out wide sweeps of filigree melody. The third movement is followed by a colourful series of dance movements divided up by the rondo-style repeats of the minuet.
The second Brandenburg Concerto in F major BWV 1047 presents an intricate solo quartet consisting of trumpet, recorder, oboe and violin, to which the tutti strings take second place as far as independence of texture and thematic significance are concerned. The observation that the orchestra merely takes on the function of a basso continuo accompaniment has led to the supposition that the work was originally conceived as a chamber concerto for four soloists. The particular feature of this concerto lies in the way the four instruments, which are so different in sound quality, are given exactly the same melodic treatment.
The third Brandenburg Concerto in G major BWV 1048 is scored for three groups, each consisting of three members of the violin family (three violins, three violas and three cellos). Here Bach ingeniously makes use of the various possibilities of combination: in one place the musical texture is shared between high, middle and low registers, in another place between three string trios, and occasionally individual representatives of each group come into prominence as soloists, A formal peculiarity of this work is the fact that the middle movement is missing; the two fast movements, which differ from each other significantly in their mood and texture, are connected with each other merely by means of a short transitional cadence.
Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G major BWV 1049 is scored for a concertino consisting of a violin and two recorders. The consequence of this for Bach was that the violin could be used not only as a virtuoso solo instrument above the accompaniment of the tutti strings, but also as a continuo instrument for the two recorders. Particularly in the first two movements of this concerto the playful changing-around of formal and thematic hierarchies of the concerto form can be detected. In the last movement Bach concentrates his forces in order to achieve a bold compositional tour de force—the seamless amalgamation of fugue and concerto form. The ritornellos of this movement thus become fugal expositions, the solos become episodes with thematic connections. Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major BWV 1050 may well be the first piano concerto in musical history. The virtuoso soloist is here supported by a small concertino consisting of flute and violin which displays an astonishing autonomy from the motivic-thematic point of view. The imposing harpsichord cadenza which almost bursts the boundaries of the movement was added by Bach while he was preparing the definitive score for the dedicatee—presumably in order to remind the Margrave of his own skill as a virtuoso. After the slow movement, an intensively worked-out quartet setting, the work concludes with a cheerful Gigue, which, like the finale of the fourth concerto, is in fugal form—although in a looser formal structure.
Finally, the sixth Concerto in B flat major BWV 1051, scored for the unusual instrumentation of two violas, two viole da gamba and cello obbligato, represents a daring mixture of elements from the era before and after Vivaldi. Whereas the two gambas take over the function of an accompaniment to a great extent and only participate in the thematic process with short interpolations, the two violas fulfil an extraordinarily virtuoso function which far exceeds that which was usually demanded from this instrument at this time.
The Concerto in F major BWV 1057 for harpsichord and two recorders represents Bach’s own transcription of his Brandenburg Concerto No 4. In this transcription, which was written around 1738/39, at the same time as the other harpsichord concertos, Bach left the string passages for the most part unchanged and also retained the two recorders which characterize the sound quality of the original version. In contrast he transcribed the virtuoso part of the solo violin for the harpsichord, and in doing so took particular care to re-write the idiomatic violin figurations to make them suitable for the new instrument. In his transcription Bach retained the finely graded interrelations between the various instruments (not only within the trio of soloists but also between concertino and ripieno), extending the trio sections to a four-part texture by means of a newly composed additional part. The Concerto for flute, violin and harpsichord in A minor BWV 1044, the so-called Triple Concerto, occupies a special position within Bach’s concerto oeuvre. As far as its instrumentation is concerned the Brandenburg Concerto No 5 can be regarded as a companion work, but the history of its composition, its gloomy and elegiac character and its extraordinary intensity make it unique; it can be regarded as Bach’s most unusual contribution to the concerto genre as a whole. By reason of its mature style it is probable that the work was composed in the 1740s. As is the case with the other concertos with harpsichord obbligato, the Triple Concerto is based on works of which some were written quite a long time before; unlike the F major Concerto, however, this is not the transcription of a violin or wind concerto from the Cöthen period, but the radical re-writing of pieces for solo harpsichord or organ. The outer movements of the work are based on a Prelude and Fugue (BWV 894) written not later than 1714, whereas the middle movement is an arrangement of the second movement of the Trio Sonata for organ, BWV 527. Unlike the other concerto transcriptions, in which only the relevant solo parts had to be adapted to the new medium, the material of the prelude and fugue was here adapted for the solo sections of the harpsichord, to which Bach then composed new additional parts for the two other solo instruments as well as all the orchestral parts. He ingeniously extended the original trio structure of the charming middle movement to a quartet which—with an exchange of parts in the repeats—is performed by the soloists alone. With this concerto Bach succeeded in creating a coherent whole, the ingeniousness and remarkable originality of which convincingly refute the various doubts expressed about its authenticity.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Overture (Suite) No 1 in C major, BWV 1066
