Author Archive Magnificat presents ‘household entertainment’ from Marc-Antoine Charpentier

September 18th, 2011 No comments

Stephen Smoliar posted this preview of Magnificat’s upcoming concerts at

The first concert of Magnificat’s twentieth season will consist of a single composition, La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The circumstances under which this work was composed throw an interesting light on how music was practiced in the late seventeenth century, particularly with regard to the Hôtel de Guise. This was the household of Marie de Lorraine, called Mademoiselle de Guise and a princess in rank. She chose to live in Paris away from the court of Louis XIV, and her residence was known as the Hôtel de Guise.

Her household included an ensemble of musicians, described by Susan Harvey (in notes for an earlier Magnificat performance now available on their Web site ) as “less opulent than that to be found at court, but highly admired by the Parisian connoisseurs of the time.” Harvey continues her description as follows:

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 chambermaids 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 famous musical family (Ann Nanon Jacquet, sister of the remarkable Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre), was fundamentally amateur and it is extraordinary that it should have developed to the extent that in 1688 the journal Mercure Galant wrote that the music of Mlle. de Guise was “so excellent that the music of many of the greatest sovereigns could not approach it.”

Charpentier joined the household of the Hôtel de Guise in 1670, and it was for this setting that he composed La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers , probably in late 1686 or early 1687. In 1683 he had composed a small chamber cantata, Orphée descendant aux enfers for three male singers and a small chamber orchestra. The later work is more extensive. It is scored for seven vocalists, recorder, violin, two viols (used for “special effects” in the depiction of the underworld), and continuo (harpsichord in the Magnificat performance). This composition is actually the longest of Charpentier’s dramatic chamber works; but, given the setting for the performance, it was probably not staged. There is also some question as to whether it may be incomplete. It is in only two acts; and the second act ends with Orphée and Euridice leaving the underworld, leaving no account of the tragic turn of events about to ensue.

The San Francisco performance of La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers will take place at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street (just west of the corner of Franklin Street) on Sunday afternoon, October 16, at 4 PM. General admission is $35 with special rates for seniors aged 62 and over ($28) and students with proper identification ($12). Magnificat has provided a Web page for ordering both individual and subscription tickets. There are two subscription options, one of which does not include the Christmas co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society (for the benefit of those already subscribed to this organization). Tickets may also be ordered by telephone at 800-595-4849.

Magnificat in Bloomington: Stunning music stunningly realized

September 12th, 2011 No comments

The following review of Magnificat’s performance at the Bloomington Early Music Festival by Peter Jacobi appeared in the Bloomington Herald-Times on September 12, 2011.

The group is San Francisco-based, and some of its members actually reside in that area. Its artistic director, Warren Stewart, however, now lives in Berlin. One of its two tenors, Paul Elliott, directs IU’s Early Music Institute. Its theorbo player is Nigel North, another EMI stalwart. The bunch of them get together periodically as Magnificat Baroque. And as such, they united here in recent days, six vocalists and eight instrumentalists, to prepare for a Bloomington Early Music Festival performance Saturday evening in First United Church. What a concert they gave.

They roused a large audience to cheers with generous samplings of music from Claudio Monteverdi’s Eighth (and final) Book of Madrigals, his “Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi” (“Madrigals of War and Love”). The event turned out to be a case of stunning music stunningly realized.

The Monteverdi material has been at the heart of Magnificat Baroque’s repertoire for some 20 years. One could tell. Heard was a combine of singing and playing completely natural, stylistically right, and utterly tantalizing. Director Stewart devoted the first part of the program to the songs of war, the second to those of love. They intersect in the belief espoused by Monteverdi and the poets whose words he used that war and love have a strong relationship, in that warriors return from battle to love and that lovers do battle in the conflict between the sexes. Read more…

With links to the Early Music Institute and Themester, Bloomington Early Music Festival opens Sept. 7

September 7th, 2011 No comments

From an Indiana University Press Release:

The 18th annual Bloomington Early Music Festival (BLEMF), held Sept. 7-11, continues a tradition of collaboration with the IU Jacobs School of Music Early Music Institute, presenting renowned local and national musicians, many of whom are alumni, students and faculty.

This year, the festival expands its relationship with Indiana University by linking up with the College of Arts and Sciences’ Themester 2011, “Making War, Making Peace.” With panel discussions, lectures, and concerts featuring music from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods in venues throughout Bloomington, the 2011 festival is free to all IU and Ivy Tech students, as well as anyone under the age of 18. Ticket prices for individual performances are $15, and festival passes are $40.

“This year’s festival, at the start rather than at the end of the school year, is offered so that a large number of the students and faculty of the Jacobs School of Music and IU will be able to attend,” said Paul Elliott, director of the Early Music Institute and chair of the early music department. “Here is a unique opportunity to sample something new, or to reacquaint yourself with music that you love but rarely get the chance to hear ‘live’.

“As the pedagogical aspect of its mission, the Bloomington Early Music Festival supports emerging artists, and in particular, from the Jacobs School of Music by providing opportunities to perform alongside established professionals,” said Christine Kyprianides, president of Early Music Associates, the not-for-profit that organizes the festival. “For 17 years, the stars of the festival have been above all the talented faculty, students and alumni of the school’s Early Music Institute. This year is no exception: Nearly 70 percent of the musicians are current or former members of the EMI. Other performers and lecturers are affiliated with the Jacobs School or the IU College of Arts and Sciences.”

Magnificat Baroque Ensemble performs as a featured ensemble at the 2011 Bloomington Early Music Festival.Print-Quality Photo

The festival headline performance is Magnificat Baroque Ensemble, a renowned San Francisco-based early music ensemble performing selections from Monteverdi’s Madrigals of War & Love. The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, at First United Church, 2420 E. Third St.

“We are thrilled that Magnificat is coming to Bloomington to perform during BLEMF,” said Kyprianides. “They are certainly one of the preeminent early music ensembles in the country and have an accomplished director in Warren Stewart.”


Bloomington Early Music Festival returns with new schedule, model |

September 5th, 2011 No comments

From the Bloomington Herald-Times:

BLEMF. Yes, BLEMF, the new BLEMF, the Bloomington Early Music Festival revived and in a changed calendar slot, a period commencing Wednesday evening, just ahead of IU’s about-to-start flood of concerts. Whatever the future holds for BLEMF will, we’re told, take place not when things used to, at the end of May, but henceforth, in early September.

