2015-2016 Season

Buxtehude in Sweden – The Düben Collection

February 14th, 2017 No comments

Dietrich Buxtehude was born in 1637 in what is now Denmark. At the age of 20 he was appointed organist at St. Mary’s Church in Helsingør, where his father had earlier worked and in 1660, he took a position at another St. Mary’s Church, this time in Halsingborg. For the last forty years of his life he worked in Lübeck, where he was organist at yet another St. Mary’s Church and gained renown for is annual series of Abendmusiken. His fame as an organist during his lifetime was considerable and for the first two centuries after his death, knowledge of Buxtehude’s compositions was limited almost entirely the few organ works that had been preserved. His considerable body of vocal and chamber music were assumed to have been lost through fires and the vagaries of time until researchers began to catalog an extraordinary collection of manuscripts in the university library in Uppsala Sweden.

tablatureThe remarkable Düben collection, which includes a treasure trove of mostly North German 17th Century music, stems from the efforts of Swedish court organist and Kapellmeister Gustav Düben in gathering music for the royal library during the second half of the 17th Century. Born into a family of organists, Düben studied in Germany in the 1640s before returning to Stockholm to assume his duties under the Swedish king. The centerpiece of Magnificat’s program on the weekend of March 18-20, and Buxtehude’s best known work, Membra Jesu Nostri was in fact dedicated to Gustav Düben, whom the composer referring to him as a “most notable and honored friend” on the title page.
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The Road Map for Ad Pedes from Membra Jesu Nostri

February 28th, 2016 No comments

pedesMusicians often refer to the ‘road map’ for a performance of music with repeats, da capos or added codas – music that, explicitly or not, offers the performer options in determining the structure of the work. “How many times do we repeat the A section when we make the repeat?” Rehearsal decisions often lead to cryptic notations of letters and numbers in the margins of parts and scores. Ad Pedes, the first cantata in Buxtehude’s cycle Membra Jesu Nostri presents options for several ‘road maps’ that stem from the circumstances of its transmission.

Bux­tehude dedicated Membra Jesu Nostri to the Swedish court organist and Kapellmeister Gustav Düben and the composer’s autograph manuscript, in tablature notation, survives at the music library of the University of Uppsala in the magisterial Düben Collection. German organ tablature notation is one of a variety of shorthand notations used in Northern Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Lacking familiar staves, noteheads and key signatures, tablature notations uses script letters for pitches and flags for duration.

A set of parts for each of the cantatas, copied from the tablature by Düben presumably for his performances at the Swedish Court, are also preserved at Uppsala. Correlating the parts with the tablature provides insight into performance practice issues and the circumstances under which the individual cantatas may have been performed and in n the case of the opening cantata it also presents a ‘road map’ puzzle that has been solved in a variety of ways by editors and performers.

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Magnificat to Perform Advent Mass with music by Johann Sebastian Bach in December

September 15th, 2015 No comments

Thomaskirche_1735Magnificat is excited perform again on the San Francisco Early Music Society series this December in a Mass for the First Sunday of Advent with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Led by artistic director Warren Stewart, soprano Christine Brandes, countertenor Andrew Rader, tenor Brian Thorsett and bass Robert Stafford will join an instrumental ensemble featuring Sarah Davol and Michael Dupree, oboe, David Wilson and Anthony Martin, violin, Wolfgang von Kessinger, viola, Elisabeth Reed, violoncello, John Dornenburg, violone, and organist Davitt Moroney. The concerts will be Friday December 11 8:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto; Saturday December 12 7:30 pm at First Congregational Church in Berkeley; and Sunday December 13 4:00 pm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Tickets are available through the SFEMS website or by calling 510-528-1725.

Since the nineteenth-century revival of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, we have become accustomed to hearing the composer’s sacred music performed as autonomous works in concert halls. However, Bach never envisioned such a performance of his cantatas, Passions, and oratorios. As musicologist Robert Marshall has noted, “such compositions were not intended for the ‘delectation’ of a concert public, but rather for the ‘edification’ of a church congregation…Bach’s cantatas, in fact, were conceived and should be regarded not as concert pieces at all but as musical sermons; and they were incorporated as such in the regular Sunday church services.” Magnificat’s program is an attempt to re-create the experience of a Leipzig church-goer who had the unimaginable good fortune each week to be able to hear music written and directed by Johann Sebastian Bach. In undertaking such musical make-believe, we have the chance to experience the theological and textual unity, the heterogeneity of musical styles, and perhaps even some of the spiritual intensity that Bach and his contemporaries may have felt during Hauptgottesdienst on the First Sunday of Advent. Read more…

Ballo Concertato: Magnificat Presents Monteverdi’s Tirsi e Clori

September 4th, 2015 No comments

Dance_to_the_Music_of_TimeMagnificat will perform Monteverdi’s Ballo Tirsi e Clori along with other madrigals by Monteverdi and instrumental music by Dario Castello and Biagio Marini on the weekend of September 25-27 2015. Clori will be sung by Jennifer Paulino and Tirsi by Aaron Sheehan. Tickets are available at magnificatbaroque.tix.com, by phone at  (800) 595-4849. To order by mail download this order form (pdf).

Claudio Monteverdi was dismissed from service at the Gonzaga court in Mantua in the summer of 1612, taking up his new position as maestro di capella at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice the following year. While the precise reasons for his dismissal are unclear, the composer had been unhappy with his working conditions for years and had been actively seeking employment elsewhere.