Overture (Suite) No 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
Overture (Suite) No 3 in D major, BWV 1068
Overture (Suite) No 4 in D major, BWV 1069
From the middle of the seventeenth century onwards students associations formed to make music became increasingly important pillars of society in the musical life of Leipzig. So when in March 1729 the Cantor of St Thomas’s, Johann Sebastian Bach, took over from Georg Balthasar Schott (who had been appointed organist at the New Church in Gotha) the direction of an ensemble originally founded by Georg Philipp Telemann, he also made sure of the co-operation of the most gifted young men of the town for his performances of sacred and secular music; he was to direct the orchestra—with one short interruption—until around 1742. By means of these regular appearances, which took place in the warm season in Zimmermann’s Coffee Garden and in winter in Zimmermann’s Coffee House in Katharinenstraße, Bach was able to a certain extent to continue his Cöthen activities as conductor. For this reason instrumental and secular vocal works also play a particular role in his composing and performing activities in the 1730s. Although none of the programmes of the weekly appearances of “Bach’s Collegium Musicum” are known, at least part of the repertoire can be deduced from the music which has survived from Bach’s music library. This apparently also included the four Orchestral Overtures BWV 1066–1069, although the history of two of them (BWV 1066 and 1069) has not yet been researched in detail.
The Overture in C major, BWV 1066 was perhaps written as early as Bach’s Cöthen period. The performance material which has survived, however, dates from the beginning of Bach’s Leipzig period, which leads us to presume that the Cantor of St Thomas’s had already taken up contact with the student music associations at this time. The extensive ternary first movement is followed by several melodiously gallant dance movements, in which the sound potential of an orchestration containing only woodwind and strings is exploited to the full. A typical characteristic of this work is the emphasis on the upper part by means of parallel part-writing for the first violins and the two oboes. Differentiations in tone-colour are brought about by a trio group of two oboes and a bassoon separating itself regularly from the full body of the orchestra.
In contrast to these relatively early compositions, the Overture in B minor BWV 1067 is one of the works dating from Bach’s late Leipzig period. Presumably it is, in fact, Bach’s last orchestral work; the sources which have been preserved document performances around 1739 and in the middle of the 1740s. The Overture integrates the principles of the concerto form into nearly all the movements, by contrasting a flute treated as a solo instrument with an accompanying string group. This special form of concertante overture, which seems to go back to Telemann, was taken up at the time by numerous German composers, among them the Eisenach court musician Johann Bernhard Bach, by whom an overture with concertante violin has been preserved. This work in its turn, preserved in the form of a copy originating from Bach’s Collegium Musicum circle in Leipzig, seemed to have been the direct inspiration for BWV 1067. The B minor Overture is a work of austere beauty, in which contrapuntal ingenuity and melancholy expression join together with precisely defined dance rhythms in an extremely individual combination. Bach made use here of the whole rich palette of compositional potential which he had acquired in the course of his life; the pluralism of style and form and the increased expressiveness and the permeation of the texture with rationalism are already evocative of the later works of his last years.
The Overture in D major BWV 1068 has been preserved in a set of parts dating from around 1731; additional parts added later prove that Bach’s second-eldest son Carl Philipp Emanuel borrowed this work of his father’s during his years of study in Frankfurt an der Oder (1734–1738) in order to perform it with his fellow students in the Collegium Musicum there. It is one of Bach’s most impressive and magnificent orchestral works. The character of the work is determined to a great extent by the sweeping first movement with its wealth of harmonic nuances; between the dotted rhythms of the grave sections which frame it a very fast fugato Allegro section unfolds, which in places displays concertante features. No less fascinating is the famous Air which follows; above the constant pendulum movement of the bass the first violins soar up in one of the most mysterious and tender melodies the composer ever wrote, gently counterpointed by the restrained counter-melodies of second violin and viola. After this point of rest the work finds its way back to its basic festive mood in three lively dance movements.
