It is a sad irony of history that Tomaso Albinoni is universally known for a piece he never wrote. The average music lover, prompted by the word “Albinoni”, will normally answer: “Adagio!”. But the exceedingly famous Adagio, played at weddings and funerals, and heard in countless soundtracks, is in fact a fake realized by Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto in the twentieth century. Still, the fake Adagio has the undeniable merit of having attracted global attention on the figure of this Venetian baroque composer, who fully deserves to be numbered among the greatest musicians of his era. And this claim is not unsupported: we may in fact assume that a composer whose works were adopted as models by Johann Sebastian Bach had something to say. Bach in fact employed themes excerpted from Albinoni’s Opera I and built some of his finest Fugues on them; moreover, he also proposed Albinoni’s music to his students as a compositional model. In fact, we have Bach’s handwritten corrections on a pupil’s realization of the continuo part of an Albinoni Sonata.
In spite of this, and of many other attestations of Albinoni’s international fame and widespread appreciation, today his figure is not as known as it should, and his music is performed much less than it deserves. The recording panorama has not given sufficient attention to this composer, and even his most important works lack major recordings, in particular on period instruments. For this reason, this Da Vinci Classics album is the premiere recording of Albinoni’s Opera III on period instruments, and therefore represents a much needed, and a long-awaited addition to the relatively scanty discography of Tomaso Albinoni.
The label of “Venetian” musician applies perfectly to Albinoni. He was born and would die in Venice, and would spend there most of his life. And, in his published works, Albinoni defined himself as a “Venetian amateur” or “musician at the violin”. Now, to qualify an artwork as “amateurish” is hardly a compliment nowadays. And one would scarcely imagine Bach recommending a dilettante’s works as compositional models for his students. In fact, to be an “amateur” meant for Albinoni something rather different from what is intended today.
Albinoni came from a wealthy bourgeois family; he was the second child of Antonio and Lucrezia Fabris, and the family’s financial status was such that he did not need to earn a salary or to have constant sources of income. He studied the violin, then singing and composition (counterpoint), and began a successful music activity. He did not have to take on performing or teaching jobs, and was not bound to the capricious tastes of the audiences; he did not have to write as tirelessly as Vivaldi, and to constantly produce new music to satisfy the public’s demands. He was a freelance musician, unconstrained by the diktats of a patrician or ecclesiastical master, and relatively independent from the whims of the public. His creative freedom, however, constitutes a problem for today’s historians. Albinoni did not belong in the official corporation (or guild) of the Venetian musicians; his activity is very sparsely attested, and we cannot find traces of him, for instance, in the books of the orchestra players or in the accounts of the Venetian confraternities or churches.
The first major achievements of the young musician can be dated to 1694, when he was barely 23 years old. Within the space of a single year, he licensed in print his first instrumental work, his Opera I. This was a collection of Trio Sonatas (for two violins, with a concertante continuo played by cello and organ), which was dedicated to no less a figure than the Venetian-born Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. Ottoboni was one of the mightiest princes of the Catholic Church, but also a passionate music lover; he was a patron of Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti and Georg Friedrich Händel, was celebrated by Vivaldi, and was Pietro Metastasio’s godfather. In Albinoni’s case, Ottoboni was to be the godfather of his creative output, and doubtlessly the composer’s choice was acute and strategically shrewd. Still, his work spoke for itself, and took Italy, and later Europe, by storm simply by virtue of its intrinsic value.
In that same year, Albinoni debuted as an operatic composer, producing his Zenobia, Regina de’ Palmireni on a libretto by Antonio Marchi. The opera was premiered at the prestigious theatre of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, and was such a success that the young composer was definitively launched as an operatic musician. For nearly fifty years he would continue to write for the theatrical stages, composing on average an opera per year. Sadly, most of this immense output has been lost. We must therefore trust the praising evaluations of his contemporaries and the testimonies of the dissemination of Albinoni’s operas on the international plane – and, perhaps, hope in a future recovery of at least a part of this production.
