Past Concerts

Guts ventured forth to Maine to present:
Finding a Voice: Music from the Streets of Venice to the Courts of France

A lively concert of violin sonatas by 17th-century Italian and French composers, showcasing the distinct regional styles and historically-accurate violin bows used to perform them. Dazzling virtuosity of decorated melodies gives way to flowing lyricism, the height of French baroque music under the Sun King, Louis XIV. Sylvia Schwartz, baroque violin, and John Ott, viola da gamba.

The concert was presented as a fundraiser toward purchase of the historically-informed violin on generous loan to Sylvia by maker Douglas Cox of Brattleboro, Vermont. Admission was pay-what-you-decide donation. The fundraiser is still going on. If you would like to contribute, please click here!

Saturday, December 9th, 7:00pm, Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick.
Meet the musicians at the intermission reception.

More about the Music

Our concert begins on the streets of Venice, around 1620. The city is prosperous and happy, fed by the riches that come in via the Silk Road, or by sea. Aside from the nobility, there is a rapidly-growing class of wealthy, educated craftsmen and specialists pursuing independent careers. The music is vibrant and virtuosic, and it is everywhere. It echoes from the Basilica de San Marco, where the great Claudio Monteverdi presides over as great an orchestra as has ever existed before. It resounds from the halls of the Ducal Palace, and from the churches, and from the companies of piffari (marching bands of wind and brass instruments) parading down the streets. Even more so, it spills to the streets from the homes of amateur and aspiring musicians, who now have access to this music through publishing.

Though many published editions of vocal works, especially madrigals, had been printed for generations, collections of instrumental music were comparatively rare. But Venice suddenly had a wealth of great musicians plying their trade, and it was lucrative to compose a collection of music and sell it to a publisher. Many of these collections continued to be printed and distributed throughout Europe long after their composers’ death. These printed works laid out the foundation for many instrumental music forms, including the solo violin sonata.

In 1617, Biagio Marini, one of the lead violinists of San Marco, published his first collection of instrumental works, which featured La Gardana, the first piece ever published for violin and continuo. In 1621 the itinerant wind player Dario Castello, also a musician at San Marco, published the first of two collections of instrumental music, which feature the first solo sonatas for treble instrument and continuo. By the 1640s Venetian publishers also printed music from composers outside Venice, like the violinists Giovanni Battista Fontana from Brescia and Marco Uccellini from Modena, who pushed the violin sonata to higher levels of virtuosity.

Life in Italy was often rife with intrigue, and sometimes that spilled over into music. In the 1660s, Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli had to flee justice after killing a famous singer in a duel, finally taking his career to France and Spain. His collection of violin sonatas published in 1660 became his last. Another frequent fugitive from justice was Alessandro Stradella. After establishing himself as a composer in Rome in 1676, he had to flee to Venice after becoming involved in a scheme to marry off an “ugly old” noblewoman for money. He later eloped to Turin with a young woman he was supposed to be teaching, the mistress of the Duke of Venice. The Duke caught up with him in Turin, and after ordering him to marry the girl, had him stabbed and left for dead. He recovered, composing music all the while, and finished his career in Genoa, where after writing a few successful operas, he was finally assassinated in 1682. During his short career, he left behind many works, including collections of sinfonias for one or two violins and continuo.

The influence of the Italians extended to Vienna, where the Hapsburg courts sought the best musicians of Europe, such as the great violinist Antonio Bertali, originally from Verona, who arrived in 1631. He shared the Italian style of sonata writing with his pupils, including the native Austrian, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. Both of them experimented freely with common ostinato (repeating) bass lines, writing elaborate flourishes, variations and divisions over these unchanging note patterns in the bass.

At the turn of the 18th century we arrive in France, in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Italianate sonatas have arrived in France, and a new generation of French composers are exploring how to fit them into the delicate, refined and ornamented French style. Key among these composers are Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, once a child prodigy adopted by the court, and now a successful composer, one of a select few granted the Royal privilege to publish music, and Marin Marais, master of the viola da gamba and protege of the great Jean Baptiste Lully, the founder of the French Opera.