Author Archive

Buxtehude in Sweden – The Düben Collection

January 29th, 2016 No comments

Dietrich Buxtehude was born in 1637 in what is now Denmark. At the age of 20 he was appointed organist at St. Mary’s Church in Helsingør, where his father had earlier worked and in 1660, he took a position at another St. Mary’s Church, this time in Halsingborg. For the last forty years of his life he worked in Lübeck, where he was organist at yet another St. Mary’s Church and gained renown for is annual series of Abendmusiken. His fame as an organist during his lifetime was considerable and for the first two centuries after his death, knowledge of Buxtehude’s compositions was limited almost entirely the few organ works that had been preserved. His considerable body of vocal and chamber music were assumed to have been lost through fires and the vagaries of time until researchers began to catalog an extraordinary collection of manuscripts in the university library in Uppsala Sweden.

tablatureThe remarkable Düben collection, which includes a treasure trove of mostly North German 17th Century music, stems from the efforts of Swedish court organist and Kapellmeister Gustav Düben in gathering music for the royal library during the second half of the 17th Century. Born into a family of organists, Düben studied in Germany in the 1640s before returning to Stockholm to assume his duties under the Swedish king. The centerpiece of Magnificat’s program on the weekend of March 18-20, and Buxtehude’s best known work, Membra Jesu Nostri was in fact dedicated to Gustav Düben, whom the composer referring to him as a “most notable and honored friend” on the title page. While Düben and Buxtehude apparently held each other in high regard, it seems their paths never crossed.
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Magnificat to Perform Advent Mass with music by Johann Sebastian Bach in December

September 15th, 2015 No comments

Thomaskirche_1735Magnificat is excited perform again on the San Francisco Early Music Society series this December in a Mass for the First Sunday of Advent with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Led by artistic director Warren Stewart, soprano Christine Brandes, countertenor Andrew Rader, tenor Brian Thorsett and bass Robert Stafford will join an instrumental ensemble featuring Sarah Davol and Michael Dupree, oboe, David Wilson and Anthony Martin, violin, Wolfgang von Kessinger, viola, Elisabeth Reed, violoncello, John Dornenburg, violone, and organist Davitt Moroney. The concerts will be Friday December 11 8:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto; Saturday December 12 7:30 pm at First Congregational Church in Berkeley; and Sunday December 13 4:00 pm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Tickets are available through the SFEMS website or by calling 510-528-1725.

Since the nineteenth-century revival of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, we have become accustomed to hearing the composer’s sacred music performed as autonomous works in concert halls. However, Bach never envisioned such a performance of his cantatas, Passions, and oratorios. As musicologist Robert Marshall has noted, “such compositions were not intended for the ‘delectation’ of a concert public, but rather for the ‘edification’ of a church congregation…Bach’s cantatas, in fact, were conceived and should be regarded not as concert pieces at all but as musical sermons; and they were incorporated as such in the regular Sunday church services.” Magnificat’s program is an attempt to re-create the experience of a Leipzig church-goer who had the unimaginable good fortune each week to be able to hear music written and directed by Johann Sebastian Bach. In undertaking such musical make-believe, we have the chance to experience the theological and textual unity, the heterogeneity of musical styles, and perhaps even some of the spiritual intensity that Bach and his contemporaries may have felt during Hauptgottesdienst on the First Sunday of Advent. Read more…

Ballo Concertato: Magnificat Presents Monteverdi’s Tirsi e Clori

September 4th, 2015 No comments

Dance_to_the_Music_of_TimeMagnificat will perform Monteverdi’s Ballo Tirsi e Clori along with other madrigals by Monteverdi and instrumental music by Dario Castello and Biagio Marini on the weekend of September 25-27 2015. Clori will be sung by Jennifer Paulino and Tirsi by Aaron Sheehan. Tickets are available at magnificatbaroque.tix.com, by phone at  (800) 595-4849. To order by mail download this order form (pdf).

Claudio Monteverdi was dismissed from service at the Gonzaga court in Mantua in the summer of 1612, taking up his new position as maestro di capella at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice the following year. While the precise reasons for his dismissal are unclear, the composer had been unhappy with his working conditions for years and had been actively seeking employment elsewhere.

The Gonzagas continued to hold Monteverdi’s music in high regard however and already at the beginning of 1615, the regent Ferdinando Gonzaga sent a letter with an urgent request for a setting of a ‘favola’ by Ferdinando himself to be performed at Carnival. Monteverdi responded that he would “toil away at it harder than you can imagine, sending you by the courier from week to week what I would keep doing from day to day. In spite of Monteverdi’s enthusiasm, the time was simply too short and plans for the new work were postponed indefinitely.

By the fall of 1615, as a result on the ongoing conflict between Savoy and Mantua over the Principality of Monferrato, Ferdinando was forced to assume the full title of duke. Perhaps for festivities surrounding the event of his coronation, he once again requested music from Monteverdi, but this time for a ‘ballet’ on an unspecified topic. In a letter written in November 1615, Monteverdi proposed a pastoral subject in six sections preceded by a dialogue between a shepherd, Tirsi and his beloved nymph Clori.  Read more…

A Little Work in the Representative Style – Monteverdi’s Combattimento

August 18th, 2015 No comments

Aaron Sheehan in the role of Orfeo at the Boston Early Music Festival (photo by Kathy Wittman)

Magnificat will perform Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda along with other madrigals by Monteverdi and instrumental music by Dario Castello and Biagio Marini on the weekend of September 25-27 2015. The Testo role will be sung by Aaron Sheehan, Clorinda by Christine Brandes and Tancredi by Andrew Rader. Tickets are available at magnificatbaroque.tix.com, by phone at  (800) 595-4849. To order by mail download this order form (pdf).

Claudio Monteverdi’s celebrated Il Combattimento di Tancredi and Clorinda, was first performed in Venice during Carnival of 1624 at the palace of one of the composer’s patrons, though it was only published some fourteen years later in the Eighth Book of Madrigals. In the introductory notes, Monteverdi describes how the piece was first performed “as an evening entertainment, in the presence of all the nobility, who were so moved by the emotion of compassion that they almost shed tears, and who applauded, since it was a genre of vocal music never seen nor heard.” Monteverdi subtitled the Eighth Book Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo (“Madrigals of war and love with some pieces in the theatrical style”), and the texts repeatedly expound the interlocking themes of love and war– the warrior as lover, the lover as warrior and the war between the sexes.

The relationship between love and war had been a common Italian poetic conceit ever since the time of Petrarch in the 14th century, and had been given additional impetus by its prominence in Torquato Tasso’s late 16th century epic poem, Gerusalemme Liberata (“Jerusalem Liberated”). This enormously influential work dealt with the first crusade and treated in a dramatic and scenographic manner not only battles between Christian and Muslim knights, but also their love affairs, including the love between the Christian knight Tancrid and the Muslim woman Clorinda, who, disguised as a knight in full armor, fiercely fought for her side.

