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Thread: Premičre of the Serenata ZWV177

  1. #11
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    Default Re: Premičre of the Serenata ZWV177

    Thanks for the wealth of information!

    As for the length of Zelenka's arias, am I wrong to think his arias are generally appreciably longer than Hasse's or Ristori's in both dramatic and church music?

    I usually don't mind the length when the arias Zelenka writes are so rich with ideas. It is probably the natural result of so densely contrapuntal and textural a style of writing, but it does mean that everything is always monumental with Zelenka.

    On another note, I don't think Cecilia Bartoli can be taken seriously as a singer of pre-1800 operatic music, despite her (or perhaps Decca's) pretensions about her on this score. How can one compare her to Ensemble Inegal's solo singers both as to expression and as to fidelity to Baroque style? So much huffing and puffing and over-acting, and such a thick, overweight and gluey-toned voice!
    Osbert

  2. #12
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    Default Re: Premičre of the Serenata ZWV177

    Really Johannes, perhaps you could put in a little thought and research into subjects before you post here.
    (Please forgive my sarcastic humour. You are amazing! Thank you for providing context so vividly.)

    The issue of the length of Zelenka's arias has actually been on my mind lately, so it's interesting that others have brought it up first.
    Last night I did some pseudo-scientific statistics based just on the music in my collection, and this is what I arrived at for average aria lengths for Zelenka and his contemporaries:

    Bach solo cantatas, passions/oratorios 5:11
    Caldara La Passione di Gesů.. (1730) 4:10
    Handel oratorios 4:06
    Hasse I Pelligrini..(1742 oratorio) 5:54
    Heinichen Nicht das Band (1724 oratorio) 5:06
    Zelenka italian oratorios & serenata 8:29

    So there does seem to be quite a unique scale to Zelenka's arias.

    Also, just looking at Mass arias, Zelenka's averaged 5:08, versus 2:17 for Heinichen.

    On the whole I still have to wonder if Zelenka's relative unwillingness to constrain the dimensions his music caused some difficulties with his employers on occasion.

    Personally however, when I'm listening to sublime creations like 'Mire Come sue candide piume' from Il Diamante, or 'Che fiero martire' from Gesů al Calvario, I'm so transfixed that I have no sense at all that 13 minutes has passed!

  3. #13
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    Default Re: Premičre of the Serenata ZWV177

    Yes, the arias are long. The question is this: Why does he choose to write such long arias after 1730? I think the answer could be that he was giving the outstanding singers the tools to express themselves, he did not have to constrain himself, he could evolve his ideas, he could write what he wanted and it would be delivered. This was often not the case in the 1720s.

    Note that the arias, bar one, in the 1730 Il serpente di Bronzo are of normal length. But after the group of new singers, specially nurtured in Venice for the Dresden court (Heinichen and old Bach would have killed to work with these), arrived after easter that year, Zelenka's arias become longer(he might have felt liberated). First in the Italian Arias 1733 and then in Gesu al Calvario of 1735 and Il Diamante in 1737. I Pelligrini in 1736 is a special case. All the main singers were with the court in Warsaw, so he had a limited set of singers to choose from and that's why we have ATB. While the tenor gets a chance to shine the bass aria is "only" just under 6 minutes.

    Zelenka was also following the trends and changes taking place during the twenties and thirties, when the arias became longer and longer, in part because of the evolution of the Da Capo aria and the influence of Metastasio's texts, in part because of the rise of the super castratos such as Farinelli who needed something to chew on. For example, V. Genaux brilliant cd of Farinelli's arias has 5 numbers over 8 minutes. These changes have roots in Naples and Zelenka did know what was happening there, even before Hasse arrived. In Hasse's first oratorio for Dresden in 1734, of the 9 arias, 4 are over 7 minutes, including the beautiful 11 minutes of Notte amica. Here I'd also like to mention the newly discovered Quantz latin motet for a soprano, a unique piece of work that is thought to stem from his Dresden years, stylistically it's 1735-40. The two arias are 7 and 11 minutes and are obviously written with one of the Virtuosen in mind. I was taken when I heard this first as I thought this was our man. It is a wonderful motet and the two arias are near to the style of Zelenka, while the closing Amen is pure Naples.

    But then, as Osbert rightly points out, everything is monumental with Zelenka. It is a key aspect of his unique style. And true, some of his works are long. This was even noted in the Jesuit Diarium on occasion. But I do not think that this amounts to a criticism or a problem per se. In fact, one of the most amazing sources I have come across during my research, has a strong praise for a work by Zelenka and then gives an exact timing of the length of the work!

    And finally, I think the issue of length did not cause him any difficulties with his employers. Why not look at it this way: They were in a state of bliss like we are when listening to his music. And the way I read the sources (believe me, they do need to be re-interpreted), they loved him to bits.

