Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin
========= from the cover ==========
Christoph Willibald Gluck - Italian Arias
"In opera ... when music vies with the poetry to take the
principal role, it achieves the destruction of both ...
In its pride, modern music ... has audaciously rebelled
against poetry to the neglect of all its true expressive
powers, has treated the words as a slavish foundation
for itself and obliged them to lend themselves,
regardless of common sense, to every kind
of extravagant whim"
Pietro Metastasio to the Chevalier de
Chastellux, Vienna, 15 July 1756
"Your Highness ... I have made every effort to restore
music to its true role of serving the poetry by means
of its powers of expression..."
Christoph Willibald Gluck, preface to the
printed edition of Alceste, 1769
Separated by only a few years, these two statements use almost the same words to express aesthetic values in opera previously established by Monteverdi. Both poet and composer can be seen to share the same ideas in their creative development, and their aims, the re-establishment of the central role of the text, rejection of the sort of abuses that reduced the poetry to a mere support for outrageous displays of virtuosity with no basis in expressive logic, and the rediscovery of the true function of music, for Metastasio "to clarify and intensify the changing emotions in the human heart", are fully revealed in the pieces heard in this recording.
Pietro Trapassi (his surname was later Hellenized as Metastasio) was born in Rome in 1698. He lived in Vienna from 1730 as court poet, and spent the remainder of his life in the imperial capital. The librettos he created, in contrast, travelled all over Europe and, thanks to the many printed editions which appeared, also entered private libraries, to become nothing less than a model and point of reference for the genre. Some librettos were set to music dozens of times and continued to be used by leading composers into the nineteenth century.
Metastasio looked back to the supreme model of Greek tragedy, in which music and poetry were partners, and recreated this alliance by alternating recitative and aria, thus bringing to life characters whose sensibilities take on a universal quality, in which the listener can find elements of his own experience. This is the life that, in the sonnet reproduced here, Metastasio shares with the same emotional intensity in the act of writing, thus disclosing the existence of a purely metaphysical truth to which to aspire.
The richness of imagery in Metastasio's writing also proved an endless stimulus and source of inspiration for eighteenth-century composers, who enjoyed exploiting all the descriptive possibilities of their art. His use of the Italian language, and, in addition, the innate musicality of his verse led Leopardi to describe Metastasio as the greatest Italian poet after Tasso.
Unlike Metastasio, Gluck travelled widely in Europe, from the Bohemia of his childhood to Milan and his apprentice years learning the Italian style, to Handel's London, to northern Germany to join up with the Mingotti opera company, then to Vienna, where he was appointed court composer, and on to Paris, the city of his final successes.
An itinerant artist for most of his life, he created a personal synthesis from the different forms, styles and idioms he encountered, and quickly established himself through the dramatic power of his compositions, in which expressive urgency is unquestionably the dominant aspect.
The scene from Ezio recorded here 3 is a perfect demonstration of these qualities.
Fulvia is in the entrance hall of the Roman prisons. The accompanied recitative sets the dark, grim tone, akin to that of Piranesi's prison etchings.
The young woman is in torment at the knowledge that her betrothed, Ezio, is due to be executed, having been falsely accused of conspiring against the emperor. In fact it is Fulvia's father who is behind the conspiracy, and she knows this is the truth.
We find her alone, suddenly in a position which seems to allow her no means of escape. The string tremolandos and repeated falling chromatic figures portraying her madness and desperation come to a sudden halt when Fulvia repeats, dazed, "io parlo, infelice" (Unhappy me, can I speak?). The repetition produces an expressive emphasis not present in Metastasio's text, and allows Gluck immediately to unleash all the pent-up energy in the subsequent aria. Fulvia's distress, her gasping for breath, are depicted by the rhythmic figure in the violins, and lead recurrently to the howl of grief represented by the accented quavers for all the strings, reinforced by horns and oboes. The result is a continual alternation of emotions, which finds a single, brief moment of respite in the central section of the aria. But it lasts only a moment. The bolt of lightning Fulvia calls down from heaven to put an end to her suffering does not come, and cannot come: her only companion is the "barbaro dolore" (cruel grief) of her anguish, to which the da capo takes us back, the structure mirroring the character's inner turmoil.
