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9-08-2015, 17:53


Like art and architecture, baroque music is fi lled with strong contrasts, sweeping emotion, and dynamic movement, qualities that can best be seen in opera, an art form that emerged in Italy in the late sixteenth century. Opera was usually performed outside and it often involved elaborate stage sets, so that it combined painting, sculpture, and architecture with singing, instrumental music, and dance. Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), who also wrote songs for two or more voices called madrigals, composed some of the earliest operas, basing them on classical stories. They included passages for a chorus, but highlighted soloists singing recitatives that carried the plot forward, and dramatic, fanciful arias in which soloists showed off their vocal skills and expressed their feelings. Monteverdi was the court composer for the ruling houses of various Italian city-states, and in 1637 he became the composer for the fi rst public opera house, the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice. By the end of the seventeenth century, Italian-style operas were being written and performed in many European countries, often in Italian no matter what the native language of the composer or the audience was. Rulers and nobles spent huge amounts of money on special effects, using fi reworks, real cannon, and live horses, for example, to depict gods traveling across the sky. Some of these were serious operas based on classical stories, while others were comic opera, called opera buffa . Opera buffa developed out of the comic skits known as intermezzi that were originally performed in between acts of serious operas. The characters were normal people – peasants, merchants, servants, soldiers – rather than the larger-than-life heroes and heroines of serious opera. The plot often involved some sort of humorous situation involving love, money, or a combination of the two, making them appealing to a wide range of audiences. Italy was the most dynamic center for music, and attracted composers and musicians from all over Europe who learned and then built on Italian musical forms. The German composer George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) was a child prodigy, appointed as organist at the cathedral in Halle, his birthplace, when he was twelve. He studied in Italy, then moved to England, where he was one of the fi rst to compose and stage operas, sung in Italian, which became popular with both the nobility and middle-class urban residents. Later in life Handel concentrated on oratorios, complex dramatic compositions for singers and instruments with sacred themes, performed in English and without staging, of which The Messiah (1742), and especially its “Hallelujah” chorus, is the best known. Immediately popular during Handel’s lifetime – the composer himself conducted at least thirty performances – The Messiah is now performed annually by many amateur and professional choruses, including scores of sing-along versions, often for charity, as was Handel’s original performance. Handel’s contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) is often considered the greatest baroque composer, writing hundreds of complex works that featured the new techniques of counterpoint – playing two or more melodies at one time – and fugue, in which different instruments repeat the same melody with slight variations. Bach also began his musical career as the organist in a Lutheran church, and worked for the rulers of various small German states as court composer and director of music. He founded a musical dynasty, with four of his sons becoming distinguished composers. Bach was an intensely religious man; like Luther, he believed that music could convey deep spiritual truth and bring people to God, and he often worked hymns into his compositions. Many of his contemporaries thought his works were too elaborate, however; Bach’s posthumous reputation as a composer far outweighs that of his lifetime, when he was more appreciated as an organist. Handel had great commercial success, and Bach had a series of ever more prestigious permanent positions, but other composers failed at both the traditional forms of cultural patronage and the newer, more commercial structures. The most spectacular failure was the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91). The son of an orchestra director, Mozart was playing and composing for the Austrian court by the time he was fi ve. His father trotted him and his sister around on concert tours through much of Europe before they were ten. Mozart became an international phenomenon, composing and giving court and public performances. He decided not to take a permanent position as a court composer, but to try his hand in Vienna as a free agent, composing on commission. Mozart composed twenty-two operas in Italian and German, including The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and The Magic Flute (1791), over forty symphonies, masses, concertos, serenades, and other types of sacred and secular music. Some of his works, especially his operas, were witty and musically inventive, though his sacred music, especially the Requiem Mass he was composing at the time he died, was grave and profound. Mozart’s compositions did not give him the income or fame he craved, however, and he died in poverty at the age of thirty-fi ve. He would no doubt be amazed at the millions of dollars now spent every year in his home town of Salzburg on festivals and tours in his honor, with visitors all munching on foil-wrapped chocolate balls decorated with his picture ( Mozartkugeln ). Among Mozart’s many compositions were musical forms new in the eighteenth century and designed for public performance. These included string quartets, sonatas for piano (an instrument that was new, and that Mozart helped make popular), solo vocal works that showed off the virtuosity of performers, and symphonies. The undisputed master of these forms was Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), who was the music director for a wealthy noble family for much of his life, but in his later years achieved smashing commercial success in London and Vienna, composing and conducting for public performances in theatres, concert halls, and gardens. People fl ocked to hear music they were already calling “classical,” a demand that inspired the composition of hundreds of string quartets and over a thousand symphonies in the eighteenth century alone. Composers were often innovators in terms of instruments as well as compositions. Bach helped design larger and more complicated pipe organs, while the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) and others refi ned string instruments. Among the violins and cellos that Vivaldi owned were several made by Antonio Stradivari (1644?