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Johann Joseph Fux
Gesù Cristo negato da Pietro
Ars Antiqua Austria / Gunar Letzbor
Catalogue ACC 24374
(photo: Mira Letzbor)
(Low Resolution excerpts)
In the world of music history, Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741) has always been considered as the progenitor of modern counterpoint. In his Gradus ad Parnassum, he mentions the great potential of contrapuntal style which had arisen through the reform of part writing. Suddenly, turns of phrases and modulations became attainable which had previously not been possible due to the practice of meantone temperament. The contrapuntal style of composition flourished over a substantial period of time within the geographical sphere of influence of the Habsburgs between 1600 to 1740. All musically well-educated emperors in Vienna appreciated consummate quality and strove to prevent short-lived fashionable musical concepts. Music under Emperor Charles VI was subject to stringent regulations as was the case for the entire organisation of the imperial court where life was lived according to Spanish courtly ceremony. Church music had to be composed in strict counterpoint in the style of Palestrina. A slightly more liberal style was however permitted for oratorio compositions which also extended to sepolcri and componimenti sacri. Composers were able to feel most free in the operatic style, but even here great value was
placed on skilled mastery. Johann Joseph Fux was exemplary in adhering to the expectations of his ruler. In the oratorios during Holy Week, he was able to pull out all the stops of his compositional expertise. These works are captivating for their flowing melodious structure. A further sign of consummate quality is the involvement of the contemporary doctrine of figures in the depiction of diverse affects despite the expert retention of contrapuntal permeation in his music. The text also played a prominent role in this musical genre. The oratorios during Holy Week served to enhance the spiritual contemplation of the vividly portrayed scenes in the passion of Jesus. Emotions ranging from love, hatred, arrogance, despair, fear and grief were in part personified or directly brought to life for listeners by being intuitively and contemplatively embedded in the ornate poetic background and structure. The Jesuits maintained a tight control on Viennese culture and religion. The communication of religious emotions in illustrative and theatrical forms of representation was a major element of the Counter-Reformation. The loftiness, spiritual pretentiousness and arrogance of the Enlightenment had been cast aside in favour of emotional insight and the modest reception of God’s redemption through enlightened individuals as the new themes and objectives of these works of art. Gesù Christo negato da Pietro was penned by the court poet Pietro Pariati in the ornate Italian of the 18th century. Today this text would be difficult to understand, even by Italian-speaking audiences. Audiences during Fux’s lifetime of were of course highly familiar with the language and elaborate turns of phrase of this contemporary poetry. It must be mentioned that the librettos of the oratorios were distributed to interested persons within the court prior to performance, meaning that the audience arrived at the performances already prepared and extremely well informed. During preparations for our performance, the fundamental problem of communicating the spiritual content of the oratorios for Holy week remained constantly in my thoughts. The recitatives of these works are extensive as appropriate for their religious and spiritual functions;
this was where the poet could best demonstrate his skills. But what is actually the sense of presenting these recitatives to the audiences of today? Over 95 % of listeners – myself included – would find it quite difficult to follow the text to a sufficient degree. One solution is to include a translation of the Italian text in the program, but this would distract listeners from the musical action during the performance and interfere with the emotional reception of the musical presentation. For this reason, I decided not to perform a large proportion of the recitatives; instead of these extensive passages, the scenes, action and emotions of the protagonists would be presented in brief
summaries. What is more, the singers would also recite the brief aria texts in German prior to their performance, thereby providing an impression of Pariati’s dramatic poetic text. We have included these intermediate texts in the libretto of the CD booklet where the flowery language of the period can also be admired. At the end of both parts of the oratorio, we perform a number of sections in their original form with Fux’s excellent settings of the recitatives in Italian. When performing these recitatives, I prefer to retain the exact rhythm as originally intended by the composer. Fux was highly familiar with the Italian language as spoken during this period and is certain to have notated the music in its correct rhythmic structure. In our time, many singers underline the necessity of a rhythmically free performance of recitatives. I do not share this opinion: in this work, we are without doubt confronted by an ornate language which is innately self-contained and subject to its interior rhythmic regulations. Pariati would surely vehemently oppose even the most marginal dismemberment of his poetic works!
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