Author Archive

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…

Magnificat to Perform Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale

August 16th, 2012 No comments

Magnificat is pleased to announce performances of the Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale on the weekend of Dec. 7-9. The program will feature the Pastorale sur la naissance de Nostre Seigneur, one of Charpentier’s most brilliant and moving works. In this exhilarating blend of dramatic dialogues and ensembles, instrumental dances, and exquisite choral writing, Charpentier’s displays his imagination and technical mastery and his extreme sensitivity to poetic imagery. Magnificat’s program will include Charpentier’s settings of several of traditional French carols, or noëls, that are, by turns, charming, poignant, and amusing. Tickets are available online at magnificatbaroque.tix.com.

On a sabbatical after celebrating Magnificat’s 20th anniversary season, Artistic Director Warren Stewart will return to lead an ensemble featuring singers Catherine Webster, Jennifer Paulino, Clara Rottsolk, Clifton Massey, Paul Elliott, and Peter Becker, together with Vicki Boeckman and Louise Carslake, recorder; Rob Diggins and Jolianne von Einem, violin; John Dornenburg, viola da gamba and Jillon Stoppels Dupree, harpsichord.
Read more…

Magnificat: Two Decades of Exploration

February 13th, 2012 No comments

This article by Trista Bernstein was posted at San Francisco Classical Voice.

Every musician searches for masterpieces to bring to the stage. For two decades, Magnificat has been in pursuit of such creations to please Bay Area audiences. Luckily, it has narrowed its focus to the 17th century, a time bursting with dynamic composers and emotional works. “It’s a tribute to the audience in the Bay Area that a group could focus on repertoire from the 17th century and be successful and have a following,” explains Artistic Director Warren Stewart. “That’s a joint effort between Magnificat and the audience.” Stewart, an accomplished cellist, has dedicated the last 20 years of his career to early music. His love of Baroque music is evident in the dynamic programming presented by the group each season. “It’s a fascinating time and period of music. Lots of things were changing, new rules were being written, and new kinds of music were being invented. I think it’s really fascinating to have the opportunity to explore that remarkable music and share it with the audience.“

Stewart had the great responsibility of crafting Magnificat’s 20th season. “I tried to choose composers and specific pieces that were somehow representative of what we’ve done. They are very influential composers, and they’ve shaped our style and approach to interpretation. The four composers who were featured this season were the four towering figures of the century, and represent four of the major centers where music was being created.” Although many new pieces were presented during the current season, it has been very reminiscent of the group’s first season. Read more…

2002-2003: Magnificat’s 11th Season

February 13th, 2012 No comments

Coming off a triumphant performance at the 2002 Berkeley Festival and the release of a second recording of music by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Magnificat’s eleventh season featured music by Charpentier, Stradella, Isabella Leonarda and Buxtehude, as well as a conference on Women and Music in Italy and our first appearance in New York.

Working with Charpentier scholar John Powell, Magnificat opened the season with a program of music the composer had written for the Parisian theatre. In our first season we had presented incidental music that Charpentier had written mostly from plays by Moliére also based on Powell’s work. For this program music we selected music from three plays written in the 1670s: Circé, Les fous divertissements and La Pierre philosophale.

When, in 1673, Charpentier became the principal composer to the King’s Troupe (Troupe du Roy), he became involved in the ongoing struggle between the company’s director and chief playwright, Jean-Baptiste Molière, and the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.  Throughout the 1660s, Molière and Lully had worked closely in providing for the king’s entertainment a series of multi-generic experiments that combined theater, ballet, vocal numbers, choruses, and machine effects.  But by the spring of 1672 Lully had decided that his own future lay in opera.  Having witnessed the successes of Perrin and Cambert with pastoral opera, Lully set about obtaining the royal opera privilege and, thereafter, a series of draconian decrees designed to protect his monopoly and reduce his musical competition. Molière soon found another musical colleague in Charpentier, recently returned from Rome and his studies with Giacomo Carissimi.  The revivals of earlier collaborations with Lully (La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas, Le Mariage forcé) with new music by Charpentier led to a full-scale comedy-ballet, Le Malade imaginaire.  This devastating musical satire would be the playwright’s last work—for during its fourth performance Molière, playing the leading role of the hypochondriac Argan, fell ill during the finale and died at his home shortly thereafter.  Thereafter, musical life in Parisian theater was a struggle to survive in the face of Lully’s active opposition.

In his review for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Joseph Sargent wrote that “Magnificat’s artistic director Warren Stewart elicited a finely crafted performance, the precision and musical expression outstanding… a quartet of vocalists gave Charpentier’s music a nuanced, sensitive reading … from the opening overture to the final chorus, the instrumental consort was impressive in its precision. The seven-member band of winds, strings and continuo displayed tight ensemble work throughout the program, with impeccable attacks, perfect intonation and precise phrasing.”

In November of 2002, Magnificat hosted a conference on women and music in 17th Century. The conference was held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and included papers read by four scholars whose work has illuminated our understanding of the emerging role of women as musicians and composers.The conference opened with Reflections and New Findings on Cozzolani’s Music., by Robert Kendrick of the University of Chicago and was followed by Poems for Nuns: Models of Sanctity and Religious Practice in Serafino Razzi’s Legends by Gabrielle Zarri of the University of Florence, Italy. After a discussion the conference continued with Washington University professor Craig Monson’s paper  Putting the Convent Musicians of Italy in Their Place, which included some of the material found in his 2010 book Nuns Behaving Badly. In the afternoon two more papers were given: Ann Matter of the University of Pennsylvania spoke about the rich tradition of Christian allegorical and spiritual language in the dialogues of Cozzolani and other nun composers in her paper Sacred Dialogues in 17th Century Italian Women Composers’ Spirituality and Colleen Reardon of Binghamton University read Persuasions: or You Can Catch More Nuns With Music, about the custom of constraining a young woman to enter the convent against  her will was both roundly denounced and widely practiced throughout  early modern Italy.  The conference included two programs performed by Magnificat, a vespers with music by Cozzolani in the choir of Grace Cathedral and a mixed program of motets by several women composers at Trinity Episcopal Church.

In December, Magnificat once again benefitted from the musicological research of another scholar, working from editions of Stradella’s two Christmas Cantatas prepared by  Eleanor F. McCrickard of the University of North Carolina.  Details about the two Christmas cantatas are scanty.  It is not known for whom they were composed, where they were first performed, or who the poets were.  One would like to think they were a part of the sixty-five-year tradition of music in the papal chamber in Rome from 1676-1740 for which a composer was invited to provide a cantata on the Christmas subject for a performance on Christmas Eve.  No proof exists, however, that either of them was used.  Other evidence—handwriting, paper, style—indicates that Si apra al riso ogni labro was for Modena and Ah! troppo è ver, for Rome with composition in the1670s, Si apra being the earlier of the two.  The subject in each work is treated in a different manner, from the somewhat pensive Si apra al riso ogni labro to the dramatic Ah! troppo è ver. Magnificat also performed one of Stradella’s instrumental sonatas on the program.

Magnificat next turned to the music of another remarkable woman from the 17th Century, Isabella Leonarda, an Urseline  nun and prolific composer who lived in a convent in Novarra during the second half of the century. The program was built on liturgy for the Feast of Purification and featured settings of four psalms and the Magnificat by Isabella as well as several of her instrumental sonatas. Kerry McCarthy, writing for the San Francisco Classical Voice noted that “the rapport and energy among the musicians was evident throughout the evening.” Two recordings from this concert are available on Magnificat’s music page, with Catherine Webster featured in Isabella’s setting of Lætatus sum and Rob Diggins in her extraordinary solo violin sonata.

In March Magnificat was presented by the Music Before 1800 series in New York. The concert took place at Corpus Christi Church near Columbia University and the program, like the recording Vespro della Beata Vergine, was built around Second Vespers for the Feast of the Annunciation. The excellent acoustics of Corpus Christi and the very warm audience contributed to a very successful East Coast debut for Magnificat.

Magnificat’s season concluded with a revival of Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri. As in our 1996 performances, Buxtehude’s setting of the Medieval poem Salve mundi salutare were interwoven with Johann Georg Ebeling’s setting of Paul Gerhadt’s German translation of the text. In the program notes artistic director Warren Stewart wrote “In Buxtehude’s cantatas and the chorales of Ebeling we are presented with something quite outrageous — the image of a lover embracing a broken and disfigured body, compassionately desiring to examine its wounds. To our modern sensibility it is shocking and revolting, or at the very least in questionable taste. Today we hide our wounded in institutions, and we are required, in the interest of productivity, to conceal our own wounds.” Commenting on the performance, the San Francisco Calssical Voice observed that “each of the five voices was lovely in its own right, but when they sang together, the resulting alchemy made the group a real pleasure to listen to.”

