A few days ago I came across a YouTube video where Yuja Wang plays the Toccata in D minor Opus 11 of Prokofiev. A spectacular and virtuoso performance, played by her as an encore after a piano concerto with the orchestra. New for me.
Wiktionary gives this definition of a toccata: A piece of music (usually for a keyboard instrument) designed to emphasise the dexterity of the performer.
On YouTube you can find many recordings of this Toccata. Here are a few: Alexander Malofeev, Tiffany Poon, Martha Argerich , Haochen Zhang, Yeol Eum Son. I like the last one very much, not superfast, but very expressive. As you may know, Alexander Malofeev is a favourite of mine, I wrote a separate blog about him. In this 2019 recording he is 17 year old, can you believe that he already recorded this piece when he was 12 year old 😉 ? Quite amazing, watch here.
Here is the score of the Prokofiev Toccata:
The Wikipedia article Toccata gives more information about the history of toccatas. The form originated in Italy in the 16th century. In the Baroque it became quite popular, here is a well-know toccata by (Domenico) Scarlatti, played by Martha Argerich.
After the Baroque toccatas became less frequent. Schumann wrote a Toccata that is considered to be one of the technically most difficult works in the piano repertoire. Could that be the reason that so many recordings exist? Here is a YouTube search for Schumann’s Toccata, I lost count. Which one to choose for this blog? I decided for George Cziffra, an “old” recording (1960s?), because of his superior ease of playing.
In the 20th century Ravel wrote a toccata as part of his Tombeau de Couperin. It is a favourite encore ( Mariangela Vacatello, Rachel Cheung) . For this blog I chose a recording by 12 year old Ryota Yamazaki . If you want to compare recordings by different pianists (including Ravel himself), then this is a suitable YouTube : 12 Great Pianists in Comparison .
And here is a Toccata written by another French composer, Claude Debussy, as part 3 of his Pour le Piano. I have selected this YouTube because I find it fascinating to watch the ten fingers of the (unknown) pianist moving almost independently 🙂 .
All these toccatas were written for piano (or harpsichord), but there is another keyboard instrument, the organ. The 19th century French composer Widor wrote a number of symphonies for organ and the Toccata from the 5th symphony (1879) has made him famous. Here is a recording by the Dutch organist Gert van Hoef , 19 year old. Notice that not only ten fingers but also two feet are needed to play this toccata 😉 .
When you ask lovers of classical music if they know a Toccata, they will probably mention Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. After you have heard the opening bars of this famous work for organ, you will never forget it. Click on the score to listen to the first three bars.
Looking for a suitable YouTube video, I came back again to Gert van Hoef. Not only does he play very well, but it is also interesting to see how he has helpers to change the organ stops, when necessary. Team work. The Toccata takes the first three minutes, at 3:22 the Fugue starts.
Wikipedia writes about “the most famous organ work in existence”, that in its rise to fame it was helped by various arrangements, including bombastic piano settings (Busoni) , versions for full symphonic orchestra (Stokowski) etc.
Not surprisingly there are a few recordings where the Toccata and Fugue are played on accordion. After all you could say that an accordion is a kind of miniature pipe organ. Here is a recording by Sergei Teleshev.
I don’t like the Stokowski transcription for orchestra, but this recording by the United States Marine Band (!) is beautiful and hardly a transcription. You could say that the organ pipes have been replaced by wind instruments 😉
Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757) is nowadays mainly known for his 555 keyboard sonatas. Click here for a nice collection. His father Alessandro specialised in operas (114!) and that may have been a reason that young Domenico wrote one himself, in 1703 when he was 18 years old.
Here is the opera L’Ottavia restituita al Trono (Octavia returned to the throne).
Pleasing music, fresh and youthful. It is a concertante recording, seven singers, no stage, no choir.
I listened several times to the recording, trying to understand the “plot”with the help of the (French) subtitles.
The main characters are Nero, Octavia and Poppaea. Nero, Emperor of Rome is sung by a countertenor. Octavia, his divorced wife and Poppaea, his future bride , are both sung by sopranos.
Floro is a Prince of Epirus and Rosilda his wife/bride. They were shipwrecked and got separated. Both are sung by sopranos (Floro in travesti)
Two supporting roles. Dorillo is a young servant of Floro, sung by a sopranist (a male soprano). And Belisa, an elderly female, is sung by a tenor!
So the three male parts, Nero, Floro and Dorillo, are performed by a countertenor, a soprano and a sopranist, whereas the female role of Belisa is sung by a tenor. No wonder that at first hearing I was confused.
