Listening Guide: L’aria Italiana (Italian Air)

“È sgombro il loco… Ah! parea che per incanto” from Anna Bolena – Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), arr. David Matthew Brown
text by Felice Romani

In this very lyrical aria, Smeton (Anne Boleyn’s page) sings of his love for the queen to her portrait. Smeton begins with a very quiet and exposed recitativo (as he remarks upon the emptiness of Anne’s chamber) before diving right into a more fast-paced, chromatic melody as he confesses his love for her. Listen for:

•The opening, soaring flute line, eventually accompanied by the violin, emulating the clarinet

•Quick, “coloratura” (elaborately ornamented) passagework in the vocal line

•Additional, improvised ornaments in the voice the second time through the rhythmic theme

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

“It is empty, this place…The maids are intently at their duties in rooms elsewhere…
If they should see me here, she knows that in these most hidden rooms, Anna has sometimes invited me to sing for her privately.
Your dear image enchants me, I must return it, ere he [Henry] discovers my boldness.

A kiss, another kiss, adored likeness…
Farewell, farewell beauty that has rested on my heart,
and with my heart it seemed to palpitate, farewell!

Ah! It seems that by incantation it [my heart] responds to my suffering;
that every drop of my weeping is reawakened by one of your sighs.
To such sight an audacious heart, overflowing with hope and desire,
you will discover the voracious ardor that I dare not reveal to you.”

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Tartiniana Seconda – Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975)

Merging melody and structure of hundreds of years ago with postmodernist compositional techniques, Dallapiccola manipulates themes of Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) as a serialist would manipulate tone rows. The resulting ethereal affect is at once beautiful, and at times unsettling – reminding the listener of the complex meticulousness of the composer’s technique. The passive listener will be enchanted by its beauty, and the active one will be in awe of the composer himself! Listen for:

•Motivic manipulation as counterpoint – the ways in which motives and melodies are played concurrently, often backwards (retrograde), upside-down (inversion), and longer (augmentation) or shorter (diminution) – between the violin and piano

•The four distinct sections: PASTORALE – TEMPO DI BOUREÉ – PRESTO – VARIAZIONI

•Use of the violin mute to soften the color in the opening section (and later, in one of the variations of the last section)

•Notes and chords that don’t sound “quite right”: these are the “seams” that reveal inconsistencies between exact manipulations of a figure, and our expectations

•Violin trills and high-registral piano figures in the third section, sounding as wind

•The “crab canon” variation, following the piano solo variation of the fourth section: the violin and piano parts are palindromic – one plays forward, and the other, simultaneously, exactly backward

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Barcarola et scherzo, Op. 4 – Alfredo Casella (1883-1947)

Charming, introspective, and at times highly impactful, this little-known composition is reflective of the composer’s immersion in late French Romanticism, per his study at the Paris Conservatory. In two brief sections – its namesake – the piece begins, developing over a deep, piano ostinato, and concludes with a lively melody, at once in minor mode and uplifting. Listen for:

•The lilting 6/8 rhythm of the Barcarola, evocative of a gondolier’s stroke (related to the origin of the musical form)

•Low registral flute playing, producing very dark colors

•The evolution of the piano ostinato (repeating bass line) in the Barcarola, contributing to structure and drama

•A highly syncopated melody in the Scherzo

•Beautiful, sweeping piano figures in the “B” section of the Scherzo, especially reminiscent of the French sound

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La regata Veneziana – Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)
text by anonymous source

I: Anzoleta avanti la regata

Rossini makes use of the vivid text in his dynamic setting of three, charming Venetian songs. The story follows Anzoleta, who anxiously watches her lover, Momolo (a gondolier) as he participates in a gondola race. The first movement details Anzoleta’s musings before the gondola race. She spends much of the song giving Momolo advice and encouraging him (threatening him?) to win the race. The words are somewhat reminiscent of a coach giving a player a pep talk before an important game. Listen for:

•Fast-paced coloratura passagework in the vocal line (especially at the end)

•Changing harmonies within an otherwise familiar melodic line

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

There on the machina is the flag,
look, see, go for it, go for it…
Come back with it this evening,
or else, you can run away and hide…

In the stern, Momolo, do not daydream.

There, the rowing avenger, the gondola,
you cannot miss the first prize…
Go there, remember there, your Anzoleta
who from the balcony watches you…

In the stern, Momolo, do not daydream, fly!

II: Anzoleta co passa la regata

The second movement takes place during the gondola race. It is faster paced than the first, representing the tense and rapidly-changing nature of the situation as we hear about Momolo’s status. The piano part is quite active during this part of the piece and is representative of Anzoleta’s emotional state as she watches. Listen for:

•Syncopation in the vocal line as Anzoleta describes her trembling heart

Virtuosic, chromatic passagework in the piano

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

“They are here, they are here,
look at them, look at them,
the poor things, they row hard,
ah, the wind blows against them,
the poor things, they row hard,
ah, the wind blows against them,
but the tide is in their favor.

My Momolo, where is he?
Ah, I see him, he is the second,

Ah, what restlessness! I am confused,
I feel my heart tremble…
What restlessness, I feel my heart tremble,
Up – have courage, row!
Before you are at the pole
if you keep rowing, I will bet
that you will leave behind all the imbeciles.

Dear, dear, for that he flies,
he beats all the others,
half a boat he moves ahead,
ah I understand, he looked at me.”

III: Anzoleta dopo la regata

Utterly lighthearted, this final song is particularly indicative of Rossini’s “bel canto” (or “beautiful voice”) style, as Anzoleta watches Momolo win the race. Listen for:

•A sense of effortlessness, in spite of extreme vocal registers

•Distinct simplification of the piano part, compared to the previous two songs

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

“Take a kiss, take a kiss, and another yet,
dear Momolo, from my heart;
Here take rest, it’s time to wipe this sweat…
Take a kiss, and another yet…
It’s time to wipe this sweat.

Ah, I saw when passing
you throw a glance to me…
And I said, breathing:
he will take a beautiful prize…

Yes, a beautiful prize in this flag
that is red in color;
there spoke the whole of Venice,
she declared you the victor…

Take a kiss, bless you…
To row…no one is your equal,
of all ‘casada,’ of all ‘tragheto,’
you are the better boatman.”

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Double Concerto in D minor, RV 514 – Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), arr. Jean-Pierre Rampal

I: Allegro non molto

Originally for two violins, this concerto was written in what would have been at the height of virtuoso technique for the time. The opening movement is characterized by fast triplets, sometimes played concurrently, or as call-and-response. Listen for:

•The flute and violin sometimes playing with the “orchestra” – as in the beginning – then, emerging as soloists

•Passagework in high registers, very difficult in Vivaldi’s time

II: Adagio

Evolving from extreme sparsity and timelessness, this beautiful Adagio is typical of Vivaldi’s concerto slow movements. Listen for:

•The absence of vibrato in order not to obstruct colors produced by sustained bowing/air

•Dissonant suspensions – notes that “resolve” after a harmonic change – that heighten the intensity

III: Allegro molto

Even faster and more virtuosic than the first movement, the conclusion of the concerto tests both the soloists’ agility and ability to play as a single unit. Listen for:

•Rapid sequencing of melodic material, shifting from flute to violin, but adjusting to the harmony changes

•The driving nature of the piano (or “continuo”) accompaniment, functioning as a harpsichord

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Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio” from I Capuleti e i Montecchi – Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), arr. David Matthew Brown
text by Felice Romani

This epic aria is perfectly demonstrative of the bel canto operatic style. Equal parts lyrical and over-the-top dramatic, the work is arranged to exaggerate these attributes. Typically featuring the voice, the arrangement scraps the original orchestral parts, replacing them with Paganini-like “improvisations,” rendering the aria a glitzy showpiece for the quartet as a whole. Listen for:

•The deceptively gentle opening, gradually becoming more involved

•Frequent left-hand pizzicato (plucking with the same hand that stops the strings) in the violin part

•”Soloists” taking turns, particularly when the March tempo begins

•The piano, which does not always play the typical foundational role, sometimes instead flourishing in the highest register

•The passage in which the flute plays both melody and accompaniment beside the voice by punctuating melodic notes – amidst fast passagework – an octave higher

•Improvised melismas in the vocal line, often when all other movement has come to a halt

•Ever-increasing intensity and textural density as the piece comes to an exciting conclusion

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

“If Romeo killed your son, he gave him death in battle:
You must blame fate; and he [Romeo] cried, wept even.
Ah! If it please you, another son he found in my Lord.

The terrible avenging sword, Romeo is preparing to brandish,
what deadly thunderbolt, one thousand deaths will bring.
But to the angry sky you’ll be accused for spilling so much blood in vain;
and on you falls the blood that will cost your homeland.”