The Concerto a Quattro No. 2 is one of seven in a manuscript that probably dates from about 1740. The concertos are unlike anything else of their time, blending chamber intimacy with outgoing public gesture.
The Venetian composer Baldassare Galuppi is such a marginal figure today, even in early music circles, that it is hard to appreciate his eminence in his own day. His career took him to the major capitals of Europe, and the success of his innovative operas made younger composers see him as the father of comic opera. In an age when opera consisted of discrete one-number set pieces — characters enter unoccupied stage, establish the plot in recitative, sing an aria, acknowledge applause and exit — he composed connected scenes, which meant that the composer dictated the action and pacing. Between October 1741 and spring 1743 Galuppi was in London, one of a long procession of opera composers brought in over the years as rivals to Handel. In 1748 he became maestro di cappella at Saint Mark’s in Venice, perhaps the most prestigious musical position in Europe. Remarkably, he was allowed four years’ leave from that job to be “master and director of all Music” at the court of Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg.
His concerto on tonight’s program is one of seven “Concerti a Quattro” in a manuscript that probably dates from about 1740. The concertos are intriguingly unusual, not quite like anything else of their time. They blend chamber intimacy with outgoing public gesture. In form, they have much in common with the three-movement operatic sinfonia that was the forerunner of both the opera overture and the symphony. Music historians of our own day have cited these concertos’ contrapuntal interplay of voices as a step in the evolution of the string quartet, but inasmuch as they may not have been widely known, their actual influence may have been negligible.