Monteverdi affixed an explanatory preface to the Eighth Book, a theoretically important, though sometimes confusing description of what he had tried to achieve in this music. Monteverdi explains how he “took the divine Tasso, as a poet who expresses with the greatest propriety and naturalness the qualities which he wishes to describe, and selected his description of the combat of Tancredi and Clorinda as an opportunity of describing in music contrary passions, namely, warfare and entreaty and death.” The composer describes three emotional levels, which he also calls styles. Two of these, the “soft” style (stile molle) for languishing and sorrowful emotions, and the “tempered” style (stile temperato) for emotionally neutral recitations, he says had long been in use.  But the third style, the “agitated” style, (stile concitato), Monteverdi claims to have invented himself.  Read more…

Magnificat Presents Music of Monteverdi – September 25-27

August 14th, 2015 No comments

On the weekend of September 25-27, Warren Stewart will lead Magnificat in a program of music by Claudio Monteverdi. Grammy Award-winning tenor Aaron Sheehan returns to interpret the Testo role in Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and renowned soprano Christine Brandes makes her Magnificat debut in the role of Clorinda. Brandes will also sing Monteverdi’s ‘love letter’ Se i languidi miei sguardi. Soprano Jennifer Paulino, countertenor Andrew Rader and bass Robert Stafford complete an ensemble that includes instrumentalists Rob Diggins, Jolianne Einem, David Wilson, John Dornenburg and Jillon Stoppels Dupree. The concerts will take place on Friday September 25 8:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto; Saturday September 26 8:00 pm at First Congregational Church in Berkeley and Sunday September 27 4:00 pm at First Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Tickets are available at magnificatbaroque.tix.com or by phone at (800) 595-4849.

Each half of the program will begin with one of the five vanitas settings that stand at the beginning of Monteverdi’s magisterial collection of sacred music, Selva morale et spirituale, published in 1640. The two madrigals are representative of a distinct genre of vernacular polyphonic vocal works that describe the transitory nature of love, status, and material wealth. The first, O ciechi, ciechi is drawn from Petrarch’s Trionfo della morte and describes the futility of power, riches and military conquest. Similar themes are addressed in the anonymous canzonetta Chi vol che m’innamori, which alternates between light and dark characters. Here the strophes are articulated by cheerful violin ritornelli with an unexpectedly pessimistic refrain following the final verse.

Much of the music on the program is drawn from Monteverdi’s Seventh Book of Madrigals (1619), entitled Concerto – his first publication of madrigals composed in Venice. It includes two extraordinary monodies labeled lettere amorose (love letters) that belong to a small but significant genre explored by composers in the first decades of the 17th century. Soprano Christine Brandes will perform the first of the letters, Se i languidi miei sguardi, a setting of a poem by Bolognese polymath Claudio Achillini. The poet notes that his letter is from “a cavalier, impatient over his delayed wedding, writing to his most beautiful bride.” Monteverdi writes that these love letters are composed in the “representative style” and that they should be sung “without a beat,” i.e. freely and expressively without a regular meter. Read more…

San Francisco Chronicle Review: Magnificat showcases two biblical heroines

March 12th, 2015 No comments

This review by Joshua Kosman was published by the San Francisco Chronicle on March 11, 2015.

Just in time for International Women’s Day — and only a few days late for the relevant holiday of Purim — the early-music ensemble Magnificat devoted the weekend to a celebration of strong biblical women. Sunday’s final concert at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, dexterously led by Artistic Director Warren Stewart, made a pretty powerful case for two of them.

The music was by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, whose sacred works — including the dramatic oratorios that formed the meat of this program — stand at the heart of the 17th century French repertoire. The heroism, though, was all down to the women themselves.

One was Judith, the valiant widow who saves the city of Bethulia by beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes — thus inspiring a whole generation of bloody-minded Baroque painters — and the other was Esther, the Jewish ingenue who finds that marrying the Persian king is the key to averting mass slaughter. Both of them were embodied in music of nobility and grandeur. Read more…

Magnificat To Perform Oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier March 6-8

February 17th, 2015 No comments

On the weekend of March 6-8 2015, Magnificat will perform two oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Historia Esther and Judith, ou Béthulie libérée. The program will also include Charpentier’s setting of Psalm 137, Super flumina Babylonis and the Canticum in honorem beata Virginis Mariae. Sopranos Laura Heimes and Catherine Webster, copuntertenor Andrew Rader, tenor Daniel Hutchings and bass Peter Becker will be joined by an instrumental ensemble including Vicki Boeckman and Louise Carslake, recorder, Rob Diggins and Jolianne Einem, violin, John Dornenburg, viola da gamba and Jillon Stoppels Dupree, organ. 

Friday March 8 2015 8:00 pm St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto
Saturday March 7 2015 8:00 pm First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley
Sunday March 8 2015 4:00 pm St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell, San Francisco

There will be a lecture 45 minutes before each performance given by noted Charpentier scholar and Magnificat Artistic Advisory Board member John S. Powell. Dr. Powell has also provided notes for the concerts which are posted on this blog. Tickets are available at http://magnificatbaroque.tix.com or by calling 800-595-4849.

Among 17th-century French composers, Marc-Antoine Charpentier made the largest contribution to the development of the French oratorio. This emphasis in Charpentier’s early sacred output is largely due to circumstance. Upon his return from Rome and his studies with Giacomo Carissimi in the late 1660s, Charpentier took residence in the Hôtel de Guise (now the Hôtel de Soubise) in the Marais District of Paris under the patronage of Marie de Lorraine (Mademoiselle de Guise). Charpentier remained in her service for some eighteen years, from around 1670 until her death in 1688. Three years before Charpentier’s arrival in Paris, Elizabeth d’Orléans, the youngest daughter of Gaston d’Orléans (uncle to Louis XIV), married Louis-Joseph, the nephew of Mademoiselle de Guise. Charpentier thus found himself in the service of Elizabeth d’Orléans (Madame de Guise) as well as of Mademoiselle de Guise. Both ladies were very devout and actively supported religious teaching institutions in Paris. Under the patronage of Mlle and Mme de Guise, Charpentier created a large number of devotional and oratorio-like works. Read more…

Examiner Review: Magnificat’s Performance of Cavalli’s Messa Concertata

December 22nd, 2014 No comments

Photo by Teresa TamThis review by Stephen Smoliar was posted at Examiner.com on December 21, 2014.

As was the case last year, the San Francisco Early Music Society hosted the first concert in the 2014–2015 season of Magnificat yesterday afternoon at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. Also following last year’s plan, Director Warren Stewart prepared a recreation of the entire service for the third Mass on Christmas Day as it might have been celebrated at St. Mark’s Basilica in the middle of the seventeenth century. Last year the five sections of the Ordo Missae (the “Ordinary” of the Mass) were pieced together from compositions by Claudio Monteverdi and Giovanni Gabrielli composed between 1610 and 1641. This year the core of the performance was an entire mass setting, Missa concertata, composed by Francesco Cavalli in 1656.

