Gesù Nato

Gianettini, Five Psalms and Magnificat
Bencini, Gesú Nato
Antonio Gianettini (1648-1721), composer | Psalms and Magnificat
Antonio Bencini (1700-1748), composer | Gesú Nato
Linda Tsatsanis, soprano, as Salomino | Kate Maroney, mezzo-soprano, as Osea | Alex Guerrero, tenor, as Labano
Jeremy Rhizor, music director and violin | Tony Lopresti, movement director | Adam Cockerham, associate music director and theorbo | Thomas Crawford, organ (founder and artistic director of the American Classical Orchestra)

Antonio Gianettini (1648–1721) was an Italian organist, singer, and composer.  In 1686, he took up the post of maestro di cappella to Francesco II, Duke of Modena, and remained in that post for much of his life, writing many sacred works for the Duke’s court.  His operas and sacred music were appreciated during his lifetime in both Italy and Germany.

Gianettinis psalms are for four-part chorus, with string accompaniment.  Unlike his dramatic music, the Psalms exist in published form.  The 1st of five psalms performed at this concert is Deus in adjutorium—a short introductory prayer drawn from Psalm 69 that has been used since early Christian times to begin liturgical prayers, such as evening vespers.

The four psalms that follow—Dixit Dominus, Confitebor tibi Domine, Beatus vir, and Laudate Pueri Dominum—are traditionally used in the Roman Catholic rite of Sunday vespers and on major feast days, such as Christmas.  Many composers have written settings of these psalms for vesper services—Handel’s setting of the Dixit Dominus being a towering example among them.

By contrast, Gianettini’s Magnificat—also known as the Canticle of Mary—is a prayer of praise to God found in the Gospel of Luke.  It is used in the daily prayers of various Christian traditions and has often been set to music.  The Magnificat—like Gianettini’s dramatic works—is elaborate, with parts for chorus and instruments, solo movements, and even a vocal duet. An edition of it was made from the manuscript for this performance.

Composer Antonio Bencini (1700–1748) came from a musical family about which little is known.  His father, Pietro Paolo Bencini, had several posts.  He served as maestro di cappella at the Chiesa Nuova (The Roman Oratory) from 1705-1743, and thereafter, as maestro of the Cappella Giulia at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, until his death.

Antonio is believed to have been the maestro de cappella at S. Lorenzo in Dàmaso, Rome, possibly as his father’s assistant.  Cardinal Àlvaro Cienfuegos, a Caesarian ambassador to the Holy See and a coprotector of Austria, commissioned cantatas from him.  In archives around Rome, about sixty of his sacred compositions have been preserved in manuscript form.

Antonio likely premiered Gesù Nato, a Christmas oratorio, in Bologna in 1742. The work—which centers on the shepherds who witnessed the Nativity—features vocal soloists, a choir, and an orchestra of trumpets, oboes, and strings.  After its performance, the manuscript of Gesù Nato was shelved at the Vatican Library for three centuries before being rediscovered.  By then Antonio’s works (and Antonio himself) had become so obscure that they were often misidentified as his father’s.  For this performance we have a newly-transcribed edition of the manuscript.