by Antonio Vivaldi - American Premiere
Antonio Vivaldi’s Motezuma dramatizes the conflict between the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez and the Aztec ruler Montezuma in 16th-century Mexico. This exotic opera with its colorful score and dramatic effects is regarded as one of the high-points among Vivaldi’s late compositions. It is the first full opera ever written about the Americas.
Long Beach Opera will present the US Premiere of Motezuma, which had been lost for 269 years until it was rediscovered in 2002. LBO will collaborate with Musica Angelica, Southern California’s premier Baroque ensemble.
The Subject - by Librettist Luigi Giusti (1705 - 1766)
The story of the conquest of Mexico, led by the valiant Fernando Cortes [Tiernan Cortes] with admirable evidence of both prudence and courage, is well known. In his history of this subject, the famous writer de Solis is more faithful than any other; though he is generally considered to be the most preoccupied with the hero's glory, I nevertheless regard him as the most reliable. The Spanish leader performed countless deeds of gallantry and won many victories in reaching the territories of his quest, but for the sake of brevity I have, as far as possible, confined my story to the period in which Cortes and his followers were received in the Mexican capital by the emperor Montezuma. I have imagined the friendship, though simulated, which developed between the two peoples, as well as the causes leading to the breakdown of peaceful relations, and I recount in this drama the calamity of the last day, in which that great ruler was subdued and his empire vanquished. In ignoring certain historical facts and inventing other incidents, my intent has been to serve the requirements of the stage, so that the present drama entitled MOTEZUMA may be the least imperfect possible. Terms such as 'fate", "gods" and "destiny" are poetical and do not in any way offend against the author's Catholic religion.
The action takes place in around 1519 during the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Part of the Mexican lagoon that separates the Imperial Palace from the Spanish encampment. Following a devastating defeat at the hands of the Spanish conquistador Fernando (Hernán [Hernando] Cortés), the Mexican ruler Montezuma laments his loss of power and honor. His wife, Mitrena, begs him to remain stouthearted even in defeat. Their daughter, Teutile, reports that the Spanish invaders are looking for Montezuma. Montezuma is resolved to resist them. He gives Mitrena a dagger and tells her to kill both Teutile and herself if the Spaniards attempt to take them prisoner. Teutile is ready to die, not least because she thinks that Ramiro — her lover and Fernando's brother — has betrayed her. Fernando arrives and takes Teutile hostage. From his hiding place, Montezuma shoots Fernando with an arrow, then escapes by leaping into the lagoon. Wounded, Fernando orders his brother Ramiro to go in search of his assailant.
Alone with Ramiro, Teutile accuses her lover of inveigling himself into her confidence merely to betray her for the sake of his personal glory. She demands that the Spaniards withdraw. Torn between his duty as a soldier and his love for Teutile, Ramiro chooses duty.
A room with a door in the centre of one wall. Montezuma continues to vent his feelings of anger and desire for revenge. First, he plans to kill Teutile for being too weak to take her own life. Hearing Teutile and Ramiro, he hides. Ramiro tells Teutile that her father threw himself into the lagoon and is dead, at which point Montezuma steps forward. He draws his sword and threatens to kill Teutile, but Ramiro restrains him. Fernando is heard approaching, and Teutile and Ramiro force Montezuma back into his hiding place. Fernando is afraid of a possible attack by the Mexicans and sends Ramiro to find out what they are intending. Once Ramiro has left, Fernando asks Teutile what is on his brother's mind. Teutile defends Ramiro. Ramiro now comes hurrying back and reports that Mitrena has arrived at the head of a fleet of armed boats. She wishes to speak to Fernando and asks to be granted a passage of safe conduct.
Mitrena imperiously rejects the pomp with which she is welcomed. She becomes involved in a violent argument with Fernando, prompting Montezuma to rush out, his sword drawn, to try to kill Fernando. Ramiro snatches the weapon from his grasp behind Fernando's back, and Montezuma returns to his hiding place. Startled by the noise, Fernando turns round and, seeing Ramiro with a weapon in his hand, accuses him of treason. Once again Montezuma rushes in, this time heaping abuse on Fernando and Mitrena. Fernando accuses Montezuma of treachery and has him thrown into chains. Alone with Mitrena, the utterly humiliated Montezuma begs his wife to avenge him. Mitrena calls on the gods to protect Mexico against the Spanish tyrant and urges her fellow countrymen to rise up in revolt. The Mexican general Asprano reaf-firms their willingness to fight.