The Gonzagas continued to hold Monteverdi’s music in high regard however and already at the beginning of 1615, the regent Ferdinando Gonzaga sent a letter with an urgent request for a setting of a ‘favola’ by Ferdinando himself to be performed at Carnival. Monteverdi responded that he would “toil away at it harder than you can imagine, sending you by the courier from week to week what I would keep doing from day to day. In spite of Monteverdi’s enthusiasm, the time was simply too short and plans for the new work were postponed indefinitely.

By the fall of 1615, as a result on the ongoing conflict between Savoy and Mantua over the Principality of Monferrato, Ferdinando was forced to assume the full title of duke. Perhaps for festivities surrounding the event of his coronation, he once again requested music from Monteverdi, but this time for a ‘ballet’ on an unspecified topic. In a letter written in November 1615, Monteverdi proposed a pastoral subject in six sections preceded by a dialogue between a shepherd, Tirsi and his beloved nymph Clori.  Read more…

A Little Work in the Representative Style – Monteverdi’s Combattimento

August 18th, 2015 No comments

Aaron Sheehan in the role of Orfeo at the Boston Early Music Festival (photo by Kathy Wittman)

Magnificat will perform Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda along with other madrigals by Monteverdi and instrumental music by Dario Castello and Biagio Marini on the weekend of September 25-27 2015. The Testo role will be sung by Aaron Sheehan, Clorinda by Christine Brandes and Tancredi by Andrew Rader. Tickets are available at magnificatbaroque.tix.com, by phone at  (800) 595-4849. To order by mail download this order form (pdf).

Claudio Monteverdi’s celebrated Il Combattimento di Tancredi and Clorinda, was first performed in Venice during Carnival of 1624 at the palace of one of the composer’s patrons, though it was only published some fourteen years later in the Eighth Book of Madrigals. In the introductory notes, Monteverdi describes how the piece was first performed “as an evening entertainment, in the presence of all the nobility, who were so moved by the emotion of compassion that they almost shed tears, and who applauded, since it was a genre of vocal music never seen nor heard.” Monteverdi subtitled the Eighth Book Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo (“Madrigals of war and love with some pieces in the theatrical style”), and the texts repeatedly expound the interlocking themes of love and war– the warrior as lover, the lover as warrior and the war between the sexes.

The relationship between love and war had been a common Italian poetic conceit ever since the time of Petrarch in the 14th century, and had been given additional impetus by its prominence in Torquato Tasso’s late 16th century epic poem, Gerusalemme Liberata (“Jerusalem Liberated”). This enormously influential work dealt with the first crusade and treated in a dramatic and scenographic manner not only battles between Christian and Muslim knights, but also their love affairs, including the love between the Christian knight Tancrid and the Muslim woman Clorinda, who, disguised as a knight in full armor, fiercely fought for her side.

Monteverdi affixed an explanatory preface to the Eighth Book, a theoretically important, though sometimes confusing description of what he had tried to achieve in this music. Monteverdi explains how he “took the divine Tasso, as a poet who expresses with the greatest propriety and naturalness the qualities which he wishes to describe, and selected his description of the combat of Tancredi and Clorinda as an opportunity of describing in music contrary passions, namely, warfare and entreaty and death.” The composer describes three emotional levels, which he also calls styles. Two of these, the “soft” style (stile molle) for languishing and sorrowful emotions, and the “tempered” style (stile temperato) for emotionally neutral recitations, he says had long been in use.  But the third style, the “agitated” style, (stile concitato), Monteverdi claims to have invented himself.  Read more…

Magnificat Presents Music of Monteverdi – September 25-27

August 14th, 2015 No comments

On the weekend of September 25-27, Warren Stewart will lead Magnificat in a program of music by Claudio Monteverdi. Grammy Award-winning tenor Aaron Sheehan returns to interpret the Testo role in Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and renowned soprano Christine Brandes makes her Magnificat debut in the role of Clorinda. Brandes will also sing Monteverdi’s ‘love letter’ Se i languidi miei sguardi. Soprano Jennifer Paulino, countertenor Andrew Rader and bass Robert Stafford complete an ensemble that includes instrumentalists Rob Diggins, Jolianne Einem, David Wilson, John Dornenburg and Jillon Stoppels Dupree. The concerts will take place on Friday September 25 8:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto; Saturday September 26 8:00 pm at First Congregational Church in Berkeley and Sunday September 27 4:00 pm at First Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Tickets are available at magnificatbaroque.tix.com or by phone at (800) 595-4849.

Each half of the program will begin with one of the five vanitas settings that stand at the beginning of Monteverdi’s magisterial collection of sacred music, Selva morale et spirituale, published in 1640. The two madrigals are representative of a distinct genre of vernacular polyphonic vocal works that describe the transitory nature of love, status, and material wealth. The first, O ciechi, ciechi is drawn from Petrarch’s Trionfo della morte and describes the futility of power, riches and military conquest. Similar themes are addressed in the anonymous canzonetta Chi vol che m’innamori, which alternates between light and dark characters. Here the strophes are articulated by cheerful violin ritornelli with an unexpectedly pessimistic refrain following the final verse.

Much of the music on the program is drawn from Monteverdi’s Seventh Book of Madrigals (1619), entitled Concerto – his first publication of madrigals composed in Venice. It includes two extraordinary monodies labeled lettere amorose (love letters) that belong to a small but significant genre explored by composers in the first decades of the 17th century. Soprano Christine Brandes will perform the first of the letters, Se i languidi miei sguardi, a setting of a poem by Bolognese polymath Claudio Achillini. The poet notes that his letter is from “a cavalier, impatient over his delayed wedding, writing to his most beautiful bride.” Monteverdi writes that these love letters are composed in the “representative style” and that they should be sung “without a beat,” i.e. freely and expressively without a regular meter. Read more…