Antonio Caldara (ca. 1670–1736) did not count among the capellmeisters and church composers employed by the Saxon-Polish court. Yet some of his works were widely disseminated during his lifetime and after his death. A number of his compositions found their way to the Saxon-Polish court at Dresden, probably deriving from manuscript sources originating in Prague. The Motetti a due o tre voci op. 4, on the other hand, were printed in 1715 in Bologna and – like numerous other works by Italian composers published in that city – at some point were acquired directly by the court; some of them were subsequently incorporated in the repertoire of the Hofkirche.
Caldara’s career reflects in a remarkable way the situation of highly qualified, professionally successful Italian musicians of his generation. Born in Venice, the son of a violinist and theorbo-player at the basilica of San Marco was trained as a choir boy there and from 1688 was employed as a singer and instrumentalist. One year later he wrote his first opera, L’Argene, and in 1693 his Suonate a 3 op. 1 appeared in print. Soon there were other compositions that drew considerable attention, and in 1699 he secured the position of capellmeister at the court of Duke Carlo Ferdinando in Mantua. When in the following year the War of the Spanish Succession broke out, his situation at the Gonzaga court became unstable, however. Carlo Ferdinando sided with France and after the military successes of the imperial troops lost his territories to the Habsburgs in 1707. When the ducal household was dissolved, Caldara went to Rome, where in 1709 he was employed by the Marchese Francesco Ruspoli (1672–1731) as capellmeister and soon also established contacts with the Spanish king, Carlos III, who resided in Barcelona at the time. When his brother, Joseph I, died at an early age, Carlos succeeded him to the throne in 1711 as Emperor Charles VI, and Caldara traveled to Vienna several times, before he eventually became vice capellmeister there. He had finally secured a position which guaranteed him comparative independence from political and military vicissitudes. He soon became Charles VI’s favorite composer and in the remaining twenty years of his life frequently provided compositions for the numerous representative occasions at the imperial court.
The Motetti a due o tre voci op. 4 were written already at the end of Caldara’s Roman period, however. Even though the composer was employed by Marchese Ruspoli, they are dedicated to Pietro Cardinal Ottoboni (1667–1740), who for several decades was renowned as a patron commissioning numerous compositions. With the exception of Transfige, dulcissime Jesu, which follows a well-known Oratio Sancti Bonaventura, all the texts of the motets are based on the Vulgata or the Breviarum Romanum and thus accord with the Roman code of practice of the time, which permitted neo-Latin verses only in exceptional cases or privately organized ceremonies. The scoring and musical structure – but also the traditional printing with movable types, which at the time was already on the decline – emphasize the retrospective character of this collection.
(Gerhard Poppe, translation by Stephanie Wollny)