Author Archive

New Cozzolani Project Track – Alma Redemptoris Mater

February 17th, 2011 No comments

Cozzolani included a setting of each of the four Marian Antiphons in her 1642 collection, Concerti sacri. Alma redemptoris Mater is published for soprano and bass and for Magnificat’s performance the bass part has been transposed up an octave. Magnificat’s recording features soprano Catherine Webster and mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore with David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosidj, organ.

The antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater is attributed to Herman Contractus (1013-1054), a monk who lived in Reichenau near Lake Constance. Its mention in The Prioress’ Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, testifies to its popularity in England before Henry VIII. Contractus used phrases taken from the writings of St. Fulgentius, St. Epiphanius, and St. Irenaeus. At one time Alma Redemptoris Mater was briefly used as an antiphon for the hour of Sext for the feast of the Assumption, but in 1350 Pope Clement established the seasonal order of singing the four Marian antiphons at Compline and it has been sung since then during the period from the first Sunday in Advent until the Feast of the Purification.

The Dell’Arte Company Brings Commedia to Life

February 17th, 2011 No comments

For our upcoming production of L’Amfiparnaso on March 18-20, Magnificat will be joined by Joseph Dieffenbacher, Emilia Sumelius-Beuscher and Stephen Buescher from the Dell’Arte Company based in Blue Lake in Humboldt County California. Dell’Arte International was founded by Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and Jane Hill in Berkeley in 1971 to bring the commedia tradition to the United States and to develop actor-creators through training in mime, mask, movement and ensemble creation.

A native of Padua, Mazzone was a childhood friend of sculptor Amleto Sartori, and Marcel Marceau’s first Italian partner. As Jacques Lecoq’s assistant for eight years during Lecoq’s Italian sojourn. Carlo was part of the nucleus of artists who reinvented the Italian theatre, commedia, and mask work after World War II in Italy. He came to the US in 1959 and introduced Sartori’s masks to America.

Commedia is the root form for the western actor and influenced actors, directors, playwrights and composers in Europe, Russia, Scandinavia and beyond. Through this form we investigate the human comedy. The hallmarks of commedia—articulate physicality combined with verbal wit; the art of improviso; the play of appetites in stock characters; the skill of ensemble playing—this is the great legacy to be investigated by every contemporary actor.

Over forty years, Dell’Arte International has been a center for the exploration, development, training and performance of the actor-creator. Its mission is to employ and revitalize the traditional physical theatre forms to explore contemporary concerns. Dell’Arte is made up of a professional touring company; a fulltime professional training school offering MFA and certificate programs; the annual summer Mad River Festival; a youth academy; and study abroad programs.

As one of a handful of rural professional ensemble theatres in the United States, Dell’Arte is internationally recognized for its unique contribution to American theatre via its non-urban point of view, its 40 year history of ensemble practice, its work to push the boundaries of physical theatre forms in professional productions, and its actor-training programs. Read More at the Dell’Arte website.

Nigel North to Perform with Magnificat

February 16th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat is delighted to welcome Nigel North for our upcoming performances of Orazio Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso on the weekend of March 18-20. One of the most respected lutenists in the world, Nigel has enjoyed a remarkable performing career in early operas, baroque orchestras, chamber groups, as a soloist and accompanist.

Nigel has made well over a hundred recordings and appeared with the Early Music Consort, the Deller Consort, the English Concert, Academy Of Ancient Music, the Taverner Choir and Players, the Schütz Choir and Consort, Red Byrd, Brandenburg Consort, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Fretwork, The Purcell Quartet, Concordia, Trio and Ensemble Sonnerie, London Baroque, Ensemble Sans Souci, the Berlin Barocke Compagney and many other ensembles.

In 1988, together with Andrew Manze and John Toll, Nigel formed Romanesca, an ensemble specializing in 17th Century music that has appeared in major festivals and concert series in Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, USA, Canada, England, Hungary and Slovenia. An exclusive recording contract from with Harmonia Mundi (USA) has resulted in 7 releases bringing several awards (including “Gramophone” and “Edison” awards for their recordings of Biber’s Sonatas).

For over 20 years Nigel was Professor of Lute at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in London; from 1993-1999 he was Professor at the Hochschule der Künste Berlin; 2005-2207 he was Lute Professor at the Royal Conservatory in Den Haag Netherlands. Since 1999, he has been Professor of Lute at the Early Music Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Photos and Review of Magnificat’s “Donne Virtuose”

February 10th, 2011 No comments

We’ve posted a gallery of photos here and on our Flickr page from our recent performances of music by women of the 17th Century. On her blog lies like truth, Chloe Veltman described the final concert of the set at St. Luke’s in San Francisco.

