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Joseph Dascho

Handel, Scarlatti, & Bach

Exact contemporaries

by arwulf arwulf

From the January, 2016 issue

The act of communing with ancestral musical traditions inside of a structure designed for spiritual reflection can have a positive effect on anyone who sits to listen. It doesn't matter what language you speak, or which beliefs you find most meaningful. On January 23 at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, violinist Aaron Berofsky and harpsichordist Joseph Gascho will open the Academy of Early Music's first concert of the year 2016 with a set of sonatas by three composers born in 1685.

From the popular perspective, Handel and Bach virtually define Baroque music and are most commonly associated with attention-grabbing, large-scale choral works like Messiah. Scaled down to a more relaxed level of intimacy, the essence of their musical legacies can feel wonderfully wistful and refreshing.

The same can be said of Domenico Scarlatti, who is best remembered for having composed more than 550 sonatas, mostly for the harpsichord. Born in Naples and raised Italian, he spent much of his adult life in Madrid, writing music for the Queen of Spain. What distinguishes Scarlatti's music from that of Handel and Bach is the hauntingly beautiful influence of Andalusian deep song, born of east Mediterranean musical traditions that flourished in the south of Spain. In his own quiet way, Scarlatti tapped into the root system of flamenco music.

In celebration of the camaraderie that existed between Scarlatti and Handel, and to commemorate their good-natured competition during a Venetian harpsichord contest sponsored by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, Gascho will perform what he calls "Ottoboni's Contest," a work of lively complexity interspersing Handel's "Harmonious Blacksmith" variations with equally dazzling responses executed in the manner of Scarlatti.

As a special treat for those who thrive on hearing early eighteenth-century melodies sung in German, soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani will deliver devotional arias from two Bach cantatas, along with Handel's settings of verses by his friend Barthold Heinrich Brockes. Rather than engaging in fancy wordplay, Brockes composed straightforward nature poems during contemplative walks in his garden, where close examination of blossoms, shrubs, and insects invariably suffused him with a powerful sense of spiritual communion. The recital will close with two of of Handel and Brockes' Nine German Arias: an ode to cascading amber flower petals tinged with silver and a hymn to roses whose iridescence signified to the poet the spark of life animating the entire world.     (end of article)

[Originally published in January, 2016.]


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