Musica Transalpina

Musica Transalpina

August 14 at 12:00 pm
First Presbyterian Church

Program Notes

Cipriano de Rore (ca. 1515-1565) was one of many Renaissance composers who trained in Flanders but sought employment in Italy. He became perhaps the most influential composer of the favorite Italian genre in his period: the madrigal. He was one of the first to seek out serious, emotionally fraught poetry, which continued to inspire composers through the next century. The two madrigals on today’s program are good examples of Rore’s approach. Both poems are serious, quasi-dramatic outcries of a speaker deprived of a desired object: the first addressed to sleep and the second to love. These two works make use of a typical feature, “text painting,” whereby the music literally represents a particular word. For instance, Rore suddenly introduces a fast-moving musical figure for the word “fugge” (“to flee”) in the latter part of O sono. At the same time, he concentrates on expressing the mood of a whole phrase. The appeal to sleep in O sono, for example, is expressed by the calm motion of all the voices together. Both madrigals likewise end with surprising unsatisfying cadences, emphasizing the sense of unfulfilled desire in both poems.

The Sonata BWV 1030 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is best known in its setting for flute and harpsichord, but the version for oboe in G minor on today’s program may in fact represent the original form of the work. In either version, this sonata represents a phenomenon that, if not invented by Bach, was certainly influential because of him: the sonata for solo instrument and obbligato keyboard. Before Bach’s time, most sonatas for a single instrument were accompanied by basso continuo (usually a group made up of a bowed bass instrument with a keyboard whose player improvised a quasi-harmonic accompaniment). In writing out a part for the keyboard and giving the player’s right hand an equal melodic role with the solo instrument, Bach in effect turned a solo instrumental work into a trio sonata. The three parts include the treble solo instrument, the keyboardist’s right hand, and the bass (played by keyboardist’s left hand, possibly doubled by a bass instrument). While Bach also wrote standard sonatas with continuo, he composed numerous obbligato sonatas for violin, flute, viola da gamba, and oboe. As in much of Bach’s music, the three parts engage in highly contrapuntal conversation, and often virtuosic elaboration.

Giovanni Pergolesi (1710-1736) had an outsize influence on the history of music despite his very short career, spent largely in Naples. He acquired enormous fame after his death, especially for his comic operas like La Serva Padrona (“The Maid as Master”), which achieved a succès de scandale when it was performed in Paris in 1752. Pergolesi was also known for his sacred music, which included masses, psalm settings, and the Stabat Mater on today’s program. This work achieved a fame equal to that of Serva Padrona, and J. S. Bach even used its music for his cantata, Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden. The text of the Stabat Mater hymn, which Pergolesi set for solo soprano and alto voices with strings, addresses Mary’s suffering during the crucifixion. The work moves seamlessly between the galant language of the 1730s that Pergolesi heard in Neapolitan theaters, and older Baroque forms, such as the opening duet, whose suspensions and walking bass are reminiscent of Corelli, and the fugal “Fac, ut ardeat, cor meum.”

© Don Fader, 2021