Over the course of the season Warren Stewart directed ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker, Meg Bragle,Louise Carslake, Maria Caswell, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Suzanne Elder Wallace, Jennifer Ellis, Ruth Escher, Andrea Fullington, Julie Jeffrey, Rita Lilly, Anthony Martin, Stephen Ng, Hanneke van Proosdij, Elisabeth Reed, Deborah Rentz-Moore, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, David Wilson and Ondine Young.

Madrigals of War and Love

January 26th, 2012 No comments

Magnificat’s 2011-2012 season concludes on the weekend of Feb. 17-19 with a program of selections from Monteverdi’s Madrigals of War & Love. Jeffrey Kurtzman and Warren Stewart contributed these program notes.

In 1638, Claudio Monteverdi, the seventy-one year-old music director of the ducal church of St. Mark’s in Venice, published his Eighth Book of Madrigals, the final collection of his secular music to be issued in his lifetime. He had last published a set of secular compositions in 1619, so the Eighth Book has a retrospective character, bringing together music written as early as 1608, and including one large work from 1624 and a variety of other compositions whose origins are unknown but which probably span the entire period 1619-1638. This unusually large collection was dedicated to Ferdinand III, the newly crowned Hapsburg Emperor in Vienna, whose mother was a member of the ducal family of the Gonazagas, former rulers of Mantua in northern Italy, where the early part of Monteverdi’s career had unfolded and to which he was still connected by various threads.

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. The notion of lover as warrior was also central to the Neapolitan poet Giambattista Marino, who exerted a significant influence on Italian literature and aesthetics of the 17th century and whose poetry was set many times by Monteverdi.

The texts of several of the madrigals has been adapted to make specific reference to Ferdinand and to the Empire (River Nymphs of the Istrus, i.e. Danube; the ladies of the Germano Impero, etc.) but the overall theme of the collection was influenced by the role of the Hapsburg’s in the ongoing conflict now known as The Thirty Years War. The younger Ferdinand’s interest in the arts and music (he was a reasonably good composer himself and a patron of Froberger, Valentini, and of course Monteverdi.) Shortly before his accession to the throne, Ferdinand, together with his Spanish cousin, also a Ferdinand, were credited with capture of Donauwörth and Regensburg, and the defeat the Swedes and their Protestant allies at the Battle of Nördlingen. As head of the peace party at court, he helped negotiate the Peace of Prague in 1635 that was thought, sadly incorrectly, to be the end of the dreadful conflict. These events may have contributed to the triumphalism that permeates the Eighth Book and the sense that glorious military victories would lead to leisure and more amorous pursuits.

Monteverdi affixed an explanatory preface to the Eighth Book, a theoretically important, though sometimes confusing account of what he had tried to achieve in this music. 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. The musical depiction of this style consists of very rapid reiterations of the same pitch on string instruments, like a modern measured tremolo, and equally rapid reiterations of the supporting chord in the harpsichord or other continuo instrument. Such repeated notes and repeated chords had, in fact, been frequently used in compositions depicting battles for nearly a century, but for Monteverdi the stile concitato meant more than merely a musical metaphor for the rapid physical activity of fighting. It was also a specific emotional style–a musical means for interpreting the emotional agitation of the protagonists and conveying that agitation to the audience.  The stile concitato, therefore, serves both a pictorial and a psychological function in Monteverdi’s music.

Magnificat’s program will follow the structure and order of Monteverdi’s publication, the selections in the first half are drawn from the Canti Guerrieri, or Songs of War and the second from the Canti Amorosi, or Songs of Love. The two halves open, like the two parts of the collection, with sonnets announcing, respectively, the themes of war and love. While the sonnet Altri canti di Marte was a pre-existing poem from Marino’s Rime (1602), it’s parallel in the first half, Altri canti d’Amor, seems to have been newly written for this collection and is clearly an imitation of Marino’s sonnet. After the two quatrains of Altri canti d’Amor that contrast themes of love and of Mars, the text of the sestet praises the dedicatee Ferdinand III. In addition to the usual pair of violins, Monteverdi introduces a quartet of viols when the text addresses the new Emperor and extols his lofty valor. This may have been a specific allusion to the large string ensembles favored by Viennese court composers of the time as the viola da gamba had gone out of fashion in Italy by the time Monteverdi was assembling his Eighth Book.

Altri canti d’Amor is followed, as in Monteverdi’s publication, by the most complex and sophisticated of Monteverdi’s large-scale madrigals from the Eighth Book,Hor che’l ciel e la terra. This madrigal sets, in two parts, the entirety of Petrarch’s 164th poem from the Canzoniere, a sonnet replete with Petrarchan contrasts and oxymorons. But Petrarch’s contrasts, as described by Pietro Bembo in the Prose della volgar lingua, are brought into harmony and smoothed over by mellifluous sounds and varied, rolling rhythms of his highly refined poetic style. This is easily seen in Petrarch’s fifth and sixth lines, where the most abrupt semantic juxtapositions are couched in an elegantly structured and alliterative sentence that draws attention away from the contrasts toward their union in a highly stylized and carefully crafted poetic conception. Resemblances of rhyme, of rhythm, of line lengths and stanzaic structure, and especially resemblances of sonority all serve to overcome the semantic contrasts. While earlier settings of this sonnet, notably Arcadelt’s famous account, emphasize this harmony and integration of oppositions, Monteverdi’s seizes upon the contrasts as the means for creating rhetorical statements and musical icons that can serve as the constructive basis for his composition. Indeed, contrasts as a means of expressing rhetoric and emotion permeate the entire collection and call to mind Monteverdi’s observation in the publication’s preface “that it is contraries that deeply affect our mind, the goal of the effect that good music ought to have.”

Two warrior-themed madrigals follow. The first, Se vittorie si belle, has been identified by John Whenham as the work of Fulvio Testi, a diplomat and poet in the Estense court in Modena and a literary follower of Marino. It was most likely written in the 1620s. The second warlike madrigal, Ogni amante e guerrier, was likely written specifically for inclusion in the Eighth Book with its topical references to Ferdinand. Notably for the extended bass solo in it’s second part featuring the repeated notes associated by the composer with the “agitated” style, Ogni amante e guerrier sets a slightly modified text by Ottavio Rinuccini. A similar musical depiction of warfare is found in the sonata La Gran Battaglia by the Modenese composer Marco Uccellini will separate the two madrigals in Magnificat’s program.

Altri canti di Marte, he sonnet that opens the second part of the Eighth Book and introduces the Canti Amorosi, clearly served as the model for it’s counterpart in the first half and is in some ways a mirror image, establishing first the themes of war that will be left to others before turning to more amorous matters. Here instead of Ferdinand, the poem addresses Love’s “warrior maiden” (guerriera) who has wounded the poet not with the weapons of war, but with her glances and soft tresses. Two lighter madrigals will follow, the five voice Dolcissimo usignuolo and the pastoral trio Perché te’n fuggi, o Fillide.

For the Lamento della Ninfa, one of the most passionate and moving works in the collection, Monteverdi again turned to Rinuccini. The poem, Non havea Febo ancora, published a year after the poet’s death in 1621, echoes the famous Lament of Arianna from the lost 1608 opera for which Rinuccini was the librettist, and Monteverdi chooses the same descending fourth ostinato figure for his setting of this lament. Massimo Ossi has shown the poem to be in the ‘strophic canzonetta’ form associated with Gabrielo Chiabrera, with stanzas composed of four alternating seven and six syllables lines followed by a rhymed couplet refrain. However, in contrast to Chiabrera’s convivial and amatory verse, Rinuccini’s canzonetta is a dramatic narrative, set as a dialogue between a forsaken nymph and a trio of observers. Monteverdi modifies Rinuccini’s poem considerably: the words of the nymph are set apart, framed by trios for male voices, and the refrain, rather than occurring after each stanza, is used to punctuate and comment on the nymph’s plaint. Monteverdi also provides performance directions with respect to tempo: the opening and closing trios are to be sung according to the beat of the hand, i.e., in a steady tempo, while the lament itself is to be sung ‘according to the affections of the soul and not to the beat of the hand,’ suggesting that the tempo and pacing of the lament are to follow the rhetorical and emotional nuances of the nymph’s complaint.

Rinuccini originally wrote Volgendo il ciel, a pair of sonnets, one tailed, one regular, in honor of Henri IV of France. In the first sonnet­–it’s text modified for its new dedicatee and sung by a tenor with instrumental ritornelli–the poet sings of the new era of peace that will accompany the new Emperor and calling on the nymphs of the Danube to join their nimble feet in dance. The second sonnet, set a galliard-like ballo for five voices with violins, repeats the final four lines of the first as its first quatrain and continues in the same spirit, extolling the beauty of nature and their reflection in the exalted honor of the Emperor. Between the quatrains and sestet, Monteverdi suggests that “a canario, passo o mezzo or some other balletto” be performed and we will oblige with the Balletto Primo of Biagio Marini, a virtuoso violinist and composer who worked in Venice as well as many other courts in Europe over the course of his long career.

