Author Archive

Alessandro Stradella's Oratorio per Musica La Susanna

January 8th, 2007 No comments

astradellaSome years after Stradella’s murder, Pierre Bourdelot and Pierre Bonnet-Bourdelot included an account of the event in their Histoire de la Musique. Published in Paris in 1715, theirs was the first history of music in French and therefore it attracted quite a bit of attention, with the result that news of the composer –‘the most excellent musician in all of Italy around the year 1670’– was circulated throughout Europe.

However, their fascinating tale of romance, wherein Stradella ran off with the mistress of a Venetian nobleman, who then had the lovers pursued from one city to another by a band of assassins, was not all true. Certainly false was the scene where the thugs were restrained from carrying out the murder because of the beauty of Stradella’s music, obliging the Venetian to hire other assassins to carry out the deed. Since the real facts were not generally known, and the fabricated story too exciting to resist, it was repeated and embellished in the succeeding centuries in novels, operas, poems and scholarly texts of music history: thus was born the ‘Stradella legend’. Only recently has enough research been accomplished to be able finally to say who the ‘real’ Stradella was and what music he actually composed. Read more…

Buxtehude Cantatas for Advent and Christmas

November 20th, 2006 No comments
Dietrich Buxtehude

Dietrich Buxtehude

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.

Buxtehude’s fame as an organist during his lifetime was considerable and for the first two centuries after his death, knowledge of Buxtehude’s works was limited almost entirely to his organ works. When the composer was “rediscovered” in the mid-nineteenth century, and his organ works were republished as an example of the style current before J.S. Bach. Interest in his vocal and chamber music works, however, has grown since the discovery of a significant collection of his works in the university library in Uppsala Sweden. The works on our program were part of this collection. Read more…

Charpentier's Music for the Red Mass & The Judgment of Solomon

September 16th, 2006 No comments

Marc-Antoine Charpentier was appointed as music master of the Saint-Chapelle in 1698. Founded in the 13th century by Louis IX (Saint Louis) as a sanctuary for the crown of thorns, which he had purchased at great expense from the Latin emperor of Constantinople Baldwin II, the Sainte-Chappelle enjoyed the special attention of the kings of France. Described by a 14th century theologian as “one of the most beautiful abodes in paradise” the Sainte-Chapelle was also an important center for music, and Charpentier’s position as music master was second in prestige only to the Surintendant at the Chapelle Royale.

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 large works on today’s program were written for performance at the “Red Mass”, the Motet pour une longue offrande in 1698 and Judicium Salomonis in 1702. The circumstances of their intended performance, the justice of humanity being transported to the realm of God, inspires both. Read more…

SFCV Review of Rosenmüller Vespers: A Magical Re-creation

April 4th, 2006 No comments

By Rebekah Ahrendt

The following review appeared on San Francisco Classical Voice.

The sanctuary of St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco was transformed into the Cathedral of San Marco in Venice Sunday afternoon. Performing a re-creation of a vespers service for the Feast of the Annunciation, Magnificat wowed the audience with works by Johann Rosenmüller, Giovanni Rovetta, and Francesco Cavalli. This program was a great example of what happens when good colleagues perform the music of good colleagues.

Rosenmüller, Rovetta, and Cavalli all worked together at San Marco beginning in 1658, when Rosenmüller arrived from his native Germany. He had been scheduled to take up the cantorate in Leipzig (the eventual job of J.S. Bach), but was arrested in 1655, having been accused of homosexual activity. Somehow he managed to escape and found a warm welcome in Venice, where he took a job as trombonist in the San Marco Cathedral. Read more…

Rosenmüller Vespers for The Feast of Annunciation

March 27th, 2006 No comments

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. Read more…

Magnificat Revives Charpentier Program

October 26th, 2005 No comments

On the weekend of December 9-11, Magnificat will revive one of our most beloved programs that features the Pastorale sur la naissance de Nostre Seigneur of Marc-Antoine Charpentier together with traditional French noels, or Christmas carols from the period. This program was performed by Magnificat as part of our 1993-1994 season and again in 1997 on the San Francisco Early Music Society concert series.

Like many, I first encountered the music of Charpentier in the delightful Midnight Mass, a work that uses the tunes associated with many popular noels in setting the text of the Mass ordinary. Charming as this piece is, it gives only a faint glimpse of the range and profundity of Charpentier’s compositional skills. Nevertheless, in making reference to the infectious melodies, it captures the earthy flavor of these tunes, which were known and loved by Frenchmen of all classes.

Charpentier’s Pastorale is once removed from the noels, borrowing much of the imagery and tone of the texts but providing them with a rich and highly refined musical setting. It was exactly these parallels that motivated the construction of Magnificat’s original program in 1993. The Pastorale on its own was a bit short for an entire concert and by framing its four sections with arrangements of noels (some by Charpentier himself) a satisfying and revealing program resulted. Read more…

SFCV Review of Il Pastor Fido Concert

October 13th, 2005 No comments

This review by Joseph Sargent appeared in the San Francisco Classical Voice on September 30, 2005.

Giovan Battista Guarini’s play Il Pastor Fido (The Faithful Shepherd) was a failure as drama but proved extraordinarily successful as literature. The tragicomic 17th-century play of pastoral love, lust and loss was first published in 1590. No other source of lyrical texts surpassed it in popularity among Italian composers of the time.

Il Pastor Fido evidently holds a similar appeal for Magnificat, which compiled a selection of solo and polyphonic pieces from the play for its opening concert of the 2005-2006 season, organized into a narrative structure that mimics the play’s plot. Under the guidance of artistic director/violoncellist Warren Stewart, a consort of five vocalists and three instrumentalists tackled this repertoire Friday at Palo Alto’s First Lutheran Church with abandon, delivering an animated performance that represented a strong debut for the ensemble’s new season.

Any effective performance of Italian madrigals ought to lavish great attention on the tell-tale aspects of the genre: frequent emotional shifts in the text, an innate sense of theatricality, and distinctive “text paintings” in which musical devices accentuate the literal meaning of individual words. Magnificat proved to be adept interpreters in this regard, their approach focused on conveying the dramatic as well as musical power of these settings. Read more…

Il Pastor Fido, Aminta and the Pastoral Tradition in 16th century Italy

August 18th, 2005 No comments

Guarini’s pastoral drama Il Pastor Fido was very consciously modeled on Aminta, written by his slightly younger colleague at the Este court in Ferrara Torquato Tasso. Both Aminta and the Pastor fido belong to the tradition of pastoral literature that was very much in vogue in Renaissance Italy. The fundamental characteristic of the pastoral drama was its idealized setting in ‘nature’, most often peopled by shepherds and nymphs who contradict the bucolic setting of their lives by expressing very urban sentiments in sophisticated language. Pastoral literature in general tended to idealize the innocent and serene lives of its rustic characters in contrast to complex and corrupt city life. The archetypal paradigm of the pastoral life was the Golden Age: a mythical, utopian time when human beings were content with their simple, peaceful lives, and when the uncultivated earth offered them everything they needed. The myth of the Golden Age, already present in the Greek poet Hesiod, was later treated by, among others, the Roman poet Virgil.[1]

The pastoral eclogue had been a relatively minor literary form in the classical times but was very popular among Renaissance humanists writing in first in Latin and then in the vernacular, and developed a rich complex of native, Christian, and classical themes in novels, lyric poetry, and drama. [2] While Boccaccio’s Ameto, can be considered a pastoral work, it is really Sanazaro’s Arcadia (1504) that has been considered the embodiment and culmination of the Renaissance pastoral tradition and it is from this Arcadian ideal that the new genre of pastoral drama arose. The genre had found expression as early as Poliziano’s Orfeo (1471), which was most likely the first of the Renaissance pastoral plays presented on stage to accompany courtly celebrations. The pastoral poem with its relatively free structure of dialogue developed into a stricter five-act format, typically in hendecasyllabic blank verse punctuated by more lyrical passages through the sixteenth century. Their were various attempts to codify this structure by Cinzio, Tansillo, Lollio, Argenti, and Beccari, all associated with the court in Ferrara, but it was only with Aminta and Il Pastor Fido that the pastoral drama acquired a place in the poetic canon between the dialogic eclogue and the developing melodrama.[3]

