Attilio Ariosti, an Italian
composer of the generation of Alessandro Scarlatti, was born
in Bologna, and ordained as a priest. His first compositions
were oratorios, but after composing his first opera in 1697
he concentrated on writing music for the theatre. A year
before he had entered the service of the Duke of Mantua,
who sent him to Berlin to the court of Sophie Charlotte,
Electress of Brandenburg. He was appointed 'maître de musique'
and became Sophie Charlotte's favourite musician. Later on
he worked at the imperial court in Vienna, where he was held
in high esteem by Joseph I. He worked as one of Joseph I’s
diplomats in Italy, and after Joseph's death entered the
service of the Duke of Anjou, the future French king Louis
XV. His output is rather limited in comparison to that of
some of his more famous contemporaries. This is almost certainly
down to his many activities as a diplomat, but also as a
music teacher and an interpreter; he was a singer and played
the keyboard, the cello and the viola d'amore.
last stage of his life was played out in England, where he
arrived in July 1716. He performed in public on the viola
d'amore, the instrument for which he also composed six 'Lessons',
published in London in 1724; recently recorded by Thomas
Georgi, BIS CD-1535. His first opera in England was Tito
Manlio, premiered in 1717. It made such an impression
that the Royal Academy of Music commissioned another opera
from Ariosti. From 1722 to 1728 he was one of the composers
employed by the Royal Academy, alongside Handel and Bononcini.
He died in London in 1729.
six Lessons for viola d'amore were published in one volume
alongside the six cantatas recorded on this disc. In the
booklet Darja Großheide writes: "The present cantatas
form a sonnet sequence, ranging from 'La Rosa' (The Rose)
to 'Il Naufragio' (The Shipwreck) and the final 'La Gelosia'
(Jealousy). This has suggested the title 'The Flowering and
Fading of Love'". She doesn't give any evidence that
Ariosti himself presented these cantatas as a cycle. And
at first sight it seems that some of the sonnets have nothing
to do with love. But there are several reasons to support
Ms Großheide's view.
of all, only the first cantata starts with an instrumental
introduction, and it is fairly plausible to consider it a
kind of overture to the whole series of cantatas. Secondly,
one person appears in several cantatas: the nymph Nice (Nysa),
the object of both the affection and the disdain of the protagonist.
And a closer look at the texts reveals that, even when they
are not specifically about love, they are closely connected
to that subject: several images are used metaphorically to
depict love and all the tribulations connected to it.
first cantata is about a rose - a symbol of love - which
is spurned by Nysa and Chloris. The recitative describes
how she rises again and becomes the mistress of all the flowers
and warns offenders off with her sharp thorns. The second
cantata talks about the feelings of the protagonist who has
fallen in love and tries to convince a shepherdess that in
love joy can be found. In the third cantata another image
of nature is used: the elm. The tree laments the unfaithfulness
of its friend the vine. The protagonist, whose identity is
now revealed as the shepherd Fileno (Phylenus), compares
his own fate with that of the elm, and invites the tree to "unite
in grief over that cruel and thankless heart, the inconstancy
of her love, her perfidiousness".
fourth cantata marks a turning point, which could well be
the reason Ariosti scored the next three cantatas for alto.
The title expresses its content: 'Freedom acquired through
love'. The love of Phylenus for the unfaithful Lysa made
him her prisoner. But he has freed himself from the "bonds
of love": "I take away from you the pleasure of
my torment". The last aria describes how love brings
destruction and becomes "the tyrant of every heart".
the fifth cantata another image is used to depict the breakdown
of love: a shipwreck. The first aria describes a storm at
sea, with crashing waves, thunder and the absence of sunshine.
The last aria says: "My wrecked ship, I see you break
apart, and can but weep for your destiny." Love breaks
apart on the waves of the sea, which symbolise the inconstancy
of the lover.
last cantata marks the return to the beginning: the protagonist
has not really overcome his love for Nysa. Otherwise he would
not feel that she, "who faithlessly seeks her delight
in the arms of another, is the cause of my bitterness and
misery". "Cruel Jealousy" has entered his
heart and broken it for ever. In the second recitative Jealousy
is characterised as a "rapacious harpy". "That
another is happy with my beloved is an affliction far more
cruel than death".
cantatas make one understand that Ariosti was successful
as a composer of operas; there is plenty of drama here. Not
only the vocal parts but the instrumental parts as well depict
the feelings expressed in the texts. It is impressive how
the two melody instruments - originally two violins, here
flute and violin - and the basso continuo illustrate the
storm at sea in the first aria of Cantata No. 5. They also
perfectly express the unhappy lover's feelings in his lament
in Cantata No. 3.
are very nice cantatas, and the performers fully explore
their expressive qualities. The soprano and contralto have
beautiful voices, which are very pleasant to listen to, and
vividly communicate the feelings of the protagonist. The
recitatives are sung with some rhythmic freedom, but the
singers could have taken more liberties in this respect.
I also think they are a little too economical with ornamentation.
The instrumentalists give fine performances, showing great
sensitivity for the way Ariosti has illustrated the text
in his music.
addition of the two trio sonatas by Locatelli and Vivaldi
is a little surprising and not very satisfying. Without them
the playing time of this disc had been about 63 minutes,
which is not too bad. But if the need was felt to add something,
why wasn't another cantata from Ariosti's oeuvre taken rather
than two instrumental works by composers who didn't have
any connection to Ariosti and one of whom even belongs to
another generation? Both pieces are given very lively performances,
but they have been recorded before, whereas Ariosti is an
unknown quantity who deserves to be better known.
booklet omits the lyrics of the cantatas - they can be downloaded
from the Naxos website. The exact address is given in the
Johan van Veen
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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