Author Archive

Francesco Cavalli’s Messa Concertata

December 9th, 2014 No comments

“Francesco Cavalli truly has no peers in Italy, in the perfection of his singing, in the worth of his organ playing, and in his exceptional musical compositions, of which those in print bear witness to his merit.”

The Venetian chronicler Ziotti’s effusive praise of Cavalli, published 1655, reflects the universal acclaim the composer enjoyed at the height of his long and robust musical career. The son of the organist and composer Giovanni Battista Caletti, Cavalli was born in the small but prosperous town of Crema near Milan but still within the borders of the Venetian Republic in 1602. At the age of 13 Francesco’s exceptional voice and prodigious musical talents drew the attention of Frederico Cavalli, the Venetian governor in Crema. Cavalli offered to take the boy to Venice where he could benefit from exposure to the rich musical life there – a proposal only reluctantly accepted by the boy’s father.

Within months of his arrival, Cavalli was engaged as a singer at the Basilica of San Marco under its newly appointed maestro Claudio Monteverdi, who was in the midst of restoring the musical institution of the Basilica to its former heights under Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. For the remaining six decades of his life, Cavalli would remain in the employ of the Basilica, where he would work with the most esteemed musicians of his age. Additionally, his status as musician in the Cappella Marciana, together with his undisputed gifts as a singer, organist and composer, insured a steady flow of outside work at the many well-endowed churches, scuole grandi and in the noble palaces of The Most Serene Republic.

Schütz’s Opus Ultimum: Der Schwanengesang

September 29th, 2014 No comments

Heinrich Schütz’s final work, his “Swan Song” is a setting of Psalms 119 and 100 and the Magnificat for double choir with continuo, and such a performance is entirely adequate. In his dedicatory comments to the Elector of Saxony, Schütz even recommends such a performance “by eight good voices with two little organs in the two fine choir lofts that were constructed opposite each other on either side of the altar in your Highness’ Court Chapel”

However, Schütz also asked his colleague at the Dresden Chapel, Constantin Christian Dedekind, to expand his work by adding instruments. It seems that Dedekind, rather than carrying out the master’s request, made his own setting of Psalm 119, which he published several years later.

For these performances, I have assumed the task of carrying out Schütz’s request. For guidance, I turned to the extensive writings of Schütz’s predecessor as Dresden Kapellmeister, Michael Praetorius and to the many polychoral compositions of Schütz himself, as well as those of his colleagues Samuel Scheidt and Johann Hermann Schein.

Cozzolani Concerti Sacri to be released in June

May 28th, 2013 No comments

Magnificat and Musica Omnia are pleased to announce the release of Concerti Sacri, the second volume of the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani. The digital tracks are already available for download at and the physical CDs will be released at the Boston Early Music Festival in June. This double CD set marks the completion of Magnificat’s project to record all of Cozzolani’s works that survive complete. Volume I, Salmi a Otto Voci, was released in June 2010. The cover artwork is an oil painting on gold leaf by Magnificat creative director Nika Korniyenko.

This recording is dedicated to the memory of Judith Nelson. While Judy’s voice is not heard on these recordings, her spirit – the honesty of her artisrty and the warmth and sincerity of her musicianship  – is present throughout. It was Judy who introduced me to Donna Chiara and the performance of O quam bonus es with her in 1997 was the catalyst for all the love and energy we’ve shared with Cozzolani in the years that followed, for which we are all deeply grateful.

Sixteen of the tracks on Concerti Sacri have been available digitally for over a year, while nine tracks are available now for the first time. For those who have purchased the digital recording without the new tracks, or for those who would like to hear only the new tracks they are available independently here. As always those pre-ordering the CD will receive the digital tracks as well as the CD.

Exquisite Exchanges – Magnificat’s 2013-2014 Season

May 17th, 2013 No comments

In two decades of exploring 17th Century music I have been continually fascinated by the way compositional techniques, modes of expression and ideas of taste and style migrated across Europe. These stylistic journeys most often began in Italy and travelling northward and refracted into spectrum of national styles of the High Baroque. Perhaps because I have spent time as a foreigner recently, encountering different traditions and cultures and learning new ways of communicating, my awareness of the role that the exchange of ideas plays in the development of art and society has been especially keen. The programs Magnificat will present in 2013-2014 all focus on the exchange of techniques and ideas, the generational transfer and elaboration of tradition and the translation of style from one culture to another.

