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Il Seicento; altri generi vocali

Cantata
Accanto al teatro d’opera, ma destinata agli ambienti delle accademie ed ai salotti delle corti, nasce

un genere cameristico per voce sola e basso continuo, caratterizzato talvolta dall’inserimento di uno

strumento concertante, per lo più flauto o violino. Destinata ad allietare le riunioni di nobiltà ed alta

borghesia, la cantata costituisce in realtà il trapasso dal madrigale polifonico alla monodia

accompagnata: fu il veneziano Alessandro Grandi, nel 1620, ad usare per primo il termine

“cantata”.

Struttura: successione di arie e di recitativi; lo schema più semplice è aria- recitativo- aria, ma possono
esserci anche altre combinazioni: talvolta si riscontra un arioso iniziale, può aumentare il numero di arie e
recitativi, solitamente il pezzo finale è un Allegro.

La vocalità è ricca, il cantante ha modo di esibire la sua tecnica e le sue qualità

vocali inserendo abbellimenti, esattamente come nel teatro d’opera; il fatto che l’accompagnamento

non sia affidato all’orchestra richiede certamente maggiori acrobazie vocali per compensare la

delicatezza sonora del cembalo e per far risaltare il dialogo con l’eventuale strumento concertante.

Gli argomenti sono spesso mitologici, amorosi, talvolta scherzosi ed umoristici.

Si distinguono nella

cantata quattro scuole:

 Scuola romana, con i compositori Luigi Rossi (già nominato a proposito del teatro di corte

romano) Giacomo Carissimi (di cui parleremo fra poco a proposito dell’Oratorio),

Alessandro Stradella (già citato per la sua attività di operista presso la corte romana di

Cristina di Svezia).

 Scuola veneziana, con Cavalli, Cesti, Legrenzi e, ormai ai primi del Settecento, Lotti e

Caldara. Gli autori veneziani attribuiscono anche alla cantata quelle caratteristiche stilistiche

che fanno del loro teatro d’opera un fenomeno europeo.

 Scuola bolognese, con Giovan Paolo Colonna, autore di cantate di argomento religioso e

Giovanni Maria Bononcini, fine compositore di musica strumentale, non operista; le sue

cantate da camera sono a soggetto e costituiscono vere e proprie scene melodrammatiche: si


ricordi Cleopatra moribonda.

 Scuola napoletana con Alessandro Scarlatti (maestro indiscusso del melodramma). Scarlatti

applica anche alla cantata quelle innovazioni stilistiche di cui abbiamo parlato a proposito

del melodramma.

Oratorio

Si tratta di un genere sacro, anche se non liturgico; esso, nella sua forma in lingua volgare

italiana, deriva direttamente dalla drammatizzazione della lauda avvenuta a metà del

Cinquecento in Roma, ad opera di San Filippo Neri. Il santo, nella sua intensa opera di

apostolato, favorì l’espressione musicale invitando i giovani a cantare le laudi e procedendo

gradatamente ad un distribuzione delle parti dove il testo lo consentiva, lasciando la narrazione

ad uno storico, che poteva essere, a seconda dei casi, un solista o il coro. Questa pratica

avveniva nell’oratorio della Vallicella: dal luogo fisico nasce il nome del genere vocale, che

gradatamente si sviluppa con la collaborazione del poeta Francesco Balducci, da Palermo, e che

deve la sua definizione di melodramma senza scene al canonico romano Arcangelo Spagna.

L’oratorio in volgare fu coltivato con successo da Alessandro Stradella (ricordiamo San

Giovanni Battista, Ester, Susanna, tutti di argomento biblico).

Accanto all’oratorio in volgare fiorisce l’oratorio in latino, come evoluzione non della lauda ,

ma del mottetto. Il massimo compositore è Giacomo Carissimi, il quale non tentò mai il teatro

d’opera, ma concentrò tutta la sua potenza drammatica in questo genere senza scene, ma ricco

per la caratterizzazione dei personaggi , la profondità dei sentimenti espressi, l’efficacia del

coro. La narrazione (sempre cantata) è affidata alla voce dello historicus, tenore solista,

sostituito a volte, se la situazione o più ancora l’esigenza di varietà musicale lo richiede, da

quattro voci a cappella. Ricordiamo lo Jephte, indiscusso capolavoro, da cui sentiremo il lamento

della figlia, condannata al sacrificio.


La Susanna commissioned by the duke of Modena was, therefore, of the erotic genre. Its text, in two Parts
as was usual, was written by the Modenese poet Giovanni Battista Giardini, who was also secretary to
Francesco, and he based his libretto on the biblical account of Susanna given in chapter 13 of the Book of
Daniel. Here one reads the story of the beautiful and virtuous young Hebrew woman Susanna, wife of
Joachim. Two old Jews, called Judges in the oratorio, secretly lust after her. One day, as she is in her private
garden and slips nude into a cooling stream, they emerge from their hiding place and attempt to rape her.
When Susanna calls her servants, the two Judges lie and say they caught her with a young lover who,
unfortunately, ran away. According to Hebrew law, she should be stoned to death for adultery.

Part Two of the oratorio finds Susanna in prison, desperately begging heaven for help. The young prophet
Daniel arrives, declaring he is an emissary from God. He decides to interrogate the Judges separately; when
their accounts of Susanna’s behaviour differ, he declares Susanna innocent and condemns the Judges to
death. At the end of the oratorio, a chorus calls upon the daughters of Israel to rejoice at Susanna’s victory,
and warns those who persecute innocents to beware of the divine justice which surely awaits them.

