Magnificat Celebrates A Decade of Cozzolani

2009 October 24
by Warren Stewart

On the weekend of December 4-6, Magnificat will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our first performances of the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani with a program featuring her Messa a 4. My first encounter with the exceptional music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani took place in the most unlikely of places – Manilla. I traveled to the Philippines in 1997 with Judith Nelson to play in the Bamboo Organ Festival and for one of the chamber music concerts, Judy brought out the marvelous duet O quam bonus es. I was immediately struck by the kaleidoscopic range of emotion and musical style and set about finding a good program for Magnificat.

That opportunity came when the San Francisco Early Music Society presented Magnificat as their Christmas concerts in 1999. From the first rehearsal of music for Christmas Vespers, we knew that O quam bonus es was not an anomaly – every work, whether a grand double choir polyphony or an intimate motet for one or two voices – was a multi-faceted gem, bursting with imagination and passion.

Cozzolani Messa Paschale CD

Cozzolani Messa Paschale (Musica Omnia released 2002)

Magnificat was fortunate to gain the attention of Musica Omnia, an adventurous new recording label based in Boston, that was interested in producing Cozzolani’s complete works, a project that began in earnest with our first recording sessions in August 2000. At these sessions, we decided to first release a collection of her vespers music and then her setting of the mass ordinary in the context of liturgical reconstructions. We completed the recordings for the vespers music in January and August of 2001. In between we presented a vespers for the Feast of Purification on our series in February 2001.The CD Vespro della Beata Vergine was released in December 2001.

Magnificat at the 2002 Berkeley Early Music Festival

Magnificat at the 2002 Berkeley Early Music Festival

Then it was on to the mass. Some of the music that ended up on the CD Messa Paschale had already been recorded in 2000, but the mass itself was not recorded until January 2002, just before performances on our own series in February 2002. Later that Spring we performed a vespers for Annunciation on the Carmel Bach Festival concert series – a memorable concert in the beautiful Carmel mission. In June 2002, we were featured on the Berkeley Early Music Festival in a vespers for the Feast of Corpus Christi, which allowed us to perform many of the Christological motets that didn’t fit in the liturgy for the Marian feasts we had done since the first concerts in 1999. The Berkeley Festival concert coincided with the release of the CD Messa Paschale.

In November 2002, Magnificat presented a conference on Women and Music in 17th Century Italy in celebration of 400th anniversary of Cozzolani’s birth. In addition to a performance of Cozzolani’s vespers at Grace Cathedral, Magnificat presented a concert of music by a variety of women composers from the century at Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco. There was also a session at which papers were presented by four scholars that have focused on convents and music by women from the period – Coleen Reardon, Gabriella Zarri, Craig Monson, and Robert Kendrick.

Magnificat next performed Cozzolani in New York on the Music Before 1800 series in April 2003, another vespers for the Feast of Annunciation. Two years past before we performed Cozzolani, and again it was on the Music Before 1800 series, but this time it was the Mass. For these performances, we sang the mass one-on-a-part, rather than the double choir arrangement I had prepared for the recording and the 2002 concerts on our series. Our December performances will also be one-on-a-part.

Cozzolani at Notre Dame, 2007

Cozzolani at Notre Dame, 2007

In 2007, we received a very special invitation to perform Cozzolani as part of the annual conference of the Society for Seventeenth Century Music, which took place on the campus of Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. It was an honor to perform for an audience of musicology colleagues including many who were intimately familiar with Cozzolani, the music of Italian convents, music of the Seicento, and liturgy in general. We had just performed the vespers as part of our own series and even though we were integrating some new singers, the performance was almost surreal in it’s fluidity and balance.

Throughout these various productions, Magnificat has benefitted from the truly exceptional artistry of a remarkable cast of musicians:  Elizabeth Anker, Meg Bragle, Karen Clark, Hugh Davies, John Dornenburg, Kristen Dubenion-Smith, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Andrea Fullington, Susan Harvey, Katherine Heater, Suzanne Jubenville, Linda Liebschütz, Jennifer Lane, Judith Nelson, Jennifer Paulino, Deborah Rentz-Moore, David Tayler, Hanneke van Proosdij, and Catherine Webster. The Musica Omnia production team, led by Peter Watchorn and Joel Gordon have been exceptional throughout and we have also had the benefit of the scholarly input of Robert Kendrick, whose works on convent music in Milan and editions of Cozzolani’s motets are an inspiration.

Plans are underway to release the remaining works that have been recorded, hopefully by next Spring, with some individual tracks available sooner. Magnificat is already looking forward to our second decade of Cozzolani performances!

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