The Overture in D major BWV 1069 displays a festive character similar to that of its companion work BWV 1068 in the same key. The piece presumably acquired its present form and scoring in the 1730s. However, it is recognizable that the trumpet and timpani parts represent a later ingredient and that the work seems originally to have been conceived in a version similar to the C major overture. At the end of 1725 Bach rearranged the overture into the opening chorus of his Christmas cantata Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110, partly by adding new vocal parts to the fugato middle section, partly by taking them over from the orchestral parts; on this occasion he also enriched the orchestration with trumpets and timpani, which he subsequently added also to three of the four following dance movements.
George Frederic Handel (1685–1759)
Suite No 1 in F major, BWV 348
Suite No 2 in D major, BWV 349
Suite No 3 in G major, BWV 350
Music for the Royal Fireworks, BWV 351
George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685, the son of an elderly and distinguished barber-surgeon by his second wife, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. He showed an early interest in music, an activity not altogether encouraged by his father, whose patron, the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, intervened in the boy’s favour. His father died in 1697 but Handel’s general and musical education continued, allowing him, five years later, to matriculate at the University of Halle, and to accept, a month afterwards, the position of organist at the Calvinist cathedral. The following year he abandoned his studies and his native town in order to embark on a career as a musician. Handel’s first employment was in the city of Hamburg. There he worked at the opera, at first as a rank-and-file second violinist and then as harpsichordist and composer, establishing his first connection with England by giving lessons to the son of the English Resident. In Hamburg he was associated with Johann Mattheson, a musician his senior by four years, who was, rightly or wrongly, to claim a share in Handel’s education as a composer. From Hamburg Handel travelled in 1706 to Italy, at the invitation of Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici, heir to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. He was to remain there until 1710, spending time in Florence, in Venice, and in Rome, absorbing more fully the Italian style that he had already attempted in opera in Hamburg, and impressing audiences with his ability as an organist and harpsichord-player. It was through his acquaintance with Baron Kielmansegge, Master of Horse to the Elector of Hanover, whom he met in Venice, and perhaps through an earlier meeting with the Elector’s brother, Prince Ernst August, that Handel found himself offered the position of Kapellmeister in Hanover, an appointment followed, according to prior agreement, by immediate leave of absence for twelve months.
In moving north Handel seems to have had London in mind as a possibly rich field for musical speculation. England was under the rule of Queen Anne, the second of the daughters of the exiled Catholic King James II . The last of the Stuarts was to be succeeded after her death in 1714 by the Elector of Hanover, who ascended the English throne as King George I. On his first visit to London Handel had remained for eight months, seeing to the mounting early in 1711 of his new Italian opera Rinaldo, with a libretto based on an outline sketch by Aaron Hill. He then returned to Hanover, but after fifteen months he was back once more in London, with leave from the Elector to stay for a reasonable length of time. Handel in the event settled in England for the rest of his life, whether with or without the approval of his patron is not clear. He was, however, to enjoy royal patronage after the accession of George I. In London Handel was concerned to a considerable extent with the Italian opera, a risky venture that was to undergo various changes of fortune during the following decades. Later in his career he was to turn to English oratorio, a form that, in his hands, had all the musical advantages of Italian opera without the disadvantage of a foreign language, lavish production costs or liability to native criticism on the grounds of improbability or incomprehensibility. Handel wrote music for other occasions, for the church and for the pleasure gardens, and enjoyed immense popularity and esteem, his pre-eminence serving to eclipse lesser talents. He died in 1759.
The Water Music and the Music for the Royal Fireworks mark two chronological extremes of Handel’s career in London. The first was written in his earlier years in England, presumably by 1717, to entertain a royal party sailing up the Thames, while the second was commissioned to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1749. Both occasions called for outdoor music, a form in which Handel was to demonstrate particular skill during the years that he provided music for the gardens at Vauxhall. Popular legend has it that he had offended the Elector of Hanover by his prolonged absence without leave in London and that a reconciliation was brought about through the Water Music, composed to accompany the new King’s journey by barge from Whitehall to Chelsea, to entertain the court during supper and to escort the royal party back again down the Thames. The story, given early currency, is now generally discounted, since no overt reconciliation with King George seems to have been necessary. It is clear, however, from a number of contemporary accounts, that Baron Kielmansegge, whose wife, known as The Elephant, was the King’s half-sister, paid for a band of fifty musicians to play music newly commissioned from Handel to entertain the King during an evening party on the Thames on 17 July 1717. Precisely how much of the music performed was by Handel and how much of it is now preserved in the three suites known as the Water Music is not clear. It is reasonable to suppose that the collection represents much of the music played in 1717, although the order of performance is unknown. Of the three suites arranged by later editors the first has been described as a horn suite, because of the prominence of those instruments, while the second is distinguished by its use of the trumpets, with the third generally suggesting the indoor music to accompany the royal supper.
The Thames water-party of 1717 was successful enough. The Royal Fireworks of 1749, however, may have achieved musical distinction but were a pyrotechnic disaster. The fireworks display was planned for an April evening in 1749 in Green Park, to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle that had ended the War of the Austrian Succession in the previous year, confirming the Empress Maria Theresia on the throne of Austria. Handel, although at first reluctant, was able to offer a public rehearsal of his Royal Fireworks Music at Vauxhall Gardens, a commercial venture in which he had been involved since 1732. A hundred musicians were involved, playing to an audience of more than twelve thousand. A week later the music was performed in Green Park, a prelude to the event and a possible accompaniment to the King’s prior inspection of the elaborate ‘machine’ that was the centre-piece of the display. The fireworks themselves were disappointing and during the evening the pavilion to the right of the main structure caught fire.
The Royal Fireworks Music had already succeeded admirably at Vauxhall. Handel was to add string parts to the original score, which had, by royal command, been limited to a massive band of wind instruments, and to present the work as part of a charity programme given towards the end of May in aid of Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, which was to benefit even more considerably from the oratorio Messiah. The five sections of the work open with an overture in the usual French style, followed by a Bourrée and two pieces suggesting the Peace and the consequent Rejoicing. The suite ends with two minuets.
George Frederic Handel (1685–1759)
Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op 3 No 2
Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op 6 No 7
Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op 6 No 12
Organ Concerto in F, No 13 ‘The Cuckoo & The Nightingale’
Organ Concerto in F major, Op 4 No 4
The date of composition of the Concerti Grossi, Opus 3, is not known. The concertos draw on Italian, French and German styles of the period, although, as a set, they lack the planned consistency of the later Concerti Grossi, Opus 6. Nevertheless there is considerable originality in the varied collection, which was published in London in 1734 by John Walsh. The concertos were said by Sir John Hawkins to have been performed for the wedding celebrations of the Princess Royal and the Prince of Orange in March 1734. It has also been suggested that they represented Handel’s contribution to the court music of Hanover in 1711, but this remains pure conjecture.
The first of the set, in B flat major, provides some justification for the popular English description of these works as oboe concertos. The concerto uses two oboes and a solo violin, providing, with the continuo, the concertino or small solo group, contrasted with the ripieno main body of the orchestra, which provides the recurrent ritornello that serves to frame the solo sections. The G minor slow movement uses a solo group of two flutes, oboe and violin, with French double-dotting, a feature that Corelli, in Rome, had found foreign in Handel’s style. In fact, like Bach and other German composers of the time, Handel offers a synthesis of Italian, French and German styles, with an operatic leaning towards the first of these. The last movement, in G minor, makes significant use of a pair of solo bassoons, but the choice of key suggests a certain element of chance in the assembling of the composition for publication.
The set of twelve Concerti Grossi that form Opus 6, published in London by John Walsh in 1740, use, as Corelli and many of his successors had done, a small solo group of two violins and cello in contrast with the rest of the string orchestra. An earlier set of similar works, published in 1734 and using wind instruments in addition to strings and basso continuo, had been derived from a variety of earlier sources. The Opus 6 concerti were all written with a direct view to their publication and were composed consecutively between 29 September and 20 October 1739.
The Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op 6, No 7, is introduced by a short Largo, leading to a fugal Allegro. A G minor Largo is followed by an Andante in which the original key is restored, the whole concerto capped by an essentially English dance, a Hornpipe.
Opus 6 No 8, in C minor, opens with an Allemande, the French court dance that had become an established introduction to the Baroque instrumental dance suite. A very short slow movement leads to music that has a lively enough opening figure, over a steadily walking rhythm in the bass. There is a further slow interlude that leads to a Siciliana, a dance derived remotely from the shepherd dances of Sicily, its pastoral origin suggesting an association with Christmas that Corelli and his contemporaries had exploited. To this Handel adds a brief and cheerful postscript.
The Concerto in F, generally known as ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’, was published in 1740. It was first performed with the oratorio Israel in Egypt in 1739, and may seem singularly inappropriate as an accompaniment to such a weighty subject. The concerto opens with the usual slow introduction, followed by a movement in which the cuckoo is all too apparent, the nightingale entering later in the proceedings. There is a pastoral third movement, introduced by an organ improvisation, and followed by a vigorous final Allegro.