A knock-out program of works by 17th century women composers featuring the ardent, beveled singing voice of Jennifer Ellis Kampani, whom I am beginning to adore almost as much as Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, my favorite vocalist of all time. The musicians, led by the group’s artistic director, Warren Stewart, all looked like they were having a blast while playing. The music was varied and rich, involving everything from a heartfelt sacred song (“Volo Jesum”) by Isabella Leonarda to La Passage de la Mer Rouge, a colorful and dramatic cantata by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, to gorgeous secular pieces by Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi. A few weeks ago, Warren appeared on VoiceBox, my weekly public radio show all about singing and vocal music, to talk about this repertoire. I fell in love with it then and am completely obsessed now.

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Isabella Leonarda’s Solo Violin Sonata

January 27th, 2011 No comments

Rob Diggins and Jillon Stoppels Dupree

In addition to vocal works by women composers, Magnificat’s upcoming program will include a trio sonata by Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and a sonata for solo violin and continuo by Isabella Leonarda. In 1693, Isabella published her op. 16, a collection of twelve sonatas, the first such publication by a woman. Eleven of the sonatas are for two violins and continuo but the collection concludes with an extraordinary virtuoso work for solo violin, which will be performed on our program by Rob Diggins and Jillon Stoppels Dupree.

Through-composed in seven sections, the solo sonata is stylistically closer to the middle of the 17th century than the last decade – more like Marini or Uccelini than Corelli. It is harmonically adventurous and alternates free quasi-improvisational sections with more structured “arias” and dance-like passages.

Rob has been a fixture in Magnificat’s concerts since returning to California from his studies in Holland in 1994. He has performed Isabella’s solo sonata in two programs with Magnificat: first in 2003 on a program devoted to Isabella’s music and again last summer in our CD release party at Yoshi’s in San Francisco.

Here’s a recording from 2003 in which Rob is joined by Warren Stewart, violoncello; David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosdij, harpsichord.

Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre – “The Marvel of Our Century”

January 22nd, 2011 No comments

In the dedication to her first collection of pieces for harpsichord in 1687, Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre recalled that already when she was five years old King Louis XIV had recognized in her “a disposition for playing the harpsichord.” So impressed was the Sun King that he arranged for her education and support. When Élisabeth was twelve, the Mercure Gallant, the journal of the French court, reported:

There is a prodigy that has been appearing here in Paris for four years now. She sings the most difficult music at sight. She accompanies herself and she accompanies others to sing, on the harpsichord, which she plays in a style that cannot be imitated. She composes pieces, and she plays them in all the keys that one asks of her.

The following year, the same journal declared Élisabeth “the marvel of our century.”

Mary Cyr begins the thorough and engaging biographical essay accompanying her recent edition of Elisabeth’s complete works with the observation that “something of this sense of marvel seems to have adhered to Jacquet de la Guerre throughout her career–no doubt in part because she was a child prodigy and in part because she was an exceptional achiever in a community in which opportunities for the achievement were available mostly to men.” Cyr suggests that Élisabeth was perhaps the most successful woman in the history of French music:

She was an accomplished performer, renowned as a singer and a harpsichordist. She was a musical hostess whose in-house concerts attracted the most musically discerning Parisians and visitors to Paris. For five decades she kept herself at the center of musical life in Paris and Versailles. But she was able to expand the range of possibilities available to women: unlike other women of her day, she was a composer of music for keyboard, for violins, for voice, for chorus, and for the stage, and she actively pursued the publication of her compositions… She had sufficient stature, connections, and savoir-faire to negotiate successfully the tricky process of having an opera produced by the Accadémie royale de musique. Such a range of accomplishments would have been remarkable for anybody, regardless of gender.

The exquisite quality of the impressive body of work that has come down to us reveal a master composer and provide some glimpse of her extraordinary gift as a performer. Beyond sheer technical display, reflecting her mastery of both vocal and instrumental idioms, her music displays a refined sensitivity to the drama and character, whether in setting a text our in purely instrumental works.

Magnificat will perform Élisabeth’s musical description of the Israelites passage through the Red Sea, as well as selections from her Pieces de claveçin and Trio Sonatas in concerts on the weekend of February 4-6.

Magnificat Concerts to Feature Soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani

January 12th, 2011 No comments

Jennifer Ellis Kampani On the weekend of February 4-6, Magnificat will present a program of music by women composers of the 17th century that will feature soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani. Since her memorable Magnificat debut in the role of Gelosia in Marco Marrazoli’s opera Il Capriccio in 1997, Jennifer has appeared in every Magnificat season. Her credits include music by Charpentier, Schütz, Monteverdi, Rovetta, Carrisimi, and many others. She features prominently on Magnificat’s recordings of the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and has appeared on several Magnificat tours.

