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Who is Giovanni de’ Bardi?
Giovanni de’ Bardi: Opera & Football
Member of one of the most important families in Florence linked to the family Medici and Lorenzo il Magnifico and famous for being the bankers of the Kings of England through the Middle Ages, just few know that Giovanni de’ Bardi is a fundamental figure in the history of music, since in 1576-1592 he decided to found the Modern Melodramma (and therefore the Modern Opera) and to develop the musical form of Monody (against Polyphony)…
… seriously convinced to revive the ancient games of football of the Ancient Greeks and of the Ancient Romans, in 1580 Giovanni de’ Bardi first wrote the official rules of Calcio Fiorentino, founding thus the first Modern Football Game regulated by a precise code of rules, a first Modern Football Game with code of rules that will be the model to all the other forms of Modern Football Games from Soccer to Rugby and American Football…
de’ Bardi i.e. of the Bards: nomen omen
As for the case of Volta, also de’ Bardi is a meaningful surname.
Alessandro Volta is the modern pioneer of electricity (inventor of the electrical battery) and discoverer of methane at Lake Maggiore (in 1776: Mozart, Piano Concertos K.238 and K.246; Haydn, Symphony No. 61 and No. 66) and in the Apennine Mountains in Italy. But the most curious thing is that his surname Volta is a very ancient Etruscan name of a monster of the Tuscan Apennine Mountains, represented as a sort of killing monstrous wolf emerging from the wells and the depth of the earth like a natural gas (methane). And this Etruscan monster Volta was killed by electricity through a lightning hurled down from the sky after special prayers by the Etruscan priests of lightning (see Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, II, 54, 140).
The Florentine surname Bardi/de’ Bardi comes from the very Celtic word Bardus, i.e. bard in English and bardo in Italian, a man who invents and plays music and sings, both a verse-maker and a music composer,… What a meaningful surname for the man, Giovanni de’ Bardi, who in the 16th century deliberately decided to found the Modern Opera and the Monody music, in the attempt to revive the ancient forms of Ancient Greek music.
de’ Bardi: the great bank & wool companies of Florence
The family de’ Bardi (or simply Bardi), in Florence since the 10th century AD, was one of the most important and powerful families in Florence. Through their commercial company, the Compagnia de’ Bardi, they ran important international banks and also factories for the treatment of wool, wool which usually arrived in Florence from England in great quantities.
The Compagnia de’ Bardi had many offices in Italy, in Europe, in Africa and Asia:
a-(Italy) Ancona, Aquila, Bari, Barletta, Castello di Castro, Genova, Napoli, Orvieto, Palermo, Pisa, Venezia;
b-(Europe) Avignone, Barcellona, Bruges, Cipro, Maiorca, Marsiglia, Nizza, Parigi, Rodi, Siviglia;
c-(Asia) Constantinopole, Jerusalem;
e-(Rome) one of three major banks of the Pope in Rome with Peruzzi and Acciaiuoli;
f-Bank of the King of England, of the King of France and of the King of Naples.
In Florence the Family de’ Bardi had 60 Family houses, of which 45 were located in Oltrarno. The city street of origin of their Family was the via de’ Bardi(Oltrarno) and their major palaces were Palazzo Canigiani (via de’ Bardi nn. 28-30, Florence) and Palazzo Bardi (via Benci n. 5, Florence).
In 1810 the main family de’ Bardi was extinct and their properties were incorporated in the properties of the famous family Guicciardini (the descendants of famous figures like Francesco Guicciardini; and again nomen omen the family name means Hunting horns).
The last surviving member of the Family de’ Bardi died in 1964 in Florence as Bardi Serzelli conte di Vernio, who lived in the Family Palace used by Giovanni de’ Bardi for his music Camerata in 1576-1592 and who left an important series of pictures to the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.
de’ Bardi in Florence: Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio
The importance of the Family de’ Bardi was not only linked to their activity of major bankers, but also to a fundamental connection with two major figures of the Italian and International Literature: Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio.
If Dante’s Beatrice (the central inspirational character of his books Vita Novaand Divina Commedia) is really Beatrice Portinari, Beatrice (called Bice) got married to Simone de’ Bardi (called Mone) as his first wife, when she was ca. 15 years old. As is well known, Beatrice died when she was still young (8 June 1290) and Mone de’ Bardi got married to his second wife, Sibilla (called Bilia) Deciaioli. Mone de’ Bardi had, at least, three children: Francesca, Bartolo and Gemma. Unfortunately, we do not know if Mone’s children were children also of Beatrice (his first wife) or of Sibilla (his second wife). However, the three children of Mone then got married to other members of the major Florence families, the Strozzi and the de’ Medici, so that Contessina de’ Bardi was the grand-mother of the great Lorenzo de’ Medici il Magnifico himself.