“This will be a watershed event for us,” says Christine Kyprianides, president of the festival’s board of directors. “Two years ago, it was apparent that we had to change direction, find new audiences, and revisit our mission. By moving the festival to a time during the academic year, we have the opportunity to profit from the immense resources of the university and to make a significant contribution in return. We’ll see if this is a successful model or not.”

… BLEMF is also entering into the spirit of IU’s Themester initiative, Making War, Making Peace, presenting the distinguished San Francisco-based Magnificat Baroque Ensemble in a program of selections taken from Book 8 of Claudio Monteverdi’s Madrigals, “Madrigals of War and Love.”

“I first heard Magnificat in South Bend several years ago,” says Kyprianides. “It was a wonderful concert, and I talked for some time afterwards with its artistic director, Warren Stewart, about all sorts of musical things. Later, when the BLEMF program committee was planning for our War and Peace program, we decided that we had to have a performance of the Monteverdi madrigals. EMI’s Paul Elliott, who is on our board, suggested asking Magnificat. Both he and Nigel are regular members of the ensemble. Read more…

1996-97: Magnificat’s Fifth Season

August 25th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s fifth season featured programs that explored the music of new composers (for our series) Buxtehude, Cavalli and Marazzoli, our first modern premiere, along with another masterpiece by an old favorite, Charpentier. It was a season of contrasts in nationalities and genres: a North German cantata cycle, a reconstruction of a Venetian vespers, the staged production of the first Italian opera performed in France and a very Italianate French setting of the Orpheus legend.

The season opened with Dietrich Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri. Published in 1680, the cycle sets texts drawn from a 13th century poem, Oratio Rythmica, formerly thought to be by Bernard Clairvaux and now attributed to Arnulf of Louvain, together with scriptural verses. Arnulf’s poem also served as the basis of a cycle of hymns by Paul Gerhardt and for this program Magnificat integrated Gerhardt’s hymns, preceding each of the sections of Buxtehude’s cycle. Magnificat would return to Buxtehude’s several times in the following seasons and revive this program for 2002-2003 season.

In December, Magnificat appeared on the San Francisco Early Music Society series, beginning a run of four consecutive seasons in which we provided their holiday concerts. For the December 1996 program Magnificat turned to one of Monteverdi’s colleagues at San Marco, Francesco Cavalli, whose monumental Musiche Sacre of 1656 provided the psalms and Magnificat for a Christmas Vespers. Best known to music history as the finest of the first generation of Venetian opera composers, Cavalli was also a prolific composer of sacred music and was employed at San Marco for a half century, first as an organist and later as maestro di capella. As substitutes for the antiphons after the psalms, Magnificat played five sonatas by another successor of Monteverdi at San Marco, Giovanni Legrenzi, and in place of the antiphon following the Magnificat, we performed a Cavalli Canzona. Magnificat will perform Cavalli’s Magnificat again this December.

In March 1997, Magnificat presented our first modern premiere, the opera Il Capriccio by Roman composer Marco Marrazoli, a work that had not been performed since the middle of the 17th Century. Warren Stewart and Susan Harvey prepared a modern edition from facsimiles of the only surviving manuscript score, now housed in the Chigi collection of the Vatican Library in Rome. Like Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo, Marrazoli’s Il Capriccio is allegorical, and although it is a comedy, its principal interest, and its principal characters, are concepts: Caprice, Deceit, Reason, True Love, Beauty, Jealousy, Shock and Time (along with Beauty’s maid servants, played in drag by Neal Rogers and Raymond Martinez for Magnificat’s production.)

As Joshua Kosman described in his thoughtful review “the title character, aided by Deceit, seduces Beauty away from her moping swain True Love; but of course his interest wanes quickly, leaving her to enlist the help of Jealousy in making him return. Presiding over it all is Reason, whose clear-eyed perceptiveness does not preclude a puckish sense of humor.” The production was Magnificat’s first to use supertitles thanks to equipment purchased with the help of a grant from the San Francisco Grants for the Arts. Costumes, many loaned from American Conservatory Theater, were designed by Callie Flor.

The season concluded with Charpentier’s setting of the Orpheus legend, La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers. A work that defies categorization, sharing aspects of cantata and opera, Orphée was one of the last works charpentier composed for the Hôtel de Guise, where he lived and worked for almost two decades after his return from his studies with Carissimi in Rome. Magnificat will open our 20th season with a revival of this exquisite piece.

After the final performance of Orphée, Magnificat marked the completion of our fifth season by treating the audience to a reception that included a performance of Charpentier’s very silly “La, la, la Bonjour” and other equally ridiculous works. Both musicians and audience members enjoyed the opportunity to share wine and cheese after the final concert and receptions after the Sunday afternoon concerts soon became a feature of every Magnificat set.

Over the course of the season artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Roberto Balconi, Peter Becker, Amy Brodo, Louise Carslake, Hugh Davies, Paul Del Bene, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Ruth Escher, Melissa Fogarty, Boyd Jarrell, Julie Jeffrey, Suzanne Elder Wallace, Jennifer Ellis, Raymond Martinez, Judith Nelson, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Mary Springfels, David Stattelman, Bill Wahman, David Wilson, and Randall Wong.

1995-96: Magnificat’s Fourth Season

August 16th, 2011 No comments

With the Cavalieri recording completed, Magnificat planned a new season that would keep our audiences guessing – three wildly varied programs, establishing a pattern that became a point of pride as the ensemble grew over the years. The season culminated with a return to the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition.

The season opened in September with a program of oratorios by Iacomo Carissimi. Magnificat had performed Carissimi’s Jephte in the first series concert in 1992 (and will perform again this November) together with music by other Italians, mostly Monteverdi. This time Magnificat devoted an entire evening to this most musically influential figure of  mid 17th century. In addition to Jephte, Magnificat also performed the oratorios Job (also on the program this coming November), and Ezechia, and Historia dei Pellegrini di Emmaus, as well as the dramatic cantatas Tolle, sponsa and Sponsa canticorum. Three works by Girolamo Frescobaldi punctuated the vocal works: the Canzone detta la Todeschina and la Bianchina for two violins and continuo and the extraordinary Capriccio Chromatico con Ligature Contrario for harpsichord.