The first performance of the opera took place in November 1703 in Naples. Apparently the work received a favorable reception, but later it has fallen into complete oblivion until recently. The original libretto has been preserved, but the music was thought to be lost, until copies of almost all arias were found in the library of the Naples Conservatory. Based on this material, two Italian musicologists, Antonio Florio and Alessandro Ciccolini, have made a reconstruction of the opera. It was performed in 2007, with Antonio Florio himself conducting.
Before giving a summary of the opera , here is some historical background.
Nero, Octavia and Poppaea are historical characters during the Roman empire. Nero was born in 37 AD and married Claudia Octavia in 53 AD when he was 16 years old and she 14. One year later , at the age of 17, he became Emperor of the Roman Empire. Octavia became Empress and was widely respected by the Roman citizen body. But their marriage was unhappy and Nero soon got mistresses. One of them was Poppaea Sabina, seven years his senior, and an ambitious schemer. When she became pregnant in AD 62 he divorced Octavia and almost immediately married Poppaea. Octavia was banned to the island of Pandateria. The citizens of Rome protested so strongly that Nero almost remarried Octavia, but instead he decided, supported (urged?) by Poppaea, that she should be killed. She was 23 years old and, according to the historian Tacitus, she was decapitated. In this painting (Giovanni Muzzioli – 1876 ) Poppaea presents Octavia’s head to Nero.
From the title “Octavia returned to the throne” , you may guess already that the content of Scarlatti’s opera is not historically accurate. The opera consist of three acts, although in the recording there is no interval between them.
———————————————– Act I
Octavia is back in Rome, disguised as a shepherdess and planning revenge against Poppaea. Nero is going to get married to Poppaea, but also charmed by every nice lady he meets. And Poppaea loves Nero, but she is concerned about the negative reaction of the Roman people and willing to give up her position as empress. Floro tells Nero about his shipwreck and is appointed as captain of the army. Belisa introduces Rosilda to Nero who is charmed by her beauty, much to Poppaea’s concern. Floro recognises Rosilda and is worried too about Nero’s avances. He decides to hide his identity to Rosilda and “become” Clearque . The act ends with a hilarious duet between Belisa and Dorillo. Belisa fancies Dorillo, who is not interested. Click on the picture to hear the duet.
———————————————– Act II
Nero and Clearque meet a shepherdess, not realising it is Octavia. She tells Nero her sad fate and that she is looking for revenge. Nero is charmed by her beauty and tells Clearque that it is no problem to love more than one. He tells the same to Poppaea, who is furious about his interest in Rosilda. When Nero meets Rosilda, he tries to flirt with her. She resists and asks Clearque to help her. Octavia is ready to take her revenge on Poppaea, who is complaining and sad about what is happening. When she falls asleep, Octavia prepares to kill her, but Nero arrives in time to prevent it. Octavia flees and Poppaea blames Nero, who promises to find and punish the shepherdess. Clearque finds Octavia and after he discovers that they both have a grudge against Nero, he decides to help her. This act ends with another funny duet between Dorillo and Belisa. Click on the picture for the duet.
———————————————– Act III
Octavia tells Clearque who she is and tells him that he can help her by raising the anger of the people and tell Nero that the only solution is to take back Octavia. Later she meets Belisa, who is looking for Dorillo, and also tells her who she is, asking Belisa for help. Belisa advises Octavia to hide in a garden where Poppaea and Nero will meet.
In the garden Octavia attacks Poppaea, Poppaea defends herself, and again Nero arrives in time. Clearque tells Nero that the people are revolting and want his death unless he takes back Octavia back on the throne. Nero laments that, still loving Poppaea, he has to give her up. Poppaea says that she will give up her position.
Clearque is finally convinced of Rosilda’s faithfulness and reveals to her that he is actually Floro. Both are happy. Nero asks Floro to call Octavia, he apologises to her for his behaviour. She suggest that he go back to Poppaea, but Floro says again that the people want her back. Then she accepts to come back to Nero, for the love of the country , although he is not worth it. Poppaea is not jealous and Octavia forgives her. Finally all (including Poppaea !) sing about the triumph of the God of Love.
When you have read the above summary of the opera, I think you will agree with me that there is hardly anything in it that is historically correct. Yes, the fear of Nero for a revolt of the people. What I found surprising is that Poppaea, considered by most historians as an ambitious, ruthless schemer , is here portrayed as being considerate, genuinely in love with Nero, whereas it is Octavia who , by hook and by crook, wants to get back her position as empress. Nero comes across as a womanizer who is ultimately only interested in his own survival.
A few more comments
The (infamous) Nero period of the Roman Empire must have fascinated composers. In 1643, Monteverdi wrote the opera L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppaea), based more or less on the historical events. This opera is performed regularly, here is a beautiful recording by the Monteverdi Choir. And in 1704 Handel wrote the opera Nero, the music of which has been lost, only the libretto survived.
