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Saint Paul SundayFeatured Artist


Red-Hot Baroque

The award-winning trio Romanesca takes its name from Biagio Marini's piece "Romanesca," actually a song form popular in the period 1550-1650 characterized by a sequence of four chords which provide the groundwork for improvisation. The old English tune "Greensleeves" is an example of this form, but it was most popular with Italian composers of the early Baroque period.

The Baroque composers on today's Saint Paul Sunday program are all known for their mastery of violin technique and their innovative, even avant-garde compositional styles-the perfect showcase for the matchless virtuosity and improvisational wizardry of Romanesca. Marini (c.1587-1663) was an extraordinary violinist who worked under Monteverdi in Venice, the center of the modernists at the time, but after various appointments in Germany he returned to his hometown of Brescia. He wrote for voice but is best known for his witty, inventive instrumental works that stretch violin technique to its limits. Romanesca's namesake piece has been recorded on their Marini disc, "Curiose e Moderne Inventioni."

Few details are known about Giovanni Pandolfi, except that he was active between 1660-1669 as a composer and violinist, and was a one-time member of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria's court orchestra. His only major surviving works are 12 sonatas published in two sets in Innsbruck in 1660-including the one heard today-written for a virtuoso violin. "La Cesta" is a musical portrait of the Italian opera composer Marc Antonio Cesti who was working at the time for the Viennese court.

The sonata by Heinrich von Biber (c.1644-1704) was one of eight that Biber published in 1681 attempting to curry favor with the aristocracy in Salzburg, where he was an instrumentalist in the Kapelle of Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph (and apparently they did the trick as Biber was named director of the Kapelle in 1684). These eight sonatas are some of the most difficult written in the period - inventive, quirky, and demanding a skilled improviser to carry them off. The "Sonata Representativa," for example, is a musical rendition of animal sounds-frog, cuckoo, cat, and quail, together with a "Musketeer's March". Romanesca have recorded all eight of Biber's virtuoso showpieces - a disc that won the 1995 Gramophone Award. The "Manchester Sonata" by the Baroque master Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was one of twelve sonatas found in the Central Library in Manchester, England, in 1973. They had apparently made their way to England by an 18th century manuscript collector who had picked them up in Rome from the music library of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, for whom they were probably written. Most of these works were unknown before 1973 and have helped to expand our knowledge of Vivaldi's compositional style-the pieces are full of Vivaldi trademarks: ritornello (alternating solo and ensemble sections), driving syncopation, and ornamentation; and display every device known to the violin virtuoso - wildfire bowing and fingering in the fast movements and complex tonal and harmonic passages in the slower movements. Romanesca have recorded all twelve of Vivaldi's "Manchester" sonatas on their history-making two-disc set.

What's a theorbo?
Nigel North plays the theorbo on this program - a type of lute developed in the late 1590s in Italy. It has two sets of strings and two pegboxes to hold them, both held by a long neck made out of one piece of wood. The shorter set of strings, much longer than the ordinary lute, has frets (note position markers), while the long, bass strings set off to the side are unfretted. The size and number of strings can vary according to the make of the instrument - the theorbo and its close relative the chitarron can be between 5 and 7 feet in length and have up to 24 strings, which gives it a great capacity for harmonic invention. At first the theorbo was strummed to provide chordal accompaniment for voice, but later composers began to use it to provide a melodic bass voice and eventually wrote pieces featuring it as a solo instrument. The use of the theorbo declined in the early 18th century, overtaken in popularity by the harpsichord. Nigel North's theorbo was made in 1985 by Klaus T. Jacobsen of London and modeled on an instrument from 1630.

Andrew Manze, baroque violin
Nigel North, lute & theorbo
John Toll, harpsichord & organ

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