Few events had a more profound influence on the music of the 17th century than the changing of the guard that took place at the Basilica of San Marco with the death of Giovanni Gabrieli in 1612 and the arrival of Claudio Monteverdi from Mantua the following year. Though they never held the post of maestro di cappella at San Marco, Giovanni and his uncle Andrea nevertheless dominated the musical life of the Serene Republic for three decades. Their brilliant polychoral style was appealing and effective and they pioneered the use of obbligato instruments in the service of what we would now call orchestration to give their concertos color and affect in a way that was imitated across Europe. One of Giovanni’s many students from north of the Alps in his final years was Heinrich Schütz, who studied in Venice for four years and returned to Dresden shortly after his teacher’s death, missing Monteverdi’s arrival by a matter of months. But more on that in the next program.

Coming Home to Charpentier

November 14th, 2012 No comments

This year, for the first time in two decades, October passed without a set of Magnificat concerts. It has been very gratifying to hear from so many loyal Magnificat fans asking about the season and I am looking forward to coming home next month to see everyone. The program I chose for my homecoming has a special place for me personally and Magnificat as an ensemble and preparing the score and planning the concerts have been a wonderful and meaningful experience.

In many ways the program that Susan and I developed in 1993 to frame Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale with arrangements of traditional noëls served as the model for many other Magnificat programs. The juxtaposition of sophisticated art music with contemporaneous folk music, the ideal of balance between vocal and instrumental music and each individual musician, all became hallmarks of Magnificat programs.

Remembering Judy

September 7th, 2012 No comments

Along with all who were touched by her, I was deeply saddened to learn that soprano Judith Nelson had passed away earlier this year. Few musicians have had a bigger impact on me personally and Magnificat as an ensemble than Judy. She sang in over 40 Magnificat concerts in the 90s and appeared  in one of the title roles (along with Paul Hillier) on Magnificat’s first recording, Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo. I also had the privilege of working with Judy in California Bach Society projects and in many other situations. But it was as a friend that I remember Judy the best and it is these memories that I treasure most.

The first thing that comes to mind when I remember Judy is how influential she was and how much everyone tried to sing like her but the second thing I think of is how, in fact, no one ever sounded like Judy except Judy. Of course, she sang exquisitely in every style and genre and yet it was always undeniably Judy. Her great gift to me (and to all of us) was in embodying the ideal of using your talent and ability to express who you are with integrity and conviction, which she did as well as anyone I have ever known.

In rehearsals Judy was always a model of professionalism but she also had a sharp wit and everyone who worked with her has plenty of memories of her playful sense of humor and well-timed rejoinders that always contributed to an atmosphere of camaraderie and common purpose. Judy had a uncanny ability to surprise through her vocal artistry and the depth of her understanding of the historical and musical context of the music she was performing, but also through her disarming candor.




Charpentier’s Noëls

August 17th, 2012 No comments

While I will miss the joy of sharing a full season of terrific music from the early Baroque with my colleagues and with Magnificat's loyal audience next season, I am very pleased that I will be in California in December to lead Magnificat in a program that it very dear to me. In addition to my personal emotional connection with Charpentier's music, his character and the circumstances in which he wrote, this particular program represents a fascinating period of discovery for me personally. The first music by Charpentier that I had the chance to perform was the Messe de Minuit(Midnight Mass) - a charming work that seamlessly weaves the folk melodies of noëls, already centuries old during the composer's life with a rigorous contrapuntal ideal. While the Nativity Pastorale does not incorporate noël melodies like the Midnight Mass, there are striking similarities in the poetic imagery of the noëls and their musical ...

Magnificat and Charpentier’s Noëls

August 16th, 2012 No comments

While I will miss the joy of sharing a full season of terrific music from the early Baroque with my colleagues and with Magnificat’s loyal audience next season, I am very pleased that I will be in California in December to lead Magnificat in a program that it very dear to me. In addition to my personal emotional connection with Charpentier’s music, his character and the circumstances in which he wrote, this particular program represents a fascinating period of discovery for me personally.