Cavalli is no stranger to opera lovers in San Francisco. He wrote 41 operas, 27 of which have been preserved to the present day. He seems to have been a favorite choice when it came to composing operas to be performed during the celebration of the pre-Lenten carnival. He could turn even the most serious scenario (such as the relationship between Jason and Medea) into raucously ribald comedy.

However, Cavalli’s first appointment in Venice was as a singer for Monteverdi at St. Mark’s. As a result Cavalli also built up a portfolio, somewhat more modest, of sacred music. This was particularly distinguished by his own intricate approach to counterpoint, which contrasted sharply with his operas that consisted almost entirely of arias, often with provocative texts. Read more…

Sonatas by Marini and Neri

December 16th, 2014 No comments

Magnificat’s program for the concerts on the weekend of December 19-21 will include instrumental sonatas by two of Francesco Cavalli’s colleagues at the San Marco: the organist Massimiliano Neri and the violin virtuoso Biagio Marini.

Born in the early 1620s, Neri was the son Giovanni Giacomo Neri, a Italian singer and theorbist who worked in several German courts. Massimiliano was appointed first organist at San Marco just before Christmas in 1644 and remained in the employ of the Basilica for two decades. Throughout his time in Venice, Neri maintained contacts with courts north of the Alps and visited Venice in 1651, where he was raised to nobility by Emperor Ferdinand III, to whom his second collection of ensemble sonatas was dedicated.  Neri was appointed Kappellmeister to the Elector in Cologne in 1664.

The sonatas in Neri’s 1651 collection range from trio sonatas up to a sonata for 12 parts. With their varied instrumentation and rich contrapuntal writing the sonatas are remarkable as much for their debt to the polychoral tradition of an earlier Venetian generation as for their anticipation of harmonic organization crystalized by Corelli a generation later. Read more…

2008-2009: Magnificat’s 17th Season

September 25th, 2014 No comments

Magnificat’s 16th season opened with two divertissements of Marc-Antoine Charpentier.  In 1682, Charpentier’s patroness Madame de Guise commissioned entertainments for the coming winter season, when she would be in residence at Versailles. One of these court events was the “Fête of the Apartments”, an innovation by Louis XIV himself that began in November of that year and continued well into January. Three times a week, from 6 until 10 in the evening, a variety of entertainments were held in the principal rooms of the Great Apartment of Versailles: billiards, cards, games of chance, refreshments (including fruits, sorbets, wine and liqueurs, and hot coffee and chocolate), plus “symphonies” and “dancing”. Les Plaisirs de Versailles and La Couronne de Fleur were most probably performed on these occasions.

In his review of  the Berkeley performance, Joseph Sargent of the San Francisco Classical Voice wrote “Delivering a crystalline performance marked by luscious vocal purity and elegant instrumental support, Magnificat captured the vitality and freshness of these charming works, turning the evening into an impeccably refined affair.” Laura Heimes can be heard in an excerpt from Le Plaisirs de Versailles on Magnificat’s music page.

In December, Magnificat presented a Christmas Vespers drawing pslams and motets from the Messa e salmi concertate of 1639 by Giovanni Antonio Rigatti. Having sung as a boy under Monteverdi at San Marco in Venice, Rigatti held positions at several institutions in Northern Italy including one of the Ospedale in Venice. He returned to San Marco in 1647 shortly before his untimely death at the age of 35. The program also featured instrumental music by Massimiliano Neri, one of the organists at San Marco.

In February, Magnificat performed Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien in a program that was similar to a program first performed at the 1996 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition but on a more intimate scale. The Exequien was commissioned for the funeral of Prince Heinrich Reuss Posthumus in 1635. In wishing to give this unqiue work a life beyond the specific occasion of its initial composition, he suggested in the preface of the publication that it could serve as a paraphrase of the Kyrie and Gloria in a amass for the Feast of Purification. Following the liturgical practice of the Dresden Court Chapel of the mid-1630s, and incorporating other music by Schütz and his collaegues, Magnificat’s program did just that.

As in other programs based on Lutheran liturgies, the audience was invited to join in for the congregational chorales. The program was framed by a Ricercar and Toccata by Johann Jakob Froberger played by Davitt Moroney.

Magnificat’s season concluded with Scarlatti’s serenata “Venere, Amore e Ragione” in performances that featured three “Jennifers”: Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Jennifer Paulino and Jennifer Lane. The precise circumstances of the first performance of Venere Amore, e Ragione are unknown, though it seems likely that the it was associated with Scarlatti’s induction in the Arcadian Academy in 1706. The libretto, attributed to the Roman poet Silvio Stampiglia -a fellow member of the Arcadian Academy who collaborated with Scarlatti on many occasions – recounts a dispute between Venus and Reason over the conduct of Venus’ son Cupid.

Over the course of the 2008-2009 season Artistic Director Warren Stewart directed ensembles that included Annette Bauer, Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Daria D’Andrea, Hugh Davies, Rob Digins, John Dornenburg, Kristen Dubenion Smith, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Elise Figa,  Vicki Gunn Pich, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Martin Hummel, Dan Hutchings, Jennifer Lane,  Christopher LeCluyse, Craig Lemming, José Lemos, Davitt Moroney,  Jennifer Paulino, Hanneke van Proosdij, David Tayler, and David Wilson.

The Sonatas from Francesco Cavalli’s Musiche Sacre

May 17th, 2014 No comments

The instrumental music on Magnificat’s Berkeley Festival program is drawn from Musiche sacre (Venice, 1656) by Monteverdi’s colleague at San Marco, Pier Francesco Cavalli. A musician of the highest caliber, Cavalli’s virtuosity as an organist was compared to Frescobaldi and in 1655 Giovanni Ziotti wrote that ‘truly in Italy he has no equal’ as a singer, organist and composer. Giovanni Battista Volpe, another organist at San Marco, praised Cavalli’s ability to “set his texts to noble music, to sing them incomparably and to accompany them with delicate precision.”

A talented boy soprano, Cavalli was engaged at San Marco in 1616 at the age of 14 and remained in the service of the Basilica for the remainder of his life, first as a singer, then organist and finally as maestro di capella. During the 1620s was also organist at SS. Giovanni e Paolo and free-lanced regularly at other churches in Venice, at the Scuola Grande de San Rocco and at salons in the private homes of numerous wealthy Venetian patrons. Despite his growing reputation as a singer and composer, the youthful Cavalli led a reckless lifestyle, racking up considerable gambling debts that were generously paid by admiring patrons.

His marriage to an affluent widow in 1630 transformed Cavalli into a wealthy landowner and later allowed him to become one of the first investors in public opera, the arena in which his most enduring fame was to be established. Involved not only as a composer but as an impresario, Cavalli was the dominant figure in the first generation of Venetian opera and during the 1640s and 50s he composed over 20 operas, many of which were performed in outside of Venice as well. In 1659 he was honored with a commission from Cardinal Mazarin to compose an opera for the occasion of the marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain.

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Vespers Music by Monteverdi and Cavalli for the Feast of St. Mark

May 15th, 2014 No comments

Artistic Director Warren Stewart will lead Magnificat and the Whole Noyse in the concluding concert of the 2014 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition on Sunday June 8, 4:00 p.m. at Berkley’s First Congregational Church. The program will feature music from Claudio Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale (1641) and Francesco Cavalli’s Musiche sacre (1656.) Tickets are available through www.berkeleyfestival.org.

In the last decade of his life Claudio Monteverdi assembled two monumental collections of music that form a testament to his thirty-year tenure in Venice. His Eighth Book of Madrigals – those of War and Love – was published in 1636 while his omnibus collection of sacred music Selva morale e spirituale (Sacred and spiritual forest) – the source for most of the music on our program – appeared in 1641. The madrigal book was dedicated to the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand III while Selva morale was dedicated to Ferdinand’s stepmother, the dowager Empress Eleonora Gonzaga, daughter of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga of Mantua and widow of the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II.

The publication of such retrospective collections was customary among prestigious musicians at San Marco, with examples from Willaert’s Musica Nova, to the Gabrielis’ Symphoniæ Sacræ to the other source of music on our program, Cavalli’s Musiche sacre. Though some twenty sacred works by Monteverdi appeared in various anthologies during the 1620s and 30s, Selva morale is the only volume devoted to his Venetian sacred music that was published during his lifetime and under his supervision, and while it contains a substantial body of work, it nonetheless represents only a fraction of the sacred music he must have composed as maestro at San Marco.

Like the Eighth Book of Madrigals, Selva morale is divided into two sections. The first opens with a sequence of spiritual madrigals and arias, each dealing with the transitory nature of human life and worldly success. A four-voice stile antico setting of the Mass ordinary together with a concerted Gloria and three sections of the Credo follow these madrigals, with a solo bass aria completing the first part. The second part contains psalms, hymns and Magnificats for Vespers, a series of Marian antiphons, two non-liturgical texts, and a sacred contrafacta of the famous Lament of Arianna. Unlike Monteverdi’s celebrated Vespers of 1610, which contains only a single sequence of psalms, hymn and Magnificat for feasts of the Blessed Virgin, Selva morale includes multiple settings of individual texts from which a choirmaster could select those proper for a particular feast. Our program this evening follows the liturgy for the First Vespers of Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice, and the psalms, antiphons, chapter and hymn have been chosen accordingly. Read more…

2006-2007 – Magnificat’s 15th Season

February 10th, 2014 No comments

During the 2006-2007 season, Magnificat presented four programs, two of which were repeated on tour. In addition to our usual subscription series concerts in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco, Magnificat appeared on the Tropical Baroque Festival in Miami and as part of the Society for Seventeenth Century Music conference at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. The image used on Magnificat’s brochure and website for the season, both designed by creative director Nika Korniyenko, was from Harmonia Macrocosmica by Andreas Cellarius published in 1660.

The season began in October with a program of music that Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote while he was  music master of the Saint-Chapelle. Founded in the 13th Century, the Sainte-Chapelle was situated in the heart of a walled enclosure of what was formerly the palace of the king and, during Charpentier’s tenure, the Parlement. The reconvening of the Parlement, which took place annually on November 12, the day after the Feats of St. Martin, was commemorated by the celebration of a grand ceremonial mass, called the Messe Rouge because of the magistrates scarlet vestments. The two works on Magnificat’s program were written for performance at the “Red Mass”, the Motet pour une longue offrande in 1698 and Judicium Salomonis (The Judgement of Solomon) in 1702.

In her review for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Michelle Dulak Thomson praised Magnificat as “and ensemble that can do it all,” observing “[o]ne of the recurring joys of hearing Magnificat is the ease with which the ensemble slips into the stylistic garb of each program. It takes an uncommonly disciplined musical sensibility to range as widely over this bewildering century as these musicians do — and yet they always seem right at home. On Saturday night, the rhetorical tone was just right for Charpentier: poised and serene, perceptibly stylized and yet sincere, unfailingly elegant — but also, rejoicing unabashedly in the richness of the harmony. The performance-practice niceties — the easily swung notes inegales, the lovingly dwelt-upon cadential appoggiaturas, the (to my ears) impeccable French Latin — all seemed as natural as breathing.”

In December, Magnificat performed a program model on one that had been part of our 1998 season featuring the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. The program included seven Advent cantatas whose central themes involve the expectation of the arrival of the divine beloved. The texts include mystical devotional poems, Lutheran chorales, and scripture and the affective range of

the cantatas reflect the emotional richness of the season, from joyous anticipation to somber self-examination and spiritual preparation. The program also included two ensemble sonatas. Buxtehude’s sonatas owe more to the tradition of improvisatory virtuoso music of mid century Germany than to the Corelli trio sonatas that had become the model across Europe by the end of the century. It is possible that some of the music on the program may have been incorporated into Buxtehude’s famous Abendmusik productions, though it is just as likely that it was intended for devotional services in court or private situations.

Writing in the San Francisco Classical Voice, Joseph Sargent wrote “Buxtehude — more familiar to audiences for his organ music — has a distinguished output of sacred vocal music that reveals a composer of great invention who could deploy a stunning variety of textures and styles over the span of just a few minutes of music. Magnificat proved up to the task of negotiating these shifts, delivering a sparkling performance that further established their Bay Area reputation as a leading interpreter of 17th century repertory.”

In February 2007, Magnificat presented Alessandro Stradella’s oratorio La Susanna. One of at least 86 oratorios composed during his tragically shortened life, La Susanna was commissioned by the Francesco, Duke of Modena. Its text, in two Parts as was usual, was written by the Modenese poet Giovanni Battista Giardini, who was also secretary to Francesco, and he based his libretto on the biblical account of Susanna given in chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel.

After three performances on our series in the Bay Area, Magnificat travelled to Miami to perform Susanna at the Tropical Baroque Festival. In his review for the Miami Herald,  Alan Becker praised Laura Heimes, who sang the title role, as “balm to the ears. Her tones were perfectly floated over the ensemble, and her willingness to sing softly made her a Susanna of beauty indeed.”

For the final program of the season, Magnificat returned to the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, with music for vespers that was repeated at the conference of the Society for Seventeenth Century Music at Notre Dame University. Kathryn Miller observed in the SFCV review“Cozzolani’s distinctive style focuses on contrasts. Long, spun-out homophonic lines turn suddenly to quick moving polyphony, out of which a soloist will emerge, only to be drawn back into the ensemble. These musical contrasts are also paired with dramatic shifts, and the women of Magnificat deftly crafted each moment, infusing phrases with freshness and spontaneity. Each new motive or dynamic bloomed and grew.”

