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ClassicsOnline Home » BAROQUE TRUMPET (THE ART OF THE), Vol. 3
The Art of the Baroque Trumpet, Vol. 3 Music for Soprano and Trumpet Handel • Caldara • Fux • Predieri • Stradella • Scarlatti
During the late Baroque period it became fairly common for a vocal part to be accompanied by an instrument, in order to heighten the expressiveness of the text. These additional instrumental parts were described as obbligato, or necessary. During the 1670s this had become common practice in operas, especially in Venice, but it gradually became less frequent and by about 1710 had almost ceased to exist in Italy. This was certainly owing to the fact that now the singer was to be the centre of attention, without competition from any instrumentalists. The singer was to have full scope for his virtuosity and power of expression and the orchestra was to serve merely as a background. The trumpet, as an obbligato instrument, where such parts were employed, was mainly used to symbolize war, combat, revenge or Fama, the goddess of rumour. This association of ideas could be extended to fights for love and, strangely enough, also to feelings of grief and pain, as, for example, those experienced over unrequited love.
Born in Halle in 1685, George Frideric Handel showed early promise, studying there with Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow. In 1702 he embarked on a musical career, with employment at the Hamburg opera-house, moving in 1706, to Italy, where the leading composers of the day made a great impression on him. In 1710 he was engaged as Kapellmeister at the court of Hanover, but in the same year was given permission to visit London, where, after a second visit in 1712, he took up permanent residence. Here his first engagement had been for the provision of Italian opera and at first his work for the opera-house was very successful, but when public interest began to decline in the 1730s, he turned also to the composition of English oratorio. His Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, described as a Serenata, was written for the Queen's birthday on 16th February 1714 and was his first selling of an English text. This commission shows even at this stage the extent of Handel's renown in England. The aria Eternal source of light divine, which introduces the cantata, was originally written for a countertenor but it was not uncommon to adapt an aria to suit a different singer, with transpositions and other changes.
In some of his earlier operas Handel had used obbligato trumpet parts, and the same holds true for his oratorios in the 1740s. The oratorio Samson was, apart from the recitatives, composed in October 1741, to be completed only after the composition of Messiah. A year later Handel made changes in his score, to accommodate a larger group of singers, adding the aria Let the bright Seraphim, which, placed immediately before the final chorus, became the high point of the oratorio. The trumpet part was written for Valentine Snow, the foremost English trumpeter of his time, who had been a member of Handel's orchestra since the 1730s. The well-known music historian Charles Burney praised Snow for his silver sounds.
Rinaldo was Handel's s first opera for an English audience. Almira, betrothed to Radamisto, sings the aria Lascia ch'io pianga (‘Let me weep’), when suffering the unwelcome attentions of the Saracen king, Argante. It has always been considered one of Handel's finest arias.
Although the use of obbligato instruments disappeared in Italy about 1710, Italian composers active in Vienna continued the older practice. Special gala performances of operas were given for the birthdays and name-days of the Emperor Charles VI and the Empress Elisabeth and during the Emperor's reign, which lasted from 1711 to 1740, there was in Vienna a large and brilliant Court Orchestra, with many eminent musicians, especially in the trumpet section. The Italian composer Antonio Caldara was born in Venice in 1670 and was probably a pupil there of Giovanni Legrenzi. He began his career in 1689, composing operas, oratorios, sacred music and some purely instrumental music. Between the years 1700 and 1707 he was Kapellmeister in Mantua, but very little remains of his compositions from that period. From 1708 to 1716 he was in the service of Prince Ruspoli, who was, together with Cardinal Ottoboni, the foremost patron of music in Rome. In 1716 Charles VI engaged him as assistant Kapellmeister in Vienna, where his industry and versatility enabled him to take over the duties of Johann Joseph Fux, the ageing Kapellmeister. As the Emperor's favourite composer he wrote 63 operas, 27 oratorios, a great amount of sacred music and several other compositions. The opera Ifigenia in Aulide (Iphigenia in Aulis) was composed in 1718 for the name-day of the Emperor. From this work La vittoria segue (Victory follows) can best be described as a basso continuo aria, that is an aria with no orchestral accompaniment, but here with an obbligato trumpet.
In 1715 Johann Joseph Fux was able to exchange his title of assistant Kapellmeister to that of Kapellmeister of the court musical establishment in Vienna. He is nowadays best known as a scholar, especially for his book Gradus ad Parnassum, but he also composed a wide variety of music. The opera Enea negli Elisi (‘Aeneas in Elysia’) was written for the birthday of the Empress on 28th August 1731. The concertante trumpet lends a heroic character to Gloria's aria Chi nel camin d'onore (‘Who on the path of honour’). The very demanding trumpet part goes as high as e''' on a trumpet in C, just as in the preceding aria by Caldara. It was probably written for Johann Heinisch, who was famous for his virtuosity and was praised by Fux. The aria is a da capo aria, in tripartite A-B-A form, and is accompanied by basso continuo only, except in the central section, where the trumpet is silent and the singer is accompanied by a four-part orchestra.
