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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