Magnificat’s December concerts December concerts featured the Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. The program was built around the Third Mass of Christmas Day at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. The ordinary of the Mass was drawn mostly from the collection of Giovanni’s works published posthumously in 1615 but also included Andrea’s magnificent 16 part Gloria published in 1597.

The Whole Noyse (and friends) played canzone by Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Merulo, a sonata by Cesario Gussago and the famous Sonata pian’ e forte by Giovanni. At the Elevation, Steve Escher played Bovicelli’s divisions on Angelus ad pastores by Cipriano de Rore. The program also included three of Giovanni’s motets: Quem vidistis pastores, O magnum mysterium and Audite principes.

Neither of these programs could have in any way prepared Magnificat’s audiences for the next program – a staged production of a fair theatre from turn of the 18th century Paris. The Parodie of Telemaque was a play set to vaudevilles by Alain-René Le Sage produced at the Foire de S. Germain in 1715, a year after the extremely popular production at the Opéra of the Tragedie de Télémaque by Destouches, which Le Sage satarizes mercilessly with bawdy lyrics, overblown rhetoric and sophomoric gags that resulted in a Baroque Saturday Night Live parody.

William Wahman in Telemaque (click for larger image)

Although Claude Gilliers, a bass player in the Accademie’s opera orchestra, is credited as the composer for the production in 1715, only Le Sage’s libretto survives, so a score was constructed by Susan Harvey, drawing from the author’s specific suggestions – the ouverture of the original opera, the storm scene from Marais’ Alcione – along with other music lifted from the original opera. The bulk of the music in Magnificat’s production was taken from the rich repertory of popular song known as “voix de villes” or, more commonly, vaudevilles.

James Middleton joined Magnificat as stage director for these production and also designed costumes, sets and props, while Angene Feves provided choreography fro several scenes. James brought a Loony Tunes sensibility that meshed well with Magnificat’s enthusiastic, often anarchic, approach to comedy and the low-brow slapstick humor of Le Sage’s parody and a delightful time was had by all.

Magnificat was pleased to be invited to perform at the Berkeley Festival on June 2 1996. For this project, Warren Stewart took Heinrich Schütz’s suggestion in the preface to his Musikalische Exequien that the large first part of the work could be used as a paraphrase of the Kyrie and Gloria in a Mass for the Feast of Purification and built a program around the Dresden court chapel liturgy that included all three parts of the Exequien along with other works by Schütz, a Credo by Alessandro Grandi and a motet by Michael Praetorius. Magnificat’s largest collaborative project included The Whole Noyse and members of the Piedmont Children’s Choir.

For the chorales that form such an essential part of the Lutheran liturgy, Magnificat invited members of many of the choirs that had worked with the Jubilate Orchestra (at the time, somewhat confusingly, also called Magnificat) and a “congregational choir” was formed with members of Baroque Choral Guild,  The Bay Area Lutheran Chorale, the California Bach Society, the St. Gregory Nyssen Church Choir, the San Francisco Bach Choir, the Sonoma County Bach Society and The University of California Chamber Chorus. The concert actually began several blocks away from First Congregational Church in Berkeley, as the 80-voice choir sang the macronic chorale Ex legis observatia/Nach dem Gebet in procession – eventually filing into the church and surrounding the Festival audience.

The 1995-96 season was the first season that Magnificat received funding from San Francisco Grants for the Arts, which has been a tremendous support for arts organizations of all kinds in the Bay Area for the past fifty years (our renewed funding for the upcoming season was just announced.) The 95-96 season was also the first in which Miriam Lewis designed programs and brochures, establishing a graphic style (and the Bellevue font) that endured for a decade. Miriam also appeared as a dancer and was in charge of make-up for Telemaque.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Carolyn Carvejal, Sand Dalton, Mark Daniel, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Ruth and Steve Escher, Richard Van Hessel, Boyd Jarrell, Doug Kirk, Miriam Lewis, James Middleton, Susan Rode Morris, Herb Myers, Judith Nelson, Gayle and Phil Neumann, Ray Nurse, Robert Osborne, Ernie Rideout, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Doug Shambo, Sandy Stadtfeld, Bill Wahman (as Idas in the photograph and, yes, he is holding a commuter coffee mug!), Nathaniel Watson, and Randall Wong.

“It is contraries that deeply affect our mind” – Notes for Magnificat’s Program of Madrigals from Book 8

August 12th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat will perform a program of selections from Monteverdi’s Madrigals of War & Love as part of the Bloomington Early Music Festival on September 10 2011 and as part of our own series on the wekend of February 17-19 2012. 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. While the second of the pair, Armato il cor, was ascribed to Ottavio Rinuccini by Malipiero, Gary Tomlinson has argued that both are likely by Testi. In any case, they are poetic twins, nearly identical in theme, length, rhyme and prosody and share the Marinist conceit of love as a battle, reflected by Monteverdi in both settings, as elsewhere in the Eighth Book, with trumpet-like triadic fanfares. A similar musical depiction of warfare is found in “La Gran Battaglia” by the Modenese composer Marco Uccellini that separates the two madrigals in this evening’s program.

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.

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.

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.

Il Ballo delle Ingrate (“The Dance of the Ungrateful Women”) was originally written for the Mantuan wedding of Margherita of Savoy and Prince Francesco Gonzaga in 1608 but was subsequently performed in Vienna sometime in the 1620s or 1630s, and seems to have been revised somewhat before its only surviving version appeared in the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi.  The story of Il Ballo delle Ingrate centers on the complaint of Cupid that the effect of his arrows has been blunted by the hard-hearted and merciless noble ladies of Mantua (changed to “The German Empire” for the Eighth Book.) He relies upon his mother, Venus, to call up Pluto from Hades and request temporary release of the souls of these ungrateful and condemned women so that they can be displayed as examples to the audience of the punishment reserved for beauty that cruelly rejects love. Pluto, in recognition of Venus’ assistance in the abduction of his own wife Proserpina from the world above complies and the sorrowful souls gradually emerge to perform a solemn dance. Pluto assures Margherita of Savoy that he has not come to abduct her as well, but only to describe the dark cave in which the condemned souls must dwell forever and to admonish the ladies in the audience: “Fruitless it is (believe my words) to withhold your mortal beauty until the end!” Il Ballo delle Ingrate concludes with the return of the Ungrateful Women to their eternal pain in the Underworld and a lament by the last of them, advising the ladies of the audience to show pity to their lovers.

