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Politically Correct

Baroque composers were notorious for ingratiating themselves to people of power, wealth, and influence. We'll look at dedication pages and their results.

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Baroque composers were notorious for ingratiating themselves to people of power, wealth, and influence. One way they did this was to dedicate a composition to a person who had something they wanted. We’ll look at dedication pages and their results.

The Cantus Cölln performs J.S. Bach’s b-minor mass on the 2004 recording from Harmonia Mundi.  The work was composed at a time in Bach’s life when he was particularly unhappy with his Leipzig employers. So what does a disgruntled worker do?  He looks for a job in Dresden by dedicating a mass to the new prince-elector. Unfortunately, he ended up with a consolation prize: an honorary title and an A for effort, but no accompanying salary!

Listen to Cantus Cölln perform the Gloria from Bach’s b-minor mass:


Dedication pages are commonplace in scores from the Baroque period, and they can enlighten us about both the composer and the person being honored. When Lully dedicated his opera Roland, it was to Louis XIV. Yet that was only part of the picture. Lully didn’t write the dedication, the poet La Fontaine did. In an effort to end a quarrel with the poet, Lully asked him to write the dedicatory verses.  Les Talens Lyriques perform Lully’s opera Roland on the 2004 recording from the Ambroisie label.

Heinrich Schütz was only in the third year of his employment when his Psalmen Davids of 1619 was published. Written in honor Johann Georg I, the dedicatory preface tells us a bit about Schütz himself, namely that his composition was inspired by the Italian style, which he learned directly from Giovanni Gabrieli.  Cantus Cölln and Concerto Palatino perform Psalmen Davids by Schütz on the 1998 Harmonia Mundi release.

The Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III of Hapsburg was a huge fan of Italians and their music. So it should come as no surprise to find that his coronation included music by Italian composers, including the famous Claudio Monteverdi, who composed the ballo Volgendo il ciel.  Monteverdi published it in his eighth book of madrigals, a collection dedicated to the Emperor.  Ensemble Concerto Vocale performs selections from this book on the 2003 release from Harmonia Mundi, Monteverdi: Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi.

Not all dedications were motivated by political agendas or obligations. Georg Philip Telemann was an exceptionally prolific composer. He put out hundreds upon hundreds of pieces in a lot of different styles. He was also popular, to say the least, and his reputation was well earned. When he dedicated a work he was notorious for honoring not kings or clergy as you would expect, but everyday people and friends. His “Tafelmusik” was dedicated to four of his buddies, all of whom happened to also be virtuosos on the oboe. Concentus Musicus Wien performs Telemann’s Tafelmusik on the 2004 release from Vanguard Classics, Musique de Table.

Our new release this week features the music of French composer Marin Marais and his compositions for three viols. The violas da gamba are played by Wieland Kuijken, Susie Napper, and Margaret Little, of Les Voix Humaines; they’re accompanied by Nigel North, theorbo, and Eric Milnes, harpsichord.

J.S. Bach: Gloria: Tr. 11: Quoniam tu solus sanctus (4:39)
Cantus Cölln (Konrad Junghänel, dir.) — Mass in B minor (Harmonia Mundi, 2004)
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Jean-Baptiste Lully: Act III (CD 2), ---Tr. 20: Chaconne et Choeur: “C’est Medor qu’une Reine si belle” (11:44)
Les Talens Lyriques (Christphe Rousset, dir.) — Roland (Ambroisie, 2004)
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Heinrich Schütz: ---Tr. 10: Jauchzet dem Herren, alle Welt, SWV 47 (8:28)
Cantus Cölln and Concerto Palatino (Konrad Junghänel, dir.) — Schütz: Psalmen Davids (Harmonia Mundi, 1998)
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Claudio Monteverdi: ---Tr. 9: Introdutione al ballo e ballo (9:38)
Concerto Vocale (Rene Jacobs, dir.) — Monteverdi: Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi (Harmonia Mundi, 2003)
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Georg Philipp Telemann: From Ouverture and Suite in B flat (CD 4)
Concetus Musicus Wien (Nikolaus Harnoncourt, dir.) — George Phillip Telemann: Tafelmusik (Vanguard Classics, 2004)
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Marin Marais: From Première suite à trios violes en ré majeur
Wieland Kuijken and Les Voix humaines — L’Ange Marais (Atma Classique, 2006)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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