Join us for stunning performances this week by two of Europe's top early music ensembles, the superb Venice Baroque Orchestra and violinist Giuliano Carmignola, plus the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin. Their brilliant concertos by Vivaldi and Tartini, and the "La Follia" of Francesco Geminiani, conjure the golden age of the violin—an era well represented at the Library of Congress, which owns a priceless collection of stringed instruments by Antonio Stradivari, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, Antonio Amati, and others.
Trading virtuosity for immortality, great virtuoso violinists like Tartini—and later, Niccolo Paganini—were said to have bought their skills at an unearthly price: by selling their souls to the devil.
Explore What's Behind the Music
Antonio Vivaldi, Giuseppe Tartini: Venetian-born violinist, and impresario, composer of 46 operas and more than 500 concertos, (including "The Four Seasons") Antonio Vivaldi draws increasing critical attention, as new works continue to be discovered.
Francesco Geminiani: Composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini is best known today probably for his famous and fiendishly difficult "Devil's Trill" sonata.
Venice Baroque Orchestra: Venetian-born violinist, and impresario, composer of 46 operas and more than 500 concertos, (including "The Four Seasons") Antonio Vivaldi draws increasing critical attention, as new works continue to be discovered.
Andrea Marcon, director: Winner of many prestigious international prizes for organ and harpsichord performance as well as conducting, Andrea Marcon founded the Venice Baroque Orchestra in 1997.
Giuliano Carmignola: While there are some talented Baroque violinists around, the remarkable Giuliano Carmignola is certainly the one who stands out.
Akedemie für Alte Musik Berlin: Now celebrating their 25th year, the Akedemie für Alte Musik Berlin was founded in East Berlin in 1982. Since that time they have become a favorite at international festivals and a frequent collaborator with some of the most prominent soloists in the original performance practice field.
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Founded in 1997, the Venice Baroque Orchestra is recognized as one of Europe's premier ensembles devoted to period instrument performance. Led by Baroque scholar and harpsichordist Andrea Marcon, the orchestra has received wide critical acclaim for its concert and opera performances at top concert halls throughout North America, Europe, South America and Japan.
Committed to the rediscovery of first-rate Baroque opera, Marcon has led the orchestra in modern-day premieres of Francesco Cavalli's "L'Orione" and Benedetto Marcello's "La Morte D'Adone" and "Il Trionfo Della Poesia e Della Musica." With Teatro La Fenice in Venice, the Venice Baroque Orchestra staged Handel's "Siroe" in 2000, followed with equal success by Cimarosa's "L'Olimpiade" in 2001. In April, 2004, the orchestra revived Siroe in its first full staging in the United States at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.
In 2003, the orchestra signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. Following the orchestra's world premiere recording of "Andromeda Liberata," releases will include a collection of Italian violin concertos with Giuliano Carmignola, Vivaldi motets with soprano Simone Kermes, and an album of Vivaldi sinfonias. The orchestra's discography on Sony Classical includes "The Four Seasons," two albums of previously unrecorded Vivaldi concertos, Locatelli violin concertos and a collection of Bach arias featuring Angelika Kirchschlager. For its recordings, the orchestra has been honored with the Diaspason D'Or and Echo Awards.
Its concerts have been filmed by the BBC and NHK, and broadcast by RadioFrance, ORF, RaiDue, BBC3, National Public Radio and RadioTre.
Andrea Marcon, director
Winner of many prestigious international prizes for organ and harpsichord performance and conducting, Andrea Marcon was the founding harpsichordist and organist for the Treviso-based early music ensemble, Sonatori de la Gioiosa. In 1997, he founded the Venice Baroque Orchestra and has since led the group to international acclaim. His dedication to the rediscovery of Baroque opera masterpieces led to the first modern-day stagings of operas by Francesco Cavalli, Handel, Siroe and Cimarosa.
Among the notable projects in his discography are his recording, "The heritage of Frescobaldi & Nacchini,1750," which earned the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik and The Antonio Vivaldi International Disc Award for Early Italian Music. "Sonatas for Organ by Domenico Scarlatti" also won this important prize in 1997. His recordings have also received the Diapason D'or and Germany's Echo Award. A professor at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland, he has recently he has become Music Director of the Kammerakademie Potsdam.
Carmignola's performances have taken audiences by storm in the U.S. and all over Europe, leading to ecstatic reviews hailing both his musical artistry and his impressive stage appearance. Here's a rave from the Los Angeles Times: “An immensely novel sound … able to evoke the rough often abrasive sounds of early Italian music yet also deliver an incredible sweetness of tone. Carmignola's gestures called to mind both the wild spontaneity of a Hirschfeld caricature and the sleek elegance of a Giacometti sculpture …". Collaborating with longtime partners Andrea Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra, he evokes the aura of the golden age of Italian violin virtuosity, with dramatic, technically dazzling performances, as in the Tartini concerto in this week's broadcast.