The ungrateful women possess outer beauty, but not inner beauty. The men they reject are at first stimulated by their outer beauty to love to begin the ascent to the divine; their entreaties to the women involve faith, devotion, poetry, and feats of courage and honor—all noble qualities and manifestations of the beautiful soul. But the women’s’ beauty turns out to be only physical beauty and their haughtiness and rejection of the love of men makes them the enemies of love, and leaves the men with only lust, not love. The women have defied the power of Cupid, of love, the most powerful of all the gods and have therefore rejected divinity itself, which is why they are condemned to Hades. But because they themselves don’t understand what love truly is, they don’t realize they’ve defied the order and unity of the entire cosmos and see their punishment as too harsh. Monteverdi’s audience would have understood the seriousness of their crime, and Il Ballo delle Ingrate, therefore, is not merely a warning to the ladies in the audience that they must respond to the pleasure-seeking advances of their suitors, but rather that they should possess the inner beauty that stimulates and reciprocates the pleasure of love, the recognition of that true beauty in both men and women that inspires the desire to ascend to the divine.

2010 Berkeley Festival Featured in NPR Documentary

August 10th, 2011 1 comment

The 2010 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition is the subject of a 2 hour radio documentary that will be broadcast on KDFC-FM and over a hundred other stations nationwide this month. The program is part of America’s Music Festivals, a 26 episode series of documentaries exploring classical music festivals in the United States, hosted by Baltimore Symphony music director Marin Alsop. The program will air on KDFC on August 27 at 9:00 pm, but is available in streaming audio now at the AMF website.

The program features complete recordings of many memorable performances from a very memorable festival, including selections from main stage concerts by AVE, !Sacabuche¡, the Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’ Recreation, ARTEK, Archetti and Magnificat as well as highlights from the Festival Finale program. Jennifer Ellis Kampani sings Barbara Strozzi’s O Maria, Laura Heimes and Meg Bragle sing Chiara Margarita Cozzolani’s O mi domine, and the program concludes with the complete Vivaldi Magnificat conducted by Magnificat’s artistic director Warren Stewart.

The full playlist:

Legrenzi: Sonata for Two Violins and Continuo: La Spilemberga (Music’s Re-Creation)
Monteverdi: Laudate Dominum omnes gentes (Sacabuche)
Piccinini: Toccata (Sacabuche)
Monteverdi: T’amo mia vita (Artek)
Castello: Sonata Quinta in C (1621) (Marion Verbruggen Trio)
Barbara Strozzi: O Maria (Magnificat, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, soprano)
Fontana: Sonata Terza in C Major (Marion Verbruggen Trio)
Gesualdo: NocturnusTenebre III (AVE)
Monteverdi: E cosi, a poco a poco (Artek)
Jenkins: Fantazia (Music’s Re-Creation)
Schutz: Der Engel Sprach with brass ensemble (Sacabuche)
Gabrieli: Canzona, Canzon VIII (Sacabuche)
Schutz: Fili mi Absalon (Sacabuche)
Monteverdi: Troppo ben Puo Questo (Artek)
Matteis: Violin Sonata: Corrente (Music’s Re-Creation)
Gesualdo: Nocturnus II: Tamquam (AVE)
Gesualdo: Nocturnus I: Vinea Mea Electa (AVE)
Lawes: Fantazia (Music’s Re-Creation)
Cozzolani: O mi Domine (Magnificat)
Vivaldi: Concerto in E Minor for 4 Violins: II (Archetti)
Vivaldi: Magnificat (AVE, Archetti, ARTEK, Magnificat, Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’s Re-Creation !Sacabuche¡, conducted by Warren Stewart)



1994-95: Magnificat’s Third Season

August 10th, 2011 No comments

The enthusiastic response to Magnificat’s production of Cavalieri’s La Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo in Ferbuary 1994 led to a recording on the Koch International label. With recording sessions scheduled for the end of October, it wa decided to reduce the concert series to just two sets, but they were both extraordinary programs, each featuring monumental works from the 17th century: Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and Heinrich Schütz’s Resurrection Story. Read more…

1993-94: Magnificat’s Second Season

August 5th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s first season of concerts was such fun, plans began immediately for a second season. This time the emphasis was on the 17th century innovations in setting dramatic narrative to music. Three programs were presented and again each program was performed in San Jose, Berkeley and San Francisco.

The season opened in October with dramatic works by Henry Purcell including the masque written for inclusion in a revival of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. Inspired perhaps by the proximity of the concerts to Halloween, the program featured the dramatic scena In Guilty Night, Purcell’s setting of the biblical story of Saul’s encounter with the Witch of Endor, which featured Sand Dalton’s first (and most likely only) performance on the thunder machine – a 6×4 piece of sheet metal that created just the right spooky mood. This would not be the last use of unlikely percussion in a Magnificat production.

In December, Magnificat assembled a program from the three surviving versions of Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale, interspersing traditional noëls – a holiday tradition that would be re-visited several times over the years. This program immediately became a favorite of both musicians and audiences and we have revived it twice, with minor changes, in 1996 on the San Francisco Early Music Society series and on our own series in 2005. For this first production we were joined in these concerts by Marion Verbruggen, with whom we had performed at the 1990 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition.

With the December concerts, Magnificat settled on the full-size program format that plenty of room for program notes and texts and translations. The programs were still literally cut (with scissors) and pasted (well, taped) and photo-copied but the brochure was designed and laid out by Paul Tokmakian.

The extremely successful final concert of the first season had included some acting and minimal sets and costumes, so for the final program of the season, Magnificat presented a fully-staged production of Emilio de’ Cavalieri’s La Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo – and fully-staged it was, with winged blessed spirits in heaven, damned spirits in flame red body suits and gruesome fingernails in Hell, all accompanied by a colorful instrumental ensemble that included The Whole Noyse.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included René Boutet, Tina Chancey, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Ruth and Steve Escher, Richard Van Hessel, Julie Jeffrey, Roxanne Layton, Andrew Morgan, Susan Rode Morris, Herb Myers, Gayle and Phil Neumann, Ray Nurse, Marianne Richer-Pfau, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Sandy Stadtfeld, and Nat Watson.

