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Reference: AVSA9925

For approximately a thousand years, from 700 to 1797, the city of Venice played a pre-eminent role in the Mediterranean and in the history of the world. Situated in a lagoon fed by two rivers where a number of small, precarious settlements had grown up along the coast, Venice was founded by the Byzantines, who made it a crossroads between the East and the West. This essentially aquatic city, with its network of canals, attracted merchants of many different origins who worked towards a common goal: to create a thriving hub of business, exchange and interests.

The city gradually developed a trade in goods from the East (spices, silks, precious metals, luxury items) to the West, which were exchanged for other goods and commodities (such as salt and timber) bound for the East.

Description

MILLENNIAL VENICE
700-1797

For approximately a thousand years, from 770 to 1797, the city of Venice played a pre-eminent role in the Mediterranean and in the history of the world. Situated in a lagoon fed by two rivers where a number of small, precarious settlements had grown up along the coast, Venice was founded by the Byzantines, who made it a crossroads between the East and the West. This essentially aquatic city, with its network of canals, attracted merchants of many different origins who worked towards a common goal: to create a thriving hub of business, exchange and interests. The city gradually developed a trade in goods from the East (spices, silks, precious metals, luxury items) to the West, which were exchanged for other goods and commodities (such as salt and timber) bound for the East.

By setting up a “Republic” in which the system of government by an oligarchy led and represented by an elected life Doge, Venice gradually gained independence from the Byzantines, eventually becoming more of a trading partner than a vassal.

Quite rapidly over the course of the millennium, this legendary city grew rich, independent and powerful, thanks to the development of its fleet. Having resisted Charlemagne, it successfully competed with Rome to emerge as the leading economic power in the Mediterranean Basin, which made possible the technical, scientific and cultural progress so evident in Venetian architecture, painting, literature and music, among others.

From the beginning and, especially, towards the end of the 15th century, Venice benefited from two great advantages: first, it enjoyed total freedom to print books, as it was not subject to the dictates of the Vatican and the Inquisition; and second, it was the Gateway to the Orient, and home to people from around the world – Byzantines, Italians, Arabs, Jews, Slavs, Armenians and Turks. All of this goes to explain the extraordinary development of its publishing industry. In an age marked by so much religious conflict, it is remarkable that Venice produced the first printed editions of the Koran and the Talmud, and the first Bible in the Italian vulgate following the Protestant Reformation, as well as the first books to come out of the German Reformation. The fact that it was a city of immigration also accounts for the fact that books were published there in all languages: thus, we see the first printed books in Greek, Armenian, and in the Cyrillic alphabet… And more than half of all European books were printed in Venice. It was, moreover, the city that invented the bestseller and the paperback, as well as printing the earliest editions of erotic books, cookery books and medical texts. Venice also devised the first rudimentary systems of copyright and what we now call marketing and business techniques.

It was also in this multicultural city that music printing began at the end of the 15th century. Although we now symbolically date the birth of music printing to 1501, with the publication of Ottaviano Petrucci’s Harmonice musices Odhecaton (One hundred songs of harmonic music), in fact, as early as 1480, Ottaviano Scotto (c.1440-1498) a native of Monza in Lombardy, printed among other things some splendid missals in red and black lettering. He was the founder of a dynasty of typographers who were to dominate music printing in Venice throughout the 16th century. Although Ottaviano Petrucci’s book of music published in 1501 was not the first to be printed using movable type, it was the first work devoted entirely to music, rather than containing only brief fragments inserted into a liturgical or poetic text. For more than three centuries, the Venetian printing industry was to play a key part in the increasingly influential role of both music and Italian and European music theory, an influence that would continue to spread across borders and through the centuries.

Finally, it was also thanks to trade and therefore its contacts all round the Mediterranean as a result of setting up trading-posts on the islands and along the coast to exchange goods, but also welcoming people of all origins, that Venice received the various influences of the Eastern Christian, Latin and Orthodox worlds, as well as those from the Ottoman, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim cultures.

These are the influences that we set out to evoke through music as we trace the landmark events over a thousand years of the city’s amazing history. The unique history of a distinctive city, fashioned by men who had the vision to create and preserve the prosperity and freedom of their Republic for more than a thousand years thanks to their courage, know-how, thirst for adventure and dialogue, and, above all, their love of the arts and beauty.

We shall offer insight into those influences as we explore the varying sound landscapes of the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, depending on the city and region, as well as their neighbouring countries. With the splendid singers of the Orthodox/Byzantine ensemble under the direction of the outstanding Orthodox chanter Panagiotis Neochoritis, our guest musicians from Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Armenia, and the soloists of La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespèrion XXI and Le Concert des Nations, we present a selection of sacred and secular music from the ancient Orthodox traditions of Byzantium, Crusader songs, music from Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire, Greece, Turkey and, of course, Italy. They were to enhance and influence the wonderful music that Byzantium and Venice bequeathed to the history of European music. Composers such as Guillaume Dufay, Clément Janequin, Adrian Willaert, Joan Brudieu, Claude Goudimel, Ambrosius Lobwasser, Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Adolph Hasse and many others, including Mozart and Beethoven, proclaimed and evoked in the Europe of their age and up to the present time the grandeur of an exceptional city which for so long reigned supreme.

In 1797 the French troops of Napoleon Bonaparte occupied the Terra Firma, thus hastening the fall of the Republic of Venice. To evoke the end of this thousand years of history, which was precipitated by the influence of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s imperial ambitions, we have chosen an unusual and moving piece composed some years later, the revolutionary hymn “La Sainte Ligue” La nuit est sombre by Luigi Bordèse (1815-1886), sung to a text by Adolphe Joly adapted for 4-voice male choir with organ (or piano) set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven the Allegretto from his Seventh Symphony and the closing Allegro from his Fifth Symphony. Our musical version adds to these 4 sung parts the essential instrumental texture found in Beethoven’s original score, the difference being that it is performed here by the varied line-up used in the second part of the programme.

Although the Republic of Venice ceased to exist in 1797, La Serenissima’s Oriental dream did not, indeed, as Olivier Lexa points out, it continued to inspire a large number of artists and intellectuals, including John Ruskin, who wrote that the Venetians deserved special mention because they were “the only European people who appear to have sympathised to the full with the great instinct of the Eastern races.” At the dawn of the 20th century, the artist and designer Marià Fortuny y Madrazo, the son of the famous Catalan painter Marià Fortuny i Marsal, paid tribute to the Oriental history of Venice in his celebrated designs for lamps and fabrics.

After its annexation to Austria under the Treaty of Campo Formio of 1797, which put an end to the war between France and Austria, Venice finally became part of the kingdom of Italy in 1866. Together with Rome, it became one of Italy’s “eternal” cities, and remains to this day one of the loveliest jewels in the nation’s crown.

 

JORDI SAVALL
Bellaterra, 2 October, 2017
Translated by Jaqueline Minett