Favored by the Muses: the Florentine Poet Ottavio Rinuccini

January 10th, 2012 No comments

Four of the poems set by Monteverdi in his Madrigals of War and Love are by Ottavio Rinuccini, a poet at the Medici court in Florence and the author of the first opera libretti. Closely connected with staged entertainments throughout his career, Rinuccini’s earliest poetry was written for the wedding festivities of Francesco de’ Medici and Bianca Cappello in 1579.  He a member of the Accademia Fiorentina and of the Alterati, where he was known under the sobriquet of Il sonnacchioso.  Rinuccini provided texts for the famous intermedi at the performance of La pellegrina at the wedding of Ferdinand I de’ Medici and Christine de Lorraine in 1589 and later wrote the libretto for Jacopo Peri’s Dafne in 1597.

His most historically noteworthy work though was Euridice, his re-telling of the Orpheus legend that was set by both Peri and Giulio Caccini in 1600 that are considered the first operas. No less important was his libretto for Monteverdi’s second opera, Arianna. The score for Arianna has not survived save for Arianna’s lament, which was published independently and became one of the best known and most often imitated works of the century. Rinuccini may have also been involved with Striggio’s libretto for Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo.

During his lifetime, Rinunccini was highly regarded, as his prominence in Monteverdi’s eighth book of madrigals alongside Petrarch, Tasso, Guarini and Marino attests.  But, as Iain Fenlon has observed, “were it not for his poetry set to music by Peri, Caccini and, particularly, Monteverdi, Rinuccini would have remained a minor Florentine poet of the late Cinquecento unlikely to be known outside a circle of specialists among historians of Italian literature. As it is the fact that he provided texts for the first Florentine attempts in the new genre of opera ensures him a worthy place in the history of music.”

In the early days of opera, the librettist enjoyed at least equal credit with the composer for the creation of the new art form, and the significance of Rinunccini’s is reflected in Filippo Vitali’s preface to his Aretusa of 1620:

“This manner of singing can rightly be called novel, for it was born not so long ago in Florence as the noble brainchild of Sig. Ottavio Rinuccini. He, being especially favored by the Muses, and endowed with a unique talent in the expression of the emotions, wished to use song to increase the power of his poems and yet not allow the song to diminish this power. And trying, with Sig. Jacopo Corsi, a great connoisseur of music, to see what could be done to ensure not only that the music does not prevent one from catching the words, but more, that it helps bring out more clearly their meaning and their representative intent, he asked Sig. Jacopo Peri and Sig. Giulio Caccini, excellent masters in the art of song and counterpoint, to come to his aid. They debated to such good effect that they became convinced they had found the way to bring it off -and they were not mistaken.”

While in his dedicatory preface to the published libretto of Euridice and elsewhere, Rinuccini claimed to be reviving ancient dramatic poetry for his drammi in musica.

It has been the opinion of many that the ancient Greeks and Romans, in representing their tragedies upon the stage, sang them throughout. But until now this noble manner of recitation has been neither revived nor (to my knowledge) even attempted by anyone, and I used to believe that this was due to the imperfection of the modern music, by far inferior to the ancient. But the opinion thus formed was wholly driven from my mind by Messer Jacopo Peri, who, hearing of the intention of Signor Jacopo Corsi and myself, set to music with so much grace the fable of Dafne (which I had written solely to make a simple trial of what the music of our age could do) that it gave pleasure beyond belief to the the few who heard it.

While his libretti reflect Classical structures and themes, as a poet, Rinuccini adopts traditional models derived from Petrarch, as well as contemporary authors such as the Mannerist Gabriele Fiamma and Torquato Tasso and the pastorale poetry popular at the turn of the 17th century. In her article surveying Rinuccini’s Mascherate and their relationship to the operatic libretto, Francesca Chiarelli remarks on the poet’s “harmonious flow of the syntax into the metric frame; the ordering of words that preserves their logical function; the sense of musicality that permeates his verse are all proof of Rinuccini’s craftsmanship, if not of true poetry.” After his death in 1621, fellow poet and librettist Gabielo Chiabrera praised  Rinuccini’s “sonorous versification” and noted his many followers and, indeed, many of Rinuccini’s solutions to the problems of writing dramatic narrative to be set to music, notably his use of unrhymed versi sciolti for recitative and more structured, strophic verse for arias, established important principles for later libretti.

Magnificat will perform three works with texts by Rinuccini at the Bloomington Early Music Festival on September 10 2011 and on our series on the weekend of February 17-19 2012Volgendo il ciel, the Lamento della Ninfa and Il Ballo delle Ingrate.

San Jose Mercury News Review: Magnificat celebrates holiday and its 20th anniversary with Schütz’s ‘Christmas Story’

December 19th, 2011 No comments

This review was posted at the San Jose Mercury News on December 17 2011.

Everything but the sermon.

Other than that, it’s the full package this weekend as the Magnificat Baroque Ensemble re-creates Christmas Vespers at the Dresden Court Chapel circa 1660. Friday’s rendering in Palo Alto was a gleeful holiday present for early-music lovers, unleashing sounds of sackbut and curtal (distant relatives of trombone and bassoon), while bringing forth German composer Heinrich Schütz’s “Christmas Story,” a setting of the Gospel narrative.

Schütz’s wondrous piece — quasi-operatic — was the centerpiece not only of the court’s service back in 1660; it also was the centerpiece of a 1992 program by Magnificat, during its inaugural season in the Bay Area. And just as Warren Stewart, the group’s artistic director, conducted the performance in 1992, he led it Friday. He was surrounded onstage at First United Methodist Church by 13 instrumentalists and eight singers, including bright-voiced German tenor Martin Hummel, passionately singing the role of the Evangelist, as he did in 1992. Read more…

San Francisco Examiner Review: The seventeenth-century Christmas service at St. Mark’s

December 19th, 2011 No comments

This review was posted at the San Francisco Examiner on December 19 2011.

The San Francisco Early Music Society and Warren Stewart’s Magnificat combined forces this season to reconstruct a Christmas Vespers service, as it would have been given in the Dresden Court Chapel of 1660.  This production was given its San Francisco performance last night at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.  The Lesson for such a service would have been an account of the Nativity from one of the Gospels.  Music for the service would have been the responsibility of the Kapellmeister to the Elector of Saxony, at that time Johann Georg I.  That Kapellmeister in 1660 was Heinrich Schütz.

Thus, the major work at last night’s performance was a setting of Nativity texts in what was probably one of the earliest forms of oratorio.  This involved music for both a chorus and soloists, with the soloists corresponding to the characters of the narrative along with an “Evangelist” narrator, with instrumental accompaniment.  For the libretto for this narrative, Schütz drew upon two of the Gospels:  Luke (primarily the first 21 verses of the second chapter) and Matthew (the first 23 verses of the second chapter).  In addition to the Evangelist, the characters consisted of an angel, the shepherds in the field, the three wise men, Herod, and his high priests. Read more…

2001-2002: Magnificat’s Tenth Season

December 8th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat celebrated it’s tenth season with a mix of old and new programs that included two of the composers featured in the 20th anniversary season this year: Heinrich Schütz and Claudio Monteverdi. The season also saw the release of our first two recordings of the Chiara Margarita Cozzolani’s music and two more weeks of recording sessions. Magnificat also made another appearance at the biennial Berkeley Festival and Exhibition.

A week of Cozzolani recordings in August preceded the regular season, which began in September with a program devoted to an excellent but under-performed composer, Johann Hermann Schein, one of Bach’s predecessors as cantor at Thomas Kirche in Leipzig. Already in Magnificat’s first season, Magnificat had included Schein’s striking setting of the Vater unser as part of our December concerts and individual works by the composer had made their way into program on other occasions. The release of a recording of Schein’s Banchetto Musicale in 2000 by the Sex Chordæ Consort of Viols led to plans for a joint program of the composer’s consort music and vocal works.

Instrumental works included three of the suites from Banchetto musicale(1617) and two Intradas from Venus Kräntzlein (1609.) The bulk of the vocal works were drawn from Schein’s motet collection Opella nova (1628,) with secular lieder from Diletto pastorali (1624) and Musica boscareccia (1628.) One of the joys of Magnificat has been programs like these when we have had the opportunity to explore music that is seldom if ever performed and give our audiences the rare chance to hear it.

