La casa del Diavolo

La Casa del DiavoloThe animal cry of passion

 

It is for the animal cry of passion to dictate the line that suits our purpose…. The passions most be strong; the sensibility of the musician and of the lyric poet most be extreme…. We require exclamations, interjections, suspensions, interruptions, affirmations, negations; we cry, we invoke, we shout, we groan, we weep, we laugh quite openly. No wit, no epigrams, none of these pretty thoughts.
Denis Diderot, Le neveu de Rameau

 

This passage taken from Diderot’s Le neveu de Rameau, a satire written between 1761 and 1777, is admirably suited to the spirit of the works recorded on this CD. In all of them, despite the broad chronological sweep of publication or first performance (1741-73), we find a common desire to represent ‘strong passions’ with great contrasts between them, in an attempt to express the innumerable shades of human feelings, even the most extreme. Not ‘pretty thoughts’ or Arcadian, classicising idealisations, but a poetic conception bound up with the expression of ‘truth’ which, though not representing, in the field of instrumental music, a genuine ‘movement’ in itself, nonetheless produced in the works of several composers innovative results that in some cases could be described as ‘pre-Romantic’.

 

Such new aspirations also began to appear in ballet, especially in the realisations of Louis de Cahusac, who introduced into his librettos for several Rameau operas what were called ballets figurés, that is to say mimed ballets closely related to the development of the drama and with a more than merely ornamental function. Basing himself on this new conception, which was also inspired by the mimes of the Greek theatre, the choreographer Gaspare Angiolini staged the ballet Don Juan ou Le Festin de pierre on 17 October 1761, to music by Christoph Willibald Gluck. As he himself wrote, ‘L’invention en est sublime, la catastrophe terrible.’ This new form of spectacle aimed to recount the story of Don Juan exclusively by means of dance movements accompanied by music; it may be considered as marking the birth of modern ballet as an independent form of expression.

 

The ballet’s final number, placed at the opening of our programme, depicts the moment when Don Juan, after refusing an imperious exhortation to repentance from the Commander’s ghost, sinks into Hell. Here is how Angiolini describes this scene, whose articulation listeners could easily follow in the music: ‘The centre of the earth opens up, belching flames. From this volcano emerge many spectres and furies which torment Don Juan. He is chained up by them, and in his dreadful despair is swallowed up along with all the monsters; and an earthquake covers the spot with a pile of rubble.’ Luigi Boccherini was a member of the orchestra at the Burgtheater in Vienna when the Don Juan of Gluck and Angiolini was premiered there. In 1771, he composed in Madrid a symphony in D minor which, in the non-autograph manuscript held by the library of the Milan Conservatory, bears the picturesque title ‘La Casa del diavolo’ (The house of the Devil). In the printed edition published in Paris around 1776 as his op.Xll no.4, we find the following heading to the finale: Chaconne qui représente l’Enfer et qui a été faite à imitation de celle de Mr. Gluck dans le Festin de Pierre (Chaconne representing Hell, which was written in imitation of that by Mr Gluck in his ‘Stone Guest’). The piece is in fact a paraphrase of the last number in Gluck’s ballet, with the obvious difference that Boccherini’s finale ends with strappato chords of D minor, played forte, which are much more sombre and dramatic than the diminuendo to a pianissimo in D major that ends Gluck’s piece and gives the listener, at the conclusion of the drama, a sense of purification and pacification. As Cesare Fertonani has observed in a recent study, the other movements of Boccherini’s symphony also seem to contain references and allusions to Gluck’s ballet, both in the use of musical material and, for instance, in the possible significance of the first movement. Here, he points out, ‘in similar fashion to Mozart’s later Don Giovanni overture, the link between the slow introduction in D minor (Andante sostenuto) and a sonata allegro in D major (Allegro assai) represents the dramatic essence of the theatrical myth of Don Juan, the contrast between tragic and comic, death and life, transcendence and immanence, divine law and life force’.

 

On the contrary, it is a literary or operatic idea that forms the basis of Pietro Antonio Locatelli’s concerto grosso entitled II pianto d’Arianna (1741). This work is difficult to assign to a specific genre, since it contains descriptive elements typical of programme music, as found in, say, Vivaldi’s Seasons, though onomatopoeic and naturalistic tendencies are absent here, replaced by a psychological exploration of the fluctuating states of mind of Ariadne after she has been abandoned by her beloved Theseus. Moreover, Locatelli provides no ‘programme’, whether in the form of a poetic text or in descriptive headings to each movement. Yet it is obvious that in composing the piece he followed a literary thread, which was subsequently concealed; perhaps this was to stimulate the imagination of performers, who would have needed to be acquainted with the vicissitudes of the Athenian heroine in order to interpret and ‘decipher’ the affects depicted in the music.