Bach, Handel and Scarlatti were all three born in 1685. Bach never wrote an opera, Scarlatti only a few, Handel about fifty! In 1709 he wrote the opera Agrippina about Nero’s mother. Here is a brilliant modern recording by an American ensemble Ars Lyrica Houston
Almost no information exists on the Internet about Scarlatti’s opera. Finally I found this useful link: OTTAVIA, 300 anni fa… It is written in Italian, I needed Google Translate 😉 As far as I know only one recording of the opera exists on YouTube, I found two arias, not related to this recording, a duet between Poppaea and Nero and an aria by Belisa That’s all.
A bit more history. Nero murdered Agrippina in 59 AD. And in 65 AD, in a fit of rage, he trampled on the belly of pregnant Poppaea, killing her. Nero went in deep mourning and two years later married the boy Sporus, who resembled Poppaea, after having him castrated. Nero committed suicide in 68 AD , 31 year old.
It was a real pleasure, although time consuming, to find out more about this delightful “little” opera. Hopefully it will be performed more often.
Followers of my blog know that I love Western classical music. My blog category Music has 16 posts about Bach, Mozart, Chopin and others. But that doesn’t mean I am not interested in other kinds of music 😉 .
My interest in “pop music” started in the late sixties when I was studying in Amsterdam. Those were exciting years, there was an atmosphere of optimism that a new era had arrived. Flower Power, Hippies, May 68, Woodstock
It influenced me. Although I remained basically a “nerd”, I did grow my hair, took part in anti Vietnam war demonstrations, wore a ban-the-bomb necklace and watched the Maagdenhuis riots (from a safe distance haha). Here are two photos , illustrating how I changed 🙂
Soft drugs were getting popular in those days, I was too shy to experiment with them, but I liked the relaxed atmosphere of Melkweg and Paradiso, where regularly concerts were given by underground bands, playing psychedelic music. Often liquid light shows were given during a concert, on a huge screen above the stage. This YouTube clip gives an impression.
In those days I started to buy LP records of bands and singers I liked and I still have them. Most of them are not really playable anymore, but nowadays you can listen to most of these albums on YouTube.
I have taken pictures of a number of these LP-covers and present them here with some information. Clicking on the album title links to the full album on YouTube, and when you click on the cover , a song from that album will be played .
Most of the LP records (18) are from the period 1967 -1972. I still think back with nostalgia to that period of my life. Here is a video from the Woodstock festival in 1969, with Country Joe singing I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die . It gives a good impression of the atmosphere in those years.
In 1969 I was doing research for my thesis, but also I went on holidays to Morocco, my first “exotic” destination, an unforgettable experience. One year later , in Rotterdam the Kralingse Bos festival was held, with the Jefferson Airplane, Soft Machine, Country Joe, Pink Floyd and many others. Did I go? No, because I thought I might not fit in.
Maybe I was right, but until this day I regret that I didn’t go.
I must confess that until a few weeks ago, I had never heard about this young Russian pianist. I am interested in classical (piano) music, see for example my post about the 17th Chopin Piano Competition . This year, from 4 until 21 May, an international music competition was held in Beijing. This China International Music Competition (CIMC) was devoted to the piano.
The CIMC concert with the three finalists, and the presentation of the prizes can be viewed here. Malofeev got the second prize and not everybody was happy with the verdict of the jury. Have a look at the comments given. Here are a few:
“Malofeev should have won. end of story. ” , “Malofeev is FAR ABOVE the rest. Politics again; what a shame! “, “Unforgivable result – a travesty of justice.“, ” Alexander was obviously the best, is it Russophobia again? “
I got intrigued by Malofeev and searched for information and YouTube recordings.
He was born in Moscow on 21 October 2001 amd began studying the piano at the age of five.
The earliest recording I have found, is from May 2013, when he was eleven years old. He is playing Grieg’s piano concerto in A minor, the audio quality is not that good, but you should watch at least the beginning, how he is greeting the orchestra twice and struggling to adjust the piano stool!
The next recording is from about one year later, when Alexander took part in the 8th Tchaikovsky competition for young musicians, where he won the First Prize and a Gold Medal. In this recording he is playing Saint-Saëns’ 2nd Piano Concerto in G minor. A spectacular performance by a 12 year old boy.
Again an endearing start 🙂 He comes on stage and wants to sit down, but then realises that he still has to greet the conductor and the concertmaster.
The quality of this YouTube is very good. If you don’t want to listen to the complete concerto, you should at least watch him playing the third movement. At the end of the recording he comes on stage with his piano teacher, another charming moment.