The father of Giovanni Boccaccio, that Giovanni Boccaccio, author of the Decameron and who, with Francesco Petrarca, opened in Florence the first modern University Course of Ancient Greek (the first European professor of Ancient Greek was Leonzio Pilato, pupil of Barlaam Calabro) and financed the first modern translations of the ancient Greek books and in this way opened the way to the European Humanism and the Renaissance, his father was a major official of the Bank of the Bardi in Naples, responsible for the management of the money of the King of Naples. How this Naples experience in his youth with his father, as bank official of the Bardi at the court of the King of Naples, was crucial to Giovanni Boccaccio’s life and to his literary works is well known.
Giovanni de’ Bardi: the founder of the modern football games
Giovanni de’ Bardi, was not only a member of the Florentine Aristocracy well trained in both Latin and Ancient Greek and Music Composition, but he was also a well known military commander, who had had an adventurous and tempestuous life in his youth spent in Florence.
As a military commander, Giovanni de’ Bardi took part in various campaigns in Europe and in the Mediterranean. He fought for the de’ Medici against Siena, then he was at the Siege of Malta in 1565 and, once nominated captain, he fought victoriously in Hungary for the Emperor Maximillian II.
His great interest in the antiquities and in the necessity of a fundamental military training led him to establish, once and for all, the rules for an ancient Florence football game, which he thought crucial to the training of the young aristocratic men of Florence to the military life.
In order to better achieve his intent, Giovanni de’ Bardi studied the historical origin of the ancient football game typical of Florence and so he tracked its origin in the Ancient Greece football games Episkyros (i.e. the Game of the Ball on the Skyros Central Line) and Phaininda (i.e. the Deceiving Game with the Ball) from which the Romans derived their own version of this football game, the Harpastum(i.e. the Game of Carrying the Ball Away). Being Florence an ancient Roman town established by Julius Caesar himself in 59 BC, there was/is a certain real possibility that the Roman game Harpastum just survived in Florence, across the Medieval centuries, as the ancient Florence football game.
This ancient football game is described in this way by Julius Pollux in his book Onomasticon (9, 104-105):
1-2 teams one before the other on a field;
2-the field divided in 2 halves by a central line, called skyros;
3-the game starts with the ball positioned on the skyros central line (after this the name of the game Epi-skyros);
4-there are 2 backlines behind each team;
5-one team wins by carrying the adversary team/ball beyond the adversaries’ own backline.
According to the various sources we have, this kind of football game (already used in ancient Sparta, played by two teams of 12/14 men each and with a ball of leather inflated with air and called kenysphaira or follis) was very similar to modern Rugby with the addition of a few characteristics typical of Soccer (and, in general, it was a game even more violent than Rugby and American Football): and this is how Calcio Fiorentino (i.e. Florentine Kick Game) actually works. This kind of game was also praised by Galen in his treatise De parvae pilae exercitio(On the exercise with the small ball), as perfect for the physical exercise of the body.
Hence in 1580, following the authority of the ancient lexicographers, antiquarians, physicians and surgeons, Giovanni de’ Bardi finally established the fundamental 33 rules of the game of football with his book Discorso sopra il giuoco del Calcio Fiorentino, being the first in history to do so and creating thus a game similar both to Soccer and to Rugby/American Football.
Since de’ Bardi’s football game (Calcio Fiorentino) was the first football game governed by established rules and the Florentine cultural activities always being highly influential across Europe, we understand how the rules defined by de’ Bardi worked as a fundamental model and reference for any kind of modern football game.
Today Calcio Fiorentino is still played in Piazza Santa Croce (Florence) every year (see videos infra).
Since de’ Bardi, at the beginning, wanted the game to be an elite game for the aristocratic families (a sort of military exercise in the form of a football game, as the Harpastum was for the ancient Romans), families who usually were also in charge of the military activities of Florence, many important historical figures used to play Calcio Fiorentino throughout the centuries, even though it was a very violent, hard and tough game: among them there are three popes (Clemens VII, Leo XI, Urbanus VIII) and many political leaders and men from the Italian major aristocratic families (de’ Medici, Gonzaga, Barberini) and even the French princes of Condé (cadets of the House of Bourbon).
Videos on History and Tradition of Calcio Fiorentino
Giovanni de’ Bardi: the founder of modern opera
Giovanni de’ Bardi was also well trained in the art of music and his love for the Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman traditions led him to develop the art of music, by reviving the ancient musical forms as described in the ancient manuscripts: a typical behaviour of a man of the Renaissance, who cultivated the love for the Ancient texts and traditions, like the truest Humanist, inspired by the Florentine Petrarca’s and Boccaccio’s first activities in this field (see supra).
Thus Giovanni de’ Bardi, in a period between 1576 and 1592, started a series of musical activities carried on by a group of people who usually kept their sessions of cultural discussions and of music playing at de’ Bardi’s own palace in Florence, Palazzo Bardi (via de’ Benci n. 5, Florence). This group received the name of Camerata de’ Bardi or Florentine Camerata. It was made up by composers, music theorists and scholars and was led by Giovanni de’ Bardi himself (the patron and host), who was also a music composer (unfortunately most of his music works went lost and are still lost).
