Formed by virtuoso violinist Fabio Biondi to draw international public attention to a new and definitive presence in the interpretation of the baroque and classical eras, Europa Galante consists of some of the best Italian musicians and has achieved huge success. Following the ensemble’s January 2010 Zankel Hall performance, The New York Times reported “The group’s sound, unified and appealingly astringent throughout the concert, had an energy that lifted it off the stage… .” Europa Galante debuts on the Series with a thought- provoking program of works by Corelli, Couperin, C.P.E. Bach, and Vivaldi themed Apotheosis & Follia.
About the sponsor
Paul and Barbara Krieger, great lovers and players of early music, endowed this concert in 2003. Paul, a retired pathologist, has turned to another great love, the study of music theory. Barbara was the Executive Director of the Vineyard Theater, an off-Broadway theater which she founded in 1981that garnered two Pulitzer Prizes among many other honors. Currently, she is the Artistic Director of Making Books Sing, a family theater and education company which she founded in 2001. The Kriegers have a collection of historical keyboard, wind, and string instruments all of which they enjoy playing together with their many musical friends.
Europa Galante with Fabio Biondi, violin and leader
Europa Galante was formed by Fabio Biondi to draw the international public’s attention to a new and definitive Italian presence in the interpretation of music on original instruments from the baroque and classical eras. Biondi gathered around him the best Italian musicians with whom he had already worked, and soon Europa Galante met with huge success.
The ensemble’s first record of Vivaldi’s concertos was awarded the ‘Premio Cini’ of Venice and the ‘Choc dé la Musique’ and soon followed in subsequent years by a number of awards such as five Golden Diapasons, Golden Diapason of the Year in France, RTL Prize, ‘Record of the Year’ nominations in Spain, Canada, Sweden, France, and Finland, and a ‘Prix du Disque.’ The ensemble has been nominated twice for Grammy awards—in 2004 for Vivaldi's Concerti con molti strumenti and in 2006 for Bajazet. The next opera project is Vivaldi’s Ercole sul Termodonte.
Europa Galante has performed in the world’s major concert halls and theatres: La Scala, Rome’s Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Royal Albert Hall, Vienna’s Musikverein, Lincoln Center, and the Sydney Opera House. The ensemble has toured in Australia, Japan, Canada, Israel, the USA, and South America and often collaborates with the Ente Santa Cecilia in Rome to recover and restore eighteenth century Italian operas. It regularly performs at the Alessandro Scarlatti Festival in Palermo and has performed several world premières.
Europa Galante’s repertoire ranges from the operas of Handel and Vivaldi and the oratorios of Alessandro Scarlatti through the great instrumental works of the eighteenth century. The ensemble has a varying structure and often performs chamber such music as the string sonatas of Italian composers of the seventeenth century including Castello, Legrenzi and Farina.
This season, Europa Galante performs in Europe: in France at Théâtre de la Ville and Theatre des Champs Elysees; in Rome; Spain; in Poland at the Krakow Festival; and in Amsterdam.
Born in Palermo, Fabio Biondi began his international career at the age of twelve, performing his first solo concert with the RAI Symphony Orchestra. Moved early-on by cultural curiosity, he was introduced to pioneers of the new approach to baroque music, an opportunity that was to expand his musical vision and change the direction of his career.
At sixteen, Biondi was invited by the Musikverein of Vienna to perform Bach's violin concertos. Since then, he has performed with ensembles including Cappella Real, Musica Antiqua Wien, Seminario Musicale, La Chapelle Royalem, and Les Musiciens du Louvre—all specializing in the performance of baroque music using original technique and instruments.
In 1990, Fabio Biondi founded Europa Galante, an ensemble that became the most internationally renowned and awarded Italian ensemble of baroque music. Biondi's musical development, oriented toward both the universal repertoire and the rediscovering of minor composers, includes three centuries of music.