The first music by Charpentier that I had the chance to perform was the Messe de Minuit(Midnight Mass) – a charming work that seamlessly weaves the folk melodies of noëls, already centuries old during the composer’s life with a rigorous contrapuntal ideal. While the Nativity Pastorale does not incorporate noël melodies like the Midnight Mass, there are striking similarities in the poetic imagery of the noëls and their musical character. In Magnificat’s first production of the Nativity Pastorale in 1993, we included several of Charpentier’s instrumental settings of noëls in addition to the Pastorale and I had the chance to learn about these remarkable melodies. I found the noëls especially intriguing because they provided a rare glimpse of the 17th century from a non-aristocratic perspective. Noëls were everyone’s music – nobility and peasants alike shared the joy of these infectious melodies and the often strikingly poignant poetry that these melodies set.

Simon Vouet and Marc-Antoine Charpentier

November 19th, 2010 No comments

During his decade as master of music for the Jesuit church of St. Louis, Charpentier would have become very familiar with the magnificent altar of the church, which echoed the three level structure of the church’s façade. Five exquisite paintings adorned the altar – three by Simon Vouet (1590-1649,) an artist whose career in many ways followed a similar course to that which Charpentier’s would take a generation later.

Magnificat’s Love Affair with Charpentier

November 18th, 2010 No comments

I have often said that Marc-Antoine Charpentier never wrote a bad note and with every new work we perform I am amazed anew by the sheer perfection of his technique, the subtlety with which he depicts emotion and his extraordinarily varied harmonic palette. As we prepare for our performances of his delightful Messe de Minuit and the Dialogus inter Angelos et Pastores next month, it seems a good time to look back on Magnificat’s love affair with this most magnificent genius of the French Baroque, to whose music we have dedicated entire programs in twelve of our nineteen seasons.

A Newly-Identified Theoretical Work by Marc-Antoine Charpentier

November 8th, 2010 No comments

Patricia Ranum has announced the identification of a theoretical work by Marc-Antoine Charpentier bound in an 18th century collection of manuscripts owned by the Lilly Library at Indiana University. Her convincing argument for the attribution of "Manuscript XLI" to Charpentier, as well as reproductions of the twelve page treatise, can be found at her informative and thoroughly engaging website. Ranum's analysis suggests that the treatise was related to Charpentier's engagement in the education of Louis XIV’s nephew, Philippe II d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres in the early 1690s and was copied out by the composer himself in Autumn, 1698. Perhaps most the most significant aspect of Ranum's identification is that details of the manuscript suggest that the composer may have written as many as forty other theoretical works besides the few known that have survived in copies. Sadly it would appear that after his death in 1704, Charpentier's heirs did not preserve ...

Marc-Antoine Charpentier – The Rose

October 26th, 2010 No comments

I was pleased to learn that a variety of rose is named "Marc-Antoine Charpentier." The shrub rose has a dark yellow center flower with pale yellow to cream  outer petals and a fine Tea fragrance. Its flowering is enhanced by pale green foliage. The website Plantes et Jardins notes that the "La Rosa Generosa 'Marc-Antoine Charpentier' Masmacha stands out for its opulence as a shrub with branches that create a soft dome. Many buttons bloom in flower petals of slightly frizzy yellow fading to white vanilla cream. Their fragrance exudes a subtle fragrance of rose tea. Juvenile shoots are tinged with purple." No doubt the rose was named after the French composer in honor of his delightful divertissement La Couronne de fleurs, performed by Magnificat in 2008.

Berkeley Festival Memories

July 13th, 2010 No comments

A month has past since the Berkeley Festival, but the marvelous sounds of Vivaldi, Monteverdi, Cozzolani, Strozzi, and all the others remain fresh. The soaring melodies, bright colors and stinging dissonances in my head are accompanied by fond memories of the extraordinary atmosphere of the Festival, especially on the sunny Sunday afternoon when all the main stage ensembles joined together to celebrate the remarkable music of Seicento Venice.

The Original Partbooks of Cozzolani’s Salmi a Otto voci

July 12th, 2010 4 comments

The Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale in Bologna is like mecca for scholars of 17th century music. It houses the collection of the renowned 18th century composer, teacher and scholar Giovanni Battista Martini, known as ‘Padre Martini’. Most of his massive collection of music prints (estimated by Dr. Burney at over 17,000 volumes) was donated to the Civico Museo on his death.

Notes for the Berkeley Festival Finale Concert – June 13

June 3rd, 2010 No comments

The Berkeley Festival & Exhibition Finale 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 the publication of Monteverdi’s monumental Vespro della Beata Vergine in 1610. The concert will feature works by 12 composers performed by Archetti, ARTEK, AVE, Magnificat, the Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’s Re-creation, and ¡Sacabuche!