‘He rested his sceptre on lyre and sword’: The Emperor Composer Ferdinand III

August 2nd, 2011 No comments

As he entered his eighth decade, Monteverdi set about assembling his eighth and largest collection of secular works, published in 1638 as Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi… and dedicated to the newly crowned Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III. As explained in the dedication, the collection was originally to have been dedicated to (and its publication funded by) his father, Ferdinand II, but as the elder Ferdinand passed away in 1636, the dedication passed to his heir.

I present to the feet of Your Majesty, as the protecting power of virtue, these my musical compositions. Fernando, Your Majesty’s great father, deigning, through his innate goodness, to accept and honour them in manuscript, granted me an as it were authoritative passport to entrust them to the press. And lo I eagerly publish them, consecrating them to the most revered name of Your Majesty, heir no less of kingdoms and the empire than of his valour and kindness.

Along with the change in dedication, Monteverdi modified some of the texts with references to the younger monarch, whose dual occupation in the military and musical composition made him an apt dedicatee for a volume of madrigals of war and love.

Ferdinand was born in Graz, Austria, the son of Emperor Ferdinand II in 1608, coincidentally the year of the first performance of Il Ballo delle Ingrate, which Monteverdi re-tooled for the Eighth Book of Madrigals and was most likely performed as part of the new emperor’s coronation festivities in 1637.  Ferdinand became King of Hungary in 1625, King of Bohemia in 1627 and Archduke of Austria in 1631, the year of his marriage to his first cousin Maria Anna, Infanta of Spain, the youngest daughter of Phillip III of Spain and Margaret of Austria.

After the death of Albrecht Wallenstein in 1634, Ferdinand was entrusted with supreme command of the Habsburg army and in the same year, together with his Spanish cousin, also a Ferdinand, he was 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, with some of the Protestant states including Saxony in 1635. However, the horrific conflict now known as the Thirty Years War drug on for another decade – the lines of conflict no longer perceptible and the populace suffering terribly from the unrestrained violence and pillaging of the mercenary armies. Ferdinand played a crucial role in the diplomatic negotiations that eventually led to a cessation of hostilities with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Ferdinand was an active patron of the arts and the first of several Habsburg emperors to compose music. In the abstract to his forthcoming book, Sacred Music as Public Image for Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, Andrew Weaver observes that Ferdinand’s accomplishments came not through diplomacy or strong leadership but primarily through a skillful manipulation of the arts, through which he communicated important messages to his subjects and secured their allegiance to the Catholic Church.

“Ferdinand III offers a fascinating case study in monarchical representation, for the war necessitated that he revise the image he had cultivated at the beginning of his reign, that of a powerful, victorious warrior. Weaver argues that by focusing on the patronage of sacred music (rather than the more traditional visual and theatrical means of representation), Ferdinand III was able to uphold his reputation as a pious Catholic reformer and subtly revise his triumphant martial image without sacrificing his power, while also achieving his Counter-Reformation goal of unifying his hereditary lands under the Catholic church.”

In addition to sponsoring the composition and publication of numerous works of music, Ferdinand played an active part in the preparation of the great court festivities, especially stage works of various kinds, which were produced with the utmost magnificence in Vienna and elsewhere in his Habsburg domains. During the last years of his life Ferdinand founded a literary academy on the Italian model in Vienna.

Ferdinand III studied music with Giovanni Valentini, court composer to the Hapsburgs and Kapellmeister at the Michaelerkirche in Vienna. He also was a friend of Johann Jakob Froberger, who was also active at the Hapsburg court. Ferdinand’s allegorical Drama musicum was praised by Athanasius Kircher, who declared in his Musurgia universalis of 1650 that Ferdinand had ‘no equal among sovereigns’. Some secular pieces, including settings of Italian texts, and a number of sacred works of Ferdinand’s survive including two masses, four motets, ten hymns, litanies, a Stabat mater and a Miserere.

1992-93: Magnificat’s First Season

July 21st, 2011 No comments

It is satisfying that the composers featured in our first season: Claudio Monteverdi, Heinrich Schütz, Iacomo Carissimi and Marc-Antoine Charpentier and even some of the same masterpieces, notably Jephte and the Christmas Story, should also be featured in our 20th anniversary season. The genius of these composers, their innovations and  the tremendous influence they had on the music of the 17th century have inspired every program on every season that Magnificat has presented since and at least one has been featured on a program in every Magnificat season. In the years since that first season it has been a privilege to get to know these composers and to share their magnificent music with the many fine musicians who have been a part of Magnificat.

Encouraged by the success of our performance at the inaugural Berkeley Festival and Exhibition in 1990, chamber music performances at various venue – including a notable concert at The Musical Offering, also in 1990, and appearances on the San Francisco Early Music Society and The San Jose Chamber Music Society, Magnificat launched a subscription series in October, 1992. The season included three programs, each of which was performed in San Jose, Berkeley and San Francisco.

The first program was given the title “Heroes, Fools and Nymphs” and used Monteverdi’s  Chi vol’ che m’innamori as a framework for a mixed program of Italian vocal and instrumental gems – culminating in Carissimi’s oratorio Jephte, which will be on our November 11-13 program this season. Earlier in the program we performed Monteverdi’s Introduzione al Ballo, which we will revive in our February 17-19 program this season.

In December 1992 Magnificat joined with the San Francisco Early Music Society in a co-production of Heinrich Schütz’s Christmas Story. Schütz’s delightful setting of the Nativity narrative was placed in the liturgical context for which it was written, Christmas Vespers following the order of the Dresden Court Chapel. This was the first of many liturgical reconstructions that Magnificat has presented. It was also the first appearance with Magnificat of German baritone Martin Hummel in the role of the Evangelist. We will be reviving this program this December, again with SFEMS as we celebrate 20 seasons and SFEMS celebrates their 35th!

The final set of the 1992-1993 season, title “Saints and Buffoons,” focused on another composer that would become so important for Magnificat: Marc-Antoine Charpentier. In the first half of the program we performed sacred works from three genres: the psalm Super flumina Babilonis, the motet Oculi omnium, the histoire sacrée Le Reniement de St. Pierre. After intermission was devoted to incidental music Charpentier wrote for the Commedie française culminating with the uproarious Doctor Scene from Moliére’s La Malade Imaginaire.

Over the course of the season Artistic Directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Marilyn Boenau, René Boutet, Kenn Chester, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Stephen Escher, Gerald Gaul, Nathan Gunn, Richard Van Hessel, Brian Howard, Martin Hummel, Boyd Jarrell, Claire Kelm, McDowell Kenley, Susan Rode Morris, Herbert Myers, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Foster Sommerlad, Sanford Stadtfeld, David Tayler, George Thomson, Arizeder Urreiztieta, Nathaniel Watson and Lisa Weiss.

Magnificat to Perform at Bloomington Early Music Festival

July 21st, 2011 No comments

Bloomington Early Music Festival 2011Magnificat has been invited to perform selections from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals at the Bloomington Early Music Festival (BLEMF) this September. The concert will be on the evening of September 10 at the First United Church in Bloomington. Monteverdi subtitled his 1638 collection “Madrigals of War and Love” and the texts expound the interlocking themes of love and war– the warrior as lover, the lover as warrior and the war between the sexes. A perfect fit for the theme of this year’s Festival “Music in War, Music in Peace.”

From the Festival website:

“War and peace have been a part of human society for time immemorial, and for centuries composers have chosen to reflect them in their music. In selecting this theme for its festival, BLEMF links musical performance to scholarly research in the humanities, and in particular the disciplines of history, folklore, and linguistics.

For the past seventeen years, Early Music Associates, Inc. has encouraged and celebrated historically informed performance with an annual festival, seasonal concerts, numerous educational events in the immediate regions, and by committed support for emerging performing artists. The Bloomington Early Music Festival (BLEMF) traditionally presents concerts featuring the music of the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods.”

Magnificat’s program will include Altri canti d’Amor tenero arciero, Ogni amante e guerrier: nel suo gran regno, Introduzione al ballo, Altri canti di Marte e di sua schiera, Non Havea Febo ancora: Lamento della ninfa, and Il Ballo delle ingrate. Bay Area audiences will have the chance to hear Magnificat perform this program as part of our 2011-2012 season on the weekend of February 17-19 2012. For tickets and more information about the Bloomington Early Music Festival, please visit the Festival website.

Photos from L’Amfiparnaso Rehearsals with the Dell’Arte Company

March 17th, 2011 No comments

We’ve posted photos from our rehearsals of Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso with the Dell’Arte Company on our Flickr Page. Please have a look!

It has been a pleasure exploring this fascinating piece with actors so deeply grounded in the historical commedia dell’arte tradition. One by one the familiar characters – Pantalone, the Doctor, the Captain, and all the miscievous servants – have come to life through Vecchi’s entertaining and often deeply profound music.

Tickets are still available at

Vecchi’s “Commedia Harmonica” L’Amfiparnaso

March 16th, 2011 No comments

The musical entertainment that has become known as the madrigal comedy enjoyed a brief, but exceedingly popular life in the decades before and after the turn of the 17th century, delighting audiences at courts and within the cultural academies of Italy with a mix of high art and low comedy. The musicologist Alfred Einstein coined the term “madrigal comedy” in 1949 as a description for the two dozen or so surviving collections of related madrigals, which, when sung consecutively, tell a story, often with a continuous dramatic plot.

The two composers most closely identified with this sub-genre are Orazio Vecchi and the slightly younger Adriano Banchieri. It has been tempting to see the madrigal comedy as a precursor to opera, but it is perhaps better characterized as part of the final flowering of the Renaissance madrigal tradition, incorporating the humanist attention to the communication of dramatic narrative through the quintessential musical form of the late 16th century.

Easily the best known of these madrigal comedies to modern audiences, L’Amfiparnaso was first performed in Modena in 1594 and published in Venice in 1597 with a dedication to Cardinal Alessandro d’Este. Vecchi’s collection (which he calls a “commedia harmonica”) consists of fourteen five-part madrigals, arranged in three acts and preceded by a prologue. Except for the first two sentences of the first scene, the dialogue is not set for individual voices, as in opera, but rather for the entire ensemble or for sub-sets of two, three or four voices.


This approach is so different from opera that is perhaps not surprising that the first music historians to discuss madrigal comedies found them entirely puzzling and either struggled to find in them nascent elements of operatic style or dismissed them entirely. A modern edition of L’Amfiparnaso was published in 1902 with several others following over the next century and subsequent scholarship, together with performances and recordings by fine musicians have secured its place among the masterpieces of the late Renaissance.

Each of the madrigals sets a scenario drawn from the Italian theater, known then as now as commedia dell’arte, a genre in its golden age at the end of the 16th century. Consistent with the commedia tradition, there is only a passing attempt at a regular plot: the jealous quarrel between Lucio and Isabella, their reconciliation and wedding is of comparatively slight importance and seems to serve primarily as a foil for the antics of the comic masked characters of Pantalone, the Doctor, the Captain and their quick-witted and mischievous servants.

The cast of L’Amfiparnaso includes Pantalone; an aging Venetian Magnifico who is by turns avaricious, suspicious, amorous and gullible. Pantalone is old and, though retired from active business, his long engagement with trade has made him acutely sensitive to the value of money. He is also a lecher, but entreaties for the favor of attractive young women, invariably involving catcalls and innuendoes, are invariably fruitless.

The Doctor

He is joined by his old friend Doctor Gratiano, a Bolognese lawyer, prone to malapropism and misunderstanding, described by Vecchi as a “blockhead who answers badly and hears still worse.” By tradition, when the Doctor was born, instead of crying like an ordinary infant, his first utterance was a fine Latin quotation, slightly mutilated.

Having grown up amid the rarified university atmosphere of Bologna, the Doctor is a member of every academy, known and unknown, the Doctor can discuss any topic with great erudition, though no one can understand, or even stay awake during his long-winded homilies.

No commedia would be complete with the Captain, a blustery Spanish-speaking braggart, always decked in ostentatious epaulets and menacing scabbard – a sort of Yosemite Sam character aptly described in a 17th century verse:

This Captain makes a splendid show,
And his valor is so great
That he is the last to join the combat
And the first to beat a retreat.

The Captain

As much of Italy was under the control of the Spanish army at the time and the actors no doubt took great delight – and some risk – in satirizing the occupying army.

The satire though, like all the mockery on the commedia, is light-hearted and evenly distributed. The characterization of the Hebrews, serving in the familiar role of pawn-brokers, focuses primarily on their exotic and unfathomable language and the strangeness of their chanting – no doubt a source of consternation and bemusement for the goyim – and fun had at their expense is in the same spirit as that taken from the Captain’s blustery Spanish, the Doctor’s over-ripe Bolognese, Pantalone’s mincing Venetian, and the Bergamask dialect of the servants Francatrippa and Zanni.

