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Axel Wolf Johann Adolph Hasse: Opera for Lute OC 710 CD
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FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberOC 710
Release date01/09/2007
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Hasse, Johann Adolph

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      In the booklet for this CD, Sir Peter Jonas – Director of the Bayerische Staatsoper and inspirational headmaster of the Baroque era at the Münchner Nationaltheater: “In this unique CD, Axel Wolf records opera arias from Johann Adolf Hasse who, following the rediscovery of Handel, Monteverdi and Cavalli, is finally receiving the recognition he deserves.”
      Hasse, born in Bergedorf near Hamburg, was employed at the court of the Electoral Saxonian in Dresden for over thirty years following engagements in Braunschweig and Naples. A manuscript from an unknown hand dated to that era transposed the arias of Hasse’s operas, which were popular at the time, for the lute. Thereby the arranger kept with the fashion of the time by arranging the piece for chamber music and private performances. Axel Wolf is a regular guest at the Bayerische Staatsoper and performs as a soloist in concert as well as with ensembles such as the Musica Fiata (Cologne), the Freiburger Barockorchester, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Gabrieli Consort & Players London.

      Sir Peter Jonas on this CD

      During the past 25 years, not only has baroque music become “in”, it moves, provokes and excites increasing numbers of listeners. Everyone who has experienced the Bavarian State Opera’s highly praised baroque productions in the 1990s and the first years of the new millennium could see how the orchestra’s continuo group and members of the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra have developed a new and unmistakable Munich baroque style.

      This baroque renaissance in Munich is especially noteworthy because so many individual instrumentalists have remained true to this path – and one of the most prominent is lutenist Axel Wolf.

      On this unique CD, he has recorded opera arias by Johann Adolph Hasse, a baroque composer who – after the rediscovery in Germany of Handel, Monteverdi and Cavalli – is now receiving the admiration he is due. These lute arrangements of opera arias, sinfonias and sonatas are no fly-by-night caprice or misleading metamorphosis of baroque music in our time – done simply to make it more easily accessible. Such arrangements were not only performed by professionals during their period of origin, but also by amateurs, at home in their elegant living rooms, even as “musique de table”. Apart from musical enjoyment, this recording also thus gives us insights in the domestic musical arts of the 18th century. Axel Wolf presents this music with taste, charm and the same virtuosity and professionalism that we participants in the Munich baroque scene have experienced from him during the last fifteen years.

      Sir Peter Jonas was general manager of the Bavarian State Opera from 1993 until the end of the 2005/06 season

      Johann Adolph Hasse (1699–1783) “Opera for lute”

      Johann Adolph Hasse, born in Bergedorf near Hamburg, began his career as a singer. He went first to Hamburg and subsequently to the court at Braunschweig. His first known composition, Antioco, a dramma per musica, was performed there in 1721. Soon afterwards, however, he left for Italy, where his series of triumphs would make him the most famous opera composer of the age. His first stop was Naples, where he converted to Catholicism and became a student of Alessandro Scarlatti. At the 1725 performance of his serenata Marc’ Antonio e Cleopatra at the country home of a royal Neapolitan councilor, star singers Vittoria Tesi and the castrato Farinelli were cast in the title roles. In the end, Hasse advanced to become Farinelli’s favorite composer. During the course of his career, the castrato was repeatedly celebrated for his performances of arias from Hasse’s opera Artaserse, which first premiered in Venice in 1730. These were even said to have had therapeutic success: Farinelli sang arias from Artaserse every night for Spanish King Philipp V to ward off the melancholy, performances which apparently worked from time to time. Now employed at the court of Naples, Hasse married the already heavily pregnant mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni in 1730 in Venice. He also reneged on a contract planned for the same year to begin as Dresden’s court kapellmeister – presumably at his wife’s request. But in July 1731, both went to Dresden for a guest appearance lasting several months, whose brilliant climax was the premiere of Hasse’s opera Cleofide with Faustina in the title role. This triumph probably contributed to the fact that after the death of Augustus II the Strong in 1733, Hasse did obtain the position in Dresden under Augustus’s son Friedrich August II. Hasse’s contract was exceptionally attractive and gave him a great deal of freedom; his requirement to remain on location was limited and allowed him to take lengthy trips. Of the 30 years this position lasted, Hasse spent only approximately 17 of them in Dresden.

      As an opera composer, Hasse fulfilled an important function within the royal household, for in a baroque court, music – and opera above all – served to represent power. It illuminated the court’s brilliance far afield and – according to absolutistic thinking – reflected the significance of the ruler.

      The important position that Hasse and his wife held at the Dresden court is shown by the fact that they were godparents to over 30 children during their stay, including a son of Silvius Leopold Weiss. In doing this, the Hasses not only fulfilled a social convention – also illustrated by the circumstance that they served as godparents for a foundling discovered by Faustina, which was baptized significantly under the name Philipp Maria Stradello.

      After the death of Friedrich August II in 1763, Hasse was let go by the new prince elector due to austerity measures the devastating results of the Seven Years’ War had necessitated for Saxony. He was afterwards employed primarily by the emperor’s court in Vienna. As of 1773, the Hasses spent their last years in Venice. Johann Adolph Hasse outlived his wife by almost two years and died on October 16, 1783 in the lagoon city. That Hasse’s time – as well as that of the opera seria – was over, is illustrated by the fact that composer Otto Carl Erdmann von Kospoth, who had been living in Venice since the end of July 1783, didn’t hear about Hasse’s death until two days afterwards, and had never even visited Hasse while he was in Venice.

      The arias and sinfonia performed on this recording come from a manuscript preserved in the city of Leipzig’s music library (catalog number: Ms. III.11.46a) entitled Opern Arien auf die Laute versezet. Ao. 1755. di R, although no satisfactory identification of the person behind the “R” has yet been accomplished.

      All works from this manuscript are taken from Hasse operas performed between 1747 and 1755 at the Dresden court. It is quite possible that the arranger heard these performances because the manuscript includes the names of the singers of the respective arias. A first version of the opera Leucippo, with its wonderful aria “Pupille Care” was performed on October 7, 1747, the birthday of the prince elector, in Huburtusburg palace; a second version was performed during the 1751 carnival season. A further opera, Ciro riconosciuto, was likewise performed in carnival 1751 barely two weeks later.

      Solimano impressed Dresden audiences during carnival 1753 not only with its Oriental theme, but also with the premiere’s enormous splendor, which included circa 600 supernumeraries as well as elephants, camels and horses. For the prince elector’s birthday that year, the opera L’eroe cinese was performed, followed by Artemisia during carnival 1754. The arias “Vi fida lo sposo”, “Gia del mio zelo antico” and “Quanto mai felice” come from Hasse’s second setting of Ezio, which premiered on January 20, 1755 in Dresden, also with an incredibly opulent production that used over 400 supernumeraries and nearly 120 live animals.

      The Suonata III in F Major is found in another manuscript in the Leipzig library (catalog number: Ms. III.11.46b), likewise from the hand of the copyist of the aria manuscript. It contains arrangements of harpsichord sonatas by Hasse and is entitled IV Suonate di Hasse accom[m]odate per il Liuto fatte per La Real Delfina die Francia. Quite possibly, the “Suonate” – as the dedication suggests – were written in connection with a trip to Paris taken by the Hasses in summer 1750, following an invitation by Maria Josepha, a daughter of the Saxon prince elector who was married to the French crown prince.

      The works in both Leipzig manuscripts place high technical demands on the performer, greatly exceeding the abilities of any amateur lutenist. Low bass strings must constantly be plucked as well as 16th-note figures in this range – and even rapid parallel octaves in the lowest strings of the lute are required, as can be heard in the third movement of the Suonate in F Major.

      Lute arrangements of this type were not unusual for this time. We assume that in addition to the Leipzig settings, further arias were arranged for lute, particularly arias from Hasse operas, most of which are lost today. These were certainly created to preserve the “hits” from spectacular musical events – which Hasse’s operas always were – as well as relive them through one’s own performance. Today, in an age of nearly unlimited electronic reproduction of music, this phenomenon is still apparent.

      Frank Legl
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

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