Helene Schmitt, violon
Gaetano Nasillo, violoncelle
Karl-Ernst Schroder, guitare baroque
Andrea Marchiol, clavecin & orgue
On the cover:
Sebastiano Ricci, La Rencontre de Bacchus & d'Ariane, Londres, National Galery, Commentaires de Denis Grenier
========= from the cover ==========
When the guitarist and violinist Nicola Matteis left Naples and made his way to London via Germany soon after 1670, he was the first of many Italians to travel those roads. London was just beginning to take an interest in Italian music at that time - an interest that was to become very keen, and last for a century or more. It was Matteis, commonly known as 'Signior Nichola', who had the honour of being the first to kindle in the English heart, recently drawn to the charms of the violin, a passion for the Italian style. According to Roger North (cl651-1734), who may be regarded as the first English music critic, Matteis 'was the means of settling Italian music in England, and after him the French was wholly laid aside and nothing in town had relish without a spice of Italy'. Contemporary chroniclers show that there was indeed good reason to be impressed by his playing. John Evelyn noted that he 'had a stroke so sweet and made [the violin] speak like the voice of a man'. And Charles Burney reported that 'he polished and refined [English] ears and made them fit and eager for the sonatas'. Henry Purcell was fifteen when Matteis arrived in London, and 'Signior Nichola' undoubtedly influenced him in his first collections of trio sonatas.
Matteis's arrival in London coincided therefore with a general climate that was increasingly favourable to instrumental music, a growing preference for the violin family over the viols, and also, and above all, a taste for the solo instrument and the 'solo'. (In eighteenth-century English terminology, 'solo' - a piece of music for a melody instrument with continuo accompaniment - was virtually equivalent to 'sonata'.) Furthermore, music publishing was flourishing at that time in London, reaching its height from 1695 with the rich catalogues of John Walsh and his successors. And public concerts, introduced in 1672 by the composer and violinist John Banister, proved to be a great success and contributed to the celebrity of generations of Italian violinists.
The pieces recorded here give evidence of the guitarist Nicola Matteis. They are included in his collection The False Consonances of Music Instructions for Playing a Thorough-Base upon the Guitarre, or Other Instruments (London 1682).
'Signior Nichola' had a son, also named Nicola Matteis, and also a violinist and guitarist. They would play together in concerts in London.
Almost fifty years after Matteis, in 1719, the young Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli arrived in London from Rome, where he was active, invited by the Duke of Rutland to enter his service. So little is known about Carbonelli's life that we just have to make do with what we can imagine from his music and from the musical context in England at that time.
He was probably born during the last decade of the seventeenth century. We know that he studied with Corelli, and that like his most famous fellow students, Pietro Castrucci and Francesco Geminiani, he felt drawn to London and settled there. London at that time was astir with the resounding successes of Handel's operas and boasted the very best of European musicians. So it is easy to imagine the pull of such a city for a young and adventurous musician.
Handel had arrived there in 1711 (at the age of twenty-five) to present his opera Rinaldo and immediately he had been acclaimed as a fine representative of Italian music. It must be said that he had recently returned from four fruitful years in Italy. There he had indulged his penchant for the pastoral idyll with his friends at the Accademia dell Arcadia in Rome. And, in contact with Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Corelli, Pasquini, Gasparini and Steffani, he had polished his style and enriched all the various aspects of the concerto grosso, bel canto and redtativo accompagnato, which he was shortly to take to the heights of inventiveness, brightness and sensuality in his operas and oratorios.
Carbonelli's move to London coincided more or less with the setting up of the Royal Academy of Music (2 April 1719) under the impetus of members of the aristocracy and under the patronage of King George I. (The latter was Handel's former employer Georg Ludwig of Hanover, who acceded to the throne on the death of Queen Anne and ruled from 1714 to 1727). Planned also as a business enterprise, the Royal Academy aimed to promote Italian opera, including those of Handel, who became its musical director and appointed Carbonelli to a prominent position as a violinist in the orchestra.
The late 1720s saw the beginning of a troubled period for Handel. On the one hand there were violent quarrels, fuelled by the vanity of prima donnas such as Faustina Bordoni (later the wife of the famous composer Johann Adolf Hasse, who was then working in Naples) and her rival Francesca Cuzzoni. On the other hand there were bitter jealousies between Handel and the other two composers, Attilio Ariosti and Giovanni Bononcini. The Royal Academy collapsed in 1728.
Carbonelli had already left around 1725 to become leader of the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. As for Handel, he gradually moved away from opera and towards oratorio, giving up the former altogether from 1741. And Carbonelli left the Theatre Royal to play in Handel's oratorios.
To express his gratitude to the Duke of Rutland, who had taken him into his service when he first came to England, Carbonelli composed and dedicated to him his twelve Sonatas for violin and continuo.
The first six follow the classical pattern of the church sonata, while the others are sonate da camera, with dance movements. All the pieces are in four movements, except Sonatas VI and XII, which are in three, and Sonata III is an aria con variazione, a form for which Locatelli also showed particular fondness in his Opus VI (Amsterdam 1737).
The sonatas pay tribute to Corelli - fine examples are the Largo of Sonata I, the Adagio of Sonata VI, and the Giga of Sonata VII - in the dreamy gracefulness of their melodies and the bounding vitality of some of the dances. But they also show great originality.
The second movements of Sonatas I-VI are all in fugal style with double stopping throughout; they are traversed here and there by virtuoso passages or long bariolages in the Corellian tradition, but, as in Geminiani, they are much bolder and technically more accomplished.
Likewise the slow movements are more expansive, giving free rein to a melancholy languor interwoven with imitations from the bass (Largo of Sonata X) or with the emotional sweetness of the melody (Adagio of Sonata VII).
Our continuo comprises harpsichord, organ, cello and guitar - a combination permitting numerous variations of colour. The guitar and the organ, though rarely associated, go particularly well together. In his Varii capricii for guitar, published in Milan in 1643, the guitarist and composer Francesco Corbetta (1615-1681) mentions a Sinfonia a due accompagnata con I'organo o altro basso.
Giovanni Carbonelli will continue to arouse our curiosity by his final cock-a-snook. Towards the end of his life, having reached a respectable age, he pufcaway his music, set aside his violin, and opened a comfortable wine business. And it was from that decent position -not unbecoming for a musician - that he took his final bow, in London in 1772.
-Helene Schmitt, Cologne, October 2003