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Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751-1825) THE ITALIAN ALBUM


Text of the booklet "Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751-1825) THE ITALIAN ALBUM / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"

The remarkable composer Dmitry Stepanovich Bortnyansky (1751 - 1825) went down in the history of the Russian culture first of all as the recognized master of the Orthodox sacred music. However the list of his compositions consisting of more than 200 positions also includes operas, instrumental concerts, sonatas, symphonies…
Being a brilliant composer, he possessed a rare and happy gift to write sincerely and naturally, he was the chapel-master of the Court Choir, the censor of the Russian sacred music, the only one among his contemporary colleagues whose music hasn't been forgotten after the author's death and keeps being generally loved and recognized ever since. Who knows whether Bortnyansky's life would have been as successful as it was haven't his youth and his formation as a musician coincided with the "golden age" of Katharine the Great.
"What astonishing heights have painting, culture, architecture to which She had put up in St-Petersburg the delightful shrine - the Academy - achieved! - wrote in 1769 "the director of all arts" of the Russian Academy of Sciences Jacob von Stelin in his notes. -- The music… was neither forgotten by the empress and sparkled at the Court with new unseen splendour".
Dmitry Bortnyansky was born in a Cossack's family in the city of Glukhov which at that time used to be the capital of Malorussia famous of its choir schools. Having studied in one of them for a year or two the seven-year-old boy endowed with the fine treble together with nine other best pupils had been sent to St-Petersburg and admitted to the Court Choirs as a chorister yet during the time of Elizabeth, Peter the Great's daughter. "The above mentioned choir, - J. von Stelin wrote, - now consists of a hundred first-rate choice singers… and disposes of clear tender and strong voices…".
The court choristers were in demand everywhere: they took part in the divine services, in operas' staging, in the court musical amusements - the so called concerts-"hermitages", they accompanied the empress in her outings. The choral singing was heard at the lunch and dinner-parties of the royal family.
The charming, vivid, smart child drew attention of Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna) herself. A moving story is been told about young Bortnyansky tired of a long church service and fallen asleep at the gallery. The empress ordered to take him, sleeping, into her bedroom. After awakening in the morning the boy couldn't come to his senses for a long time thinking he was steel dreaming which made his patroness laugh.
The brilliant talents of the choir-boy haven't been left unnoticed. Eleven-year-old Dmitry was entrusted with the part of Alzesta in the opera of the same name written by the court composer G. Raupbach to A. Sumarokov's libretto. Two years later when the production was renewed he performed the main men's tenor part of Admet. The boy was appointed to the Shlyahetsky Corps to be taught dramatic arts and foreign languages. But what is the most important his successes were noticed by Baldassare Galuppi himself - the outstanding European composer, "the father of Italian comic opera", invited to the court service by Katherine II. The eminent maestro highly appreciated Bortnyansky's talents and was teaching him vocal, clavicembalo playing and composition for over three years. Leaving Russia in summer, 1768, Galuppi urgently recommended to send the gifted young man to Italy to continue his education. Maestro's advice was heeded and Dmitry followed his tutor to Italy as a "pensioner", that is at the expense of the State.
Dozens of articles and books are dedicated to Bortnyansky's works. Nevertheless much uncertainty is connected with his name. Some episodes of his life seem to last forever a ground for conjectures and inventions. The Italian decade of his life and learning which granted Russia and the world one of the most esteemed composers of the XVIII century abounds with puzzles.
Many musicians from all over Europe have been learning in Italy those times. Venice was famous of its traditions of choir singing and theaters, Naples was considered to be the motherland of the best Italian opera-singers of the XVIII century, Bologna represented the stronghold of academic musical education and study.
First of all the young man went to Venice - the native city of his master -- and continued to take Galuppi's lessons. Opera, various genres of cultic music and vocal-instrumental compositions were the subjects of their studies.
Galuppi went on patronizing Bortnyansky even after the young composer began to take his first original steps in the profession: his recommendations opened the doors of all musical institutions in front of the beginner musician, helped him to get jobs.
However Dmitry didn't limit his activities with studies only. Since the young man perfectly knew the Italian, French and German languages he was immediately enlisted as an interpreter during the hostilities of the Russian-Turkish war of 1768 - 1774 and "was often… used by count Orlov when the latter was staying in Venice for his negotiations with Greeks, Albanians and other peoples on the problems of the war preparations…".
