In lagrime stemprato il cor qui cade
per l’orme impresse
del tuo piè di seguir del ciel le strade.
My heart dissolves in tears, and sinks.
It has chosen here and now
to follow in Thy footsteps
the road to heaven.
Antonio Caldara is chiefly known as a composer of vocal music (operas, cantatas and oratorios), and is especially remembered for his operas, many of which are settings of librettos by Zeno and Metasasio. His stylistic development as a composer, however, has been described as a movement from works that are carefully crafted, with attention given to both musical and dramatic elements (his pre-1716 works) to music that becomes increasingly less detailed and texturally thinner (post-1716), reflecting Caldara’s pressing schedule in Vienna. Today, manuscripts of Caldara’s music are widely dispersed across Europe but his compositions which record so valuable a picture of the late Baroque in Italy and Austria are comparatively unknown to performers and little studied by scholars.
Today Antonio Caldara is not a name many would recognise let alone regard as one of the ‘great’ composers of the Baroque, yet during his own lifetime and long after his death he was held in high esteem by composers and theoreticians alike. Johann Sebastian Bach, for example is known to have made a copy of a Magnificat by Caldara to which he added a two-violin accompaniment to the “Suscepit Israel” section. According to Mattheson, Georg Philipp Telemann in his early years took Caldara as a model for his church and instrumental music. Franz Joseph Haydn, who was taken to Vienna by Georg Reutter, one of Caldara’s pupils, sang many of his sacred works when he was a choirboy at St. Stephens and possessed copies of two of Caldara’s Masses. Wolfgang Mozart made use of some of Caldara’s six hundred canons in KV555, 557 and 562. Ludwig van Beethoven copied several contrapuntal examples by Caldara from a publication by his teacher Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, and Johannes Brahms is known to have possessed a copy of some of Caldara’s canons.
One of the main beliefs and subjects of much discussion during the Baroque period was that the power of music lay in its ability to express the emotional content of text. Johann David Heinichen in the Einleitung of his Thorough Bass treatise as late as 1728 worried that composers were still poorly prepared to compose music of affective emphasis:
“What a bottomless ocean we still have before us merely in the expression of words and the affections. And how delighted is our ear, if we perceive in a well written church composition or other music how a skilled composer has attempted here and there to move the emotions of an audience through his refined and text-related musical expression, and in this way successfully finds the true purpose of music”.
The Venetian Antonio Caldara’s success in his own lifetime stemmed from his undoubted mastery in the creation of vocal music which achieved this aim through subtlety, refinement and polish. Ultimately this led to his appointment…
Please continue to study this intriguing man:
Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo (Oratorio, c. 1700)