On 29-3-2015, Alexander Malofeev, 13 year old, plays Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto in C major. The (audio) quality of the video is not perfect, but it is fascinating to see him in action. And as if playing this demanding concerto is not enough, he gives an encore, Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps in a transcription for piano by Kurbatov.
I found two recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no 1. This one was recorded in Saint Petersburg, also in 2015, on 25 December.
And this one is from the Scala in Milan, 6 February 2017, Malofeev is now 15 year old, a teenager, losing his puppy fat :-). He is playing two encores, a piano transcription of a “pas de deux” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Ondine, the first movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.
Last year, 27 July, Alexander, now 16 year old, played again Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto, this time at a festival in the south of France. It is interesting to compare this recording with the one recorded three years earlier (see above).
On 30 December 2018, 17 year old Malofeev played Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto in D minor in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow. A spectacular performance. It is interesting to read the comments. One of them says:
Its pretty obvious who the next winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition will be in June of 2019.
At the CIMC competition, May 2019, where Malofeev got the second prize, he played Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, KV 466, in the final round. It is my favourite Mozart concerto and Alexander plays it beautifully.
For comparison here is the same concert, played by Tony Siqi Yun, the winner of the first prize. Also born in 2001, a few months older than Alexander. He is a Canadian and currently a student at the Juilliard School.
The chairperson of the CIMC jury is Yoheved Kaplinsky , who is also the chair of the Piano Department of The Juilliard School. A coincidence? Not everybody will agree.
Until now the year 2019 has not been very lucky for Alexander Malofeev. The commenter, mentioned above, may have found it obvious that Alexander would be the next winner of the 2019 Tchaikovsky Competition, but actually he did not even survive the first round! Here is the list of contestants. Malofeev was the youngest of all. Maybe he should not have participated and wait a few more years.
Here is an interesting analysis of Alexander’s first round. He played Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt in a 50 minute recital. A quote from the analysis:
By the end of fifty minutes this pale, black-shirted young man of stooping posture had given his all and beyond. Totally drained, totally exhausted. Visually, seemingly even a little unwell, drenched in sweat. Just maybe this could explain the tailing off in parts of the Chopin and Liszt, the gradual lessening of right-hand ‘ring’ and strength. But his determination and imagination, the vision he wanted to deliver, never failed. In the grand scheme of things, the few (inconsequential) slips and blips counted for nothing. The personality and possibilities, the honed facility, the ability to cope under pressure, are what exhilarated.
In a few weeks time it will be Easter, always a time of the year that I get in the mood to listen to Passion music. See for example my posts St Matthew Passion and Stabat Mater . In this post I will write about another masterpiece of religious music, the Seven Last Words of Christ, written in 1786 by Joseph Haydn.
For those readers who are not familiar with the Christian religion, some information. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that he came to Earth to save mankind by carrying the burden of their sins. His sufferings culminated in his crucifixion and his death. On the third day he resurrected from his grave and fourty days later he ascended to heaven.
The resurrection is celebrated on Easter Sunday (this year on 21 April). On the Friday before in some churches a devotion is held from noon till 3 o’clock , the Three Hours’ Agony, commemorating the three hours of Christ’s hanging at the cross. This devotion was devised in the 17th century in Peru by Jesuit missionaries and soon became popular in Europe. It consisted of sermons and meditation about the seven “words” uttered by Jesus when he was hanging at the cross.
In 1786 Joseph Haydn was requested by the clergy of the Cádiz Cathedral to compose seven instrumental adagios, to be played after each of the “words” and meditations. Not an easy job, as Haydn wrote himself: ” …. it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners ..“. Haydn added an Introduction and a Finale.
The work became a success immediately and the next year Haydn wrote a version for string quartet. It is this version which is usually performed nowadays. In 1801 he published a choral version.
For this blog I have used the orchestral version, recorded in 1965 in Barcelona.
I decided that it would be interesting to split the work into its separate pieces and combine them with the corresponding utterances by Jesus. The seven last words come from different gospels. Here is the introduction.
Introduzione in D minor
Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do
While Jesus is hanging at the cross, he is being mocked by the Jewish rulers, the soldiers and many of the spectators.
Sonata I in B-flat major
Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Two criminals are crucified at the same time, one at Jesus’ left side, one at his right side. One of them also mocks Jesus, but the other one rebukes him, saying: we are punished for our crimes, but this man didn’t do anything wrong. And he says to Jesus: Lord, remember me when you arrive in your kingdom.
Sonata II in C minor, ending in C major
John 19:26–27: Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother
Of course Jesus’ followers are also there, among them John, the writer of this gospel. Jesus says this when he sees his mother Mary, and the “disciple whom he loved” (i.e John) standing nearby.
