Photo: (unknown) wikipedia
The year 2014 is the 600th anniversary of the Council of Constance. It also marks 300 years since the birth of Bach’s son, Carl Philipp. But did you know that the famous opera reformer Christoph Willibald Gluck and the lesser-known Niccolò Jommelli were also born that year?
This week on Harmonia, we’ll hear music from the Council and from each of these birthday boys.
Jan De Winne, Marten Boeken, Roel Dieltiens and Shalev Ad-El played the Allegretto from the “Hamburg Sonata” by Carl Phillip Emmanel Bach. 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach (1714-1788)
When Carl Philipp Emmanuel came into the world in 1714, he seemed destined to become a musician. Hard to avoid it with a last name like Bach! The second son of Johann Sebastian, Carl Philipp lived during a time of musical transition between the old-school baroque of his father and the up-and-coming Viennese classicism of Mozart and Haydn.
Carl Philipps’s music has its own distinctive style, and as a composer, he was nothing if not prolific. Symphonies, sonatas, chamber music, concertos, oratorios, passions, motets…this man wrote almost everything really, except opera.
Here’s one of Carl Philipp’s sinfonies. He conducted a performance of it on Palm Sunday, 1786 as a benefit concert for a group of pro bono doctors who ran a free medical clinic.
Music from Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach’s Sinfonie in D-Major. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin performed on a 2014 release coinciding with the composer’s 300th birthday.
Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774)
CPE Bach wrote in nearly every musical genre except opera. On the other hand, opera was where CPE’s birthday buddies made their names and claims to fame.
Born the same year as Carl Philipp, Christoph Willibald Gluck is remembered most for his reformations to opera seria. Less known but also contributing to opera reform is another 1714-er, the Italian composer Niccolò Jommelli.
In the early part of the 18th century, operas generally followed a blueprint of recitatives and arias strung together in alternation. Usually in da capo form, the repeated section of an aria gave the singer a chance to embellish and ornament at will. And ornament they did–the virtuosic display was by all accounts something to behold.
But some composers, like Niccolò Jommelli, thought that all that diva star power, together with a progressively unwieldly repeat of a da capo aria, interrupted the opera’s dramatic momentum and obscured the plot of the story. Jommelli routinely cut da capo arias from librettos and increasingly developed his use of an accompagnato-style recitative that integrated the full orchestra into the text, painting a more vivid, and coherent scene.
Here’s some of the last Act of Jommelli’s Armida Abbandonata, starting with an accompanied recit in the third scene. We pick it up at the very end of the story after the sorceress Armida has fled and as the enchanted forest disappears.
We heard the final scenes of Jommelli’s Armida Abbandonata. Jommelli wrote numerous operas—though only a few have been recorded for us to enjoy. This performance came from Les Talens Lyriques, led by Christophe Rouset.
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Like Jommelli, Christoph Willibald Gluck was famous for opera reform, taking his taste for dramatic and musical simplicity even further. Gluck’s opera Orfeo is usually considered one of the first to fully adapt the new reforms. Here’s an aria from that opera. In the famous Che faro senza, a grief-stricken Orfeo tries to imagine life without his wife, Euridice.
Iestyn Davies with the orchestra Arcangelo performed the aria “Che Faro sena Euridice” from the opera Orfeo by Christoph Willibald Gluck. 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of Gluck’s birth.
Council of Constance (1414-1418)
So far, we’ve been listening to music by composers born 300 years ago in 1714. Next, we’ll turn back the clock another 300 years to the 1414 Council of Constance.
In 1414, an enormous international gathering from all over Europe convened to decide once and for all who was really the Pope and put an end to the decades-old division within the Catholic Church. The trouble started in earnest in 1378 when Gregory XII in Rome and Benedict XIII in Avignon both claimed the papacy.
But two Popes are definitely not better than one, and in 1409 a council in Pisa tried to rectify the situation by electing a new pope entirely. That only made the situation worse because neither Benedict nor Gregory would step down, and the church now found itself with three popes, each with different political and geographical allegiances.
A pan-isorhythmic motet, likely composed in the early 15th century by Jean Tapissier references the chaos of the divided church and the rival Popes. At one point in the text, you can hear the words, “Roma omnis, nos rigemus; Tolle scisma!”or “All Rome cries out, End the schism!”
Another musical setting that evokes impassioned pleas for the peace of the Church united can be heard in the troped Gloria Sucipe Trinitas, composed by Johannes Ciconia.
When the Council of Constance was convened 600 years ago, it was laden with high-stakes political capital both within and without the Church. The council meetings attracted more than just clergy and church officials. Tens of thousands of dignitaries came too, bringing with them their own large entourages of workers and craftsmen, chapel staff and musicians.
Lavish patronage of the arts was one way of demonstrating personal wealth and influence, and the resulting displays of pomp and circumstance created a hungry market for the best and newest music. So, ironically, musicians flourished in the wake of the political and religious unrest. Town festivities, tournaments, shows, processions, music for Holy Mass—there was plenty to keep musicians busy in Constance.
It took several years, but the Council of Constance did eventually decide on one pope, and Oddo Colonna was elected Pope Martin V in 1417. A motet by the Dominican Antonio de Civitate recounts the election and celebrates the Church once again united under a sole pontiff.
That was Eya dulcis/Vale placens, a motet calling for the reunification of the Church, performed by the Orlando Consort. Following that, a musical prayer for peace and unification: we heard the Gloria Sucipe Trinitas composed by Johannes Ciconia and finally, a motet by the Dominican Antonio de Civitate on the occasion of the election of Pope Martin V.
Featured Release: Piffarissimo
We’ve been exploring birthdays and anniversaries this hour on Harmonia, including the 600th anniversary of the Council of Constance. We continue to look back at the music surrounding this momentous gathering with our featured release titled Piffarissimo from the ensemble Cappella de la Torre.
This recording reflects the kind of music that could have been in the air during the Council, both festive and functional. Dances and popular songs and instrumental settings of sacred vocal music are all included on the disc grouped under the ensemble’s own inventive subtitles like the “Ingenous Italians,” “the Brave British,” “The Thirsty Germans,” and a “Jam session” that gathers from a variety of influences.
Capella de la Torre plays a variety of instruments including shawms, sakbuts, slide trumpets, lute, percussion, and even a cowhorn on this recording. We know from 15th-century accounts that these were the kinds of instruments in use at the time.
The minnesinger Oswald von Wolkenstein was an eyewitness at the Council of Constance. His writings describe “pipes, strings and drums,” “crowds of people in procession,” “singing,” and “the sounding of many tones.” A contemporary source by Ulrich von Richenthal also reports a conservative estimate of 365 instrumentalists—not counting singers—who were in attendance during the Council.
Here’s Capella de la Torre “jamming” to an Anonymous 15th-century tune La vida de Culin. Following that, they perform an instrumental version of a tune by Oswald von Wolkenstein: Her wiert uns durstet also sere.