In December, Magnificat marked the tenth anniversary season with a revival of Schütz’s Weihnachtshistorie, or Christmas Story, which, of course is filling the same celebratory role in our 20th anniversary season this year. It was a pleasure to welcome Martin Hummel back in the role of the Evangelist and to work once again with the early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse. The program was nearly identical to the program in 1992, with a psalm and Magnificat by Schütz and works from Schütz’s colleagues filling in the other parts of the liturgy.

Coinciding with the first of the Schütz’s performances was the release of Magnificat’s first recordings of Cozzolani’s music, Vespro della Beata Vergine. Another week of recordings in January ended with our next series concert which featured Cozzolani’s setting of the Mass ordinary that concludes her 1642 collection Concerti sacri. The program was built around the liturgy for the Feast of Purification and included the motets O Maria tu dulcis, Tu dulcis, o bone Iesu, O quam bonum, o quam iocundum, O dulcis Iesu, and Psallite superi.

Magnificat’s regular season ended with a selection of madrigals from Monteverdi’s Eight Book, published in 1619. Nine of Monteverdi’s madrigals were performed along with two instrumental works by Monteverdi’s colleague in Mantua Salamone Rossi. The program, and the regular season, ended with the ballo Tirsi e Clori, which had been featured in Magnificat’s first program in 1992.

But the season wasn’t really over, later in April, Magnificat performed another program of music by Cozzolani in two very different venues. The first was at the Carmel Mission in a concert presented by the Carmel Bach Festival, and the second was a self-produced concert at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church in Petaluma. The program was built around the vespers liturgy for the feast of Cozzolani’s convent’s patron saint, St. Radegonda.

Cozzolani at the Berkeley Festival 2002

Magnificat’s final performance of the season occurred at the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition and also coincided with the release of our second Cozzolani CD, Messa Paschale, which showcased the mass we had performed in February. For the Festival, Magnificat performed a program built around the liturgy for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

During the course of the season, Artistic Director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker, Edward Betts, Meg Bragle, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Suzanne Elder-Wallace , Jennifer Ellis, Ruth and Steve Escher, Ken Fitch, Andrea Fullington, Richard Van Hessel, Martin Hummel, Yayoi Isaacson, Julie Jeffrey, Joyce Johnson-Hamilton, Linda Liebschutz, Matthias Maute, Marc Molomot, Herb Myers, Hanneke van Proosdij, Deborah Rentz-Moore, Katherine Shao, Sandy Stadtfeld, David Tayler, Lynn Tetenbaum, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

Italians in Dresden – The Musical Ensemble at the Court of Johann Georg II

December 8th, 2011 No comments

When Schütz was first engaged as Kappelmeister by the Elector of Saxony, Johann Georg I, the court in Dresden boasted one of the finest musical establishments north of the Alps. After Saxony’s disastrous decision in 1627 to enter the then decade-old conflict  now known as The Thirty Years War, this once glorious musical establishment was decimated, and Schütz spent a considerable amount of time away from Dresden – notably in Venice and Copenhagen. After the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 matters improved and the Elector was again able to devote resources to music.

Significantly, the Elector’s son, who would become Johann Georg II, created his own musical ensemble, parallel to his father’s, that reflected his musical tastes – and those those tastes were decidedly Italianate. Johann Georg II was strongly influenced in his musical tastes by his father’s Kappelmeister, particularly after Schütz’s visit to Venice in 1629. Already in the 1640s, he had begun recruiting Italian musicians for his nascent ensemble – often unscrupulously luring them away from other German courts creating some political difficulties for his father. He also sent agents to Venice, Rome and other Italian cities to scout out potential talent.

For the first years of the 1650s, the two ensembles co-existed but after the death of Johann Georg I in 1655 they were merged and formed, with as many as 50 musicians, the most elaborate musical ensemble in Northern Europe. Though he was still listed as one of the Kappelmeisteren of the merged ensemble, Schütz essentially retired at this time and the duties of leading and composing for the ensemble passed to a series of Italians: Giovanni Bontempi, Vincenzo Albrici, Giuseppe Peranda, and later Carlo Pallavicino and Sebastian Cherici.

Unlike other rulers of Lutheran states in Germany that imported musicians from Catholic Italy, Johann Georg II did not require Italian musicians to convert to Lutheranism a condition of employment. He also turned a blind eye to their attendance at the celebration of Mass at the residences of diplomats from Paris and Vienna, which was forbidden by law in Saxony. This contributed to doubts about the Prince’s commitment to the Reformed Church and speculation about the possibility of his conversion to Catholicism – speculation that proved to be baseless. The Prince was well aware of the social and political upheaval his conversion would cause and while there was encouragement from some of his Catholic allies, it seems to have never been serious option for him. He just wanted to hear the best musicians at Vespers and Mass and to his taste the best musicians were to be found in Italy.

The roster of musicians, especially singers, was also dominated by Italians, who were all paid three or four times as much as the German musicians – for far less work. Generally the Italians were required for Sundays, Feasts like Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and for special events – all situations calling for complex, figural music. Generally, these were services in which the Elector was in attendance. But morning and evening services took place every day in the chapel and the German musicians were required to provide the more humble music required at these services.

Needless to say this led to some hard feelings, most notably the departure of Christoph Bernhard, a noted pupil of Schütz, who labored as Vice-Kappelmeister in charge of the daily services for years. In 1663, when Albrici left Dresden to serve at the court of King Charles II in London, the Elector once again passed over Bernhard, despite his seniority, his demonstrated ability to write in the Italian style, and his long history at court and appointed Peranda as Kappelmaister. The disappointed Bernhard sought a position elsewhere and was appointed cantor in Hamburg, though he eventually returned to Dresden later in the decade.

When Johann Georg died in 1680, his son and successor Johann Georg III wasted little time in disassembling his father’s opulent – and extremely expensive – ensemble. All debts and obligations to the Italian musicians were settled and they were released from service. Bernhard was finally elevated to the status of Kappelmeister but now with only a shell of the previous magnificent ensemble. A large part of the court repertoire – the music composed by the Italians that could no longer be performed with the reduced ensemble – was given to the city music ensemble in the Saxon town of Schneeberg. No trace of this music survives today and the only examples of the repertoire of the court under Johann Georg II that do survive are various manuscript copies, notably those made by organist Gustav Düben and preserved in the library at Uppsala University in Sweden. It is from this collection that we have both Schütz’s Christmas Story and Albrici’s setting of the psalm Lætatus sum, which Magnificat will perform next week.

Schütz’s Christmas Story

December 7th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat performs Schütz’s Christmas Story and other music from the Dresden Court the weekend of December 16-18. Tickets are available here.

In what has become a decennial tradition, Magnificat will perform Schütz’s Weihnachtshistorie (Christmas Story) in the context of a Christmas Vespers from the Electoral Court Chapel of Saxony in Dresden. Schütz’s masterpiece served as the Gospel reading in the Dresden liturgy and in 1992 and 2001, settings of the remaining texts in the liturgy (the psalm, Magnificat, Vater unser, etc.) were drawn from other works by Schütz and colleagues from earlier in his carrier in Dresden, namely Michael Praetorius, Johann Hermann Schein, and Samuel Scheidt – all music from the first half of the 17th Century. For this season’s incarnation of Christmas Vespers ina co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society, Magnificat will focus on the music in fashion in Dresden in 1660, when Schütz wrote the Weihnachtshistorie. In creating this program, we have been fortunate to have the assistance of Magnificat Artistic Advisory Board member Mary Frandsen, professor of musicology at Notre Dame University, whose 2006 book Crossing Confessional Boundaries, explored musical patronage in Dresden under Johann Georg II.

Fresh from his studies in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli, Heinrich Schütz was named  Kappelmeister to the Elector of Saxony in Dresden in 1617, the year in which the centennial of the Protestant Reformation was celebrated throughout Lutheran Germany. By the time he wrote the central work on our program published in 1664 as Historia, der freuden- und Gnadenreichen Geburth Gottes und Marien Sohnes Jesu Christi, Unsers Einigen Mitlers Erlösers und Seligmachers, commonly referred to as Weihnachtshistorie, or Christmas Story, Schütz was one of the few members of his generation surviving to remember those celebrations.

Saxony, along with the rest of northern Europe, was finally beginning to recover from the economic and social devastation of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).  As always resources had been devoted to weapons instead of people and for many years during the war musicians in the court musical ensemble were paid only occasionally.  In a letter written in 1651, Schütz described “the very great lamentation, distress, and wailing of the entire company of poor, deserted relatives of the singers and instrumentalists, who live in such misery that it would move even a stone in the earth to pity.”