Besides Pantalone, Gratiano and the Captain, the characterizations in Vecchi’s libretto are somewhat compressed. The cast is filled out with a variety of servants, prostitutes and, of course the two pairs of lovers or innamorati. The unusually amorous Doctor Gratiano and Pantalone’s un-named daughter form a comic third pair of lovers. The composer explains in his preface that as a result of the prolixity of words united with music, his composition is like that of “a painter who, desiring to include a great many figures in a small canvas, forms the principal or most noteworthy ones with the entire bodies, and the less important as far as the chest, others barely visible by the top of the head, and finally mixes together the remainder of the multitude as if distant from the eye.”

The Librettist of L’Amfiparnaso – Giulio Cesare Croce

March 15th, 2011 No comments

There is no indication of an author for the text of Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso, and some historians have speculated that the composer wrote the libretto himself. However, as early as 1912, the British musicologist Edward Dent suggested that the author may have been the popular Bolognese poet Giulio Cesare Croce.

Born in 1550 at San Giovanni in Persiceto, about 15 miles to the north-west of Bologna, the son of a blacksmith. After his father’s death when Croce was just seven he was adopted by an uncle who followed the same trade who sent him to school at Castelfranco.

Dent relates that the uncle finally realized that Giulio was learning nothing, and he brought him back to the smithy and the boy was adopted up by the noble family of Fantuzzi and was soon noted for his talents as cantastorie, singer and jester. This sort of life suited his tastes better than the trade of a blacksmith, and he finally ran away from his uncle altogether, and came to Bologna, sometime about the year 1586. Here he joined another smith, who shared his preference for good wine and merry living over hard work with hammer and anvil. In some way or other he seems to have learnt to read, for it was at this time that he began to study the works of Ovid.

There were several translations of Ovid then current, the most popular being that of Anguillara. Ovid, Croce tells us, was his first and only teacher. He took to playing the viol, and got the name of Croce della Lira; soon after his first marriage in 1575 he gave up the blacksmith’s trade altogether and devoted himself to poetry alone. His most generous patron seems to have been Cardinal Radziwill, who commissioned Lavinia Fon-tana to paint his portrait.

His fame reached to Mantua, Ferrara and Florence: after his death his works received high praise from various Italian historians of literature. The romantic enthusiasts of the nineteenth century devoted endless labour to the collection of the folk-songs that in various countries have sprung from the soil and have been handed down by generation after generation of the rural population. The poetry of humble life in the towns had no interest for them. It is to this latter class of literature that Croce’s works belong, a class that is represented at its best in the Canti carnascialeschi of Lorenzo de’ Medici and at its lowest in the vulgar riddles and ballads of criminal life that still delight the poorer inhabitants of Italian cities.

Croce wrote more than 400 works in both Italian and the Bolognese dialect. Despite his popularity and the relative success of his works, Croce dies in poverty in 1609.

Orazio Vecchi of Modena

March 15th, 2011 No comments

“I bringe you mine owne master Horatio Vecchi of Modena, beside goodness of aire, most pleasing of all other for his conceipt and variety, wherewith all his works are singularly beautified.” Henry Peacham, The Compleat Gentleman, 1622

Orazio Vecchi would no doubt be puzzled to learn that four centuries after his death he would be best remembered (to the extent that he was remembered at all) for a light-hearted piece of entertainment, L’Amfiparnaso, and not for his considerable accomplishments as a composer of sacred music and highly sophisticated madrigals. Not that he would have any difficulty in defending his less serious compositions.

In the dedication of the collection Selva di varia ricreatione from 1590 Vecchi wrote “I am well aware that on first hearing some may perhaps think these my caprices base and trivial. Let them learn that it takes just as much skill, art, and knowledge…to make a silly comic character as it does to create a prudent and sagely old man…and if some smart ass says that it is easy to come up with such things, let him try; he’ll see that it is easy to want ideas, hard to have them, harder still to arrange them, and even more difficult to put them all together well.”

Born in Modena in 1550, Vecchi received his first musical training from a Servite monk named Salvatore Essenga. He took orders at a Benedictine monastery at some point before 1577 and by the end of the 1579 his reputation as a musician was such that he was engaged, along with Claudio Merulo and Giovanni Gabrieli, to provide music for the wedding of Bianca Capello and Grand Duke Francesco de’ Medici. In that same year his first publication, a collection of eight voice motets, appeared in Venice. He served as maestro di capella first at the cathedral in Salò from 1581-4 and then at Modena from 1584-86. After a brief tenure at the cathedral of Reggio nell’Emilia, he accepted an appointment as canon at Correggio Cathedral. In a humorous autobiographical document that Vecchi wrote in 1587, he makes reference to the financial hardships and family responsibilities, which would burden him throughout his life.

In 1591, Vecchi was selected, together with Gabrieli and Lodovico Balbi, to revise and correct the Roman Gradual and in the same year he was elevated to the title of archdeacon. From Corregio he moved to the ducal court in Modena in 1593, the year before the first performances of L’Amfiparnaso. He was also admitted into the brotherhood of the Annunciation in the churches of S Maria and S Pietro, where he directed the music on various special occasions.

Vecchi was denied the of post of Maestro di Cappella at the Duomo of Modena by the appointment of the organist Fabio Richetti, which apparently caused considerable resentment. Apparently, simmering hostilities erupted during Mass at the Church of St. Augustine on April 21, 1596. Spaccini, a writer at the time, reported that the two organists obstenately played two different works simultaneously – an anecdote that, while disputed by other contemporaries, has led some historians to characterize Vecchi as a defiant and difficult personality. His involvement in the sordid affairs of his brother, accused of a triple murder, no doubt contributed to this undeserved picture picture of Vecchi’s character.

In 1603 the general council of Modena granted Vecchi a generous stipendium in recognition of his “rare abilities” and later the same year the imperial ambassador came to Modena to offer Vecchi the position of maestro at the court of Emperor Rudolph II, in succession to Monte. Unfortunately, Vecchi’s health was already failing him and he was unable to accept the position. He continued composing and directing in Modena until his death in 1605.

Vecchi’s Travesty of ‘Ancor che col partire’

March 10th, 2011 No comments

One of the story lines that give Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso unity is Pantalone’s promise of his daughter’s hand in marriage to the Doctor Gratiano in the opening scene of Act II. Almost every commedia dell’arte scenario involves some such arrangement between the miserly Pantalone and  his blustery companion from Bologna, though most often the contract is between their offspring.

