The instrumental ensemble music of Leonardo Leo against the background of contemporary Neapolitan music
Green, Douglass Marshall
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The decline of the Baroque era involved a reaction against its musical complexity and intellectuality. In Naples, around 1725, composers of comic operas began to substitute for their highly elaborate arias a type of melody based on southern Italian folk-song: simple, appealing, popular, and highly singable. The new style soon found its way into instrumental music, becoming the most striking single characteristic to distinguish the Neapolitan Rococo from the music of the rest of Europe and from its own past. In his church music, Leonardo Leo remained rooted in the Baroque. The polyphonic approach he brought to his aria accompaniments and the fugal writing in certain movements of his concertos show a reluctance to abandon the contrapuntal glories of the past. Nevertheless, the eighteen available opera overtures, spanning the majority of his creative life, the concerto for four violins, and the six violoncello concertos (1737-1738) reveal the progressive element in Leo, a facet of his artistic achievement hitherto unrecognized. In the area of symphonic writing Leo was in the front rank of the moderns. Porpora, Sarri, and Feo regularly based the style of their overtures on the concerto, as Alessandro Scarlatti had done during the greater part of his career. But in his most mature symphonies Scarlatti had tentatively demonstrated a new style of orchestral writing, one which treated the orchestra in an integrated fashion. Leo, along with Pergolesi and Hasse, taking this procedure as standard, developed it in his own works and handed it on through his pupils Jommelli, Piccinni, and others, until it grew into the orchestral technique of the classical era. Leo's contributions to sonata-form are similarly extensive. While he did not, like Hasse, involve himself in his symphonies in motivic development (which he employed, to a certain extent, in the concertos), he shaped his first movement expositions and recapitulations ever more clearly along the lines of the classical sonata-allegro, gradually adding more and more elements of contrast among the themes. He had a unique devotion to the sonata-form; for while other composers used it only sporadically, Leo employed it as a rule. In his concertos Leo continued his enthusiasm for the sonata-form, applying it to the solo-orchestra medium with skill, though he had no predecessor in this respect to look to as a guide. With one exception the concertos are in four movements, tempos alternating between slow and fast. It is in the slow third movements and the finales that Leo uses the sonata-form as such. The first two movements present it in a combination with the concerto-grosse form, in which the solo instrument plays between appearances of the orchestral ritornelli. Basically, therefore, Leo's first movements are formally identical with what became, after passing through the hands of Boccherini and J. Christian Bach, the regular form of Mozart's concerto first movements. They stand in contrast to the works of his contemporaries, which are far more tradition bound, hardly ever venturing in form beyond what had been achieved years before by Vivaldi. Stylistically, Leo seems in the 'cello concertos to have begun a new era in the use of the instrument. The warmth and appeal of the Neapolitan melodic style applied to the 'cello brought out its particular singing ability, a then new aspect leading to the violoncellistic style of Boccherini and Haydn. Leo's instrumental music represents a singular balance between Baroque and Rococo elements. It is based on the past and looks forward to the future. The intellectual and the emotional aspects are also held in balance here, the heart speaking under the control of the brain.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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