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
In May of 2005, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin made its U.S. debut tour to critical acclaim and to sold-out audiences at New York’s Carnegie Hall, in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
This remarkable ensemble began as a courageous display of musical sovereignty against the East German socialist regime, and now, more than twenty years later, The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin enjoys recognition as one of Europe’s greatest musical success stories. Brought to the limelight after the re-unification of East and West Germany in 1990, the ensemble has received numerous awards including the Cannes Festival Award, the French Diapason d’or, the Dutch Edison Award, the British Gramophone Award, The Telemann Prize, and a Grammy Award nomination in the U.S. The Academie records exclusively for Harmonia Mundi, and, in addition to its sold-out series at the Berlin Konzerthaus, the group appears regularly in the great concert houses of Europe: London’s Wigmore Hall, the Palais de Beaux Arts in Brussells, the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, the Zürich Tonhalle and the Vienna Musikverein.
Notes on the works performed
Antonio Vivaldi, Giuseppe Tartini
The term “concerto” derives from the Italian concertare, meaning “to join together,” and during the late 16th century it referred to works wherein any combination of voice and instruments performed together. During the late Baroque period, from about 1690 to 1750, the term took on a connotation of opposition, another sense of concertare, and the concerto as a distinct instrumental genre assumed three forms.
The earliest was the concerto grosso, comprised of a small group of soloists-the concertino, in “opposition” to a larger ensemble-the ripieno. The second form was the string concerto, which evolved out of the larger ensemble in a concerto grosso (and thus was also called the ripieno concerto). And finally, the solo concerto, typically for the violin, which reached a high point with Antonio Vivaldi, decidedly the most prolific and influential concerto composer at the time. He wrote at least sixty ripieno concertos and more than three hundred solo concertos, more than half of them for the violin, including what undoubtedly is Vivaldi’s best-known work, “The Four Seasons.”
Typical of the time, Vivaldi was a composer-performer-teacher, and these roles were inextricably linked with that of the violin maker. The art of violin making reached its apex in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, principally in the workshops of the Italians Antonion Stradivari (1648-?1838) and Guarneri del Gesu (1698-1744), both from Cremona, and the Austrian Jacob Stainer (c.1617-1683.) They built upon the accomplishments of the earliest important violin makers, notably Gasparo da Salo (1542-1609) and Giovanni Maggini (1579-c.1630) from Brescia, and Andrea Amati (c.1520-c.1611) and grandson Nicola (1596-1684) from Cremona.
With the increasing demand for instruments, other Italian cities became notable centers of violin making-Bologna, Padua, Milan, and Venice. Violin makers consulted with violinists whose tonala dn technical demands led to designs that expanded the instrument’s technical capabilities. Violinists wrote these advancements into their music, and passed them on to their pupils, just as methods of construction were handed down from masters to apprentices.
Strinc concertos were of two main types-one patterned after the earlier sonata da chiesa, and the other modeled after the sinfonia or overture of the Italian opera (Vivaldi himself composed more than forty operas-now mostly forgotten). However, the two types were not significantly different from each other.
Vivaldi wrote his string (ripieno) concertos for his own orchestra comprising talented girls at the Ospedale della Pietà, the charitable institution for foundlings, where he was employed as violin teacher and later maestro de’concerti. The residents of the Pietà were divided into two categories: the figlie di comun or commoers who received a general education, and the figlie di coro or choristers and musicians who received rigorous training in solfeggio, singing, and instrumental technique.
Performances at the Pietà drew visitors from all over Europe, including Pope Pius IV, who heard but never saw the girls, because they were hidden behind an iron screen. Intended to protext the girls from libidinous eyes, this set-up apparently incited prurious thoughts among male listeners. In his Confessions (1770) Rousseau describes a typical Sunday performance during Vespers at the Pietà: “[M]otettos or anthems with full choruses, accompanied by a great orchestra, and composed and directed by the best masters in Italy, are sung in the galleries by girls only; not one of them is more than twenty years of age. I have not an idea of anything so voluptuous and affecting as this music; the richness of the art, the exquisite taste of the vocal part, the excellence of the voices, the justness of the execution, everything in these delighteful concerts concurs to produce an impression which is certainly not the mode, but from which I am of opinion no heart is secure...What vexed me was the iron grate, which suffered nothing to escape but sounds, and concealed from me the angels of which they were worthy.”
None of the girls were allowed to perform outside the Ospedale. All the same, a few of the girls became known outside the Pietà, among them, Signora Anna Maria, who became celebrated as a virtuoso violinist in Europe.
While the string concertos exhibited the musical skills of the Ospedale’s orchestra, the solo violin concertos, texturally more diverse and larger in scope, displayed Vivaldi’s phenomenal technique. He was arguably the first great 18th-century Italian violinist to exemplify the kind of virtuoso who terrified those who heard him, including Johann Friedrich Armand von Uffenbach. An aristocrat from Frankfurt, Uffenbach visited Venice during the Carnival of 1715 and met Vivaldi, from whom he commissioned several concerti grossi. In his travel diary entry dated February 4, Uffenbach provides a description of Vivaldi’s violin playing during a performance of the pastiche Nerone fatto Cesaro (RV 724) at the Teatro Sant’Angelo, where Vivaldi was the impresario.
“Toward the end Vivaldi played a splendid solo accompaniment to which he appended a fantasy [cadenza] that gave me a start because no one has ever played anything like it, for his fingers came within a straw’s breadth of the bridge so that there was no room for the bow. He played a fugue on all four strings at unbelievable speed, astonishing everyone; still, I cannot say that it charmed me because it was fuller in artifice than pleasing to the ear.”
Uffenbach was not alone in his reaction to Vivaldi’s virtuosity; Giuseppe Tartini, who in 1723 was regarded as Italy’s greatest violinist, said as much when he made the famous remark, alluding to Vivaldi’s violinistic pyrotechnics, that the neck of a violin is not the human throat. Fourteen years Vivaldi’s junior, Tartini was appointed maestro di capella in 1821 at the church of Il Santo in Padua, where he spent the rest of his career. In 1728 he founded a violin school, the Scuola della Nazioni (“School of the Nations”), so-called because its students came from all over Europe. He spent the last years of his life publishing theoretical treatises on music and the violin.
Tartini strove to make the violin sound like the human voice. But he was not opposed to virtuosity itself; indeed, his most famous work, the “Devil’s Trill” Sonata (allegedly inspired by a piece played by the devil in a dream), is so treacherously demanding it gave rise to the myth that he had six fingers on his left hand in order to achieve the diabolically difficult double stop trills. Moreover, he taught his pupils two different bowing techniques-one he called cantabile (“singing”) to emulate the human voice, and the other, suonabile (i.e., “sounding,”) to display technical virtuosity.
Tartini wrote over two hundred violin concertos, among them, the Violin Concerto in A major, D 96, which are no less virtuosic than Vivaldi’s, but perhaps less spectacular in their effect on the listener-resulting from the primacy of a singing tone over “urgent figuration.” Tartini wrote the Concerto in three movements-Allegro, Adagio, Presto: fast, slow, fast-the form standardized by Vivaldi. But after it was completed, Tartini composed an laternate for the middle movement Adagio. Marked Largo andante, it is appended with lines from the eighteenth-century Italian poet, dramatist, and librettist Pietro Metastasio, “A rivi, a fonti, a fiumi correte amare lagrime sin tanto che consumi l’acerbo mio dolor” (“In streams, in fountains and rivers run bitter tears, until my harsh anguish is consumed.)
-Tomás C. Hernández, Music Division, Library of Congress
Born in the small Tuscan city of Lucca, Francesco Geminiani received violin lessons from two of the most famous Italian musicians of the time, Carlo Ambrogio in Milan and Arcangelo Corelli in Rome. After a short stint as concertmaster in the Neapolitan opera orchestra, Geminiani decided to move to London in 1714. There he quickly made his reputation, especially within aristocratic circles, as a violinist, composer and teacher. He made several concert tours to Ireland and spent some time in Paris, where he published his works. In the last years of his life, Geminiani lived in Dublin, serving as concertmaster to an enthusiastic Earl.
The influence of Corelli can be heard in most of Geminiani’s music, especially in his 1726 arrangements of Corelli’s op. 5 sonatas as concerti grossi. Corelli’s sonatas, when first published in 1700, caused a stir throughout Europe and redefined the solo sonata genre. Their popularity was revived by Geminiani’s reworking a quarter century later. In the 12th piece of op. 5, Corelli abandons the typical sonata form in favor of a set of variations on the theme popularly known as “La Follia.” * Over a repeating bass line, the violins introduce new and increasingly wild variations to the familiar Spanish dance. In Geminiani’s arrangement, the concertino, comprising two violins and a cello, displays a combination of Italian virtuosity and ever-changing compositional styles, bringing the piece to a grand conclusion.
* Literally “mad” or “empty-headed.” The tune was first published in 1672 but its roots go back to the sixteenth century. It has been quoted by more than 150 composers over 333 years in works ranging from Bach’s “Peasant” Cantata, BWV 212, to a popular film tune in the hit charts by Vangelis, "Conquest of Paradise," and has been played by various instruments including bassoon, bird-organ, brass quintet, carillon, clavichord, English handbells, mandolin, nyckelharpa, salterio, sitar, and many others. Source: www.folias.nl