Thursday, September 25, 2014

THE TOWN OF SIRENS

The activity in Naples of Alessandro Scarlatti from 1683 until his death in 1725 also amplified the international reputation of “the town of sirens” as Naples was named. In their turn, the succeeding generation of composers to Scarlatti began a new style of composing opera; scholars consider today this as the point of departure for the new galant style, epitomized by Leonardo Vinci (who died in 1730), who was the first Neapolitan composer able to gain an international reputation, first in Venice and then in London, where his music was discovered by Handel.
Naples around 1720 additionally saw the beginning of the careers of Pietro Metastasio (the most important librettist of the century), the German-born Johann Adolf Hasse (who was educated in Naples) and the young Farinelli.
The four opera houses in the city offered foreign visitors every kind of vocal music productions, from opera seria in the San Bartolomeo to the new comic operas in the Neapolitan tongue in the minor theatres. And there was music everywhere in the town: in the 500 churches, in the open air, in the streets and in the squares. To sing in Naples was a fundamental achievement for any singer in the 18th century and beyond.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

ONDINE

The three act ballet of Ondine  was the result of a collaboration between German composer  Hans Werner Henze and British choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton and is thus the only ballet choreographed by Ashton to an original score. Ashton first approached William Walton to compose a score.  
However, Walton refused and suggested that his friend Hans Henze be approached. Therefore, the music for Ondine was commissioned from Henze, who went to considerable lengths to learn the special requirements of writing for ballet.  
Ashton gave him a very detailed breakdown of the action, with precise timings for each section in a similar way to how the famous nineteenth century choreographer, Marius Petipa did for Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky.  
Henze and Ashton met on the island of Ischia, just across the bay from Naples, to decide their key approaches to this new ballet. They decided to ignore the northern origins of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's novella Undine and move it to the Mediterranean.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

THE GALANT STYLE


In the eighteenth century, young boys with musical talent could dream of success as composers. The odds, however, were against them. 
The galant style of music in fashion at princely courts, opera theaters, and urban cathedrals demanded skills far beyond the reach of an amateur. It required not only excellence in counterpoint, figured-bass, orchestration, text-setting, and me-lodic design, but also such a high degree of compositional facility that one’s creations gave the artistic impression of sprezzatura – refined nonchalance.
A lucky few like Mozart or the Bachs were born into professional musical families. For the rest it could be very difficult to find a teacher with the requisite sophistication and connections. 
An exception to this widespread predicament could be found in the southern Italian city of Naples. There the art of music flourished under the lavish patronage of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty. On his name day of November 4, 1737, Charles VII (later Charles III of Spain) gave Naples what was then the largest opera house in the world (3,300 seats), and the oldest one still functioning, the Teatro di San Carlo. 
As the crown jewel among theaters, it presented only serious opera and attracted the greatest composers of the age. Other Neapolitan theaters presented comic opera and lighter musical entertainments. So many productions were staged, so many court concerts were scheduled, and so much elaborate sacred music was required at the dozens of magnificent churches that Naples might soon have run out of musicians had it not been for its four conservatories.