In 1776 Bortnyansky makes his debut as an opera composer. The first performance of his "Creont" took place in the Venetian theater "San Benedetto". The date of the first night indicated on the libretto booklet reads "Autumn, 1776", but the manuscript score which had been considered lost for a long time and recently found by P. Serbin in one of the European archive collections is dated by "1777" and there is a note on it showing that one more performance had been produced earlier. It proves the information adduced in the Bortnyansky's biography essay of 1857 written by his grandson D. Dolgov and means that the opera had been performed many times during the whole season.
The authorship of the literary work after which the opera was written lasted a riddle to be solved for a long time since there was no author's name on the print. However Moozer discovered that it was an adaptation of the libretto written in 1772 by Italian poet M. Coltellini for his compatriot T. Traetta's opera "Antigona" when both were at the service of Katherine II.
The next opera "Alkid" (1778) was also staged in Venice, in "San Samuel" theater presumably not without B. Galuppi's protection. This one is written to the well-known libretto of P. Metastasio. The new composition testified to the indisputable maturity of the twenty-seven-year-old composer and his outstanding artistic talent.
In the end of the same year, this time in Modena, in the dukes d'Aesti's court theater the last (as it's considered) Italian opera of Bortnyansky - "Quintus Fabius" - was performed. It was written to the popular libretto of Apostolo Zeno who took an episode of the classic Roman history as the basis for the plot. The note on the title page of the author's score reads that the opera was being performed during the carnival of 1779 though the reviewer of "Il Messaggero" asserts: the first night had taken place earlier - December, 26, 1778 - and "was highly estimated by the court, the Duke himself… and many times interrupted by applause".
Modena turned out to be the last Italian address of the composer. There is information that earlier he had visited Bologna. Such depositories of artistic treasures as Florence and Rome - the Eternal City -- surely drew his attention too. Moreover that a friend of Bortnyansky, the sculptor I. Martos (well-known as the author of Minin and Pozarsky's monument at the Red Square), also "a pensioner" - of the Academy of Arts -- was studying those days in Rome. Most likely the composer also visited Livorno where the Russian marine squadron under A. G. Orlov's command was on duty. Bortnyansky's "German Mass" makes it possible to suppose that he also visited Austria and probably even France which may be proved by the Aria written by him in 1778 to some French text.
In April, 1779, Dmitry Bortnyansky receives from Russia the order signed by the Director of the Court Theaters I. P. Yelagin "without a moment's delay… to come back to the Motherland…" having all his compositions with him. The style and the plot of the letter were highly respectful and the composer was assured that he'd be able any time to visit Italy again at his will.
The homecoming and introducing to the empress were quite a success. His "Italian" compositions presented to Katherine II made a sensation. The post of the chapel-master of the Court Choir was granted to Bortnyansky and a thousand zechin was sent to Baldassare Galuppi "for his efforts in teaching the court chorister Dmitry Bortnyansky being sent there…".
The information on the works created during the "Italian" period and their quantity is very scanty. In general it's a large amount of motets and polyphonic choruses on Biblical texts which testify to the solidity of the skills and knowledge the author had acquired under Galuppi's conduct.
Not much is also known about the works of the chamber music genre composed at that time. The list of manuscripts handed over to the Court Choir's archives after the composer's death by his widow Anna Bortnyansky numbers sixty one sacred compositions for various instrumental casts. Only about twenty lived up to these days. Equally incomplete is the list of his secular vocal works.
Until now it's not clear how many operas were created by Bortnyansky during his Italian period. According to the contemporary records the widow handed over for deposing the music-texts of "five Italian operas". But information only about three of them, those mentioned above, is now available.
What happened to the author's Italian manuscripts? Are they kept somewhere in private archives and await for their time or are they desperately lost? Recent discoveries - two motets, the French Aria and Canzonetta - make it possible to dream of the happy end. And the new album makes it possible to enjoy "vadhezza, chiarezza e buona modulazione" (the grace, lucidity and fine modulation) - the main attributes of good music as Galuppi used to put it. Bortnyansky's musical style is the best prove that the lessons of mastery which maestro had generously shared with his pupil were gratefully and successfully learned.

