Natale Allegro! An Italian Baroque Christmas

Saturday, December 10, Emmanuel Church, Boston
Sunday, December 11, Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester

Concerto grosso in G Minor, op. 6, no. 8    Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
  Vivace-Grave • Allegro   
  Adagio-Allegro-Adagio • Vivace
  Allegro-Pastorale ad libitum

Amarilli Vezzosa Cantata à 3 per il Santissimo Natale    Antonio Caldara (1670-1736)


Jayne West, soprano (Dafni)
Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano (Amarilli)
Catherine Hedberg, mezzo-soprano (Dameta)
Suzanne Stumpf, recorder and traverso; John Tyson, recorder
Christina Day Martinson and Lisa Rautenberg, violins
Marcia Cassidy, viola; Daniel Ryan, cello; Olav Chris Henriksen, theorbo
Michael Bahmann, harpsichord

Program Notes

Music played an important role in the Christmas celebrations of seventeenth-century Rome, and the rustic and pastoral imagery inherent in the Christmas story provided inspiration to many composers, including the two presented on this program, Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Caldara. While both of the works offered on these concerts were likely originally intended to be performed on Christmas Eve, the Corelli concerto grosso would have been performed as part of a liturgy, while the Caldara cantata would have been presented in a non-liturgical setting.

Arcangelo Corelli lived and worked in Rome under the patronage of the one of the most enlightened and forward-thinking members of the Roman nobility, Queen Christina of Sweden. Under her patronage, Corelli refined his distinctive style of instumental composition, particularly the form with which he became most associated, the concerto grosso. The seventeenth-century Italian concerto grosso form features a group of solo instruments, usually two violins and cello (with continuo), set in contrast to a larger string ensemble. Corelli’s Christmas concerto grosso, originally composed in 1690, was published in his opus 6 collection in 1714. The popularity of Corelli’s concerti spawned numerous contemporary editions and arrangements, including settings utilizing recorders as the solo treble instruments. The arrangement used in this performance is from a 1725 English edition.

Antonio Caldara was a prolific and important composer of operas, oratorios, and cantatas who was active in Rome, Venice, Mantua, and Vienna. While it is not known when and where he composed his Christmas cantata Amarilli Vezzosa, it is plausible that it was composed in Rome during his appointment as Maestro di Capella to Prince Ruspoli for the annual Christmas Eve performances Ruspoli sponsored. Amarilli Vezzosa tells the Christmas story from the perspective of three shepherds, who are given the mythological names of Amarilli, Dafni, and Dameta. The charming text, by an unidentified author, coveys the simple shepherds’ excitement and joy at their discovery of the sacred birth, and the tributes they offer to the infant Jesus.

Caldara’s setting of this text is in the sequence of recitative and aria that was becoming standard for opera, oratorio, and cantata during his lifetime, with well-characterized arias set in a beautifully-wrought vocal idiom. The musical imagery would not be complete, however, without the use of the pastorale, a movement type that was imitative of the simple music played by shepherds that could probably be heard in rustic Italy during that time. Caldara’s cantata contains two pastorales: one at the end of the opening Sinfonia to set the scene for the work, and the aria Sempre risuoneranno sung by Dafni.

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf