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ClassicsOnline Home » ARIOSTI: 6 Cantatas / LOCATELLI: Trio Sonata in E minor / VIVALDI: Trio Sonata in D major
By Johan van Veen
Attilio Ariosti, an Italian composer of the generation of Alessandro Scarlatti, was born in Bologna, and ordained as a priest. His first compositions were oratorios, but after composing his first opera in 1697 he concentrated on writing music for the theatre. A year before he had entered the service of the Duke of Mantua, who sent him to Berlin to the court of Sophie Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg. He was appointed 'ma�tre de musique' and became Sophie Charlotte's favourite musician. Later on he worked at the imperial court in Vienna, where he was held in high esteem by Joseph I. He worked as one of Joseph I�s diplomats in Italy, and after Joseph's death entered the service of the Duke of Anjou, the future French king Louis XV. His output is rather limited in comparison to that of some of his more famous contemporaries. This is almost certainly down to his many activities as a diplomat, but also as a music teacher and an interpreter; he was a singer and played the keyboard, the cello and the viola d'amore.
The last stage of his life was played out in England, where he arrived in July 1716. He performed in public on the viola d'amore, the instrument for which he also composed six 'Lessons', published in London in 1724; recently recorded by Thomas Georgi, BIS CD-1535. His first opera in England was Tito Manlio, premiered in 1717. It made such an impression that the Royal Academy of Music commissioned another opera from Ariosti. From 1722 to 1728 he was one of the composers employed by the Royal Academy, alongside Handel and Bononcini. He died in London in 1729.
The six Lessons for viola d'amore were published in one volume alongside the six cantatas recorded on this disc. In the booklet Darja Gro�heide writes: "The present cantatas form a sonnet sequence, ranging from 'La Rosa' (The Rose) to 'Il Naufragio' (The Shipwreck) and the final 'La Gelosia' (Jealousy). This has suggested the title 'The Flowering and Fading of Love'". She doesn't give any evidence that Ariosti himself presented these cantatas as a cycle. And at first sight it seems that some of the sonnets have nothing to do with love. But there are several reasons to support Ms Gro�heide's view.
First of all, only the first cantata starts with an instrumental introduction, and it is fairly plausible to consider it a kind of overture to the whole series of cantatas. Secondly, one person appears in several cantatas: the nymph Nice (Nysa), the object of both the affection and the disdain of the protagonist. And a closer look at the texts reveals that, even when they are not specifically about love, they are closely connected to that subject: several images are used metaphorically to depict love and all the tribulations connected to it.
The first cantata is about a rose - a symbol of love - which is spurned by Nysa and Chloris. The recitative describes how she rises again and becomes the mistress of all the flowers and warns offenders off with her sharp thorns. The second cantata talks about the feelings of the protagonist who has fallen in love and tries to convince a shepherdess that in love joy can be found. In the third cantata another image of nature is used: the elm. The tree laments the unfaithfulness of its friend the vine. The protagonist, whose identity is now revealed as the shepherd Fileno (Phylenus), compares his own fate with that of the elm, and invites the tree to "unite in grief over that cruel and thankless heart, the inconstancy of her love, her perfidiousness".
The fourth cantata marks a turning point, which could well be the reason Ariosti scored the next three cantatas for alto. The title expresses its content: 'Freedom acquired through love'. The love of Phylenus for the unfaithful Lysa made him her prisoner. But he has freed himself from the "bonds of love": "I take away from you the pleasure of my torment". The last aria describes how love brings destruction and becomes "the tyrant of every heart".
In the fifth cantata another image is used to depict the breakdown of love: a shipwreck. The first aria describes a storm at sea, with crashing waves, thunder and the absence of sunshine. The last aria says: "My wrecked ship, I see you break apart, and can but weep for your destiny." Love breaks apart on the waves of the sea, which symbolise the inconstancy of the lover.
The last cantata marks the return to the beginning: the protagonist has not really overcome his love for Nysa. Otherwise he would not feel that she, "who faithlessly seeks her delight in the arms of another, is the cause of my bitterness and misery". "Cruel Jealousy" has entered his heart and broken it for ever. In the second recitative Jealousy is characterised as a "rapacious harpy". "That another is happy with my beloved is an affliction far more cruel than death".
These cantatas make one understand that Ariosti was successful as a composer of operas; there is plenty of drama here. Not only the vocal parts but the instrumental parts as well depict the feelings expressed in the texts. It is impressive how the two melody instruments - originally two violins, here flute and violin - and the basso continuo illustrate the storm at sea in the first aria of Cantata No. 5. They also perfectly express the unhappy lover's feelings in his lament in Cantata No. 3.
These are very nice cantatas, and the performers fully explore their expressive qualities. The soprano and contralto have beautiful voices, which are very pleasant to listen to, and vividly communicate the feelings of the protagonist. The recitatives are sung with some rhythmic freedom, but the singers could have taken more liberties in this respect. I also think they are a little too economical with ornamentation. The instrumentalists give fine performances, showing great sensitivity for the way Ariosti has illustrated the text in his music.
The addition of the two trio sonatas by Locatelli and Vivaldi is a little surprising and not very satisfying. Without them the playing time of this disc had been about 63 minutes, which is not too bad. But if the need was felt to add something, why wasn't another cantata from Ariosti's oeuvre taken rather than two instrumental works by composers who didn't have any connection to Ariosti and one of whom even belongs to another generation? Both pieces are given very lively performances, but they have been recorded before, whereas Ariosti is an unknown quantity who deserves to be better known.
The booklet omits the lyrics of the cantatas - they can be downloaded from the Naxos website. The exact address is given in the booklet.