Overture (Sinfonia) to the opera "Quintus Fabius"
This opera accomplishing the period of pupilship for D. Bortnyansky presents a strong proof of the fact that the young composer had learned the best traditions of Italian opera seria (the "serious opera" based on a heroic or mythological plot) and brilliantly mastered the skill of orchestral composition as well as virtuosity of vocal parts' creation. Long duration of the three-parts symphony involving the full cast of the orchestra allows to assume that it could be contemplated as an independent original work.

Aria "Cara dei torna in pace" to a text from V. A. Signia-Santi's opera "Montezuma"
The manuscript was discovered by M. P. Pryanishnikova in the collection of the Usupovs' library. At the same time this vocal piece is included into the autograph of the opera "Quintus Fabius". Thus it's quite possible that Bortnyansky used the piece written before in his new work. And is it not an indication of his forth Italian opera's existence?

Canzonetta "Ecco quel fiero istante" to the poem of Pietro Metastasio
A manuscript copy of the Canzonetta was recently found by M.P. Pryanishnikova in the Vorontsovs' library deposited in Alupka's House-museum. The copy doesn't seem to belong to the collection brought by the composer himself from Italy. Very likely it was made to the order of Semen Romanovich Vorontsov, the Ambassador to Venice in 1783-85, who was a great music-lover, connoisseur and admirer of Italian opera, or to the order of his wife Ekaterina Alexeevna, who - before her marriage -- had been a maid of honour to the empress and also was known as a music-lover, singer, clavicembalo player and composer, a disciple of G. Paesiello.
The Canzonetta is a part of the cycle consisting of five pieces, occupies the last position in it and is named "La Parenza" (which may be translated as "parting" or "departure"). The text used by Bortnyansky is the most well-known among Metastasio's poems. Many composers including W.-A. Mozart, L. van Beethoven, A. Salieri and others also used it for their compositions.
Bortnyansky's Canzonetta is intended for a woman's voice accompanied by a string quintet with two violas.

Aria "Vas orner le sein de Themire" (1778) is written for a vocalist accompanied by an orchestra of stringed instruments completed with oboes and French horns though the parts of two latter instruments are not thoroughly developed. The manuscript copy of the Aria was found by M. P. Pryanishnikova in the archives from St-Petersburg's house of the Vorontsovs which are deposited in the Institute of the Russian Literature.

Studio. Choral Fugue to the text: Amen
The manuscript copy was found by M. P. Pryanishnikova in the archives collection of the Court Choir deposited in the Russian Institute of Arts' History. The inscription on the label of the volume is made by a child's hand: "Dextra Domini fecit virtutem / The German Mass with additions / Amen (Studio) / Musical comp. of Bortnyansky". The Fugue is intended for a four-voiced choir accompanied by the strings.

Motet "In convertendo dominus" (1775) is for a soprano, an alto and a bass accompanied by the strings and basso continuo. The manuscript copy is deposited in the National Library of France. The title page is lost, the title and the author's name are written immediately on the music-text. Motet consists of four parts: the first part (Allegro) and the last one (Grave-Allegro) are to be performed by three voices, the second part (Larghetto) is written for a soprano, the third one (Allegretto) - for an alto.

Motet "Ave Maria" (Naples, 1775) is written for two women's voices (soprano and contralto) accompanied by the strings and two French horns. It's one of the earliest dated compositions of the Italian period.

Motet "Salve Regina" (1776) for a soprano accompanied by the strings, two oboes and two French horns. (At the same year the composer was working over his opera "Creont".) The well developed parts of the wind-instruments and the recitative to an accompaniment in the middle section of the Motet remind of the opera seria style. The episode-arioso in one of Antigona's scenes ("Creont") is very much like the first aria from "Salve Regina". The autograph is deposited in the Russian Institute of Arts' History.

Motet "Montes valles resonate"
The inscription on the title page of the manuscript reads: "Motetto / a quattro voci, concertate / con molti stromenti / di Pietro (!) Bortniansky, 1778". The variety of performers is huge: apart from the four-voiced mixed choir and soloing voices, the strings, flutes, oboes, French horns, trumpets, kettle-drums and basso continuo take their parts in the performance of the part named "Organi".

Olga Baikova, based on the texts by M.Rytsareva, M.Pryashnikova and others
translation by Irina Doronina

Text of the booklet "Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751-1825) THE ITALIAN ALBUM / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"


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