Currently, Biondi is devoted to the perpetual pursuit of style, free from dogmatism and intent in his quest for the original language. He collaborates as soloist and conductor with such orchestras as the Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra, the European Baroque Orchestra, the Opera of Halle, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Norway, and the Orchestre Nationale of Monpellier.
Biondi performs in duo with piano and harpsichord or forte-piano in prestigious venues around the world.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Sonata in D Minor for Two Violins and Bass in D Minor, Op. 1, No. 12, RV63, “La Follia”
Francois Couperin (1668–1733)
Grand Sonata and Trio, “L’Apothéose de Corelli”View Notes
A contemporary of Vivaldi and a little older than J.S. Bach, François Couperin was born into an illustrious dynasty of musicians who were the French equivalent of the Bach family. So established were the Couperins at the court-related Parisian church of St. Gervais that François automatically inherited the post of chief organist from his father, Charles, even though he was only ten at Charles’ death; the position was covered by a “regent” until he reached his majority at age eighteen. François’ rise thereafter was breathtakingly swift. Louis XIV appointed him court organist in 1693 and was so pleased with his playing and compositions that he raised Couperin to the nobility a few years later. Eventually, Couperin became the king’s chief musician, and he ranked as the greatest French Baroque composer in the generation following Lully. While most of his contemporaries devoted themselves to the twin French passions of ballet and opera, he chose the more abstract world of instrumental music as his métier.
Couperin was a great lover of Italian music and throughout his career tried to achieve a rapprochement between French and Italian styles. Corelli’s trio sonatas were his ideal and the model for his own early works in that genre; as he said, “[I was} delighted by the sonatas of Signor Corelli, whose works I shall admire, like those of Monsieur Lully, as long as I live.”
In 1724, Couperin published a collection of music called Les goûts-réunis (“Reunited Tastes”) in which he sought to mix Italian melodic richness with the dance forms cultivated by the French. Included in this collection is an extraordinary programmatic trio sonata, “Le Parnasse ou L’Apothéose de Corelli,” in seven movements and the key of B Minor in which he pays homage to Corelli, imagining him being received on Mount Parnassus by Apollo and the Muses. Since Couperin was very flexible about what instruments could be used for his works, the two higher instruments could be played by two violins or two flutes/recorders, while a bass viol, cello, or harpsichord took the lower part.
Each of the movements bears a descriptive title. For the slow and stately first movement, it is “Corelli at the foot of Mt. Parnassus asks the muses to accept him into their company.” The second movement—“Corelli, extremely flattered by the friendly welcome he receives on Parnassus, shows his happiness”—is a sprightly fugato or little fugue. In the third movement—“Corelli drinks from the Hippocrenian spring, his troupe continues on their way”—flowing contrapuntal lines describe the spring of Hippocrene on Mt. Helicon, which was also associated with the Muses. “Corelli’s enthusiasm caused by drinking the waters of the Hippocrene” is described in lively bounding-rhythm music in the style of a gigue.
The fifth movement—“After his fervent outburst, Corelli falls asleep”; his troupe plays him the following lullaby”—is a gentle sommeil, a French Baroque genre used in both opera and instrumental music to accompany a sleeping scene. In movement six, “The Muses awaken Corelli and place him next to Apollo.” Finally in movement seven, “Corelli expresses his thanks” in a joyful fugue.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012
Michele Mascitti (1664-1760)
Sonata for Violin, Op. 5, No. 12, “Psyché”
- I. Grand Air – Vivace
- II. Les vents – Allegro
- III. Festes Galantes, sarabanda – Largo
- IV. Badinage – Allegro
- V. Du sommeil – Largo e piano
- VI. L’amour en courroux au désespoir – Allegro e staccato
- VII. Calme amoureaux – Largo
- VIII. La Noce Allemande
- IX. Suite de la noce – Allegro
- X. Derniére suite de la noce – Allegro
Like Couperin, Michele Mascitti endeavored to blend the Italian and French instrumental styles of the early 18th century, though working from the other side. Born near Naples around 1664, he was taught by his uncle and may have also studied with Corelli. Though a secure post at the court of Naples was offered to him, Mascitti had wanderlust and performed as a gifted violin virtuoso throughout Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands before settling in Paris in 1704. Blessed with talent and striking good looks, he was enthusiastically embraced by the French as their own Corelli.
