Martines Psalms Symphony CPO 777 985-2

Marianna Martines (1744-1812)
Psalm 100, Dixit Dominus (1774)
Symphony in C major (1772?)
Psalm 115, Come le limpide onde (c.1770)
Texts and Translations included.
Salzburger Hofmusik / Wolfgang Brunner
rec. 2015/20, Solitär der Universität Mozarteum, Salzburg
cpo 777 985-2 [60]

I feel pretty sure that anyone who heard the Radio 3 episodes of ‘Composer of the Week’ devoted to Marianna Martines early in 2022 will share my belief that she is one of the happiest and most significant (re)discoveries brought about by the increased attention paid to women composers in recent decades. Almost every time I have heard music by her, I have been left feeling that it was little short of criminal that she should ever have been forgotten. Another, lesser ‘sin’ was that for many years, on the relatively few occasions she was mentioned, her name was presented in a form she wouldn’t have approved of, since her surname was given as ‘Martinez’, but as the late Irving Godt demonstrated in his book published by Rochester University Press in 2000, Marianne Martines: A Woman Composer in the Vienna of Hayden and Mozart, she chose to spell her name with a final s, rather than a z. She was christened Anna Katherina but chose to call herself Marianna. Her mother, Maria Theresia (1712-1775), was of German birth; her father, Nicolo (1689-1775), was Neapolitan, though of Spanish origin; he served as an officer in the army of the Spanish rulers of Naples, before becoming, in civil life, Chief of Staff to the Papal Nuncio in Vienna. He and his family lived in part of a large house in the Michaeler Platz in Vienna, next to the church. Occupying other parts of the house at the time were Nicola Porpora (1686-1768), composer and teacher of singing, and the poet and librettist Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782), at that time poet laureate to the Imperial court; up in the attic was a young Joseph Haydn – as yet little known.

Metastasio became a firm family friend, who used his influence and his contacts to help Martines and her family. He recognised the signs of musical ability in the young Anna Katherina and when she was seven he arranged for her to have piano lessons with Haydn; according to George August Griesinger in his Biographische Notizen über Joseph Haydn of 1809-10, the financially-strapped Haydn received free board for three years by way of payment! To this, singing lessons with Porpora were soon added, in which Haydn was often her accompanist. Later she studied counterpoint with the court composer, Giuseppe Bonno (1711-1788). She was skilled enough to be invited to perform at court while still quite young and already a successful composer in her youth – a mass by her was sung in the Imperial Chapel when she was only 16 or 17.

When Charles Burney first heard Martines perform, chez Metastasio, in September 1772, he was very favourably impressed by both her skill at the harpsichord and by her singing. Of the first he wrote that as she accompanied her own singing she played “in a very judicious and masterly manner; and, in playing the ritornels, I could discover a very brilliant finger”; of her vocal performance he declared “her voice and manner of singing, both delighted and astonished me!”.

In a letter Marianna sent to that remarkable man Giovanni Battista Marini in 1773, she declared “in all my studies, the chief planner was always, and still is, Signior Abbate Metastasio” (Godt, p.22). Soon afterwards Martines was the first woman to be made a member of Bologna’s prestigious Accademia Filarmonia. The composer certainly ‘repaid’ any ‘debts’ she owed to Metastasio. When the great librettist was old and sick, Marianna and her sister looked after him. Both received substantial bequests in his will; Marianna being left, in addition to a large sum of money, his harpsichord and his library of music.

By no means all the music written by Marianna Martines survives (though perhaps some still awaits rediscovery). She may have written something like 150 works. Those which are now known include two oratorios, several cantatas (both sacred and secular), three Mass settings, three keyboard sonatas and three keyboard concertos as well, of course, as the three works recorded on this disc.

A composer accepted into membership of the Accademia Filarmonia was required to submit a composition to the Accademia, with the expectation that it would be performed under the auspices of that institution. Martines submitted her Dixit Dominus, but it seems never to have been performed in Bologna for some reason (could it have been because some of the Accademia’s members objected to the admission of a woman?).

It is a work of considerable power and technical accomplishment. At that first meeting mentioned above, Burney seems to have heard only two songs composed by Marianna Martines, yet his observation that they were “in a modern style; but neither common, nor unnaturally new” seems to have been very astute. Indeed, it might also serve as a description of this psalm setting, which synthesises old and new. This judgement is supported by a recent analysis of the work by Joseph Taff in his article ‘Marinna von Marines’ Dixit Dominus: A Stylistic Synthesis’ (The Choral Journal, 61:9, 2021, pp.6-25). On his very first page Taff proposes that the work “presents a masterful assimilation of Baroque and galant traits”. I won’t quote, or attempt to summarise, either Taff’s technical analysis or the comparisons he makes with Handel’s Dixit Dominus (the article is well worth reading if you have access to it). But, having quoted from Taff’s first page, I cannot resist a short quotation from his ‘Conclusions’ (p.23): “Martines was a master of stylistic synthesis, using galant structures, orchestration and schemata, alongside Baroque techniques within a Baroque style multi-movement work.”

