Sarti and the Russian school


Although many were the Italian composers recruited at the Tsar’s court, Sarti marks a turning point in the history of Russian music. He was the mentor of many Russian composers, was entrusted the direction of a conservatory (the theorist Boris Asaf’ev recognizes the influence of Sarti even in Glinka), composed to texts in Russian and Cyrillic (including librettos by Caterina II herself), became integrated in the local culture to the point of using tunes and instruments of the local folk tradition. In Russia, he became also affiliated with the renowned Academy of Science of the Empire as an honorary member: reviving a seventeenth century French treatise on acoustics, which he most likely had become acquainted with at the time of his studies with Padre Vallotti in Padua, he elaborated enough formulas and projects to construct the first acoustic frequencies measuring device, to measure and calibrate a tuning fork. This way, he could obtain the same intonation in all of the orchestras of Saint Petersburg.
His use of local traditional materials and instruments in his scores has raised more than one doubt in our first approach to some of the manuscripts. In some of the scores, especially those of celebration oratorios, the cannon appears (precursor of the Overture 1812 by P. I. Tchaikovsky); but we were presented with a real problem when we found staves marked “tube” in the instrumentation of more than a manuscript, with an almost organ-like writing. We were speechless and lacking any answer: it was impossible to think that even a prototype of the modern tuba would exist at that time, and equally anachronistic would have been the organ stops by the same name, which were probably invented around 1820. Only consulting Sarti’s bibliography we were able to verify that the score staves “tube” would correspond to a 37 natural horn ensemble (probably very heavy and cumbersome instruments), each of them sounding one single pitch; they were played by servants of a nobleman, presuming that such sort of ensemble was common in the houses of Russian nobility.
In one of his letters, Sarti expresses his disappointment, complaining about a concert canceled: so hard his master had beaten the F sharp in the “tube”, that he had broken his lip.
The first manuscripts examined by me in collaboration with Stefano Squarzina (my friend and fellow in this adventure) were the Magnificat (in D) and the Gloria (in G).
The importance of Sarti in Russia, still considered there as a forefather nowadays, and the rare beauty of his music gave me the opportunity to share the first performance of these scores in modern times with great soloists, such as Barbara Frittoli, and at the head of the ensembles of the Mariinsky Theatre of Saint Petersburg, at the personal invitation of Maestro Valery Gergiev.
Sony Music published the live recording of this performance.