 

The myth of Ariadne had already been the subject of several opera librettos (set to music, among others, by Marcello and Porpora), which however treated the episode of her abandonment by Theseus in simple recitative, reserving ampler development for subsequent events in the story, that is the arrival of Bacchus and the resultant happy ending with the marriage of Ariadne to Dionysus. However, the Lamento d’Arianna of Ottavio Rinuccini, the only surviving section of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera Arianna (1608), expands on the heroine’s moment of despair, and appears to provide a number of clues to help us reconstruct the framework Locatelli followed in his composition. Let us therefore use Rinuccini’s text to venture an interpretation of the different musical tableaux of ll pianto d’Arianna: Andante (track 5): ‘dreamlike’ atmosphere as Ariadne awakens on the shore of the isle of Naxos. The dotted figure in the basses gives a disquieting tinge to the affettuoso motion of the violin tremolos.

 

Allegro (track 5): ‘storm of emotions’ in which Ariadne despairs at the sight of Theseus’ ships, already far off. Adagio (track 6): recitative. It is Ariadne herself who begins her lament, in the declamation of the solo violin. We do not know the text that inspired this instrumental recitative, but the import of Rinuccini’s famous opening — Lasciatemi morire/. … /E che volete voi che mi conforte/ln cosi dura sorte/ln così gran martire? (Let me die …. And what would you have comfort me before so harsh a fate, such great torment?) — is highly appropriate to the character of the music, written in the unusual key of E flat minor. Andante/Allegro (track 7): reprise of the first two movements in the dominant. Largo (track 8): aria. Vain appeals to Theseus to return: Volgiti, Teseo mio (Turn back, my Theseus), etc. Largo Andante (track 9): unanswered petitions from Ariadne, who protests at Theseus’ false promises. Frequent echo effects, a literary and operatic topos, which are the only answer to Ariadne’s expostulations.

 

Grave (track 10): preparation for the explosion of Ariadne’s rage in response to the silence (indicated by fermatas) of the absent Theseus: Ah( che purnon risponde./Ahi, che più d’aspe è sordo ai miei lamenti (Alas, he does not reply. Alas, he is deafer than his capstan bar to my laments). Allegro (track 11): feelings of revenge: 0 nembi, o turbi, o venti, /Sommergetelo voi dentr’a quell’onde. /Correte orche e balene, /E de le membra immonde/Empiete le voragini profonde (0 storms, 0 hurricanes, 0 winds, submerge him in the waves. Make haste, orcs and whales, and fill the deep abysses with his foul limbs).

 

Largo (track 12): reprise in the solo violin of Ariadne’s song. Repenting of the curses she has hurled at Theseus, she now declares her hopeless love: Parlò la lingua sì, ma non già il core (My tongue speaks, but not my heart). As can be seen from the above, the possible correspondence between the literary and musical texts is more gestural and allusive than directly representative in character, and this hypothesis, though it remains notional and cannot be proved, is nonetheless highly suggestive to us as performers. Unlike most ‘programme music’, Locatelli’s Pianto succeeds in creating a strong dramatic relationship between the different movements and a tension that is resolved in the final tableau, which expresses Ariadne’s melancholy acceptance of her own fate, conveyed musically, among other means, by a succession of effective silences and suspensions.

 

A musician moves others only if he is himself moved: hence it is necessary that he should feel all the affects that he wishes to provoke in his hearers…. At languid and sad moments, he will become languid and sad; this most be heard and seen. (Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Versuch ueber die wahre Art das Clavierzu spielen [Essay on the true art of keyboard-playing], 1753) This quotation from Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach seems to project us forward to a view of music as subjective expression that was later to be characteristic of Romanticism. We are no longer dealing with representation of affects, but with the expression of personal feelings, especially in the practice of improvisation, of which C.P.E. Bach was a great master.

 

Baron Gottfried van Swieten, the musical dilettante and patron who was to be the dedicatee of Beethoven’s First Symphony in 1800, commissioned from C.P.E. Bach the six so-called ‘Hamburg Symphonies’ for strings from which the work in B minor recorded here is taken. He expressly asked the composer to ‘give himself full rein’ and to take absolutely no account of performance difficulties that might arise, evidently knowing and admiring Bach’s innovative and progressive nature. To judge from the results, the composer took his patron’s request quite literally, and the abrupt shifts of dynamics required by the score, the bold modulations, the suspensions, the sudden switches in mood give one an impression of music that is highly experimental and restless, far from the cliché of noble equilibrium and Apollonian moderation that is so often seen as typical of the music of the Classical period.

 

The concerto attributed to Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, too, is a vividly dramatic piece of great emotional power, as is immediately evident in the extremely fast tempo marking for the last movement (Prestissimo) and in the contrast between the ‘barbaric’ obsessiveness of the orchestral tutti and the gentle nobility of the harpsichord solos in the first movement. The problems of authorship surrounding this work involve the three most important sons of J.S. Bach. In one Breitkopf catalogue of 1763 it is attrib­uted to Carl Philipp Emanuel, and in another to Wilhelm Friedemann, while a manuscript copy preserved in Berlin reads ‘Concerto in fa minore du Sgr. J.C. Bach dit le Milanais revu par le Sgr. C.P.E. Bach’ (Concerto in F minor by Signor J.C. Bach, called the ‘Milanese’, revised by Signor C.P.E. Bach). Given the stuermisch character of the composition, we lean towards a probable attribution to the elder son of Johann Sebastian Bach.

 

Giovanni Antonini
Translation: Charles Johnston