Sonata III in E major
Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
Jesus says this in the Aramaic language: Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani and the crowd thinks that he is calling the prophet Elijah.When somebody wants to give Jesus something to drink, they say, don’t, let’s see if Elijah will come
Sonata IV in F minor
John 19:28: I thirst
As John explains in his gospel, Jesus says this because he knows that everything has now been fulfilled.
Sonata V in A major
John 19:30: It is finished
In Bach’s St John Passion, this is one of the emotional peak moments, listen to Es ist vollbracht
Sonata VI in G minor, ending in G majorLuke 23:46: Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.After Jesus calls this with loud voice, he breathes his last.
Sonata VII in in E-flat major
Matthew 27:51: And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent
This is the description given by the gospel of St Matthew. Haydn uses it for the finale, no adagio for this part, but “Presto e con tutta la forza”!
Il terremoto (Earthquake) in C minor
When you listen to this masterwork, put the volume on loud! And when you are interested, search YouTube for The Seven Last Words of Christ. You will find many recordings.
A few months ago I listened for the first(!) time to Dixit Dominus, composed by Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) in 1707. It is an absolute masterpiece of Baroque music.
Not surprisingly numerous recordings can be found on YouTube. Here are two, one conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists in 2014
The second one with Emmanuelle Haïm conducting the hr-Sinfonieorchester and her Chœur du Concert D’Astrée in 2017
When you search YouTube for Dixit Dominus Handel, you will find more than ten different recordings. I found it interesting to compare them. Listen for example to the first bars of the slow recording by Sir David Willcocks 1965) and the very fast one by Andres Mustonen (2018)!
Händel wrote Dixit Dominus when he was 22 year old and staying in Italy, in Florence and Rome. In Germany he had already made a name for himself with the opera Almira, composed when he was 19 year old.
But during his stay in Rome, operas had been (temporarily) banned by pope Clement XI because he considered them immoral. So Händel composed mainly sacred music while in Rome.
The portrait is dated about 1710.
Dixit Dominus is a musical setting of psalm 109 from the Book of Psalms, which is part of the Christian Old Testament. The title comes from the first line of the Latin text of the psalm: Dixit Dominus Domino Meo, which translates (in the King James version) as The Lord said unto my Lord .
A rather cryptic line, is the Lord talking to himself? The explanation is that in the Hebrew text two different words are used for Lord. The Lord who speaks is God and he speaks to the psalmist’s lord. This lord is seen as the Messiah and in the New Testament Jesus quotes this psalm that he is the Messiah and the son of God.
That is the reason that this psalm 109 plays an important role in the Christian liturgy, the psalm is sung often in the Roman-Catholic Vespers.
Actually, Händel was not the only composer who wrote a Dixit Dominus. Vivaldi even wrote three versions, RV 594, RV 595 and RV 807 (my personal favorite). On YouTube you can also find versions written by Pergolesi and by Alessandro Scarlatti (the father of Domenico).
The last line of the psalm in the Händel version is sung as a duet by two sopranos and choir. It is impressively beautiful and in the Gardiner recording it was given as an encore. Here it is, put the volume high and listen to what you can read in one of the comments: One of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.
When I heard this emotional, moving duet, I got curious about the text, expecting it to be equally emotional and “deep” ..:-). But no, the last line of the psalm is in Latin:
De torrente in via bibet, propterea exaltabit caput.
He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.
What does that mean, it sounds so trivial? I got intrigued, started searching the Internet and found this website Psallam Domino where all the psalms are analysed in a very thorough way. About psalm 109 the blog says “This is a hard psalm to interpret correctly” and “… it is very theologically dense”
The webpage about the last line has the title “Prophesying Christ’s humility and the Ascension” . The humility is that he just was drinking water from a brook, the ascension is indicated by the lifting of the head .
Being a non-believer, I gave up after this and just will enjoy the music…:-)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus, in 1767, when he was eleven(!) years old. Recently I have been listening many times to this fascinating work of art, really amazing that it was written by an eleven year old boy.
Not many recordings exist. Here is a beautiful one.
The Greek myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus is an interesting one, because it describes the love between the god Apollo and the boy Hyacinthus. The Greek gods were not picky and had love affairs with both men and women. Famous example is the love of Zeus for the boy Ganymede.
In this case both Apollo and Zephyros, the West Wind god, were in love with the handsome Spartan prince. Hyacinthus preferred Apollo. When the two lovers were playing with the discus, Apollo threw it very high and far and Hyacinthos tried to catch it. Jealous Zephyros blew the discus off its course, it hit Hyacinthus and killed him. Apollo was desolate, could not bring the boy back to life, but created from his blood a beautiful purple flower.
Painters loved the subject, here is a version by the Russian artist Alexander Kiselyov. The discus is lying on the ground. The flower was not the present hyacinth, but probably the blue larkspur. Ovidius who describes the story in his Metamorphoses, tells that Apollo inscribed “Ai Ai”, the Greek expression of grief on its petals. And indeed, with some imagination you can see in the flower an A en an I …:-)
How is this homoerotic love affair between Apollo and Hyacinthus, with Zephyros as a jealous rival presented in the opera? Mozart used a libretto written by Rufinus Widl, priest and philosophy professor at the University of Salzburg that had commissioned the opera. Father Widl removed the controversial theme by introducing a sister of Hyacinthus, Melia, who is the subject of Apollo’s love and Zephyros’ jealousy!
I got intrigued how Widl had done this. The libretto is written in Latin and my knowledge of that language has become quite rusty, but I found an English translation…:-) . I have created a webpage on my site: Apollo et Hyacinthus , where you can read the Latin and English text, while listening to the corresponding parts of the opera. Give it a try!
Here is a screenshot of my webpage. Note that there are only 5 soloists, Hyacinthus, his sister Melia, his father Oebalus, Apollo and Zephyros. More about the soloists later
Here is a synopsis of Widl’s libretto
The opera starts with a conversation between Hyacinthus and Zephyros . Hyacinthus is preparing an offering for Apollo, and Zephyros is wondering why especially Apollo. Oebalus and Melia appear, everything is ready, but then lightning strikes and destroys the offering. Oebalus is upset, what have they done wrong? Could it be because of what Zephyros had said?
Then Apollo appears, as a shepherd, because he has been banned from the Olympos by Jupiter. He is humble and promises to help Oebalus if he can stay in his kingdom. Melia adores him and Apollo accepts her love with pleasure. He will also be a good friend of Hyacinthus. Zephyros, in an aside: Alas, now Apollo is snatching my beloved boy from me!.
Conversation between Oebalus and Melia. Oebalus has no doubt that Apollo wants Melia as his wife and Melia is eager to accept him. They wait for the return of Apollo, who is playing discus with Hyacinthos and Zephyros
Then Zephyros enters with the news that Hyacinthos is dead, hit by a discus thrown by Apollo. Of course Oebalus and Melia are upset, a marriage with Apollo is now out of the question. Zephyros, in an aside: What’s this I hear? Is the god considering marriage? Is he bent on stealing my beloved Melia from me? Will he who stole Hyacinthus also snatch her love from me?
Oebalus asks Zephyros to go back to Apollo and tell him that he is banished from the kingdom, but Zephyros replies that Oebalus better tells Apollo himself. Again in an aside: If only he expels him, so that my crime can be hidden, for I am the one guilty of committing the murder. Oebalus leaves. Zephyros again: Everything is going as I wished, my plot is working, and my beloved Melia now remains to be my bride.
Zephyros tries to convince Melia that Apollo is bad and that she better can choose him. She is sad about her brother’s fate and refuses his advances. Then Apollo enters. He curses Zephyros who is transformed in a wind and swept away.
Melia is now even more furious, refuses to listen to Apollo’s explanation and banishes him from the kingdom.
Oebalus finds Hyacinthus still alive but dying. Hyacinthus tells his father that it was not Apollo but Zephyros who killed him. Then he dies.Oebalus swears to avenge Zephyros’ crime. Melia enters, still thinking that Apollo killed her brother. She tells her father that she banished the god who also killed Zephyros. Oebalus then explains that Apollo was right, because it was Zephyros who threw the fatal discus. Both are upset that the god will take revenge after being banished wrongly
Apollo enters, saying that his love for Hyacinthus made him return. He can not bring the boy back to life, but lets hyacinth flowers spring from his dead body. Both Oebalus and Melia apologise for the banishment, asking for forgiveness. Apollo promises to stay in the kingdom, hoping that Melia is still willing to become his bride. Oebalus gives his permission, saying: Hyacinthus is dead: you will be for me another Hyacinthus, if you deign to remain in our land as husband of my daughter.
The opera ends with a terzetto, sung by Apollo, Oebalus and Melia. Oebalus sings: “After furious battles, the joyful pledge of love unites you. After these events decreed by fate, the longed-for marriage torch will crown you and inspire me”.
As Shakespeare already wrote: All’s well that ends well… 🙂
Some comments, mainly about Zephyros
In the myth Zephyros is a (minor) god himself, here he is just a mortal, a “friend” of Hyacinthus
His aside that Apollo is snatching his beloved boy from him, doesn’t make sense in Widl’s adaptation.