It’s Carnival Time

May 30th, 2010 No comments

Welcome to the 88th History Carnival. I decided to post a day ahead of schedule in case anyone was spending their Memorial Day or Bank Holiday weekend in front of a screen.

What a pleasure to look through all the excellent work being done in the history blogoshpere. The selections represented here are of course only a sliver of what’s out there, but I tried, with a couple of obvious exceptions, to stay in the vicinity of the 17th Century, Magnificat’s playground. I also wanted to send some love to those who are doing good work in music history and getting it out into cyberspace.

I tried out a different layout that would allow me to have thumbnails for each of these excellent articles. Click on the titles below and enjoy!

All the music that I mention in the blurbs is collected on a Playlist here.

Mercurius Politicus – The pelican’s beak holds more than its belly can

May 29th, 2010 No comments

In a post at Mercurius Politicus, Nick Poyntz contemplates the curious children’s rhyme on ‘permanent loop’ at his house at the moment:

The pelican’s beak holds more than its belly can,
Nothing has a beak that’s the size of the pelican’s.

and considered some historical interpretations and extrapolations and their visual representation in various media.

In a similarly ornithological vein, Nick followed up with Brother Fountain and Brother Heron, pondering how this is a reference to Cromwell and Sir Henry Vane.

Atrium Musicologicum – Palestrina’s First Book of Madrigals for Four Voices

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Atrium Musicologicum posted Giuliana Gialdroni’s overview of the Renaissance Italian master, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s second publication: his first set of madrigals for four voices. The music of Palestrina enjoys a unique historical distinction in Western music as the oldest continuously performed repertoire. Unlike all music before and most since, Palestrina never left the ‘playlist,’ already recognized as ‘classical’, or canonical by the 17th Century. It was the first music to be performed with anything like the contemporary notion of ‘early music’ and provided the point of reference for compositions designated by composers as in the ‘stile antico’ throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, with echoes in the Romantic era.

There are few recordings of Palestrina’s madrigals, as his reputation was and is primarily grounded in his motets and Masses. Rinaldo Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano has a beautiful recording that I couldn’t find readily available online. Here’s a lovely youtube of the master’s exquisite eight voice Stabat mater performed (I think) by the Tallis Scholars.

BibliOdyssey – The Sibylline Prophecies

May 29th, 2010 No comments

As usual there were several visually compelling posts from ‘peacay’ at BibliOdyssey. I was particularly drawn to his commentary on The Sybelline Prophecies, associated for those of who focus on ‘early music,’ with the obscure and sublime Prophetiæ Sybillarum of Orlando di Lasso (or Roland de Lassus if you prefer.) There’s a lovely series of youtube videos mixing the Ensemble Daedalus recording with images from Cranach – here’s a link to Sybilla Lybica.

Peacay posts a striking gallery of images from “the parchment manuscript, ‘Sibylla Prophetae et de Cristo Salvatore vaticinantes’, was produced in Tours in the 1490s. The current evidence suggests that Jean Poyer (or Poyet) was responsible for the elegant series of twenty five miniatures that feature generous shell gold illumination. In addition to the Sibyl framework, the manuscript draws iconographic inspiration from the Hours of Louis de Laval (1475) and devotional influence from the Medieval classic, ‘Speculum Humanæ Salvationis’.”

Also at BibliOdyssey, see Festa della Porchetta.

Taruskin Challenge – Musical Chaos

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Last Fall, Mark Samples and Zack Wallmark set themselves a challenge: digest Richard Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music over the course of an academic year – and to comment on it throughout the experience. As they point out in their ‘mission statement:’ Literature lovers have Proust’s 7-volume In Search of Lost Time; thespians have the 8-hour Faust by Goethe (and Japanese thespians have even longer Noh plays); opera fans love to get lost in “The Ring” cycle; and for humble musicologists, we have OHWM…the stunning life’s work of one of the greatest minds in the discipline, the product of over ten year’s labor.”

Well, they’ve made it to the Enlightenment and on to the 19th Century. Often Taruskin Challenge will juxtapose historical musics as Zach does in the linked article: the depiction of Chaos in Haydn’s Creation and Wayne Shorter’s “Chaos,” from his album The All Seeing Eye. Here are the two links embedded in their post.