Ircano's aria from La Semiramide riconosciuta 4, Gluck's first, highly successful opera for Vienna, is utterly different in mood.
This is the day on which Princess Tamiri is to choose her husband. One of her suitors is Ircano, who is rejected out of hand. As if by way of vengeance for the insult he has suffered, he sings "Maggior follia" outlining his ideas on love in the manner of an eighteenth-century libertine.
Gluck's style of writing here is a deliberate piece of caricature, with its dotted rhythms and repeated notes, but at the same time there is a steady, pulsating beat to emphasise the character's coarseness and complete self-confidence.
Ircano may not be prepared to suffer for love, but Berenice is ready to die for her a flection 8.
Although betrothed to Antigonus, Berenice is actually in love with, and loved by the king's son Demetrius who, unwilling to betray his own lather, but unable to renounce a deeply-felt love, first seeks death in battle, then decides to take his own life. He it is whom Berenice addresses in this scene, though she is alone.
Gluck's remarkable achievement is to translate into music the heroine's heartfelt anguish, while respecting every least inflection prompted by Metastasio's poetry.
The opening accompanied recitative stands as a particularly fine example of this. The orchestra anticipates, emphasises or reacts to Berenice's every emotion, in a continual exchange which can suddenly switch from the height of passion to a gentleness that only a heart in love can express. The string pizzicatos accompany an almost childlike vocal line, with a disarming, but also sensual simplicity. It is like a moment from a dream, filled with hope - the hope of being reunited. But then comes the violent E flat repeated by the whole orchestra: the dream disappears, leaving behind only despairing reality.
The aria "Perche, se tanti siete" that follows, with those wide vocal leaps so typical of writing for castratos (the role was first sung by Giovanni Belardi), furious, hammering horn notes and repeated figurations, by its very structure signifies the impossibility of escape. (It is interesting to note that this aria derives from the Gigue in J.S. Bach's First Partita for keyboard and was reused in 1779, with only slight alterations, for "Je t'implore et je tremble" in Iphigenie en Tauride.)
In 1752 Gluck was in Naples, where he had been called to compose an opera for the Teatro San Carlo. Although it was not originally intended for him, the libretto he decided to set was Metastasio's La clemenza di Tito. In this libretto the paired relationships of seduced and seductress, and love and power, are the pivot on which the whole action turns.
Vitellia has used her charms, threats and jealousy to induce Sextus to organise a plot to assassinate the Roman emperor Titus, who has robbed her of the Empire. Although blinded by love, Sextus cannot go through with the murderous plan he has hatched, and actually tries to put a stop to it. But it is too late, and shortly after deciding to marry Vitellia, Titus falls victim to the conspirators.
This is why the Roman princess turns violently on Sextus 6. In the recitative "Ah, tad, barbaro" she upbraids him for having carried out the very thing she had urged him to do, and the towering rage with which she rounds on him in the aria "Come potesti, oh Dio!" is expressed in the figure of descending staccato notes played by the entire orchestra. The piece is a raging Presto which suddenly breaks down, comes to a halt and changes to a slow tempo expressive of the heroine's confusion: fear grips her, for she is also guilty. We can hear all this in the repeated oboe notes which portray Vitellia's heart petrified by terror. But after this brief moment the opening violent Presto returns, and the unresolved alternation of two opposing states of mind is repeated throughout the whole of aria.
But Titus is alive: someone else was attacked by the conspirators. Sextus has been deceived, and his guilt is exposed.
"Se max senti spirarti sul volto" 7 is the final song of love this tragic figure addresses to Vitellia, before he is led in front of the Senate, to be found guilty and condemned to death.
Despite everything, Sextus still loves Vitellia and will never betray her. This aria says as much. There is no sense of reproof, but only a gentleness that changes to a despairing wail of grief as the tessitura moves upwards. Two figures dominate in the orchestra, repeated, almost hypnotically, without rhythmic alteration, apart from in the brief middle section. One is the first violins' syncopations which represent Sextus's fear at what is happening, and his wavering; the other, in the second violins and bassoons, is a melodic cell of four crotchets which pulsate ceaselessly in affirmation of the constancy of his love. The way these figures work together gives the entire piece an extra depth of meaning. The vocal line, with its long notes, repeated in the top register as well, and its wide melodic leaps, draws strength from the orchestra and, as it unfolds, it gives the aria its defining emotional richness.
