Author Archive

Charpentier at L’Eglise St. Louis

November 16th, 2010 No comments

The music on Magnificat’s December concerts was composed during Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s tenure 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; 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. 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.

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 incorporates elements of both Italian and French architectural styles.

In addition to Charpentier, other great musicians of the Baroque period employed as masters of music at the church include Jean-Philippe Rameau, Andre Campra, and Louis Marchand.

The gallery below of contemporary photos of L’Eglise St. Paul-St. Louis were found on this webpage. Click here to view a panoramic slideshow of the interior of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis Church supplied by Panoramic Earth

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Charpentier’s Christmas Dialogue

October 21st, 2010 No comments

Magnificat’s December program features what is perhaps the composer’s best-known work: the Messe de Minuit. The Mass will provide the basic structure of the program, which will also include the oratorio (or histoire sacreé) Dialogus inter angelos et pastores Judæ, which sets the Christmas Eve narrative of angels and shepherds.

Charpentier wrote at least six Christmas oratorios, which to some extent share both music and text.  It has thus far proven impossible to determine the year or the circumstances for which the Dialogus inter angelos et pastores Judæ was composed. It closely resembles In nativitatem Domini Canticum, H. 416, sharing structure, text, and a considerable amount of music, though the keys and instrumentation differ.

The Dialogus opens with a grand prelude that lead’s to a sombre tenor recitative and a “Chorus of the Righteous” that describe state of anticipation, awaiting the birth of Christ. A bass air in the form of a rondeau follows.  Between the elegant descending contours of two chorus another bass solo occurs in dialogue with the instruments, joyful and full of hope.

The second part opens with an instrumental depiction of night, enriched with “soft flutes” built on interwoven fugal textures. The composer effects a striking contrast by following the Night music with a “Shepherd’s Awakening,” followed by the appearance of the angel, addressing the shepherds in a blinding light. The Heavenly Host joins, singing to the glory of god and after a march of the shepherds, all fall adoringly before the newborn infant. The oratorio concludes with a chorus, in which the shepherd’s marvel at their experience.

Magnificat performed the Dialogus once before in December 2003 in a program that included the compser’s settings of the seven “O Antiphons.” These performances will feature sopranos Jennifer Ellis Kampani and Ruth Escher, haute-contre Christopher LeCluyse, tenor Daniel Hutchings and bass Robert Stafford.

Photos from Magnificat’s ‘Venus and Adonis’

October 18th, 2010 No comments

Ya-Hsuan Huang took some photographs of Magnificat’s Sunday performance of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco. In addition to this gallery, there are more on our Flickr Photostream, along with a few rehearsal photos.

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Reviews of Magnificat’s “Venus and Adonis”

October 12th, 2010 No comments

We’ve had two reviews of our performances of Venus and Adonis last weekend. Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle concluded his review with the following comments:

“Sunday’s performance, ably led by Artistic Director Warren Stewart, made a strong case for this little-known work. The eight-member instrumental ensemble offered solid, rhythmically alert accompaniment, and the cast sang splendidly throughout. Soprano Catherine Webster and bass Peter Becker, in the title roles, combined clarity and eloquence in equal measure, while countertenor José Lemos’ vocal flights as Cupid lent the character an air of extravagant fancy. The chorus of shepherds and huntsmen was ably sung by Jennifer Paulino, Clifton Massey, Paul Elliott and Hugh Davies, and eight members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus brought vivacious charm to the scene of Cupid’s lesson.” Read the Full Review

Pessissimo at the always engaging blog Exotic and irrational entertainment also posted a very thoughtful review:

“Blow’s flowing melodies were performed beautifully by Magnificat (with members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus). Special mention should be made of soprano Catherine Webster’s Venus, countertenor Jose Lemos’ Cupid (his Lesson was especially amusing) and bass Peter Becker’s Adonis, all of whom were excellently sung and characterized. Magnificat made a compelling case for the work; given its obviously high quality and modest scale, I’m amazed that it isn’t programmed more frequently. I’ve been interested in Baroque opera, and this work in particular, for more than a decade and a half, but this was my first opportunity to see it performed. Thanks are due to Stewart and Magnificat for bringing this unjustly neglected work to life.” Read the Full Review

Remembering Ken Fitch

September 30th, 2010 No comments

We were deeply saddened to learn that countertenor Ken Fitch  recently passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Ken first sang with Magnificat in our performances of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers in 1999 and appeared many times since, most recently in a program of music from Hamburg in 2008.

In addition to the gift of his bell like voice and keen artistry, Ken was also extremely generous with web expertise and assisted with the creation of Magnificat’s first website and online ticketing.