“Jennie’s voice has been integral to Magnificat’s sound over the past decade,” noted artistic director Warren Stewart. “The passion, love and energy that she brings to every performance is inspiring to audiences and her fellow musicians alike.”

In addition to her work with Magnificat, Jennifer has performed recently with the Washington Bach Consort, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem and the New York Collegium under Andrew Parrott. She was featured artist in Le Tournoi de Chauvency, a Medieval opera production with Francesca Lattuada and Ensemble Aziman, which toured Europe. She has also performed with the Richmond Symphony, the Bach Sinfonia, and the Handel Choir of Baltimore. Her international career has included appearances with American Bach Soloists, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Opera Lafayette, Apollo’s Fire, Musica Angelica, Washington Catherdral Choral Society, Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, Ensemble Solamente (Budapest, Hungary), Ensemble Tourbillon (Prague, Czech Republic), and Musica Aeterna (Bratislava, Slovakia). In addition, Jennifer has sung with the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Charlotte Symphony. Opera highlights include leading roles in Handel’s Acis and Galatea, Blow’s Venus and Adonis, Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, Duron’s zarzuela Salir el Amor del Mundo, Handel’s Semele, and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

A specialist in the music of Spain and Latin America, Jennifer has toured villancicos and zarzuelas extensively with Richard Savino and El Mundo and has performed on programs with Andrew Lawrence-King. She has been heard in many concert series and festivals including Aston Magna, Houston Early Music, Music Before 1800, Miami Tropical Baroque, Connecticut Early Music, Carmel Bach, Pacific Music Festival, and the Berkeley and Boston Early Music Festivals. Jennifer has recorded Villancicos y Cantadas and The Essential Giuliani for Koch, the works of Cozzolani for Musica Omnia, and Carissimi Motets and Cantatas for Hungaroton. She was awarded finalist in the 2004 Early Music America Medieval/Renaissance Competition, first runner up at the 2000 Bethlehem Bach Vocal Competition, and the Adam’s Fellowship at the Carmel Bach Festival. Born in San Francisco and a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Guildhall School of Music in London, Jennifer currently lives in Detroit.

Tickets for Jennifer’s performances are available here. E-tickets are also available and can be ordered here.

Isabella Leonarda – the Muse of Novarra

January 12th, 2011 1 comment

Isabella Leonarda is one of four women composers whose music Magnificat will explore in our concerts on the weekend of February 4-6 that will feature soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani.

Isabella LeonardaIn 1724, the imminent theorist and collector music Sébastian de Brossard wrote in praise of the works of Isabella Leonarda that “all of the works of this illustrious and incomparable composer are so beautiful, so gracious, so brilliant and at the same time so knowledgeable and so wise, that my great regret is in not having them all.”

Isabella was born into a noble family of Novara in Piedmont in 1620. Little is known of Isabella’s musical education, though it has been suggested that she may have studied with Gasparo Casati, maestro di cappella at the Novara Cathedral from 1635-1641. Two of Isabella’s works were included by the composer in a collection of sacred concerti published in 1641.

Isabella entered the convent of Saint Ursula in Novarra in 1636 and remained there for the rest of her long life. A document from 1658 identifies Isabella as music instructor at the convent as well as “mother and clerk for her congregation.” By 1676 she had attained the rank of mother superior and by 1693, mother vicar.

Easily the most prolific woman composer of the century, she published twenty collections of music, containing over 200 compositions that feature examples of nearly every sacred genre. In 1693, she became the first woman to publish instrumental sonatas.

In 2003, Magnificat presented a program devoted to Isabella’s music for Vespers. Her setting of the psalm Laetatus sum is sung soprano Catherine Webster in the following live recording from those concerts.

Isabella’s instrumental works, which appeared in 1693, are apparently the earliest published sonatas by a woman. The collection consists of eleven trio sonatas and one sonata for solo violin and continuo. In our concerts, Rob Diggins will perform one of her most harmonically adventurous works, the Sonata duodecima, an extended work in seven sections. This live recording comes from the same concert in 2003.

Magnificat’s February 6th Concert at St. Luke’s in San Francisco

January 10th, 2011 No comments

St. Luke's Episcopal Church, San FranciscoMagnificat’s concert on Sunday February 6 will take place at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Clay and Van Ness in San Francisco rather than our usual venue of St. Mark’s Lutheran. While this will be the first Magnificat  series concert at St. Luke’s, our affiliate the Jubilate Orchestra has performed several times with the choir and former St. Luke’s music director David Farr was one of Magnificat’s original board members in 1989.

The parish of St. Luke’s was founded in 1868 and was first located in a building at 1625 Pacific Avenue. In 1884, the original wooden church was placed on rollers and moved to the parish’s current location at the corner of Van Ness and Clay. During the next decade, the church was expanded twice, and its membership grew to be the largest Episcopal congregation on the Pacific coast and a new church was built. This magnificent church, designed by Albert Sutton, was constructed of brick covered in rough, blue-grey sandstone. It was consecrated in 1900 and seated close to a thousand people.

Unfortunately, this church was utterly destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The vestry retained Benjamin Geer McDougall as architect for the beautiful French Gothic sanctuary built in 1910. The worship experience is enhanced by the building’s many stained-glass windows, especially the east window over the altar and those which flank the nave on its north and south sides. The altar window, which depicts the Resurrection, was installed in 1911. The stained-glass windows on the north and south walls of the nave depict the Virgin Mary, various Saints and Biblical scenes. Read more at the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church website.

Barbara Strozzi – Virtuosissima Cantatrice

December 29th, 2010 No comments

One of the composers that will be featured on Magnificat’s program for the weekend of February 4-6 2011 is Barbara Strozzi. The following biographical essay is posted at Dr. Candace Magner’s excellent website devoted to Barbara Strozzi. We have cross-posted here with permission of the author.

Barbara Strozzi

Barbara Strozzi had the good fortune to be born into a world of creativity, intellectual ferment, and artistic freedom. She made a mark as composer and singer, eventually publishing eight collections of songs – more music in print during her lifetime than even the most famous composers of her day – without the support of the Church or the patronage of a noble house. She is sometimes credited with the genesis of an entire musical genre, the cantata. Her works were included in important collections of song which found their way to the rest of Europe and England. Yet she died in obscurity in Padua in 1677 with little wealth or property.

Born in 1619 in Venice, Barbara was baptized on August 6 at the Santa Sofia parish. At that time, Venice was at its cultural peak, a city of wealth, peace, academic curiosity, and musical innovation. In addition to the luck of time and place, Barbara grew up in a household frequented by the greatest literary and musical minds of the age. The adopted daughter of poet Giulio Strozzi was most likely his natural daughter, recognized or ‘legitimized’ in his will of 1628 as his figliuola elettiva. Her mother Isabella lived in the same household as Giulio and was his principle heir until Barbara should come of age.

Though born in Venice, Giulio, himself the illegitimate and later recognized son of Roberto Strozzi, was nonetheless a member of one of the most powerful families of Florence, second only to the Medici in wealth and influence. That the Strozzi name was recognized far and wide may have assisted Giulio in his ability to mix with many levels of Italian society. He was the founder of several accademie or groups of creative intellectuals, and was an influential member of the Accademia degli Incogniti formed by the writer Giovanni Francesco Loredano in Venice. This group was almost single-handedly responsible for the ‘invention’ and spread of what was to become known as Opera – music and theatre highly intertwined into a new art form which flourished in Venice throughout the 17th century and then expanded throughout the continent. The Incogniti counted among its participants famous authors, poets, philosophers, and musicians, possibly including the great Monteverdi. It was into this milieu that young Barbara was introduced as a singer and composer.

Read Dr. Magner’s full essay at BarbaraStrozzi.com.

Anguissola’s Novel Self Portrait

December 29th, 2010 No comments

“I bring to your attention the miracles of a Cremonese woman called Sofonisba, who has astonished every prince and wise man in all of Europe by means of her paintings, which are all portraits, so like life they seem to conform to nature itself. Many valiant professionals have judged her to have a brush taken from the hand of the divine Titian himself; and now she is deeply appreciated by Philip King of Spain and his wife who lavish the greatest honors on the artist.”

Gian Paolo Lomazzo (Libro de Sogni, 1564) describing the genius of Sofonisba Anguisola in the context of an imagined conversation between Leonardo da Vinci, representing modern painting, and Phidias, the artist from Antiquity.

Anguisola, Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, c. 1550

The image we’ve chosen to represent the upcoming Magnificat program featuring music by four women from the 17th century was painted by the extraordinary Sofonisba Anguissola in 1550. An exceptional work that captures the place of women in late Renaissance, the painting is both a self portrait, a portrait of her master teacher, and a compelling allegory of women as defined by men of the period. It aptly symbolizes the barriers to artistic expression faced by women and the fruits of the individual struggle in the face of those barriers.

