Giovanni Alberto Ristori's Divoti Affetti alla Passione di Nostro Signore were, as the continuation of the title in the extant partbooks specifi es, intended “per uso della Reale Cappella di Dresda nel Giorni de’ Venerdì e Domeniche della Quadragesima”. Thus within the repertoire of the Dresden Hofkirche they had their place after the Lent sermons, which during Lent were held on Friday afternoons as part of the Miserere prayers and on Sunday afternoons after vespers. The Miserere prayers are documented at the Saxon court since 1710 by entries in the Diarium Missionis Societatis Jesu Dresdae; from 1730 onwards during Lent they took place daily from Monday to Friday, their order remaining unchanged for nearly two centuries. At the beginning of these prayers the psalm Miserere was performed fi guraliter in front of the unveiled sanctissimum; then – on Fridays – the sermon was delivered, during which the sanctissimum was covered by a sacramental cloth. This was followed by another chant usually not specifi ed in the sources, by the versicle and the priest's oration, the hymn Pange lingua and the sacramental blessing, and fi nally the hymn O Lamm Gottes unschuldig. A similar rite was performed on Lent Sundays following vespers. After the forces of the Hofkirche ensemble were reduced in 1733, the fi guraliter performance of the Miserere and the hymns fell to the court chapel. The musical embellishment of these prayer services continued unchanged at the Dresden Hofkirche far into the nineteenth century.
Of all the sections of the Miserere prayers, the chant performed immediately after the Lent sermon was the last to be given a clearly defi ned shape. In the early years of music performances at the Dresden Hofkirche this was probably little more than a simple hymn. The performance of a Stabat mater after the sermon at the feast of the Seven Dolors of Mary (on the Friday preceding Palm Sunday) is first mentioned in the Diarium Missionis in 1735; and only three years later the same source reports for February 23, 1738 (which in that year fell on a Sunday) the performance of a “cantus 2 virtuosorum cum theorba” after the sermon. As the Diarium Missionis does not provide a complete chronicle of the music performances at the Dresden Hofkirche but usually notices liturgical and musical innovations, this entry most probably documents the introduction of vocal duets accompanied by basso continuo at this point in the liturgy. There can be no doubt that this refers to Ristori's duets, because there are no comparable works from this time by other leading musicians at the Dresden court.
Giovanni Alberto Ristori was born in Bologna in 1692; after a number of successful opera performances in Venice and other north-Italian cities he arrived at the Saxonian-Polish court in Dresden in December 1715, together with his father Tommaso Ristori's comic ensemble. Apart from his commitments as composer of Italian operas and intermezzi from the 1720s onwards he was responsible, together with Johann David Heinichen and Jan Dismas Zelenka, for the sacred music at the Catholic Hofkirche. Following an invitation of the tsarina Anna, in 1731 and 1732 Ristori visited Moscow and St. Petersburg accompanied by his father’s ensemble. It appears that after his return to Dresden and the death of August the Strong he was dismissed from his position, but in October 1733 he was reappointed as court organist. Since the new court kapellmeister Johann Adolf Hasse was frequently absent and Zelenka because of his illness was able to fulfil his duties only to a limited degree, from about 1740 the direction of the church music probably lay mainly in Ristori's hands. His official appointment as church composer (“Kirchen-Compositeur”, together with Johann Michael Breunich) only took place in 1746, however. Four years later he was appointed deputy kapellmeister; he died at Dresden on February 7, 1753. Ristori's large musical estate was acquired at the instigation of Queen Maria Josepha and after the Seven Years' War was catalogued and deposited in the archival cabinets of the Hofkirche. In 1908 Ristori's compositions, together with other sacred works that were no longer of use, were transferred to the Royal Public Library. While most of Ristori's operas are still extant today, the majority of his sacred music was removed from Dresden during World War II, failing to be returned after 1945.
The four partbooks (Canto, Alto, Tiorba, Organo) containing the Divoti Affetti alla Passione di Nostro Signore remained at the Catholic Hofkirche even after 1908 and were transferred to the holdings of the Sächsische Landesbibliothek only in 1972. The gilt-ornamented leather binding indicates that these partbooks were at fi rst probably intended for the private use of the Royal Family. According to the Catalogo <Thematico > della Musica di Chiesa < catholica in Dresda > composta Da diversi Autori secondo l’Alfabetto <1765 > the Hofkirche kept both scores and parts of these duets; in addition, there is a reference to “L'istessi Duetti in 3. libri legati”. The incipit of Amor ah! amor meus differs from the version transmitted in the four extant partbooks, however. If we take the entry in the Diarium Missionis of February 23, 1738, as the date when this type of duet was fi rst introduced at the Dresden Hofkirche, the pieces in the four partbooks form a complete collection, the majority of which was probably composed in the 1740s. Whether these manuscripts are at least partially identical with the “3 libri legati” mentioned in the Catalogo of 1765 cannot be established with certainty, however.
The first question to pose relating to this collection concerns the origins of the texts. Only in O vinea electa do we recognize a brief allusion to a liturgical text, a responsory from the fi rst nocturn of Good Friday. But obviously the metaphors employed belong to the fi xed arsenal of Baroque ascetic theology. Possible authors are the court poets Stefano Benedetto Pallavicini and Giovanni Claudio Pasquini, but also the Jesuits employed at the Dresden Hofkirche. The search for likely compositional models yields positive results even more easily. Both Ristori and Zelenka had copied chamber duets of Agostino Steffani in order to perform and study them privately – Steffani’s works circulated widely in the fi rst half of the eighteenth century and were recognized as exempla classica of this genre. The favorable acoustics in the moderately sized old Catholic Hofkirche and the quoted passage from the Diarium Missionis suggest that at fi rst the basso continuo was played by a theorbo alone. After the new Hofkirche had been consecrated in 1751, this was no longer possible as in the considerably enlarged space a single lute as continuo instrument was not suffi cient any more. Still, the Divoti Affetti probably continued to be part of the repertoire as, excepting a now lost Cantus a Soprano, Contralto ed Organo pro Quadragesima post Concionem post Meridiem die Veneris et Die Dominica aptatus composed in 1753 by Georg Schürer, new settings of the texts used by Ristori are documented only from the 1770s and after. In these pieces that now are called “Versetto” the high voices and the organ are supported by other instruments of the low and middle register such as bassoons, violoncelli and even violas. Until the death of Johann Adolf Faustinus Weiß (1741–1814), who after the Seven Years’ War succeeded his father Sylvius Leopold Weiß as lutenist at the Dresden court, the lute was also expected to participate. Yet apart from two autographs by Johann Gottlieb Naumann and the copied score of a versetto by Franz Seydelmann – all headed by the instruction “dopo la Predica” – , only a few fragments of the performance parts of these pieces have survived. But these reveal that the versetti continued to be in use well into the nineteenth century. The end of this tradition cannot be determined with certainty, but it was certainly caused by the reduction of the court chapel’s involvement in the church services in the last third of the nineteenth century.
(Gerhard Poppe, translation by Stephanie Wollny)