Though the low opus number would indicate an early work, the group of six organ concertos came from quite late in Handel’s life, between 1735 and 1736. Though there are examples of works for orchestra with an organ involvement that predate these works, they represent the first formal organ concertos. They were invented by Handel to show his virtuosity and to fill in the intervals between the parts of his oratorios, and to draw attention to the composer. He wanted to make sure that they had maximum exposure and would be played by as many as possible, so called them concertos for organ or harpsichord. For his own performances it is known that he used a very small chamber organ with few stops. Apart from the sixth concerto, which is in three movements, they are in the conventional four movements, the finale usually being fast and joyful. Slow movements are short, and there is a general feeling that they would have acted as something of a divertimento to the serious nature of the oratorio.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
The Four Seasons
Violin Concerto in E major,
Op 8, No 1, RV 269, ‘La primavera’ (Spring)
Violin Concerto in G minor,
Op 8, No 2, RV 315, ‘L’estate ’ (Sumer)
Violin Concerto in F major,
Op 8, No 3, RV 293, ‘L’autuno’ (Autumn)
Violin Concerto in F minor,
Op 8, No 4, RV 297, ‘L’inverno’ (Winter)
Violin Concerto in E flat major,
RV 253 ‘La tempesta di mare’
Violin Concerto in C major,
RV 180 ‘Il piacere’
Violin Concerto in B flat major,
RV 362 ‘La cacia’
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678, the grandson of a baker and son of a man who combined the trades of musician and barber. He was to spend the greater part of his life in his native city, where, from the colour of his hair rather than any political inclination, he was known as “il prete rosso”, the red priest. He had been ordained in 1703, when he was appointed violin-master at the Ospedale della Pieta. He was able to combine his duties with those of impresario and composer at the theatre of S. Angelo from 1714, and left the Pieta in 1718 to serve briefly as maestro da camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt. By 1723 he was back again at the Pieta with a commission to compose and direct the performance of two concertos a month. Meanwhile his reputation had spread widely abroad both as a virtuoso performer on the violin and as a composer. In 1730 he visited Bohemia and in 1738 led an orchestra in Amsterdam for the centenary of the Schouwberg Theatre. In Italy his operas had been performed in Verona and in Ferrara, as well as in Venice, where they had continued success. In 1740 the records of the Pieta show Vivaldi’s impending departure, and the sale to the institution of 20 concertos. We next hear of him in Vienna, where there is a record of the sale of more compositions to Count Antonio Vinciguerra on 28 June 1741. A month later he was dead, to be given, like Mozart 50 years later, a poor man’s funeral. At the height of his fame he had earned large sums of money, and one must suspect that his later poverty was due not to simple extravagance but to the changes of fashion and to his involvement in the expensive and risky business of opera.
Vivaldi was prolific, composing vast quantities of instrumental and vocal music and nearly 50 operas. Of the 500 concertos he wrote the most popular in his life-time as today were the four known as Le Quattro Stagioni—The Four Seasons, works that had circulated widely in manuscript before being published in Amsterdam in 1725 when explanatory poems were added to clarify the programme of each concerto. The set was dedicated to Count Wenzel von Morzin, a cousin of Haydn’s first patron. The title page describes Vivaldi himself as the Count’s “maestro in Italia’, as “Maestro de’ Concerti” of the Pieta, as well as “Maestro di Capella di Camera” of Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt.
The first concerto, Spring, opens with the cheerful song of the birds that welcomes the season, followed by the gentle murmur of streams fanned by the breeze: there is thunder and lightning, and then the birds resume their song, represented by the solo violin assisted by two other solo violins. The second movement shows the goat-herd asleep, while the viola serves as a watch-dog, barking regularly in each bar against the murmur of the foliage. A pastoral dance brings more activity, to the sound of the bagpipe, interrupted by a section for the solo violin that seems to breathe the sultry heat of coming summer.
Summer itself is a time of languor—“langue l’uomo, langue ‘l gregge ed arde il Pino”, as the introductory sonnet puts it. The music grows more energetic as the cuckoo sings, then the turtle-dove and the goldfinch. The wind rises and the shepherds are anxious, with some musical justification. In the slow movement their rest is disturbed by thunder and lightning and there are troublesome flies, and in the final movement the fears of thunder are realised as a storm batters the crops.
