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Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello (c.1690–1758)
Violin Concerto in C major, Bre3
Soloist: Shaun Lee-Chen
Brescianello was a violinist and composer of the same generation as Bach and Handel. He was born in the northern Italian city of Bologna, but otherwise little is known about his early life. In the first half of the eighteenth century many Italian musicians worked in aristocratic courts outside Italy, and Brescianello spent most of his career, from 1716 to 1751, at the court of the dukes of Württemberg in Stuttgart where he worked his way up to the position of music director. As such he was responsible for composing and conducting performances at court and for the opera. By the middle of the century Stuttgart was becoming one the most important centres of music and opera in Europe (its greatest period would occur under Brescianello’s successor, Jomelli), and Brescianello had at his disposal an exceptionally large orchestra of more than sixty players. He had to contend with rivalry from a German musician who attempted to oust the ‘damned Italian’, and his career was disrupted for some years when the court’s finances collapsed, but he would stay in Stuttgart until the end of his life.
Brescianello wrote one opera (that we know of) and instrumental music featuring the violin. Many of his works have been lost, but those that have survived are full of melodic elegance and rhythmic vitality and show that he had a special feeling for orchestral timbre.
WHAT TO LISTEN FOR
A generation younger than Corelli, Brescianello composed this solo concerto in the modern style popularised by Vivaldi, with three movements in the sequence fast-slow-fast. The fast outer movements are in ritornello form, which Vivaldi is credited with standardising. From the Italian ‘ritorno’, meaning return or refrain, ritornello form is typically used in the fast movements of concertos. The movement is structured around a recurring refrain (the ritornello) which is played by the full orchestra and which is varied each time it returns. The ritornello alternates with episodes for the soloist, which are also varied. Both the first and third movements are strongly reminiscent of Vivaldi, with their energy and drive, and with sequences and imitation between upper and lower strings. The second movement is slow and lyrical, again in the style of Vivaldi. Brescianello would have composed this concerto some thirty years after Corelli first wrote his concerti grossi, and one can hear that by now the writing for the solo violin has become much more elaborate and technically demanding.
Program notes © Lynne Murray 2021
Image Credit: Keith Saunders, 2021