Anguissola was born in Cremona around 1532, the oldest of seven children, six of whom were daughters. Her father, Amilcare Anguissola, was a member of the Genoese minor nobility and her mother, Bianca Ponzone, was also of an affluent family of noble background. At fourteen, Anguissola started studying with Bernardino Campi, at the Lombard school and later on under Bernardino Gatti. It is clear that her privileged status as a noble woman were a contributing factor to the fact that she had been given an opportunity to become an artist. Read more at Suite101

Although Sofonisba enjoyed much more encouragement and support than the average woman of her day, her social class did not allow her to transcend the constraints of her sex. Without the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life (it was considered unacceptable for a lady to view nudes), she could not undertake the complex multi-figure compositions required for large-scale religious or history paintings. Instead, Anguissola created wry and witty portraits of family members and acquaintances.

“Sofonisba’s painting of her teacher, painting her portrait – a story within a story – demonstrates how she negotiated her male-dominated world. Anguissola’s gaze rivets the viewer of the painting, forcing consideration of what appears to be the inscribing of male authority on the body of the female. Campi’s gaze complicates matters, however, since as he paints he, too, looks out of the painting toward what the picture indicates must be his subject, Anguissola. Thus the viewer in front of the painting plays a double role: that of the subject of the painting within the painting, namely Anguissola herself, and of an engaged viewer – watched by both Campi and Anguissola – made complicit in Anguissola’s destabilizing of contemporary social norms.” (Read more at wga.hu)

Magnificat’s Magnificent 2010

December 23rd, 2010 No comments

As the days finally start getting longer, it’s a good time to look back on the remarkable year that Magnificat enjoyed in 2010 – our biggest audiences ever, two appearances at the Berkeley Festival, the release of the first volume of Cozzolani’s complete works and, of course, lots and lots of spectacular music. In the past twelve months Magnificat performed 16 times in venues ranging from Yoshi’s to Grace Cathedral. We performed music by Alessandro Grandi, Claudio Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi, Antonio Vivaldi, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, John Blow, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Nicolas LeBegue, Biagio Marini, and Dario Castello.

Our first performances of the year were also the first performances in almost 400 years of the first works designated as “cantatas.” Soprano Laura Heimes was featured in a program that included three cantatas, a madrigal and a sonnet from Alessandro Grandi’s 1620 collection Cantade et Arie, in which the composer used to the term “cantada” to distinguish three settings of strophic poetry for soprano and continuo. Each of the works employs a compositional strategy identified by musicologists as “strophic bass” cantatas, an example of strophic variation with which many composers were experimenting at the time. Sadly, the only copy of Grandi’s historic 1620 collection thought to survive into the 20th century was destroyed in the Second World War, a previously unidentified copy of the print was uncovered recently and, working with musicologists Giulia Giovani and Aurelio Bianco, Magnificat had the honor of presenting some of Grandi’s collection for the first time in centuries.

In April, we went from a modern premiere to perhaps the best known work from the 17th Century, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, celebrating the 400th anniversary of this watershed publication with three performances, including one at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. “With Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, Magnificat is approaching music that is generally familiar to our audience — many of whom have even sung the piece — and each of the musicians involved can list multiple performances of the work on their resumes,” noted Artistic Director Warren Stewart. “Yet turning to Monteverdi’s familiar music together is no less a revelation than any premiere, especially in the company of musical friends that bring such a breadth of experience with them to the performances.” Magnificat was joined for these performances by the early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse.

In addition to our own 2009-2010 season, Magnificat also appeared twice at the Berkeley Early Music Festival in June. On June 11, we presented a program that featured nine motets by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, eight of which we had just recorded in completion of our project to record her complete works. Volume I of the two volume set for formally released ina CD release party at Yoshi’s on June 7, though the actual delivery of the CDs was delayed due to printing issues. We have now begun the post production process for Volume II, which is now planned for release at our concerts in March 2011.

Magnificat also participated in the Festival Finale concert on June 13, a concert that featured all the mainstage ensembles from the Festival in a “Vespers from Monteverdi to Vivaldi.” It was an honor to join ARTEK, AVE, Archetti, the Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’s Recreation and ¡Sacabuche! in Monteverdi’s hymn Ave maris stella and Vivaldi’s g minor Magnificat under the direction of Magnificat’s Artistic Director Warren Stewart. In addition, Magnificat performed Barabara Strozzi’s motet “O Maria” and the Dixit Dominue from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.

Our 2010-2011 season opened in October with a production of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis. Again, these performances were something of a first – these were the first performances of Blow’s revised version of the work. Soprano Catherine Webster sung the part of Venus; countertenor José Lemos sang the role of Cupid; and bass Peter Becker was Adonis. Magnificat was joined in these performances by members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, who made a cameo appearance as the little cupids. The edition for our performance was generously provided by The Purcell Society and Stainer and Bell.