All of Mascitti’s published compositions are for strings and most—like the work we’ll hear today, “Psyché,” from 1714—are sonatas for solo violin and continuo instruments. Its programmatic content, inspired by the Roman mythological tale of Cupid and Psyche, reflects the French passion for Classical mythology in the closing decades of the 17th century and the early 18th. A few decades earlier, both Molière and Corneille had dramatized the story, and the great Lully had set it to music.
Psyche is a mortal woman whose beauty is so great that she arouses the jealousy of Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Venus sends her son Cupid to shoot a golden arrow into the sleeping Psyche so that when she awakens, she will fall instantly in love with some vile monster. But Cupid, overcome by Psyche’s beauty, cannot do the deed and instead accidently pricks himself with an arrow so that he falls in love with the girl. Furious that her plan has gone awry, Venus puts a curse on Psyche so that she will never find a suitable husband. An angry Cupid responds by refusing to shoot his arrows until the curse is lifted, and for months, no human or animal on earth falls in love, marries, or mates. After Psyche has carried out many impossible tasks to satisfy Venus, Cupid finally wins Jupiter’s approval to marry her and make her an immortal.
Mascitti’s “Psyché” is a sonata in ten brief tableaux following the style of the divertissement or ballet suite so popular at the court of Versailles during Louis XIV’s reign. Its highlights include the whirling figures imitating the wind in movement two’s “Les Vents”; the slow, elegant sarabande dance featuring the continuo instruments for “Festes galantes”; the brilliantly vivacious music for “Badinage” (“joking”); another soothing sommeil or lullaby for movement five; the frenzied, dissonant music for “L’Amour en courroux au désespoir” (“angry love leading to despair”); a beautiful, lilting siciliano as the lovers make up (“Calme amoureux”); and a trio of contrasting courtly dances for the conclusion.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Sonata for Violin and Bass in D Minor, Op. 5, No. 12, “La Follia”View Notes
Today’s concert showcases how two masters of the Italian Baroque, Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi, stamped their very different personal styles on the same musical task: the creation of a set of variations on the haunting Spanish/Portuguese melody “La Follia.”
No composer had a first name better suited to his music than Arcangelo Corelli, who indeed wrote string music of angelic beauty. Born in 1653 in the generation before Vivaldi, Handel, and J.S. Bach to a wealthy family living near Bologna, he was blessed with fame in his own lifetime, a fame that lasted long after his death as his works continued to be eagerly circulated throughout Europe. Handel, who worked with Corelli early in his career before coming to England, was deeply influenced by his music.
As well as composing, Corelli was an outstanding violin virtuoso and perhaps the greatest and most influential violin teacher of his era. And he lived at the perfect moment for creating music for strings— at the time that master instrument-makers like Stradivari, Guarneri, and Amati were bringing these instruments to full perfection. Serving as music master first for Queen Christina of Sweden and the for the fabulously wealthy arts patron Cardinal Pietro Ottobani, Corelli became the most admired and imitated musician of his day. During the first decade of the 18th century, his Monday evening concerts at Ottobani's palace were the highlight of Rome's music schedule. His solo sonatas, trio sonatas, and concerti grossi—all for string instruments with keyboard support—embodied the musical ideals of the middle Baroque period.
None of Corelli’s rather modest portfolio of compositions was more influential that his Opus 5 collection of sonatas for violin and bass continuo. Most spectacular of them all is the twelfth and last—his twenty-five variations on “La Follia,” a tune that may have originated in Portugal in the 15th century and in early 17th century Spain became associated with frenzied singing and dancing (though Corelli took a much more sober approach to it). During the Baroque period, variations on “La Follia” were a mini-obsession as Alessandro Scarlatti and J.S. Bach, among many, created works based on it.
