- 18 Dic 2018
In 1997 I published my first monograph on CD dedicated to Cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti. I had identified thirteen beautiful Cantatas for Solo Bass (or Baritone) voice at the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella Library (Naples), and at the Library of the Academy of Santa Cecilia (Rome). Nine Cantatas with Continuo and four with instruments. But, incredibly, almost all the manuscripts were undetectable! I didn’t do research abroad. So I sang the only four Cantatas I’ve found: “Sotto l’ombra di un faggio” “Nel mar che bagna al bel Sébeto il piede”, “Qualor tento scoprire il mio martire” (of which I’ve found a version even for Alto and Continuo) and “Tiranna ingrata che far dovrò.” Other Cantatas as “Cor di Bruto che risolvi” or “Tra Speranza e Timore”, “Immagini d’orrore” or “Doppo lungo penar” were impossible to find in Italy and difficult to search and obtain in the private and public foreign collections (Münster and München). After the year 2000 these Cantatas have been made accessible and then recorded. But the fact remains that my first discographic monograph on the Cantatas for low male voice (Bass or Baritone) in Alessandro Scarlatti is a WORLD PREMIERE RECORDING.
Alessandro Scarlatti in the 21st century
Alessandro Scarlatti’s cantatas are still a virtually untouched repertoire, in light of his fame, influence, and the size of his output. Is Scarlatti simply too intellectual a composer to attract widespread interest? Was Edward J. Dent exaggerating in claiming him as a significant forerunner of Mozart’s operatic style? Why are his operas so little represented in the CD catalogue? (as a 1997 correspondence on the Internet Early Music List revealed). In the interviews following the release of our Olimpia and other cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti (ABC Classics, 2001), I find the same questions recurring, always based on the assumption that surely the music of great composers is easily recognised and self-evident, so why not Scarlatti’s It is not just Scarlatti’s cantatas that are neglected (comparatively) in modern editions and performances, but rather the whole genre of the Italian cantata. Few of the cantatas of Stradella, Carissimi, Luigi Rossi – to mention only the big names – form a regular part of concert programs. Whereas interest and forces can be raised to put on an opera or oratorio by the above composers, the solo cantata excites few concert promoters. Whose political or managerial ends does it serve to produce an evening of cantatas? I think a big part of the reason for this lies in the centrality of text to the solo cantata. It requires time and effort on the part of the listener to absorb the skill and imagination which these composers brought to illuminating the ideas of their poetic texts. It’s as if an English-speaking audience is prepared to make this effort in the Italian language for some key works of Monteverdi and then for Mozart’s operas, but the sheer size of the 17th century cantata output makes it easier to imagine that somehow it can be lived without. Incidentally, can you imagine where our understanding of Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, (and indeed 19th century musical style as a whole) would be if we discounted their output in solo song accompanied by keyboard? As a performer working in research libraries throughout Europe, I have no doubt why Scarlatti’s cantatas have not become readily accepted by performers. Few singers have time or inclination to spend the time acquiring the skills to choose cantatas from primary sources. They are singers’ music. A glance through the online register of doctoral dissertations (Indiana) reveals that the bulk of research students are at work on opera, keyboard music, and church music. There still aren’t many Italian cantata editions available, whereas most of Handel’s cantatas, for example, have been available in the old Chrysander/Brahms editions for over one hundred years. The survival of so much unfamiliar, unsorted music, is daunting: where to start? Editorially, producing Scarlatti’s cantatas to satisfy scholarly criteria is a big job not only in terms of the number of works and establishing their authorship. This latter job was done comprehensively by the American scholar Edwin Hanley, whose Bibliographical Study (Yale Ph.D, 1963) remains the essential tool for anyone working in the subject. It’s also a matter of working through the manuscript sources, gradually building a “profile” of copyists whose text and occasional mention of a date can be trusted. The main work in identifying Roman copyists and paper has been done in the field of Handel research, by scholars such as Keiichiro Watanabe and Rudolf Ewerhart. Ursula Kirkendale’s major article “The Ruspoli Documents on Handel” (JAMS 1967) contains a wealth of material that has yet to be worked through with regard to the resident Italian musicians who figure as copyists, orchestral and continuo musicians and rival composers in the Handel story. And then there are the Neapolitan sources – few copyists here are identified as yet – and what about the transmission of Scarlatti’s cantatas in Paris, some of them made by French copyists, others clearly Neapolitan sources? Essential material for the Scarlatti scholar is located in the Santini Collection Münster, said to contain the bulk of the collection of manuscripts belonging to the Roman artistic patron Prince Ruspoli, including some Scarlatti and Handel autograph manuscripts. Yale Library holds the other important autograph source of Scarlatti’s solo cantatas, the so-called ‘cantata diary’ of 1704/5 which has been described in detail by Reinhard Strohm (in Haendel e gli Scarlatti, Firenze 1987). The presence in British libraries of many Roman manuscript copies of impeccable credentials from the composer’s “workshop” is evidence of the particular fascination of English collectors and ‘Grand Tourists’ of the 17th-18th centuries, including Charles Burney (presumed owner of the ‘cantata diary’), and the Old Pretender, who regularly frequented the Roman opera and academies ca.1715-30. (1) The comparatively small number of dated copies and autographs means that most of Scarlatti’s cantatas cannot be assigned an exact year – is this a stumbling block to the genre of the scholarly edition, I have often wondered? And yet plenty of chronological data is available to construct a history of Scarlatti’s cantata styles. Right from the early pieces of the 1690’s, he moved within an wide tonal orbit (F sharp minor and B flat minor within consecutive recitatives, for example); the chromaticism that pervades his later music is already a notable feature, as well as his predilection for repeating words and phrases in recitative – in sharp distinction to most of his contemporaries. Yes, the Da Capo form does settle down in his music about the late 1690’s (this is one of the few facts most musicians know about Alessandro Scarlatti, and one that seems to put him in the “historical figure” category, alas). The arias of this period show a style of great melodic clarity and beauty, which is not always to the fore in the expanded Da Capo arias of his later work. But he does not always use Da Capo form: the Serenata Horche di Febo ascosi, for example has two through-composed arias in succession, concluding with one of the unaccompanied vocal endings that are an occasional feature of Scarlatti’s writing. Recurrent subjects are lontananza (distance or separation, symbolically death perhaps), night and solitude, the traditional pastoral subject of the shepherdess in flight from her lover, and female characters named and unnamed, abandoned or made frantic by jealousy. A singer important to Scarlatti was the dedicatee of most of the “cantata diary”, the castrato Andrea Adami (member and later maestro of the papal choir), who is documented as a performer of Stradella’s cantatas as late as the 1690’s – an important link between the 2 generations, we may suppose. The modern listener will probably always be most attracted to the cantatas with obligato instruments, which are the subject of some published editions by me, as well as chacona’s recent recording. (2) Further research is needed to establish whether Scarlatti regularly expected those with strings to be accompanied one to a part or with a bigger group (again, most of the evidence so far stems from Handel research and records of the Ottoboni and Ruspoli archives). Those prepared to make the extra effort with the poetry will be rewarded by entering the realm of the solo cantata with basso continuo, to which Scarlatti entrusted arguably his most profound and entertaining music. A remarkably eloquent performance of the piece Per un momento solo by soprano Cristina Miatello and harpsichordist Guido Morini (Venice, August 1994; recorded on Tactus 661905, 1999) convinced me that this repertoire is capable of moving us as profoundly as the songs of Schubert, even when we may not follow every single word. It is, in many ways, ideal repertoire for the medium of recording, in the hands of expert and sympathetic performers.
Rosalind Halton, April 1997 (Cantata Editions)
Cantate da Camera of Alessandro Scarlatti 783 cantatas are listed by the American scholar Edwin Hanley in his authoritative study of the sources – a great repertoire covering the period ca.1688 (the first dated cantata) to the year of his death, 1725. Most are for soprano and basso continuo – the medium in which Scarlatti worked throughout his life. Alto and continuo make up the next biggest category. A number of the cantatas circulated in transposed copies within Scarlatti’s lifetime. Duets for various voice types and characters attracted Scarlatti at different times of his career. Most appealing to us today are the cantatas for solo voice(s) and obligato instruments. Two violins and soprano is the most common combination (e.g. Silentio, aure volanti) but works with 2 violins, violetta, and bass (e.g. Olimpia) are also found, and there are 2 works for alto, flauto, 2 violins and bass (e.g. Bella Dama di Nome Santa). For more elaborate scoring we look to the Serenatas – extended works to be performed on summer evenings with pastoral or allegorical characters, and special orchestration. Scarlatti’s manuscripts show exceptionally lucid thought, not just in the clarity of his hand and the detail of punctuation (unique in this period), but also in the planning of the compositions: recitatives thought straight out on to the page; arias that occasionally contain second thoughts about proportions or meter, but with intervallic patterns almost invariably established before pen went to paper. Of the 783 cantatas, less than 10% are preserved in Alessandro’s autograph, and these are precious for the detail of tempo markings, punctuation, dynamics, and articulations they show. A circle of regular copyists worked with Scarlatti in Rome and Naples, producing copies of the remaining repertoire. The task of identifying the Roman circle of copyists close to the composer has been carried out by the Japanese scholar Keiichiro Watanabe, and Hamburg musicologist Hans Joachim Marx. The proximity of these musicians/copyists to Handel during his Roman visit has provided much information relevant to Scarlatti – with paper types as well as copyists. This work remains to be documented in the case of the Neapolitan sources.
Musical imagery and declamation of originality and beauty await the listener: interruption, hesitation, doubts, illusions built up only to be dashed – all part of this expressive language. Repetition of individual words or short phrases is a recurrent and original feature of Scarlatti’s recitative style, creating animation and emphasis by breaking into the regularity of the poetic meter. Perhaps no composer of Da Capo arias ever approached the task of organizing text repetition less routinely than Alessandro Scarlatti, or with a surer feeling for illuminating images and dramatic situation. The immediacy of Scarlatti’s response to poetry is documented in various ways: in the description of his spontaneous setting of a poem improvised at a meeting of the Arcadians; in his own account in a letter to Ferdinando de’ Medici of his absorption and involvement in setting the poetry of the opera Il Gran Tamerlano (“I confess my weakness – I wept“); and most of all in his ‘cantata diary’ of 1704-5, composed for the castrato Andrea Adami, who was later maestro of the papal choir: sometimes as many as three cantatas in a week. With unexpected and remote key areas – in recitative as well as aria – Scarlatti portrays characters in states of intense agitation, contrasting with the resignation or illusory stability of those who sing in the diatonic keys of the natural hexachord. He never abandoned the possibilities of merging recitative into arioso, or of setting up a dynamic interaction between accompaniment and voice. Scarlatti was the first Italian composer known to use recitativo stromentato, the recitative of heightened intensity accompanied by instruments. His first use of this device occurs in the opera Olimpia Vendicata (1686): in his later cantata Olimpia the heroine’s invocation to the wind and waves, to sabotage her unfaithful lover is also accompanied with a dramatic recitativo stromentato. This is truly vocal chamber music: the dialogue may be with cello, which Scarlatti developed as an expressive and sometimes virtuoso style in its own right; or as one of the contrapuntal layers of a polyphonic texture with violins; or in a playful exchange with another character, or with a featured instrument such as the recorder. In composing for voice(s) and obligato instruments, Scarlatti treats the voice as a part of the dialogue of instruments, which in turn are infused with the declamation and imagery of the poetry.
Rosalind Halton, September 2000 (Cantata Editions)
Alessandro Scarlatti No Italian baroque composer produced more varied or more vividly singable music in his time than Alessandro Scarlatti. A compulsive worker, driven perhaps by the poverty of his childhood in famine-stricken Sicily, he made an early success as an opera composer in Rome, gaining the favour and protection of Queen Cristina of Sweden. With both his sisters giving rise to scandal and gossip, Alessandro and other members of his family left Rome in 1684 for Naples, where he took up the position of maestro di cappella at the vice-regal Court. A year later, in 1685, his most famous son, Domenico, was born. More successful operas followed, but Scarlatti was equally involved in the more intimate genre of the cantata. By 1700 political instability at the court in Naples led him to look elsewhere, first to Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici in 1702. He received a few opera contracts – resulting in the composition of the operas he regarded as his best (Lucio Manlio, and Il Gran Tamerlano). These lost works are the subject of a fascinating correspondence between composer and his patron. But Florence did not offer him long-term work and Rome became his base again, with employment at San Maria Maggiore. In 1706 he was at the peak of his activity in Rome, and was elected to the Arcadian Academy, one of few musicians to be so honoured, along with Corelli and Pasquini. Above all, Rome offered Scarlatti the opportunity to develop the cantata and the serenata. Opera was banned altogether by Papal ordinance during much of his time in Rome. But the existence of the Accademia Arcadiana and the regular conversazioni of the Roman artistic patrons, Cardinals Ottoboni and Pamphili, and Prince Ruspoli, regularly brought together poets and musicians, with a sophisticated audience in an environment that encouraged subtlety and experimentation. Rome in 1707 and 1708 was also the scene for Handel’s many triumphs in oratorio and cantata. Nothing is documented on the subject, but maybe it is no coincidence that he left Rome soon after Handel’s extended visit. 1707 saw Scarlatti in Venice, with a new opera, and a visit to Urbino followed, where he composed a number of chamber duets on pastoral themes. Towards the end of 1708 he accepted the Austrian Vice-Roy’s invitation to return to his position in Naples, taking the place of Francesco Mancini, who had served in Scarlatti’s prolonged absence. In 1716 he received the honour of a knighthood from Pope Clement XI. From works like his Regole per Principianti, a treatise on figured bass, it seems that Scarlatti was active as a teacher; the German composers Quantz and Hasse were among those who sought him out. His last opera, Griselda composed for Rome in 1721, shows great spirit and energy, as does the cantata, Là dove a Mergellina dated 1725, the year of his death. Studies of composers usually stress the large-scale works – the operas and oratorios – but with Alessandro Scarlatti it is in the cantatas that we see his most perfectly realised and imaginative music. He excelled in the art of the soliloquy and the duet, in detailed imagery, in dialogue between voice and instruments – all features that find unrivalled outlet in his cantatas.