In the second aside, he is suddenly in love with Melia, afraid that Apollo will steal her like he stole Hyacinthus.
Why did he kill Hyacinthus? To put the blame on Apollo? So Melia can become his bride?
As revenge for the killing of Hyacinthus, Apollo transforms Zephyros in a wind. In the myth Apollo can not punish (the god) Zephyros, because Eros protects him, as the crime was committed out of love!
I hope you will agree that Widl has managed to eliminate thoroughly the theme of the original myth .. 🙂
Let me conclude with some details about the soloists. The parts of Oebalus and Melia are sung by a tenor and a soprano. Those of Apollo and Zephyros by countertenors. The part of Hyacinthus is sung by Arno Raunig, a sopranist , a male soprano. LIsten to him, singing Bach’s Ave Maria. Four years ago I have published a post Countertenors and castrati, where you can find more information about male altos and sopranos..
There is a very simple reason why Mozart wrote his opera for these voices. During the first (and during Mozart’s lifetime only) performance, all parts were sung by boys! They were students and choristers of the Salzburg University and we actually know their names (and ages)
Oebalus : Mathias Stadler, student of moral theology and law: 22 years old
Melia : Felix Fuchs, boy soprano, chapel chorister, 15 years old
Hyacinthus : Christian Enzinger, boy soprano, chapel chorister, 12 years old
Apollo : Johann Ernst, boy contralto, chapel chorister, 12 years old
Zephyrus : Joseph Vonterthon, boy contralto, fourth-year pupil:, 17 years old.
Even the part of Melia is sung by a boy soprano.
Are you curious how this first performance might have looked like? In 1983(!) a television recording has made of the opera, with soloists from the Tölzer Knabenchor. The quality of the recording is not that good, and the YouTube video is split in eight parts, so I have created a playlist. Here it is: Apollo et Hyacinthus .
To give you an impression, here is a better quality video of Melia’s aria, sung by boy soprano Alan Bergius. In this aria she sings how happy and proud she is to become the bride of the god Apollo
Immediately after this aria Zephyros enters with the message that Apollo has killed her brother.
By the way, the part of Zephyros is sung by Panito Iconomou, who, two years later, excels in Es ist Vollbracht . (St John’s Passion under Harnoncourt)
I have written this blog with more than usual pleasure and I hope the reader will enjoy it
A chaconne is a musical dance form in triple metre, popular during the Baroque and consisting of a theme with variations. Just to name a few composers, Telemann, Pachelbel, Couperin, Vivaldi have written chaconnes (the links refer to YouTube).
But when music lovers talk about The Chaconne. they mean the last movement of Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin.
Yehudi Menuhin called it “the greatest structure for solo violin that exists”
And Joshua Bell has said the Chaconne is “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history”
Over the years I have heard Bach’s chaconne numerous times and still it affects me deeply. There has been a time that I thought it would be perfect music for my funeral, but later I decided that it might take too long.. :-).
Of course you can find numerous versions on YouTube. Here is beautiful one, performed by talented violinist Hilary Hahn.
She plays the chaconne quite slowly (almost 18 minutes), most performers play it faster, in about 14 minutes. For example Yehudi Menuhin in a recording from 1956.
Not surprisingly, there are also plenty recordings where the chaconne is played on other instruments. An obvious choice is the guitar. In the opinion of some the chaconne sounds even better on a guitar. Personally I don’t agree, but I must admit that for example this performance by John Feely is brilliant and moving.
In my opinion woodwinds are not suitable for this work. The marimba recording is actually quite nice. Organ and accordion are too massive for me. The cello recording is not bad, but I find the range of the violin more suitable.
In 1930 the English conductor Leopold Stokowski wrote a transcription of the chaconne for symphony orchestra. More transcriptions exist, but this is probably the most famous one. Very romantic and dramatic, but emotionally it has no effect on me. Listen to this recording, put the volume on maximum and fasten your seat belts :-). The recording is from 1950 and conducted by Stokowski himself.
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the piano until now. That was on purpose. Of course there are many recordings for piano. Most pianists play the transcription of Ferrucio Busoni. He was an Italian composer, pianist, conductor, etc, who has transcribed many of Back’s work in a romantic way. More a recreation than a transcription, that’s why it is often called the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. Here is a brilliant recording by .Evgeny Kissin. You can follow the score.
An impressive performance of Kissin, but still I think something is missing.
There exists another transcription, created by Brahms. He wrote it for the left hand alone! A brilliant idea, listen to Daniil Trifonov.
De gustibus non est disputandum (tastes differ), but for me this is the recording that comes close to the original in transparency and emotional power.
The last week I have been listening to dozens of recordings of the chaconne, never boring. It remains for me one of the pinnacles of human culture.