Luca Antonio Predieri, who arrived in Vienna in 1737, the year of Caldara's death soon became assistant Kapellmeister and in 1746 Kapellmeister. He retired five years later, still keeping his salary, and returned to his native Bologna, where he died in 1767. In Vienna he composed operas as well as sacred music. The opera Zenobia was written for the birthday of the Empress on 28th August 1740. Zenobia is the wife of Radamisto. In his absence she refuses the protection of Prince Tiridate, since he has once tried to violate her. In the aria, therefore, she sings Pace una volta, e calma lascia ch'io trovi, (‘Let me find peace and calm’) and the trumpet underlines her desire. The trumpet part is very demanding with long ascending passages and quavers in a high position, together with the very infrequent note of e''' flat. Both singer and trumpet-player are confronted with a very challenging task, with long coloratura passages that reach as high as c'''.
In Italy the trumpet could also be given a concertante function in an introductory operatic sinfonia. A good example of this is the sinfonia for the first act of the serenata Il Barcheggio by Alessandro Stradella, performed at a wedding in Genoa in 1681. Stradella, born in Rome in 1644, was active in several different cities, including Venice, Rome and finally Genoa. At his death he was only 37 years old, but he had by then acquired a distinguished reputation as a composer. The trumpet occurs in several arias in Il Barcheggio, the second act of which also opens with a trumpet sinfonia.
Together with the opera, the cantata shared a position as the most important vocal genre during the second part of the seventeenth century. A cantata could be considered as a single scene from an opera, although the music and the text are on a more intimate scale. The form was meant for smaller places and did not demand stage decor or costumes. Almost all opera composers wrote cantatas, including Stradella, but outstanding among them is Alessandro Scarlatti with more than six hundred cantatas, in some of which an obbligato trumpet part is included. Scarlatti was not only the master of the cantata but also the most eminent Italian composer towards the end of the seventeenth and at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In his operas there is evidence of a new style of composing, concentrating on the melodic line of the singer. Scarlatti was active principally in Naples, where he settled in 1683, at the age of 23, but he also spent some time in Rome. The cantata Su le sponde del Tebro tells the story of the false and heartless Cloris and the grief and pain of her lover Aminta whom she has betrayed. The cantata is one of Scarlatti's finest and in expressiveness and musical quality equivalent to a scene from an opera. The trumpet accompanies the aria Contentatevi, o fidi pensieri, (‘Content you, faithful thoughts’) where it serves to reflect the conflict in Aminta's heart. In the following recitatives and arias that lead to the climax of the cantata, pain and grief are depicted by severe polyphonic writing, strange harmonies and strident dissonances. In the final aria Tralascia pur di piangere (‘Leave off weeping’) the trumpet returns, alternating with the singer, but has very little to do with the text. Stylistically the cantata belongs among Scarlatti's earlier works. As the text mentions the Tiber there is reason to believe that it was composed in Rome, and in that case in the early 1690s.
The four arias for soprano, trumpet and basso continuo are part of a collection, 7 Arie con Tromba Solo (‘Seven Arias with Trumpet Solo’), in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The texts are about love and war and it is not known for what occasion they were written, but, with mention of the Tiber, it is probable that they were to be performed in Rome, and in that case during the period Scarlatti spent there between 1703 and 1708.
A trumpet without valves is generally called a natural trumpet as it is confined only to the tones of harmonic series or partial tones. Some of the tones are impure and cause problems with intonation, especially if the trumpet is played together with an instrument of fixed pitch. An experienced trumpeter can reduce these problems with his embouchure. This is also easier on an old trumpet because of irregularities of the tubing. Modern replicas with an even tubing make this more difficult, the pitch of every harmonic is more "stable". As the harmonics in the upper range lie very close together to attain security of attack is very difficult. In order to help the modern trumpeter to shift between the valve trumpet and the natural one, a finger-hole system was devised by Otto Steinkopf about 1960. By opening one hole all even numbered harmonics are excluded, and by opening another so are the odd numbered ones. A third hole which transposes the pitch of the instrument a fourth gives a purer r and a-. Trumpets with such holes are best called Baroque Trumpets to differentiate them from pure natural trumpets.
Translation: Kerstin Swartling
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