On the weekend of December 17-19, Magnificat performed Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit for three near-capacity crowds in Menlo Park, Berkeley and San Francisco. The program also included Charpentier’s Dialogus inter angelos et pastores and arrangements of many of the French noëls used by the composer in his delightful mass setting.

Of course we still have two programs remaining in the 2010-2011 season. On the weekend of February 4-6, a program featuring soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani exploring the music of four remarkable women of the 17th Century: Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Isabella Leonarda and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. The season will conclude March 18-20 with a staged production of Orazio Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso in collaboration with commedia actors from the Dell’Arte Company.

Thanks to all the musicians appeared in Magnificat concerts during 2010 – Elizabeth Anker, Annette Bauer, Peter Becker, Meg Bragle, Louise Carslake, Daria D’Andrea, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jillon Stoppels Dupree, Paul Elliott, Ruth Escher, Steve Escher, Jeff Fields, Katherine Heater, Richard Van Hessel, Daniel Hutchings, Jennifer Lane, Christopher LeCluyse, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, José Lemos, Anthony Martin, Clifton Massey, Matthias Maute, Carla Moore, Herb Myers, Jennifer Paulino, Elisabeth Reed, Ernie Rideout, Robert Stafford, Sandy Stadtfeld, David Tayler, Brian Thorsett, Kiri Tollaksen, Hanneke van Proosdij, Jolianne von Einem, Catherine Webster, and David Wilson.

Many thanks as well to Magnificat’s Board of Directors: Nicholas Elsishans, John Golenski, Dorothy Manly, Michael Patterson, Michael Barger, Mickey Butts, Richard Fabian, Michael King and Chuck Thiel; our irreplaceable concert and stage team of  Margriet Downing and Julianna Wetherwax; creative director Nika Korniyenko and recording magician Boby Borisov. Most of all thank you to all those that have supported us with donations, CD and ticket purchases and all the good will on Twitter and Facebook. We look forward to sharing beautiful music with all of you in the new year!

Here’s a sample of photographs from 2010. Lots more can be viewed on our Flickr page.

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New Cozzolani Track – Psallite superi

December 23rd, 2010 No comments

Another release – and this time one of the musicians’ favorites. The four voice motet Psallite, superi sets a text for the Assumption (August 15); its refrain frames a series of questions whose answers are taken from a standard Song of Songs verse used on the liturgy of that day in Cozzolani’s Benedictine breviary. The form of this dialogue also derives from the cantilena motets pioneered in Alessandro Grandi’s book of 1619. The scoring (two sopranos, two altos) points directly to the all-women choir of S. Radegonda’s nuns, the ensemble which presumably premiered most of Cozzolani’s music.

Magnificat has performed Psallite superi several times – on our series and on the Carmel Bach Festival series in 2002 and again on the Music Before 1800 series in New York in 2005. This recording features Catherine Webster, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Meg Bragle and Deborah Rentz-Moore with David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosdij, organ. As always the producer was Peter Watchorn and the engineer Joel Gordon.

We will continue releasing digital versions of the remaining tracks over the next few months and hope to have the physical CD available in time for Magnificat’s final concerts of the season in March 2011.

Répétition de Noels

December 18th, 2010 No comments

Magnificat’s creative director Nika Korniyenko has posted some photos from Magnificat’s rehearsals for this weekend’s Charpentier performances. Here are a few, the full set can be viewed on our Flickr page. Photos from yesterday’s concert at St. Patrick’s Seminary will be posted later today.

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Program for Magnificat’s Charpentier Concerts

December 17th, 2010 No comments

The program for this weekend’s concerts, with text and translations, can be downloaded here (PDF.)

click image to download full program (PDF)

The music on Magnificat’s program this weekend was composed during the decade that Marc-Antoine Charpentier served as maître de musique at the principal Jesuit Church of St Louis in Paris. As a result of his early education, both in France and Rome, and his inclinations as a composer, Charpentier had ideal credentials as a Jesuit composer and benefited from the Jesuits’ liberal, even worldly, approach to the arts and religious education and the decade he spent working for the Jesuits was remarkably productive.

The sumptuously decorated Eglise St. Louis, now called St. Paul-St. Louis, was built on Rue Saint-Antoine in the affluent Marais district. Commissioned by Louis XIII, who ceremoniously laid the first stone in 1627, the church was completed by 1641 and is one of the oldest examples of Jesuit architecture in Paris. The design of L’Eglise St. Louis, directed by Etienne Martellange and Francois Derand, was inspired by the baroque-style Gesu Church in Rome, and, like Charpentier’s music, incorporates elements of both Italian and French styles. Its congregation was wealthy and sophisticated and they no doubt greatly appreciated (and generously supported) the church’s lavish architecture, marble, gold and silver ornament and exquisite paintings. They would have also appreciated Charpentier’s sensuous and expressive music performed by the finest musicians in Paris, including singers from the Opera.