A public audience chamber, with two seats, in the Spanish camp. Teutile is worried about Ramiro and her father in the coming battle, but Asprano reassures her. Alone with Fernando, Ramiro reproaches his brother for treating Montezuma with unnecessary harshness. But Fernando does not understand Ramiro's magnanimity, which he ascribes to his love of Teutile. Mitrena returns, and Fernando dismisses Ramiro. Mitrena seeks a decisive confrontation: she describes how the Spanish have brought civilization to her country but how they have also mistreated the Mexicans, duping them and ultimately breaking all their laws. If Fernando and his soldiers do not leave Mexico, they will have a life-and-death struggle on their hands. Fernando arrogantly insists on his right to defend himself. He releases Montezuma in order to be able to face him in single combat.
A vast space on the edge of a broad bay near the encampment. Ramiro instills in the Spanish soldiers hope of an early victory. Fernando and Montezuma finally face each other on the battlefield. As they are fighting, Montezuma's strength fails him and he calls for help from his soldiers, who overwhelm Fernando.
Teutile begs Ramiro to leave Mexico for the sake of his own safety, pointing out that Fernando is now in Montezuma's power. But Ramiro is bent on vengeance, and at his command the Spanish soldiers set fire to the Mexicans' canoes. In utter despair, Teutile is on the point of throwing herself into the flames, but Mitrena restrains her. Asprano arrives and announces that the oracle of the gods demands that Teutile and a Spaniard be sacrificed in order to restore peace to the country. Though overcome by grief, Mitrena finally agrees to this. In her eyes, Fernando is the Spaniard who must be sacrificed with Teutile as he has drawn down upon himself the wrath of the gods. She gives orders for the tower in which Fernando is imprisoned to be set alight.
A remote part of the city with a tower. Ramiro and his soldiers free Fernando from the tower. They hide when Montezuma is seen approaching. Montezuma discovers that the guards have been killed and that the door is open. He goes into the tower, whereupon Ramiro bolts the door behind him and leaves with his soldiers. Asprano arrives with a group of Mexican soldiers. The men set fire to the building in keeping with Mitrena's orders. To his horror, Asprano sees his king high up in the tower.
The priests lead Teutile to the altar in order to sacrifice her to their gods. Dismayed, Asprano arrives and reports having seen not Fernando but Montezuma in the burning tower. Mitrena takes leaves of her senses and seeks refuge in fantasies of victory and revenge. Ramiro forces his way into the temple at the head of a party of soldiers and rescues Teutile. Alone, Mitrena realizes that her gods no longer have any power. In her despair she resolves to take her own life, but suddenly Montezuma appears. He has escaped from the tower by means of a secret passage. Husband and wife are ready to die, but first they mean to be avenged.
A vast square in the city of Mexico. The chorus celebrates Fernando's victory. He tells the Mexicans that they now have a new king and new gods. He has won the throne not for himself but for Spain. Montezuma and Mitrena slip in and attack Fernando and Ramiro but are disarmed by Teutile and Asprano. Fernando shows magnanimity: they shall continue to rule in Mexico as vassals of the Spanish king. He announces his intention of returning home but will leave Ramiro behind as a hostage after his brother and Teutile are married. Ramiro declares that this sacrifice is what the oracle has demanded, whereupon Montezuma and Mitrena agree to the marriage. Montezuma sees Mexico rise up from the ashes, and the chorus celebrates the lovers' union.
Reinhard Luethje (Translation: Stewart Spencer)
Vivaldi as Opera composer
Operas with no plot, boring and sparse? Looking at the scores, one can see that Vivaldi certainly adapted his music to the conventions and codes of his time; his operas are in three acts, alternating da capo arias and recitatives, with librettos based on common sources and focused on high ranges. But, as Handel did in London, or as Haydn did later in Eisenstadt and Mozart in Milan, Vivaldi accepted this formal structure only to better utilize it and mark it with his own style.