The performance at Notre Dame was an important one for Magnificat artistic director Warren Stewart. “Performing at the 17th Century music conference was a special thrill for me,” noted Stewart. “It was a privilege to perform for a select audience of musicologists, many of whom had devoted their lives to researching the music of women and specifically nuns in the 17th century. A high point!”

During the course of the season, artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Christopher Conley, Steve Cresswell, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Kristen Dubenion Smith, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Andrea Fullington, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Dan Hutchings, Suzanne Jubenville, Jennifer Paulino, Hanneke van Proosdij, Byron Rakitzis, Deboah Rentz-Moore, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, and David Wilson.

Curiose e Moderne Invenzioni – Magnificat Performs Monteverdi and Schütz

January 3rd, 2014 No comments

“Staying in Venice as the guest of old friends, I learned that the long unchanged art of composition had changed somewhat: the ancient rhythms were partly set aside to tickle the ears of today with fresh devices.”

Thus Heinrich Schütz described his experiences during his second trip to the Most Serene Republic in a letter to a friend upon his return to Dresden. Our program this evening explores his visit, one of the most consequential musical encounters of the seventeenth century. It focuses on a meeting that must have taken place between two of the towering figures of music in the first half of the century: Schütz and Claudio Monteverdi – a meeting that embodies the migration of style from Italy over the Alps so characteristic of the early Baroque.

Earlier in his life, Schütz had spent four years in Venice as a student of Giovanni Gabrieli, his studies ending with the old master’s death in the summer of 1612. Schütz returned to Saxony a few months later, thus missing Monteverdi’s arrival in Venice by less than a year. Shortly after his return, Schütz was engaged as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Saxony in Dresden – among the most prestigious positions for a musician in Germany, a position he retained for the rest of his very long life.

In 1617 Schütz composed and directed the music for the extensive festivities celebrating the centenary of the Reformation, leading a large ensemble of singers and instrumentalists. Much of this music was published in Schütz’s Psalmen Davids in 1619 and was written in the robust polychoral style of his teacher. He continued to enjoy a happy and productive life in Dresden until a series of personal tragedies in the mid 1620s were followed by Saxony’s disastrous decision to enter what we now call the Thirty Years War in 1627. Funds were quickly diverted from music and the arts to the military effort and already in 1628 the Electoral Music had been drastically reduced and Schütz began a period of more than a decade in which he was often away from Dresden. He had petitioned his employer several times for permission to travel to Venice and when it was finally granted in the summer of 1628, he quickly made preparations for the journey, arriving in Italy in early fall and staying for almost a year.

While there is no direct documentation of a meeting between Schütz and Monteverdi during his second visit, it is inconceivable that they were not in contact. As the music directors of two of the greatest musical establishments in Europe, they would surely have met and perhaps even performed together and the spirit of Monteverdi’s “new music” that Schütz heard in Venice remained an inspiration for the remainder of his life.

Two works on our program display the influence of Monteverdi on Schütz quite literally: the madrigal Chiome d’oro, set to German text by Schütz in the 1640s and especially the sacred motet Es steh Gott auf, included in his second set of Symphoniæ Sacræ. This delightful motet is a parody of madrigals by Monteverdi found in his Scherzi musicali of 1632: Armato il cor and Zefiro torna. Schütz wrote in the preface that he “in some small way followed” these two works, but added that no one should believe him to have been only “so lazy as to decorate his work with others’ feathers.”

While our program is built around several works by the two masters, the music of other composers that Schütz may have heard during his visit is represented as well. Most significantly for Schütz was most likely Alessandro Grandi, whose superbly crafted motets and concertato madrigals are most clearly reflected in the style Schütz developed after his visit to Venice. Grandi had been Monteverdi’s assistant at San Marco for over a decade before moving to Bergamo to become maestro di capella at Santa Maria Maggiore, a position that not only paid him very well but also gave him the opportunity to write music for larger forces. Tragically, his life was cut short at the peek of his career by the plague that ravaged Northern Italy in 1630.

What little is known of the instrumentalist and composer Dario Castello is drawn primarily from the title pages of his publications, which identify him as a musician at San Marco and the leader of an ensemble of winds. His two surviving collections of sonatas feature extraordinarily virtuosic writing, suggest that he was most likely a highly skilled performer. The large number of reprints of both books is an indication of the popularity and wide diffusion of Castello’s works throughout Europe.

By contrast, we know considerably more about Castello’s sometimes colleague at San Marco, Biagio Marini. During Schütz’s visit to Venice, Marini, already well established as one of the first virtuoso violinists in Europe, published his eighth book of compositions, subtitled “Curiose e Moderne Invenzioni.” Born in Brescia in 1594, Marini had been appointed as a violinist at San Marco in 1615 where he worked directly with Monteverdi and Grandi. By 1620 he had begun what would be a peripatetic career that would see him serve as instrumentalist and music director in several Italian cities and in courts as far north as Düsseldorf and Neuberg. A prolific composer, by the time of his death in 1663 he had published over 20 collections of music, including sacred and secular vocal music as well as music for violin and instrumental ensembles.

Carlo Farina was a violin virtuoso born in Mantua during Monteverdi’s tenure there and may have studied with Salamone Rossi. In 1625 he was appointed concertmaster of Electoral Court of Saxony where he worked closely with Schütz and published his two collections of violin music. With the deterioration of the situation in Saxony, Farina returned to Italy in 1628, working for a time in Parma and later at Lucca. In fact, one of Schütz’s assignments on his trip to Venice was to secure the services of a violinist to replace Farina and indeed he returned to Dresden with the highly respected violinist Francesco Castelli, also from Mantua. Farina crossed the Alps again in the 1630s to work in Danzig and then Vienna, where he died in 1638.

Our program includes two toccatas – one for theorbo and one for harpsichord – that further reflect the integration of Italianate and Transalpine styles. The Bolognese lutenist Alessandro Piccinini was a contemporary of Monteverdi, who worked in Ferrara and Bologna. In the first of his publications of music for the lute, he makes the plausible claim to have invented the archlute in the 1590s. Whatever the veracity of his claim, there is little doubt that Piccinini was the finest lutenist of his generation.

Like Schütz, Johan Jacob Froberger travelled to Italy to study. Born in Stuttgart, Froberger had already been employed as an organist in Vienna when he first travelled to Rome to study with Frescobaldi from 1637 to 1641. After spending six years back in Vienna, he returned to Rome, this time working with the polymath Athanasius Kircher and possibly Iacomo Carissimi. After leaving Rome he travelled extensively, performing in many courts across Europe. In 1650 he was in Dresden where he likely collaborated with Schütz and Christoph Bernhard. Froberger’s compositions, almost entirely for keyboard, exerted a considerable influence on harpsichord and organ music in the second half of the century, not only in his native Germany but also in France. His blend of Italian exuberance and expressivity with northern counterpoint and chromaticism echoes in the works of Buxtehude, Böhm, Couperin and Bach.

