Playing on the emotions of the audience was of paramount importance for Baroque composers. In the Renaissance, the content of a text was often overshadowed by the complex bass. Humanists from the second half of the 16th century felt that this was problematic. They wanted innovative new ways to better highlight the emotional power of the text. This led to the rise of new compositional techniques and genres, reaching their full potential in the Baroque period. As a result, theorists and composers spoke of a seconda pratica or stile moderno – a second new ‘music practice’ in which the text’s expression was central and the rules of prima pratica or stile antico were followed less strictly. Dissonances could much better symbolise pain and heartbreak. Less was also composed for several voices in counterpoint; instead the technique of the accompanied monody was prefered. Now only one singer would sing accompanied by a continuous bass line – the basso continuo. These techniques were used not only in madrigals, but also led to the development of completely new genres, such as opera, cantata and oratorio.
One of the key figures in this evolution was Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). During his time as Kapellmeister in Mantua, he demonstrated how this new music could move the human soul with his opera L’Orfeo. In his Venetian period he composed operas; he was still Kapellmeister of the famous Saint Mark’s Basilica, but he also wrote operas for theatres. He continued to publish collections of madrigals, such as his eighth book in 1638, the famous Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi. Whilst he still followed the rules of the prima pratica in the first book of madrigals, his style evolved to become more free and modern in the later books. Quel sguardo sdegnosetto is a solo madrigal that appeared in the second collection Scherzi musicali (1632). In Monteverdi’s time, the term ‘scherzo’ referred to the strophic form of the text – it was not until later that ‘scherzo’ would allude to music of a light-hearted or comic nature. Quel sguardo has three strophes sung by the soprano. Her part is extremely virtuoso and has many variations in the melody. Melismatic passages, for example, contrast with abrupt, large leaps, or a recitative declamation is alternated with a more melodious line. Each strophe is accompanied by an almost identical bass line and the whole ensemble has an almost ecstatic, dancing character.
In contrast to Monteverdi’s cheerful solo madrigal, Francesco Cavalli’s recitative Volgi, deh volgi piede from his opera Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne is striking. Monteverdi laid the foundations for the development of opera in Venice and Cavalli (1602-1676) was able to reap the benefits. Monteverdi was Cavalli’s inspirational mentor for a long time. Cavalli was taken on as a boy in 1616 at the music chapel of Saint Mark’s, which at that time was led by Monteverdi. He was to remain associated with the place for the rest of his life, not only as a singer, but also as an organist. In 1668, his many years of dedication were crowned by his appointment as Kapellmeister, one of the most prestigious titles in western music. He composed magnificent religious works, but his reputation today is especially thanks to the thirty operas he composed for the public theatres in Venice. Gli amore d’Apollo e di Dafne was his second opera, which premiered in 1640 during the carnival season in the Teatro San Cassiano. The libretto, written for Giovanni Francesco Busenello, is based on Ovid’s first book, The Metamorphoses, which tells the story of Greek god Apollo’s love for the nymph Daphne. As is often the case in stories of antiquity there are subplots, in this case, the love affair between Procri and Cephalo. Volgi, deh volgi il piede is a cry of despair from Procri, who begs her lover Cefalo to return. The recitative is a masterpiece of expressive textual declamation. The form is completely free, important words are emphasised and there are great contrasts to clarify the themes. Only a few times the line “Lassa, io m’inganno, io non son quella più” is repeated as a refrain, and symbolises Procri’s desperation.
Barbara Strozzi’s L’eraclito amoroso evokes a similar, heartbreaking emotion. Here, the protagonist has lost all faith in his beloved and is stricken with eternal pain. Strozzi (1619-1677) grew up as the adopted daughter of composer Giulio Strozzi in an artistic surrounding in Venice, where she was also taught by Francesco Cavalli. She was known as an eminent singer and composer. She published only a few books of madrigals and arias. L’eraclito amoroso is included in the collection Cantate, ariette, e duetti, opus 2 (1651), dedicated to Ferdinand III of Austria and Leonora II (Eleonora Gonzaga) of Mantua. Strozzi formed lilting strophes which were alternated with recitatives. In these strophes she uses a compositional technique common in the Baroque period, namely the lamento on ostinato bass. A short motif of a descending fourth is repeated continuously in the basso continuo, upon which the soprano can sing a free melody. Keeping with the seconda pratica tradition, Strozzi pays close attention to the expression of the text. Note, for example, the symbolic phrasing of words such as “dolor”, “sospir” and “sotterrimi”.