In Vecchi’s setting, Pantalone is, as usual, primarily concerned with the dowry (which he dutifully deposits in the third act) and he openly mocks the Doctor’s enthusiasm for the match. While the unfortunate daughter never appears vocally in the course of L’Amfiparnaso, she is understood to be in the balcony while the Doctor serenades her with one of his “favorites”, which turns out to be a parody, a travesty really, of Cipriano de Rore’s madrigal Ancor che col partire. This most famous of madrigal, for which there were more than 50 – far more serious – parodies in the 16th century, would have been very familiar to Vecchi’s audience, who would no doubt have found the altered text quite amusing indeed.

Vecchi takes the upper part of Cipriano’s four part madrigal and gives it three new supporting parts. The text is in Bolognese dialect of course – a constant source of humor for the commedia actors of the time along with Venetian, Bergamask, Neapolitan and any other dialect. (The refined Tuscan of Petrarch is reserved for the lovers.) There is no way of capturing the original humor in translation, but Cecil Adkins has done a commendable job in his edition of L’Amfiparnaso.

Ancor che col partire
Although on my leaving
I feel myself grieving,
Departure I treasure,
It gives me such pleasure
To come back to stay.
A thousand times each day,
To leave you I yearn,
So sweet is my return.

Ancor ch’al parturire (from L’Amfiparnaso)
Even in life’s midst so dear
One feels the shades of death too near.
I would like without the pain
To have, Vicenze, the joys again.
But spirits give me awful sorrow,
And yet I drink in such great haste,
Forgetting the torments of the morrow,
So sweet is the eructed taste.

The original Italian verse was written by Alfonso d’Avalos, the parody, like the rest of L’Amfiparnaso, was written by Giovanni Cesare Croce. (The identity of ‘Vicenze’ is not entirely clear from the context.) In spite of the less than serious text, Vecchi’s setting is exquisite and demonstrates, as do the lovers’ madrigals throughout L’Amfiparnaso, Vecchi’s considerable stature as a composer. On Magnificat’s program, Nigel North will also perform a solo lute setting of Cipriano’s madrigal by G. P. Paladino.

San Francisco Classical Voice Previews L’Amfiparnaso

March 9th, 2011 No comments

Joseph Sargent has written an excellent preview of our upcoming performances of L’Amfiparnaso, March 18-20 for the San Francisco Classical Voice.

No one can accuse the Baroque ensemble Magnificat of lacking a sense of drama. Back in 2009, the ensemble made an unlikely pairing with the Carter Family Marionettes in Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’ Isola d’Alcina. In its upcoming March 18-20 concert set, a staging of Orazio Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso (The Twin Peaks of Parnassus), Magnificat continues the theatrics by collaborating with three theater artists from the Dell’Arte Company for what’s sure to be a high-spirited affair.

Madrigal comedies — collections of madrigals strung together by a common narrative — enjoyed a brief vogue in late 16th-century Italy, and L’Amfiparnaso ranks among the genre’s masterworks. This collection of 14 five-voice madrigals tells a conventional love story in the commedia dell’arte tradition, with plenty of good humor thrown in. As Joe Dieffenbacher, one of the three Dell’Arte players, observes, “The commedia style is known for its bawdy, rough-and-tumble humor. The madrigals are quite lovely, the voices sweet and playful. Together, Magnificat and Dell’Arte will present a show that marries the best of both.”

Staging was not part of Vecchi’s original plan; to the contrary, the prologue to L’Amfiparnaso calls the collection “a spectacle which is witnessed through the imagination, that penetrates the ear and not the eye.” But contemporary composers like Banchieri did stage their madrigal comedies, and for modern audiences a dose of theatrics makes the puns and other cultural references of Vecchi’s time easier to understand. “At the time when L’Amfiparnaso was written, commedia was one of the most popular theater forms in Italy, so combining the madrigals with this very physical style of theater was inevitable,” says Dieffenbacher. “The audience is given a treat for the ears and eyes: fine music and the visual play of masked and colorfully costumed characters, with a few acrobatic tricks thrown in.” Read the Full Preview at San Francisco Classical Voice

Vecchi and the Commedia Dell’Arte

February 17th, 2011 No comments

Like several of the works in the small but fascinating sub-genre of the madrigal comedy, L’Amfiparnaso draws on characters and plots the Italian Comedy, or commedia dell’arte. The origins of commedia are found in the use of itinerant actors to supply comic entertainment between the acts of the refined and aristocratic commedia erudita of the early 16th century.

Stimulated by the success of these entertainments, actors developed a quick, satirical and typically off-color style – typically in dialect and always improvised. The commedia style was very physical – with clowning, acrobatics, dance and stunts interwoven into a repertoire of stock scenarios invariably centered around a tale of young lovers.

The economic success of the commedia dell’arte led by the second half of the 16th century to establishment of numerous professional troupes that would tour the various courts of Italy, often enjoying the protection and patronage of noble families. By the time Orazio Vecchi wrote his madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso, the stock characters and plots were already generations old.

The characters, or “masks”, that appear in L’Amfiparnaso include Pantalone, an aging Venetian Magnifico who is by turns avaricious, suspicious, amorous and gullible. He is joined by Doctor Gratiano, a Bolognese lawyer, prone to malapropism and misunderstanding, described by Vecchi as a “blockhead who answers badly and hears still worse.” Captain Cardon, a Spanish-speaking braggart has an important role in the comedy as well. Most of Italy was under the control of the Spanish army at the time and the actors no doubt took great delight – and some risk – in satirizing the occupying army. The cast is filled out with a variety of servants, prostitutes and, of course the two pairs of lovers.

Besides Pantalone, Gratiano and the Captain he characterizations in Vecchi’s libretto are somewhat compressed, which the composer explains in his preface resulted from the prolixity of words united with music. Vecchi notes that his composition is like “a painter who, desiring to include a great many figures in a small canvas, forms the principal or most noteworthy ones with the entire bodies, and the less important as far as the chest, others barely visible by the top of the head, and finally mixes together the remainder of the multitude as if distant from the eye.” In any case the audience of the time would have filled in the details of the familiar characters – a task to be fulfilled by the three actors from the Dell’Arte Company in Magnificat’s performance.