Magnificat is grateful to the San Jose Chamber Music Society for the invitation to return to perform on a series on which we first appeared in 1991. That program also featured music of Monteverdi and Schütz and served as a catalyst for our own annual concert series, which began the next year.

 

 

 

 

2005-2006 – Magnificat’s 14th Season

January 1st, 2014 No comments

Magnificat’s 2005-2006 featured music by two composer, by then quite familiar to our audiences, Schütz and Charpentier, a less familiar name, Johann Rosenmüller and program featuring a variety of composers’ settings of text from Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido that opened the season. The season also marked the debut of the Magnificat blog as part of a new website designed by creative director Nika Korniyenko. The frontispiece the collected works of Jakob Böhme, published in Amsterdam in 1682, served as the basic image for the season brochure.

“A pastiche of little madrigals” is how Gaspare Murtola described Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido in 1626, and while his comment was intended as derogatory, he succeeding in pointing both to the strength and weakness of the play. The overblown and self-consciously poetic language of Guarini’s tragicomedy succeeded in making the play a relative failure on the stage, tremendous success as a work of literature, and a goldmine for composers seeking affective, emotional texts through which to display the new compositional techniques of the early baroque. The order of the program was determined by Guarini’s play, with settings by Sigismondo d’India, Claudio Monteverdi, Tarquinio Merula, Alessandro Grandi, and Giovanni Ghizzolo. In his review for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Joseph Sargent noted “Magnificat displayed impressive command in the ensemble madrigals, their faultless intonation and carefully matched phrasing adding greatly to this music’s effectiveness.”

For our Christmas concert, Magnificat returned to one of our most beloved programs, the Nativity Pastorale of Marc-Antoine Charpentier. An arrangement interpolating traditional French noels into Charpentier’s histoire sacrée, this program has been featured on Magnificat’s series four times, most recently in 2012. In each revival, audiences and musicians alike are struck by the sheer beauty of Charpentier’s contrapuntal technique, the profound simplicity of the timeless noels and the exuberance and sensuality revealed in their juxtaposition.

Writing for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Michelle Dulak Thomsen observed that “[o]ther Bay Area early-music ensembles visit the 17th century from time to time, but Magnificat is the only one of its size that practically dwells there, and it seems to be even more thoroughly at home with each performance. Certainly Saturday’s performance at St. Mark’s in Berkeley was a marvel of ease, balance, and brilliance.”

In January, 2006, Magnificat turned to Heinrich Schütz. Following on a very enjoyable program drawn from the composer’s first collection of Symphoniæ Sacræ in the 2003-2004 season, this program featured music from Symphoniæ Sacræ II, published in Dresden in 1647. Including works composed by Schütz over the almost two decades since his second trip to Venice, the collection represents the fullest example of the blending of the “new music” he had heard in Italy with the German language.

The collection differs from the first Symphoniæ Sacræ in its generally dark themes and more subdued tone, no doubt a reflection a desperation of war-ravaged Germany. Rebekkah Ahrendt commented on this darker tone in her review noting “Stewart’s programming was impeccable as usual for this concert. With his team of musicians who have long been together, Stewart, through the music of Schütz and his friends, showed that even in a time of war, friendship, hope, and art can endure. That is the message I took home from this concert; I hope others did as well.”

The final concerts of the season featured psalms and a Magnificat by the remarkable Johann Rosenmüller, who perhaps better than any composer of the period embodies the amalgamation of German temperament and Italian style. The program followed the vespers liturgy for the Feast of the Annunciation, and also included psalm settings by Cavalli and Rovetta, with Rosenmüller’s instrumental sonatas as antiphon substitutes. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman noted the effect of he antiphon substitution “As Warren Stewart, Magnificat’s visionary artistic director, noted in a preconcert lecture, 17th century Italians “spent a lot of effort to make going to church as much like going to a concert as possible.” Nowadays, he added ruefully, he spends his time trying to make going to a concert as much as possible like going to church — “and all in the name of authenticity!” … The performance, by a quintet of strong singers and a small instrumental consort, was first-rate.”

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. He quickly rose to the position 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, he 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 appointed Kappelmeister in Wolfenbüttel, where he remained until his death 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.

Over the course of the 2005-2006 season artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Meg Bragle,Louise Carslake, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Paul Elliott, Cathy Ellis, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Cynthia Freivogel, Vicki Gunn Pich, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Daniel Hutchings, Phoebe Jevkovic, Hanneke van Proosdij, Byron Rakitzis, David Tayler,Catherine Webster and David Wilson.

SFCV: Magnificat Awes With Christmas Mass

December 27th, 2013 No comments

This review by Niels Swinkels was posted at San Francisco Classical Voice.

In its new concert season, Magnificat examines musical encounters and exchanges that influenced the music of the 17th century, a period marked by the invention of opera, oratorio, and virtuoso instrumental music, in which this Bay Area baroque ensemble specializes.

Last weekend’s season opener was a co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society and performed together with Bay Area early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse. In three concerts in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco, Magnificat juxtaposed music from the two preeminent representatives of the early 17th Century Venetian music scene: Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi.

Both composers worked at the Basilica San Marco in Venice, as organist and maestro di capella (music director) respectively, but since Gabrieli died in 1612 and Monteverdi (1567-1643) did not even move to Venice until he was hired in 1613, it is highly unlikely that the two composers actually ever met in person, although they must have met in spirit — despite their different styles and aesthetics.

Last weekend, it was the Christmas spirit that brought them and their music together in A Venetian Christmas Mass, a re-enactment of the sonic events of a 17th-century Christmas day Mass, following the liturgical sequence and complete with chant and the recitation of prayers and Gospel readings.

Magnificat’s Artistic Director Warren Stewart drew the music for the re-creation of this Christmas mass from several different collections such as Gabrieli’s second book of Symphoniae Sacrae (Sacred Symphonies) and Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale (Moral and Spiritual Forest, 1641), and the Vespro Della Beata Vergine (Vespers of the Blessed Virgin) from 1610.

They were both very effective in writing music that makes a huge impact … best summed up in a resounding ‘Wow!’ from an audience member behind me, when the resplendent reverberation of the majestic closing chord had only barely dissipated.

In a recent radio interview on KALW’s Open Air, Stewart mentioned that both Gabrieli and Monteverdi wrote “music for grand and festive occasions such as Christmas, Easter, or major civic celebrations. And they were both very effective in writing music that makes a huge impact.”

That huge impact was best summed up in a resounding ‘Wow!’ from an audience member behind me, at the end of the Sunday concert at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, when the resplendent reverberation of the majestic closing chord of Gabrieli’s Omnes Gentes, plaudite minibus (All nations, clap your hands) had only barely dissipated.

