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Just after the start of the eighteenth century a special musical tradition took hold for Christmas concertos in Italy. This developed into a truly strong fashion, always with gentle, melodious tunes and very frequently with a piece designed to evoke country life, with animals and shepherds around the stable when Jesus was born and laid in a manger. The most famous of all such concertos was that by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) who was 'maestro di cappella' for the learned and rich Roman Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. The 'Concerto per la Notte di Natale' was probably written about 1690, and when Corelli died in 1713 he bequeathed all he owned to the Cardinal, who in return obtained a monument for him in the Pantheon. Corelli's reputation was so great that the so called 'concerto grosso' spread like wildfire from the 1680s onwards, and very soon all composers started writing their own concertos for Christmas night.
Listen — Arcangelo Corelli: Allegro (Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op 6 No 8)
(track 2, 0:00-0:39) ℗ 2020 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
In the last year of his life at the age of fifty, Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709) wrote twelve concertos, and the sixth in G minor was a concerto in the form of a pastorale for Christmas. Along with those of Corelli, Torelli's 'concerti grossi' were an important foundation for Vivaldi, who found in these pieces the basis to insert a refrain (ritornello) which became a recurrent characteristic in his almost five hundred concertos, including, of course, the immortal 'Four Seasons'.
Francesco Manfredini (1684-1762) was a violin pupil of Torelli in Bologna, and he too included a Christmas Concerto into his 'concerti grossi' published in 1718 as his Op 3. Although his music is not at all inferior to that of his illustrious contemporaries, his works did not attain the same popularity. A real pity this.
Listen — Francesco Manfredini: Largo (Concerto Grosso in C, Op 3 No 12)
(track 13, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2020 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) is the composer 'par excellence' of the Italian baroque. During his lifetime he was wildly famous, but his last years were marred by poverty, illness and rejection of his music. He died forgotten and destitute in Vienna and was buried in an unmarked grave. Fifty years later, a certain Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart suffered the same fate, a coincidence conjured up by the whims of history. In 1926 Vivaldi's luck changed when an enormous collection of his manuscripts was discovered in a Piedmontese monastery. Acquired by the Turin national library, a new wave of enthusiasm for the forgotten master suddenly swept across all Europe and beyond. Today, Vivaldi is one of the most played and recorded composers of all time. The Violin Concerto in E 'Il riposo per il S S Natale' is one of the manuscripts in the Turin collection. It was most probably composed in the last years of Vivaldi's life and the score makes the unusual demand that all strings are to play 'con sordino' with a mute and without a harpsichord. The concerto has many beautiful moments, most notably that depicting the infant Jesus sleeping peacefully in his manger.
Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764) composed his Christmas 'concerto grosso' in the mid 1720s, and it is the eighth concerto of the composer's Op 1. The piece has a peculiar tonality about it as the Christmas music it contains is in a melancholy minor. It is a highly intense and mature work by one of the Baroque's most inventive musicians, but unfortunately Locatelli remains one of those undeservedly overlooked composers. In his own time, Locatelli was renowned as a fabulous violin virtuoso, later often compared to Paganini, and his concertos for this instrument are still considered to be fiendishly difficult to bring off.
Listen — Pietro Locatelli: Pastorale ad libitum (Concerto Grosso in F minor, Op 1 No 8)
(track 21, 2:55-3:51) ℗ 2020 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
This is a compilation full of craft and ingenuity, and with the festive season well under way, although sadly subdued, this is music whose beauty of mood and melody will surely instill a spirit of hope of better things to come. Excellently performed and recorded, with some insightful notes thrown in for good measure. Strongly recommended, despite the short playing time.
Copyright © 11 December 2020