Among the major composers and theorists who worked with Giovanni de’ Bardi there were the most famous Vincenzo Galilei (the father of the astronomer Galileo Galilei), Giulio Caccini (the composer of the first operas ever written) and Pietro Strozzi. The musical activities of this group were inspired by the works and the ideas of the scholar Girolamo Mei, a specialist of Ancient Greek drama and music, and were summarized in a series of books and works crucial to the development of modern melodramma/opera/monody:
1-Giovanni de’ Bardi, Discorso mandato… a G. Caccini sopra la musica antica e ‘l cantar bene;
2-Vincenzo Galilei (dedicated to Giovanni de’ Bardi), Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna;
3-Pietro de’ Bardi (son of Giovanni de’ Bardi), Lettera a G. B. Doni (describing the activities of the Camerata de’ Bardi and the birth of melodramma/opera);
4-Giulio Caccini, Le Nuove Musiche (the most important and theoretical part is its introduction Prefazione about Plato’s and other Greek philosophers’ theories on music and singing and the necessity of creating a new type of music different from the polyphony: effetti… che non potevano farsi per il contrappunto nelle moderne musiche, i.e. effects… that it was not possible to create through the counterpoint in the modern music pieces; Giulio Caccini was also an important music teacher of the new monody style and had many pupils ready to wide spread the new techniques, among them also collaborators of Monteverdi himself)
5-Jacopo Peri, Introduction to the score of Euridice (ritrovare questa nuova maniera di canto… gli antichi greci, i quali cantavano sulle scene le tragedie intere, i.e. to find out this new form of singing… the Ancient Greeks, who used to sing entire tragedies on stage)
The efforts and studies carried on by the Camerata since 1573 were finally supported, in the 1590s, by a new rival Florentine cultural circle led by Jacopo Corsi, who managed to gather around himself the same scholars and theorists who were involved also in the Camerata activities.
In this way, the two rival groups led Jacopo Corsi himself, Jacopo Corsi’s composer, Jacopo Peri, and de’ Bardi’s poet Ottavio Rinuccini to collaborate in creating the first opera ever written Dafne (unfortunately a work still lost: there are just a few fragments left of this opera composed both by Jacopo Corsi and by Jacopo Peri) in 1597/1598 (premiere probably 26 December 1598, Palazzo Tornabuoni, Florence, the palace of Jacopo Corsi).
Two years later the collaboration of the two composers Jacopo Peri (patron Jacopo Corsi) and Giulio Caccini (patron Giovanni de’ Bardi) with de’ Bardi’s poet Rinuccini led to the premiere of the second opera in history and the earliest still surviving opera, Euridice (premiere 6 October 1600, Palazzo Pitti, Florence).
Full performance of the earliest opera survived: Euridice by Peri & Caccini
So, in this way, that man, Giovanni de’ Bardi, that John of the Bards, who had founded the modern football games in 1580, managed to found also modern opera, the art of to act singing (il recitar cantando, an expression invented and introduced in 1600 by one of the composers of his Camerata de’ Bardi, Emilio de’ Cavalieri)…
Works by Peri, Caccini and Monteverdi at Palazzo Bardi, Florence
Monody or polyphony: a dilemma from de’ Bardi to Gluck, Mozart & Wagner
To create the melodramma/opera the Camerata de’ Bardi had to develop the technique of the monody and did this, by following the instructions of the Ancient Greece philosophers and theorists. Therefore monody started acquiring a position of contrast to the traditional polyphony style of that period, a polyphony style perceived as highly complicated (up to the obscurity), a corrupt and twisted form of music, incapable of conveying real emotional effects to an audience (nonetheless, as far as we know, it seems that both de’ Bardi and Caccini, in the end, thought that that counterposition of the two styles had not to be so completely radical).
Moreover the ideas of simplicity and of perspicuity which were cultivated with the monody style (that’s to say a canto and an accompanied basso with some chordal harmony, leading, in the end, to a recitativo, arioso and aria style) created a sort of dilemma, which had a great highly influential role in the history of music: monody vs. polyphony or harmony vs. counterpoint or homophonic-melodic treatment vs. contrapuntal treatment, as Schoenberg put it?
If we comprehend this passage well, we’ll better understand why the aesthetic ideas behind major composers like Paisiello found music perspicuity a fundamental aspect of the work of a music composer and which theoretical ideas led Gluck to carry on a reform of opera which had to change the structure of opera itself into a sort of simplified (also musically speaking) aboriginal purity. How Wagner developed such ideas, also from Gluck, into his form of opera/theatre (recitar cantando) is well known.
And we comprehend also why composers like Haydn and Mozart, following the ideas of C.P.E Bach, cultivated and developed forms of music, which were fundamentally and theoretically an amazing, marvellous and highly developed combination of the two techniques, the homophonic technique and the contrapuntal one, and why a certain acrimony emerged in Vienna between the Haydn-Mozart group of people and the Gluck group of people (among them Gluck’s pupil and official successor Salieri) with those many various accusations carried against Mozart and his opera writing: too many notes, lack of respect for word, German rubbish, due to its open contrast to the Italian and Gluckian simplified purity.
A) Theoretical writings on music by de’ Bardi:
• Discorso mandato… a G. Caccini sopra la musica antica e ‘l cantare bene
He left also many works on Literature.
