Antonio Caldara was born in Venice in 1670 or 1671.
His was a family of musicians: his father, Giuseppe, was a violinist, and another relative (perhaps a brother) named Andrea played the bass; with a family so predisposed toward string instruments, it is not surprising that Antonio played, in his turn, both the cello and the violin.
He also had a lovely contralto voice, enough to earn a salary of eighty ducats as cantor of the Cappella Ducale di San Marco, a sum that was increased to 100 ducats in 1698, a sign of his advancement through the ranks of much more prestigious cantors.
Although there is no proof, his ties with San Marco make it probable that he was a student of Giovanni Legrenzi; furthermore, Caldara’s first oratorio, Il Trionfo della Continenza, was performed in 1697 at Santa Maria della Fava, the church of the philippine order, with which Legrenzi was strongly aligned. Perhaps it was Legrenzi who introduced him to the choir of putte dell’Ospedaletto, the virtuous singers of the orphanage of Santa Maria dei Derelitti?
The putte sang sacred hymns in the church since its foundation in the 1500’s; at first, it was merely a means to learn religious fundamentals, but they soon became so famous that it became an independent activity: the offerings collected during the concerts, in fact, became the basis of dowries for the girls, permitting them to leave the institution and to marry.
The great talent of these interpreters was certainly a draw for the composers of the Serenissima, who dedicated entire pages of prestigious music to them — and Antonio Caldara was no exception!
With the contribution from the Regione Veneto, and thanks to research by the Professor Dr. Marica Tacconi, of Liesl Odenweller, and of Caterina Chiarcos, Venice Music Project has transcribed from the Musical Archive of the Ospedaletto the motets for two voices of the manuscript 17 (RISM: I-Vire 17) in the Biblioteca e Archivio delle Istituzioni di Ricovero e di Educazione IRE of Venice.
The collection is comprised of six motets which explore a variety of combinations of possible duets between four voices: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. One can easily imagine the basso continuo being played on a keyboard, possibly enhanced by a cello, bass, and tiorba.
While these compositions appear to be quite simple, they permit the singers great expression in the vocal line, without imposing a richer accompaniment, which could seem egregious. A Baroque jewel, luminous and perfect as only a string of real pearls can be.