Most of all Ken touched all of us with his bouyant spirit and boundless energy. He will be missed and his memory will be treasured. Our thoughts are with his wife Kathleen, their son, John and the rest of Ken’s family.

To read more about Ken’s life please visit <a href=””></a>.

SFCV Preview: Venus and Adonis, Premiering for a Second Time

September 28th, 2010 No comments

by Marianne Lipanovich for

Three-hundred-plus years is a long time to wait for a second performance, especially if the work in question is, according to Warren Stewart, director of Magnificat Baroque, “an exceptional piece” from a time when English opera was flourishing. The good news is that the upcoming performances of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis (2nd version) vest-pocket opera should prove it was well worth the wait.

First, though, we need some historical context as to why what’s called the earliest surviving English “opera” hasn’t been heard more often. The piece itself hasn’t been lost; most people have heard the 1902 version of this work, which is a mix of the earlier two versions. But some digging has brought these first two versions that were written in the 17th century back into the consciousness of early-music aficionados. The first version, believed to have first been performed in 1683 at the court of England’s King Charles II, had its modern premiere last year. The upcoming Bay Area performances serve as the modern premiere of the second, slightly tweaked version, which debuted in April 1684, in another private performance for the court.

In addition to interest in the music, the libretto has also been getting some attention lately. Although it has generally been attributed to the prolific “Anonymous,” and some sources have suggested that one Aphra Behn was responsible for it, an English literature scholar, Dr. James A. Winn of Boston University, makes a convincing case that the until-now-unknown author was most likely Anne Kingsmill (Finch), considered the finest female English poet before the 19th century.

Amphion Anglicus: Dr. John Blow ‘The Most Incomparable Master of Musick’

September 23rd, 2010 No comments

Apollo’s Harp at once our souls did strike,
We learnt together, but not learnt alike:
Though equal care our master might bestow,
Yet only Purcell e’re shall equal Blow.

This panegyric, written on Purcell’s death by Hereford Cathedral organist Henry Hall, who together with Purcell had studied under Dr. Blow, reflects how closely the reputations of the two great composers of Restoration England were entwined. To the extent that he is known today, John Blow is primarily remembered for his association, first as teacher and then colleague, of the marvelous Henry Purcell. However, during his lifetime he was the most celebrated and influential musician in England.

Born in Newark in 1644 and conscripted into the Chapel Royal as a chorister when he was just six, Blow’s entire life was centered around the court in London where he served in many positions as organist, composer, keeper of the royal instrument collection (a position held subsequently by Purcell) and perhaps most significantly as master Master of the Children of the Chapel. In his capacity as educator he had a formative influence on several generations of English composers. He pokes fun at his own teaching methods in the sarcastic Cupid’s Lesson in Venus and Adonis – satirizing the denizens of the court at the same time.

He was described by a contemporary as ‘a very handsome man in his person, and remarkable for a gravity and decency in his deportment…a man of blameless morals and of a benevolent temper but not totally free from the imputation of pride.’ But then he had much to be proud of, having produced an astonishing wealth of music, primarily odes, services and anthems for use at court. Already in 1677 he was awarded the first Lambeth degree of Doctor of Music in recognition of his preeminence among church musicians.

In 1679 he resigned from his position as organist of Westminster Abbey specifically to create a vacancy for the gifted young Purcell and the two shared a close relationship and friendly rivalry throughout the 1680s. They clearly influenced each other’s compositions and, given the difficulties of dating many of the ttheir works, it is often impossible to determine who was borrowing from whom.

In the case of the two composers’ operas it is clear that Blow’s one work in the genre, Venus and Adonis, was written first served as the model for Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. The links between the two works are apparent. The libretti, though by different authors, share many traits: the inclusion of cupids, the use of the chorus in a variety of roles (shepherds and shepherdesses, huntsmen, etc.), and the central role of the wild boar. (The bearing onstage of the dead beast’s head in Dido and Aeneas has been seen as a direct reference to the beast that brought down Adonis in the earlier opera.)
The musical connections of the two operas are even more significant. Each is constructed with a prologue and three acts (though the music for Purcell’s prologue is lost) that display similar key relationships and each culminate with a tragically intense lament and chorus. Further details (e.g. the walking bass lines in the second acts and the declamatory style in general) link the two works.

Blow outlived his pupil and colleague by more than a decade and in 1700 a new post at court was created for him as Composer for the Royal Chapel. He continued to compose til the end of his life in 1708. The numerous dedications and odes to Blow’s consummate musicianship found in Amphion Anglicus, a compendium of his songs published in 1700 attest to the high esteem in which he was held by his fellow musicians.