B) Compositions by de’ Bardi:
Unfortunately most of his works went lost. Here the surviving works:
• Miseri habitator (intermedii del 1589)
• Lauro, ohimé Lauro (1582)
At imslp.org de’ Bardi’s works (but the man in a portrait by Raffaello at IMSLP is Baldassare Castiglione and not Giovanni de’ Bardi):
Giovanni de’ Bardi at IMSLP.
|Franz Xaver Mozart
F.X. Mozart, the son of Mozart
|Complete Works for Double Bass
The Works for Double Bass
by Dittersdorf were written in 1760s
for the Double Bass virtuoso
Pichelberger. Such works
are well known for being technically
demanding (with the viola part
penned by Dittersdorf for himself).
The two concertos were used
by Haydn’s bassist Sperger
at the Esterházy Orchestra
and mainly survived for this reason.
Dittersdorf was on friendly
Leon Bosch & Robert Smissen
Who is Gottfried van Swieten?
Usually a rather blurred figure in Mozart’s biographies, in reality, Baron Gottfried van Swieten exerted an enormous influence on the development of Mozart’s interests in music composition and then also on Haydn and on the young Beethoven. Furthermore, van Swieten (a freemason himself, like Mozart), with the Abbé Stadler, had a crucial role in the promotion of Mozart’s works carried on by Constanze, after December 1791.
The son of the Vampirism scholar Gerard van Swieten
The father of Baron van Swieten, Gerard van Swieten, was an important Dutch-Austrian physician, who in 1745 became the personal physician of the Austria Imperial family and, in particular, of the Empress Maria Theresa.
From 1718 to 1732, suddenly, a previously unknown brutal myth on vampirism reached also Austria from Serbia and received a wide sudden diffusion throughout Europe and many scholars were called by the local authorities to directly investigate the phenomenon and to eradicate it.
Maria Theresa asked Gerard van Swieten to investigate and was sent to Moravia in 1755, to study the case. In 1768 Gerard van Swieten published his Essay against vampirism Discourse on the Existence of Ghosts, which led Maria Theresa to ban all traditional defences to vampires, as the product of vain fear and of superstitious credulity.
In 1774 and in 1789 (2nd edition) the Dissertazione sopra i Vampiri by Giuseppe Davanzati, Bishop of Trani, appeared, to support the Essay by Gerard van Swieten and Maria Theresa’s laws. Unfortunately the superstition was difficult to eradicate and, thus, in the end, the authorities tried to transform vampirism in an art genre, to defeat it, by using also opera and comic opera (among the first works, the comic opera I vampiri by Silvestro Palma, 1812, which promotes the rationalist theories of Giuseppe Davanzati).
van Swieten and the von Jacquins friends of Mozart
The fact that Mozart and his wife Constanze were close friends of Gottfried von Jacquin and his sister Franziska, is well known. What probably many still fail to consider is that both Gottfried and Franziska von Jacquin belonged to the circle of van Swieten’s close friends. In fact the father of Gottfried and Franziska was Nikolaus von Jacquin, a famous and important scholar and a personal pupil of van Swieten’s father, Gerard van Swieten. Even more, Nikolaus von Jacquin named a genus of mahogany after his mentor and friend Gerard van Swieten, the Swietenia. So Mozart and his wife, by regularly attending the von Jacquins, just remained within the group of close friends of van Swieten.
Mozart and the van Swieten’s Sunday Music program
Thanks to Mozart’s letters and Weigl’s autobiography and some reminiscences of Salieri, we are rather well informed on the van Swieten’s Sunday Music program held at his apartments from the Spring 1782 to some years later.
At 12 every Sunday, Mozart, Starzer, Teyber, van Swieten and, probably only on a few occasions, also Salieri met at van Swieten’s apartments to study and perform works by Handel, Graun, J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach. F. Bach, with Mozart accompanying at the fortepiano, van Swieten singing discant, Mozart also singing alto, Starzer tenor, Teyber bass. According to Weigl, when Salieri was there, he also sang some part.
Thanks to this sort of private academies, Mozart developed his peculiar taste for Handel’s and Bach’s works, now made known and available through the rare and difficult to find scores of van Swieten, and their art of counterpoint, a taste that well emerges in his major works from 1782 to 1791 (Mass in C Minor, Haydn Quartets, The Magic Flute, Requiem etc.).
Mozart tried to promote, instead, during such occasions, the knowledge of the sacred music works by Michael Haydn and Eberlin, even though, as far as we know, he decided not to promote Eberlin’s keyboard art of fugue, because he found it on a lower level in comparison to Bach and Handel.
The presence of Salieri at these private academies at van Swieten’s are much disputed, because his pupil Weigl tells this story and because Salieri’s own reminiscences of these academies are certainly heavily manipulated and distorted: i.e. Salieri was the leader of these academies and Mozart used to call him papa all the time (difficult to believe, because Salieri was not much older than Mozart and could not be a papa to Mozart).
van Swieten’s political roles & his influence on Mozart’s works
From 1780 to 1782 van Swieten reached a high position at Court with Joseph II, earning an annual salary of ca. 20.000 florins (ca. 140.000 modern US dollars).