American Record Guide
Attilio Ariosti was born in Bologna in 1666 into an
illegitimate branch of a noble family. He joined the
Servite order in 1688, taking his vows and lower orders
the following year, to be ordained deacon in 1692. He left
the monastery in 1696 and entered the service of the
Duke of Mantua and Monferrato. His earlier
compositions had included, in 1693, the oratorio La
passione, and 1696 brought the first performance of his
pastoral opera Tirsi, with a libretto by Apostolo Zeno, at
Carnival in Venice. The following year he went to Berlin
at the request of Sophie-Charlotte, Queen of Prussia, a
great-granddaughter of James I of England and daughter
of the Electress Sophie of Hanover, an enlightened
patroness of the arts, with a keen interest in music.
Ariosti, who enjoyed the particular favour of the Queen,
wrote or collaborated in the writing of a number of stage
works performed for the court in Berlin.
Service at a Protestant court led Ariosti’s religious
superiors to recall him to Italy, but he delayed his
departure, and on his way back spent time in Vienna,
where he provided in 1703 a poemetto drammatico for
the name-day of the Emperor Leopold I, La più gloriosa
fatica d’Ercole (The Most Glorious Labour of Hercules).
His connection with the Habsburg court continued, with
the office of minister and agent to all the courts of Italy,
bestowed by the Emperor Joseph I. In 1708 he returned
to Vienna, but on the death of the Emperor in 1711 he
found himself banned for religious reasons from all
Austrian territories by the Empress, who asked the Pope
to have him expelled from his order. It is not clear
whether this last actually happened.
By 1716 Ariosti was in London, where he played the
viola d’amore at performances of Handel’s opera
Amadigi di Gaula. His own opera Tito Manlio was staged
there in 1717, and he continued to write for the stage, his
name joined with those of Handel and Bononcini. An
American writer of the time distinguishes the particular
qualities of each, suggesting that Ariosti can give
expression to ‘good Dungeon Scenes, Marches for a
Battel, or Minuets for a Ball, in the Miserere’ (quoted by
Christopher Hogwood: Handel, 1984). The ‘dungeon
scenes’ seem to allude to Ariosti’s most successful work
for the London stage, Coriolano, the prison scene in
which is praised by Sir John Hawkins as ‘wrought up to
the highest degree of perfection that music is capable of’.
The opera Vespasiano, staged in 1724, contained not
only a diplomatic preponderance of arias for Anastasia
Robinson, soon secretly to marry the Earl of
Peterborough, but provides evidence of the other
characteristics noted above; one performance of the
opera caused an uproar, when Anastasia Robinson
objected to the too close proximity on stage of the
castrato Senesino, leading to the violent intervention of
her elderly beau. Mainwaring, in his 1760 Memoirs of the
Life of the late George Frederic Handel indulges in an
imaginative account of Ariosti’s earlier acquaintance
with Handel in Berlin, when he showed the latter much
kindness, encouraging him to play the harpsichord and
seating him on his knee. It was in 1724 that Ariosti
published his Six Cantatas and a collection of six lessons
for the viola d’amore, dedicated to King George I,
brother of Queen Sophie-Charlotte who had died in 1705
at the early age of 36. The work attracted a distinguished
list of royal and noble subscribers, fraudulently included,
if Sir John Hawkins’s later report is to be believed.
Ariosti’s contribution to the repertoire of the viola
d’amore is extensive, including a large number of sonatas
and other compositions for the instrument. His final years
brought less success, with the apparent failure of the last
opera with which he was concerned, Teuzzone, in 1727.
He died in London in early September, 1729.
The composers of the trio sonatas here included need
less introduction. The trio sonata itself, a form that owed
much to the example of Arcangelo Corelli, a leading
Italian composer of the preceding generation, generally
involves four players, two performers on melody
instruments, most often two violins, and a chordal
accompaniment on a keyboard or plucked instrument,
with a bass line contributed by an instrument of suitable
register, most usually the cello or viola da gamba. It often
reflects the pattern of the concerto grosso.
Pietro Antonio Locatelli was born in Bergamo in
1695. He was employed there as a violinist at the Basilica
of Santa Maria Maggiore, before being sent to Rome,
where he was able to study with Corelli’s disciple
Giuseppe Valentini, a composer and violin virtuoso, and
to work together with other musicians of Corelli’s circle
under the patronage of Cardinal Ottoboni. His first set of
concerti grossi was published in Amsterdam in 1721. He
seems to have spent time in Venice and in 1725 was
given the title virtuoso da camera in the service of
Vivaldi’s patron, Landgrave Philipp of Hessen-
Darmstadt, Habsburg ruler of Mantua. He spent the
following period at various courts in Germany, including
Berlin. In 1729 he settled in Amsterdam, where he was
able to take advantage of the city’s effective musicpublishing
business to arrange for the publication of his
own works, remaining there until his death in 1764. His
published compositions include a set of trio sonatas,
Opus 5, issued in 1736.
Antonio Vivaldi, a native of Venice, where he was
ordained priest, for years intermittently directed the
music of the famous Ospedale della Pietà, one of the
institutions for the education of illegitimate, orphan or
impoverished girls which enjoyed a distinguished
musical reputation. He was also active in the composition
and direction of operas in Venice, and was himself
among the great virtuoso violinists of his day. His
achievement as a composer is reflected particularly in the
five hundred or more concertos he wrote, and his
pioneering work in the establishment of the form of the
Italian solo concerto.
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ARIOSTI: 6 Cantatas / LOCATELLI: Trio Sonata in E ...