Chamber Orchestra "Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach", Berlin Chamber, Berlin Comic Opera Orchestra
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Jochen Kowalski sings arias
History sometimes takes strange turns-and the history of performance practice is no exception. Once an extraordinarily admired vocal technique, falsetto-singing gradually fell into oblivion from the beginning of the seventeenth century onwards. During the first three decades of the eighteenth century in Germany, the special charm of this register (alongside the art of castrato-singing, of course) was still recognized only at the famous Hamburg Gansemarkt Opera, while in some English cathedral choirs the male alto voice remained an indispensable part of the choral tradition. So it is not surprising that it was an English singer, the legendary Alfred Deller (1912-1979), who reawakened interest in this type of voice through his solo performances. He became as it were the "archetypal model" for the subsequent generation of singers, to which Jochen Kowalski belongs. These singers have made early music into an excitingly new music for us, have brought about a new understanding of old repertoire that is in the process of being rediscovered (e.g. Baroque opera) and have firmly established it in today's repertoire.
The designation "counter-tenor" is closely associated with Deller. Deller's boy-soprano voice deepened into the alto range during his choirboy days, and he continued to sing in this register even after his voice broke because it seemed natural to him. At the age of 28 Deller joined the Canterbury Cathedral choir, where the English composer and musicologist Michael Tippett heard him sing in a performance of Tippett's own work "Plebs angelica" and was filled with enthusiasm for this "exceptional alto voice, for its exceptional range and facility". He labelled the voice "counter-tenor". Deller himself later filled in on the [nets by explaining that in this typo of counter-tenor voice "the fundamental voice is baritone or bass, and the head voice, or so-called falsetto, is developed to the maximum range. My own voice is of this type. You produce this head voice naturally, ... . But, ifyou wish, you can still sing off the chest, so to speak," There is also another kind of counter-tenor, namely, a high, light tenor, who uses falsetto only "for the top fourth or fifth" of his vocal range. Jochen Kowalski, who refers to himself as an "alto", belongs in this category. This kind of vocal technique began in Italy during the Renaissance, when polyphonic church music was becoming ever more elaborate and therefore also more complicated. Natural and insurmountable diffieulties I hereby arose in regard to the high hoys' voices carrying the soprano and alto parts, for the boys possessed neither the technical knowledge demanded by the music nor mature musical sense. For this reason they were replaced by the "Spagnoletti", Spanish vocalists who had presumably learnt falsetto technique from the Moors that ruled southern Spain up to 1.492 and who could therefore sing the soprano and alto parts with ease. Henceforth they were to monopolize vocal music in the churches until, at the end of the sixteenth century, the castratos moved in to challenge their supremacy and in the end completely displaced them.
During the transition from the sixteenth to the seventeenth centuries an essential factor in this process was the "invention" of the "dramma musicale", a new form which later came to be known simply as "opera". Its plots were mostly derived from the ancient Greek world of myths, gods and heroic sagas. The supernatural quality of the castrato voice was ideally suited to these non-human realms. Furthermore, as Montesquieu mentions in his travel memoirs of 1729, women were not allowed to perform on the stage in places like Rome. Castratos thus took the female roles, and this is the way things remained throughout Europe during the eighteenth century. But the demise of Italian opera in its Baroque form toward the end of the eighteenth century also marked the end of the castrato era and the repertoire composed for them was forgotten. Only since the middle of the twentieth century have these buried treasures again been unearthed by performers like Alfred Deller and Jochen Rowalski. At the same time, consideration was given to the tradition of performance practice with reference to church music works of the past. It goes without saying that male altos-both as choristers and as soloists-were available to a composer like Johann Sebastian Bach for the performance of his cantatas. Judging by the arias in the cantatas BWV35 and BWV169, both written in Leipzig in the late summer of 1726, the alto must have been an extraordinarily skilled singer. The two arias from BWV35 involve Jesus's healing of a deaf mute, whose "spirit and soul" have become "confused,... deaf and dumb" in the face of the marvel of Creation. But Jesus restores-hearing to the deaf and speech to the dumb. The aria from BWV169 exalts the necessity for worldly love to die in order to enjoy the love of God.
A genius whose life was over all too soon, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi grew up in the Italian vocal tradition. In his two Marian compositions, the "Stabat Mater", written in 1735/36, and the "Salve Regina" in C minor, composed slightly earlier, Pergolesi ingeniously combines the severe Neapolitan church style with an operatically melodic style to attain a hitherto unknown degree of poignancy and delicacy. Handel's "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato", an allegory on the three contrasting human temperaments, the cheerful, the pensive and the moderate, performed for the first time at London's Theatre Royal at Lincoln's Inn Fields at the beginning of 1740, has been termed a "Pastoral Ode" by Handel researcher Bernd Baselt, for the work is more of a "semi-dramatic dialogue" between the two ways of viewing the world-the gaily extroverted way or the melancholy and introverted one. The harmonious balance between these two extremes struck by persons of "moderate" disposition is in perfect keeping with the librettist Charles Jennens's assimilation of the spirit of the Enlightenment. For the years 1786/87 the chapel budget of the Royal Prussian Court Opera in Berlin still listed five castratos-unusual for the time. Yet the true heyday of this kind of singer was the preceding era of Frederick the Great, during which the famous castratos Felice Salimbeni and Giovanni Carrestini had sent Berlin-seat of the Prussian Crown-into veritable raptures of enthusiasm for a few brief years with operas by Hasse and Graun and others. A kind of preface to this period is provided by Telemann's "Flavius Bertaridus, King of the Lombards", with which the Hamburg Gansemarkt opera company gave a guest performance that enraptured the burghers of Berlin in 1729/50. When Crown Prince Friedrich became King of Prussia in 1740, Berlin's "epoch of music" began. One of the young ruler's first official acts was to commission architect Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff to construct an opera house. Even before this was opened at the end of 1742, the theatre wing of the palace was the venue for performances by the opera company under the baton of Hofkapellmeister Carl Heinrich Graun, an example being the performance in December 1741 of Graun's own "Kodclinda". Hasse's "La clemenza di Tito" was premiered in January 1745 at: the beginning of the extremely popular season in the ballroom of the opera house, which had been converted into stalls and stage. When Graun died in 1759, he was succeeded as "Court Composer" by Johann Friedrich Agricola, who had been taught by Bach. Yet-partly because of the Silesian wars- the king's passion for the theatre had now abated somewhat, though his predilection for Hasse and his Italian operas was unshaken. During the reign of Frederick the Great (1740-1786), exclusively operas in the in the Italian language were performed in the opera house "Unter den Linden". Four representative examples of this repertoire are presented here.
- Ingeborg Allihn (translation: J & M Berridge)