Revival of a Lost Treasure

On our 2015-16 season finale concerts Green with Envy on April 22 and 24, Old Post Road presented the regional premiere of Nice e Tirsi, a passionate and fascinating cantata by the little known composer Giovanni Alberto Ristori.

Giovanni Alberto Ristori was born in 1692 (possibly in Bologna) and died in Dresden in 1753, a timeframe which closely parallels that of J. S. Bach. He had a diverse career to say the least, both as court and church musician, and although much of his life was spent in culturally-rich Dresden, he made forays to Russia and Poland, among other places. One of his positions included an appointment as director of the Capella Polacca that accompanied August II on his excursions to Poland (with Franz Benda and J.J. Quantz among the dozen instrumentalists in the group). He is so little known today because so much of his compositional output was lost in the bombardment of Dresden in 1760 and in the bombing of WWII. 

As we began to look at his cantata Nice e Tirsi, we were first very struck by the pervasiveness of accompanied recitative (rather than continuo accompaniment) in the extended recitatives of the work, and upon closer examination, the rhetorical quality of the writing appears to us to invite the type of expressive rubato in the interjections made by the string-laden instrumental forces that was called for in so much of our Benda melodrama last season. The reactive accompanimental lines are filled with imaginative rhythmic motifs and colorful melodic gestures. We are going to have great fun putting this together!

In reading more about Ristori, we learned that his father - Tomasso - ran a traveling company of comedic Italians, and that dad gave Giovanni his first job as composer for the Italian comic theatre he ran in Dresden when the family relocated there in I717. So it appears Giovanni's flair for expression and theatre was cultivated early and was probably running rather energetically and genetically through his veins as well!

The source for Nice e Tirsi is a manuscript held at the Sachische Landesbibliothek in Dresden, Germany. Over the years, the physical condition of the manuscript had deteriorated, resulting in extensive ink bleed-through. While the manuscript was somewhat difficult to decipher, the library's color reproduction made the job easier.

Although the general topic of our cantata is not extraordinary for the time--in the story line, our protagonist is more obsessed with the machinations of Cupid here rather than those of the wayward or unresponsive lover--the musical devices that Ristori calls into play are quite creative. In addition to the unusual construct of the extended recitatives, the first aria flips back and forth between contrasting meters that seem to reflect the narrator's confused state of mind. Instead of the standard two character contrasts usually found in ABA form arias, Ristori vacillates multiple times between these meters in each section of the aria, reflecting the protagonist's varying fantastical interpretations of events.

His addition of a wind instrument for the final aria (and only used in that movement) is also intriguing. In that aria, it appears our our protagonist is definitely bucking herself up about her love intrigue (and psyching herself out?), and it seems the added timbre of the wind instrument helps to effect the impression of an altered state of reality. (E.g. Denial!!)

It's interesting to note that this cantata was written in 1749, while he was assistant musical director in Dresden under Johann Adolf Hasse who was also one of our featured composers on this Green with Envy program. The concerts also included fantastic and fiery works of Handel, Vivaldi, and Tartini.