Forte e Dolce CD

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Program Notes

by Frank Nowell, Artistic Director

Forte e Dolce incorporates over 75 years of music in 17th-century Italian traditions, including four works for trumpet and strings, a concerto grosso in the “Christmas concerto” genre, plus four chamber and solo works.

Used traditionally for martial occasions and outdoor tournaments, the trumpet was increasingly incorporated into art music as well. This became possible as the number of skilled trumpeters who could exploit the possibilities of the instrument (and to play dolce with string ensembles) grew. Among several European centers nurturing the development of trumpet music in the 17th century, one of the most important was Bologna, spurred on by the presence there of the virtuoso trumpeter Giovanni Pellegrini Brandi. Giuseppe Torelli and Petronio Franceschini were among several composers who created works for Brandi, with music often incorporated into festive Masses at the magnificent basilica of San Petronio. Torelli’s Sonata in D major, G.7, possibly composed in the early 1690’s, was an unpublished work from a manuscript, whereas the Concerto in D major was published in 1715 in Amsterdam by Etienne Roger. The Franceschini sonata (1680) was originally for two solo trumpets accompanied by strings. Our performance pairing trumpet and violin as solo instruments highlights the dialogue inherent in the piece, with contrasting timbres in the two solo parts.

Alessandro Stradella was a highly inventive composer who created music in most of the popular genres of the day; he is often credited with the conception of the concerto grosso style. The lively and rhythmic Il Barcheggio suites (Genoa, 1681) were page 10 part of a larger serenata for voices and instruments, celebrating a wedding and likely performed in an outdoor setting.

Torelli’s concerto “in forma di Pastorale, per il Santo Natale” was one of 12 concerti grossi in his opus 8, published the year of Torelli’s death. The indication in the title – “concerto in the form of a pastorale for the Holy Birth” – places this work in the tradition of Christmas concertos, of which Corelli’s is the best known. Such works may have been performed at Midnight Mass, and evoke the characteristic music-making of shepherds who played in Italian towns during the Christmas season.

The chamber works selected for this recording are from an earlier time that reflect a sense of musical experimentation in the first half of the 17th century. The sonata and canzona were related instrumental forms featuring a number of sections connected, sometimes seamlessly, without distinct breaks. The sections often alternate between fast and slow, or between structured sections and those that are freer and more improvisational in nature. The two canzoni by Girolamo Frescobaldi both feature a characteristically strong rhythmic opening. The organ canzona, from the collection “Fiori Musicali” (Venice 1635), was intended to be played during the Mass after Communion. (In this case the sectional nature of the piece allowed the organist to shorten or lengthen the piece as needed.) The sonata for violin and continuo by Dario Castello was one of two such works by the composer that feature a remarkable exploration of musical ideas within a fairly brief space. Antonio Bertali was a Verona-born violinist who made his career in Vienna, composing for church and court. His Chiacona (performed here with just violin and guitar) is an extended fantasia on a brief and simple repeating ground bass, with many twists and turns throughout . . . and enticing opportunities for improvisation.

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