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Rosenmüller Vespers for The Feast of Annunciation

Vespro della Beata Vergine, with music by Johann Rosenmüller, Giovanni Rovetta, and Pier Francesco Cavalli will be performed on Friday March 31, 8:00 p.m. at First Lutheran Church, Palo Alto; Saturday April 1, 8:00 p.m. at The Berkeley City Club, Berkeley; and Sunday April 2, 4:00 p.m. at St. Gregory Nyssen Episcopal Church, San Francisco. The program featured Laura Heimes, soprano; Jennifer Ellis, soprano, Margaret Bragle, alto; Daniel Hutchings, tenor; Hugh Davies, bass; Rob Diggins, violin; Jolianne von Einem, violin; David Wilson, viola; Vicki Gunn Pich, viola; John Dornenburg, violone; David Tayler, theorbo; Hanneke van Proosdij, organ.

One of the most highly regarded German composers of the second half of the seventeenth century, Johann Rosenmüller’s music has been rarely performed since then. Following the practice of many northern composers of the period, he preferred to have his sacred music disseminated in manuscript. Fortunately a considerable number of those manuscripts have survived and we are pleased to feature Rosenmüller in this reconstruction of a vespers service as it would have been performed in Venice, the composer’s adopted home.

Born around 1619 in a small town near Zwickau in Saxony, Rosenmüller studied theology at the University of Leipzig and music with Tobias Michael, cantor of the Thomasschule. His quickly rose to the postion of assistant cantor by 1650. He was appointed organist at Nikolaikirche in 1651 and in 1653 he was promised the succession to the cantorate.

This promising career came to an abrupt halt in 1655 when, along with several of the St. Thomas schoolboys was accused of homosexuality for which he was jailed. While awaiting trial he managed to escape and eventually made his way to Venice where, in January of 1658 he was appointed as a trombonist in the orchestra of San Marco. He remained in Venice until 1682, when he was kappelmaister in Wolfenbüttel until he died in 1684. While in Venice, rosenmüller was active as a composer, both at San Marco and at the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi would be employed a few decades later.

Almost all of Rosenmüller’s extant vocal music is sacred with a significant body of music for Vespers. While the psalms and Magnificat we will perform were no doubt written during Rosenmüller’s time in Venice, it has thus far proven impossible to date them with any accuracy or to associate them with any particular occasion or location. Stylistically the setting of Lauda Jerusalem would seem to be the earliest composition, and the key of the Nisi Dominus would suggest a relative later date. The Dixit Dominus and Magnificat settings are particular fine examples of the late Venetian concertato style, demonstrating a satisfying blend of Rosenm’ller’s native Northern tast for intricate counterpoint and the bold harmonic language and clear tonal structures characteristic of the Italian masters.

Near the end of his life Rosenmüller published a collection of twelve sonatas from which our antiphon substitutes are drawn. A compendium of the stylistic and gestural possibilities of the mid seventeenth century ensemble sonata, the collection most likely contains works composed from various atges of Rosenmüller’s life. The collection was dedicated to the cousin of Duke Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who may have been responsible for the composers return to Germany.

Two composers that Rosenmüller would have worked closely with while in Venice are also represented on our program. Giovanni Rovetta assumed the post of maestro di cappella at San Marco on th death of Caludio Monteverdi in 1643 and remained in that position for the remainder of his life. During this period Pier Francesco Cavalli, though best known as a composer of stage works for the newly created public opera houses of Venice, was the organist at San Marco through the 1640s and 1650s, assuming the role of maestro di cappella when Rovetta died in 1664.

I am extremely grateful to Prof. Kerala Snyder for providing copies of the manuscripts for Dixit Dominus and Nisi Dominus and to Johan Tufveson for his excellent website, the source for the 1682 sonatas. Thanks also to Herb Myers and William Mahrt, the music libraries of UC Berkeley and Stanford, Nika Korniyenko, and Tchocky.

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