February 13, 2017. Through the ages and countries. This week affords us an unusually broad view of the development of European music, from the late 16th century to today. Michael Praetorius was born in February 5th of 1571 in Creuzburg, Thuringia (other sources state his birthday as February 15th of that year). At the time, Germany’s musical culture was rather underdeveloped. There was a not a single significant German composer, whereas in Italy the late 16th century was considered late Renaissance: Palestrina and Lasso were born half a century before Praetorius, while Giovanni Gabrieli and Carlo Gesualdo were a generation older. Praetorius had a local musical education, and the only early encounter with a significant foreign composer that we are aware of was with John Dowland, who was invited by Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbütte to meet with his court composer. In this sense Praetorius was a singularly German composer. Extremely prolific (he composed twelve hundred chorales) Praetorius exerted much influence over many composers, starting with the young Heinrich Schütz and through him on a generation of German musicians, including Johann Sebastian Bach. Later in life, when he was living and working in the cosmopolitan Dresden, he became more familiar with and influenced by the contemporary Italians; some of Praetorius’s compositions of the time clearly anticipate the arrival of the Baroque. In 1619, two years before his untimely death, Praetorius published a set of choral works called Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica. Here’s a wonderful chorale from that set, Puer natus in Bethlehem. It’s performed by the Gabrieli Consort.
Francesco Cavalli was born February 14th
of 1602, just some 30 years after Praetorius, but he belonged to a completely different musical world. Renaissance music, with its polyphony was a thing of the past; Claudio Monteverdi composed L’Orfeo, thus establishing the new musical form - opera. Cavalli, who was born in Lombardy, as a teenager moved to Venice where he was a singer at the St. Mark’s Basilica. Monteverdi was the music director there and became Cavalli’s teacher. Cavalli wrote his first opera in 1639 when he was already a mature composer (most of his early compositions were church music). He went on to write 41 operas, many of which survive to this day. Cavalli was instrumental in developing opera as a musical genre: when his started, opera was in its infancy, and by the time he wrote his last opera in 1673, it was a mature (and extremely popular) art. Here’s the aria Piante ombrose from his early opera, L'Amore Innamorato. Nuria Rial is the soprano. Christina Pluhar leads the ensemble L'Arpeggiata.
Another Italian, Arcangelo Corelli was born fifty years later, on February 17th of 1653. He grew up in the musical environment of flourishing Baroque. At the age of 13 Arcangelo moved to Bologna, one of the music centers of Italy, famous for a major school of violin playing. At the age of seventeen, already a fine violinist, Corelli became a member of the Accademia Filarmonica. He moved to Rome around 1675, where he found patrons in Queen Christina and, later, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. He performed, composed and taught: many of his pupils, such as Francesco Geminiani and Pietro Locatelli became famous as composers and violinist. Here’s Corelli’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6 no.4 performed by I Musici.
We’ll skip Luigi Boccherini, a wonderful Italian composer of the classical era and jump straight into the 20th century. György Kurtág was born on February 19th of 1926. Together with his good friend György Ligeti, Kurtág is one of the most interesting contemporary composers. Here’s his Stele, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Claudio Abbado.
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