(Rosalind Halton, 2000)
Editorial principles: The Scarlatti Cantatas
My aim in editing Scarlatti’s work has been to work from the basis of his own notational practice, by studying as many as possible of his extant autograph manuscripts, both cantatas and operas. Some of these manuscripts (Olimpia, Non sò qual più m’ingombra, Peno, Perdono) form the principal source of editions I have made. They contain a wealth of detail in bass figuring, (often neglected by copyists), and in some cases dynamic markings, tempo markings, and articulation marking. Recitatives are profusely punctuated in the composer’s hand.
Idiosyncrasies of Scarlatti’s notation.
Time-signatures: the metre 3/8 is always given with the prefix C3/8, and almost invariably barred by Scarlatti in units of 2, though he never seems to use the time-signature 6/8. Key-signatures are generally given, as was the custom at the end of the 17th century-early 18th century, with one sharp or flat less than the modern key-signature, or in some cases, even 2 flats fewer (as in the F minor aria 1 of Peno, 1705). In widely modulating recitatives (again Peno provides an example), Scarlatti gives no key-signature, though the piece is clearly based in a key, in this case, C minor. Use of accidentals reflects the chromatic style in which Scarlatti composed, repeating an accidental in long bars (e.g. in common time or 12/8) especially if it occurs in both halves of the bar, but not in consecutive notes. Scarlatti often gives an accidental not considered necessary in modern practice, for what we may call rhetorical effect – e.g. a semitone alteration from the previous bar, that alerts the musician to the significance of the change. Underlay of the text is exceptionally clear in Scarlatti’s manuscripts by his detailed use of beaming. I believe it is important to preserve the beaming of the vocal part in a modern edition. In instrumental parts, we find that even copyists close to Scarlatti, like Piero Castrucci or the Lanciani family, often change the composer’s beaming. It may be that in some cases this can indicate articulations and when an autograph source is extant, it is worthwhile to preserve the composer’s beaming of instrumental parts. Of course, most works of this repertoire do not exist in an autograph, and some cantatas survive in 5 or more sources, which may contain notable differences. Here the editor requires a working knowledge of the copyists who formed part of Scarlatti’s circle in Rome, as they had direct access to his manuscripts. Future research may uncover a similar body of knowledge about Neapolitan copyists which will prove equally helpful as the studies of scholars such Keiichiro Watanabe (Tokyo), Hans Joachim Marx (Hamburg) and Ursula Kirkendale in the field of identifying Roman copyists. Understanding the composer’s use of notation is the key to adopting an appropriate set of editorial principles. How ‘consistent’ can a modern edition be, given that manuscript is itself a medium not lending itself to ‘consistency’? I aim to establish the most likely readings of the text on the basis of comprehensive manuscript study. Clefs for the vocal lines are changed from soprano and alto to the modern treble clef. Key-signatures and time-signatures are retained, and in most cases the barring (e.g. in the case of the triple time signatures noted above). The original form of dynamic and tempo markings is given, and punctuation of the text when it comes from an autograph. Bass figuring is given in most cases as it appears in the manuscript(s). I do not supply a written out accompaniment. (My edition of Clori mia, Clori bella, 1699, for Saraband Music gives a sample written accompaniment). In the case of non-autograph cantatas, the bass figuring may be sparse; in these cases we have supplied figures in square brackets as a guide.
Rosalind Halton, 2000 (Cantata Editions)