Autumn opens with the dance and song of the country-people, in work that has much of the artifice of the traditional pastoral convention. This is a celebration of the harvest, with an excess of wine bringing sleep at the end, to pervade the second movement. The third movement brings the hunt at dawn, with the huntsman’s horn, the sound of dogs and guns. An animal takes flight and is pursued and dies in the fatigue of the chase.
The last of the seasons, Winter, brings cold winds, the stamping of feet and chattering teeth. The slow movement shelters by the warmth of the fireside, while the rain falls outside, and the last movement of this eventful history shows people walking carefully on ice, slipping and falling and running in case the ice breaks. The winds are at war, but there is sport to be had.
The remaining concertos of Opus 8 have a less precise programmatic content, or none at all Concerto No 5, La tempesta di mare, is one of four such, while Concerto No 6, Il piacere, has a title descriptive only of its general mood Concerto No 10 makes use of a common subject of musical imitation, the hunt, and the last of the set also exists as an oboe concerto.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 3, No 6, RV 356
Guitar Concerto in D Major
Flute Concerto in D major,
Op 10, No 3, RV 428 ‘Il gardelino’
Concerto in C major for Flautino,
Strings & Baso Continuo, RV 443
Oboe Concerto in D minor, RV 454
Cello Concerto in D minor, RV 406
Bason Concerto in B flat major, RV 502
Vivaldi’s concertos follow a general structural pattern. A first movement Allegro, in which a ritornello punctuates the entries of the solo instrument, is followed by a slow movement, an aria for the solo instrument, sometimes accompanied only by basso continuo and sometimes with the fuller participation of the string orchestra. The last movement, again an Allegro, can be in duple or triple metre and there may be some variety in the form that the ritornello takes.
The Violin Concerto in A minor comes from the Opus 3 collection ‘L’Estro Armonico’. The set of twelve concertos was published in 1711 and helped to establish Vivaldi’s reputation as a composer. The Lute Concerto in D major, RV 93, here played on the guitar, belongs to a group of concertos written for various combinations of instruments and makes use of a lute and two violins, with basso continuo. The autograph carries a dedication apparently to Count Johann Joseph von Wrtby, an imperial official of some importance in Prague. From this and from the paper on which the autograph is written, it has been suggested that the work was written during Vivaldi’s visit to Bohemia in 1730. Vivaldi wrote some fifteen concertos for flauto traverso, the transverse flute. Concerto in D major, Il gardellino (The Goldfinch) RV 428, was published by Le Cène in Amsterdam in 1729, forming part of the set of six concertos that make up Opus 10. The descriptive elements of the music are by no means as detailed or programmatic as the famous Four Seasons. Nevertheless the goldfinch exerts its lungs to as good effect as the birds of spring in the The Four Seasons.
Vivaldi wrote some twenty concertos for oboe and strings, in addition to a further three for two oboes and a score or so more concertos making use of the oboe with other solo instruments. His first published concertos for the instrument appear in the two books published in Amsterdam in 1716 and 1717, each set including one concerto for solo oboe and five for solo violin. The Concerto in D minor, RV 454, is an alternative version of the ninth concerto of the set of twelve violin concertos published in 1725 as Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (The Contest between Harmony and Invention), the collection that includes The Four Seasons. The first movement opens with a syncopated figure for oboe and violins. The slow movement aria leads to a final Allegro with an emphatic opening figure, from which the conclusion of the movement is derived.
Vivaldi left 27 concertos for cello, string orchestra and basso continuo. There is an emphatic opening and equally emphatic first solo entry in the Concerto in D minor, RV 406, with an Andante in which the cello emerges in G minor, with triplet figuration and a final Minuet to that is broadly tripartite in structure, preserving something of the form of the title. Vivaldi left 37 concertos for bassoon. Ten are in minor keys, and fourteen of the bassoon concertos are in C major, the key in which the bassoon is constructed. The Concerto in B flat major, RV 502, inscribed to Gioseppino Biancardi, avoids the bottom B flat, available on newer forms of bassoon and perhaps to be expected in a work in that key, but absent on earlier forms of the instrument. The first solo entry of the opening Allegro makes much use of wide leaps, offering a marked contrast of register, going on to passages that include rapid triplet rhythms. The slow movement offers a finely lyrical aria, a further demonstration of Vivaldi’s capacity for variety within a relatively limited form. The concerto ends with a vigorous Allegro, its solo episodes offering contrasts of key, rhythm and figuration.