Vivaldi's personality can be seen first in his choice of librettos and in the extreme care with which he revised them. At a great distance from the literary movement inspired by the great official poet Apostolo Zeno, Vivaldi refused throughout his career to base his works on a standard dramatic model or to only position himself in pragmatic or affective terms when considering reforms or contested codes. This freedom led him to use young librettists, from the earliest years of his lyrical writing, or to rework libretto from the previous century rather than texts written by reformers or their disciples. From the mid 1720s on, this justified his great weariness of Metastasian imperialism. Vivaldi's independence with respect to currents and movements can be plainly seen in the atypical formal balance of his first operas, where he combined innovative figures with archaic stylistic elements.
The same will to adapt models can be seen in Vivaldi's clear reservation concerning the growing ascendancy of castrati in the opera world. Vivaldi's original approach to vocal balance in his drammi per musica makes him stand out very clearly from ‘Neapolitan' composers such as Leo, Vinci, Hasse and Porpora. Even though some of Vivaldi's most beautiful arias were written for high masculine voices, and many of the performers of his operas were some of the best castrati, such as Andrea Pacini, Giovanni Battista Minelli, Marianino Nicolini, Francesco Bilanzoni and Pietro Morigi, these singers, most often hired by the skilful impresario at the beginning of their promising careers, in no way dominated the vocal palette of Vivaldian opera. With the exception of Carestini, who Vivaldi met in Rome in 1723 when performing his Ercole sul' Termodonte, and who again worked with Vivaldi in 1727 in Reggio Emilia on his Siroe, re di Persia, Vivaldi never hired any of the great castrati of his time. This choice, partly economic, seems above all a sign of Vivaldi's great independence with respect to the artistic evolution symbolized by these singers and his refusal to submit to a reference model. Vivaldian opera, by rejecting all formal absolutism, stands out from the works of his contemporaries by the fundamental importance it gives to female voices and by his refusal to confine lower-range masculine voices to anecdotal parts. In many of his operas, the primo uomo part, traditionally written for castrati, is sung by a female singer, whereas some of the most important roles are allotted to tenors.
Beyond these formal and vocal characteristics, the amazing richness of Vivaldian opera comes from its dramatic intensity and musical beauty. These compositions contain exceptional dramatic energy, and show an incredible sensitivity that expresses the slightest nuances of the myriad inflections of human passion. The music contains the thematic depth, instrumental color and rhythmic vitality of his concertos, from which he borrowed some of their inimitable ritornelli, their powerful dramatic contrasts, their energetic allegros and their playful melodies.
Vivaldi's individualism is best expressed in his dramatic works, which are characterized by a systematic rejection of a caricatured vision of human relations. Vivaldi's rediscovered operas have provided a great deal of information to help us better understand his psychology. In the way that Vivaldi designed and developed his operas, he strikingly shows his refusal of Manicheism, and his firm desire to not simplify things that he knows to be complex. The villain, the tyrant and the traitor always retain their share of humanity. The culprit always reveals his flaws and weakness behind his crimes. This attitude can be clearly seen in Vivaldi's choice of librettos and the way his characters react. Among the many essential themes of Baroque theater, Vivaldi showed his interest, throughout his career, for librettos that presented the inevitable downfall of powerful men. This is the case in Farnace, his favorite opera, which he revised and performed many times. When Vivaldi adapted the text of his librettist Lucchini, he described with incredible sensitivity the battle carried out against him by a proud, ill-tempered monarch, wavering on his throne, but whose pride led him to prefer the carnage of his own people over the acceptance of defeat. In another incredibly dense work, Bajazet, the drama of a falling tyrant is depicted in as striking a manner as that of the victorious tyrant.
Vivaldi always shows total compassion for the anti-heroes of his operas. In Orlando, for example, it is difficult to say whether he was more moved by the tragic experience of the valiant paladin or by that of Alcina, the deceitful sorceress who drove him to madness. In Tito Manlio, Vivaldi clearly displays his pity for Tito, the cruel, ill-tempered consul, who was crushed by the burden of the infanticide he ordered. In Vivaldi's operas, the schemers, traitors and tyrants always lose, but, in losing, they rediscover their share of humanity. This is where the liberalism and humanism expressed by this fascinating split personality is most clearly manifested. A man of contrast, Vivaldi the priest always shows up behind Vivaldi the dramatic composer. In each of his works, the former seems to remind the latter that, while faults call for punishment, they do not exclude redemption, and that redemption should always stand at the end of the path of the condemned.
