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
De jonge Belgische sopraan Deborah Cachet studeerde aan het Lemmensinstituut in Leuven en aan het conservatorium van Amsterdam. Ze liet zich nog verder begeleiden in haar vocale techniek door Rosemary Joshua. Ze won de afgelopen jaren meerdere internationale zangconcours. In 2019 maakte ze deel uit van Le Jardin des Voix, dat Les Arts Florissants jaarlijks opzet met jonge zangers. Ze was ondertussen al te horen in tal van operaproducties, waaronder Mozarts La finta giardiniera en Le nozze di Figaro, Rameaus Les Boréades en Pygmalion, Brittens A midsummer night’s dream, Purcells Dido and Aeneas en Desmarests Didon et Énée, en zong met ensembles als Collegium 1704, Akademie für Alte Musik, Ensemble Correspondances. Deborah Cachet is te horen op meerdere cd-opnamen van onder meer Scherzi Musicali, Ensemble Pygmalion en Le Poème Harmonique. Haar meest recente opnamen zijn Orphée aux enfers van Charpentier met Vox Luminis en A Nocte Temporis, en Rameaus Les Boréades met Collegium 1704.
Bart Naessens studeerde aan het Lemmensinstituut in Leuven orgel, klavecimbel en orkestdirectie. Hij volgde masterclasses bij o.a. Leo Van Doeselaar, Menno Van Delft, Trevor Pinnock en Skip Sempé. Hij is ondertussen een bijzonder gerespecteerd en gewaardeerd continuospeler en dirigent. Hij werkte samen met ensembles als Zefiro Torna, Ensemble Explorations, il Gardellino, Collegium Vocale Gent, Vlaams Radiokoor, Nederlandse Bachvereniging, Les Muffatti, B’Rock e.a. In 2020 werd hij door radiozender Klara uitgeroepen tot musicus van het jaar. Het juryrapport prees hem als “de muzikale duizendpoot par excellence. Zijn actieradius in de wereld van de klassieke muziek is overweldigend: als dirigent en artistiek leider, als speler op klavecimbel en orgel, als pedagoog in het Brusselse conservatorium en als bezieler van amateurmusici.”
Edouard Catalan studeerde cello en barokcello aan het conservatorium van Reims, verdiepte zich in de barokcello aan het conservatorium van Brussel en volgde masterclasses bij onder meer Jaap ter Linden. Hij speelt geregeld met ensembles als Les Agréments, La Petite Bande, Scherzi Musicali, en is een van de oprichters van het ensemble Barroco Tout.