He became Councillor of State, Director of the State Education Commission (1781) and Director of a new Censorship Commission (1782). van Swieten, in his official role, supported and carried on the program of reforms of Joseph II. If Mozart’s works, like Le Nozze di Figaro, and certain parts of Don Giovanni (regularly censored and cut in 1800s) and, on a certain level also The Magic Flute, were freely performed in Austria in 1780s, that was also the result of the activity of van Swieten within the Censorship Commission, which increased certain forms of freedom.
As is well known, the death of Joseph II (and the French Revolution) created troubles to all the people who worked for Joseph II. And van Swieten, already considered the person responsible for too much revolutionary freedom and for other disasters of the Imperial administration, was discharged from his commission post by Leopold II on 5 December 1791, the same day as the death of Mozart, while Imperial informers were building an act of accusation against Mozart’s The Magic Flute, considered a satire against Louis XVI of France and the Austria Emperor’s sister Marie Antoinette and an obscure promotion of the French Revolution.
Mozart, van Swieten and the Handel controversy
The strong interest of van Swieten in the music by Handel, if, on the one hand, it led to the birth of great masterpieces like Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, Haydn’s Oratorios and Beethoven’s various works, on the other hand, unfortunately reached also levels of a sort of fanaticism hard to be comprehended.
In 1786 van Swieten organized the Gesellschaft der Associierten (Society of Associated Cavaliers), to organize the performance of great orchestral works in Vienna. In 1788 van Swieten chose Mozart as official conductor of the Society and from 1788 to 1790 commissioned Mozart to write a revised and updated (mainly in the orchestration) edition of four major works by Handel: Acis and Galatea (1788), The Messiah (1789), Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (1790), Alexander’s Feast (1790).
Despite Mozart’s intense activity on Handel, van Swieten kept a certain pressure on Mozart, because he wanted Mozart to write a purer Handelian work (possibly an oratorio?), to prove he was a real great composer (!?). From this, also the long lasting debate on Mozart’s borrowing from Handel in building his famous Requiem, considered already in 1790s also a collection of reminiscences of Handelian themes firstly heard by Mozart in his famous Tour in England when a child prodigy.
Moreover a letter of van Swieten written in 1798 ignited the Handel controversy among Mozart supporters, since van Swieten clearly declares himself unsatisfied with the work carried on by Mozart, but not with that carried on by Haydn, who really managed to prove himself a great composer on the same level as Handel. Mozart simply failed to prove this, due to his sudden death.
Here the infamous words from van Swieten’s letter (December 1798):
«Undoubtedly it [i.e. the level of Handel and of the two Bachs] would have been reached by Mozart, had he not been snatched from us prematurely. Joseph Haydn, conversely, truly stands there [i.e. with Handel the two Bachs]».
The harsh judgment of van Swieten simply means that Haydn, in the end, managed to deliver a great Oratorio, The Creation, in the high style of Handel, while Mozart miserably failed in doing this, due to his sudden death (!?).
van Swieten helps Constanze
After the death of Mozart, van Swieten actively helped Constanze Mozart and her children both financially and socially. Apart from his famous intervention for the funeral of Mozart, he promoted benefit concerts in favour of Constanze’s family and took care of the education of the young Karl Mozart. His role proved particularly crucial, in Prague, in April 1794, to save the young Karl Mozart, the 9 year old child of Wolfgang, from a trap organized by the supporters of Salieri in Prague: Karl Mozart had to publicly appear on stage during the performance of Salieri’s opera Axur «as the boy who is offered up for sacrifice». The immediate intervention of van Swieten and of his mother Constanze saved the boy from this orchestrated form of public humiliation against the child of Mozart by the supporters of Salieri.
van Swieten as composer, librarian, copyright promoter
van Swieten, who had studied music in his youth with a pupil of J.S. Bach and had become a member of the musical circle of the princess Anna Amalia, was also a composer and not only a simple patron of the musical arts.
While as patron van Swieten had already patronized the son of J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach (6 Symphonies H. 657–662, 1773; Sonaten für Kenner und Liebhaber, 1781) before reaching Vienna, through the years van Swieten developed his own musical compositions.
Today the critics are largely divided on the quality of his music. Even though The Grove Dictionary is particularly harsh in his judgment on van Swieten’s musical works, other scholars give more cautious opinions on his music works, especially because a few of them were considered for long time and printed and published as works by Haydn (3 of van Swieten’s Symphonies were printed and re-printed as Haydn’s Op. 29 for many years). Curiously enough, instead, Haydn considered most of van Swieten symphonies in the old fashioned 3 movements style, «as stiff as the man himself». Nonetheless, we know that Mozart conducted at least one of van Swieten’s symphonies in Vienna in 1782.
Probably also van Swieten’s surviving opéras comiques may deserve a better study and approach by both scholars and musicians, since his Les talents à la Mode has certain important affinities with Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne and features important, beautiful and very difficult coloratura arias and Colas toujours Colas, mostly in the pastoral style, has passages with strong affinities with Haydn’s The Seasons (in particular, the hunt scene).