Vivaldi's approach to myths and models was guided by a similar conception of human relations. For him, the hero, the good and the virtuous are never people of seraphic purity. Just as the bad retain their share of light, the good retain their share of darkness. This balance can be seen very clearly in his approach to the Turkish question in the oratorio Juditha triumphans, written for the Ospedale della Pietà in 1716. This example is even more striking because Vivaldi's interest for this theme was clear at a time when it was a national issue for Venice in decline. But, here again, in spite of the social importance of this issue, Vivaldi chose above all to inject his liberal and humanist vision into the work. The primacy of the individual over the group was translated into a musical and dramatic depiction that rejected pompous nationalism and offered a politically iconoclastic vision of the institutional enemy. The subtle portrayal of Holopherne and Vagaus, Assyrian enemies whose ambivalence leads them to be unexpectedly engaging, just like the troubling depiction of Judith and her maid Abra, whose ambiguous double game reveals a profoundly perverse feminine nature, highlight in a striking manner this fundamental facet of Vivaldi's psychology.
Inevitably, this solitary approach led Vivaldi to the edges of political discourse. This was the case when he was the only composer of his time to dedicate an opera to the Aztec tragedy. Behind the official legend, Motezuma, written by Vivaldi and librettist Giusti, denounces with surprising boldness for the time the violence of Europe's first colonial period. This boldness can be clearly seen in the sharp comment made by the noble Empress Mitrena to the spineless, scornful explorer Cortes: ‘Is that what you call virtue, foul traitor? Are those the customs that you bring from your Spain and from Europe to our oppressed World?' These were iconoclastic words, unfamiliar to the civilized ears of the Venetian public who attended this unusual work. Two years after Motezuma, Vivaldi once again crossed the border into politics when the dedicatory preface of the Veronese opera Adelaida included ideas on Italian unity that sounded like a pre-Garibaldian credo. Vivaldi, as a reckless, firm patriot, spoke, in a period of Austrian and Spanish domination of the Italian peninsula, of, ‘sad Italy [...] fallen to never again free itself from a foreign yoke' and praised ‘the very noble Republic of Venice, where Italian freedom has been preserved from its birth to the present'. This was prophetic indignation, spoken a century and a half in advance, just a few steps from Garibaldi's balcony.
Vivaldi's unique courage in expressing his convictions, in a time characterized by politically aphasic dramatic composers, made him stand out and gave his lyrical works a surprising amount of modernity. Or, to avoid this overused ambiguous concept, make him surprisingly relevant to our times.
Vivaldi was born in Venice, 4 March 1678 and died in Vienna, 28 July 1741. He was the son of a professional violinist who played at St Mark's and may have been involved in operatic management. Vivaldi was trained for the priesthood and ordained in 1703 but soon after his ordination ceased to say Mass; he claimed this was because of his unsure health (he is known to have suffered from chest complaints, possibly asthma or angina). In 1703 he was appointed maestro di violino at the Ospedale della Pietá, one of the Venetian girls orphanages; he remained there until 1709, and held the post again, 1711-16; he then became maestro de? concerti. Later, when he was away from Venice, he retained his connection with the Pietá (at one period he sent two concertos by post each month). He became maestro di capella, 1735-8; even after then he supplied concertos and directed performances on special occasions.
Vivaldi's reputation had begun to grow with his first publications: trio sonatas (probably 1703-5), violin sonatas (1709) and especially his 12 concertos L?estro armonico op.3 (1711). These, containing some of his finest concertos, were issued in Amsterdam and widely circulated in northern Europe; this prompted visiting musicians to seek him out in Venice and in some cases commission works from him (notably for the Dresden court). Bach transcribed five op.3 concertos for keyboard, and many German composers imitated his style. He published two further sets of sonatas and seven more of concertos, including La stravaganza op.4 (c1712), Il cimento dell?armonia e dell?inventione (c1725, including ‘The Four Seasons’) and La cetra (1727). It is in the concerto that Vivaldi's chief importance lies. He was the first composer to use ritornello form regularly in fast movements, and his use of it became a model; the same is true of his three-movement plan (fast-slow-fast). His methods of securing greater thematic unity were widely copied, especially the integration of solo and ritornello material; his vigorous rhythmic patterns, his violinistic figuration and his use of sequence were also much imitated. Of his c550 concertos, c350 are for solo instrument (more than 230 for violin); there are c40 double concertos, more than 30 for multiple soloists and nearly 60 for orchestra without solo, while more than 20 are chamber concertos for a small group of solo instruments without orchestra (the ‘tutti’ element is provided by the instruments all playing together). Vivaldi was an enterprising orchestrator, writing several concertos for unusual combinations like viola d?amore and lute, or for ensembles including chalumeaux, clarinets, horns and other rarities. There are also many solo concertos for bassoon, cello, oboe and flute. Some of his concertos are programmatic, for example ‘La tempesta di mare’ (the title of three concertos). Into this category also fall ‘The Four Seasons’, with their representation of seasonal activities and conditions accommodated within a standard ritornello form-these are described in the appended sonnets, which he may have written himself.