The fact that Il Pastor Fido shares so many themes and even plot lines with the earlier Aminta is certainly not a sign of simple plagiarism. Rather, it is more a sort of one-upsmanship, since Guarini intended to emphasize his rivalry with Tasso by writing several parallel scenes and in any case both plays used elements common to the tradition of pastoral drama. For example, Tasso presents the opposition between chastity and love, a common theme of Classical eclogues, in his opening dialogue between Silvia, the chaste shepherdess, and her companion Daphne, while Guarini places a similar dialogue in the first scene of Il Pastor fido with the dialogue between Silvio, the chaste hunter and his confidant Linco. An excerpt from Linco’s response became one of the most frequently set madrigal texts of the period, Quel augellin. Other similarities, like the presence of lustful satyrs in both plays are stock characters in pastoral dramas. The result in terms of reception history has often been to view Guarini’s work as derivative rather than complementary.

1. Jernigan, Charles and Jones, Irene M. Aminta, a Pastoral Play by Torquato Tasso. New York, 2000.
2. Staton, Walter and Simeone, William. A Critical Edition of Sir Richard Fanshawe’s 1647 translation of Giovanni Battista Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido. Oxford, 1964. p. x.
3. Jernigan. op. cit., pp. x-xi.

The Image on Magnificat's Website and Season Brochure

August 5th, 2005 2 comments

The image used on the Magnificat Website and on the season brochure is taken from the frontispiece to the collected works of Jakob Böhme, published in Amsterdam in 1682. The orginal image is reproduced above. For the website the orginal type has been photo-shopped out and for the brochure only details were used.The brochure can be downloaded by clicking this link.

Jakob Böhme was born in 1575 in Altseidenberg, near Görlitz in eastern Germany. Following apprenticeship, he set up his own shop as a shoemaker in Görlitz, where he resided (except for a period of exile in Dresden) until his death on November 17, 1624. After a profound mystical experience at the age of twenty five (1600), while remaining active as a shoemaker and later a merchant, he embarked on a remarkable career of independent scholarship and writing. Though censured for heresy and silenced for seven years by his town council, he eventually produced some twenty nine books and tracts on philosophical theology, and gained a growing following among the nobility and professional classes of the day. (Source, where you can also find a discussion of his writings and philosophy.) A more extensive biography of Böhme can be found here. This is an excellent bibliography with lots of links, and a fabulous collection of engravings from his theosophical works can be found here.

In the publication the image is described as follows:

“Light & Darkness

At the intersection of light and the world of darkness, the human and the divine eye meet and merge in a visionary “looking-through,” which emerges “as a flash in the centre.”

The trumpet and the lily, the two ends of the pointer, herald the coming of the end of the world and the beginning of the age of the Holy Ghost. The seven circles are the qualities of nature, the days of the Creation and the spirits of God. The inner alphabet signifies “the revealed natural language,” which names all things sensually,” i.e., directly, according to their innermost quality. It was lost through Adam’s Fall from number 1, the divine unity.”

J. Böhme, Theosophische Wercke, Amsterdam, 1682

Welcome to Magnificat's Blog

August 4th, 2005 3 comments

Welcome to Magnificat’s blog, which I intend to post information about Magnificat programs – notes about the music we will be performing and about the individual musicians who will be performing it. Often in the process of preparing programs I find myself making connections and discoveries that I would like to share with the audiences that will be hearing the music.

Only so much can make its way into program notes and pre-concert lectures, so I hope this weblog will give Magnificat’s supporters and anyone interested in the music and culture of the seventeenth century a way to enrich their experience of our concerts and Baroque music in general. I suspect that sooner or later other topics will make their way into the discussions here but my intention is to focus on music. My first project will be a running commentary on Magnificat’s preparation for our first set of concerts, which will be on the weekend of September 30-October 2.