Thus Bird, a British Worthy, spread his Name
And for his Country gain’s this early Fame;
And down from him, in Time’s successive Flow,
Many a Noble Genius cou’d we show,
But not One Greater, None more Excellent than Blow.

Magnificat will perform Dr. Blow’s opera Venus and Adonis on the weekend of October 8-10. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

Berkeley Festival Finale: Vivaldi Magnificat (AUDIO)

September 15th, 2010 1 comment

The 2010 Berkeley Festival & Exhibition concluded with a concert on June 13 that celebrated the extraordinary repertoire of music composed by Venetian composers for the elaboration of the office of Vespers during the century following Monteverdi’s monumental Vespro della Beata Vergine in 1610. Each of the ensembles that had been featured in main stage events at the Festival contributed to the final concert with all joining forces for the performance of Vivaldi’s Magnificat captured the recording available for streaming at the link below.

Soloists for the Vivaldi were sopranos Laura Heimes, Jennifer Ellis Kampani and Rita Lilly; mezzo-sopranos Barbara Hollinshead and Meg Bragle; and tenor Christopher LeCluyse. The ensembles Archetti, ARTEK, AVE, Magnificat, the Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’s Recreation and ¡Sacabuche! performed under the direction of Magnificat Artistic Director Warren Stewart. (See full list of performers below.)

The towering figure of the Italian High Baroque, Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678. He studied violin with his father and may have had his first composition lessons with Legrenzi, whose style is reflected in his early vocal works. He would become the most famous and imitated Italian musician of the 18th Century and remains one of the most beloved and often-performed composers of the Baroque Era. Astonishingly prolific, Vivaldi composed in every genre current in the first half of the new century and, while his hundreds sonatas and concerti were the influential on the development of the compositional style of the high Baroque and contributed most heavily to his enduring reputation, he also wrote over 50 operas and a significant body of sacred works.

Vivaldi traveled widely and held a variety of positions in courts, churches and other establishments, notably the Ospedale della Pietà, one of four Venetian institutions devoted to the care of orphaned girls, where he was employed for over 30 years. The musical training at the Ospedale was such that Vespers and Mass became a focal point of Venetian culture and regularly attracted local nobility and foreign dignitaries. While his primary responsibility at the Ospedale was the provision of instrumental music like the L’Estro Armonico (“Harmonic Inspiration”) of 1711, during periods when the position of choirmaster was vacant he was frequently called upon to provide music for Mass and Vespers and it is most likely that this was the genesis of the of the Magnificat from 1715.

Vivaldi’s Magnificat exists in four distinct versions and its wide circulation throughout Europe suggests that it was Vivaldi’s best-known sacred composition during his lifetime. He returned to the Magnificat in the late 1720s, making relatively small changes possibly for the patronal feast of the Venetian convent of San Lorenzo. More extensive revisions were made for a performance in 1739, again for the Ospedale, with Vivaldi providing alternate settings for some movements. Our performance will be based on the original 1715 version, but will include one of the 1739 additions, the alto setting of Sicut locutus est.

Rita Lilly, soprano (Et exultavit)
Barbara Hollinshead, mezzo-soprano (Quia respexit)
Christopher LeCluyse, tenor (Quia fecit mihi magna)
Jennifer Ellis Kampani, soprano (Esurientes)
Laura Heimes, soprano (Esurientes)
Meg Bragle, mezzo-soprano (Sicut locutus est)

Tonia D’Amelio, soprano
Shauna Fallihee, soprano
Laura Heimes, soprano
Carol Ann Kessler, soprano
Lindsey Lang, soprano
Rita Lilly, soprano
Naomi Lopin, soprano
Jennifer Ellis Kampani, soprano
Marion Verbruggen, soprano (!)
Meg Bragle, alto
Barbara Hollinshead, alto
Pam Igelsrud, alto
Dominic Lim, alto
Clifton Massey, alto
Andrew Rader, alto
Heidi Waterman, alto
Celeste Winant, alto
Philip Anderson, tenor
Michael Brown, tenor
Daniel Hutchings, tenor
David Kurtenbach, tenor
Christopher LeCluyse, tenor
Neal Rogers, tenor
Wolodymyr Smishkewych , tenor
Jedediah Allen, bass
Peter Becker, bass
Ed Betts, bass
Joshua Henderson, bass
David Varnum, bass

Carla Moore, concertmaster
James Andrewes, violin
Janelle Davis, violin
Cynthia Freivogel, violin
Robert Mealy, violin
Alicia Yang, violin
Anthony Martin, viola
Margriet Tindemans, viola
David Wilson, viola
Tanya Tomkins, violoncello
John Dornenburg, violone
Sarah Barbash-Riley, trombone
Michael DeWitt, trombone
Ray Horton, trombone
Linda Pearse, trombone
Daniel Swenberg, theorbo
Charles Weaver, guitar
Grant Herreid, lute
Christa Patton, harp
Jillon Stoppels Dupree, harpsichord
Lorna Peters, harpsichord
Gwendolyn Toth, harpsichord
Jonathan Dimmock, organ
Katherine Heater, organ
Yonit Kosovske. organ

