Nashville’s ALIAS Chamber Ensemble is known for introducing the city’s audiences to new music by living composers. True to form, the group’s Spring concert does include a world premiere. But the program also highlights a masterful composer of the 17th century whose work has been largely forgotten.
In his day, Alessandro Stradella was a star. He wrote sacred motets for Sweden’s Queen Christina after she abdicated her throne and moved to Rome. When a Medici cardinal arrived in the Eternal City, the family tapped Stradella to write celebratory music. Some musicologists credit him with inventing a form that became a favorite of every major composer of his generation, the concerto grosso. His operas were among the first performed in brand new opera houses as they sprung up throughout Italy.
So why isn’t his name well known today? In large part, because his music was overshadowed by a life just as tumultuous and dramatic as any of the operas he wrote.
Stradella had just enough status and income to live a decadent life of parties and womanizing, but not enough clout to get away with it. He first fled Rome, then Venice and, eventually, Turin, fearing for his life after angering some of the most powerful men in those cities. He embezzled money from the Vatican. He slept with opera stars, former nuns, and more than a few wives of Italian noblemen.
Despite Stradella's reputation, Alvise Contarini hired the composer to tutor his mistress in music. Stradella and the woman ran away together and, by some accounts, attempted to marry. Contarini sent assassins, who attacked Stradella and left him for dead in the street. Somehow, the musician survived and escaped to Genoa. Once there, as always, he mounted successful opera productions and wrote music for important civic events. Then, as always, he got involved in an ill-advised love affair. Francesca Lomellini’s husband succeeded where Contarini failed: Stradella was stabbed to death by a soldier on the Lomellini family payroll.
During his 37 years, Stradella repeatedly delighted audiences when they were introduced to his music. But he burned bridges so extravagantly that when he left a city, people there no longer had any appetite for hearing what he’d written. After his death, Stradella’s brother had only modest success selling copies of the composer’s music in a few places the lothario had never visited.
This Tuesday's ALIAS performance will attempt to give the audience a taste of what concertgoers in 17th century Italy enjoyed before the pesky details of real life intruded: inventive music marked by a full, contrapuntal texture and thoughtful interplay between instruments. Violinist Zeneba Bowers will perform the solo part in a Stradella violin sonata, with lutenist Francis Perry providing the continuo accompaniment.
The program also includes a quartet for clarinet and strings by Hindemith; a Jolivet trio for flute, viola and harp; and the world premiere of John Marvin’s trio for oboe, bassoon and piano.