Hyperion Records

San Giovanni Battista
first performed in San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, Rome, on Palm Sunday, 31 March, 1675
author of text
after Mark 6: 17-21

'Stradella: San Giovanni Battista' (CDA67617)
Stradella: San Giovanni Battista
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67617 
Prima Parte No 01: Sinfonia
Prima Parte No 02. Recitative – Aria: Amiche selve – Deste un tempo (San Giovanni)
Prima Parte No 03. Recitative – Coro – Recitative: Selve beate – Dove, Battista? – Alla corte (San Giovanni/Coro di Discepoli)
Prima Parte No 04. Aria: Soffin pur, rabbiosi fremiti (San Giovanni)
Prima Parte No 05. Recitative – Madrigale: Restate – Dove, Battista, dove? (San Giovanni/Coro di Discepoli)
Prima Parte No 06. Recitative: Invitto Herode (Consigliere)
Prima Parte No 07. Aria: Volin pure lontano dal sen (Herodiade)
Prima Parte No 08. Recitative – Aria: Sì, sì dei tuoi divoti – Anco in Cielo (Herodiade/Consigliere)
Prima Parte No 09. Recitative: Ma poi lasciando (Consigliere)
Prima Parte No 10. Aria: Sorde dive (Salome)
Prima Parte No 11. Recitative – Trio – Recitative: Non più cedo – Non fia ver – Non più ferma (All)
Prima Parte No 12. Aria: Tuonerà tra mille turbini (Herode)
Prima Parte No 13. Aria/Quartet: S'uccida il reo (All)
Prima Parte No 14. Recitative: Proverà se questo Scettro (Herode)
Prima Parte No 15. Duet: Freni l'orgoglio (Herode/Salome)
Seconda Parte No 01. Aria: Vaghe ninfe nel giordano (Salome)
Seconda Parte No 02. Recitative – Aria: Giorno sì lieto – Anco il sol (Consigliere)
Seconda Parte No 03. Recitative: O di questi occhi miei (Herode/Salome/San Giovanni)
Seconda Parte No 04. Aria: Io per me non cangerei (San Giovanni)
Seconda Parte No 05. Recitative: Figlia, se un gran tesoro (Herodiade/Salome/Herode)
Seconda Parte No 06. Duet: Nel seren de' miei contenti (Herode/Salome)
Seconda Parte No 07. Recitative: Deh, che più tardi a consolar (Salome)
Seconda Parte No 08. Aria: Queste lagrime e sospiri (Salome)
Seconda Parte No 09. Recitative – Aria: In questa dei miei affetti – Provi pur le mie vendette (Herode)
Seconda Parte No 10. Recitative – Duet: Il castigo d'un empio – Morirai! Uccidetelo pur! (Herode/San Giovanni/Salome)
Seconda Parte No 11. Recitative – Aria: Cadesti alfine – Sù coronatemi (Salome)
Seconda Parte No 12. Recitative: Chi nel comun gioire (Herode)
Seconda Parte No 13. Duet: Che gioire, che contento (Salome/Herode)

San Giovanni Battista

Stradella’s music manuscripts found their way mainly into the library of Duke Francesco d’Este of Modena, now housed in the Biblioteca Estense Universitaria of Modena, and into the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria of Turin in the Mauro Foà and Renzo Giordano collections. Handel owned several of Stradella’s manuscripts, including a copy of the oratorio San Giovanni Battista, and both Charles Burney and Padre Martini wrote in praise of his compositional skill, citing in detail pieces from this oratorio. Stradella himself considered San Giovanni Battista to be his best work to that date.

In 1675 the confraternity of the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome, which met in the Oratorio della Pietà, decided to offer a series of fourteen oratorios to be performed between January and April of that year. The series was prompted by the fact that it was a Holy Year and the composers chosen were among Rome’s best. Stradella was commissioned to set what was certainly the most important of the librettos, one about Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence and of Florentines and to whom their church in Rome was dedicated. It was performed on Palm Sunday, 31 March 1675, a prime position on the liturgical calendar.

The author of the libretto was Ansaldo Ansaldi, born in Florence in 1651 to a noble family. He had studied first under the Jesuits in Florence and then at the University of Pisa. To continue his studies in law he moved to Rome, where he had an illustrious ecclesiastical career. His literary ability was also acclaimed and he was made a member of the Accademia Fiorentina and of Arcadia. Ansaldi died in 1719 and was buried in San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, affirming his close connection to the confraternity and their esteem for him. Coupling Stradella with such a noteworthy ecclesiastical and literary figure makes it clear that they valued the composer, too.

Ansaldi’s libretto presents the usual New Testament story (reported in Mark 6: 17–21) of John the Baptist (Giovanni Battista) who goes to the court of Herod (Herode) to try to convince him to send away the wife (Herodiade la Madre, or just Herodiade) of his brother whom he has taken for his own, and to renounce worldly pleasures and his lascivious life. Naturally Herodiade and her daughter Herodiade la Figlia (also known as Salome) are not ready to give up their comfortable life and they manage to convince Herode to send Giovanni to prison. But when Herode offers to give Salome whatever she asks, in gratitude for having danced so exotically for him at the festivities for his birthday, her mother suggests that she ask for Giovanni’s head, which she does. At the end of the libretto, Herode is in doubt as to whether he did the right thing, whereas Salome is delighted he killed Giovanni.

To these characters, Ansaldi added a court counsellor (Consigliere). Stradella scored the oratorio for two sopranos (Salome and Herodiade), a contralto or countertenor (Giovanni), a tenor (Consigliere) and a bass (Herode). These same voices join together to take the roles of Giovanni’s disciples and Herode’s courtiers. The names of the original singers are known and they were among the best Rome had to offer. To accompany the whole 1675 series of oratorios there were ten (unspecified) instrumentalists, to which ten more were added for Stradella’s contribution. Among these latter there was a harpsichordist, a lutenist, two violinists, two violists and two double bass players.

From what one can glean from documents and from Stradella’s score (his is the only oratorio of the series to survive), the instruments were divided into a concertino and a concerto grosso. Probably the concertino comprised two violins, the lute and perhaps one of the double basses, while the concerto grosso seems to have had six violins, four first violas, four second violas, four cellos and a double bass. The harpsichord could have been used as continuo for both groups, although it is called for only in the concertino; and an organ, although not specified, could well have been employed.

Stradella achieves great variety and sense of movement in the oratorio (traditionally unstaged) by changing the scoring from piece to piece. Of the thirteen arias in San Giovanni Battista, six are accompanied only by continuo and six by other instruments as well. Of these, one is accompanied by only the concertino (‘Io per me non cangerei’), two by only concerto grosso (‘Sorde dive’ and ‘Vaghe ninfe del giordano’), one has the concerto grosso during its first section and the concertino during its second section (‘Tuonerà tra mille turbini’), and one aria employs both concertino and concerto grosso for its accompaniment (‘Soffin pur, rabbiosi fremiti’).

The instruments are still further rearranged for the accompaniment of two other arias: ‘Queste lagrime e sospiri’ is the aria Salome sings to urge Herode to decapitate Giovanni and here the instruments form a single ensemble of two violin parts, a viola part and two separate continuos (one assigned to the voice). In ‘Provi pur le mie vendette’ Herode gives his answer to the girl and, once again, the voice has a separate continuo, while the other instruments are divided now into two violin parts, two viola parts and basso continuo.

Ansaldi’s text is very dramatic and moving, and Stradella seconds the development of the plot, reinforcing most notably—for example in ‘Queste lagrime’ and its introductory recitative beginning ‘Deh, che più tardi a consolar’—the horror of the daughter’s request for Giovanni’s head; his music reveals all her coaxing as she flatters Herode, her pleading for pity since she suffers just to see or to hear Giovanni, and, finally, exposes her violent need to have him executed. In ‘Tuonerà tra mille turbini’ Herode is first presented as a powerful king, one whose anger at Giovanni causes him to ‘thunder’ at him and banish him to a dark cell. But at the thought of having Giovanni decapitated, his weakness, uncertainty and fear for what he has to do are portrayed in the duet with Salome ‘Nel seren de’ miei / tuoi contenti’, and are also suggested in the unresolved chord closing the oratorio. And the marvellous virtuosic duet for the daughter and Giovanni, ‘Morirai! Uccidetelo / Uccidetemi pur!’ enables him to state his willingness to die and her, simultaneously, to gloat with satisfaction at his fate.

San Giovanni Battista is a most ‘Baroque’ score, vibrant, rhythmically insistent, requiring singers to perform phrases of difficult fiorituras or deeply moving legato lines, a score in Stradella’s best contrapuntal manner whether for voices and / or instruments (such as the well-developed opening Sinfonia in three brief movements). Handel, Burney and Martini were right to admire it.

from notes by Carolyn Gianturco © 2008

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67617 track 4
Prima parte No 3, Recitative – Coro – Recitative: Selve beate – Dove, Battista? – Alla corte (San Giovanni/Coro di Discepoli)
Recording date
31 March 2007
Recording venue
Oratorio Santa Croce, Mondovì, Italy
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
David Hinitt
Hyperion usage
  1. Stradella: San Giovanni Battista (CDA67617)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: January 2008
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