Vivaldi was also much engaged in vocal music. He wrote a quantity of sacred works, chiefly for the Pietà girls, using a vigorous style in which the influence of the concerto is often marked. He was also involved in opera and spent much time travelling to promote his works. His earliest known opera was given in Vicenza in 1713; later he worked at theatres in Venice, Mantua (1718-20), Rome (probably 1723-5), possibly Vienna and Prague (around 1730), Ferrara (1737), Amsterdam (1738) and possibly Vienna during his last visit. He was by most accounts a difficult man; in 1738 he was forbidden entry to Ferrara ostensibly because of his refusal to say Mass and his relationship with the singer Anna Giraud, a pupil of his with whom he travelled. More than 20 of his operas survive; those that have been revived include music of vitality and imagination as well as more routine items. But Vivaldi's importance lies above all in his concertos, for their boldness and originality and for their central place in the history of concerto form.
Ottone in villa (1713) * Orlando finto pazzo (1714) * Nerone fatto Cesare (1715) * Arsilda, regina di Ponto (1716) * L'incoronazione di Dario (1716) * La costanza trionfante degl'amori e de gl'odii (1716) * Tieteberga (1717) * Il vinto trionfante del vincitore (1717) * Scanderbeg (1718) * Armida al campo d'Egitto (1718) * Artabano, re de'Parti (1718) * Il Teuzzone (1719) * Tito Manlio (1719) * La verità in cimento (1720) * Gli inganni per vendetta (1720) * La candace, o siano Li veri amici (1720) * Filippo, re di Macedonia (1721) * La Silvia (1721) * Ercole su'l Termodonte (Hercules in Thermodon, 1723) * Il Giustino (1724) * La virtu trionfante dell'amore e dell'odio ovvero il Tigrane (1724) * L'inganno trionfante in amore (1725) * Dorilla in Tempe (1726) * La fede tradita e vendicata (1726) * Cunegonda (1726) * Farnace (1727) * Ipermestra (1727) * Siroe, re di Persia (Vivaldi opera)(1727) * Orlando furioso (1727) * L'Atenaide (1728) * Rosilena ed Oronta (1728) * Argippo (1730) * Alvilda, regina de'Goti (1731) * La fida ninfa (1732) * Doriclea(1732) * Semiramide(1732) * Motezuma (1733) * L'Olimpiade (1734) * Bajazet (Tamerlano) (1735) * Griselda (1735) * Aristide (1735) * L'Adelaide (1735) * Ginevra, principessa di Scozia (1736) * Catone in Utica (1737) * L'oracolo in Messenia (1737) * Il giorno felice (1737) * Rosmira (1738) * Feraspe (1739)
Vivaldi died in total solitude in Vienna in 1741. His contemporaries quickly forgot his name and even his memory, and his music, which had illuminated European musical life for almost four decades, quickly became nothing more than the distant tail of a comet in the Italian musical heavens. He remained unknown for his published concerti, and largely ignored, even after the resurgence of interest in Bach, pioneered by Mendelssohn. Even his most famous work, The Four Seasons, was unknown. At the beginning of the 20th century, Vivaldi was still the unknown composer to whom Fritz Kreisler could attribute a pastiche of his own composition without any fear of being unmasked.
The fate of the Italian composer's legacy is unique. After the Napoleonic wars, it was thought that a large part of Vivaldi's work had been irrevocably lost. However, in the autumn of 1926, after a detective-like search by researchers, 14 folios of Vivaldi's previously unknown religious and secular works were found in the library of a monastery in Piedmont. Some even and odd-numbered volumes were missing and so, the search continued. Finally, in October 1930, the missing volumes were found to be with the descendants of the Grand Duke Durazzo, who had acquired the property as early as the eighteenth century. To its amazement, the world of music was presented with 300 concerts for various instruments, 18 operas, not counting a number of arias and more than 100 vocal-instrumental pieces. Such an impressive list of newly unearthed opuses warranted a re-evaluation of Vivaldi's creativity.