Stradella scored Giardini’s text for two sopranos (Susanna and Daniel), a contralto (the Narrator), a tenor
(Second Judge) and a bass (First Judge), who also join together in the sections assigned to a commenting
and moralizing chorus. The two parts of the oratorio proceed in a series of recitatives, arias, duets, a terzet,
and sections for three-part and five-part chorus, accompanied by an instrumental ensemble of first and
second violins and basso continuo. The instruments are employed either as direct accompaniment to the
voices (6 arias) or in ritornellos, brief introductions or postludes to arias which take up the themes of the
vocal piece in imitative exchange (7 arias). The ensemble also offers an introductory Sinfonia of four
movements, which alternates through-composed forms with binary forms, the whole a clear example of
Stradella’s exemplary skill in counterpoint and even fugue, the third movement being the most masterful of
the four.

On the present recording, a second instrumental piece has been inserted at the opening of Part Two of the
oratorio (Stradella’s Trio Sonata 4, in D major, ed. Gianturco-McCrickard). At this point in the drama
Susanna is in prison. She alternates between hope of rescue and desperation that the Judges will be
believed and that she, as a consequence of their lies, will be found guilty and put to death. The sonata’s
hesitant phrases, interrupted by rests or fermatas (especially in the first and fourth movements), and
overall rhythmic irregularity, serve to convey her unstable emotional state. The piece has been chosen,
therefore, as a means of both shifting the scene from the sunlit garden to the gloomy interior of the prison
and of conveying Susanna’s uncertainty.

Each part of Giardini’s version of the biblical tale has seven sections for the Narrator (Testo), each followed
by lines for one or more of the several characters. One might say, in fact, that the Narrator is the plot’s
pivot: it is he who sets each scene of the drama, and it is his affirmations, reinforced by the chorus, which
condition our moral judgement. For example, after the Sinfonia, the Narrator describes the setting of the
biblical story, going on, in Ma folle è ben chi crede, to affirm the futility of thinking it possible to hide evil
desires.

Here Stradella writes the first of a series of arias wherein the music develops from a motif presented
insistently, creating through its repetition the particular character of the aria. In some closed forms of the
oratorio, the repetitions of a specific motif creates a real ostinato presented by the instruments of the
basso continuo (the arias Da chi spero aita; Così va, turbe insane; Vecchio nefando, io so). At other times,
the motif is not the only material in the bass, even if it is presented many times – and this is the case with
Ma folle è ben chi crede (and also of the arias Voglio amare e che sarà?; Quanto invidio il vostro stato; and
the section beginning Belle fonti a me sareste). In Zeffiretti che spiegate, another although related
technique predominates: here short ‘zephyr-like’ motifs are

tossed from violin to violin to voice. This sort of imitation among the parts typifies other numbers as well,
such as the duet Dell’opra nefanda and the terzets Se dall ’Erebo si scatenò and La bellezza è un puro
saggio.

After the Judges dwell on their intent to possess Susanna, she comes into her garden, and both Giardini’s
lines and Stradella’s music delineate her innate sweetness, and her response to the beauty and innocence
of nature. In contrast to her mood here is the aria, Da chi spero aita, which she sings in prison. It is in the
style for which Stradella was justly famous, the expressive stile patetico. The instrumental accompaniment
to the voice serves to reinforce Susanna’s sense of depression, as a slow descending bass phrase is
repeated over and over again. This particular type of ostinato had been applied since Monteverdi to
laments – for the death or the absence of the beloved or, as Stradella’s has done here, for a desperate
situation.

Yet another quality is delineated when Daniel comes on the scene. He affronts the crowd asking them, in
Così va, turbe insane, why they are so passionate in their willingness to punish the young woman. To
demonstrate his passion and conviction, Stradella composed a fiery aria for him, reinforced by a vigorous
ostinato bass line of rhythmic drive which calls for a virtuoso string instrumentalist.

For the two concluding texts, Belle figlie d’Israelle and the final moral dictum Chi contro all’innocenza,
Stradella composed first three-part and then five-part music, both pieces still further examples of his skill at
counterpoint, in this case to create a joyous and rich sound for the ensembles.

A fine summary of some of the oratorio’s other noteworthy qualities was put forth in a letter by a
gentleman who had been present at rehearsals of its first performance. He wrote that he was ‘ecstatic
about the sinfonias, about the variety of the arias, about the exquisiteness of the recitative and about the
diversity and unexpectedness of the subjects [musical themes] and about the rarity of the basso continuo’.

When Stradella wrote La Susanna, he had already composed not only other oratorios but almost all of his
operas, and many of the features of the oratorio are, in fact, those of his operas (apart from the role of
Narrator, absent from operas). For example, there is regular alternation of recitative with aria, there are da
capo and two-strophe arias, and the work is scored for the same instrumental ensemble as his operas.
What is more, while there are occasional fioriture (for the Narrator in No, non va, senza i suoi disastri, and
for Susanna in Quanto invidio il vostro stato), most of the singers’ music is syllabic. Rather than through
vocal display, Stradella’s characters captivate one’s attention by a style which is as psychologically
discerning as it is musically dynamic: the composer has enabled the singers to be true participants in the
dramatic story. Duke Francesco d’Este had invited Stradella to compose music for a hall of prayer, but since
he brought to the task his experience as an opera composer, La Susanna is a true dramma in musica.

Read more: http://blog.magnificatbaroque.com/2007/01/08/alessandro-stradellas-oratorio-per-musica-la-


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