Giovanni Battista Viotti was a man of humble origins who studied with Gaetano Pugnani in the tradition of the Corelli school. By the age of 20 he was already an esteemed violinist, performing concerts in Geneva, Bern, Berlin and Saint Petersburg, and he eventually chose to settle in Paris. However, as a court musician for Marie Antoniette, he was forced to flee to London in 1792, where, a short while later, he was accused of spying on behalf of the Jacobins. He returned to Paris and was celebrated during the Restoration period, but eventually came back to London, where he died in poverty. Compositionally he serves as a bridge between the Classical period and the first signs of Romanticism, and he wrote an impressive 29 concertos for his own instrument, the violin. The 22nd, in A minor, shows his renowned compositional intelligence at its peak. Brahms, by no means known for the generosity of his opinions, wrote in a letter to Clara Schumann: “This concerto… is a magnificent piece, of remarkable freedom in its invention; it sounds as if [Viotti] were fantasising, and everything is masterfully conceived and executed”.
The work is divided into three movements: the first of these, an Allegro moderato, abandons the tradition of an energetic and virtuosic opening, and instead introduces a meditative, highly refined atmosphere. The cantabile violin theme soon evolves into a flourish that pre-empts the subsequent bright and complex dramatic beauty of the cadenza. Only the third movement, Agitato assai, is Classical in its inspiration, featuring a nimble dialogue between soloist and orchestra, albeit with strong contrapuntal hints, while the vibrant central Adagio’s echoes of Mozart are pulled in the direction of pre-Romantic angst.
Luigi Maria Cherubini, perhaps best known today for his monumental Requiem, like Viotti suffered the consequences of being culturally close to an overthrown ancien règime, in his case that of Napoleon. The arrival of King Louis XVIII gave him respite, and indeed he became one of France’s greatest musicians, despite his Italian origins. His Symphony in D major’s four movements convey that “dual compositional nationality” right from the initial Moderato, straying at times into pomposity but with plenty of moments of progressive expressive intimacy. Cherubini was admired by Haydn, and even by the moody Beethoven, who appreciated the “dramaticism” of his work.
The coupling on this album reflects a real-life acquaintance: Cherubini directed a theatre in Paris with Viotti for a period. The two were also both initiated into French masonic orders, joining the ranks of many other freemason musicians from Haydn and Mozart to Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Both men were significant figures in the history of music, producing a wealth of content and materials yet to be fully explored.
- Recorded October 2021 in Rosazzo, Italy
- Bilingual booklet in English and Italian contains liner notes by Marco Maria Tosolini and profiles of the soloist, orchestra and conductor
- Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) received his musical education from Gaetano Pugnani. He served for a short time at the Savoy Court in Turin but soon he spread his wings and travelled to Paris, where he was an instant success as a supreme violin virtuoso. He served for a time at the court of Versailles before he founded an opera house in Paris (Théâtre de Monsieur). Due to his good relations with the French royal family and the aristocracy, he was forced to go abroad and he settled in London, where he featured in the Hanover Square concert series and was active as a concert organizer and impresario, as well as one of the founders of the Philharmonic Society of London.
- Viotti was an influential violin player and teacher. He composed 29 violin concertos. The music is in Early-Classical style. Based on the principles of the Viennese Classics it hints at more romantic feelings of times to come.
- As a companion to the Viotti violin concerto this recording presents a symphony by Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842), also an Italian who made his fame and career abroad, as Director of the Paris Conservatoire. Admired by Haydn and Beethoven Cherubini’s music is an example of the transition of the Classical into the Romantic style, a fusion of clear-cut forms and dramatic impetus.
- Brilliantly played by Italian violinist Massimo Quarta and the Nuova Orchestra Ferrucio Busoni conducted by Massimo Belli.