– 1737), whose instruments are still prized by musicians and audiences today, selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars when they come up for sale, which is rarely. Violin makers, musicians, chemists, and physicists have tried to fi gure out what gives Stradivarius instruments their special sweet sound – the varnish? the wood? the proportions? a secret ingredient? – but have come to no agreement. They do know that many survived later modifi cation, designed to produce more volume as concert halls got larger, without losing that sound, and more recently survived restoration to their original setup as musicians have tried to achieve a more authentic baroque sound. The complexity of baroque and classical music made it increasingly diffi cult for untrained musicians to sing or play, and courts, churches, and cities hired professional composers and performers. Sometimes these were highly specialized. Vivaldi, for example, worked as the violin master for one of the girls’ orphanages in Venice known for its excellent chorus and orchestra. These Ospedali grandi put on regular performances, and talented girls who were not orphans were taken on as day students to develop their musical skills. Such opportunities were rare, however, for the Catholic Church offi cially opposed women singing polyphonic music or playing instruments. In 1686 Pope Innocent XI extended this prohibition, forbidding all women from learning music for any reason “because it is completely injurious to the modesty that is proper for the [female] sex.” 9 Though such edicts were ignored in Venice, elsewhere they limited women’s access to music, and court and city orchestras, even in Protestant areas, hired only men. The offi cial prohibition on women singing in public was one reason for the rise in popularity of castrati, men who had been castrated when they were boys so that their larynx and vocal cords did not grow, as normally happens in puberty. Castrati fi rst sang in cathedral choirs in Spain and Italy, where their huge vocal range – often more than four octaves – made them more prized than boys or men singing falsetto; the Sistine Chapel Choir was especially known for its castrati. These skills translated well to opera, where castrati sang both female roles and those of the male heroic lead, which were often written specifi cally for the combination of brilliant technique, enormous vocal range, and great power that castrati developed through years of training. Some of Handel’s operas and those of his Italian contemporaries feature parts written for particular castrati, who apparently further embellished the melodic line to show off their virtuosity. (When these operas are performed today, such parts are taken by women or countertenors.) Some castrati, such as the Neapolitan Carlo Broschi, who took the name Farinelli (1705–82), became international stars, with fans wearing medallions with their portraits and following them from concert to concert. Farinelli sang to great acclaim in Rome, Vienna, London, and Paris, and spent twenty years in Madrid, where the queen arranged for him to sing every night to King Philip V in the hopes that this would cure the king’s severe depression. (It did not.) Such fame led some poor parents to castrate their sons in the hopes that this might prove a way out of poverty, but there is no assurance that castration will produce a gorgeous voice, and most castrati were at best members of cathedral choirs or opera choruses rather than wealthy superstars. By the end of the eighteenth century, though castrati still appeared regularly in operas, female roles were being sung more often by women, and composers such as Mozart were pitching the parts of male leads slightly lower, so they could be sung by tenors. Throughout the period, women continued to play music in their own homes, and singing or playing an instrument became a suitable “accomplishment” for middle- and upper-class young ladies, making them more attractive in the marriage market. As the author of a 1722 conduct book put it, “Music refi nes the Tastes, polishes the Mind; and is an Entertainment that preserves them [young women] from the Rust of Idleness, that most pernicious Enemy to Virtue.” 10 Men who were not professional musicians also played privately, as the extract from Pepys’s diary in chapter 8 shows. Music publishers produced simplifi ed versions of complex compositions that could be played more easily by amateurs, sometimes with separate parts printed directly onto tablecloths so that families or friends sitting around a table could each play a part. Restrictions on women performing in public never applied to dance, and ballet involving men and women gradually joined musical performance as a professional enterprise watched by an audience, rather than something done by amateurs. In the sixteenth century, Catherine de’ Medici, the queen of France, made dancing a more important part of court life, hiring an Italian dancing master to train her court ladies and gentlemen to perform elaborate spectacles with dancing, lavish costumes, and scenery. Louis XIV continued these court entertainments, and also founded the Royal Academy of Dancing and later the Paris Opera to provide serious training for professional dancers. His dancing master, Pierre Beauchamp (1636–1705), codifi ed many of the steps used in ballet, including the fi ve basic positions of the feet. In the eighteenth century, professional dancers began to perform in theatres as well as at court, shortening and simplifying their costumes so people could see their movements better, and eliminating singing and speaking from their performances. The movements, bodies, and faces of the dancers should tell the story, argued infl uential dance masters and choreographers, and ballet schools were established in many European capitals, including the Russian Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg.