Alessandro Marcello: Oboe Concerto in D Minor

Program notes for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, December 8–10, 2017.
© Benjamin Pesetsky 2017. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto is an early example of a solo concerto (distinct from the older, ensemble-based concerto grosso), born from the realization that the style of an operatic aria could be adapted for an instrument with orchestral accompaniment. Its earliest champions included Antonio Vivaldi and Alessandro Marcello, who quickly established the three-movement form still standard for concertos today.

Alessandro Marcello was a member of the Venetian nobility and was the older brother of Benedetto Marcello, who was also a composer. The two brothers were both amateurs and didn’t make their living through their art, as Vivaldi and others did. Instead, they wrote skillful and inventive music for the enjoyment of their friends, who gathered in aristocratic salons around Venice. Alessandro worked variously as a judge, court officer, and merchant, while composing, painting, and writing poetry on the side.

All three movements of the Oboe Concerto show genesis in song. The first movement, Andante e spiccato, could be a mid-tempo aria, while the Adagio is lyrical and mournful. The vigorous finale, Presto, resembles the “rage” arias of Baroque operatic heroes. Johann Sebastian Bach apparently came to know and admire Marcello’s Oboe Concerto and arranged it for solo harpsichord as his Concerto in D Minor, BWV 974.