I’m not 100% sure but I think the first time I heard Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor was in the late 70’s or early 80’s when I was a child watching TV commercials. Back then it was especially popular to use classical music as backdrop for TV ads, at least here in Austria.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for a coffee brand, some local Bank (ab)used Mozart for their life insurance package – what the Adagio was supposed to peddle, I don’t remember.
I do remember though, that this haunting piece somehow grabbed me and I couldn’t get it out of my head and would constantly whistle and hum the melody anytime I had seen the TV spot.
Over time, after the ad got canceled I forgot about the piece, until…
The Swedish Virtuoso
A few years later – enter Yngwie Malmsteen.
Both hailed as a guitar god and condemned as an egomanical, repetitive shredder – the swedish guitar virtuoso is a controversial figure. In his “Icarus Dream Suite Op. 4” I experienced a flashback when I heard the beloved TV commercial melody again. (1:05 minutes into the video clip)
Thanks to the liner notes, I learned that the melody was a quote and came from the Adagio in G Minor by Italian Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni.
Tomaso Albinoni? Who’s that? How come I had never heard of Albinoni before?
Why are other Baroque composers like Bach, Vivaldi and Händel known and famous and Albinoni, the creator of such a great melody, (relatively) unknown and obscure? It seemed unfair to me, but I found solace in the thought that at the least this great melody had survived and got played.
And isn’t the music what matters, anyways?
What About the Mystery?
Initially, this article was supposed to end here. My original intention was to feature the Adagio and maybe muse about why a certain piece just speaks to you for a paragraph or two.
Imagine my surprise when I came across this during my research:
The Adagio in G minor for violin, strings and organ continuo, is a neo-Baroque composition popularly attributed to the 18th-century Venetian master Tomaso Albinoni, but composed by the 20th-century musicologist and Albinoni biographer Remo Giazotto and based on the purported discovery of a manuscript fragment from Albinoni.
Not by Albinoni?
How can Albinoni’s Adagio NOT be by Albinoni?
What’s going on here?
The ascription to Albinoni rests upon Giazotto’s purported discovery of a tiny manuscript fragment (consisting of a few opening measures of the melody line and basso continuo portion) from a slow second movement of an otherwise unknown Albinoni trio sonata. According to Giazotto, he obtained the document shortly after the end of World War II from the Saxon State Library in Dresden, which − though its buildings were destroyed in the bombing raids of February and March 1945 by the British and American Air Forces − had evacuated and preserved most of its collection.
Adding New Layers to the Albinoni Adagio
To me this adds a whole new layer to the piece. Now there’s all those additional questions like:
- Why didn’t Giazotto claim the composition from the start?
- Why was he originally only listed as the arranger?
- What was going through Giazotto’s mind when people referred to his composition as Albinoni’s?
- What about the mysterious Saxon State Library second-movement fragment?
- Why is it only a fragment?
- What happened to the rest?
- How long will the piece live on as Albinoni’s Adagio before it becomes Giazotto’s Adagio?
You don’t need to know the answers to enjoy the Adagio and in case you don’t like the Adagio to start with, you definitely couldn’t care less about those questions. And that’s ok, too.
However, I’d like to propose that you take one of YOUR favorite pieces and ask some background questions about it.
- What sparked the composer’s creativity?
- Any unusual background stories behind the piece?
- How was the initial public reaction?
- Did the public reaction change over time?
- If yes, why?
Imagine that you are a detective hunting for some information, only that it’s NOT about some crime but for your own enjoyment. When you learn something about the composer, the time period, the place and culture of the piece – you are creating a web of related and inter-connected facts and ideas that will create a richer, more colorful listening experience for you.
Also, ask yourself why a piece grabs you?
Is it the harmonies? A particular chord change? Maybe a tone color combination in the orchestration? In a more “modern” context this could very well be a certain sound, eg: a semi-distorted guitar lead sound with a touch of delay and phaser. Or some playing techniques and phrasing ideas like bendings or fluid legato articulations…
Who knows, not only will you learn a thing (or two) about music history, theory, arranging, etc… you actually might learn something about yourself and what pushes your musical buttons.
And that’s a good thing. 🙂
P.S.: If you are a guitarist, make sure to check out Per-Olov Kindgren’s version. His transcription is very accesible and quite easy to learn.
Share Your Thoughts
- Is there a piece that “gets” you anytime you hear it?
- Which one?
- Why this particular composition?
- Anything that you could maybe emulate and incorporate into your own compositions?