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Mozart's keen interest in Giuseppe Sarti

Everybody knows the finale of DON GIOVANNI. Mozart uses three quotations in it: one from his own MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, another from COSA RARA by Martin y Soler and finally the air COME UN AGNELLO from the opera FRA I DUE LITIGANTI IL TERZO GODE by Giuseppe Sarti. Moreover, a serie of variations on the same air by Sarti are to be found in the catalogue of Mozart's piano works (KV 454a) but recent research has proved that it was in fact a work by Sarti himself, while Mozart's original, which is mentioned in a letter to Mozart's father on the 12.VI.1784, remains unknown. The least one can say is that it is curious for a composer of such a calibre as Sarti, and for whom Mozart showed great interest (one of his pieces was, for a long time, taken as being a page from Mozart's own hand) to remain totally neglected by record producers and concert organisers.

Born in 1729 at Faenza, in the pontificate states, Sarti became the organist in the cathedral of his home town. It is not known who were his first teachers, however it is certain that the famous Franciscan from Bologna, father Martini, had a profound influence on him; and it was for father Martini that Sarti had his portrait painted. We can still admire this painting at the conservatory of Bologna. Sarti took over the opera of Faenza when he was only 23 years old and immediately became famous through his two lyric partitions: POMPEO IN ARMENIA and IL RE PASTORE. In 1753 he travelled to Copenhague with the famous Mingotti troupe. The King of Danemark appreciated Sarti to such an extent that he named Sarti director of his royal opera. Sarti remained in the court until 1775 when political upheavals forced him to return to Italy.

He was immediately given the responsibility of the Venetian «Ospedaletto ». At the death of the Milan cathedral chapel master, G.B.Fioroni, in 1779, Sarti took part in the competition to fill the vacancy. Thanks to Cherubini - one of Sarti's pupils - who gave them to the Paris conservatory, we have the pieces that Sarti wrote for this examination. One only has to read them to understand why Sarti had no difficulty in beating the other candidates, even such well-known musicians as Paesiello, for example. But Sarti only stayed at the cathedral for three years; he wrote a great number of sacred works, even for other Milanese churches.

Sarti went first of all to Vienna, where he met Mozart; his «Litiganti» were a great success. The emperor displayed his admiration with honours and by giving him a coin of the realm. Sarti only stayed for a short while in the Austrian capital; his goal this time was the Tsar's court: he was engaged by Catherine II at Saint Petersburg. It is to be noticed that he immediately composed lyric partitions on French and Italian texts, but also on Russian booklets, and it is here that authentic Russian melodies and rhythms can be perceived in his music. Shortly after his arrival at the Tsar's court, Sarti composed a psalm on a Slavonic text which used two orchestras: a classic, traditional orchestra and a second, made up of 91 horn players... When he temporarily fell into disgrace, the prince Potemkine lodged him in his Ukrainian property, where Sarti founded an important school of music. On the occasion of the prince's victory near Ochakov (1789), Sarti wrote a Te Deum which included bells and canons...

When Sarti came back from his Ukrainian exile in 1793, he was made responsible for the foundation of the conservatory for all Russias and was director until his death. It is there that lie invented a machine that could measure sound vibrations; in this way he could, for the first time, measure the orchestra's A at 436. During a voyage to his homeland he fell ill in Berlin. His grave is to be found in the cathedral at Saint Hedwige, today in the eastern sector of the city.

This masterpiece - of which we have made the first ever recording - has the following comment on the manuscript, in French: ORATORIO COMPOSED BY JOSEPH SARTI, CHAPEL MASTER OF THE EMPRESS OF RUSSIA ON THE COMMAND OF PRINCE POTEMKINE. It can only be a work destined for the church, as instruments are forbidden in the slavonic cult. The recorded partition is preceded by a long introduction of intrado form - certain aspects of the orchestra also supports this view - which leads one to wonder whether it was not paschal music, destined to be performed outside or under a stand. The text of the work is liturgical: the first three numbers are taken from the evening service of Good Friday, numbers 5 to 8 are fragments of psalm number 67 and the final chorus is the text of psalm 150; all of these texts being of course in the Russian liturgical language: Palaeoslavic or Slavonic.

The orchestra required for this work is very rich: 2 piccolos, 2 transverse flutes, 2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 bassoons, kettledrums, drums, triangle, string orchestra and organ (who has certain compulsary passages), but the majority of the players are used in a varied manner. The four voice chorus (No 4), for example, only includes the transverse flutes, the clarinets, the horns and the strings, whereas the trio (No 8) uses a solo violin that plays a movement from a concerto with strict timing written by the composer ... The text of the psalm 150 inspired Sarti to create some very unusual sound effects in the final chorus and remind us of east european music from the second half of the last century or even the twentieth century.

One cannot help being struck by the grandiose and monumental quality of certain concertos for choirs, whether it concerns a double chorus or the small «concertino}) chorus, in contrast with the tutti of baroque tradition, or even the wonderful double fugue (No 7) that few musicians were able to understand at the end of XVIII th century. But one is even more surprised to discover that Sarti has perfectly assimilated the spirit of russian liturgical music; he demonstrates this in his recitatives for the chorus which are extremely typical in their use of the melancholy of the minor keys (No 4) or in the dynamic variations which are very peculiar to slavonic music. However, he never borrows directly from liturgy, but recreates his own atmosphere, using the resources of the classical italian music.

The polyphonic 8 voices chorus with the orchestra «colla parte» (except for a few compulsary bars for the trumpets at the end) set to the text from the byzantine litany: «Lord, have mercy» - a scholarly page, rather more careful if one compares it with the grand fugue of the oratorio - is, in its present form, not by Sarti. If the vocal parts are most certainly authentic, the orchestration could well have been indertaken by one of his pupils.

Carl de Nys

On the 280th anniversary of the birth of Prince Grigory Potemkin of Taurida. Charlin Editions are associated with the documentary film offered at the Hermitage State Museum in Saint Petersburg in his honor and provide the soundtrack from Sarti's album - Russian Oratorio. Grigory Potemkin having ordered the work directly from Sarti, we are proud to be able to participate in this exhibition throughout 2020.

A video film on Prince Potemkin has been produced to accompany.

The year 2019 saw the 280th anniversary of the birth of one of the most important statesmen in 18th century Russian history - the serene Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin of Taurida. To mark this occasion, the State Hermitage has prepared a major exhibition to be held in the State Rooms of the Winter Palace. The title of the exhibition refers to a passage from Nikolai Gogol's short story, The Night Before Christmas, which very clearly captures Potemkin's significance as a personality, his special place in the history of Catherine the Great's reign: “'Is it the Tsar?' Smith asked one of the Cossacks. “Tsar be blown! "Tis Potemkin himself!" replied the man. "

More than a thousand items are presented in the exhibition - works of art and applied arts, books and documents. They paint a vivid and multifaceted picture of Potemkin, telling about his personal life and his main achievements in domestic and foreign policy and in the field of war. A considerable number of exhibits, many of which are on public display for the first time, are memorial items from the personal collections of Potemkin and Catherine II. The exhibition was organized by the State Hermitage with the participation of the St. Petersburg Mining University Museum, the State Memorial Museum of Alexander Suvorov, the reserves of the Pavlovsk State Museum and Tsarskoye Selo, the State Russian Museum, the State Russian Museum and collectors. You can find the entire soundtrack of the film on your favorite streaming platform

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