A New Sonorous Universe

Italian music, unlike the music of other European countries, is often represented by scores which are not well defined, and in some cases, by mere rough drafts. Due to their vagueness, even the definite versions of these compositions often offer a large margin of flexibility to the interpreter.

The composer often limited himself to graphically define a simple musical outline which the musician would complete during a performance. This practice was common both in vocal and instrumental music.

An example of this can be found in the testimony of the French magistrate and scholar Charles De Brosses, who in around 1720 heard a performance of an orchestra directed by Antonio Vivaldi. On that occasion he noted the frequent and varied use of dynamics, with sudden contrasts of piano and forte, not indicated in the score but executed by musicians who followed the execution style of the director. It is also this musical practice that I Virtuosi delle Muse refer to when they go beyond the graphical indications on the score and focus their attention on aspects such as dynamics, agogics and timbre. The ensemble incorporates the heritage of baroque performance without renouncing the freedom to cultivate its own musical interpretation.

These qualities are exemplified in the CD Ouverture d’Opera by Antonio Vivaldi, recorded by the Swiss label Divox Antiqua. One of the most innovative elements in this recording is the inclusion of the viola d’amore. The motivations that led I Virtuosi delle Muse to introduce this instrument in a Vivaldian orchestra were based on the careful analysis of the production, the iconography and the musical problems of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The limited solo repertoire of the viola d’amore does not justify the strong interest in this instrument by master violin makers of that epoch. During the 1600s and 1700s, an extraordinarily large number of viola d’amores of exceptional quality were crafted in important Italian and German workshops. This perhaps suggests that the viola d’amore was widely used within the orchestral ranks, as its resonant strings which vibrated together with other instruments created a sound which was full and rich in harmonics.

The timbre of the viola d’amore is characterised by a particularly complex harmonic spectrum that is well suited to the Vivaldian orchestra and gives it added expression and colour. This explains I Virtuosi delle Muse’s decision to introduce the viola d’amore in the slow movements, and sometimes also in the allegri, entrusting them not only with the parts normally given to the contralto and tenor violas, but also making them protagonists of parts which are not limited to doubling the base line.

One of the aspects that to a greater extent denotes the second recording of I Virtuosi delle Muse, Viaggio a Venezia (Divox), is the search for a lyricism which is purely “vocal”. For its vast possibilities of timbre and expression, the human voice can be considered that most sought after of instruments. As a painter utilizes a wide range of colours present on his palette to reproduce an image, thus I Virtuosi delle Muse imitate the voice by seeking and utilizing the countless timbres and dynamic possibilities that historical set ups provide.

In conclusion, the marked sensitivity for various shades of timbre and dynamics characterises the sound of I Virtuosi delle Muse. The continuous and refined search for musical solutions that are expressive and full of colour is what makes this ensemble a new model of imaginative interpretive rigour in the international musical scene.

With its first CD release, recorded by Divox Antiqua and containing the Opera Symphonies by Vivaldi (acclaimed as a considerable success), I Virtuosi delle Muse came to international fore and manifested their inclination for melodrama and opera. This predilection is revealed in the personal interpretation and innovation based on careful and continual search for the ideal sound; the meticulous instrumental studies carried out by concertmaster Jonathan Guyonnet on historical strings and bow usage aimed for a nuanced musical reproduction. I Virtuosi delle Muse began by exhaustive studying Baroque performance practices and then went on to pursue interpretations that offer a wide range of dramatic contrasts. This idea was not formed, as it might be implied, as a simple tonal antithetical combination aimed at audience approval, but is oriented towards imitating the change and conflict ever present in human emotions. In their four years together as an ensemble, I Virtuosi delle Muse have been appreciated as interpreters of Baroque music: their performances have been referred to as graceful and rich in tonal colours, and have reached the heights of passion.

Their group’s interpretations are naturally suitable for operas, oratorios, cantatas and representative genres that link lyrics and music, but maintain the features inherent to the ensemble. Within this musical sphere, I Virtuosi delle Muse observe even the finest nuances of the score, such as the metric rhythm that derives from the syllabic succession (which enrich the melodic line as sprezzatura, in recitatives as well in arias). All of the details are emphasized and exploited by the orchestra through the use of dynamics, articulation and inegalité. Regarding this last aspect, even the tempo fluctuations can be considered an element that influences the expressiveness of the music.

These important novelties on the interpretative front, combined with the pursuit of a wide palette of timbres, add personal and incisive elements to the execution.

The orchestra’s strength is the perfect synergy between the conductor Stefano Molardi, who is in charge of musical and interpretative choices, and the concertmaster Jonathan Guyonnet, who coordinates the strings and acts as liaison with the group’s musicians.