I like listening to (classical) music. When I was still living in Amsterdam, I was a regular visitor of the Concertgebouw . Here in Malaysia I have visited several times the Petronas Filharmonik Hall. Nowadays I am mostly listening to YouTube…:-)
At YouTube you will find not only recordings of compositions by the “great” names (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc), but also works of lesser well known composers. Recently I have collected many of these recordings, limiting myself to piano concertos composed between 1805 and 1830. Why piano concertos and why these dates?
The piano developed and became accepted in the late 18th century (successor to the harpsichord). Not surprisingly many composers wanted to explore the possibilities of this “new” instrument, in combination with an orchestra. What I like in piano concertos is the contrast between the sound of the piano and that of the orchestral instruments, because the piano is not represented in the orchestra already (in contrast with concertos for violin, flute, hobo, cello, etc)
The dates are of course rather arbitrary. In 1805–1806 Beethoven wrote his Piano Concerto no. 4, here performed by Mautizio Pollini. It is my favourite Beethoven concerto. And in 1830 Chopin composed his Piano Concerto nr 2 (when he was only 20 year old!). Another favourite of mine. The recording is by Rosalía Gómez Lasheras (19 year old!). You might say that the dates mark the transition from Classical to (Early) Romantic
Before I started searching YouTube and Wikipedia, I was not really aware of any other piano concerto composed between those dates.
Here is what I found. I have ordered them according to the birth date of the composer. The first link refers to a Wikipedia article about the composer. All concertos are worth listening to, but of course I have my favourites. They are marked with *****
Johann Baptist Cramer (1771 – 1858), English musician, from German origin, a renowned pianist, highly appreciated by Beethoven.
Friedrich Kalkbrenner 1785-1849, French of German origin, pianist, composer, piano teacher and piano manufacturer. A vain man, thinking that after Bach, Mozart Beethoven, he was the only classical composer left.
Usually I come back to the Netherlands when spring has started, but this time I was earlier. The weather was cold and grey, not inviting to go out and enjoy the countryside. Maybe visit a museum? But which one, Amsterdam has more than 50 of them! Two of them are housed in patrician canal mansions and I decided to visit those.
First I visited the museum van Loon. This merchant mansion was built in 1671, has had many tenants (for example the painter Ferdinand Bol, a pupil of Rembrandt) and owners and was finally bought in 1884 by the aristocratic family van Loon, who still owns it, but doesn’t live there anymore.
Here is a collection of pictures. These mansions have a big garden, with at the back the coach house. The kitchen is in the basement, the (elevated) ground floor has reception and living rooms, the first floor the bedrooms. The second floor (not accessible nowadays) contained the servant quarters. The museum gives a good impression how the rich merchants lived in those days.
Garden and coach house
In the coach house
The ornamental garden
A reception room
One of the bedrooms
During my visit there was an interesting special exhibition. The van Loon family belonged to the Dutch aristocracy and many exhibits show their personal fashion style, from 1850 until present.
My second visit was to the Willet-Holthuysen museum. Built for Jacob Hop, mayor of Amsterdam, around 1685. Also here many owners, the last one was Mrs. Willet-Holthuysen, she bequeathed the entire house to the city of Amsterdam on condition that it became a museum in 1895.
Similar design as the van Loon mansion. Elevated ground floor with diningroom and sitting room and a large ballroom. Kitchen in the basement, with access to a town garden. Bedrooms on the first floor. Notice how the 17th century building is flanked by ugly modern buildings
Also for this museum a collection of pictures. The Willet-Holthuysen couple were part of what you would call nowadays the jetset. Traveling a lot, giving parties, collecting art.
View of the garden
Stairwell to first floor
When I was searching the Internet for opening times etc, I found that there used to be another townhouse museum, the Geelvinck-Hinlopen mansion, unfortunately closed indefinitely last year. But the regular concerts of classical music, given in this museum, arestill being organised, only in a different location, in the Huis met de Hoofden (House with the Heads). This mansion was built in 1622. The interior is under renovation, only one room is accessible for concerts. Impressive facade.
There is a legend that the six heads represent thieves, beheaded by a servant, when she noticed a burglary. Not true, they represent Greek gods…:-)
the House with the Heads
Some of the heads
Gods, not thieves
It was my lucky day, there was a concert on this grey Sunday afternoon! Musica Batavia , three musicians, on harpsichord, violin and recorder, were playing music by Bach, Telemann, Vivaldi and others.
Inside the house
Waiting for the musicians
Ready to play
They played very well, here is an example of their musical style, a sonata by Pietro Locatelli (an Italian composer who, by the way, lived most of his life in a canal house in Amsterdam!)