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the sydney consort

Concert Series 2012

Sackbuts, Serpent and Strings

‘When all these instruments are employed together, it is called the loud music’.

Johannes Tinctoris, a Flemish composer and music theorist of the Renaissance

The Sackbut, a trombone from the Renaissance and Baroque eras, and the Serpent, one of the most improbable musical instruments ever devised, blend together in a firm yet mellow tone, adding depth and colour to the strings.

The Serpent was most likely invented by a French clergyman called Canon Edmé Guillaume at Auxerre in 1590. When well played, it blends superbly with voices and gives a depth to the choral sound. During the next two hundred years after its invention, it was used as a military band instrument and later evolved into the ophicleide and tuba. As an ancient musical wind instrument, the serpent was described by J. Viret as “a type of clumsy and unsightly cornet”. Nevertheless, it can be haunting and expressive, producing a unique sound not found in any other musical timbre.

In 1720, in Koethen Bach completed his sonatas and partitas for solo violin which represent the culmination of the German tradition for unaccompanied violin. That tradition combines extreme virtuosity with the German love of complex contrapuntal textures. The first sonata of the collection in G Minor, which Stan Kornel will perform this evening, is based on the four-movement Italian model (slow-fast-slow-fast) and is analogous to the "church style" violin sonatas of Corelli. This technically ambitious sonata is remarkably florid, yet is composed over a relatively simple chordal "story" in Adagio. Fugue, the airy Siciliano and the ‘motto perpetuo’-like Finale are the most popular works in the violin repertoire.

Stabat Mater

‘I had to turn away to hide my tears, especially at the place, 'Vidit suum dulcem natum’…

German poet Johann Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853)

"Stabat mater" is one of Christianity's most poignant creations: the lamenting Mary watches her son crucified on the Cross and the narrator pleads to share in her sorrow and gain Paradise himself.

Vivaldi's early career as a composer was devoted mostly to instrumental works. Then, in 1712, when Vivaldi was in his mid-30s, he was commissioned to write the Stabat Mater for the church of Santa María della Pace in Brescia. Recent sources indicate that it was his first sacred work. Then as it is now, the singer was male, although we do not know whether he was a castrato or a countertenor. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this Stabat Mater does not feature the soloist at the expense of the instrumentalists, whose music is nevertheless kept to a modest scale. Modesty also figures in the work's thematic content, as the music of the first three sections is recycled in the second three. What is most attractive about this balance and above all, devout, work, is the absence of Virtuoso display and extreme emotion.

One of the first exponents of the Neapolitan School, Alessandro Scarlatti, was commissioned by the Order of "Cavalieri della Virgine dei Dolori" in Naples. He annually honoured the Virgin by dedicating to her a Stabat Mater during the Lenten season. His work, more than that of Pergolesi, is full of quasi-operatic devices – pregnant pauses, dissonant ‘sighs’, and, in the final ‘Amen’, some exhilarating vocal acrobatics.

Friday Academies

‘Janitsch is ….the best specimens of the genre’.

Johann Wilhelm Hertel, composer (1727-1789)

Holding an important position with the Prussian Court, Johann Gottlieb Janitsch was a popular composer among his contemporaries. In Rheinsberg, the composer instituted a very popular series of "Friday Academies" at his house in Berlin. Performers included enthusiasts from the Prussian Court Orchestra and many other musicians, both amateurs and professionals. Janitsch was commissioned to compose music for a number of important events in Court, which helped him refine his use of style galant.

Being a good composer, as well a good organiser, he often promoted the works of foreign composers at his “Friday Academies”. "Friday Academies" also inspired Schale's "Monday Assemblies" and Agricola's "Saturday Concerts."

After his death, Janitsch’s manuscripts were given to the Berlin Singakademie, which plundered during World War II. As a result, most of Janitsch's works were considered lost. It is rumoured that a number of manuscripts originating from the Singakademie have been located in the Ukraine. Perhaps these will improve Janitsch's standing once they are catalogued and performed.

The Smmartini Brothers

‘…it may be remembered by many now living, that a flute was the pocket companion of many who wished to be thought fine gentlemen. The use of it was to entertain ladies…’

Sir John Hawkins (1719-1789)

Their music is very tuneful and Italianate, clearly influenced by Vivaldi, and played an important role in the history of 18th-century instrumental music.

The Sammartini Brothers, Giuseppe and Giovanni, were the sons of a French oboist who settled in Italy. The brothers, who were five years apart, were most probably born in Milan and left for London at a later stage. Giuseppe, the older brother, composed many chamber works and is best known for his Concerto for recorder and strings, which will be performed this evening. Giuseppe’s concertos are in the traditional three movements, but at the same time they present stylistic elements clearly borrowed from Handel. In London, where he was initially engaged as an oboist at the King's Theatre, Giuseppe entered the services of the Prince of Wales as a chamber musician. He died in London in 1750.

Often confused with his brother, Giovanni occupies an important place in the genesis of the symphony. This predecessor of Mozart returned to Milan where he was highly respected and led an active career to his death as a composer and conductor. Giovanni, a teacher of Gluck, was active in all genres including opera and symphonies. He also produced a large body of sonatas and trios.

Although the brothers were highly regarded in their time, their music was quickly forgotten until recently.