Nov 7, 2019

Behind the Musik: Lotti Revealed

Lotti Revealed. Water Jewels by Clare Ross

Program Notes by Charlotte Nediger

Lotti Revealed has been curated by director Ivars Taurins. When I asked Ivars how the program evolved, he explained that he had been searching the internet for a recording of another work when he happened upon the Missa Sapientiaeby Antonio Lotti. “I listened to an excerpt and was immediately intrigued, so I sat down and listened to the entire Mass. My next thought was ‘I want to share this with our audiences.’ Then in reading about the piece’s background, I discovered that although little known today, this particular Mass was very influential in its time. It was not published, and yet among the numerous musicians who had written out copies of the score for their own use were Bach, Handel, and Zelenka — an impressive testament to Lotti’s inventiveness. The dots connected: I could hear shadows of Lotti’s Mass in several familiar works. Handel stole some themes from the Mass outright in his concerti grossi and oratorios. The Crucifixus of Bach’s B-Minor Mass was clearly influenced by the Qui tollis of Lotti’s Mass. We have never performed Lotti at Tafelmusik, so I thought it would be intriguing to pair this ‘new’ music with short works by the composers who had this score on their library shelves. I have included works which show evidence of other Italian works in their possession: an arrangement of Caldara by Bach, and of Palestrina by Zelenka. And finally I sent a copy of Lotti’s Mass to composer James Rolfe, to see where it might lead him. We are honoured to premiere the result, his Kadosh / Sanctus / Holy.”

So who is this Antonio Lotti whose influence was so widespread? A Venetian, Lotti rose through the ranks at San Marco as a singer and organist before becoming maestro di cappella(Music Director). He composed sacred music for both San Marco and for the famous Venetian ospedale, orphanages that doubled as music conservatories. He also wrote numerous operas for the Venetian theatres, and it was his reputation as an opera composer that led to a two-year stay at the Dresden court from 1717 to 1719, his only time away from his native city. He is known today almost exclusively for two Crucifixus settings that are in the repertoire of many amateur choirs. They were written at the end of his life, at a time when he turned to an earlier, renaissance style of writing. When and for whom he composed the much more “modern” Missa Sapientiae is not known. It is a missa brevis, meaning a setting of only the Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass text.

Did our eminent trio of Lotti “fans” meet the Venetian composer? In the case of Handel and Zelenka, yes. Handel met him during his sojourn in Italy: he was in Venice in 1707 and Lotti offered the young German both tutelage and support. The Czech composer Zelenka played double bass in the Dresden court orchestra from 1710, and was among a number of Dresden musicians sent to Italy to learn Italian style in 1715. Zelenka chose to study with Lotti. Both Handel and Zelenka would have met Lotti again in 1719, in Dresden: Handel was in town recruiting singers and instrumentalists for the London theatres, and Zelenka returned to the court that summer from studies in Vienna. Whether Bach met Lotti is less certain. It is just possible that they met briefly during a visit to Dresden by Bach in 1717, shortly after Lotti’s arrival there.

Zelenka prepared a score and parts of the Missa Sapientiae for performance in Dresden around 1730. He adjusted the orchestration, incorporating the winds more fully and adding a trumpet — and also gave it the name “Sapientiae” (Mass of Wisdom). As Lotti’s own score has not survived intact, we are using Zelenka’s version this week. It is from Zelenka’s score that Handel and Bach made their copies, so we’re in good company.

In this age of copyright, we tend to struggle with the idea of “borrowing” creative ideas from others. Heavily contested court cases in the realm of popular music are evidence of our discomfort with the concept. It was, however, quite normal practice in the 18th century. For composers to adapt works, or to borrow ideas or themes, was often looked upon as a form of praise. It was also an essential part of studying the art of composition. The Zelenka set that opens the second half of the concert includes a Sanctus–Agnus Dei setting inspired by the renaissance composer Giovanni Palestrina. The Agnus Dei is a reworking of the Qui tollis and Kyrie II of Palestrina’s Missa sine nomine (a piece Bach also arranged). The Sanctus portion is Zelenka’s own, but written in the stile anticoof Palestrina, in contrast with the more extrovert and up-to-date Litaniae and Missa choruses we’ve selected to frame it.

The Venetian Antonio Caldara was just a few years younger than Lotti, and the two worked together at San Marco (Caldara was a singer and cellist). Bach amassed a considerable collection of Italian music on his library shelves, including a copy of a Magnificat by Caldara. Bach’s arrangement of the Suscepit Israel movement leaves Caldara’s music intact but adds two violin parts. The simplicity of Caldara’s Italianate choral writing contrasts with the two Bach choruses which frame the Bach/Caldara.

Bach wrote four Lutheran masses, consisting mostly of parody movements. The word “parody” has come to mean an imitation that is exaggerated for comic effect, but in baroque music refers to re-using music, often with new texts, and was done with entirely serious intent. Bach was a master of the form, and portions of the famous Mass in B Minor and Christmas Oratorio, are very skillful reworkings of earlier works from his pen. In the case of the G-Minor Gloria, it is a reworking of the opening chorus of Cantata 72.

And finally to Handel, whose technique of “borrowing” was arguably more blatant and more extreme than his contemporaries. He had a very extensive library of scores, and he freely adopted or adapted themes or whole movements written by others. A man of wit, when questioned why he had borrowed some music by the cellist Bononcini, he is said to have replied, “It’s much too good for him; he did not know what to do with it.” In short, his mind was full of great musical ideas, some his own, and some by others. In the case of the LottiMissa Sapientiae, he used several extended passages in his oratorios Theodora and Jephta, and shorter themes in his concerti grossi.

We end our concert, not with one of these borrowings, but rather with music by the young 22-year-old Handel, in Italy soaking up Italian style and culture. Handel wrote several works for Vesper services for the 1707 festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, including the Nisi Dominus we are excerpting this week.

Handel would have met Lotti earlier that same year in Venice, and the stamp of Lotti’s style is clear in this music. It includes a cantus firmus — a chant-like tune based on ancient Gregorian models — juxtaposed with sparkling figurations and a hearty fugue, re-used by Handel two decades later in his famous Coronation Anthems.

James Rolfe introduces Kadosh / Sanctus /Holy

When Ivars Taurins suggested I write a piece to fill one of the missing sections of Lotti's Mass, I was stumped. I felt that the Mass texts had grown heavy and dusty over millennia of indoor use. Beyond that, I am more drawn to spirituality than to formal religion. Looking more closely, though, I was attracted to the Sanctus, which begins “Holy, holy, holy.” Its text is taken from the Kedusha, a central part of the Jewish Shabbat service, beginning “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh”— a magical incantation, one often echoed in literature, notably in Allen Ginsberg's poem Footnote to Howl.

To me, spirituality is about seeing and praising the holiness of creation— in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us — as if that creation were new again, arousing feelings of awe, wonder, joy, gratitude, oneness. I have tried to make music which embodies this: the word “kadosh” is quietly savoured, caressed, and shared by all the singers in intimate close harmonies; the rest of the music flows from this word. The Hebrew text is sung first; then the Latin text is added next to it, and finally the English. Distinct languages and religions are placed next to each other, in harmony, united in praising the divine.

Image: Clare Ross

Lotti Revealed
2019/20 Season
Chamber Choir
Ivars Taurins