Johann Georg II, Elector of Saxony in 1658The situation changed significantly in the 1650s, particularly with the ascent of Johann Georg II in 1656. While there was some concern among church authorities about his allegiance to the Lutheran confession, Johann Georg II was quite devoted to spiritual matters and to the support of the arts, and the new Elector lavished huge sums from the court treasury on an opulent musical ensemble. Some of the finest Italian singers were appointed and the instrumental ensemble was expanded to become one of the finest musical establishments in Europe.

It was with this magnificent ensemble in mind that Schütz composed his setting of the Christmas narrative, based on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The trend toward the dramatization of Vespers readings was already under way by the time Schütz wrote theChristmas Story, as for example in a similar work composed in the 1650s by his colleague Peranda, but Schütz was the first to use such a diverse orchestra to depict the characters in the story. The use of operatic recitative style for the Evangelist’s narrative was also innovative and reflected a theological trend toward the personalization of liturgy in an effort to communicate directly to the emotions of the congregation.

In developing a liturgy for the reformed church, Luther and his followers retained the Matins and Vespers services from the daily Divine Office of the pre-Reformation church, adapting their content to suit the new theology. The basic structure of Vespers remained in an abbreviated form, along with many of the Gregorian melodies and recitation formulæ, but the congregation was involved directly through the singing of chorales and the use of German along with Latin. The inclusion of chorales, the addition of a sermon, and the expansion of the lesson to include large sections of scripture recited in German served to shift the emphasis of the Vespers service away from prayer and meditation and toward the education and spiritual edification of the congregation.

Though Luther established a basic structure of worship, the details of liturgy and ritual were left largely to the discretion  of local authority. Upon his ascension to the Electorate in 1656, Johann Georg II established a revised liturgy for the Dresden Court Chapel and this, together with diary entries from the court secretaries has provided considerable detail in determining the structure of worship in Dresden and the specific entry for Christmas 1660 has provided the framework and many of the musical elements of Magnificat’s program.

2000-2001: Magnificat’s Ninth Season

November 26th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s ninth Season began earlier than usual with a week of recordings at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Belvedere in August. All the works by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani that Magnificat had performed on the San Francisco Early Music Society series the previous December were recorded plus two new psalms and a motet, Maria Magdalene stabat. The sessions ended with a performance for a small invited audience. The sessions were such a success that the decision was made for Musica Omnia to release not merely a Vespers CD but to undertake a project to record Cozzolani’s complete works and another week of recordings were planned for January.

The season officially opened in September with a program devoted to settings of texts from the Song of Songs, a rich source for composers throughout the 17th century. While Magnificat’s program most often are focused on a single composer, style, or historical event, this program, entitled “Sonnet vox tua in auribus meis,” featured settings in a variety of genres and from several composers. After an opening motet from Palestrina’s fourth book of motets for 5 voices, the program was divided into four “chapters,” each beginning with one of the four “seasons” of Charpentier’s soprano duet Quatour anni tempestes.

The “Spring” set included Monteverdi’s Nigra sum from the 1610 Vespers and a five voice motet by Orfeo Vecchi. “Summer” featured Grandi’s alto motet Quam pulchra es and another motet from Palestrina, Descendi in hortum nucum. Monteverdi’s motet O quam pulchra opened the second half of the program followed by “Autumn” and a setting of Vulnerasti cor meum by Alba Tressina and Schütz’s Ego dormio. “Winter” included Carissimi’s Anima-Corpo dialogue Tolle sponsa and a remarkable dialogue by Domenico Mazzochi. The program cover featured the altar artwork from St. Gregory Nyssen Episcopal church in San Francisco.

The December concerts explored an almost completely forgotten repertoire. Beginning in the 1670s the Vatican began commissioning a new musical work each year to be performed between vespers and the Christmas Eve feast.  The tradition continued well into the 18th century, with many eminent composers receiving the commissions including both Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Porpora, Gasparini, and Caldara. Only two of the twenty four cantatas written before 1700 have survived and the music for both was written by Giuseppe Pacieri. Born in Trevi near Perugia, Pacieri took holy orders before succeeding Francesco Cardarelli as organist of the Santa Casa in Loreto in 1670, where he remained until 1679.  He entered the service of Cardinal Cibo in Rome by 1682, and it is most likely this connection that brought him six Cristmas Eve commissions. Il Trionfo dell’ Amor Divino was written for Christmas Eve in 1687 and was performed again in 1692 at St. Ursula in Vienna and it is thanks to this second performance that the work survives, since the only extant score is to be found in Vienna. The elegantly bound manuscript produced as a presentation copy to accompany the performance was used as the basis for Magnificat’s performing edition in what was certainly a modern premiere.

Il Triojnfo dell’ Amor Divino is an allegorical discussion of the significance of Christ’s birth, with singers representing Divine Love, Faith, Humanity, Idolatry, and Hell.  Divine Love reassures Humanity that with the aid of her trusted friend Faith, she will withstand the tyranny of the infidel and eternal damnation. Stylistically, Pacieri’s cantata falls somewhere between the Roman style of Marazzoli and the Neapolitan operatic style of Scarlatti.

The second week of Cozzolani recordings took place in January of 2001, coordinated with the repertoire for concerts in February. The remaining psalms and the second Magnificat from the composer’s 1650 collection Salmi a Otto voci concertati were included in a program built around Vespers for the Feast of Purification.

The program for the February concerts featured artwork by Ronald Chase that would be used for the first two Cozzolani releases. After trying out several ideas with Ronald in his studio, I noticed several framed flowers on on his wall. At first I assumed that they were paintings and was surprised to find out that they were in fact photographs that had been manipulated with a thoroughly “historical” device – a “xerox” machine! The works are described in this article and a gallery of Ronald’s flowers can be viewed here.

The season ended with two divertissements by Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Actéon and Les Arts florissants,  written during the 1680s, while Charpentier was employed in the household of Marie de Lorraine, called Mademoiselle de Guise. Both works fit into the loosely-defined genre of the divertissement, a term used in 17th Century France to refer to a wide range of musical works, from interludes in comedie-ballets and tragedie-lyriques, as well as entertainments that resembled the English masque. Some divertissements, like Actéon, were short independent operas on mythological subjects. Others, like Les Arts Florissants relate more specifically to the pastorale, originally a literary genre that, over the course of the 17th century began to incorporate music and ballet in the manner of opera.

The brochure for the season featured the image for the Star from a 17th Century Tarot deck. This deck also provided the “cats” found on many Magnificat brochures and programs.

Over the course of the season, Artistic Director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker, Meg Bragle, Louise Carslake, Elijah Kenn Chester, Karen Clark, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jennifer Ellis, Ruth Escher, Ken Fitch, Andrea Fullington, Julie Jeffrey, Jennifer Lane, Karen Marie Marmor, Mathias Maute, Marc Molomot, Judith Nelson, Deborah Rentz-Moore, Jörg-Michael Schwartz, Katherine Shao, Mary Springfels, David Tayler, Hanneke van Proosdij, Jolianne von Einem, Suzanne Elder Wallace, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

SFCV Review: Magnificat’s Moving Oratorios and Motets

November 16th, 2011 No comments

The following review was posted at San Francisco Classical Voice on November 15, 2011.

One of the nice things about an ensemble like Warren Stewart’s Magnificat, which I heard Saturday at St. Mark’s Church in Berkeley, is that having a flexible roster of musicians enables it to match itself to the needs of the music at hand. Giacomo Carissimi’s 1650 oratorio, Jephte, which Magnificat performed, has been a particular victim of the tendency to recast early music into the Romantic mode of grand works: adding wholesale orchestrations and lush vibrating string parts to this work for continuo and soloists. Composer Hans Werner Henze once managed to work in parts for tom-tom, boo-bam, banjo, marimba, glockenspiel, trumpets, and four flutes when commissioned to orchestrate it for a London Bach choir.

So it was a relief to hear Magnificat perform the work in a manner the composer may have recognized and, not surprisingly, at the ensemble’s usual high standard. I might fault Magnificat for going too far in the other direction: performing the work’s choruses by soloists. Still, by virtue of attracting the right solo voices, Magnificat achieved a moving choral effect. The beauty of Jephte’s concluding chorus, one of the great choruses of all time, is the reason the work remains marginally familiar. The biblical Jephta story is essentially the same as the Greek Idomeneo story: The hero makes a vow to God that if he is victorious on his quest he will sacrifice the first person he sees when he returns. In Jephta’s case it’s his daughter, thus providing an opportunity for expressive sad music. The masterwork was clearly known to another great Baroque composer. In addition to writing an excellent Jephtha oratorio 100 years after Carissimi, Handel found it fitting to appropriate Carissimi’s choruses in some of his other oratorios, especially when he needed choruses for Jews in various forms of bondage. Read more…

1999-2000: Magnificat’s Eighth Season

November 3rd, 2011 No comments

Spanning the turn of the millenium, Magnificat’s eighth season featured a variety of styles and included a staged production of Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, choreographed performances of two Monteverdi madrigali rappresentativi and a Mass by Frescobaldi. It also included Magnificat’s first encounter with the astonishing music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani that set in motion a decade-long project of performing and recording her complete works.