The most distinctive feature of Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit is of course its use of the melodies of traditional French Christmas carols, or noëls. The use of the word noël in reference to the birth of Christ can be traced back even further to the 13th century. The word is related to newness, as in “good news” or “New Year,” and was used in non-Christmas contexts as well. By Charpentier’s time, noël could refer to Christmas Day itself, songs related to Christmas (like those upon which his mass is based), or simply an exuberant cry of rejoicing. Since the fifteenth century noëls have been sung by Frenchmen of all classes to celebrate the Christmas season. Most of the tunes that Charpentier employed in his setting of the mass ordinary were already centuries old and would have been as familiar to his listeners as Silent Night or O Come All Ye Faithful would be to audiences today. Indeed, many of the noëls used by Charpentier are still sung in Francophone countries around the world today. Read more…

Cozzolani Project Releases New Track: Ecce annuntio vobis

December 13th, 2010 No comments

The Cozzolani Project is pleased to announce the release of our first new track from Volume II of the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, the Christmas motet Ecce annuntio vobis featuring soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani. After some delays, we have know begun the process of completing the post-production of the remaining motets that were recorded last summer.

The Christmas motet Ecce annuntio vobis was published in the collection Concerti Sacri in 1642. It is one of 16 solo motets by Cozzolani and one of only four that have survived complete. The text is a paraphrase of the angelic announcement of the birth of Christ found in Luke 2:10-14.

Jennifer has appeared regularly with Magnificat since her debut as “Gelosia” in Marco Marrazoli’s Il Capriccio in 1997. She will be featured in Magnificat’s concerts on the weekend of February 4-6, 2011 in a program of music by four remarkable women composers of the Baroque: Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Isabella Leonarda, and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre.

Jennifer is joined on this recording by David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosdij, organ.

Maestras Unveiled – Women Composers of the Baroque on KALW’s Voicebox

December 13th, 2010 No comments

On Friday December 17, San Francisco radio station KALW will broadcast a program devoted to music by women composers of the 17th century anticipating Magnificat’s performance February 4-6 of music by four remarkable women composers. Those concerts will feature soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani, whose recordings will feature prominently in the Voicebox program as well.

Over the past decade Magnificat has taken a special interest in music written by women during the Baroque such as Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Isabella Leonarda, Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini. Warren Stewart, the artistic director of Magnificat, joins VoiceBox host Chloe Veltman for a discussion about how these composers practiced their art in the face of cultural restrictions on the creative expression of women and produced eloquent masterpieces.

The program includes performances of Cozzolani’s Magnificat Primo and Laudate Dominum; Barbara Strozzi’s O Maria, Isabella Leonarda’s setting of Lætatus sum; and two excerpts from Francesca Caccini’s opera La Liberazione di Ruggiero. Voicebox airs from 10:00-11:00 pm and will be available in streaming audio through KALW’s music player for a week after the broadcast on December 10.

San Jose Mercury News: Magnificat to Perform Charpentier’s Midnight Mass

December 13th, 2010 No comments

Monsieur Noel – Nicolas LeBegue, “famous organist of Paris”

December 10th, 2010 No comments

Title page of LeBegue's Troisieme livre d'orgue

Among the many fine musicians with whom Charpentier was in contact in Paris was the celebrated organist and harpsichordist Nicolas LeBegue. Twelve years Charpentier’s senior, LeBegue was born in humble circumstances in the provincial town of Laon, where he most likely received his primary education in music from his uncle (and namesake.) He is first mentioned in 1661 in a payment document that describes him as “fameux organiste de Paris” implying that he had already established some reknown in his adopted city by that time.

In 1664, LeBegue was engaged as organist at the church of St. Merri, a position he retained for the remainder of his life. His first publication, the Pièces d’orgue, appeared in 1676 and in 1678 he was named organist to the King, a position he shared with three other notable musicians – Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Jacques-Denis Thomelin, and Jean-Baptiste Buterne – with each taking on duties for a quarter of the year (LeBegue was the “Autumn” organist.)

In the Mecure gallant in 1682, Jean Donneau de Visé describes several days of festivities at court (during which it rained incessantly apparently) that featured the Dauphin’s Music under the direction of Charpentier as well as Lebegue’s performance of a grand “Symphony Mass.”

