Tomaso Albinoni and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad “One-Hit Wonder” Moniker

Tomaso Albinoni and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad “One-Hit Wonder” Moniker June 5, 2013

For years, I’ve been fascinated by Tomaso Albinoni, the Baroque composer whose presence in the public “eye” is tied almost exclusively to a single piece: the bleak and ubiquitous Adagio in G minor, which he didn’t really even write.

In 1945, Remo Giazotto, a Milanese musicologist traveled to Dresden to complete his biography of Albinoni and his listing of Albinoni’s music. Among the ruins, he discovered a fragment of manuscript. Only the bass line and six bars of melody had survived, possibly from the slow movement of a Trio Sonata or Sonata da Chiesa. It was from this fragment that Giazotto reconstructed the now-famous Adagio, a piece which is instantly associated with Albinoni today, yet which ironically Albinoni would doubtless hardly recognize.

The Giazotto story is an interesting, odd historical tidbit, for sure. But it’s not the principle reason behind my long-time Albinoni obsession. The real reason I find the guy so interesting? He’s a one-hit wonder — certainly no rarity in the world of Classical music — but in his case, it makes absolutely NO sense.

Why is this single melancholy, misattributed piece the only TGA we ever get a chance hear? Where’s the rest of his music? Why aren’t we inundated with performances of his Concerti a cinque? Or these?

His stuff is fantastic, and often much more lively and complex than Giazotto’s unsanctioned addition (which has a definite emotional power, but which always feels like a “Johnny-One-Mood” piece to me). Plus, there’s an extraordinary amount of it — most of which compares very favorably to the works of Albinoni’s better-known contemporaries. He was both popular and influential in his time, and considered worth of significant attention by no less an expert than J.S. Bach, who studied his compositional techniques and melodic material closely:

His compositions were much admired by Johann Sebastian Bach, who used themes of Albinoni’s in several of his keyboard fugues. Two of these themes come from Albinoni’s work Opera Prima. Bach also used to practice realizing the continuo harmonies using bass lines of Albinoni, and pieces of Albinoni’s were used by Bach for teaching. Albinoni was at one time accorded a place in the history of music next to Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi. At the beginning of the twentieth century, editions of his works were published, and his violin music is still performed.

Where’s Mendelssohn when you need him?

Attribution(s): “Albinoni” by Anonymous, licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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