There are only two singing roles in Pergolesi’s comic intermezzo a willful and beguiling servant Serpina (sung by Jennifer Ellis in Magnificat’s production) and her bumbling master Uberto (sung by David Newman), whom she  tricks into marriage. But this performance also featured Paul Del Bene in the silent role of Volpone, Uberto’s manservant, and his acrobatic hijinks contributed hilariously to the performances that the San Francisco Classical Voice described as a “refreshing blend of silliness, song, and somersaults.” The program included three instrumental works of Pergolesi: a violin concerto that featured Rob Diggins as soloist, the Sinfonia from the opera Lo frate innamorato that served as an overture and a sonata for violin with obbligato cello.

Four the sixth time in eight years Magnificat was invited to appear on the San Francisco Early Music Society series and these performances had a significant impact on Magnificat in the decade that was about to begin. Artistic Director Warren Stewart had been introduced to the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani by soprano Judith Nelson while they were performing at the Bamboo Organ Festival in Las Piñas in The Philippines. Impressed by the overtly sensuous text and passionately expressive harmonic language, Stewart set about assembling an ensemble of eight female voices and continuo to perform a Christmas Vespers.

Following the monastic liturgy for the second vespers of Christmas, the program included four of Cozzolani’s psalm settings (Dixit Dominus, Confitebor tibi, Beatus vir and Laudate pueri) and the first of her two Magnificat setting. In addition five motets (Ecce annuntio vobisBone Jesu fons amoris, Quis audivit unquam tale, Gloria in altissimis, and the extraordinary O quam bonus es) served as proper substitutes.

The chemistry among the eight women was exceptional and the audience response overwhelming and Magnificat was approached by Musica Omnia, a new recording label based in Boston, about the possibility of recording the music. It was only after the tremedous success of the first recording sessions in August 2000 that the plan to record Cozzolani’s complete works was hatched. Notably these concerts marked the Magnificat debut of soprano Catherine Webster, who, together with Jennifer Ellis (later Kampani,) were to become so essential to Magnificat’s sound over the next decade.

Magnificat’s next program featured eight male singers in a reconstruction of Mass for the feast of purification built around Frescobaldi’s rarely performed Missa sopra la Monica, which draws much of its melodic material from the popular tune “La Monica.”  The familiar tune (made famous in the film “Tous les Matins du Monde”) served as basis of countless sets of variations for lute, guitar, and keyboard instruments throughout the seventeenth century. Frescobaldi himself composed two sets of variations on the theme for harpsichord. The mass was preceded by an elaborate processional ceremony involving candles and included several instrumental works and a motet by Frescobaldi and concluded with a setting of the Nunc dimitis by Palestrina.

For the final program of the season, Magnificat once again turned to Monteverdi in a program that featured staged and choreographed performances of two works from the Eight Book of Madrigals, the Madrigals of War and Love. Elijah Chester revived his role as Testo in the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Jennifer Ellis sang the madrigal Chi vol haver felice e lieto il core and Randall Wong and Judith Nelson sang Armato il cor. For the Ballo della Ingrate, Magnificat was joined by Mark Franko’s dance troupe NovAntiqua.Costumes were designed by Callie Flor.

In the spring of 2000, Susan Harvey resigned as co-artistic director and is now on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and active as a performer in the Bay Area. Over the course of her last season with Magnificat, she and Warren Stewart directed ensembles that included Cristina Aguirre, Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker,Meg Bragle, Susan Burke, Zachary Carretin, Elijah Kenn Chester, Karen Clark, Stephen Cresswell, Daria D’Andrea, Mark Daniel, Hugh Davies, Paul Del Bene, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Stve Escher, Ken Fitch, Mark Franko, Andrea Fullington, Boyd Jarrell, Suzanne Elder-Wallace, Jennifer Ellis, Carla Moore,Herb Myers, Juliet Neidish, Judith Nelson, David Newman, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Leslie Streit, David Tayler, Catherine WebsterScott Whitaker, David Wilson, and Randall Wong.

Carissimi’s Roman Colleagues

November 3rd, 2011 No comments

In addition to four vocal works by Carissimi, Magnificat’s November program will include three instrumental compositions by composers active in Rome during Carissimi’s lifetime: keyboard works by Michelangelo Rossi and Girolamo Frescobaldi, and a toccata for theorbo by Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger. All three were among the finest virtuosi active in Rome during the first half of the 17th century and it is certain that their paths crossed with Carissimi after his arrival in 1629.

Michelangelo Rossi

A remarkably versatile musician, Michelangelo Rossi held prominent positions as a composer, violinist, organist, and most likely also as a singer. Rossi was most famous during his lifetime as a virtuoso violinist (in pay records in Savoy he is often referred to as “Michelangelo il Violino”,) though no examples of his music for that instrument survive. Born into a musical family in Genoa, Rossi moved to Rome by 1624 and entered the service of Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy, where he worked with Sigismondo d’India, whose influence on Rossi’s vocal music is striking. During this period he also encountered Frescobaldi, with whom he may have studied.

Rossi published two books of madrigals and his opera Erminia sul Giordano with a libretto by Giulio Rospigliosi (who later became Pope Clement IX) based on Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata was performed in the theater of the Palazzo Barberini at Carnival 1633. A second opera, Andromeda was produced in Ferrara in 1638. Our program includes Rossi’s Toccata Settima from his collection Toccate e Correnti d’Intavolatura d’Organo e Cimbalo, published posthumously by Ricarii in Rome in 1657. It’s highly chromatic language and mannerist style is similar to that of Frescobaldi and Froberger.

Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger

Widely recognized a the finest lute virtuoso of his time, Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger, was the son of an Austrian Colonel stationed in Venice and spent his entire life in Italy. In 1604, at the age of 24, he published his Libro primo d’intavolatura di Chitarrone, from which the Toccata Arpeggiata on our program is drawn. In 1605 the young “Alemanno nobile” went to Rome, where he entered papal service, and by 1610 he had begun a prolific series of publications in a variety of genres.

In 1624 Kapsberger entered the service of Cardinal Barberini, one of the most important centers of arts and science in Europe in the early Baroque period. He also became close to Galileo Galilei, who also frequented the Barberini household, and he performed concerts with Frescobaldi and Stefano Landi, who also served the Barberinis at the same time. He remained in the service of the Barberini until 1646.

Girolamo Frescobaldi

Most familiar to modern audiences, Girolamo Frescobaldi was one of the most highly respected performers and composers of the first half of the seventeenth century. A student of the great Luzzaschi in Ferrara, Frescobaldi was elected to the position of organist at the basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome in 1608, at the age of 25. He remained associated with St. Peter’s for the rest of his life, and, while his official duties as organist did not require composing, it seems likely that many of his sacred works that survive were in fact written for St. Peter’s.

The writer Giustiniani commented in the 1620s that “for Organ and Harpsichord, Frescobaldi of Ferrara carries off all the honors, both in his skill and in the agility of his hands.” His compositions for keyboard influenced not only his contemporaries but composers well into the 18th century, including Buxtehude and Bach. Today, his fame rests almost entirely on his keyboard music, but he also composed a significant body of sacred and secular vocal music including two double-choir settings of the mass ordinary, several books of madrigals and numerous sacred motets. Our program includes a Canzon from Frescobaldi first publication, the Ricercari, et canzone of 1615.

The Most Excellent Iacomo Carissimi

November 1st, 2011 1 comment

“The most excellent Iacomo Carissimi, a composer of great fame, most worthy maestro di cappella of the Church of S Apollinare of the German College for a period of many years, outshines others in originality and in case of compositional style, moving the spirits of the listeners into many moods; for his compositions are full of life and vivacity of spirit.”

Writing in 1650 in his widely circulated tome Musurgia Universalis, Athanasius Kircher was unreserved in his praise for his fellow Jesuit Iacomo Carissimi and drew on many of the master’s works to exemplify the use of music to express emotion and touch the affections of an audience. His reputation as a composer and teacher was promoted by the singers he worked with and his many students, most notably Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Händel famously plagiarized some of Carissimi’s works and Charles Burney, writing over a century after the composer’s death, devoted more space to Carissimi in his General History of Music than to any other composer of the 17th century.