Vitellia's reaction to this love song is an aria ("Tremo fra' dubbi miei" 1) whose text inspires an unexpected musical response. Written in a limpid D major, with an orchestra, that includes trumpets and timpani, its repeated passages of coloratura create an outlandish mood which, consequently, perfectly portrays the madness that seems to have gripped Vitellia. Once again, instead of involvement in Sextus's plight, her fear is of losing power at the very moment when it seemed within her grasp. (In the final act, however, Metastasio goes on to give this character a human quality previously unimaginable, when, in a belated burst of affection for Sextus, she reveals her guilty plotting.)
At the performances in Naples, the part of Vitellia was played by Caterina Visconti, who was admired for her expressivity, the quality we find in abundance in the music Gluck composed for her. The famous castrato Caffarelli (the stage name of Gaetano Majorano) sang the role of Sextus. His aria "Se max senti spirarti sul volto" was the subject of lively debate among the audience who were taken aback by its harmonic progressions and the intensity of the expression, and this debate served to increase the composer's standing throughout Europe. Gluck himself re-used this aria in his Iphigenie en Tauride: the opening section became "O malheureuse Iphigenie" and the middle one was turned into the chorus "Conternplez ces tristes apprets".
The expressive register changes completely with Il Parnaso confuso and La corona. Both are one-act azioni teatrali written specifically by Metastasio for Gluck who set them in 1765 for the Viennese court.
Il Parnaso confuso was performed at the palace of Schonbrunn during the celebrations for the marriage of the future Emperor Joseph II to Princess Maria Josepha of Bavaria. Contemporary sources report that four archduchesses, Maria Theresia's daughters, sang on that occasion, while Archduke Leopold directed the small orchestra from the harpsichord.
We are on Mount Parnassus, and the god Apollo calls the three muses Melpomene, Euterpe and Erato to celebrate the wedding of "august Joseph" in a blend of myth and history (hat is obviously celebratory in intention. Erato, despite being the lyric muse, surprises all by singing to her own accompaniment on Euterpe's mythical lyre the exquisite aria "Di questa cetra in seno" 2. Against a background of pizzicato violins and basses, in imitation of a lyre, the violas create a warm, sensual atmosphere which prepares for the entry of the voice. It is as if the song is casting a spell, promising the delights of an enchanted garden of love, and the mood is akin to that conjured up by Mozart in Susanna's fourth-act aria in Le nozze di Figaro.
La corona, also based on mythological figures and written for the same archduchesses, was not performed because of the sudden death of Emperor Francis I.
The exceptional virtuoso demands of "Quel chiaro rio" 5 give us an idea of the high level of musical prowess achieved by the young daughters of Maria Theresia.
The text of the aria is based on a typical Metastasian metaphor. The message is an optimistic one, to which Gluck adheres by the use (unusual for him) of coloratura and orchestral writing that gives a forceful depiction of Metastasio's images. Here too, however, the formal structure does not merely respect the strophic division of the text, but, through a succession of different tempos, further emphasises the thrust of Metastasio's text and plays its own part in expressing its message.
- Glaudio Osele
Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin
The Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin was formed in 1982, when younger members from the various East Berlin orchestras formed an independent, authentic instrument ensemble. Operating outside the confines of the musical establishment, they were able to make a significant contribution to the development of authentic Early Music performance in the former GDR. The ensemble has had its own concert series in the Konzerthaus (Schauspielhaus) am Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin since 1984. In 1986 it made a guest appearance at the Westdeutsche Rundfunk-sponsored Tage Alter Musik in Herne. 1987 saw the ensemble's first recording, and since 1994 the Akademie fur Alte Musik has been under exclusive contract to harmonia mundi france. Since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the ensemble has made an ever increasing number of international concert appearances. It now appears regularly in all the European musical centres and has been on tour to most countries in Europe, to the Near East, Japan and South-East Asia. Under the baton of Rene Jacobs, it makes regular guest appearances at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden and the Festwochen der Alten Musik in Innsbruck. The Akademie fur Alte Musik has worked regularly with Cecilia Bartoli since their first appearance with her at the Wigmore Hall in London in December 1999.