Even Sadness Carries Hope. The March Concert at the Rudolfinum Offered Contemplation and a Connection with God
The concert programme named “Pianto napoletano” (Naples Weeping) at the Rudolfinum on 7 March 2023 presented the vocal-instrumental works of the Baroque masters of Naples: Alessandro Scarlatti, Tommaso Traetta, and Francesco Durante.
‘It can be said of Italian music in general, and southern Italian music in particular, that even with tragic themes, sadness is manifested in a slightly different way from that rekindled by works, for example, of the 19th century: That kind of heavy, gloomy sadness rarely appears in it. How many beautiful, sweet and touching melodies does Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater offer! This, I think, is inherent in the Italian soul in general: Even a sad message is filled with a certain hope. After all, the text of the ordinarium at the very beginning of Durante’s Requiem consists of the prayer “Let eternal light shine upon them”. Neapolitan composers were able to translate the hope in this light into their characteristic musical language with exceptional beauty,’ explains the conductor and artistic director of the Collegium 1704, Václav Luks.
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725) was the first great composer to be associated with the Neapolitan musical style. Scarlatti’s Miserere in C Minor for five voices, strings and basso continuo is a refined example of a rendition of a psalm text in a concertante style. The penitential Psalm 51 was often musicalized and sung not only during so-called ‘Dark Hours’ of the Holy Week, but also on a number of other occasions, especially during Lent.
One of the most famous and influential sacred musical works of Neapolitan origin is Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Tommaso Traetta (1727–1779), too, uses a solo soprano and alto in his later musicalization of the same text. However, he adds to them a four-voice choir, to which he entrusts important parts of the entire composition. The composer divides the extensive text of the famous mediaeval poem into independently rendered enclosed pieces. His mastery resides in the richness with which he internally differentiates the individual parts. From his Neapolitan teachers Nicola Porpora and Francesco Durante, Traetta acquired a sense of natural conception of vocal parts. These always retain their desired cantability, even during challenging coloratura lines.
The second half of the evening entitled ‘Pianto napoletano’ gave way to another kind of expressive mourning music: a mass for the dead. Among the countless authors that contributed to this genre over the 18th century, Francesco Durante occupies an important place. The audience at the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum had the pleasure to hear the Requiem a due cori – the most sweeping. It is the most extensive not only in its length, but also because of the performing apparatus required for its performance. This, in addition to strings and horns, includes eight singing voices grouped into two choirs. The great popularity of Durante’s requiem is evidenced by the existence of over forty surviving copies of the composition, which at the time were not printed, but reproduced by hand.