As librarian and copyright promoter, van Swieten not only expanded the official Imperial library with books on science, but kept promoting music, by collecting rare scores and trying to convince the Emperor Joseph II, in 1784, to adopt the new copyright and royalties law in favour of the authors of works of art. In the end, Joseph II rejected the proposal by van Swieten and the system of copyright and royalties, so, was not available for those living under the Austrian Empire. Such law would have certainly changed the life of Mozart in better, by making it a bit easier.
The importance of van Swieten as Imperial Court librarian is due also to the fact that he is considered the first librarian in Europe to use the first form of library catalog, entirely based on a easily searchable system of cards, instead of the usual old bound volumes.
van Swieten, Haydn and the young Beethoven
The great interest of van Swieten in Handel’s music was also a distinctive trait of his patronage relationship with Haydn and the young Beethoven.
It is well known how, thanks to van Swieten and his intense activity of patron, music promoter, librettist and public concerts organizer in Vienna, Haydn managed to carry out his three great oratorio projects of the 1790s: The Seven Last Words of Christ (1795/96), The Creation (1796/98) and The Seasons (1799/1801). Nonetheless the personal relationship between the two men was not always easy, as it happened with the famous quarrel between Haydn and van Swieten on the French-style passages Haydn disliked for The Seasons, the Frenchified trash.
Instead, a lesser known episode of van Swieten’s life is his fundamental role, in 1790s, in the development of young Beethoven‘s interest in Handel’s and Bach’s music, as he had done with Mozart many years earlier. This time, he accomplished his music educational program through a long series of soirées at his home, usually starting at 8.30 pm, with Beethoven who was expected to play many pieces of music and especially many fugues by Bach for various hours in the night and then to sleep at home of van Swieten.
So, when Beethoven’s pupil Ferdinand Ries wrote: «Of all composers, Beethoven valued Mozart and Handel most highly, then S. Bach.», we know that Beethoven was, in this, highly influenced by van Swieten’s program of music education, based principally on the fact that, still in 1790s, van Swieten was one of the few owners of many scores by these authors, scores which were, in certain cases, still particularly rare to find on the 18th century market of music.
In 1801 Beethoven dedicated his 1st Symphony Op. 21 to van Swieten: Erste Symphonie von L. van Beethoven Dem Baron van Swieten gewidmet.
van Swieten & Vermeer
The father of van Swieten was the owner of one of the greatest masterpieces in the History of Art, painted by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, The Art of Painting, between 1665 and 1675. Then the painting became property of his son, Baron Gottfried van Swieten. They both probably ignored the name of the real author of the painting, since, until 1860, the painting was considered a work by Pieter de Hooch.
Ten years after the death of van Swieten, in 1813, the painting was sold to the family of the Bohemian-Austrian Counts Czernin.
WORKS BY VAN SWIETEN
A) Compositions by van Swieten:
• Ariette for La Rosière de Salency (1769)
• Opéra comique: Les talents à la Mode
• Opéra comique: Colas toujours Colas
• Opéra comique: La chercheuse d’esprit (lost)
• 10 Symphonies (7 surviving), 3 of them for long time considered works by F. J. Haydn as Op. 29 (according to some sources the symphonies were at least 12)
At imslp.org the score of van Swieten’s opera Colas toujours Colas is now available: Colas toujours Colas.
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Rebekka Maeder: Official Sites
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Rebekka Maeder: Novocanto Ensemble (Facebook)
Rebekka Maeder Coloratura Soprano:
10-11-18 June 2017: Haydn – St.Cecilia Mass
8 July 2017: Mozart – Così Fan Tutte
16-17 September 2017: Mozart program concert
4-5 November 2017: Schubert Mass in E Flat (Bern)
1. International Soprano with a vast and varied repertoire (from Bach, Handel up to Mendelsshon, Offenbach, Ravel and Leonard Bernstein), through the years you have been building a really impressive Mozartian repertoire: 5 Mozart’s operas, 8 masses, Davidde penitente and many other Sacred Music Works by him. What attracted and what attracts you the most in Mozart’s music? What Mozartian opera character do you like the most of those you have interpreted? And why? What Sacred music Vocal part do you like the most of the many Mozartian Sacred Works you have interpreted? And why?
The compositions of Mozart are simply the product of an unrivalled genius.
He knew exactly how to deal with the human voice… how he had to write for each character in order to make it possible for the singer to show all the colours and all that necessary diversification that not only effectively builds the character but also makes the character well defined and interesting. Moreover, the orchestration is written by Mozart in a very clever way, so that it never arrives to an excess of demand from the singer. Personally, I do really love the elegance of Mozart’s melodies and how he musically builds up the characters in his Operas.
The characters in Mozart’s operas, which I have interpreted so far, with the exception of the Queen of the Night, show some similarities: young, adult ladies of nobility, confronted with the themes of love, loyalty and betrayal.
Mozart’s operas are mostly about the emotional entanglements with which the aristocratic population has to deal with in everyday’s life: love and fidelity, desire and adventure, power and resignation.