Martines’s use of counterpoint is sophisticated and judicious and her soloists are given well-structured opportunities. In this recording the music is well-served by a uniformly impressive team of soloists, who well deserve at least a mention here – the sopranos Marianne Herzig (who I remember hearing with great pleasure, in a concert in Salzburg a few years ago) and Aleksandra Zamojka, the mezzos Nele Gramss and Eva Schlossleitner, tenors Christian Havel and Eva Schlossleitner and Virgil Hartinger and bass Roland Faust. Martines’s own accomplishments as a singer may perhaps be reflected in the coloratura passages in the work, as in the beautiful – and beautifully constructed duet – ‘Virgam virtutis’ for Soprano and Mezzo (here Marianne Herzig and Nele Gramss). The verse beginning ‘Dominus a dextris’ is set, splendidly, as a quartet for soprano (Herzig), mezzo (Gramss), tenor (Havel) and bass (Faust). Each singer is given brief passages of coloratura and all acquit themselves well. A particular quality of the work is the subtlety and restraint with which Martines sets the text (she never seems to exaggerate or over-emphasise) of the psalm’s closing verses. This is, in short, a fully achieved work, beautiful and powerful. It is no surprise that so shrewd a judge as Padre Martini should have been impressed by it.

The second work on this disc, a three-movement symphony (Allegro con spirito-Andante ma non troppo-Allegro spiritoso) in C major is not perhaps quite so impressive, or least not so exciting, if only because the influence of her friend and first teacher Haydn is so pervasive as to make the work sound too much like a competent but slightly pale imitation of his ‘Sturm und Drang’ symphonic manner. Yet there are good things here too, notably the attractively assertive opening of the initial allegro and the principal melody of the slow movement. However, for all its obvious assurance, I find less sense of a distinctive musical personality than I do in Martines’s setting of Psalm 110.

The final work on this disc poses a few puzzles. The CD packaging describes the work as a setting of Psalm 151 in an Italian translation by Saverio Mattei. The text set is in 25 quatrains rhymed axax. However, I can find little or nothing in Mattei’s text that has any discernible connection with Psalm 151. The opening quatrains of Mattei’s text do, though, clearly correspond (without being actual translations) to the opening verses of Psalm 42. But after Mattei’s first six quatrains, such correspondences disappear. A glance at Mattei’s other work may help to explain what is going on. Mattei (1742-1795) was a scholar-poet, a lawyer and an amateur musician with a particular fondness for the zither-like salterio. Between 1776 and 1778 he published three volumes under the title I libri poetici della Bibbia tradotti dell’ebracco originale, ed adatti al gusto della poesia italiana (‘The poetic books of the Bible translated from the original Hebrew and adapted to Italian poetic taste’). Not having access to this book, I don’t know whether or not the verses set by Martines were amongst those published in these volumes by Mattei. They could easily have been, since it is a very free adaptation, with (too many) adaptations and additions al gusto della poesia italiana. It was onlyin 1768 that Mattei began to correspond with Metastasio, a correspondence which eventually led to the ‘collaboration’ between Martines and Mattei. For details, see Godt’s book on Martines mentioned earlier, or the same author’s earlier article ‘Marianna in Italy: The International Reputation of Marianna Martines (1744-1812)’, The Journal of Musicology, 13: 4, 1995, pp. 538-561). In August 1769 Mattei asked Metastasio to try to persuade Gustav Adolf Hasse, then seventy, to set one of his Italianate versions of the psalms. Metastasio, after telling Mattei that Hasse was too ill (with gout) to undertake the task, suggested his protégée Marianna Martines as an alternative. Initially she made a setting of Mattei’s version of Psalm 50, a setting the poet admired. She was then asked to write a setting of his Come le limpide onde.

Complications arose, however, because Mattei very much wanted the setting to include some obbligato parts for his favourite instrument, the salterio (perhaps he hoped to play ‘his’ instrument in a performance?). Martines seems to have been largely unfamiliar with the salterio and less than keen to write for it. Eventually – and rather skilfully – she solved the problem by scoring one of the work’s 8 movements for tenor with a prominent part for the salterio and anotherfor soprano and salterio, while adroitly writing the parts for the salterio so that they were also playable on the violin. On this recording the salterio is used, played by Heidelore Schauer (she is more often to be heard playing the dulcimer in various Early Music ensembles and directs the dulcimer class at Salzburg’s Mozarteum). The vocal soloists in Come limpido are Aleksandra Zamojska (soprano), Eva Schossleitner (mezzo-soprano) and Virgil Hartinger (tenor), all of whom sing attractively, though not with any particularly striking individuality.

Come le limpide onde doesn’t find Martines writing music that has quite the intensity of her Dixit Dominus, though it has passages of elegantly cool beauty. I rather suspect that she didn’t find Mattei’s text especially inspiring (if so, it would be understandable; Mattei is a decidedly minor poet, whose work here dissipates the power and beauty of the original psalm).

So, while Dixit Dominus is an outstanding work, fit to stand alongside the finest choral works of her age, the other two works on the disc are, while thoroughly competent, less exceptional. It is not hard, however, to see why important contemporaries held Martines in high regard. Such figures included not only Metastasio, Martini and Haydn, but also Mozart – in his Reminiscences (published in 1826) the Irish tenor Michael Kelly tells us that Mozart was a frequent visitor to the musical salon Martines hosted and that she often joined Mozart to play some of his piano duets. He adds (Vol 1, p.249) that Martines “was a great favourite” of Mozart’s.

Although renewed interest in Martines’s music has brought her out of the darkness of neglect, she still remains seriously underappreciated. This CD would not be a bad place to make an initial acquaintance with her work.

I began this review with a mention of the Radio 3 episodes of ‘Composer of the Week’ devoted to Marianna Martines. Readers with access to the BBC Sounds App may like to know that an hour-long ‘highlights’ of that series can still be accessed there.

Glyn Pursglove

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