Albinoni’s Adagio! It arrived at the dawn of the LP era, the perfect tear-jerking Baroque slow piece for strings alone (organ continuo), full of every satisfying gesture: the walking bass that descends step by step, sighing chains of suspensions in sequence, the minor key. Who could resist?
The US (and Britain) bombed Dresden near the end of WWII, reducing an entire jewel of a city to dusty rubble. One can see a movie version of that in “Slaughterhouse 5.” By the way, this was what they called a “morale” bombing, Dresden having no military strategic value. In the midst of the ruins of the library, an enterprising Italian musicologist claimed to have found a tiny scrap of music manuscript from an unknown work by the Venetian born composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1951).
Great story right? But the piece, which Giazzotto published in 1958, was by him, not Albinoni. He called it “Adagio in G Minor for strings and continuo, assembled from fragments by Albinoni.” It was supposed to be the central movement of a typical three movement sonata.
The bass line is strongly reminiscent of that “other” Baroque hit, Bach’s “Air” (on the G String) from an orchestral suite. The melody repeats a common melodic cliché of lament, used notably in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op 110 (Arioso). If you examine Abinoni’s other completed surviving concerti, of which there are many, you will nor find one movement anywhere, despite some lovely touches, that behaves as the “new” Adagio does.
Hey, I grew up with Karajan’s luscious “way-too-many strings” version on LP with the Berlin Philharmonic. The piece also made the pop classical list on “hit” compilations of 18th century music many times.
It has also been used in at least nineteen (!) movies, including my favorite, Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli” (1981), and also, the unlikely “Flashdance,” as well as television and pop music.
By the way, Giazzotto died in 1998, I would imagine a rather well-off musicologist, since he had copyrighted the piece back in ’58.
By the way, Albinoni, also a composer of opera, said: “The recitative loads the gun, the aria fires it.” Take that NRA!
© 2012 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs