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Alessandro Stradelia (1644-1682)
Alessandro Stradelia is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating Italian composers of the seventeenth century. His life was characterised by a series of colourful episodes, intrigues and plots, and it ended tragically with his assassination in 1682. Stradelia's reputation has survived partly because of his eventful life but also because of the originality and innovatory qualities of his music, which includes all the main baroque forms: opera, oratorio, concerto grosso, motets, madrigals, cantatas and solo arias.
This recording offers a selection of excerpts from oratorios and operas, as well as vocal and instrumental chamber music. The former illustrated by cantatas, duets and trios, and the latter by sonatas. La bellissima speranza, Misero amante and Fulmini quanto sa form an important part of the programme. The manuscripts of these pieces are preserved at the Bibliotheque Municipale in Lyon and these, together with MSS from the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, bear witness to the circulation of Stradella's music beyond the Alps throughout the eighteenth century and to France's vital role in these complex exchanges.
Alessandro Stradelia was born into a wealthy family of the minor aristocracy from Nepi in Umbria. His career as a composer took him to many of the principal Italian towns: Bologna, Rome, Venice, Turin and Genoa. While working in Rome, Stradelia was called upon to write a number of arias, prologues and interludes for operas by other composers. This was standard practice when an opera was given in a town where it had not originally been performed. In 1671, the year in which the Tordinona theatre was opened in Rome, Stradelia was asked to provide new arias for Francesco Cavalli's Il novello Giasone. (This was based on his earlier Giasone, first performed in Venice in 1649). Four of these arias have survived; they include Delize, contentiand Dormite, occhi, dormite. Delize, contenti is a setting of a text from the libretto of Giasone, while the text of Dormite was added for the performance in Rome. In the original version, Jason was sung by an alto but in Rome it was transposed for baritone, Stradella's favourite voice-range.
The aria Da chi spero aita is an excerpt from La Susanna, an oratorio written in 1681 for the duke of Modena Francesco II d'Este. It is based on the apocryphal biblical story of Suzanne and the old men. The chaste Susanna laments that her beauty has caused her to arouse the desire of the men in her entourage. Stradella employs a variety of chaconne for this text, with a descending tetra-chord motif in the continuo bass. There is a marked contrast between the melodic voice-part, accompanied by two violins, and the more regular bass-line. The upper part is characterised by short phrases, often separated by wide intervals, by the use of chromatic language, for example in the setting of the word crudelta, and by long held notes for the words error and morir, Ma pur favello indarno comes from Crude mar di fiamme orribili, one of two sacred cantatas composed by Stradella for 'the souls in Purgatory' based on a text by Fr Pompeo Figari. The aria is a highly dramatic evocation of Purgatory during the course of which the straying soul, deprived of all consolation, struggles amidst a sea of flames. But this suffering is not without reason: it is required by God in order to purify the soul from its sins and draw it closer to its Creator. The aria In mar si rio is a striking example of Stradella's ability to translate the meaning of a poetical text. The lines are mainly quite short, providing a rather taught rhythmic framework for the vocal declaration, one which the composer respects by his choice of compound time. It is also worth remembering that bass and baritone voices were used as much as the soprano voice was at that time. Composers had no hesitation in writing brilliant virtuoso passages for them, and this aria is a case in point.
Like most contemporary cantatas, Aure, voi che spirate deals with the subject of love, this time with a hint of nostalgia. The absence of the loved one is conveyed by accents of pathos, while her return is happily greeted by a soul long tormented by jealousy. The aria is preceded by a lengthy recitative which Stradella sets as an arioso, an intermediate stage between recitative and aria, with more clearly-defined melodic lines, and a more insistent rhythm which is far from the simple declaration of a normal recitative. The choice of an arioso is sometimes made on the basis of a text which, while it may indeed be genuine recitative viewed from the angle of prosody, contains expressions or words calling for special attention, such as onde, moro and recar. The delights and sorrows of love are also made the subject of a cantata Misero amante, a che mi vale, in which the two protagonists, Fido amante and Infido amante, defend their respective choices of faithful and unfaithful behaviour. The use of two voices, two violins and continuo enables the composer to vary the instrumentation, which include arias and duets (with or without string accompaniment) and ritomelli.
Imitation is a distinctive feature of Stradella's music, freely employed in the duets La bellissima speranza and Fulmini quanta sa, and also in the trio Trionfate, invitti colli. This trio is the only example of its kind in his chamber music, the imitation between the three voice-parts being enhanced by the two violin parts and continuo. That this trio was piece probably written in honour of Pope Clement X is suggested by two expressions: il sol clemente, and le stelle, the star featured in the Pope's coat of arms.
Apart from the pieces from his operas, cantatas and oratorios, Stradella wrote some thirty other 'independent' instrumental works, mainly solo violin sonatas (of which there are twelve) and nine trio sonatas. One of the three parts in the D minor Sonata is written at a fairly high pitch and the other two are lower, making the work rather different from the usual model of a trio sonata, which tended to have two similarly high-pitched instruments with continuo accompaniment. The D minor Sonata is cast in six movements of varying length, the fugal sections alternating with others where the modulating harmonies are more vertical in conception, and enhanced with suspensions.
Carolyn Gianturco and Eleanor McCrickard, Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682): A Thematic Catalogue of his Compositions, Stuyvesant, NY, 1991.
Carolyn Gianturco, Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682). His Life and Musk, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994.
- Barbara Nestola, CMBV-CNRS