Alltogether twenty-seven volumes of manuscripts that had belonged to Vivaldi, and containing totally unknown works, were discovered and brought together at the National University Library of Turin. People such as Marc Pincherle, Mario Rinaldi, Alfredo Casella, Ezra Pound, Olga Rudge, Arturo Toscanini, and Louis Kaufman were instrumental in the Vivaldi revival of the 20th century. The resurrection of Vivaldi's unpublished works in the 20th century is mostly thanks to the efforts of Alfredo Casella, who in 1939 organised the now historic Vivaldi Week, in which the rediscovered Gloria (RV 589) and l'Olimpiade were first heard again. Since World War II, Vivaldi's compositions have enjoyed almost universal success, and the advent of historically informed performances has only increased his fame. In 1947, the Venetian businessman Antonio Fanna founded the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi, with the composer Gian Francesco Malipiero as its artistic director, having the purpose of promoting Vivaldi's music and publishing new editions of his works.
The existence of "Motezuma" has long been known because its libretto survived, even inspiring Alejo Carpentier's 1974 novel, "Baroque Concert." Now, thanks to the efforts of a German musicologist, Steffen Voss, its score has also finally been found. In February 2002 Voss came across the score when he was looking for lost Handel cantatas in the newly discovered archives of the Berlin Singakademie.
After World War II the Berlin Singakademie's library (5,100 manuscripts) was Red Army, and taken to the USSR by the Red Army "trophy brigades" for cultural compensation, based on an order that Staling gave in 1945. Eventually it ended up in Kiev, now in Ukraine, where it was discovered in 1999. Perhaps as part of their bid to become acceptable to the European Union, Ukraine returned all the books from the Singakademie to their rightful owners.
In 1999 Christoph Wolff, a Bach Scholar and Music Historian at Harvard University, located the lost archives of the Berlin Singakademie in Kiew. Vivaldi's Motezuma was part of this archive. About 10% of the Archive consists of Bach family autographs. Wolff was supported by Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University.
The Berlin Singakademie is one of the earliest bourgeoisie musical organizations in Germany. It was modeled after the Academy of Ancient Music in London and established in 1791 under Karl Fasch. The Bach collection began, basically, with Fasch. But it was expanded in 1800 when Carl Friedrich Zelter, Goethe's friend and Mendelssohn's teacher, took over the directorship after Fusch's death. He acquired the estate of Philipp Emanuel Bach. Later Sara Levy, Mendelssohn's great aunt, dedicated to the library her collection of the Wilhelm Friedemann Bach manuscripts. She had been a student of the Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. So through a series of coincidences, the Bach collection became very strong.
In 1854, the many manuscripts by Johann Sebastian Bach, the "Saint Matthew Passion," the cantatas, and many of his works, were acquired by the Prussian King for the royal library from the Singakademie. So all of the Johann Sebastian Bach materials left the Singakademie in the mid-19th century.
That lead to the belief that nothing important was left there. Not much research was going on in respect to the Singakademie holdings, so the collection had been thoroughly under-researched. And then it disappeared when, in 1945, it was taken away by the Red Army and we had no information about the whereabouts. We didn't even know whether the material had survived, because in the turmoil at the end of World War II, anything could have happened.
Patricia Kennedy Grimsted:
Well, in 1945, the Soviet Union, having suffered so much cultural devastation and looting itself on the part of the Nazi regime and the Nazi Army, decided that they should take back, for cultural compensation, anything they found. This was an order that Stalin gave in February of 1945. By the summer, they had "trophy brigades," as they call them, combing the area for archival materials, for library collections and for art. They were putting on any freight car anything that they could find and shipping it all back to Moscow. We have records that in 1945 alone, probably 450,000 freight cars shipped with booty of various types.
The legend is that a tank driver coming back from the war found [the Singakademie collection] in -- some people say a village dump; some people simply say in some remote village -- and decided to bring it back to Kiev. There's a little bit of problem with that story. Fourteen crates of music, as large a collection as this was, 5,100 manuscripts, would hardly fit in a tank. The other problem is that the Kiev conservatory, in the summer of 1945, was in rubble. And so I'm not exactly sure that that story could stand up. But that is the legend in Kiev, and that's what we were told as to how the collection got there.