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767)
Viola Concerto in G Major
Recorder Suite in A Minor
Concerto in F major for thre violins (from Musique de table)
Concerto for two horns and strings (from Musique de table)
Georg Philipp Telemann was among the most distinguished composers of his time, a rival to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach in reputation, and the certain preference of the Leipzig authorities for the position of Kantor at the school of St, Thomas, where Bach was eventually appointed in 1723. Telemann had, in 1721, taken the position of Kantor of the Johanneum in Hamburg, with musical responsibility for the five principal churches of the city. His negotiations with Leipzig a year later proved the means to secure better conditions in Hamburg, where he remained until his death in 1767. He was succeeded by his godson, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, son of Johann Sebastian.
As a composer Telemann was prolific, providing an enormous body of work, both sacred and secular. This included 1043 church cantatas and settings of the Passion for each year that he was in Hamburg, 46 in all. In Leipzig he had written operas, and he continued to involve himself in public performances in Hamburg, arousing some opposition from the city council, his employers. Once he had strengthened his position he took additional responsibility as musical director of the Hamburg opera, while he was active in publishing and selling much of the music that he wrote.
The G major Viola Concerto is a good example of the attractions of Telemann’s style as a composer, its four short movements suggesting the beginnings of the style galant that was to prevail over the contrapuntal complexities of the late Baroque. The Concerto for three violins and the Concerto for two horns form part of the Musique de table, published in Hamburg in 1733, while the A minor Recorder Suite is an equally fluent example of the refreshing lightness of touch that Telemann brought to the music of the period, a reflection, often enough, of his wider educational background and cultural interests more typical among musicians of a later age.
Italian Concerti Grosi
Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1700–1775)
Sinfonia in A major
Tomaso Albinoni (1671–1751)
Sonata a cinque in G minor, Op 2, No 6
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
Concerto in A minor Op 3, No 8, RV 522
Pietro Locatelli (1695–1764)
Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op 1, No 12
Francesco Manfredini (1684–1762)
Sinfonia No 10 in C minor
Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713)
Concerto Grosso in D major, Op 6, No 4
Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762)
Concerto Grosso in C minor, Op 2, No 2
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725)
Concerto Grosso No 3 in F major
By the early eighteenth century Italy had become still more firmly established as the source of much European musical activity. Italian opera held a dominant position in the musical theatre, while Italian instrumental music and its performers were heard from Lisbon to London, St. Petersburg and Vienna. The Italian instrumental style found its most influential expression in the work of the violinist Arcangelo Corelli. Born in Fusignano in 1653, he studied in Bologna, before establishing himself in Rome in the 1670s, entering the service of Queen Christina of Sweden towards the end of the decade, and later benefiting from the patronage of Cardinal Pamphili, with regular performances at the latter’s Palazzo al Corso. His principal patron for the last twenty years of his life was the young Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, nephew of Pope Alexander VI . Corelli’s influence was very considerable in a number of ways. He was greatly respected as a teacher of the violin, while his compositions, played by musicians disciplined under his direction, served as models for a coming generation. His published works include 48 trio sonatas, a dozen violin sonatas and, issued posthumously in 1714 in Amsterdam, a set of twelve concerti grossi, Opus 6. The fourth of these, the Concerto grosso in D major, is characteristic in form and content. A brief slow introduction, a call to the listener’s attention, is followed by a lively Allegro, in which the two solo violins and solo cello of the concertino group are contrasted with the rest of the string orchestra, the ripieno players. There is a moving Adagio, a short fast movement and a final movement in the rhythm of a gigue, ending with a rapid and emphatic concluding section.
Alessandro Scarlatti, father of the prolific composer of keyboard sonatas, Domenico, and member of a family of musicians ubiquitous in Naples, was born in Palermo in 1660 and had his musical training in Rome, where he enjoyed the patronage of Queen Christina of Sweden. In 1684 he was appointed maestro di cappella to the Spanish Viceroy of Naples. There, for the next twenty years, he busied himself in the composition and performance of operas that enjoyed currency elsewhere in Italy and as far north as Brunswick and Leipzig. In 1702 he moved to Florence in hope of an appointment at the court of Prince Ferdinando de’Medici and then to Rome. He returned to Naples in 1708 at the invitation of a new Viceroy and it seems to have been in his later years, during which he maintained also his connection with Rome, that he turned his attention to purely instrumental music, after his long involvement with opera, serenatas, cantatas and church music. His Concerti grossi are relatively conservative in style, offering music that is attractive enough, but lacking the innovative spirit of his operas and their overtures, seminal examples of the Italian three-movement symphony.
