Magnificat and Charpentier’s Noëls

August 16th, 2012 Comments off

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. Read more…

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.

Two Tracks Featuring Catherine Webster Released (Audio)

September 14th, 2009 Comments off
Catherine Webster, soprano

Catherine Webster, soprano

The coming season marks the 10th anniversary of Catherine Webster’s first appearances with Magnificat. Her debut in our performances of the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani in December 1999 was especially memorable and she has been a fixture in Magnificat productions ever since. In October she will sing the role of Alcina in Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero. The Alcina role features the extraordinary “complaint”, in which the evil but alluring sorceress, upon the news that Ruggiero has forsaken her to return to Bradamante and to his soldierly duties, attempts to change his mind first through pleading, then seduction, and finally fury. Caccini masterfully captures this emotional range with an exhilirating panoply of expressive musical devices. We are all looking forward to hearing Catherine sing one of the first great sorprano roles in the history of opera.

Magnificat/Si dolce è'l tormentoMagnificat has released two tracks from live performances that feature Catherine. The first is Monteverdi’s solo soprano setting of Carlo Milanuzzi’s Si dolce e’l tormento, which conveys a range of emotion that belies its simple strophic form. This exquisite madrigal was not originally in the plans for Magnificat’s November 2004 program “A Due Voci Pari”, but during the rehearsals for those concerts, David Tayler suggested that we add it. After one run-through in the dress rehearsal it was clear that this was destined to become one of the most unforgettable Magnificat performances ever. The live recording is from the performance at St. Gregory Nyssen in San Francisco, November 14, 2004.

Download Si dolce è’l tormento

Isabella Leonarda Lætatus sumThe second track we are releasing is Isabella Leonarda’s setting of the psalm Lætatus sum for solo soprano, violins and continuo, drawn from the composer’s last collection of liturgical texts, the Salmi Concertati a 4 voci con strumenti, op. 19, published in Bologna in 1698. These works represent her most modern works, stylistically and harmonically, and the collection appears as a counterpart to her setting of the mass ordinary for the same vocal and instrumental forces published two years earlier. This live and unedited recording is from a Magnificat performance at St. Gregory Nyssen in San Francisco on February 2, 2003. Rob Diggins and Jolianne von Einem play violin, John Dornenburg, violone, David Tayler, theorbo, and Hanneke van Proosdij, organ.

Download Isabella Leonarda’s Lætatus sum

These and other Magnificat recordings can also be heard at last.fm and InstantEncore.com.