The Venetian Christmas Mass unexpectedly stirred deep memories in my no-longer-Roman-Catholic soul, especially in the way in which bass and “celebrant” Hugh Davies sang/recited the second Gospel reading and the “Prefatio,” gently accompanied by the background noise of sniffs and coughs and creaking pews; with people moving their bodies and shuffling their feet.

It was a complete soundscape of the neighborhood church of my youth, in which my father conducted the choir for more than forty years. The only difference was that no priest in my memory ever sang as beautifully as Hugh Davies. And I am sure that my father would have loved to have the assistance of vocalists like Magnificat’s fine octet.

In addition to a powerful intellectual time machine, A Venetian Christmas Mass was also an overwhelming concert experience, due to the vocal and instrumental splendor of Magnificat as an ensemble.

Of the many magnificent vocal moments, I especially liked the way in which the timbres of sopranos Clara Rottsolk and Jennifer Paulino beautifully blended and complemented each other in the rising melodic gestures of “Et ascendit in caelum” (And He ascended into heaven), right after the male singers dramatically explored the despondency of the forever descending melody of “Crucifixus etiam pro nobis” (He was also crucified for us), in the Credo setting by Monteverdi.

Together with the continuo players John Dornenburg, John Lenti, and Katherine Heater (violone, theorbo, organ), The Whole Noyse, expanded for the occasion with two additional sackbuts (early trombones) played virtuosic instrumental interludes during the Offertory and Communion and provided an impressive sonorous foundation for the monumental architecture of the music of Gabrieli and Monteverdi.

2004-2005 – Magnificat’s 13th Season

December 16th, 2013 No comments

Magnificat was especially active in the 2004-2005 season, performing four programs on our own series while also appearing on the San Francisco Early Music Society concert series and returning for an engagement with the Music Before 1800 series in New York City. Each program focused on the work of a single composer: Carissimi, Monteverdi, Rovetta, Charpentier, Cozzolani, and Schütz.

The season opened with a program devoted to the music of Iacomo Carissimi, featuring two oratorios – Vantitas Vantitaum and Baltazar – a madrigal Fuggi, fuggi, and the allegorical dialogue Alma che fai, che pensi? The program also included two canzoni for two violins and continuo by Frescobaldi and a harpsichord toccata by Michelangelo Rossi. In her San Francisco Classical Voice review, posted on September 28, 2004, Anna Carol Dudley noted “Sopranos Catherine Webster and Jennifer Ellis, tenors Paul Elliott and Scott Whitaker (Elliott mostly singing alto parts) and bass Peter Becker were all at the top of their form, consistently sensitive to the words, spot-on in tuning, varied in their use of dynamics and vocal color, masters of coloratura, peerless in stylistic delineation of recitative and aria — above all, bringing wonderfully expressive music fully to life.”  Several works from the San Francisco performance on September 24, 2004 can be streamed and downloaded at Magnificat’s music page.

In November, Magnificat presented works of Monteverdi in a program that featured sopranos Caherine Webster and Jennifer Ellis Kampani and violinists Rob Diggins and Cynthia Freivogel. Vocal works included Zefiro torna and Si dolce e’l tormento as well as Chiome d’oro, Exulta filia Sion, Confitebor tibi Domine, Salve Regina, O come sei gentile, Ed è dunque pur vero and the Lament d’Arianna. The instrumental ensemble contributed two trio sonatas by Marini and a solo sonata of Dario Castello. Michelle Dulak, writing for San Francisco Classical Voice observed “Ellis and Webster have the agility, the accuracy, and the focused sound for this music, in which any of those three qualities being lacking spells major trouble. Agility, for example: Ellis’ coloratura in the solo motet “Exulta filia Sion” (Rejoice, daughter of Zion) and Webster’s in the third “Salve Regina” from the Selva morale were marvelous.

The following month, Magnificat was presented by the San Francisco Early Music Society in a Christmas  Vespers featuring music by Giovanni Rovetta, Monteverdi’s successor as maestro di capella at the basilica of San Marco in Venice. While working in has shadow of Monteverdi has affected Rovetta’s historical position it did not hinder his reputation during his own lifetime as he was one of the outstanding figures in Venetian musical life and he was active as a performer and as a composer of five large vespers collections, four volumes of concertato madrigals, at least two operas and numerous works in anthologies and manuscripts in a career than spanned thirty six years. Though we had previously performed individual works by Rovetta, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to share five psalms and a Magnificat from Rovetta, along with five sonatas by Venetian musician Massimiliano Neri and a motet by Cavalli with the San Francisco Early Music Society audience.

In January, we turned to the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier in a program featuring two of the composer’s Latin oratorios, or histoires sacrées:  Filius Prodigus and the Sacrificium Abrahæ. Representing the most direct link with Charpentier’s teacher Carissimi both in genre and style, Charpentier’s oratorios form a significant if isolated repertoire nearly unique in France, a country that seemed to have little interest in dramatic settings of religious subjects.

Magnificat’s season concluded with a program featuring two dramatic works of Heinrich Schütz: the Seven Last Words of Christ and the Reusrrection Story. For these concerts Magnificat welcomed back German baritone Martin Hummel and the Sex Chordæ Consort of Viols. Certainly the most striking of Schütz’s innovations in the setting of the Resurrection narrative is his use of a quartet of viols to accompany the evangelist’s words. Adapting a popular vocal style of the period called falso bordone, the viols sustain chords under the stationary reciting tone and bursting into expressive and florid part writing at each cadence. Kip Cranna praised Magnificat’s interpretation Schütz in his San Francisco Classical Voice review noting “This can be difficult repertoire to bring to life, with its narrow-ranged melodies, rhetoric based phrasing, frequent, formulaic cadences, and somber modal hues. Magnificat has mastered this refined art through exacting attention to detail and an obvious love for the music itself… .”

After completing our home season, Magnificat travelled to New York, where we were presented in a return engagement on the Music Before 1800 series. As in 2003, the program featured Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, this time the mass ordinary set in the context of the liturgy for Easter Sunday.

Over the course of the season artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Meg Bragle, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Cynthia Freivogel, Amy Green, Martin Hummel, Daniel Hutchings, Boyd Jarrelll, Julie Jeffrey, Tim Krol, Christopher LeCluyse, David Morris, Farley Pearce, Hanneke van Proosdij, Deborah Rentz-Moore, Wolodymyr Smishkevich, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

2003-2004 – Magnificat’s 12th Season

March 23rd, 2013 No comments

Magnificat’s Twelfth Season focused on lesser known works by three of the giants of the 17th Century, Henry Purcell, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and Heinrich Schütz and a program devoted to one of the century’s most extraordinary female musicians, Barbara Strozzi.