Therefore, a decision about my favourite Mozartian character is not easy at all… you see, it much depends on the profundity of a character and on the actual musical part, as well.
Of course, the Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute) has such a special value and such an intrinsic charm of its own: the great concentration of emotions, the high drama and also the vocal technical challenge… And all this must happen on stage and in music in a very short time… she has 3 shows in the whole opera: 2 arias of approx. 4min each and an ensemble at the end. Within these short periods, all these characterizing factors must perfectly emerge from your interpretation. This challenge is always a motive of great enchantment and it is always such a great joy to accomplish your performance of this character.
On the other hand, the Queen of the Night, as a drama character, has not an actual evolution nor a distinct development within the opera. If we consider this point of view, I must say I do prefer the character of Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. Such character really leaves enough room for the development of the various different facets, not only on a theatrical level but also, and principally, on a pure musical level.
In the field of sacred music, I love the Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor in a special manner.
The enchanting Soprano solo Et incarnatus est represents a great and, at the same time, a marvellous challenge to the singer, when you are demanded to completely merge intimacy and virtuosity through your own performance.
Moreover, in general, the Mass itself is a very delightful masterpiece for the soprano. There are even two of them, who are also ingeniously combined firstly in a duetto, and then with the tenor in a terzetto.
This mass is so marvellously permeated with an outstanding dimension of love and spirituality (and all this with a stylistic variety that is, at the same time, so harmoniously forged into an art product of such a pure and elevated unity), that it deeply touches the audience as well as the interpreter.
Rebekka Maeder sings Mozart, Mass in C Minor K427, Et incarnatus est.
Rebekka Maeder sings Mozart, The Magic Flute, Der Hölle Rache.
2. In your Repertoire you have also many works by Joseph Haydn: The Creation, The Seasons and 5 Masses. What kind of interest led you to his music? What are your considerations on Haydn’s vocal parts in his masses and in his oratorios?
Haydn’s music is a great playing field for me as a singer!
I love his strong, sometimes even impetuous temperament, the freshness and playfulness of his compositions.
Sometimes arias are written in a way, that really recalls the Lied or Song technique, and can have a very catchy, almost folkish tone, but then… they can be highly virtuosic again.
His musical talent can achieve also such striking high levels of pictorial dimension.
An extraordinary example of this is his work The Creation in which his compositional mastery really stands out in all its glorious might… just not to mention that magnificent musical conception of chaos at the very beginning of his work.
Haydn really manages to break the rigid forms of baroque oratorios… and in such a pioneering way!
In The Creation he also shows his great talent in tone painting!
Each voice of nature finds its clear imitation in the sounds of the orchestra and also in the vocal parts: from the rays of the sun to the foaming waves of the sea, to the lions and the doves, etc.
All this is so so extremely interesting, if we consider the form of art itself!
3. In your repertoire, apart from Handel’s works and Beethoven’s works, you have many important composers of the second half of the 18th century/beginning 19th century. Among them we remember Mozart’s friend and mentor Josef Myslivecek, Mozart’s and Haydn’s great pupil Hummel with his masses, the brother of Haydn and Mozart’s friend M. Haydn and also Gossec. What can you tell us about your interest in these composers and in their music? What led you to add them to your repertoire and which one of them do you consider the most interesting composer?
My musical interest is concentrated mainly on the epochs of classical music and romanticism.
As a freelance musician I have free choice on the works I sing, of course. I can decide whether the work or the composer irritates me or not.
Nevertheless, usually the theatres and conductors are those who make their first choice, as far as the composer and the work are concerned… and this gives me the lucky opportunity to know and sing music works, which I just did not know.
Moreover, it is fundamental to me also to decide whether the piece fits my voice or not.
In general, however, I think it is important to have as much diversification as possible in my choices and not to limit myself to interpreting only the great and well-known composers and works.
This alone arouses my interest, especially when we are considering composers of these epochs and when such composers, like Myslivecek, are also well associated with Mozart. This connection, not only in terms of teachers and pupils, but also friendships and competitions, often has a great influence on the composer’s musical work.
For me, it is in this very moment that music shows one of its most beautiful aspects: it unites people and people learn and grow together: the creators, the performers and the audience.
To explore what influences can be found in the music of Myslivecek, Hummel, Michael Haydn and Gossec has been and is of great interest to me.
And it is always exciting to discover how differently the composers have treated the human voice in their works.
Since these composers are very different one from the other, frankly I cannot say which one of them I consider the most interesting. You see, an important attitude for me is not to evaluate everything in life in a too sharp manner. It’s not just about what is now more meaningful and important, more intelligent, more virtuous, or more perfect. People are not perfect, in any respect. So I just try to grasp what I find in music, in terms of what is offered to be grasped, and I try to give it that meaning, the music itself wants and tries to express: sometimes this is really very much and of a complex nature, sometimes it is just simple and even, so to speak, casual.
In any case, I must say that, in particular, the works Abramo and Isacco by Myslivecek and also Gossec’s Grande messe des morts have been particularly touching to me.
