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