Cantatas for the holy night

Roberta Mameli, soprano
Talenti Vulcanici
Stefano Demicheli, harpsichord and conduction

Paologiovanni Maione, musicological guidance


Francesco Manfredini (1684-1762)
Concerto grosso Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale op.3 No. 12 in C major (Largo, Largo, Allegro)

Giacomo Maraucci (8th century)
Cantata pastorale per soprano con strumenti in C major (Allegretto grazioso, Allegretto, Larghetto)

Angelo Ragazzi (1680-1750)Sonata a 4 XII op. 1 in G major “Pastorale” for strings and continuo.   Apparizione (Recitative) – Andata (Allegro) – Adorazione (Vivace) – Canzona – Ritornata (Allegro) – Allegro.

Katarzyna Solecka, solo violin

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
Cantata pastorale per la nascita di Nostro Signore “O di Betlemme altera” in A major for soprano, two violins, viola and continuo
Alfonso Maria de Liguori (1696-1787)
La Santa Allegrezza, tarantella per la Natività di Nostro Signore (arrangement by Alessandro Quarta)

Alfonso Maria de Liguori (1696-1787)
Quando nascette Ninno.
Arrangement by Alessandro Quarta

A long and deep-rooted tradition belongs to the many Neapolitan institutions that between the 17th and 18th centuries promoted sumptuous sacred offices. A mystical itinerary is drawn that involves palaces, oratories, congregations, conservatories, colleges, convents, churches and brotherhoods. We pass from the suggestions inspired by the “night of Holy Christmas” to the painful meditation of the “torments and death of Jesus Christ”; from the “triumphs of Divine love in the Bethlehem grotto” to the “pious representation of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ” up to the creation of a hagiographic index of the public faith.

The charming “scenic” catechesis draws, without any hesitation, from the dramatic solutions belonging, by intonation and vocation, to other genres. Hosting formal structures far from the rigorous and overt rules sanctioned by councils and synods, the scenic-religious practice follows the furrows of prevailing taste to the point of annexing, in its own sacred poster, sacrilegious and blasphemous presences lent by a theatrical reality as far as ever from ” antlers of the stars “. The Neapolitan festive liturgical calendar is very dense and the places of worship do not skimp on the solemnity of their festivities; the luxuriant presence of choirs confirms the feverish search for decorum and celebratory pomp of the individual orders scattered among the houses of the Lord. These harmonious temples, supported by aristocratic and bourgeois generosity, organize sumptuous functions, concerning setups and music, not unlike the archbishopric and viceregal institution. « Sought-after voices, and instruments» combine to magnify and praise, with “brand new” music originating from the flowing pens of the greatest composers, the venerable dates of a defined festive yearbook, also to the reality of the individual territorial areas. Around the birth of the Messiah, many efforts are concentrated on the part of those religious institutions that intend to magnificently emphasize the event by setting up amazing crib machines and organizing highly sophisticated offices aimed at involving the astonished worshippers. The town churches provide a capillary catechesis through languages ​​and styles suitable to “touch” and “move to the affections” the bystanders who, urged by the most appropriate codes, feel invaded by a heavenly spirituality. In fact, it is the entire town that participates in the memorable date by dressing up in voices and colors that conform to the expectations of the eclectic society; the street novenas for the advent of the Savior characterized by noble pastoral instruments are counterbalanced by the sophisticated spiritual “concerts” set up in the dazzling aisles of the grandiose abodes of the Almighty, and there is no lack of the contribution of a genuine singing practice of the less well-off groups, but for this no less sensitive to the sacred and domestic charm of the happy date. The pious simplicity – as complex as ever in intentions and outcomes – is contained in the inspired operation promoted by Alfonso Maria de ‘Liguori – destined to the honors of the altars for his high teaching – in the two “songs” for the nativity which respectively satisfy the “unifying” language with Tu scendi dalle stelle and the national language with Quanno nascette ninno, thus touching the hearts of all humanity with that “tenderness”, awaken by the humble iconography of the celestial nativity.

From Alessandro Scarlatti to Francesco Mancini, from Carmine Giordani to Gennaro Manna, from Francesco Provenzale to Nicola Sabatino, there is no choirmaster who has not tried his hand at music intended for Christmas services using all those stylistic and formal models in vogue not forgetting that timbral and structural allure that brings clear pastoral influences. Ternary rhythms, slow and linked movements, simple and idyllic melodies distinguish a repertoire that still today impresses listeners of any latitude, ideally leading us to inhabit the colorful crib paths beaten by ancestors who did not disdain to crowd, “oleographically”, the “imaginary” Bethlehem in which it was the beautiful Parthenope to be the ideal cradle of the Redeemer inhabited by a very recognizable humanity in which even demons and masks found the right of citizenship.


Paologiovanni Maione

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