Warren Stewart, conductor

The San Francisco Girls Chorus Joins Magnificat for Cupid’s Lessons

September 10th, 2010 No comments

Members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus

One of the most charming moments in John Blow’s Venus and Adonis is the satirical spelling lesson given to a band of little cupids in the second act. On behalf of Venus Cupid teaches the younger cupids vocabulary to describe the court: “The insolent, the arrogant, the mercenary, the vain and silly,” which they dutifully repeat. It is noteworthy that Blow himself, as Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, was responsible for teaching his young charges to read and write and Bruce Wood has suggested that, in addition to providing the librettist another opportunity to poke fun at courtiers, the ‘Cupids’ Lesson’ gives us an amusing glimpse of his methods.

For this delightful scene, Magnificat will be joined by members of the award-winning San Francisco Girls Chorus, who have been prepared for these performances by Director Elizabeth Avakian. For more than 30 years, the San Francisco Girls Chorus has been recognized as one of the world’s most respected vocal ensembles. Its level of training, performance, quality, range, and leadership in commissioning music for treble voices are lauded by musicians, critics, and audiences. San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas says, “The San Francisco Girls Chorus is a treasure. Their training, musicality, and vibrant spirit are evident whenever they perform…”
Read more…

Looking Back on Last Season: Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero

August 22nd, 2010 No comments

Magnificat’s 2009-2010 season opened with a somewhat irreverent production of Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero on the weekend on October 16-18, 2009. The production marked the return of The Carter Family Marionettes, with their troupe of wooden trouble-makers, to Magnificat’s series.

Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle expressed what many of the audience felt when he commented that “the Carters have wooden stand-ins not only for the main human characters but also for dragons and demons, birds and gamboling lambs, transformed trees and dancing sea horses, and the level of theatrical magic on display was enchanting.” The full review can be read here.

Of course, Caccini’s magnificent work was not originally intended for interpretation by puppets, but the subject of the opera – the legends of Orlando as told by Ariosto and Tasso – was shared with the repertoire of the Sicilian puppet tradition, a specialization of the Carters and it seemed like a good fit. To this already polyglot stew was added the spice of commedia dell’arte characters, creating a unique and enjoyable experience for performers and audience alike.

Here’s an excerpt from the performance on October 18, 2009 – featuring countertenor José Lemos who will also appear in Magnificat’s upcoming production of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis in October. In the first, the good sorceress Melissa appears and announces her intention of saving Ruggiero from the enchantment of Alcina’s isle by appearing to him in the guise of his mentor Atlante. José is accompanied by Katherine Heater.

Photo Gallery
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At the Crossroads Between Masque and Opera

August 18th, 2010 No comments

Magnificat’s 2010-2011 season will open with a concert production of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis on the weekend of October 8-10. Venus and Adonis is generally considered the earliest surviving ‘opera’ in the English language but as Bruce Wood notes in his excellent introduction to the Purcell Society’s recent parallel edition of the two versions of the work, Venus and Adonis is also the last English court masque: the end of a line stretching back to the origins of the masque at the court of Henry VIII.

By the time of Charles I, the masque was characterized by spectacular staging, sophisticated machines and painted scenery, the incorporation into a spoken play of a succession of musical “entries”, and the inclusion, towards the end of the entertainment, of the revels, the sequence of social rather than choreographic dances in which members of the audience joined; and the participation of royalty and nobility among the cast. As Wood notes,

“In Venus and Adonis only one of these masquing conventions – the participation of royalty – remains in force, though the Cupids’ Lesson in Act II is perhaps related to the comic aspect of the antimasque, and a vestige of the revels may be descried in the succession of dances at the end of the act. No scenes or machines are specified in any source of the work, and the only props required are the couch upon which Venus and Adonis dally in Act I and the “magazine of beauty”, Venus’s box of cosmetics, in Act II.

The interwoven poetic and musical structure of the Jacobean and Caroline masque has been replaced by the prologue and three acts typical of French operas of the 1670s and 1680s and, like them, the work is all-sung; in this latter respect it has only one antecedent among English court masques, Ben Jonson’s Lovers Made Men (1617), of which, alas, the music, by Nicholas Lanier, is lost in its entirety.

Venus and Adonis thus stands at the crossroads between masque and opera; its importance is enhanced by the fact that it served Purcell as the model for Dido and Aeneas.”