    Johannes

    PS to Osbert: There is little point in trying to reason with me when it comes to Bartoli who I worship, not only because of her first name, but because she is the most amazing artist I have ever seen or heard. With full respect to all the others, including the wonderful singers of Ensemble Inegale (who I had the pleasure of listening to last Wednesday in Prague) there is no one that comes close! So free your mind, and give in to her superhuman powers

  4. #14
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    Default Re: Premičre of the Serenata ZWV177

    Quote Originally Posted by djdresden
    PS to Osbert: There is little point in trying to reason with me when it comes to Bartoli who I worship, not only because of her first name, but because she is the most amazing artist I have ever seen or heard. With full respect to all the others, including the wonderful singers of Ensemble Inegale (who I had the pleasure of listening to last Wednesday in Prague) there is no one that comes close! So free your mind, and give in to her superhuman powers
    You have now insulted my particular favourite soprano, Hana Blazikova, who is equalled in Baroque repertoire in her generation only by Dorothee Mields. Whatever you say about Blazikova she at least sings all the notes, does not go off pitch, is able to convey subtle emotions, has a sufficiently retrained vibrato to allow one to tell when she is and isn't singing a trill and also has a genuine trill (which was particularly prized in Zelenka's time). Where are my duelling pistols?

    I am impressed by the work everyone is putting in after Papermoon's and my comments about the length of Zelenka's arias. I think it is uncontroversial that Zelenka generally wrote lengthier arias (and choruses) than his contemporaries in Dresden. The point about the advent of better singers after 1730 is a little strained: why weren't all the other composers who had access to these same singers also suddenly increasing the length of their arias? Unless you meant this to be restricted to a point about Zelenka's outlook - in which case it just proves the point that he was rather long-winded. Thankfully, he always had a sufficiently rich fund of new ideas to make it work.

    The Quantz motet sounds rather enticing. I wonder whether it will be recorded soon.
    Osbert

  5. #15
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    Default Re: Premičre of the Serenata ZWV177

    Hi all,

    This is certainly a very illuminating thread, especially as far as the remarks of DjDresden are concerned. Fascinating literature!

    I have to confess – I kept thinking: mind your own business: never mitigate other people’s enthusiasm – that I had some difficulty with really appreciating the Serenata. The length of the arias, the amount of sopranos, both factors that complicate listening, but as DjDresden rightly points out, those elements don’t really create problems with an oratorio like Jesu al Calvario. Had some whether or not to share my doubts – but well, here they are.

    I was very happy when I received the serenata but got somewhat disappointed while listening –. In a certain way the music seemed to miss a certain sense of purpose, didn’t provide enough grip to me as a listener. But why? I remembered that Vivaldi/Albinoni scholar Michael Talbot had written an essay about the Serenata. To my amazement I read my own doubts there, perhaps a bit too strongly put, but very well-argued. He points out two main problems in the Serenata: both concerning the factor of length: “they are, respectively, the relation of length to structure and the relation of length to thematic content”. I think his words are well worth considering, so here some quotes.

    Regarding the first problem he uses the first movement of the sinfonia as an example. “[…] the music performs various modulations and includes several tonal ‘plateaux’ in the course of its peregrinations. […] The problem is that, given the greatly expanded time-scale, the ear loses its capacity to recognize, and be certain of, the difference between incidental and structural modulation: the music appears, simply, to meander back and forth without clear direction. Exactly the same problem occurs, mutatis mutandis, in all the arias.”

    The second problem: “True, the composer delves into his repository of favourite ‘Zelenkisms’ […]. And yet: because the factor of inspiration is absent, the music fails to spring to life and the themes become empty gestures. In fact, the very variety of device that Zelenka employs in every movement expresses his difficulty in getting the thematic process – the dynamic, organic development of material – to generate itself spontaneously.”

    But the music isn’t that much different from the music in the oratoria? Why isn’t it a problem in those works? Talbot doesn’t really answer this question explicitly, but well, here’s my idea. In a sort of way the often highly chromatic ‘countermotives’ used by Zelenka in those works always seem to have meaning: the ‘Affekten’, stressing the agony of Christ, are in their right place. In the serenata they don’t seem to function properly or meaningfully. Talbot uses as an example the ‘countertheme’ in the first movement of the sinfonia, occurring on the cd at 1’26. His verdict: “it remains an undigested, foreign body”. An other example is to be found in the highly sparkling hunting aria of Amore (nr. 9) where a contrasting countermotive arises at 0’49, but is it enough to create a certain rest and structure in this aria? To my ears: no. I am inclined to subscribe to Talbots analysis that in the serenata “the factor of inspiration is absent”. Perhaps Zelenka’s real heart is to be found in his oratoria, in the spiritual and religious…

    Well, I poured out my heart… But let me stress that it’s a great thing that this work has been recorded. Perhaps not as beautiful as the oratoria or the late masses, it still is a very rewarding piece. And let’s hope that the coming years may bring us many recordings of unrecorded works of Zelenka!

    Best wishes, Peter

  6. #16
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    Default Re: Premičre of the Serenata ZWV177

    I think you hit the real essence of the matter in your second-last sentence, Peter. It was never meant to be an oratorio or a late mass. It was meant to be music for a fancy wedding, played once.

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