On the other hand, the instrumental output of the composer is much better documented, essentially because most of his finest works were published during his lifetime. After his Opera I, he would return to the form of the Trio Sonatas in his Opera III, recorded here; in between, he had published, as his second opus number, a collection of “symphonies and concertos”.
His Opera III saw the light in 1701, when the composer was thirty years old; they therefore represent a mature fruit of his creativity. They are dedicated to another powerful ruler of the era, i.e. Ferdinand of Tuscany, “Grand Prince” of Tuscany from 1670 to 1713. (Curiously, both Vivaldi and Albinoni dedicated some of his works to him, erroneously indicating him as “Ferdinand III”; however, Ferdinand never accessed the throne of Grand Duke, and therefore “Ferdinand III” is a much later member of the family who lived between the eighteenth and the nineteenth century). In this case too Albinoni selected wisely the godfather of his work: Ferdinand would be responsible for hiring Bartolomeo Cristofori in the service of the Medici family, and therefore he is indirectly to be credited with Cristofori’s invention of the fortepiano.
In the title page of the published first edition, these works are indicated as Balletti. However, the indication is puzzling, since they fully correspond to the more appropriate label of Trio Sonatas. Arguably, the name was simply the publisher’s idea in order to increase the collection’s appeal, but it is rather misleading, particularly in our modern eyes. Indeed, the closest model that can be found for these so-called Balletti is clearly to be found in Corelli’s chamber Sonatas (see Corelli’s op. IV, of 1694). Vivaldi may have been inspired in turn by Albinoni, since his own Trio Sonatas (Sonate da Camera a Tre op. 1) have many points in common with Albinoni’s. Within the collection, we find five different kinds of dances – of the dances typified in the Baroque suites and partitas. Four of them have a more or less brisk pace, whilst the allemandes can have a slower or quicker tempo depending on their positioning within the framework of each sonata. Music lovers will notice that Albinoni’s Sarabandes are markedly different from those written by Bach: whilst the German’s Sarabandes are slow, stately, touching and expressive, those by Albinoni are lively and brilliant. The preludes are characterized by intense and moving lyricism; the gavottes are brisk and dynamical, and an explicitly virtuoso style is required by the Courantes and Gigues. The slow allemandes are sorrowful, deep and profound.
In spite of the presence of dance rhythms, and therefore of the clear belonging of these Sonatas in the secular sphere, exemplars of the coeval partbooks of Albinoni’s Opera III require the continuo to be performed by the organ, as in the church sonatas. For this reason, a flexible concept of the continuo has been adopted in the recording published here. This allows for the full palette of Albinoni’s rich scoring and elaborate texture to emerge clearly and be perceived in its dazzling variety.
This collection, therefore, represents not only an extremely enjoyable kind of music – a music which powerfully evokes the quintessentially Venetian soul of the Serenissima at the time of her splendour, already veined by the nostalgic awareness of her fading power. They also allow us to better understand a substantial portion of Albinoni’s instrumental oeuvre, to comprehend more efficaciously his artistic and stylistic evolution, but also to reconstruct his role more deeply within the framework of the processes happening in the European panorama of his time. Albinoni was in fact a great innovator, under the viewpoint of instrumental music. He was the first Italian composer who fully understood the expressive potential of the oboe (he is credited with the composition of the first oboe concertos in the Peninsula); he was one of the first, if not the first, to convincingly write three-movement concertos; and he crucially contributed to the development of the ”chamber symphony”, thus paving the way for the later genre of the orchestral symphony.
Thus, this recording represents a much-needed opportunity for discovering, or re-discovering, a composer of beautiful music, and a pillar of Baroque music history. And even if no “Adagio” by Albinoni is found in this collection, there is plenty of beauty to enjoy in his Largos, Allegros and Prestos.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Cecilia Iannandrea studied organ in Benevento and Napoli with M° Antonio Varriano e Roberto Canali, in Florence with M° Giovanni Clavorà Braulin. She also studied Harpsichord with Anna Clemente and Vera Alcalay. She specialized with M° Michael Radulescu, Jean Guillou, Bernard Winsemius, Henk Verhoef, Matteo Imbruno, Carlo Barbierato, Francesco Di Lernia, Alessandra Artifoni. She is the titular organist and Chapel master in Santa Maria Novella and San Marco in Florence.
Giacomo Benedetti studied organ, harpsichord and composition in Firenze with M° G. Libertucci, G. Clavorà Braulin, A. Clemente and A.Fedi. He specialized with M° M. Imbruno, A. Perugi, G. Leonhardt. He is the organist of Santa Felicita a Ponte Vecchio and of San Miniato al Monte in Florence.
L’ARMONIA DELLE CETRE
The ensemble’s name is closely related to the repertoire of this recording. “L’armonia delle Cetre” is in fact a sentence excerpted from a writing by Albinoni himself. Dedicating his opus 9 to a nobleman, he praises his custom to take refuge in the “harmony of the citharas” after his military and political enterprises, and begs him to accept the humble fruit of his genius.
The ensemble “L’armonia delle Cetre" was created with the aim of bringing to light, in compliance with historically informed performance practice, some lesser known pages in the baroque repertoire of the “sonata a tre”. Despite being a recently formed ensemble, all of its members have practised this musical genre for years; in particular the two violinists have been playing together for over fifteen years.
Léo Brunet studied classic guitar in Paris with M° Gérard Verba, lute with M° Claire Antonini and composition with Jacques Saint-Yves. He specialized in lute and theorbo with Benjamin Perrot in Versailles and with M° Hopkinson Smith in Basilea.
The members of the ensemble ”L’ármonia delle Cetre” have played in the most prestigious national and international halls and equally prestigious music International festivals and seasons.
Matteo Saccà studied modern violin in Firenze under M° Felice Cusano. From 2005 to 2014 he studied baroque violin with M° Alessandro Ciccolini and specialized with M° Alessandro Moccia, Olivia Centurioni, Pavlo Beznosiuk, Sigiswald Kuijken. He has a degree in music history from the University of Siena.
Rossella Pugliano studied modern violin in Firenze under M° Felice Cusano. From 2005 to 2014 she studied baroque violin with M° Alessandro Ciccolini and specialized with M° Alessandro Moccia, Olivia Centurioni, Pavlo Beznosiuk, Sigiswald Kuijken.
aleria Brunelli studied modern cello in Firenze with M° Francesco Dillon and Andrea Nannoni and in Hannover with M° Tilmann Wick, she specialized with M° Enrico Bronzi, Vittorio Ceccanti and Marianne Chen. She studied baroque cello in Florence with M° Bettina Hoffmann, in Cesena with M° Mauro Valli and specialized with M° Marco Testori in Milan and Alessandro Moccia in Ghent.
Tomaso Giovanni [Zuane] Albinoni
(b Venice, 8 June 1671; d Venice, 17 Jan 1750/51). Italian composer. His father, Antonio Albinoni, was a stationer and manufacturer of playing cards who owned several shops in Venice and some landed property. As well as completing his apprenticeship as a stationer, Tomaso, the eldest son, learnt the violin and took singing lessons; his teachers are not known. Despite his talent he was not tempted on reaching adulthood to seek a post in church or court, preferring to remain a dilettante – a man of independent means who delighted himself (and others) through music. As a composer he first had an unsuccessful flirtation with church music. A mass for three unaccompanied male voices is the sole survivor of this episode (the Magnificat in G minor ascribed to him is of dubious authenticity); juvenile infelicities abound, yet it clearly shows his penchant for contrapuntal pattern-weaving. In 1694 Albinoni had two successes in fields for which his musical training had probably better prepared him: an opera (Zenobia, regina de' Palmireni) was staged at the Teatro di SS Giovanni e Paolo at the beginning of 1694, and his op.1, 12 trio sonatas, was published by Sala. Instrumental ensemble music (sonatas and concertos) and secular vocal music (operas and solo cantatas) were to be his two areas of activity in a remarkably long career as a composer which terminated 47 years later with a prematurely entitled ‘oeuvre posthume’ (six violin sonatas, c1740) and the opera Artamene (1741).