Magnificat Moves Peninsula Series to St. Patrick’s

August 16th, 2010 No comments

Magnificat will be performing all of their Peninsula concerts in the 2010-2011 season at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. One of the most attractive performance venues in the Bay Area, St. Patrick’s was the site for two of Magnificat’s concerts last season and the audience response was overwhelming.

“I first encountered St. Patrick’s when I was the session producer for a recording of John Dornenburg’s viol consort Sex Chordæ,” noted Magnificat artistic director Warren Stewart. It is not only a beautiful space, but the acoustics are exceptional.”

St. Patrick’s Seminary was opened in 1898 and has undergone extensive renovation of the past decade. The main chapel, where Magnificat will perform, was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and completed in 1915. The richly colored carpets that cover the neutral marble of the pavement in the nave and sanctuary were designed by the San Francisco artist and sculptor John MacQuarrie and the stained glass windows were designed and manufactured in Birmingham, England, by John Hardman.

“The environment makes a huge difference for the audience’s experience of a concert,” Stewart observed. “It is also an inspiration for the musicians to perform in a space that enhances the music and enriches the senses. Just being in the chapel of St. Patrick’s is a treat.”

A full history and description of the chapel can be read at the St. Patrick’s website.

Photos of Magnificat at St. Patrick’s during the 2009-2010 Season

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Anne Kingsmill Finch – ‘Versifying’ Librettist of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis

July 17th, 2010 No comments

Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,
Such an intruder on the rights of men,
Such a presumptuous Creature, is esteem’d,
The fault, can by no vertue be redeem’d.

[from The Introduction by Anne Kingsmill Finch]

For 300 years, the libretto for the earliest surviving opera in English, John Blow’s masterful setting of the classic tale of Venus and Adonis, has been assigned to the oeuvre of the remarkably prolific ‘Anonymous’. However, English Literature scholar James A. Winn has recently argued persuasively that the graceful and elegant re-casting of Ovid rife with parody, and often sarcastic, commentary on the manners of the court of Charles II, is in fact the work of Anne Kingsmill, later Finch, who was a maid in honor of the Duchess of York, Marie of Modena, at the time when Blow’s ‘entertainment for the King’ was written and performed.

Considered the finest English women poet before the 19th century, Anne (1661-1720) felt constrained to anonymity through most of her life and perhaps as a result has still failed to achieve the status her sparkling, often witty and always committed poetic voice deserves.

The daughter of Sir William Kingsmill of Sidmonton, near Southampton, and Anne Haslewood, Anne’s childhood was scarred by the loss of both her parents and frequent displacement, often the result of familial legal wrangling. Her father took care in his will to provide, not only for the material support of his daughters, but also for their education and Anne learned classics, Greek and Roman mythology, the Bible, French, Italian, history, poetry and drama.

“The Kingsmills and Haslewoods were strong Anglicans and devoted supporters of the Stuart royalty. In 1682, Anne Kingsmill went to St. James Palace to become a Maid of Honour to Mary of Modena (wife of James, Duke of York, who later became King James II.) Anne Kingsmill enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of the ‘Court of Wits’, in spite of the Wits’ frequent antipathy towards women. Seeing the hostile treatment accorded to Anne Killigrew, who she may have known, Anne Kingsmill kept her own early attempts at poetry a secret. She became close to Mary of Modena, reflecting on their relationship and her time at Court years later in the memorial poem “On the Death of the Queen.” [source]

A maid of honour in such a public environment as the court would have ample reason to keep her authorship secret.  The erotic language of several passages, though mild for the period, would have been deemed inappropriate for a young lady at court and the general attitude toward the learned expression of women at the time caused Finch to wait until late in life to publicly acknowledge her authorship of her poetry. In the prose preface to a manuscript collection of her poetry apparently assembled during the 1690s, Anne commented:

‘itt is still a great satisfaction to me, that I was not so far abandond by my prudence, as out of a mistaken vanity, to lett any attempts of mine in Poetry shew themselves whilst I livd in such a publick place as the Court, where every one would have made their remarks upon a Versifying Maid of Honour; and far greater number with prejudice, if not contempt.”

Winn’s case for attributing the libretto of Venus & Adonis is based numerous and frequent verbal parallels between Venus and Adonis and later works by Finch as well as her presence in the ducal court at the time. As he explains:

“[T]he circumstances of Anne Kingsmill’s brief service at court make her a plausible candidate for the authorship of Venus and Adonis. She was in the right place at the right time, had interests in mythology, pastoral eroticism and music that could easily  find expression in the writing of a court masque, and had strong reasons to desire anonymity.”