The son of a barrel-maker, Carissimi’s exact birth date is unknown, but it was probably in 1604 or 1605 in Marino, near Rome where he was baptized on April 18, 1605. Little is known of his life before he is listed as a singer at Tivoli in 1623. Two years later he was organist there. His first appointment as maestro di cappella came in 1627 at the S. Rufino Cathedral in Assisi. The following year he was called on by Bernardino Castorio in Rome to fill the post of maestro di cappella at the German College there, a prestigious post in which Victoria and Agazzari had served earlier. Carissimi spent the rest of his life at the college and he was ordained to the priesthood in 1637. His responsibilities included training the choirs and providing liturgical music for the adjoining S. Apollinare chapel.  His official salary of 5 scudi (in 1634) probably reflects only a fraction of his actual income. In 1655-56 he was given the title maestro di cappella del concerto di camera by Christina, the Queen of Sweden in exile in Rome.

During the 1650s he also composed and conducted for the Oratorio del S. Crocifisso. Among his prominent pupils were Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Johann Kaspar Kerll, Christoph Bemhard, and possibly also Johann Philipp Krieger. That he was in a comfortable situation, both financially and professionally, is suggested by his rejection of several opportunities for prestigious employment, including the post at St. Mark’s in Venice on Monteverdi’s death in 1643 and the position of maestro for the emperor’s son, Leopold Wilhelm of Brussels. Carissimi chose to remain in Rome, and after 44 years of service to the College he died a rich man.

The musical ensemble of the German College included around ten singers and enjoyed a richness of musical activity rare even in Rome. Outside musicians often supplemented the capella for major feasts and the instrumental tradition was stronger than in almost all other churches in the city. Soon after its reestablishment, with a significant endowment, by Pope Gregory the XIII in 1573 the German College became a model for liturgical practice for Jesuit institutions throughout Europe. It was an exceptional case, blessed with both an enthusiasm for liturgy and the financial resources necessary to employ excellent musicians for liturgical adornment.

None of Carissimi’s was published during his lifetime, and the autograph manuscripts, which remained in the possession of the German College, all disappeared in the early eighteenth century.  The oratorios cannot be dated with certainty and all of their texts are anonymous but the works were held in such high esteem that manuscript copies were circulated throughout Europe, and in fact, more oratorios from Carissimi survive than from any of his contemporaries. A copy of Jephte exists in Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s hand (the title page is shown here.) Jephte was the most widely admired of Carissimi’s works, with over 25 complete scores extant, and 15 more fragments, most of which are the stunning final chorus.

Carissimi is best known today as a composer of oratorios and indeed his works for the Oratorio of S Crocifisso are among the finest dramatic music of the century. It is therefore somewhat surprising to learn that it was his secular cantatas, circulated in numerous manuscript copies that spread his fame throughout Europe. The term cantata, a loose designated for any vocal work with an Italian text, first appeared in a collection published by Alessandro Grandi shortly before 1620 in Venice but by the 1630s Rome had become the center of composition for this new genre. Some of Carissimi’s most dramatic writing is found in the setting of Domenico Benigni’s Suonerà l’ultima tromba, most likely written for performance at the noble house of the Barberini in the 1640s. The text warns of the impending last judgment. It incorporates several examples of word painting into a complex structure.

SFCV Review: Magnificat’s Ascent to Perfection

October 24th, 2011 No comments

The following review of Magnificat’s October 16 performance of Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers was posted at San Francisco Classical Voice on October 18.

I have long wished to hear a live performance of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Descent d’Orphée aux enfers. Several years ago, I even transcribed portions of the composer’s manuscript from a facsimile in the UC Berkeley library. If I could have chosen any Bay Area ensemble to perform the work, it would have been Warren Stewart’s early-music ensemble, Magnificat, which assembled an ideal cast for its performance Sunday at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco. I cannot imagine a more perfect rendition.

Charpentier’s work, dating from around 1686, is what would have been called a “masque” in equivalent English works of the period: something of a secular oratorio or expanded cantata for a small instrumental ensemble and eight soloists. It retells portions of the ancient Orpheus story, but stops before the usual climactic scene where Orpheus gives in to temptation and loses his wife for good. Because of this, there is speculation that La Descent was never finished. As it stands, Charpentier’s work came during the heyday of the classical French musical style essentially founded (and enforced) by the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, and predates the Italianizing influence of the early-18th-century French craze for cantatas. French musical style from this time is distinct from the more mainstream Italian and German styles forming the bulk of repertory of early-music ensembles.

Successful performances depend on assembling the rare musicians who “get” this style. With Magnificat, tenor Aaron Sheehan sang the title role of Orpheus with an exquisite tone perfectly matched to this repertory. French Baroque music requires a sort of nuanced singing that is less oriented toward large phrases and showmanship, though I doubt that Sheehan, who sang superbly, would have any difficulty in more legato music. His is the type of singing I aspire to.

Bass Peter Becker’s fine acting and full voice were perfectly suited to the role of Pluto. I have never heard him sound better. Sopranos Jennifer Ellis, Laura Heimes, and Clara Rottsolk sang with great beauty and clarity in each of their extended solos. I do not think I have ever heard a more memorable performance of a single note than Heimes’ pathos-laden “Ah.” Rounding out the cast with equal vocal deftness were tenor Daniel Hutchings, countertenor Andrew Rader, and bass Robert Stafford. Most important, all the soloists showed themselves to be first-rate ensemble singers (save Sheehan, whose role did not call for it). One’s ability to sing with a blendable tone and adapt one’s intonation and volume so that it matches other parts is of paramount importance in Baroque music, in which soloists also perform trios, duets, and full six-part choruses.

I have heard countless disappointing performances of works like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Bizet’sCarmen performed by expensive, international soloists who simply do not understand how to sing with a group. Instead of straight-tone, they require the ability to move between solo and ensemble textures, which for me is the characteristic quality of so-called early-music singers.

Inappropriate use of vibrato can wreck ensembles, but it usually indicates a deeper lack of musicality. Magnificat’s performers did not eliminate either vibrato or vocal maturity. Examplars were several performers on period instruments, such as violin leader David Wilson and gambist John Dornenberg, who frequently used vibrato to good effect. In the softer, more resonant, and blendable tone of period strings, well-paced vibrato can work.

Although he is most distinguished by his ear for choosing the right performers, Stewart conducted his crew from memory and without a score, and was in complete control of the ensemble. The intermissionless concert lasted barely an hour, and Stewart wisely did not program a first half. I had the impression that this gave his fine musicians ample time in rehearsal to reach an outstanding level of polish. Every bit of pacing and each detail was worked out to achieve its best dramatic impact.

Considering La Descent’s bloodless text, a plot that goes nowhere, the lack of special lighting or costumes, and the limited (and unstaged) forces of eight instrumentalists and eight singers, the success of Sunday’s concert challenges conventional notions about just what it takes for a dramatic work to be entertaining. I wish more people had turned out to hear this remarkable concert.

Thomas Busse, www.tbusse.com, is a professional tenor.

Magnificat’s 20th Season Opens with Charpentier

October 13th, 2011 No comments

New Time for Friday and Saturday Concerts – 7:30 pm

Magnificat’s 20th season opens this weekend with three performances of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers. A stellar cast is led by tenor Aaron Sheehan, making his Magnificat debut in the role of Orpheus. Aaron is joined by Laura Heimes (Euridice,) Jennifer Ellis Kampani (Proserpine,) Clara Rottsolk (Énone,) Andrew Rader (Ixion,) Daniel Hutchings (Tantale,) Peter Becker (Pluton,) and Robert Stafford (Apollon.) The instrumental ensemble includes David Wilson and Aaron Westman, violin; Vicki Boeckman and Louise Carslake, recorder; John Dornenburg, Julie Jeffrey and Lynn Tetebaum, viola da gamba; and Jillon Stoppels Dupree, harpsichord and organ.

Charpentier’s masterful setting of the Orpheus was performed once before on Magnificat’s series in 1997. Returning to the work has been a revelation for all – the subtlety of the harmonic language, the beauty of the poetry, the colorful instrumentation and the range of Charpentier’s emotion palette are on display throughout this brief masterpiece.

The concerts on Friday October 14 at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Palo Alto and Saturday October 15 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley will begin at 7:30 pm. The performance on Sunday October 16 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco will begin at 4:00 pm. Artistic Director Warren Stewart will give a lecture 45 minutes prior to each performance.

The program, with notes, texts and translations and bios is available for download here: PDF. Magnificat will be performing from an edition prepared by Charpentier scholar and member of our Artistic Advisory Board John Powell from the University of Tulsa. The score can be downloaded from Dr. Powell’s website.

Tickets are available at magnificatbaroque.tix.com, http://magnificat.eventbrite.com, http://magnificat.ticketleap.com and by phone at (800) 853-8155.

1998-99: Magnificat’s Seventh Season

September 28th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s seventh season included a full-scale puppet opera, another program of music by Buxtehude, a journey to the New World, and our second production of Monteverdi’s extraordinary Vespers of 1610.