Venice by the early eighteenth century lacked political power, but continued as a centre for foreign visitors, attracted by the beauty of the place and its delights and novelties, not least the music offered by the four charitable institutions for orphan, illegitimate or indigent girls. At one of these establishments, the Ospedale della Pietà, the red-haired priest Antonio Vivaldi was employed intermittently from the year of his ordination in 1703 until his departure in 1741 for Vienna, where he died shortly after his arrival. Vivaldi, also active as a composer of opera, was himself a violinist of great distinction, providing the Pietà with a vast quantity of concertos for various instruments, many of which enjoyed wide popularity abroad. A set of twelve concertos for strings and continuo, with varied numbers of solo violins, was published in 1711 with a dedication to Prince Ferdinando of Tuscany and under the title L’estro armonico, numbered Opus 3. The second concerto of the set, with a solo group of two violins and cello, the Concerto in A minor, in the newly established three-movement form, was later transcribed for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is a lively and spirited work, its course interrupted by an expressive slow movement.
Prince Ferdinando did not outlive his father and barely outlived Corelli, dying in 1713. The Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni also benefited from his patronage, although initially himself of independent means, the son of a well-to-do paper-merchant. He dedicated his first set of sinfonie and concerti, published in 1700, to another patron, the Gonzaga Duke of Mantua. These relatively early works continue the tradition of Corelli, with four movements, slow - fast - slow - fast.
Manfredini, Locatelli, Geminiani and Sammartini belong to another generation. Francesco Manfredini, born in Pistoia in 1684, like Corelli studied music in Bologna, in the musical establishment attached to the great Basilica of San Petronio, where he worked intermittently, with a period seemingly in the service of the ruler of Monaco. He spent the last 35 years of his life in his native city as maestro di cappella at the cathedral. His instrumental works belong to the period before his return to Pistoia, written and published in Bologna in the first twenty years of the century. The Sinfonia in C minor follows the established pattern of the church sonata, an introductory slow movement followed by a contrapuntal faster movement. A second slow movement precedes a final rapid contrapuntal movement in compound metre.
Pietro Antonio Locatelli was born in Bergamo in 1695 and may perhaps have studied very briefly with Corelli in Rome in 1712. He enjoyed the early patronage of Cardinal Ottoboni and later of a patron of Vivaldi, the Habsburg Governor of Mantua, under whom he held the title of virtuoso da camera. In 1729 he settled in Amsterdam, restricting his own career as a virtuoso performer and directing his attention largely to gifted amateurs. His first collection of concerti grossi was published in Amsterdam in 1721 and revised eight years later, when he made his home in that city. Like Geminiani, he includes a viola in the concerti no group, with two violins and cello, while adopting the order of Corelli’s concerti grossi, eight church concerti being followed by four chamber concerti, sets of dance movements. The Concerto grosso in G minor, Opus 1, No 12, includes the customary German dance, the Allemanda and a Sarabande, and ends, less usually, with a Gavotte.
The violinist and composer Francesco Geminiani, born in Lucca in 1687, was a pupil of Corelli and of Alessandro Scarlatti in Rome, but moved in 1714 to London, where he initially enjoyed the patronage of Baron Kielmansegge, who, as chamberlain to the King, had been instrumental in Handel’s appointment in Hanover and his further acceptance by the new court in London. Geminiani had very considerable success in England and in Ireland both as a composer and as a performer. His treatises on various aspects of performance had wide circulation in his own time and have proved a valuable source of information for later scholars and players. He died in Dublin in 1762. The six concerti grossi that constitute Geminiani’s Opus 2 were published in London in 1732 and follow Corelli in form and style.
The work of Giovanni Battista Sammartini leads forward to a new kind of instrumental music, the symphony, which had much of its development in Vienna and South Germany. Sammartini himself was probably born in Milan, the son of an emigrant French oboist, and spent his life in the city, where he enjoyed a reputation that in Italy was largely local, but abroad was very considerable. Some have suggested a strong influence on Haydn, who denied any such thing, although an uncontested case is made for Sammartini’s influence on his pupil Gluck. His earlier symphonies, scored for strings and affected by the example of Vivaldi, are nevertheless pointing forward to a future age of classicism, a trait apparent in the Sinfonia in A major.
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