While at Court, Anne met the Heneage Finch, a courtier, soldier, and Groom of the Bedchamber to James, Duke of York, to whom she was married in 1685. Though she was initially resistant to Heneage’s proposal, the marriage turned out a particularly happy one, and Anne made frequent reference to her conjugal bliss in her poetry, including many poems dedicated to Heneage, who encouraged and actively supported her writing.

In 1688, after the Glorious Revolution, the young couple refused to swear loyalty to the new Protestant Monarchs considering their previous oaths to James II morally binding. This led to their banishment from court and several years of harassment until they eventually settled in Eastwell, the home of the Earl of Winchilsea, who was Heneage’s nephew.

While many at the time would have felt this banishment to the countryside as unbearable exile, Anne thrived in this rural environment and a her poetry is imbued with a deep reverence for nature and a delight in the bucolic pleasures of Eastwell. Several of her poems found there way into anthologies and miscellanies, though always without attribution.

After two almost two decades at Eastwell, the Finches, risking political reprisals, returned to London where Anne became friends with Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, who both championed her work. When his nephew died without a son in 1712, Heneage became fifth Earl of Winchilsea and Anne became countess. The next year a collection of 86 of her poems was published, first anonymously, though subsequent editions bore her name. She died in 1720.

At least one more poem by Anne Finch was set to music during her lifetime. One of her lyrics, “Love, thou art best”, was published (anonymously of course) in a popular collection of songs in the 1680s and attracted the attention of Henry Purcell, who set it to music. Here’s a performance by Brandywine Baroque from their album O Sweet Delight of Love, featuring Magnificat’s own Laura Heimes together with tenor Tony Boutté.
[audio: Purcell_ Love Thou Art Best.mp3]

LOVE, thou art best of Human Joys,
Our chiefest Happiness below;
All other Pleasures are but Toys,
Musick without Thee is but Noise,
And Beauty but an empty Show.

Heav’n, who knew best what Man wou’d move,
And raise his Thoughts above the Brute;
Said, Let him Be, and let him Love;
That must alone his Soul improve,
Howe’er Philosophers dispute.


Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1621-1720)

Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea: poetry, biography and sources, by Ellen Moody

Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources

Magnificat’s 19th Season – Giving Voice to the Human Spirit

July 14th, 2010 No comments

(Click image to download MAgnificat's 2010-2011 Season Brochure)

The discoveries and revolutions of the 17th Century fundamentally challenged Europe’s perception of the universe and sparked an explosion of innovation as musicians sought new ways to give voice to the human spirit. Composers created a bold new music driven by emotion and narrative and performers reached for new techniques to communicate it.

The programs on Magnificat’s 19th season reflect the confidence and imagination of this time from four different perspectives: the introduction of opera in England, the melding of “pop” music with the refined elegance of the French court, the virtuosity of four remarkable women, and satirical reflections on the human condition told through the characters of the commedia dell’arte.

Our season begins with three performances of John Blow’s Venus & Adonis, a re-telling of the classical myth from a distinctly feminist perspective and the earliest surviving English opera. Combining elements of the English masque and the French tragedie lyrique, it was performed “for the entertainment of the King” in 1683 and later revised for a second production. For this modern premiere of the second version, produced  in collaboration with the Purcell SocietyStainer & Bell, and the National Centre for Early Music, York (UK),

The cast for this concert production will be Catherine Webster, soprano (Venus), José Lemos, countertenor (Cupid), Peter Becker, bass (Adonis), Jennifer Paulino, soprano and Paul Elliott, tenor. Magnificat will also be joined by members of the  San Francisco Girls Chorus. Performances will be Friday October 8 2010 8:00 pm at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Saturday October 9 2010 8:00 pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, and Sunday October 10 2010 4:00 pm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

Magnificat has long championed the music of the remarkable Marc-Antoine Charpentier and this December we turn to his best-known work: the delightful Messe de Minuit (Midnight Mass). Drawing on the popular melodies of French Christmas carols, or noëls, Charpentier preserves their charming simplicity in achieving a perfect synthesis of popular art and the lush elegance of the Age of Louis XIV. The program will also include one of Charpentier’s evocative settings of the Nativity narrative and other seasonal music.

Musicians for this performanc include Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Christopher LeCluyse, Daniel Hutchings, Peter Becker, Matthias Maute, Louise Carslake, Rob Diggins, Jolianne von Einem, David Wilson, John Dornenburg, David Tayler, and Hanneke van Proosdij. Performances will be Friday December 17 2010 8:00 pm at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Saturday December 18 2010 8:00 pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, and Sunday December 19 2010 4:00 pm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

In February, soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani will be featured in a program of passionate arias, sublime motets and dazzling instrumental sonatas by four extraordinary women. Francesca Caccini composing for the Medici Court, Barbara Strozzi among Venetian intellectuals, Isabella Leonarda from her Novarese convent and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre for the Parisian aristocracy: each gave voice to their creative genius in the face of cultural restrictions on the artistic expression of women and produced masterworks that speak eloquently across the centuries.