You might wonder why this collection remained in Kiev so long and unknown. I myself would ask the same question. But I think you have to remember that this was the Cold War, and Ukraine and the rest of the Soviet Union were completely cut off from cultural contacts in the West.
We had virtually no information about the fate of the collection after 1943. The Soviet authorities would provide no information whatsoever, and even after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990, 1991, this kind of inquiry was not easy because the KGB had other authorities that were in charge of trophy materials that would not change their attitude.
So it was in some ways a wild goose chase, but there had been rumors about the possibility that some of the Berlin Singakademie materials may have ended up in Ukraine. But Ukraine is a very big country. And inquiries through colleagues and musicians traveling to Ukraine brought no information.
It was just a happy coincidence that the research project that was conducted here at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute that involved lost archives -- that had nothing to do with musical materials, but lost political archives -- gave me an inside track to the archival administration in Ukraine. We were able to locate a document, a classified Red Army document, that specified that a collection of some 5,000 musical items were deposited in Kiev at the conservatory in 1945.
But nothing was to be found at the conservatory. Through some inquiries, where the archival administration was most helpful, we finally were able to locate that collection in the state archive. But the state archive people had no idea what they had. It was catalogued and classified as a collection of European music from the 16th to the 19th century, so it could have been anything.
When I asked some specific questions about the contents, "Is there any material with the name of Bach in that collection?" the reply was, "very many different first names to the family name of Bach." That gave me the clue. Because there is no other collection that has this kind of Bach family material. So when we applied for a visa and received permission to examine the materials, I was pretty certain that it could only be the collection of the Singakademie.
Patricia Kennedy Grimsted:
When we first arrived at the archive -- and we'd been delayed for several days because they said there was construction in the archive when we first got there, and we couldn't come in, even though we had been invited by the head of the archival administration, who had arranged this -- when we got to the archive building itself, there was obviously construction and in addition, it was the cleaning day and the archive was supposed to be closed.
They finally did let us in, and we met with the director in his office. He explained to us that the materials in this collection had not been processed, and that we were not going to be able to see them. So I said, "Well, what about the inventories?" Lo and behold, he was willing to let us see the five volumes of registers that had been prepared. These were the registers that were prepared in the conservatory right after the war.
What we found out was that the collection had been moved to the archive in 1973, when this particular archive was founded. It was an archive of literature and art, a separate state archive for literature and art collections in Ukraine.
The director took us into the stack area to show us where the collection was. One of the first things I noticed was the name on the boxes, because they always put both the form, which would be the record group or collection number, on the box, and the name of it. And the name didn't say anything about Singakademie. It said that it was a collection of manuscripts of western European luminaries of art and of literature. Music wasn't even in the title.
But the director decided to open one of the boxes for us, and pulled one off the shelf. I don't think he had any idea which one he was pulling, and Christoph immediately recognized the first manuscript as being written by one of the people that had been involved with the Singakademie. Then we pulled out a couple of the manuscripts and I noticed the stamp of the Singakademie, "Singakademie zu Berlin" was very clearly stamped at the top of a couple of the manuscripts.
When I pulled the first box off the shelves, I realized that this had a major impact on musical scholarship, and that this would open up research opportunities for a whole lot of people. The Bach materials that I was specifically interested in comprised only ten percent of the collection. What we have here is extremely rich material regarding the history of the Prussian court opera and the music at the Prussian court, and also in bourgeoisie Berlin in the 18th century. So it would really open up all kinds of avenues that would help us to understand better the history of music in Germany at a very crucial period in the culture of Europe.
It's really hard to explain what the impact of this new find is going to be. But imagine for a moment that you knew only the drawings and engravings by Rembrandt, but not the paintings. All of a sudden the paintings, which really are the chief works, shed some light on the smaller works. The same is true of Philipp Emanuel Bach, because the vocal works, the large scale mixed pieces, church music, secular music with choir, soloists and orchestra [from the Singakademie collection], are really the representative pieces. They bring out the best in the composer. If you compare those works with the smaller works, orchestral pieces, chamber works, and keyboard music, then you can see the broader context. All of a sudden you understand the creative mind of a great composer.
As an historian, I would have to say this was clearly a once in a lifetime experience. I don't think it will happen again. There is no other collection of that magnitude and that importance around. I think that can be stated without any question.