Corelli’s Opus 5 sonatas were published in 1700 and immediately caught the attention of a younger composer coming of age in Venice. In his early twenties, Vivaldi had just been ordained to the priesthood and in 1703 was appointed maestro de violino at the girls’ foundling home Pio Ospedale della Pièta, which he would turn into one of the glories of musical Venice. Eager to show that he was a talented composer as well as a violin virtuoso, between 1703 and 1705 he brought out his Opus 1 trio sonatas for two violins and bass continuo, which concluded, like Corelli’s Opus 5, with 19 variations on “La Follia.”
Built on the same ground bass as the Corelli variations, Vivaldi’s set was clearly designed as an homage to the older master, but they also vividly displayed his own unique qualities as a composer. More in the spirit of abstract music, Corelli’s beautiful variations have a poised, restrained elegance and a cool emotional tone. They show off the violinist’s virtuosity, but in a very refined way. Eschewing Corelli’s calm, the Vivaldi variations are more highly colored and have a nervous energy that is so typical of this composer and an important element in his great contemporary popularity. There is more overt virtuosity on display, and Vivaldi’s use of a second violin part adds significantly to these possibilities. The slow movements are more intensely emotional; one actually suggests a soul wailing in torment. There is more stylistic variety, with Vivaldi including even a charming, rocking siciliano among his slower variations. And Vivaldi contrives in his group of closing variations to create a thrillingly climactic drive to the finish line.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Sonata for Two Violins and Bass in C Minor, Wq 161, “Sanguineus et Melancholicus”
- I. Allegretto – Presto
- II. Adagio
- III. Allegro
Though he spent his entire career in Germany, C.P.E. Bach, the most successful and prolific of all Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical sons, was as cosmopolitan as any of the composers on this program. Boasting a university education in the law and humanities from the University of Leipzig and the University of Frankfurt, he borrowed from the latest French and Italian styles to keep his music au courant with the times. For thirty years, he served as the official accompanist to Frederick the Great in Berlin; Frederick was a passionate amateur flutist and admired French culture so much that he made his courtiers speak French rather than German. Later C.P.E. moved on to Hamburg where he served as Telemann’s successor in the post of the city’s Kantor and music director.
Regarded as the leading exponent of the North German empfindsamer Stil (“sensitive style”), C.P.E. wrote music that is much lighter and more entertaining than his father’s. And we hear this in his experiment in programmatic music from 1749, the Sonata in C Minor, “Sanguineus et Melancholicus.” Those Latin words refer to two of the medieval temperaments: the sanguine or happy man and the melancholic man who always looks on life’s dark side. In a lengthy preface, the composer described this music: “An attempt has been made to express as far as is possible by means of instruments alone something for which the resources of voices and a text are perhaps more suitable. It is meant to portray a conversation between a Sanguineus and a Melancholicus, who are in disagreement throughout the first and most of the second movement; each tries to draw the other over to his own side until they settle their differences at the end of the second movement, at which point the Melancholicus gives up the battle and assumes the manner of the other.”
Bach differentiates musically his two personalities in every way. In the opening movement, we first meet the moping Melancholicus, who favors music in a rather slow two beats and in C Minor, the traditional “sad” mode. The Melancholicus violinist also plays in a predominantly low range. His high-flying antagonist Sanguineus is eternally dancing in a fleet three beats and in the brighter major key of E-flat. The second movement’s Adagio tempo tends to favor Melancholicus, who drags along on long-held notes. But at the end of the movement, Sanguineus wins the battle and pulls Melancholicus into a close duet. The Allegro finale is an infectious, high-spirited dance for the two newly united temperaments in which both share the same musical material, high range, and the “happy” key of E-flat Major.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012