The sold-out performances of the opera parody La Grandmére amoureuse in January 1998 prompted a search for other surviving puppet operas and we quickly began preparing a performance score of Jacopo Melani’s Il Girello. Written and first performed in 1668, Il Girello featured a libretto by Filippo Acciaiuoli in 1668 and a prologue by Alessandro Scarlatti. The opera was immensely successful and saw many revivals into a performance with life-size puppets in Venice in 1682. It was an obvious choice for a follow-up collaboration with the Carter Family Marionettes.

Neal Rogers, Judith Nelson, Randall Wong and Peter Becker perform "Il Girello"

In his review of one of the San Francisco performances, Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle aptly described Girello as “an unalloyed de light, a fluid blend of high and low art” and “a shameless crowd-pleaser.” Unique in the history of Magnificat’s concert series, the Girello production was extended to two weekends with five series performances and an additional concert presented by the Redwoods Arts Council in Occidental CA.

For the third season in a row, Magnificat was invited to perform the Christmas concert o0n the San Francisco Early Music Society series with another program devoted to the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. Like the program that opened Magnificat’s sixth season, the focus was on intimate chamber cantatas with a string band of two violins and two violas.

This was the first Magnificat production to be reviewed by the brand-new classical music website San Francisco Classical Voice. Anna Carol Dudley observed that “there was There is something felicitous about presenting an ensemble named Magnificat in a performance of Advent music.” Of course, while the notion of being “online” was still relatively new in 1998, SFCV went on to become a fixture for music-lovers in the Bay Area.

In January 1999, Magnificat ventured to the New World in a recreation the the festivities surrounding the Feast of Epiphany (oe Twelfth Night) in what is now called Jalisco Mexico.  In 1587, Fray Alonso Ponce, a colonial official was present at a fiesta on the Feast of the Epiphany, and described in considerable detail a play that was performed after Mass that was an annual tradition. For Magnificat’s “reconstruction,” imagined to be in the late 17th century, we used Spanish verses that had been handed down from the colonial period.

The play features many stock characters inherited from Spanish 17th-century theatre; the lazy, gluttonous Bartolo, the 200 year old, whip-cracking Ermitaño (Hermit) given to sudden displays of dancing, the uncouth Ranchero, and Bato, the managerial Everyman. The shepherd’s play, which was realized by members of the comedy troupe L.O.C.O.S. (Latinos or Chicanos or Something,) with Magnificat performing villancicos at several points. The music for the ordinary was Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla’s Missa “Ego flos campi” and the motet Hostes Herodes by Pablo de Escobar with chant drawn from the Graduale Domicale of Pedro Ocharte (1572.)

The season concluded with Magnificat’s second production of Monteverdi’s monumental Vespers of 1610. Returning to this collection of extraordinary music was a pleasure for all involved. For this production Magnificat incorporated Monteverdi’s psalms, motets and Magnificat into the liturgy for the Feast of Annunciation andalso included Alessandro Grandi’s motet Missus est Gabriel.

The first of the three concerts was at Stanford’s Memorial Church and a panel discussion on performance practice issues related to Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers was organized through the music departments of Stanford and UC Berkeley that included Jeffrey Kurtzman, Herb Myers, Doug Kirk, Ray Nurse and Warren Stewart.

In June 1999, Magnificat was invited by the Seattle Early Music Guild to present a revival of our 1998 production of La Grandmere amoureuse at two venues in Seattle. Once again we were joined by The Carter Family Marionettes, along with poultry from a Seattle Chinese market, and the response to the six performances was as enthusiastic as it had been in the Bay Area. The Seattle Times wrote:  “the singers sounded great, the actor-marionettes were a hoot, and the chamber musicians played well. But it was the live poultry that brought down the house.”

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Carlos Aguirre, Peter Becker, Jaime Bolaños, Melvin Butel, Chris and Stephen Carter, Bruce Chessé, Elijah Kenn Chester, Mark Daniel, Hugh Davies, Paul Del Bene, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Ruth and Steve Escher, Arturo Fernandez, Ken Fitch, Boyd Jarrell, Jeff Kabatznik, Jennifer Ellis, Doug Kirk, Susan Rode Morris, Herb Myers, Judith Nelson, Ray Nurse, Vicki Gunn Pich, Mack Ramsey, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Richard Savino, Sandy Stadtfeld, Bill Wahman, Scott Whitaker, David Wilson, and Randall Wong.

1997-98: Magnificat’s Sixth Season

September 19th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s sixth season expanded on repertoire and genres that we had explored in out first five seasons and included a program of chamber cantatas by Buxtehude, a revival of Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale, an Annunciation Vespers with music by Maurizio Cazzati and Giovanni Legrenzi and another opera pardoy – this times with puppets – and chickens!

The enthusiastic response to our performances of Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Iesu nostri in 1996 encouraged us to explore more of the composer’s music and we turned to the extensive repertoire for one, two and three voices with violins and continuo. Entitled “Searching for the Beloved,” the program was built around themes of longing and spiritual journey with several settings of texts drawn from the Song of Solomon: Ich habe lust abzuscheiden, Ich suchte des nachts in meinem Bett, Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe, Liebster, meine Seele saget, Wie soll ich dich empfange, Ich bin eine Blume zu Saron and Jesu meine Freude.

For the San Francisco Early Music Society Christmas concerts, we revived, and modified, our production of Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de nostre Seigneur – the Nativity Pastorale – that had been on our second series in 1993. It was our first opportunity to revisit music that we had performed before – a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all. We even toyed with the idea of making the work a regular holiday tradition to compete with the innumerable Messiah performances each December, but of course there was so much wonderful Christmas music from the 17th century left to explore that we settled for bringing this wonderful program back to life every few years.

Nothing Magnificat had presented before, even the Parodie de Telemacque in 1996 could have prepared our audiences for the next program – another vaudeville parody from the Parisian fair theatres, this time with puppets.  La grandmére amoureuse (“The Lusty Grandma”) was written by Louis Fuzelier and his collaborator Dorneval, was a parody of Atys, the tragédie en musique by Lully and Quinault, which was revived at the Opéra in the 1725-26 season. As she had for Temacque, Susan Harvey created a score from Fuzelier’s libretto, using the popular vaudevilles of the day along with some of Lully’s music. Susan has recently prepared a score of La grandmére amoureuse for A-R Editions.

The use of puppets was actually historical – restrictions on the number of singers and actors allowed that were imposed on the fair theatres by the authorities became so severe that they were forced to use puppets rather than live actors. Oboist Sand Dalton had mentioned a puppet troupe that he had seen in Seattle and put us in touch with the Carter Family Marionettes, whose offbeat (and often off-color) humor suited the spirit of Fuzelier’s irreverent parody perfectly.

In the original, after his beloved Sangaride has been transformed into a stream, Atys begs the goddess Cybèle to change him into a tree by the stream, so that he can remain near his lover. In the parody Sangaride is changed into a chicken and Atys boldly asks to be made a rooster for reasons obvious to the audience but Cybèle instead changes him to a capon. But how to stage this? On the suggestion of a friend who was chef, we purchased two live chickens in Chinatown with the intention of returning them (ineffectively explained to the owner of the market) but by the time we got home, the chickens had been named and there was no chance of them returning to the market. The stage transformation was accomplished with a puff of smoke and was the final touch in a most uproarious performance. (The chickens retired from the stage after the performances and lived out their free-range lives at Alison Harris’ family farm near Sebastopol.)

Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle observed that  “both the specifics of “Atys” and the absurdities of opera in general came in for ribbing. The traditional “sommeil” scene, for instance, an operatic staple in which a gentle lullaby soothes a character into a peaceful sleep, was replaced here by a fight between good and bad dreams — the latter represented by fierce demons armed with Bobbittesque scissors and cleavers.”

Prior to the puppet opera Joshua Kosman also wrote a preview that captured some of the spirit of the first years of Magnificat: “Magnificat Obsession / Musicologists put together a Baroque puppet show.”

The season ended somewhat more seriously with a Vespers for the Feast of Annunciation with music by Maurizio Cazzati, transcribed especially for Magnificat’s production and most likely most of the works received their modern premieres in these performances. The five psalms and Magnificat were drawn from Cazzati’s Messa e Salmi a quattro voci of 1653 and the sonatas used as antiphon substitutes were selected from Legrenzi’s Sonate op. 2  from 1655. In these concerts, Magnificat used all male voices for the first time, a distinctive format that we have employed on several occasions since and will again this December for our performances of Schütz’s Christmas Story.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Stephen and Chris Carter, Bruce Chessé, San Dalton, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Julie Jeffrey, Jennifer Ellis, Judith Nelson, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Robby Stafford, Bill Wahman, Roy Wheldon, and Randy Wong.