Several generations later, George Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) made his mark with passionate operas, oratorios and cantatas. As a young composer in 1706, Handel left Germany for Italy to learn the tricks of the trade. He stayed there until 1710, working for aristocratic patrons in Rome. He mainly composed cantatas whilst there as they could easily be performed in a domestic setting. In 1707, Handel wrote the cantata Armida abbandonata (Dietro l’orme fugaci) for prince Francesco Maria Ruspoli, which was most likely performed on a summer trip to Ruspoli’s country house in Vignanello. The young soprana Margherita Durastanti performed the piece; she would remain one of Handel’s most loyal performers, and would later perform in his opera productions in London. Ah, crudele! is one of the three arias from the cantata with an ABA structure. The sections in A are in a major key whereas the B sections in between are in minor, creating a contrast.
As a resting point between the passionate vocal works, Bart Naessens plays the Toccata in F, an instrumental work by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643). In a toccata, the composer does not follow a fixed structure, he can let his fantasy run freely. The term is derived from the Italian ‘toccara’, which means to touch. It is almost as if the harpsichordist explores the possibilities of the instrument through improvisation. Frescobaldi was the piano virtuoso of his time and held several prestigious positions. To name a few, he was the organist at the Vatican in Rome, as well as the organist to Ferdinando II, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
This project was created thanks to the donations of many music lovers to AMUZ’s ‘Support Fund for Young Belgian Artists’. Read more.
Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676): Volgi, deh volgi il piede, uit: Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne
Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759): Ah, crudele, uit: Armida abbandonata, HWV 105
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643): Toccata in F
Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677): L’Eraclito amoroso, uit: Cantate, ariette e duetti, opus 2
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643): Quel sguardo sdegnosetto, SV 247
Deborah Cachet, soprano | Bart Naessens, harpsichord | Edouard Catalan, cello
The young Belgian soprano Deborah Cachet studied at the Lemmens Institute in Leuven and at the Amsterdam Conservatory. She trained further with Rosemary Joshua on her vocal technique. In recent years, she has won several international singing competitions. In 2019, she was a part of Le Jardin des Voix, which is organised annually by Les Arts Florissants to bring together young singers. She has since been featured in numerous opera productions, including Mozart’s La finta giardiniera and Le nozze di Figaro, Rameau’s Les Boréades and Pygmalion, Britten’s A midsummer night’s dream, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Desmarest’s Didon et Énée. She has also sung with ensembles such as Collegium 1704, Akademie für Alte Musik and Ensemble Correspondances. Deborah Cachet has performed on several CD recordings by Scherzi Musicali, Ensemble Pygmalion and Le Poème Harmonique, to name a few. Her most recent recordings are Orphée aux enfers by Charpentier with Vox Luminis and A Nocte Temporis, and Rameau’s Les Boréades with Collegium 1704.
Bart Naessens studied the organ, harpsichord and orchestral conducting at the Lemmens Institute in Leuven. He also attended master classes with a.o. Leo Van Doeselaar, Menno Van Delft, Trevor Pinnock and Skip Sempé. Meanwhile, he has become a highly respected and appreciated continuo player and conductor. He has worked with ensembles such as Zefiro Torna, Ensemble Explorations, il Gardellino, Collegium Vocale Gent, Vlaams Radiokoor, Nederlandse Bachvereniging, Les Muffatti, and B’Rock. In 2020, the radio station Klara named him Musician of the Year. The jury report praised him as “the musical jack-of-all-trades par excellence. His range of influence in the world of classical music is overwhelming: as a conductor and artistic director, as a harpsichord and organ player, as a pedagogue at the Brussels Conservatoire and as an inspirer of amateur musicians.”
Edouard Catalan studied cello and Baroque cello at the conservatory in Reims. He continued his studies in Baroque cello at the conservatory in Brussels and took master classes with Jaap ter Linden. He plays regularly with ensembles such as Les Agréments, La Petite Bande, Scherzi Musicali, and is one of the founders of Barroco Tout.