In addition to Jennifer, these concerts will feature Rob Diggins, Jolianne von Einem, David Tayler, and Hanneke van Proosdij. Performances will be Friday February 4 2011 8:00 pm at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Saturday February 5 2011 8:00 pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, and Sunday February 6 2011 4:00 pm at St. Luke’s Epsicopal Church in San Francisco.

Magnificat’s season will conclude in March with staged performances of the madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso (“The Twin Peaks of Parnassus”) in which Orazio Vecchi blends pathos and buffoonery with exquisite melodies in satirizing the foibles of the human condition. Using characters and scenarios from the commedia dell’arte tradition, he tells a light-hearted tale of love and youthful rebellion in a series of amusing, and sometimes bawdy madrigals. For this staged production, Magnificat will be joined by the ‘comici’ of the Dell’Arte Company, who will bring Vecchi’s amorous and witty madrigals to life.

Singers for these concerts include soprano Laura Heimes, countertenor Roberto Balconi, tenor Paul Elliott and bass Peter Becker. Performances will be Friday March 18 2011 8:00 pm at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Saturday March 19 2011 8:00 pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, and Sunday March 20 2011 4:00 pm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at (800) 595-4849. You can also download this order form (PDF), and complete and mail it with payment to 1896 Pacific Avenue #102, San Francisco CA 94109.

Cozzolani Project Releases Psalm 110: Confitebor tibi Domine

June 3rd, 2010 No comments

Magnificat and Musica Omnia have released another track from the first volume of Cozzolani’s complete works. With the release of Confitebor tibi Domine, all of Cozzolani’s eight voice settings are now available. You can listen and download from this link.

If the first psalm, Dixit Dominus, with its unusual refrain, constantly varying textures and martial affect represents one side of Cozzolani’s 1650 collection, Confitebor tibi displays another. The concertato duet and trio writing found in the first psalm are present here as well as are the tutti declamatory, martial and antiphonal sections. Read More

Berkeley Festival Finale: A Venetian Vespers from Monteverdi to Vivaldi

May 23rd, 2010 1 comment

The Berkeley Festival Finale program will be a celebration of the extraordinary repertoire of music composed by Venetian composers for the elaboration of the office of Vespers during the century following Monteverdi’s monumental Vespro della Beata Vergine in 1610. It will also be a celebration of the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition and the extraordinary ensembles being featured on the festival’s “main stage”: ARTEK, AVE, the Marion Verbruggen Trio, Magnificat, Music’s Re-Creation and ¡Sacabuche!, along with the string ensemble Archetti, all of which will perform in the concert.

Though the music in Monteverdi’s collection was composed while he was in the service of the Duke of Mantua, it served to display his mastery of the sacred genres and contributed to his appointment in 1613 to the most prestigious musical position in Europe: maestro di cappella at the Basilica of St. Mark’s in Venice. Monteverdi’s colleagues at San Marco, and the illustrious series of musicians that followed him in the position of maestro, dedicated the finest fruits of their talent and skills to the ornamentation of the Vespers liturgy, the primary venue for elaborate sacred music throughout the 17th Century. This program will explore the ingenious ways that these composers adapted to the changing aesthetics in integrated the evolving compositional styles of the 17th Century in setting the ancient, unchanging texts that make up the Vespers liturgy. Read more…

Bologna’s Festa della Porchetta

May 17th, 2010 No comments

Paul at the excellent BibliOdyssey blog, has a post with a series of fascinating prints depicting Bologna’s annual Festa della Porchetta – the Festival of the Suckling Pig, celebrated by the Bolognese for five centuries until the arrival of Napolean’s army in 1796. The tradition has apparently been revived in the last decade – including a shared roasted pig – to help spread peace in the city. Click the detail image to link to the full image.

From Paul’s post:

“Bologna’s Festa della Porchetta was an annual carnival held on 24 August for more than five centuries. It commemorated both the Feast of St Bartholomew and the victory of Bolognese forces over Frederick II during the Battle of Fossalta in 1249. Frederick’s son, King Enzo, was imprisoned for thirty years in the city centre in a tower that now bears his name, adjacent to where the Porchetta celebrations took place in Palazzo Maggiore.

