The consecration of Venice
If I try to find a new word for music, I can never find any other than Venice.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo
Places are inseparable from history. They are its theatres, its performances, and, often, its motifs. Venice, an allegory of music? The scenario is straightforward enough: the school of St Mark’s from the first third of the seventeenth century onwards, the pifferari, the opera, the solo concerto, the emancipation of the violin, of the virtuoso, of the sinfonia; the traditions, be they popular, sacred, theoretical, festive, dilettante, hermetic or ceremonial; the conservatories for orphan girls, the academies, and so forth. As late as 1771, Dr Charles Burney, after his first musical tour of Europe, told Jean-Jacques Rousseau that he thought Venice was the place where the finest music was to be found; the philosopher replied that he was pleased to hear it said, since such had been his opinion too when he visited the city (in 1744-45).
Then there is George Sand’s Venetian novel Consuelo (1842), Wagner and Diaghilev who died on the lagoon, Stravinsky who (despite having been a virulent critic of Vivaldian prolixity) arranged to be buried there, Malipiero, Nono, Maderna, and Visconti’s Death in Venice, which gives La Serenissima a tranquil gaze into a veritable musical abyss. So many homages to the Venice of sounds. No other city, not even Vienna or Paris, can pride itself on so vast and powerful a panorama.
Yet the identity of this musical Venice remains difficult to grasp. Indeed, its most famous representatives, such as Gabrieli, Monteverdi and Vivaldi, were swiftly forgotten after their deaths, to be rediscovered only in the course of the twentieth century, and even then by few enough, if truth be told. One need only reflect that Stravinsky never knew that the music on which he based his Pulcinella was not by Pergolesi but by the Venetian Domenico Gallo, or mention the ‘Albinoni Adagio’ actually written by Remo Giazotto (1910-98), to show just how hazardous the return journey from the farther bank of the Styx could be. The collective unconscious, ever ready to drape Venice in the veil of Terpsichore, proves to have been pretty ignorant, even back in the nineteenth century, of the city’s musical reality, its repertory, its leading figures and its traditions.
Olivier FOURÉS (translation: Charles Johnston), extract from the 20-page booklet included with the recording.
At the very heart of a Venetian music
Giovanni Gabrieli, Sonate e Canzoni “per concertar con l’organo”, Concerto Palatino, Bruce Dickey, Charles Toet.
Hans Leo Hassler, Missa I super Dixit Maria, Ensemble Vocal Européen, Philippe Herreweghe.
Exaudi me Domine a 16, Hulgas-Ensemble, Paul Van Nevel.
Claudio Monteverdi, Vespro de la Beata Vergine SV 206, ac Vespere pluribus decantada cum nonnullis sacris concentibus ad sacella sive Principum cubicula accommodata,
Magnificat, Concerto Vocale, René Jacobs.
Selva Morale e spirituale, Recueil de 1640 (extraits) Les Arts Florissants, William Christie.
Claudio Merulo, Toccata con minute, Concerto Soave, Jean-Marc Aymes.
Claudio Monteverdi, Pianto della Madonna, sopra il Lamento dell’Arianna, Maria Cristina Kiehr, Concerto Soave, Jean-Marc Aymes.
Gentile Bellini, Procession in Piazza San Marco (details with the musicians), oil on canvas, 1496
Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia – akg-images
Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, The Choir Singing in St Mark’s Basilica, pen, ink and wash on paper, 1766, Hamburg, Kunsthalle – Bridgeman Images
Dominicus Custos, Portrait of Hans Leo Hassler, 1593, copper engraving – akg-images
Mark’s Basilica, view from the choir through the central nave – Erich Lessing – akg-images
Claudio Monteverdi, Selva morale e spirituale, title page and dedication, 1640 edition
Cover: Venice, Piazzetta San Marco. View from the Bacino di San Marco on the Molo with, from left to right, Libreria di San Marco, the Piazzetta with the columns of St Theodore and St Mark, St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace