At the peak of Porpora’s London popularity there appeared an extremely successful collection of twelve cantatas (for soprano or contralto with basso continuo or obbligato harpsichord, and in certain cases a concertante instrument as well) entitled Nuovamente composte opre di musica vocale
(‘Newly composed works of vocal music’). Published in an elegant edition in 1735 (neatly and accurately printed, on high-quality paper and with ample margins), these exquisite pieces were subsequently to become, from the late eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth, the principal yardstick for assessing the composer’s style in dictionaries of music, along with the Sonate XII di violino e basso
(‘Twelve sonatas for violin and bass’), the Sei duetti latini sulla Passione di Cristo
(‘Six Latin duets on the Passion of Christ’), and a few sacred pieces. The high production costs of the publication were borne by Frederick, Prince of Wales, who evidently saw in this collection a fitting monument to his patronage: integrally planned and executed by a refined avant-garde composer of the calibre of Porpora, and setting unpublished texts by the greatest poet of the age (Metastasio), it epitomized the aesthetic aims which the prince championed in England in the realms of opera, poetry, and painting.
The cantatas assembled in this volume clearly display the principal features of Porpora’s compositional style at this stage in his career, notably his legendary melodic elegance, the remarkable fidelity of the music to the sentiments expressed in the text, and his skill in writing recitative, which was regarded as exemplary (more than one author described him as ‘the father of recitative’). Già la notte s’avvicina (La pesca) was included in this sumptuous publishing venture, and neatly illustrates all these stylistic features, as well as the unusual nature of the bass line in the pieces in the collection, which owes its exceptional cantabile quality to the fact that it was mostly conceived for the cello (an instrument of which the Prince of Wales was a creditable amateur exponent).
from notes by Stefano Aresi © 2008
English: Charles Johnston