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GAME OF CROWNS: Reflections by Tekla Cunningham

April 16, 2021
Author: Tekla Cunningham

My goal for this program was to traverse the earliest sonatas of the great Italian violinist/composers – Farina, Uccellini, Fontana – and then to reach across the Brenner pass into Tirol (where Pandolfi Mealli and Biber lived and worked) and onwards to Vienna, the Imperial capitol and home to Schmelzer and Albertini. There is a rough chronological movement that coincides with this northerly geographic thrust. Italians populated many of the court orchestras and were influential musicians in Austria and had for many generations been sought after as Kapellmeisters. Schmelzer would be the first Austrian to achieve the post of Kapellmeister at the court in Vienna. Sadly he was to enjoy this high point in his career for only a brief time before succumbing to the plague.

Like most 17th-century music, the figured bass lines that underline these violin sonatas are not scored for any particular instrument or orchestration. Pacific MusicWorks has since its first performances of Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria had 17th-century opera as one of its main loci. Over the years hearing the sumptuous continuo orchestrations provided by our continuo team of lute/chitarrone, baroque harp, bowed bass, organ and harpsichord inspired me to animate a collection of violin sonatas with operatic continuo forces. Over time,  we have discovered several quotations of operas and vocal music that enjoyed great fame in the seventeenth century. In the Uccellini Sonata “La Luciminia contenta” we found a quotation from Monteverdi’s Vespers (“Audi Cœlum”), in Farina’s “Sonata detta la desperata” we discovered the old song “La Monica” and in the Fontana sonata we found a quotation from the Damigella scene from Monteverdi’s Poppea. These discoveries give a sense of satisfaction and “rightness” in recasting the violin as a vocal protagonist supported by a continuo orchestra rather than simply as a melodic instrument.

Please join all of us at Pacific MusicWorks in celebrating music from the court of Dresden – from Vivaldi to Veracini, Bach, Marchand and Pisendel! Henry Lebedinsky, Bill Skeen, and I had a great time recording this unusually beautiful repertoire and we look forward to sharing it with you beginning at the digital premiere on Saturday!

Tekla Cunningham, April 2021

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