The season opened in September with “The Muse’s Feast” a program of songs and sonatas by Purcell that featured soprano Catherine Webster. Highlights included the songs Cupid, the slyest rogue around, from Playford’s 1685 Theatre of Music, the Evening Hymn from Harmonia Sacra and the beautiful ground bass aria O Solitude, though it would be difficult to pick a favorite from this program. Rebekkah Ahrendt, writing in the San Francisco Classical Voice praised Webster’s rendition of the Marian motet Tell Me, Some Pitying Angel noting her “command of emotion was superb, expressing the whole gamut of feelings a distressed mother might experience.” The program also included two trio sonatas and works for theorbo and harpsichord.

In December, Magnifcat turned to the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier in a two-part program. The first half included Charpentier’s settings of the seven so-called “O” antiphons. The name comes from the fact that in the Roman breviary the  Magnificat antiphons in vespers for the seven days preceding Christmas each begin with the acclamation “O”. We took up the composer’s suggestion of prefacing each of the antiphons with one of his noël seeitngs, by quite familiar to Magnificat’s audience from our productions of the Nativity Pastorale. The second half was devoted to the Dialogus inter angelos et pastores Judæ, one of at least six settings of the Christmas narrative by Charpentier. Packed with rich harmonies and a variety of textures and emotions the Dialogus is a particularly fine example of Charpentier’s mastery of dramatic narrative. Magnificat would present the work again in December 2010.

In January 2004, Magnificat presented selections from Heinrich Schütz’s first volume of Symphoniæ Sacræ, a collection that we will re-visit in our upcoming season next January. For these concerts we were joined by two friends from the early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse (who will also join us again next season): Steve Escher and Richard Van Hessel.  In April of 1628, Schütz applied to his employer, Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony, for permission to travel to Venice “not out of any frivolous desire to disport myself there for my own employment, but, it is to be hoped, to receive a better spirit.”  He was granted permission and spent almost a year in the most Serene Republic where he encountered a musical culture vastly changed from when he had studied with Gabrieli some twenty years before. The “fresh devices” that he heard in Venice figure prominently in the Symphoniæ Sacræ, published while he was in Venice, particularly in varied instrumentation and vocal groupings.

The concerts were extremely successful and prompted a program two years later that featured selections from Schütz second volume of Symphoniæ Sacræ. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman observed that “to hear the music performed as brilliantly as it was on Saturday, under the leadership of artistic director Warren Stewart, was to marvel all over again at Schütz’s melodic fecundity, his mastery of counterpoint and formal proportions, and especially his distinctive blend of sensuality and sincere religious fervor, unmatched by anyone but Messiaen.” Writing for SFCV.org, Bruce Lamott praised the program as ” a model of artistic programming; rather than slavishly adhering to the order of publication, Stewart artfully assembled over half of the twenty symphoniae into a variegated program that showed both performers and composers in the best possible light.”

For the final program of the season, Magnificat continued its exploration of music by women from the 17th Century, devoting a program to the music of Barbara Strozzi.  The adopted daughter of poet Giulio Strozzi, Strozzi had the good fortune to be born into a world of creativity, intellectual ferment, and artistic freedom. She made a mark as composer and singer, eventually publishing eight collections of songs – more music in print during her lifetime than even the most famous composers of her day – without the support of the Church or the patronage of a noble house.

Strozzi is perhaps best known for her solo cantatas, which no doubt reflect her own repertoire as a virtuoso singer of the highest caliber and several of these cantatas were included in Magnificat’s program. Less well-known are the ensemble madrigals, eleven of which Magnificat were included on the program.

Over the course of the season, artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Meg Bragle, Louise Carslake, Daria D’Andrea, Hugh Davies,  Jolianne von Einem, Jennifer Ellis, Steve Escher, Cynthia Freivogel, Richard Van Hessel, Dan Hutchings, Byron Rakitzis, Rob Diggins, Katherine Heater, Hanneke van Proosdij, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

San Francisco Chronicle: “sumptuous and elegantly delivered music”

December 12th, 2012 No comments

This review by Joshua Kosman was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 11, 2012.

Christmas was a good time in the 1680s’ Paris establishment of the Princess Marie de Lorraine – an occasion for celebration, contemplation and exquisite music, to judge from Sunday afternoon’s brief and wonderful concert by the early-music ensemble Magnificat.

Marie, known as Mlle. de Guise, had the great French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier as part of her household staff. And that meant that the yuletide observances – even though sung by a corps of amateurs – were being guided by one of the period’s subtlest and most inventive musical minds.

Sunday’s concert in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco – the lone offering during this hiatus year of one of the Bay Area’s most indispensable arts groups – conveyed some of the spirit of those long-ago holiday events. Charpentier’s “Christmas Pastorale” is a winning blend of spiritual reflection, narrative drama and flat-out bawdy fun, and the small ensemble – six each of singers and instrumentalists performing under the guidance of Artistic Director Warren Stewart – caught that range of tone perfectly. Read more…

Celéste flamme, ardent amour

November 14th, 2012 No comments

In 1670, upon returning to France from his studies with Carissimi in Rome, Marc-Antoine Charpentier became a member of the household of Marie de Lorraine, called Mademoiselle de Guise.  One of the wealthiest women in Europe, and a princess in rank, Mlle. de Guise chose to live in Paris independent of the intrigues and obligations of court life under Louis XIV. She was a passionate lover of music, and maintained an ensemble of musicians, less opulent than that to be found at court, but highly admired by the Parisian connoisseurs of the time. The ensemble was made up for the most part of young people from families long under the protection of the Guise who, having come to live with Marie de Lorraine first as maids or companions, demonstrated some talent or interest for music. They were given lessons and eventually granted the status of musicians-in-ordinary, taking part in the devotional services at the private chapel and in the frequent private concerts at the Hôtel de Guise. The ensemble, although it included some salaried male singers and one member of a musical family (Ann Nanon Jacquet sister of the famous Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre), was fundamentally amateur and it is extraordinary that it should have developed to the extent that the journalMercure Galant in 1688 wrote that the music of Mlle de Guise was “so excellent that the music of many of the greatest sovereigns could not approach it.”

It was in this intimate and secure setting that Charpentier composed the Pastorale sur la naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus Christ. He was composing for people with whom he lived, daily took his meals, and worked as a peer, himself singing alto in the choir; these were people with whom, to judge by the designation of parts in the manuscripts -Isabelle, Brion, Carlié, etc. – Charpentier was on a comfortable first name basis. Phillipe Goibault DuBois, another member of the Guise household who was actually the director of the ensemble and a scholar recognized by the Académie Française for his translations of Cicero and St. Augustine, most probably wrote the text of the Pastorale. The possibility that the Pastorale was intended to accompany a traditional Christmas pageant is raised by the list of acteurs on the title page of the manuscript: along with the shepherds and angels are the names of Mary and Joseph, who have no singing parts anywhere in the piece. Charpentier’s biographer Catherine Cessac has suggested that the Pastorale may have been intended for performance at a school for the education of poor girls supported by Mlle de Guise. It is easy to imagine costumed young girls arranged in traditional tableaux vivants during this musical expression of the Christmas story. Read more…