Lebegue published five collections of keyboard music, three for organ and two for harpsichord. His Troisième livre d’orgue (1685) includes settings of nine noels, two of which will be played on Magnificat’s upcoming concerts by Jillon Stoppels Dupree. While organists of course performed and improvised upon the noel tunes for generations, Lebegue was the first to publish such arrangements and many composers followed suit with similar collections.

Innovative and prolific as a composer, LeBegue was also influential as a teacher, his students including François d’Agincourt, Gabriel Garnier, Jean-Nicolas Geoffroy, Gilles Jullien and, most notably, the sublime Nicolas de Grigny. He was also an expert on organ-building and frequently travelled throughout France advising on building and repairs.

While he is best known as a composer and performer of keyboard music, he also published vocal music including a collection of motets for solo voice and continuo. The first edition of these motets in 1687 atrributed them to “Mr. Noel,” perhaps an indication of the composer’s modesty (though the preface coincidentally includes considerable praise for the artistry of the excellent organist Nicolas LeBegue!) Appearing shortly after the publication containing his settings of noel, it is possible that the choice of pseudonym reflects their popularity. When the volume was re-printed after the composer’s death, all mystery was removed with its ascription to LeBegue.

The Noëls in Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit

December 6th, 2010 1 comment

Woodcut Illustration from a 16th century Bible des Noels

The most distinctive feature of Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit is of course its use of the melodies of traditional French Christmas carols, or noëls. Since the fifteenth century, noëls have been sung by Frenchmen of all classes to celebrate the Christmas season. Most of the tunes that Charpentier employed in his setting of the mass ordinary were already centuries old and would have been as familiar to his listeners as Silent Night or O Come All Ye Faithful would be to audiences today. Indeed, many of the noëls used by Charpentier are still sung in Francophone countries around the world today.

The use of the word noël in reference to the birth of Christ can be traced back even further to the 13th century. The word is related to newness, as in “good news” or “New Year,” and was used in non-Christmas contexts as well. By Charpentier’s time, noël could refer to Christmas Day itself, songs related to Christmas (like those upon which his mass is based), or simply an exuberant cry of rejoicing.

Noel Nouveau, Lyon 1574

The tunes themselves most often had an existence independent of their Christmas lyrics and with very few exceptions collections of noëls (typically called Bibles des Noëls) contained only the texts with an indication to sing the words to a tune (or timbre) often identified by their commonly known secular titles. Not until Christophe Ballard’s Chant des Noëls, published in Paris in 1704, do we find a complete collection of noëls with words and music – in this case as continuo songs or airs.

The noel tunes are noted for their simplicity, their often dance-like rhythm and above all the bucolic nature of their texts. Most concern themselves with the response of the shepherd’s and townspeople after receiving the news of Christ’s birth from the angel and their subsequent celebration and rejoicing as they hurry off to the manger. The characters in the noëls are distinctly French and the lyrics include frequent references to food and wine – some things never change! By the end of the 17th century, many French composers had embraced these rustic tunes and settings for organ and various instrumental ensembles were published from the 1680s onward. Charpentier’s use of the tunes in a “parody” technique in his mass was most likely the first, though several others followed.

The timbres of many of these noëls have appeared in other Magnificat productions, notably in the two opera parodies we produced in 1996 and 1998. Here of course any association with Christmas was absent – they were just universally familiar tunes to which, in those cases, very silly texts were sung. We have also programmed noëls as part of Christmas programs in 1993, 1996, 2002 and 2005. Here is a live recording of the noël Où s’en vont ces gais bergers that includes Charpentier’s instrumental arrangement from a Magnificat performance in December 2005. This noel tune appears in the Gloria of the Messe de Minuit.

[audio: http://magnificatbaroque.com/audio/Noel__Ou_sen_vont_ces_gais_bergers.mp3]

Charpentier uses each of the ten melodies as the basis for a defined section of the Mass, for example, Joseph est bien Marie serves as the subject matter of the first Kyrie, Or, nous dites Marie for the Christe and Une jeune pucelle (familiar to modern audience from its use in the 1991 film Tous les Matins de Monde) for the second Kyrie. In addition to the ten noëls that Charpentier uses in the mass ordinary, he also suggests that after the Credo, an instrumental setting of “Laissez paistre vos bestes” be performed at the Offertory – and he provides just such a setting elsewhere in his notebooks.

Charpentier’s use of the noel tunes fits well with the Jesuit approach of ‘enculturation,’ the blending of indigenous cultural traditions in the service of God and the celebration of the sacraments. It is especially fitting that these popular noëls were incorporated into a mass explicitly intended for Christmas Eve – precisely on this unique night when God takes on human form, when the sacred can combine with the secular.