4. This year 2017 you are presenting Haydn’s St.Cecilia Mass (June), Mozart’s Così fan tutte (May-July), a full Mozartian program (September) and a Schubert Mass in November plus masses by Mozart (April) and Scarlatti (March) and Schumann and Mendelssohn. You also collaborate with various projects and ensembles and you are also a regular guest at various Music Festivals. So what can you tell us about your current and future projects? And what your suggestions to young singers who want to build a repertoire on MozartEra music?
I like the diversity and the constant new discoveries in the field of music.
I do not have to move across all the epochs, but I choose, where my voice and my heart lead me mostly.
I enjoy being able to make opera and operetta and sacred music with choir and orchestra, as well as chamber music.
Of course, concerts such as Haydn’s Cäcilienmesse, the Mendelssohn concerts in May and the Schubert Mass in November are impressive sonorous experiences, as they can fill a concert hall or a large church with a large orchestra and choir.
To make music with so many people is also a great accomplishment and it is also always so exciting to work with the different levels of the choirs… I mean, to work with professional musicians is an utterly different experience from working with non-professional choirs and often, when church music is involved, both experiences just incredibly meet each other.
Moreover the audience itself can be also so heterogeneous and of such a different nature. And this is a real challenge for the musician: to reach people, whether they are familiar with classical music or not.
And such considerations led me to work in projects like the Cosi fan tutte I’m presenting again in July: a chamber music version of the beautiful opera, tailored for the operatic lover as well as for the eyes and ears that are not familiar with the opera yet. The recitatives were replaced by the narrator Uwe Schönbeck, an outstanding and well-known actor in Switzerland and formerly a great and experienced singer who leads the audience through the opera and thus connects the musical numbers. This makes the opera much slimmer and more intelligible and it can also be easily financed and this in favour of smaller stages (a major subject in modern times not to be underestimated) and finally free the untrained listener from the fear of a visit at the opera house.
This variety of different works and performance platforms also offers great space for young singers to get acquainted with the repertoire of this time.
The vocal and artistic development of each young singer has its own pace and should be well reconciled with its possibilities. It must not be conducive to singing the most difficult and most complex works and roles too early and also the performance pressure should be handled with care.
So many young talents disappear, just because of a too much, so to say, because of too big stages and of a too heavy repertoire, which was forced.
Having a good mentor (or even several ones) who always has an eye and an ear on the singer is more than advisable. He can give good advice in the choice of roles and, above all, the necessary technical level. Internal and external growth should go hand in hand.
In contrast to later composers of the romantic period such as Strauss, Dvorak, Mahler, Verdi, Wagner, etc., the composers of the classical period seduce far less to an uncultivated and impetuous handling of the voices. The forms are more regular, the voice is somewhat less endangered.
Among the numerous works of classical music, however, there are also immense differences in the demands on the human voice. For example, it is advisable to choose, as a young soprano, the lighter voice parts (with Zerlina instead of Donna Elvira or with Blonde instead of Constanze), even if the voice shows already the potential for great drama.
Admittedly, sometimes the outside world does not seem to give a choice, but ultimately everyone decides more and more on his own voice.
If you are over-estimated it is actually easier to react, you can always cancel a job offer.
If a singer assumes too much too early, his ego is too great, or he has not dealt well enough with the part to be sung and has underestimated it (here an experienced consultant would be important).
If the singer does not take the step to accept or to apply for a role, although he is able to do so vocally, the ego, i.e. the inner growth, was not ready yet.
If one is underestimated, i.e. not being heard, this can have a reason which can be found in the very singer… the interior does not want to show itself, although it could. It is always a fundamental matter of balance.
5. Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.
Don Giovanni and The Creation.
6. Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?
I think Louis Spohr (1784-1859) is a very interesting composer.
Next year, one of his works The Saviour’s Last Hours will be performed.
Spohr is anything but unknown, his works range from opera, operetta, oratorios, drama music, songs, symphonies, chamber music to numerous violin concertos, however, despite the quantity and the quality of his works, he is rarely found in the concert or in opera agenda.
7. Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you’d like to see performed in concert with more frequency, especially thanks to your special experience as a MozartEra musician, performer and connoisseur.
For instance, Gossec’s Grande messe des morts or Hummel’s Mass in D Minor.
8. Do you have in mind a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?
For me, reading books is not the first choice when it comes to understanding the music.
I rather try to see how a composer has written the music; how he wrote my vocal parts and how he orchestrated them.
When I read books, I rather choose biographies or, even better, letters from the composers or from his contemporaries, as is in the case of Mozart.
Mozart’s letters are really wonderful to get an authentic impression of his world… They say a lot about the spirit of his time and about his own character.
9. Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.
BBC has produced a good number of interesting documentaries on Mozart; e.g. the chapter A Passion for the Stage from The Genius of Mozart (BBC Documentary).
And Amadeus is also a nice movie to get an impression of that time.
10. Name a place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music.
Vienna is such a great place!
You cannot get around this city (fortunately), if you have to deal with the music of this century.
I have been there several times for masterclasses and sightseeing!
Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!
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