It was customary for the city’s nobles to enjoy a banquet in a palace fronting onto Palazzo Maggiore, and a spit-roasted suckling pig, together with poultry, breads, cheeses and cakes, was thrown from the balcony for the regular townsfolk to fight over. The festivities evolved over the centuries into large-scale affairs with acrobats, games, singing and dancing, in theatrical productions of wars, historical events and allegorical performance plays. Giant purpose-specific floats, stages, theatre props and machinery were constructed each year to accommodate the unique requirements of the year’s entertainment theme.”

View the many images and read the entire post at BibliOdyssey

Quiet, but Busy

May 14th, 2010 No comments

The blog has been quiet, but we’ve been hard at work. We’re close to launching the new Magnificat website – and this blog will a little re-designing as well. But that’s just part of what’s been going on.

It’s less than a month now til our performances at the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition. The festival is shaping up to be a fascinating event – in addition to the seven ‘main stage concerts and the EMA conference and exhibition there will be 50 fringe concerts during the week! Many (most) of these concerts include dear friends of Magnificat and it is evidence of the amazing vibrance of the early music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The same week, Magnificat will be officially releasing the first volume of our recordings of Cozzolani’s complete works at a CD release party at Yoshi’s in San Francisco. Beyond final tweaks and dithering with the audio files, there’s the booklet to proof read – and then there’s the cover image…

We are also putting the final touches on Magnificat’s 2010-2011 season – and the brochure that will announce it. We’re very excited about the programs we will be offering next season. Each program will examine a different aspect of the tremendous cultural shift that took place over the course of the 17th century – the changes in the notions of nobility, the way that music of the lower classes was reflected in art music, the various ways that brilliant women found to express themselves in spite of societal restrictions, and use of parody and satire in the form of the Italian commedia dell’ arte was used to comment on the human condition.

And the music! The first English opera, Charpentier’s beloved Midnight Mass, a program of women’s music featuring soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani and a charming (and sometimes bawdy) staged madrigal comedy.

Even before the festival in June this blog will host the next History Carnival. While the subject is roughly the 18th century, in keeping with the focus of this blog, we’re getting fascinating nominations from a wide range of historical specializations – evidence of the impressive work being done in the blogosphere. We’re happy to receive more nominations – just go to this link to make your suggestion.

All in all a pretty exciting time.

A Magnificent Season

April 30th, 2010 No comments

Last weekend Magnificat completed our 18th season with three performances of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers in three beautiful venues for three large and appreciative audiences. We still have performances at the Berkeley Festival and a CD release party at Yoshi’s in June, but it is a good time to reflect on what has been Magnificat’s most successful and rewarding season yet.

Above all, we thank the musicians (full list below) who devoted so much love, devotion and talent to each of Magnificat’s projects this season.

In October the season began with performances of Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero in collaboration with the Carter Family Marionettes. The production melded the Sicilian puppet tradition, steeped in the tales of Ariosto and Tasso, Caccini and librettist Saricinelli’s adaptation of the tale of Ruggiero and Alcina for the Florentine court of Grand Duchess Maria Magdalena, and the vibrant (and bawdy) tradition of the nascent Italian theater of commedia dell’arte. We will again explore the commedia tradition next season with a production of Orazio Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso in collaboration with the Dell’ Arte players. Read more…

SFCV Review: Magnificat’s Marvelous Magnificat

April 30th, 2010 No comments

The following by Anna Carol Dudley was posted at San Francisco Classical Voice. Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco also reviewed the Grace Cathedral performance.

Claudio Monteverdi, already famous as a composer of secular music in the late 16th century, published a Mass and a vesper service in 1610. This year is the occasion for many celebrations of the 400th anniversary of that event. On Sunday afternoon, in Grace Cathedral, Magnificat celebrated. Fielding a team of 10 extraordinary singers, Artistic Director Warren Stewart conducted a splendid performance of the 1610 Vespers, accompanied by four string players, organ and theorbo continuo, and six players of a variety of Renaissance winds: The Whole Noise and guests.

Magnificat in Grace Cathedral

Five psalms were set for chorus, including a lovely double-chorus Nisi Domini (Unless the Lord build the house). Every psalm was bookended by antiphons sung unison by the men, led by celebrant Hugh Davies. Other numbers were for smaller ensembles and soloists.
Sopranos Jennifer Ellis Kampani and Jennifer Paulino sang the parts written for castratos, making nice work of the florid Pulchra es (You are beautiful) from the “Song of Solomon.” Also from the “Song of Solomon” is Nigra sum (I am a black but beautiful daughter), which Monteverdi set for tenor in spite of the text — perhaps preferring the heft of a tenor voice to a soprano sound, or perhaps writing for a particularly gifted tenor. The gifted Paul Elliott invested it with beautiful feeling. He has a masterful way with florid outbursts that are not simply vocal display but have expressive purpose.

Read the entire review